The Snob

Perhaps, I am a Communist at heart. Or maybe I just have a big chip on my shoulder about not being able to afford fancy clothes and shoes. Or maybe I am more sensitive to the bitchiness of the “social upper class”.

A photographer is the fly on the wall. You hover around discreetly, using a telelens to zoom in on your subject. You are watching everyone intently, rubbing your hands in glee when you get the perfect expression.

But, most of us never think of ourselves as inferior. If anything, we have superiority issues, where we know we are making you look good.

It was yet another party, and a strong reminder of why I stopped shooting parties a long while ago. I was filling in for a friend, and hence had to be on my best behavior.

I’ve been jaded with parties for a while. The fake smiles, the stilted conversation, long pauses and forced laughter are hard to bear when you don’t have a glass of alcohol in your hand. Most of the people I know refuse to drink or even eat at these galas… we are waiting to finish our assignment, pack up and leave. We hit the cheapest drinking joint available, preferably a little dark and quiet where we can down drinks that cost 1/4th the price of the place we came from. It isn’t that we cannot afford the expensive booze. 

We prefer not to. We want to drown out the absolute human plasticity we faced with the other extreme.

Why did last night’s shoot irk me so much? It wasn’t the location… I’ve been there, I’ve shot there. 

It wasn’t the attitude of the hosts, which can be the case sometimes. They were sweet… even if a little insistent that I absolutely had to be standing around all the time with the camera on my face. Perhaps there are slackers in the field, but I do not know a single photographer who would just in the corner and not bother taking photographs. At the same time, you wouldn’t want to take a million photographs of a single person. Not even if they were related to you.

It was that one single person… there is one in every group. The one who thinks he is too good for the rest of the crowd and you just can’t be good enough. After making me feel responsible for packing up on scheduled time, insulting my efforts to help them out with another photographer, the man went on to suggest that he has a great camera and they would just use that. Politeness met its tragic end, I wished him luck and left. 

This isn’t about the money… this is about the fact that there is a certain set of people who do not see the others are ‘people’. These others being the ones who are not on the same plateau as them. The only way they will notice them is if there is something lacking in service. If the soup isn’t hot enough, if the drinks aren’t served quick enough, if the photographer leaves before the party is over, if the musician develops a sore throat. These are people hired to create ambience… good enough. But they are given the same amount of respect as the candles, the tables and the chairs set around. 

I shouldn’t be infuriated at this. I know there are instances I do this too… though I don’t think I ever treat anybody as furniture. I get pissed at their inefficiency, but there is always a goodwill with efficient service. 

But people like this man is what makes me wanna hit some people in the face with a chair. 

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People On The Street

People watching… not exactly the way it was supposed to be done. But it was a pleasant day and made for a pleasant walk and there were just enough people on the road to make it interesting.

I was on Brigade Road – one of the central roads in the city which is frequented by tourists and locals alike. So I tried to pick out which were the tourists, which were the people not from bangalore but here for work, here for work or studying for a while and the locals.

And on this street, it was fairly easy. Now, i wish I had photographs to go with this but I was on a schedule… so… use your imagination.

CASE 1 – Firang woman (white woman, for the uninitiated). She is wearing loose, thin pants with pretty boutique prints on them with a short kurta. Optional – braided/matted hair, a ring in the nose or the ear or anywhere on the face.
Verdict – Tourist. Hippy tourist. The kind who auto drivers charge 50 bucks extra and offer to take them to a place to buy weed

CASE 2 – Firangs… same loose pants, with a longer kurta minus the piercings etc
Verdict – Tourists.

CASE 3 – Firangs… jeans, a plain t shirt, a ball cap… just an ipod and cellphone in hand. Normal hairstyle, not too many shopping bags in hand, nor is the bag slung around the body.
Verdict – Students/Interns who have been living here for a while.

