Monday, March 28, 2011

An Excerpt from Losing My Virginity and Other Dumb Ideas: The Dates

Date No. 1

It is said that when you ask the Universe for something, you generally get it. But you’ve got to be careful about the details, because most of the time, it can just belt out any old trash. So even though my heart said, ‘give men a shot’, most of the men that came my way made me think, ‘just shoot him!’

For example, there was this banquet manager at a posh hotel whom I used to meet quite often, since most of our international conferences were held there. He would discuss the arrangements of food, beverage, layout of chairs and stage with me. Not once did he try to ask me to have lunch with him. Then just as I told the Universe, I was ready, he asked me out to lunch. We were going through the layout when he casually dropped it, ‘Do you want to continue this over lunch?’ And I said, ‘Okay,’ even more casually. But honestly, I was quite excited! I noticed him a little better. Brown eyes, rugged jawline, tall, bespectacled, bony fingers and a very impish smile. All in all—a cute package! I could see myself liking him. We had in fact shared a lot of conferences together and we knew what we both thought about the flower arrangement and menus. See, I needed to feel that I had something in common with a guy. Otherwise I could never go out with him. I had to believe that somewhere we connected, even if it was over something small.

So we went to the coffee shop where we sat and had a lovely lunch and went through the plans for the conference. After that he asked me out for a drink, but I said I would be too busy with work over the next couple of days. Then I hinted that I was always free for breakfast. He caught on and asked what time would I be here in the mornings. I said eight because the conference would start by 10. So he said he would see me the next day for breakfast at eight. I believed that my romance had begun. Before I could call Aditi and tell her she need not bother about finding a man for me, I figured that I should go on at least one date first.

When I reached the lobby the next day, he was nowhere to be found. So I
called him up in his room.

‘Hello,’ he spoke in a sleepy voice. I could make out that he had not woken up.

‘Hi. Did I wake you up?’ I asked tentatively, not knowing what to say.

‘Ya. I’m so sorry. Let’s catch up tomorrow okay?’

‘Okay,’ I said a bit disappointed and hung up. If he had really been interested, he
would have been here. I didn’t want to be a Betty in someone’s life. I wanted
to be a Veronica. So I went off grumpily to the conference room and just as I
got into the lift, I saw him. He was there holding a daisy.

‘A rose is too corny,’ he said as he gave me the flower. I smiled and walked
with him to an empty banquet room where a single table had been set for us.
We sat down and then the most unexpected romantic surprise awaited me. A host of bearers entered with every form of food that was available for breakfast and dessert from all the restaurants. It was absolutely lovely and I gorged out. My dietician would have killed me but she would have understood that it was for gaining the love of a man!

I looked at him and told him, ‘You know I’m most happy when I’m fully fed.’

‘Most people are,’ he said sipping coffee. His eyes were dreamy. I felt we could have a real connection. But there I went again thinking long term when the focus was to keep it to the ‘current mission’.

‘And this coffee is absolutely delicious!’ I said holding up my empty cup while a bearer came and refilled it. ‘I’m so used to making rubbish, packet coffee that this decoction is heavenly.’ He nodded and poured me some more, lightly resting his hand on mine.

‘You smell great,’ he whispered. I felt all shy. Wasn’t this too forward for a first
date? And that too in front of so many people? But I didn’t stop him so I looked back and smiled my most charming smile and lightly kept my hand over his, resting on the table. I hadn’t had romance in years. I needed this. But instead of going with the flow of the moment, I went the other way and made a complete blunder in changing the topic. In my defence, I wanted to get to know him better.

‘So you’ve done hotel management?’

‘Yup.’

‘And where did you go to college?’ I inquired.

Then the bomb dropped.

‘Oh I didn’t. I went straight for hotel management after my 12th standard.’

‘Oh,’ I said a bit disappointed. I shifted back my hand and body. I suppose it was too harsh a gesture from a moment ago. He picked up on it.

He tried to cover up, ‘Well, I think higher education in this country is a joke.
We spend three years learning a subject we’ll never use like history or English
and then another two years doing an MBA or some other post graduate degree.
But after all that education, we’re still unsure if we’ll get a job. You know what I mean?’

