Archive | May, 2014

Once upon a crush in Bombay

14 May

Once Upon a Crush

Few things give me as much pleasure as receiving a signed book from an author. This isn’t to say that receiving clothes, shoes and bags with personally signed notes from designers does not lift my spirits, sure it does. Imagine waking up to a note like this:

Dear Shunali,

Here’s the Chanel Black caviar tote that so reminded me of you. Hope you enjoy it.


Karl Lagerfield

You get the drift?

Sadly, this is one of those pleasures that has eluded me in my young life and ergo am unable to blog about it. I take this opportunity to let it be known hereafter that I am absolutely open to such experiences and any designers, jewelers, watchmakers etc reading this should not hesitate to send me dispatches every now and then.

So as I was saying earlier, few things give me as much pleasure as receiving a signed copy of a freshly printed book from an author. If that author happens to be a dear friend, then the overall experience of receiving such a parcel only comes close to the rapture and nervous excitement pulsating through a cocaine addict’s body on receiving his packet of angel dust from the drug dealer. It is with this kind of an emotion running through my chassis that I received my personal copy of Once upon a Crush, by Kiran Manral.

Kiran and I were once colleagues at a newspaper, where both of us were trying to make our career as journalists and where at least one of us succeeded in doing so. Our friendship however, blossomed on Twitter, several years and skin rejuvenation creams later.  You could say, “We found love in a hopeless place” in Rihanna’s sublime words. Twitter did not turn out to be such a waste of time after all.

I had laughed my spleen out while reading Kiran’s first book, The Reluctant Detective and looked forward to her next book with much anticipation. However, given the title of this book, I wasn’t sure about what to expect. I wondered if I was too old to read a book about crushes when my own child was well-nigh into her teens. But then the image of my friend’s eighty-year-old granny, who read Barbara Cartland well into her grave, floated in front of my eyes and I realized that one is never too old to read about love or crushes, as the case might be. It was with these thoughts darting across my constricted brain that I started to readOnce upon a crush.

We had a flight to catch and reading in the car on way to the airport made me sick, but I continued to read through my nausea. “Are you really reading a book about crushes mamma?” my eleven-year-old questioned.

“Why not? I still have crushes,” I answered casually.

“Yes we know you like that actor, whatshisname?”

“Never mind, now let me get back to my book.”

And so it is, that the book was read with intermittent fits of laughter, much to the annoyance of the husband who had the pleasure of being seated next to a spouse whose nose was dug into a book throughout the flight.

I finished reading the book in no time and spent some time wondering if I would be able to write a fictional account of a twenty something falling in love. I figured I could, if the book were set in an era between the 30s and the 90s. But the code of conduct between the sexes has changed drastically since then. My mother’s favourite dictum of ‘men wanting to chase a running bus’ seems almost Paleolithic in today’s context. I speak to my younger friends sometimes and hear about their love lives and feel bemused and intrigued in equal parts.

Once upon a crush then, is not just a fun office romance infused with Manral’s self-deprecating humour, it is also a revealing peek into the lives of the twenty somethings of this generation. Rayna De, hailing from a middle class Bengali family, is in her late twenties and stuck in a dead end job with a monster of a boss. Deven Ahuja is the new object of desire at her work place and even though he is completely out of her league, Rayna cannot help but nurse a crush on him. Alas, debonair Deven is all about mixed signals and it does not help that Rayna’s job is on shaky ground. To make matters worse her parents are in a hurry to get her married off to a suitable Bong boy.

Here is a quick Q&A with the Manral herself.

How much of your book is fiction?
All of it. I began with the basic premise of a girl alone in the city and built it up from there. But it is fiction based on fact. The office is inspired by an advertising agency I worked at briefly, complete to the Triwizard maze of cubicles and the lack of sunlight that made me feel claustrophobic inside. The characters are all composites of folks I know. But then I think that is true of all writers, we borrow heavily from fact and turn it into fiction.

Is Deven your ideal man?
Ha ha ha. No, I met my ideal man and then I married him. But don’t tell him that.

Is Rayna your alter ego?
As far as the five foot eight goes, perhaps, because when I take my heels off in public I have to raise a hand to let folks know I’m down there. She’s a very different person from me. I am, what you call it, boringly old school where you marry the man then bed him. Or you marry the man you bed.

How does one know whether what one is nursing is a crush or love?
According to me, if you are terribly attracted to a person without really getting to know a person, obsessed with that person you might be in the unrelenting throes of a crush. But if you do know the person, warts and all, and yet cannot imagine being without that person, it must be love. That’s my definition of the two. According to researchers who know these things and get paid to find out, a crush lasts a few months and love, well, that goes on and on and on, ideally until death do us part, or divorce or such.