CASE 4 – Jeans, a t shirt/shirt, cell phone in hand, keys not particularly tucked away so nobody can see it… could be firang, could be north Indian…
Verdict – businessmen. not particularly from the city

CASE 5 – Semi formal shirt and jeans/kurta and jeans
Verdict: This is where it got a little confusing. Could be a student here… family moved from somewhere else. Or belongs to the non-traditional part of Always-Been-Bangalorean crowd. Usually, I would judge by the sunglasses or sort of bags they carried… or the shoes… those pretty embroidered shoes – never from bangalore, always from some other cosmo city. But with normal sneakers… a little hard to tell. So i went with Bangalorean.

Of course, if they had worn a ill-fitting t shirt with slim jeans, I would peg them as from Chennai or the more traditional families in the city.

The thing is… bangaloreans don’t have a fixed image i guess… which is why they are identified by the elimination of everything else. The body language is relaxed, they aren’t particularly worried about their bags… sometimes, I see some people and think “hmmm” and then it turns out they are from Bombay or something. They’ve been here a few years.

The particular trait of a “Bangalorean” is that your family could be from anywhere… you could speak any language at home…  but you always know a bit of kannada, like it and most importantly, you always identify yourself as “bangalorean” before anything else – caste, religion, sex, or that little village your parents left when you were not even a molecule.

The best kind of people. A rare, vanishing breed.

Here’s that to city that was.

Photo Of The Day:

Peace, Love, & Happiness, originally uploaded by evanleavitt.

Inspirations

It was a slow friday and after my quota of news reading for the day, I wanted to read some funny blogs. Except that I seem to be bored of all those my list (which are updated at least – do you notice that the best ones are rarely updated?). So I went back to this one blog I had started reading a long time ago but gave up because what seemed cute and nice turned a little too narcisstic and boring.

But I figured rereading this blog was more interesting than much of the new stuff out there, so I went back to the very first post written and started to read.

I had to compare to my blog and the first few posts there, where it was a little personal (not as much tell-it-all like this one) and it was fluid. It was about today and the emotions and my thoughts without worrying about if that guy who sits in the far-off seat at work is reading my blog. Somehow, though I wanted all these people to read me and stuff (seeing that little stat counter going higher everyday is such a kick!) I didn’t want people who knew me to really be reading this because then I could no longer be personal and open.

Now, every time I do write something really personal I end up deleting it right away or passwording it and only people who ask for it get the password. Or I have to word everything so carefully and not write “straight from the heart” style like I used to.

Anyway, a little incident at work today –

Every time someone leaves, there is one of those “It has been a pleasure working with you” emails sent out. These are sometimes sent to the entire fricking company (almost), so you are sitting there and wondering “who on earth is this guy.”

Except today, there was one such mail that was the most honest I’ve ever seen. Summarizing, it said “well, I didn’t know all of you because I sit in a corner, with a not-so-great view, but I did make some friends and so for what it is worth, it was good and thanks for that.”

There was no keep in touch with email IDs and phone numbers. Short, simple and honest. Of course, some people thought it was weird and rude. Sort of like Miss Congeniality where Sandra Bullock says everything but ‘world peace’. But I liked it so I replied saying “good luck, even if you have no idea who I am.”

That somehow was suited the line of my thoughts… I’ve been thinking about all the lost opportunities for a while. I never was much into joining too many clubs and socializing in college. I never sat and chatted with professors in school because there was always something else to do. I guess it is called networking and I am not too good with that. I never invite people over for a casual drink because I don’t want people I barely know meeting my family. The ones who get to meet the family are special.

But somehow it has been in my mind… the clubs I should’ve joined, the activities I should’ve participated in. The little features of the school, college or whatever I could’ve taken advantage of – I didn’t. All that money I should’ve saved  but didn’t (and actually had fun with it).

I guess those are forever gone and there isn’t much you can do about it. Sometimes I tell myself to be a little more proactive, go approach those people and all of that but I never seem to. Many who know me think I am outgoing and all of that… which perhaps I am – in bursts.

I was chatting with a friend shortly after returning to India and mentioned how it was a little awkward to meet this professor of mine. “I always feel a little shy when I meet him,” I said.

My friend started to laugh “Where did you leave the shyness when you were here? In your cupboard back home!”