I did know what he meant. That was a reason for not studying. But I came from a
family who believed that knowledge was power. And I studied for fun. How could I possibly be with a man who had just passed his 12th grade and not even done a BA? What could I have possibly talked about after a few more meetings! He was definitely not my Great Love nor good enough for a first date.
It ended then and there.
I got back into the conference and over the next few days I didn’t reply to any of his SMSes, even though it killed me to correct his spellings. They’re means they are not there are!

Date No. 2

My ‘close friend’ Aditi who knew me so well fixed the next date. I say
this sarcastically because it was a complete disaster. Her co-assistant director had been single for a long time. I could figure out the reason as soon as I saw him. But she had taken pity on him and me and fixed us up. He came to pick me up an hour late because he had got caught in a traffic jam from Andheri to Bandra, which was most likely, but shouldn’t he have at least figured that out? That he could not have, struck me later when we began to chat. He revealed that he rarely moved out of Planet Lokhandwala! All the shooting was done outdoors or in Film City or Filmistan, which was further away from Andheri, in the opposite direction of Bandra, and all the recording, editing and dubbing studios were in Andheri anyway. So why should he ever move the other way, he asked me defiantly? Because there is life outside your little bubble! I wanted to scream.

Anyway, Raj Malhotra (ya even his name was ‘filmy’) picked me up and I noticed that he was only five feet four inches tall and he wore glasses, which were  designer trash. But the most prominent trademark was the overpowering scent or rather stink of his perfume that reached me before the lift did to my floor!

‘You did say you wanted him to smell nice,’ Aditi would remind me later and I would reply, ‘Ya but not as if he has walked through the ground floor of Lifestyle mall with everyone giving him a free sample!’

‘Opium,’ he said very confidently half way through our meal when I asked him
what the smell was.

‘It’s really pungent,’ I tried to cough. He shrugged it off and went back to
chomping down his noodles. We had gone for Chinese food and he had ordered
the regular three of his favourite dishes—hakka noodles, chilli chicken and
shredded lamb in hot garlic sauce and then turned to me and asked, ‘Do you
want anything else?’

So I had said, ‘Yah. Mughlai, but thanks for asking!’ He guffawed loudly but I knew he hadn’t got it. I just ordered a soup and let the food be his decision.

When we started talking, the conversation never went beyond him and his
industry.

‘You haven’t seen the new “Don”?’ he asked incredulously.

‘No. I haven’t even seen the old one.’ He almost choked on his noodles, which might have been a good thing, but he washed it down with his second glass of ice tea.

‘Okay. What about Karan Johar’s films? Kkho, kank, k3g?’ He used the acronyms as if I would understand what the full forms would be.

‘Are these sci-fi thrillers?’ I asked.

He almost fell off the table. I had heard about them vaguely and I had seen each of them in parts on cable during a boring night alone. But I didn’t remember the full forms or recollect too clearly since all Hindi films seemed the same to me. I had never eagerly awaited a film, to watch it first day of the weekend or what he called, ‘first day, first show’. No I had not done that for Bollywood films. So I told him.

‘Which planet do you live on?’ he asked.

Okay, so I knew I was a freak living in the supposed oasis of Hindi cinema, but honestly, I had never got a chance to love Bollywood with so much passion because most of my life I had been abroad and had grown up on World Cinema. So I would watch films to deconstruct them rather than enjoy them and I could never enjoy the songs that came in vital places of the plot progressing in Hindi films. I was more of a Breakfast at Tiffany’s kind of gal rather than a Break ke Baad one.

‘Well I know the different aspects of the evolution of women in Hindi films,’ I spoke in my defence. ‘I had even done a paper on it for fun, for an online univ course I’d joined. I’ve also been on every set with Aditi, so I know all about film making, not to mention the types of cameras, lenses and Foley sound. So ya, I know films!’ I said gleefully hoping to find some connection with this man.

‘And yet, you don’t go watch films?’ he asked incredulously with noodles stuck between his front teeth.

‘No, not really. I have sometimes…and I watch a lot of it on TV since all the
channels play it within six months of release. I think it’s a waste of time and money to go to watch it in a multiplex where you end up blowing 500 bucks or more every weekend on tickets, popcorn, coke and post movie dinner. It’s all a big gimmick that I’m not buying!’

