In Ten Sentences Or Less [5] – Gymbalaya

Unimpressed by my somewhat strident protestations that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that I am any less agile than I was 40 years ago when, as a high school football goalkeeper, I would lunge, leap, levitate or, at the mere hint of leather heading in the general direction of the citadel I was chosen to protect, launch myself into orbit, with the grace of a gazelle (or so I’d want to remember it as), to fist it out of harm’s way amidst the full-throated cheers of my myriad fictional fans, mostly of the fairer sex (or so I’d like to imagine), my nephew, the dear, concerned soul that he is, recently gifted me a week of personal training at the local health club. On his pithy observation that each time I paused while climbing  stairs, it wasn’t that I was deeply pondering the future of humanity  but only trying to catch my breath, I called the club with as much enthusiasm as I could muster and made my reservations for the coming week with a dulcet-toned personal trainer named Yolanda, who identified herself as a 26-year old aerobics instructor and part-time model for athletic clothing and swimwear, which information, truth be told, did much to dissipate my apathy for the project and even got me to agree to keep a diary to chart my progress, as my silver-tongued, soon-to-be-mentor advised I should.

Monday: Habituated over many years to not seeing the sun rise, believing as I do that it’s only a sunset in reverse and can be caught, in replay mode, at a later, more convenient time of day, I climb out of bed at 5.17 a.m., even before the sun has, and arrive at the health club to find Yolanda the Goddess – she of the dark brown tresses, dancing eyes, dazzling smile and statuesque, physically-toned build – waiting for me, as if she always has been. After the pleasantries, which I manage to extend for as long as I can without causing the kind of awkwardness one can’t quite wriggle out of, Yolanda takes me on a tour of the facilities, showing me the machines, which I find interesting, and demonstrating some of them for me, which I find infinitely more so, marvelling at her skill and agility as she builds up speed and a healthy sweat on a mechanical rowboat. “We’ll start with a light workout today,” Yolanda tells me because, apparently, there are too many parts of my body that exercise hasn’t reached, too many muscles that I still have to get acquainted with and, although my gut is aching from holding it in the whole time she’s around to see that I do my sit-ups without inflicting irreparable bodily harm on myself, I have a healthy premonition that this is going to be a fantastic week.

Tuesday: I beat the sun to it the second day running and even the neighbourly cock hasn’t uttered a single crow by the time I’m out the door with a tread so light that I might have been riding a sunbeam and a heart even lighter, so high is the anticipation of renewing acquaintance with Yolanda who, when she sees me, dispenses her customary high-wattage, blinding white beam of a smile and it is surely the surplus caffeine in my system that has me thinking that its duration is nanoseconds shorter than the one she bestowed on me yesterday and that it metamorphoses into a smirk as she instructs me to lie down on my back and begin pushing a heavy iron bar repeatedly into the air for no apparent purpose, with weights added on as incentives for coping. Barely surviving the iron rod treatment, I am persuaded, by a steely glint and an even steelier smile, to climb onto a treadmill, my legs still wobbly, like a drunk’s after a night of extreme Bacchanalia and, while I’m still trying to find my feet, so to speak, she gradually increases the speed of the conveyor till I’m stumbling and running and stumbling again but grittily determined to complete the 4 km. she has me programmed for come what may, because Yolanda is watching and I feel great already (although I must confess, the “surprise” she rewards me with at the end of the session – an unrecognizable, bilious green mush out of a bender that she calls a “smoothie” – does not go down quite so smoothie, if you know what I mean).

Wednesday: The only way I can brush my teeth is by laying my toothbrush at a height on the bathroom counter and running my mouth back and forth over it, though that gets the hernias in both pectorals to act up, and driving to the health club is fine so long as I don’t try to steer, change gears or brake hurriedly, which has me almost totalling an unwary Tata Nano in the parking lot. Goddess Yolanda is impatient with me, insisting, in a voice that is a little too perky for this early in the morning and, when she raises it a timbre, too nasally challenged for my pain-addled brain to take, that my screams yesterday had bothered other club members some of whom had even threatened to quit if I were to give an encore performance and, if running on the treadmill was such agony, I should get on the stair monster instead, although why anyone would invent a machine to simulate an activity rendered obsolete long ago by elevators and escalators is anybody’s guess. Yolanda tells me that it’ll help me get in shape and enjoy life and, as I try to keep my pain from finding voice, she says a whole lot of other stuff too, but I’ve stopped listening because I’m doing battle with the stair monster and losing.

[To Be Continued]

In Ten Sentences Or Less [4] – To Be Or Not To Be A Celebrity

When the other day my neighbour’s precocious 13-year old, Mausumi (whose general deportment is almost as capricious as the monsoon wind she is named after), chanced upon a complimentary copy of this magazine that my editor had sent me, possibly out of guilt for having had as much fun as she did at the launch party I was not invited to, and asked, rather pointedly, what qualified me to write in a journal dedicated to the lives and lifestyles of celebrities, it gave me cause for pause.

Before I had quite recovered my bearings, she followed through with a quick one-two that had me back on the ropes, reeling: Was I a celebrity writer (which was, obviously, a rhetorical question because she answered it herself almost as soon as she’d asked it with a dismissive shrug of her shoulders) and did I know any celebs at all, let alone well enough to write about them? Rather than confess to being stumped and rendered temporarily speechless, I tried to take the high road and not stoop to argue the point with someone less than one-fourth my age and experience, though, on the evidence of her penetrative queries, this was a monsoon wind of hurricane proportions that would not quit till it had completely rained out my parade, unless I could find a convincing explanation to resolve the doubts she seemed to have about my – and my column’s – raison d’être.