That sums it up. Appearances are deceptive I guess. Which is why networking sites are a good way to break ice that exists years after people fell out of touch.

Song of the day: Summer Sunshine – The Corrs

The people who influence us…

I came across this post today in a blog I follow. It is about the author’s grandmother who was a great influence on his life and thoughts. And she sounds like a remarkable lady. Though she belonged to a different generation, she seemed to have a spark which is missing even in today’s youth.

It got me thinking about the people I have run into who have perhaps had an influence on me… We were often asked his question – in school, in colleges, in those EQ or whatever exams, in interviews – write a few lines about that one person who influenced your life and how. I could never come up with a satisfactory reply. Part of it was because I didn’t want to reveal something so personal to a nameless, faceless examiner/interviewer somewhere and part of it was because there are so many people who have made me think.

It perhaps starts from my parents, who allowed to me experience and think for myself. We would talk about what I thought – they didn’t tell me what they thought and insist I follow. And perhaps, some of it did rub off on me – my disinclination towards religion and caste… my attitude towards the ineptitude of a government, the cynicism and the humor about it. Which perhaps built into something else. All of which simply cannot be explained in a 3 graph story for a job interview, even if I were willing to write.

But there have been various interesting people I’ve met… people who seemed incredibly weird, eccentric and fascinating who dropped by my house as a kid… Those leftovers of the flower power age, the last straggling hippies… the people who would sit late into the night arguing political policies or literature muses.

But the people I met later in my day, in my age – who were equally fascinating. Perhaps the closest I came to the memorable person recently was in Australia – Diana. The singer/dancer/performer and who knows what else. I sort of gave up talking to people so much after I returned to the city. I did stop paying attention to them… there are so many people after all!!!

So who cares about that beggar who sits on this street, which isn’t really a main road nor a particularly busy one – he is handicapped and i’ve seen him there for at least the past year. I wonder who brings him there, where he sits regardless of how burning the sun is. I wonder what happens to him when it rains, or if he feels thirsty or hungry. It is painful to see such people… so yes, I go the Indian way and block myself to it all.

You cannot avoid the eunuchs in this city even if you wanted to. One such person was Hema – who would – beg would probably be a wrong word and extort would be closer – at the signal near my house. I got tired of shelling out a couple of bucks everytime I passed that traffic light and I finally told her I would give her any money. Finito. For some reason, she figured that was reason enough to talk to me… she figured I passed that way everyday… and we had a conversation. Nothing too personal… She agreed not to harass me or my drivers again and we laughed about how she perhaps made more money than I did. And she told me her birthday (though I can’t remember why) which was only a couple of weeks away. I remembered the date… and her entire group there never harassed me again.

There have been less colorful characters who have been memorable… the druggie I met at Java City, a popular cafe here. He admitted to me that he did drugs because it made him feel depressed and he liked feeling that way. That Lebanese Australian automotive chain owner who sat next to me in the plane and spoke the whole damn way even if I wasn’t listening.

The Jamaican restaurant owner who used to would flirt with every one of us everyday as we passed his restaurant.

The abused, slightly crazy kid who used to work with me.

The driver who drove me around Malaysia and took me to see places I probably wouldn’t have found on my own when he realised I was there alone and I didn’t want the tourist KL.

The group of college kids who took me under their wing when they found out I was traveling alone.

The Swedish girl who partied with me and a friend in Goa.

The Korean guy I met one night at a party who had heard about my company.

The Irish girl at the bar.

So many people… how many of them actually made a difference to my life? You know, like, how I could write about it in a coherent manner. I’ve had epiphanies… like that club in Goa which was half filled with hookers. I never met those hookers… but they helped bring home some facts. Or just the people in that club did. And i’ve met fascinating people who make great stories… and while they’ve never perhaps made a difference in a solid manner, I would not do without them. I like stories… everyone’s stories. It is fun meeting someone who is living something else. Maybe that way you live that life for a bit… or envy them. Or completely change your life. Or realise you could never ever live that way because you are an idiot/ or not an idiot.