He then went on to name some twenty more films of the last few years, still hoping I had seen at least some of them. Didn’t I just get through to him? Did my words fall on deaf ears?

So asked him about world cinema. I named a few directors from across the
globe that were famous and had won awards for their films. Raj knew of none.
I suppose since all these films were in black and white, he had never seen any. He claimed that he didn’t get it at his local DVD store and in any case if he couldn’t adapt it to a Hindi film, it was no use watching it.

I decided then that I would have to stop Aditi from fixing me up if this
was the priceless piece she was dishing out.

But the climax of the night was when I said I would take an auto back home
and he said, ‘Okay! But can I call you sometime?’

The date could not have gone worse. And yet the man wanted to meet again?
Why is it that men feel the need to keep pursuing in the hope that a woman might start
liking them? Here’s a hint, if she didn’t ask you to call her, she hopes you
never will.

Date Number 3: Read the book! :)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Writing from the heart...

I write because I don't know any other way.
I write because my fingers hurt if I don't and my mind doesn't rest till it's out on paper.
I don't think whether it will please my parents, or whether it's going to win a Booker or whether it will truly be the best piece of writing I've ever done.
I write because it makes me human. It's my heart's way of expressing itself.
There is a Bengali custom called annaprasan in which the child of 6 months touches objects placed in front of him/her to determine what he will "do" for the rest of his life. I touched the pen.
And my grandfather said, "She will be a writer." I could not have cared less abt what I'm going to become. I wrote because I needed to. I wrote poems that didn’t make sense to anyone but me. I wrote books on spiral pads about people who touched me and I wrote songs that I would make my brother sing loudly at parties.
I was someone and I felt something because I wrote.
I would get up in the middle of the night and write thoughts that came into my head, dreams that were disjointed, rhymes that came from a consciousness I didn't know existed.
I wrote a diary for years. Everyday. Things that made me smile, things that troubled me, things that could be better. I made a diary after diary of my life. I kept it locked away. Like all my other writing work. I didn't want to show it to the world...not even the people closest to me. It was mine. It was private. It was not meant for public scrutiny. I didn't want the criticism on it. I didn't need the feedback.
I directed instead. Ads, documentaries, assisted in films. I did those things for a "living.” I got flak. I didn't care. It made me stronger. I wanted to prove that I could be the best at it. I worked 18 hour days, week after week, year after year. Even when I had a few nervous breakdowns at why I didn't get what I wanted.
And I would come home numb from exhaustion, bruised from the reprimands and broken from the penury and that's when I could do only one thing. I wrote.
I sat down and filled those spiral pages with stories of people and places and my feelings to all of it. Till I went to sleep. Till I knew my heart was happy for a few hours.
And then it happened.
One day.
I decided...very hesitatingly...that maybe I should show something to the world...
And I wrote an idea out. An idea that came from a conversation. An idea that had bearings to my own life. A story that a few people might be able to identify with.
And I wrote out the first chapter of my book.
It didn't have a title then. It was just this idea.
And it developed, like my life into something larger. I kept it closely guarded. Afraid that if I show it to someone they will tear it down. Afraid that my life would become like the protagonist, or worse the protagonist would become like me.
But I wrote, concentrating on just the feelings of my characters. The actions would come later. The mind doesn't really know Love. Only the heart does. And that was my beginning.
I deleted more than I wrote. I began to think that unless it was the best piece I've written, it should be trashed. I researched and the feelings turned into style.
That was not me.
Proper conjunction of sentences, correct grammar, immaculate spelling, and the mind of a Master's degree looming in the background killed it. I always wrote because no one was looking. It was my secret place. And now it had to be all those things that I could not fathom I would be.
And it finished.
And I sent it to the trash.
And I started. Yet again. Being true to myself. And I wrote the whole book again in less time than it took to finish the first draft. Because this time, I knew why I was doing it.
I know that the editors have made it "correct". I know what my mistakes were. They insisted. I understood.
And all I said was, "Don't lose the essence of what it's really meant to say in the perfect way to say it."
My soul was out there. For all to see. To criticise and hate. This was it.
And now as I wait for the reactions to come back, I know that my heart will not be able to take the dissension...and yet I will be strong enough to live another day.
To write once more.
No looking back.
I had touched the pen.

