Thursday, March 11, 2010


I was in Sambalpur a few weeks back and we'd gone to a picnic spot beside a lake. While everyone was playing in the water, I was basking in the sun near the bank. They proceeded deeper and deeper into the water, diving down and raising their arm to show how deep the water was. I was playing with pebbles, splashing water, trying to act busy. But not for long. “Don’t you want to come inside the water? There’s no fun just sitting there!” No response. “Are you like, scared of water or something?”


I know Pamela Anderson is the most famous Baywatch girl. But for me, she will always remain second to Yasmine Bleeth. I had caught a glimpse on an episode on one of the lucky afternoons in my summer holidays. I know this has been talked about many times, but there is something about the beach, the sea, and red swimsuits that sends teenage hormones on a sprint.

Swimming was among the cool things on my list of cool things since that day. But I had never got the opportunity to learn it. I finally decided to learn in my XI standard.

I registered myself at a swimming coaching class. What I dint know that the oldest guy in the batch was eleven years old. After bearing the ignobility of standing in my briefs with kids who reached up to my knee, I quit the coaching.

A few months later, we went to Balasore, my father’s native place. There is a pond behind our house and the kids all learn swimming in it. My father called me to the pond with the promise that he would teach me swimming. He told me how he and his five brothers had learnt swimming on their own. It was just something you learnt while growing up. “We learnt it on out own, in a month. We just dived into the water and learnt it”.

When I gingerly stepped into the water, I was expecting my father to come in behind me. I was already in the water and to my horror, I realised he was going to teach me swimming the way he had learnt it. “Paddle your feet and move your arms.” How easy it sounds, like “Switch off the lights and close the windows.” I was unable to move a muscle. After a few minutes of struggle, I gave up. I could see my father on the edge, egging me to go on with his hand raised. Looking like Rocky Balboa’s coach when he was badly beaten in the eye. Seconds later, my cousin brother jumped in to the water and pulled me out to safety. I came out of the pond, shaken, and shivering. Strike 1.

Just about 2 weeks later, I went to my bodo bapa’s house. There is a canal that flows right next to my uncle’s house where people bathe. Bathing is a community event. You came in groups with your friends, swam a bit, bathed, and went home. My cousin brother Raja Bhai had taken me along with him to bathe. I think there is something about the people of Balasore and has to do with their helpful nature. When he learnt I didn’t know how to, he offered to teach me how to swim. After some insisting, he took me into the water holding my hand. I waded into the water, my legs in the water, my hand in Raja Bhai’s and my heart in my mouth. Once we were a little inside, he left my hand, asked me to paddle, and turned to speak to his friend. Same result. That sinking feeling again. When he turned, he saw my hand struggling above the water and pulled me to safety. Strike 2

A few months later, I was at Puri. I had gone with a few friends to the beach and we were playing in the water. While the rest were diving into the water, I was playing safe, staying well behind the others and tamely splashing water like the Gopis do in those ISCKON pictures.

After a while, we noticed a girl in a red swimsuit nearby. Now, it is difficult to find anyone below 75 kilos in a swimsuit in Puri. And she was young and pretty. The sight of her caused an exodus among the guys on the beach and everyone including out group gradually moved a little closer.

They would wait for the girl to look in their direction, and then with a loud “Yaaaaaaay” dive into the water. I joined them for a number of reasons. Adrenaline rush, peer pressure, memories of Yasmine Bleeth. Red swimsuit.

“Yaaaaaaaay” and Splash! I went diving into one of the waves. The next wave was a bigger one, and I dived right into it, and when it was going back, I realised I couldn’t feel any sand below my feet. The red swimsuit girl was among the first to notice me screaming. “Somebody, pull him out. He doesn’t know how to swim”. The same sight again, a haze of brown and water getting into my mouth and ears. A bihari guy jumped into the water and pulled me out. Even within the water, I could hear him screaming out to me not to pull him in too. The last thing I remember was a light brown colour everywhere around me and water entering into my eyes, nose, and mouth.

When I opened my eyes, I saw the beard of a man who looked like Sivapathacus from our history text book, inches from my face. Yes, I had drowned again. Yes, I had been given CPR by that early old man. Strike 3.