The point of this point? Nostalgia. Wondering. Like always. (and yes, i shall stop all these ruminations – soon).

The Day That Was

I am beginning to believe that I am jinxed. In some little manner.

Saturday was supposed to be finally the much-craved fun-filled day. I debated whether it should be casual, dressy or a slouchy t-shirt day and figured it would be blue jeans, white shirt and white pumps (you will get to know why this is important). So just as I was about to leave home, I got a call from a friend.

I’ve been planning to do a photography course for a while and finally managed to call the guy who runs the course and enrolled. I was to meet him on sunday or monday and pay up for the course. I’d been trying his cell ever since we spoke but it was switched off.

Now the friend calls and asks “What the hell is happening with Hellmuth Conz?” and I was explaining that I’d not been able to get in touch with the guy, so maybe I shouldn’t have told people I’m taking a photography course already. “No no! All these things about him being a German pimp?” she said.

Turns out the guy was buster yesterday for running a prostitution ring somewhere in the city! Of course, there was only one tiny article about it on some website called Express Buzz and I would’ve dismissed completely if his phone had not been off since the day the article said he was arrested. Happy Coincidence? I know not!

He is over 60 years old and has been living in this city for over a decade. He has also been conducting photography classes in various top colleges and is a really great photographer. Would he really need to run a prostitution ring? I do not know. Couldn’t the cops have been ineffective for a few weeks more, if they hadn’t been able to catch him for nearly 10 years? WTF!!!

On the other hand, I’d not yet paid up for the course. I’m sure if that is compensation enough because I was really looking forward to this course. I like his style of photography 😦 And yeah, it is funny in a weird way.

So with that news playing in my mind, and wondering who else had referred to him as “german pimp” a while ago, I headed out to drown my miseries in some bad wine with friends. Considering I would be drinking, I figured I’d take an auto and get a friend to drop me back home or take a cab back.

Except within two minutes of hailing an auto, the guy starts taking a different route. “You are supposed to go left” I said.

“Yes I know. Two minutes. I want to get gas.”

I hate it when they do that. Don’t they have time to ever get fuel in the city, all the while they are fricking lounging around on street corners? They always choose to get fuel when I’m in it and I’m running late. So I left him to go do what he wants and hailed another auto. Of course, for once, I had to walk nearly ten minutes.

Twenty minutes later we are stuck in the middle of a horrible traffic jam near the city. The traffic was less than crawling and the auto guy started blaming me for it.

“We should’ve taken the other route,” he said. I stared at him, wondering who it was who said “this way will be faster and less traffic”.

I figured I would walk – in white, heeled shoes – till a spot where the traffic cleared up a bit and hail another rickshaw from there. So I plugged in my music, wrapped my stole around me as tight as possible and started walking. 7 PM on this road, women walking (in groups or otherwise) is absolutely not advisable. Actually I don’t think women ever walk around in this area… it is filled with car shops – tyres, seats, audio equipment; furniture stores etc… all those places where you get good, cheap deals with warranties (which separates it from the grey market, which is further down the road). But no woman walks there…

Finally, after nearly having been run over by a bus who figured vehicles and people would vanish into thin air if he just revved in a two-inch space, I walked into a road where there was no traffic. But there was nothing else either. This is the seedier section of the road with mechanic shops. A bit of a slum, it is quite dirty, dingy and you see no women here. Well, there are maybe one or two but they are walking, covered in a veil, with their men. There are a few mosques there and most of the businesses there are owned by Muslims.

I never realised till then how unsafe Bangalore has gotten. There were men staring at me as I walked past. There were low whistles, which I ignored. The one good thing about being on a street like that was the autos would pull up to you, ignoring all the men waiting before you. Except, they could also smell my desperation to get out of there, the way a dog scents fear. And none of them spoke kannada, hindi or english. They spoke Tamil. Of all the languages in this state, they spoke tamil. And they wanted outrageous prices to take me 4 kms down the road. One quoted 150 bucks, the next was 80 and the other was double the fare. As desperate as I was, I wasn’t ready to be hosed.