Monday, March 14, 2011

An excerpt

Book Title: Losing My Virginity and Other Dumb Ideas

Author: Madhuri Banerjee

Chapter 1.
The Resolution


I looked across at the other table and saw a couple kissing passionately.
‘Great,’ I thought, `even girls half my age are getting laid!’


I went back to sipping my coffee and reading the papers.

1st April--My birthday--I had turned 30.

The cruel irony of me being born on April Fool’s Day had
haunted me all my life. But today, I really felt like a fool.

I was alone in my favourite coffee shop, Coffee De, where they had these lovely, bright, mismatched chairs, sofas and cushions, It looked like something that Dali would have put together in a Spanish café. And yes, it served the best coffees and no one disturbed me. I was in there almost everyday, having my muffin and cappuccino,reading the papers, or a book, or just working on my laptop on some new assignment. The great thing about this place was that it was open from five in the morning. So I could be here from dawn to midnight, as  I generally was most days of the week.

And today was my birthday. It was seven in the morning. Before the calls would
start coming and I would need to sound cheery, I ran down here to have a
pick-me-up cup of cappuccino. And there was a couple here already making
out. Jesus!
 Couldn’t I have just one day of alone time?

Thoughts ran through my head. ‘You’re old now,’ said the little voice
, ‘… you’re ALL alone. And everyone needs someone
to love, someone to share their lives with, someone to grow old with,
someone to…
HAVE SEX with.’

Sex.Sex.Sex. It all came down to that. Here I was, thirty years old, and still
a virgin.

Unmarried. Single. Alone. A Virgin. A Virgin. Yes it resonated in my head.
Nope I couldn’t get away from that word. For so long I had thought it was okay to be one. A virgin I mean.
I believed that I would find the right man who would cherish me and I would
treasure him. The ‘One Great Love’ that would blind me into losing my virginity
after we got married. But that spiel I had given to myself for over
fifteen years. And my mother, even though we never spoke about sex, because God knows that’s just a taboo topic we should not discuss, would have been proud of me.

But today I felt old. And that theory didn’t work.

On the brighter side though, I didn’t look my age. I did have a few layers of fat
around my belly but nothing a good shirt couldn’t camouflage. The extent of
my exercising was a Jane Fonda DVD I had acquired a decade ago
which I would put on and jump around for forty-five minutes every week or so but my apple shape never went away. I had
shoulder length, black hair and an olive skin
. And I had beautiful eyes. They
came from my grandmother. It was a lovely shade of grey and people could
never figure out if I was an Indian or a South American because of them.
But despite my hair, skin and eyes, I had never had a real date in my life.
So here’s the thing, men elude me. I’ve read all the books about men and how
to get a date but I’ve never really had a steady boyfriend. After the first five
minutes I feel the man is really stupid, extremely juvenile or highly pretentious.
I have an IQ that’s, mildly putting it, above average. It might
have given me the title of ‘over achiever’ in school, but never gave me a
boyfriend. Frankly, I did not think I even needed one. I was too busy achieving things in
life to have a man ruin it.

I played the piano, I learnt animation and I studied Modern Art for
fun in my spare time. I knew seven different languages, which brings me to what I
do. I’m a freelance interpreter. What that actually means is that I translate
languages for people, for example from French to Hindi or Spanish to English
or Russian to French. The embassies call me to help them translate important
documents, from their native language to ours, to ‘Indianize’ it, or when they hold a
conference I am the one the Indians would hear on their headphones
translating a particular speaker’s speech. Or when
delegates from different countries come, I help translate talks between dignitaries. Like when Laloo Prasad Yadav had to meet the
railway minister of Russia, I was called to help translate their conversation. It
was another matter that I could barely understand what Mr Yadav was saying
and probably translated what I thought he should have said.

Most times I’m a guide for some important delegates’ wives and family. I love
my job even though it can become very erratic. It pays well and I get to
meet some interesting people from across the globe. And it helps that I live in the melting pot of India, Mumbai.