“No, no. Nothing like that. You guys go enjoy! I’ll just sit here and relax.” If ever that proverbial situation comes when I have to choose between the devil and the dark sea, I will embrace the Devil and try to bargain with him!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Maharaja Talkies

Nothing remarkable happened on 24.7.2002, it was just another Wednesday. But it was a red letter day for me. It was the first time I went to a cinema hall to watch a movie. Considering I was born in 1986, which was 2 decades back, it had to be special.

As a child, I was not allowed to watch movies even on television. The hottest woman I saw on television was Tara of Chandrakanta. My mother had even shut down the TV when the Draupadi Vastraharan scene was going on in Mahabharat, so you can imagine the levels of deprivation I was going through. The logic was simple. Going to movies was not in the list of activities that would help you to go to heaven. And so I was never taken to a cinema hall. I tried hinting about it a few times, but I might have as well asked for a trip to the moon.

Not that I hadn’t watched movies. We were shown films in our hostel. Mostly English films. And in the rare moments that my mother wasn’t at home or I was at someone else’s home, I used to catch whatever little on the existing movie channels. So, by the time I had finished my Class 10, I had watched a total of four hindi movies in my life.

Maine Pyar Kiya: (Being Diwali, my mother was busy in Puja),
HatimTai: (I remember Jitendra surrounded by girls doing aerobics holding duffs. Additional bonus, Dimple Kapadia in an item number).
Lagaan: Shown at school, with the Madhuban song edited out. Frustrated lot as we were, they might have wanted to avoid an uncomfortable situation.
Avatar: Rajesh Khanna is a mechanic who loses his hand while repairing an Ambasador and teaches his sons a lesson in caring for parents, with one hand. This emotional prostitute of a film was followed by a discourse on how children today do not care about their parents.

The idea of watching a film in a cinema hall thrilled me. My friends at school had described what the inside was like. I was told about the stall, the balcony, the whistling and hooting. It seemed like wonderland.

I returned home early and rushed on my bicycle to a cinema near my house that was screening Devdas – the bumper hit at that time. By the time I reached the hall, about 30 minutes had lapsed. I reached the ticket counter was looking left and right to check if anyone I knew was around. But all the people I knew were the kinds who spent Saturday evenings in Bhajans and would never come to watch a movie about a drunkard who falls in love with a prostitute and dies in front of his married lover’s gate.

The usher standing in front of the grill with his torch noticed me loitering around and asked me if i wanted a ticket. I said yes and he asked me to shell out 40 rs. If I had looked at the ticket counter, I’d have seen that the costliest ticket at that time was 22 Rs. But anyway, I was entering the hall for the first time and it seemed too good to be true. It was like a magical place. There were statues of fairies and posters of other films that were to be released soon. Even while climbing the stairs, I could faintly hear the dialogues. It felt like I belonged here.

I recalled my friends’ description of the balcony and the stall. Strangely, the man seemed to keep walking to the front rows. He kept walking till he reached the first row in the entire hall. He pulled a wooden bench from the side and asked me to sit. By then, I realised I had been royally duped. But what the heck? I was in a cinema hall.

I had to crane my neck up to look at the screen. Since I was closest to the screen, I felt like a fly sitting on people’s faces whenever they came on screen. SRK’s nose looked the size of a blackboard and everything else seemed magnified beyond recognition. If someone was at the left of the screen, I had to turn my head to the left and then look to the right again. Within 15 minutes, my neck began to hurt. I turned to look behind me. I was expecting to see people staring at the screen in awe. What I saw was a bunch of rickshaw walas and coolies, some of them drunk, the others showering Aishwarya Rai with a string of abuses I did not the meaning of. It felt like a 3D, larger than life experience, the hero was drinking bottles of booze and the area around me stank of it too.

After 2 long hours, Aishwarya realises SRK is outside her gates and runs to meet him. After what seems like a 200 m relay race, she reaches the gates, only for it to be shut on her face. The hero lies dead, mumbling her name. The end credits roll. I stand up.

Only to be pulled back to my seat by my shirt. “Bose, sola. Hero uthibo”. (Sit down, brother in law. The hero will get up). After about 2 minutes, they realised hero wouldn’t get up. This was followed by another string of abuses directed at the hero’s ancestral lineage. The lights got switched on. Someone had thrown something at the screen and people were making a rush for the exit. And a fight broke out. No fight in Orissa is considered big enough till someone screams out ‘Maaaaghiyaaaa’. Someone sounded the war cry and a riot broke out.

I struggled my way out, losing two buttons in the process.

I haven’t forgiven SRK to date.