But the frustration made me turn and snarl at two guys who were walking behind me, singing weird songs, whistling and pretending to hail autos as well. Maybe it was fear or sympathy, they hailed an auto for me, who agreed to take me the 4 short kms if i paid him 10 bucks extra. I figured I’d pretty much used up my luck, cursed, swore and got in.

Except, the traffic started up again in the next road. Even my favorite song couldn’t keep the frustration down. So out I went again and walked the next 3 kms in my pretty white shoes. At least this was a better part of town…

My friends were already there. Noon Wines – a slightly shady place which serves only beer and wine. The beer is a little watered down and the wine is cheap and heavily adulterated with rum, the big screen plays only cricket or some sport. There is no audible music, it is too dark to discern what is on your plate exactly and the waiters are fast and bored. Just the kind of place to unwind after a bad day.

Soon we decided to head to a nice club – Ice – one of my favorite party spots in town. Had been a long while since I went there and i was with a new bunch of people and quite eager to show off the place.

Except, when I get there, I was told the guest list entry time had expired. But I could still enter cuz hey! I was a regular but my friends had to pay 2 grand to enter. Half of them were okay with it and the other half a little skeptical. And I was wondering, why on earth were we paying as two couples?

And then I see a number of white guys entering the place without paying shit. Which absolutely pissed me off. We have been having this same discussion on Jacek’s blog – how the white people in India get the VIP treatment simply because they are white.

Now I knew that Ice sometimes did this. Infact, a lot of clubs in Bangalore do this. It is their way of advertisement apparently. The way it works, as a friend explained to me, if they let white people enter and party, more Indians will want to enter that club because they think it is cool, a popular place to be and would want to be seen partying with the white people. So the Indians pay the money and the white people party for free. I am not sure what disgusts me more – the assumption behind the marketing strategy or the fact that it nearly works. Or that we have such a horrible opinion about our own countrymen. Didn’t the period of white dominance end?

So me and a friend were horribly pissed – me, more than anything else and I refused to enter the club. I would not pay to enter a place where I have been nearly every other weekend when I have to pay simply because I was a little late to gain entry on the guest list and because hey! I am an Indian in INDIA!

We wound our way up – after more negotiations with auto guys, a broken auto and a bit of walking later – to F&B, which I realised used to be Madeira till a year ago. The city sure changes fast. The decor hadn’t changed, nor had the huge football screen playing Arsenal match. The last time I was there, it was Chelsea vs someone. There were a few foreigners there as well but I’d managed to get most of my temper back in control… mainly due to the fact that i was with some new people and punching someone out wasn’t an option.

We danced to weird house music, tried to make conversation with a bunch of people who didn’t really get us and were wondering where exactly I fit in. You see, I can swim in different waters… I am a Kannadiga, with a lot of exposure to our culture as well as others. So i speak really good kannada, fairly decent hindi, a bit of telugu and I think mostly in English. I have a slight accent, which was American at one point and now it is sort of nothing at all but still ‘anglicized’ as people like to call it. And the group of people I met were very ‘guys’ and very ‘local’.

Not to generalize, but they would be the sort who are software engineers from traditional families, they travel to the US and Europe for work and get a bit of culture, which they might not understand, like or appreciate but they feel the travel adds a bit of exoticness to them and is a good point for their marriage resume. They would not be able to discuss about Italian history and the craziness of it all but they will definitely tell you about the tour they took and what they thought of the colosseum. They would not do much off the beaten path and their un-adventureness is the most beautiful and the most irritating part about them. Their travels have given them enough confidence to talk to strange people suddenly thrust on them but they like to hang out in their group, in the occasional club where they never venture out of the comfort zone of the whole group of buddies, they get married to beautiful women in accordance to their families and they are steady, dependable men.

I am being a little cruel but more or less, that is how it works. The ‘modern yet traditional India’ which sometimes pisses me off with their hypocrisy.

But these were nice guys, sweet and quite willing to talk… even if not dance, which neither parties wanted anyway. But I was the paradox… the south Indian female who wasn’t traditional, yet not quite out there to just classify me as ‘ultra modern’ – a term used to classify the people whose ideas are a little too progressive, eccentric and beyond their understanding and on the border of gossip.