Not ever having imagined that I would be defending myself one day against the accusations of a juvenile with a definite, delinquent disposition, I found myself arguing, with gratuitous vehemence, that most celebrities were creations of media anyway and how famous a person was, particularly someone with limited, mediocre or no talent at all except the fortune to have been born into fortune, depended largely on how famous or infamous media wanted them to be. Which, in turn, depended on how famous or infamous they already were among celebrity rubberneckers that countless numbers of us seem to have become through extended exposure to paparazzi pot-shots, paid pieces in daily press supplements, scripted reality shows on television, dedicated celeb and lifestyle magazines and, the biggest purveyor of trivial information of them all, the ubiquitous Internet, where popularity – celebrity status, if you will – is measured in terms of Friends, Likes, Winks, Nudges, Followers and Tweets. Celebrity, I continued, warming to my argument, is among the most frequently used words in contemporary urban lexicon, a noun of significant standing on its own and an adjective of supreme suppleness too, equally at home with actors, authors, bakers, bartenders, cooks, cricketers, columnists, doctors, dieticians, fashionistas, fitness trainers, hairstylists and holistic healers as with adult-film actresses, agony uncles, Big Boss contestants, Kingfisher calendar girls, career criminals (one Charles Sobhraj leaps to mind), guileful godmen, garrulous news anchors and portfolio-less, politician panellists.

So, I concluded with what I thought was enough conviction to sway the argument conclusively in my favour, you don’t have to know a celebrity or be one to inhabit their world because their world is already an inextricable part of yours, thanks to the all-pervasive, all-encompassing influence of media, old and new.

The sole audience of my impassioned diatribe gave me a quizzical look as if my overdone rhetoric had convinced her of quite the opposite of what I had intended and, if her diet of reading had been Hamlet and not Harry Potter, she might well have said: The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks. What she did say was no less provocative than what she had opened with: So, if you write often enough for a magazine that’s a celebrity insider and you don’t have much talent going for you, you could one day become a celebrity, too?

Cause for pause.

In Ten Sentences Or Less [3] – Happy to Help

Unlike a David who, with just a slingshot, cleverly disguised audaciousness and the element of surprise, brought an oversized, overconfident and, possibly, out-of-match-practice Goliath to his knees, I always tend to come away second-best – defeated, diddled and devastated – when I have to deal with the faceless behemoths – Goliaths in their own right – that pass for customer care centres of the service providers – telecom and television, to name two of the largest – that have become such an ubiquitous influence on our lives.

To start with, the helpline number blazoned across my wonderful-to-have-you-with-us invitation letter is rarely the one that’s active, if the definition of ‘active’ is to be greeted by a robotic voice trying – and failing miserably – to be warm and hospitable and being put on a perennial hold during which I am informed, with irritating regularity in-between repeated snatches of a remarkably tuneless jingle, that my call is important to them, whoever they might be, and that I should hang on till a customer care representative gets to me even if that means my giving up whatever else I was planning to do for the rest of the day, like meeting my editor’s deadline for this piece which I’ve missed twice already.

After an opening salvo that might have deterred a lesser opponent, which I believe myself not to be, the robot changes tack and asks me to press 1 for English, 2 for Hindi, 3 for Bengali, 4 for Tamil, 5 for Telegu and so on till it’s 9 to hear the menu all over again, which it inevitably is since, by then, I’ve forgotten the sequence of language options, although, as subsequent events reveal, I needn’t have bothered to remember them in the first place. Irrespective of the number I press, the language is always Hindi, which I have no problem with except to wonder why was so much effort and time is wasted to make me believe I actually have a choice when I really don’t have any?

The first couple of times this happens, when my perverse choice of English is ignored and I am identified by a mispronounced and almost unrecognizable version of my name in a guttural Hindi that, no doubt, emanates from some faraway office in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, where real estate is significantly cheaper than it is in Delhi, I demand that I be spoken to in the language I have chosen. I quickly realize that this is a mistake: it only tends to prolong my agony because the English on offer, when it is at all recognizable – requiring as it does frequent repetition, interpretation and, inevitably, translation back into Hindi – only means that I am wasting twice the time I would have if I had pressed 2 in the first place (or any number for that matter because, as I am soon to discover, all roads lead to the same destination, much as it did, in older times, to Rome).

Having finally reached someone who by the sound of it, though there is no conclusive evidence to confirm it beyond all reasonable doubt, is not a robot and overcoming my initial discomfort at the way he pronounces my name or the inordinate time he takes to list my address because Bengali street names and Kolkata’s geography are as alien to him as would be Greek ones to me, I finally get to report the problem I am facing. Even before I have quite finished, he regrets, with obvious insincerity, the inconvenience I have been caused and puts me back on hold while he goes off to retrieve my case, as if I am some unrepentant, repeat offender which, in his book, I might well be for having deigned to complain at all.

Patience frayed at the edges, teeth on edge, brain riddled with sales messages and tuneless jingles, I am nearing the end of my tether when he returns to the ether Siberia I’d been consigned to and, with grating ebullience, announces that my problem requires a site visit, which he’d be pleased to organize for me if I’d reconfirm my name and address and while I’m doing that is there anything else he might assist me with because, if I hadn’t noticed already, he is so very happy to help?

“Have a good day!”