My parents currently live in Bangalore. My dad’s in the foreign service and we’ve
moved around a lot. That’s why I know seven languages, because of the different
countries I had to grow up in. Finally when I was old enough to say I’m done
with moving, I left them in Moscow and moved to Mumbai.

It was strange at first trying to find a footing in this city. Mumbai was definitely a harder place to
be in than Russia, America or France put together. But it gave me back so
much more than all the other countries. And that’s why I decided to stay
here and make it my home eight years ago.

I stay in a rented, one-bedroom apartment in Bandra. It’s grossly
overpriced and there’s no view, but I completely love it. I’ve done it the way I
would see art through the ages from Renaissance to Cubism, with colours and
images jumping out from every corner. Something like this café. And that’s
why I was sitting here on my birthday, to collect my thoughts because it felt like an extension of
home.

Which is why I was irritated that a bunch of teenagers had decided to meet
here before going off to college and were sucking on each other’s pimples.

The topic of my virginity came back again. I had always been a social recluse. I didn’t have many friends and the only people I spoke to were clients. I always had a hard time opening up to relationships. I never found a deep connection with anyone and I was still searching for that to lose my virginity. And if that wasn’t enough reason why I was still a virgin, I was mortified about getting pregnant or ending up with a life threatening disease. Protection wasn’t always hundred per cent full proof and I couldn’t take my chances with even a small margin going wrong.

But today I felt it was Time. The time had come to change. I could feel a wave of a revolution coming over me. Sex and relationships could be two different things. I should forget about understanding a man and just have sex with a man. That’s what my head was saying. Who said age doesn’t play with your hormones? Today, mine were raging like the dry lands that had caught fire in Wisconsin.

The phone rang. It was my best friend Aditi.

‘Happy April Fool’s Day babe. What you doing?’ Aditi had been my friend for
the last eight years. She was the first friend I had in Mumbai. And it was the most
awesome meeting ever. I had taken the First Lady of France to see a film
shoot and help her interpret Hindi and Bollywood better. Aditi was the
Assistant Director running around trying to get a particular hat for the lead
actress. While the director was screaming his head off, she noticed the First
Lady’s hat and quickly came over and asked her to take it off and hand it to
her. I was appalled and didn’t know how to translate this galling request.

But Aditi said very firmly, ‘I don’t care who you are but I’m part of a mega
crore industry and will lose my job if I don’t get that hat now!’

So the First Lady took it off (after I translated what Aditi had said, a toned down version, of course) and gave it to her. We got an umbrella to shield us from the sun, and Aditi gave us the hat back after the shot. Later Aditi took us around the set and introduced us to the Superstar of
Bollywood. The First Lady said she had never had so much fun and Aditi and I
exchanged numbers and were friends ever since.

‘Having coffee,’ I replied to her blandly.
‘Intravenously?’
‘No re! At CD’s. With my normal strong cappuccino,’ I said.
‘What plans for today? Anyone plan a surprise 30th birthday party for you?’ She mocked knowing that I had very few friends.
‘Nothing much. No delegates in April. So I’m broke.’
‘You poor thing. That is a terrible April Fool’s joke that God
is playing on you! So let me treat you tonight. What say?’ Aditi asked definitively.
‘Ok.’ I replied and then with an added thought, `I also have some news!’ I said enthusiastically. ‘I have finally made up my mind about the “problem” I have had.’
‘What problem?’ Aditi asked.
‘My virginity,’ I whispered, cupping the mobile phone so no one would hear me.
‘Ah, that problem! If you would remember, I’ve been telling you since the last
century, that you should do something about that ‘Hi-men, bye-men’ attitude
of yours.’ She laughed at her own joke.
‘I’m serious. Really, I need help.’
‘Ok we should not waste any more time then. I mean, it’s already been three decades!’ And she laughed again while I cringed, ‘Let’s make it happen tonight. Let’s
de-virginize you! See you at the bar at eight okay?’ She said authoritatively and hung up.

I smiled. I could always count on Adu.

I hung up the phone with supreme confidence. It was going to happen
tonight. And then I could shake this monkey off my back and get on with my
life. I planned to have a great thirtieth birthday.

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