Oh i’ve no complaints with them. They are the sweetest bunch of people I have met in a long while and quite willing to accept everything. My friends though were a little bemused.

And so we had the end-of-night chai, sitting on the sidewalk when i realised it was the first time in too long to count when I was out on a saturday night with friends without cars, without my own car, the saturday night clubbing ritual where you end up in a buffet restaurant, the slow winding down of the day and such. There were no cabs available and so there was yet another overpriced auto and a headache brewing at the back of my head for the first time ever in the form of a hangover (does it count as a hangover if the headache starts even before you go to bed?)

But it was definitely the most eventful – mostly interesting, and not bad, eventful – day in a long while.

Here’s to March, hot summer days and turning 25.

Song of the day: The Long Walk Home – Bruce Springsteen

The French Boy’s words

Caught up with a friend who is visiting India for a vacation. He’s French and had lived here a while ago. As his name is already as French as it can get, I will simply call him Jean.

Jean speaks 4 and a half languages (I think the half is Hindi) and has traveled enough to make me jealous. When we were chatting today, he mentioned that most of the companies who are offering him jobs absolutely do not consider the fact that he has a life outside the job. Which is why he is still unemployed.

I said that was corporate life. They want results and that sometimes excludes having a life – a real life – outside the job.

“I do not want such a job,” he said.

I laughed and tried to think of something that would make him understand why this was necessary. Money was the only reason I could come up with.

“I would rather work for little money and do something that makes me happy than earn lots of money and be miserable. I would probably have to spend more on treatment for depression then,” he said and laughed. It strangely echoed the same words I had said 4 years ago.

Money – when did it get so crucial? Was I seduced by big names and the mirage of big money. I don’t have either now and I’ve lost track of where I was headed as well. I would love to work for myself… have the ability to pick what I want to write or photograph.

In photography, I am not as brilliant as Jean. Nor do I have this artistic temperament that I would not work for money. I will, if I get to pick the work. I like to be known and appreciated. But the question is how?

I want to go back to uni… I wish I were French. Yes they definitely have a lot of problems but the Euro and the French Passport can open doors that the Indian rupee and passport cannot. Sad, but true. I am ready to work that extra mile to get out once I figure out which door is it exactly that I want to walk through.

Song of the day: Money Money Money  – Abba

Bitch Attack

Once in a while, it is so much fun to simply goad people. I try not to do this often because… well, it isn’t good, right?

It was a normal dinner conversation till the topic of Avatar came up. And it is common knowledge that I tend to go a little overboard about that movie. So when she said she watched the movie on DVD, I got a little annoyed. Which increased a little more when she said she didn’t understand what the fuss was about the movie because it was not good, nor was the imagery.

“You are an idiot,” I said, with a little more force than I intended to. Feathers ruffled.

There were others at the table who politely tried to explain to her that there was no point watching it on a small screen because this was a movie that really does need to be watched on a nice big screen. Even home theatres will not do justice to it and even if you do want to watch it on DVD, you have to wait for the modified for tv version.

So the argument started and just as it was about to get quite nasty, it blew out. But there was this red thing sitting on my shoulder, grinning at the way she easily fired up as well and I spent half the time needling her. I know how to do it… I could do it. Why? I don’t know. There never has been any love lost between us. All attempts at being nice to her simply floats over her head. And I tried. Honest.

So where is the point in being nice anymore? Where is the point in trying to fit in when all she does want to talk to are people who speak her own language?

Okay, I admit… that point annoys the hell out of me. I never like overly fanatical people. More so people who appear all chilled but latch on to people who speak their own language the minute they meet them. I do understand homesickness and sharing common ground over movies and stuff, but there is a point when that has to stop.

She is a bit of a kid… somehow, in this case, that excuse just makes me roll my eyes. It is fun being a rebel. But it is stupid being a rebel for the sake of it. I should know. I’ve been stupid in my time.

Song of the day: Patience – Guns N Roses