Rayna is a girl brought up on Middle class Bengali values but she seems to be a sexual libertine given that she is ready to bring the boy over on their first car drive home. Or when she has few inhibitions with her prospective Bengali suitor chosen by her parents on their first or second date itself. Is this how girls today are thinking and operating? Have the rules of the game changed regarding the chaser and the chasee?
Actually yes. The rules have completely changed since back when you and I were in the dating game. I find that women today are very confident about their sexual needs and don’t have trouble separating the emotional with the physical. There is no hesitancy about sleeping with each other on the first date itself, if anything I’ve had girls tell me, it lets them know if they’re physically compatible and if they’re not, they’d rather not waste time.

There are many who believe in the concept of friends with benefits, where they will sleep with a good male friend but not really think of them as relationship or marriage material. There is no stigma attached to casual sex, and hasn’t been for a while. Interesting thing is that girls are the chasers as much if not more as the boys are, which is wonderful.

How did you get into the mind of a girl like Rayna De or even her friends given that they’re from a different generation from us?
I chatted a lot with many single urban girls, based in Mumbai. Some living on their own, some living with parents. I observed a lot of them on social media. I looked around me when I went to malls and restaurants or those I interacted with in the course of work. I tried to understand what was driving them, what their triggers were, and what motivated them. I found most of them immensely confident, driven professionally and seriously concerned about marriage and settling down, though they might not admit to the last one in public.

Kiran Manral


It will be a year tomorrow

1 May

lotus buddhaIt will be a year tomorrow. A year since the day I flew down to Dehradoon to see my father who had been admitted in the ICU all too suddenly. A year since that sleepless night when I struggled with my worst fears, telling myself they were not premonitions and they were just that – fears. It will be a year since I stood by his bedside and he opened his eyes to catch me weeping silently. I saw a loving, incandescent smile stretch across his handsome face. “Don’t be upset, I am fine. All is well,” he told me calmly. “I am just happy that you are here,” he said smiling a really happy smile that  lit up the ICU, then the hospital, then the entire city and finally my whole universe.

It will be a year since I thanked god almighty that my father had survived that critical night of May 1st when I had been told over the phone that the doctors feared we could lose him. The worst was behind us. There was so much to be grateful for.

It will be a year since I forced my way into the ICU, time and again on that day, only to watch him breathe and sleep peacefully. It will also be a year since I stood there thinking about just how much I adored him. A year since I heard the nurses in the hospital praise him for his patience. “He must have been a General in the army, we can tell from his personality,” said one. “He is so kind and so patient, does not complain at all,” nodded the other. A year since I stood there feeling awfully proud that he was my father.

It will be a year since the day we all prayed fervently under our breath for him to recover quickly and come back home. Our prayers were heard and the doctor informed us the same evening that my father’s condition was indeed improving and he would be moved to a normal room to recuperate the very next morning.

Life however, had other plans for him. He moved on a few days and many desperate prayers later. Last year, this time, I waited it to be next year quickly. I waited for the pain and the emptiness to pass. I wanted to fast forward my grieving and my mother’s and sister’s along with it. But a year later, it all feels the same.

Over the past year, I traveled to different places but there was one thing common in all these trips. My father was not around to hear about them.

In this past year, I read many books and saw some movies but there was one thing common in all of them. They all ended. And I had to snap back to a reality in which my father was not around for me to exchange notes with.

During this one year, I have tried to understand the morass that is loss. I have tried to get used to the pain and I have dreamt of eternity. But every now and then, I unlearn all that I have learnt of them. “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional,” my father would say, quoting his favourite philosopher, the Buddha. I reflect on those words time and again.

Ever so often, I lift the flap to consider the wound beneath, to check if it has healed. Maybe I am looking at it too often, I need to give it time for the scar tissue to be formed. The next time, I look at it after a longer interval. I am surprised to find that it is still as raw as it was the last time I looked. I will not look at it for three months now, I determine. Oh it has been eight days, let me just have a quick peek. No, I am not weak-willed, it is only just a glance to see if it has healed. I am disappointed. It still hurts. No, I cannot even see a scab forming over it. How long do I need to wait? Will this ever heal? Or will it stay there, just as it is, to remind me of what there was in its place in happier times?

I suspect this void will not fill. It will stay as is. A void set in stone. Stones don’t grow back do they? Truth be told, this void is too special and maybe I don’t even want it to fill.


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