Silverscreen Surfaces Again

Once upon a time, there was this blog I used to write for. It was called Sil­ver­screen, for those that remem­ber. Now it’s mor­phed into a full fledged cin­ema site, and (prob­a­bly because I don’t write for it any­more) it isn’t all that bad. Do check out the newly revamped Silverscreen.in, where you can pre­tend to read stuff like this while look­ing at hot actress pho­tos. Isn’t that always the point?

San­tosh Sivan’s cal­en­dar doesn’t have dates. Or months. Or years. It has movies. Dur­ing our 45-minute con­ver­sa­tion, there is no men­tion of a date. The past is sim­ply, “dur­ing Asoka”, the recent past being “when shoot­ing for Thup­pakki” and the future is an empty plaque (“haven’t final­ized the name yet.”) with a “scenic vil­lage back­drop and new faces.”[Link]

By |June 12th, 2014|Etc.|Comments Off

Online Thuggery? Common.

David Segal’s pro­file of an unscrupu­lous online oper­a­tor in the New York Times is the most fun story I’ve read in a long time. Deeper impli­ca­tions aside, how can a story with lines like this one not be fun?

Do you think I would think twice about uri­nat­ing all over your frame and then return­ing it? Com­mon.” [NYT]

The vil­lain of the piece is Vitaly Borker (“thug­gish Rus­sia born Brook­lynite”) who runs his online oper­a­tion in a man­ner fami­lar to any­one that has shopped for gro­ceries in India. It is a hilar­i­ous read that leaves you feel­ing slightly queasy at the end.

The cus­tomer is always right — not here, you under­stand?” he says, rais­ing his voice. “I hate that phrase — the cus­tomer is always right. Why is the mer­chant always wrong? Can the cus­tomer ever be wrong? Is that not possible?”


The next day, a man named Tony Russo called to say that DecorMyEyes had run out of the Ciba Visions. Pick another brand, he advised a lit­tle brusquely.

I told him that I didn’t want another brand,” recalls Ms. Rodriguez, who lives in the Chelsea neigh­bor­hood of Man­hat­tan. “And I asked for a refund. He got rude, really obnox­ious. ‘What’s the big deal? Choose another brand!’ ”

With the con­tacts issue unre­solved, her eye­glasses arrived two days later. But the frames appeared to be coun­ter­feits and Ms. Rodriguez, a life­long fan of Lafont, remem­bers that even the case seemed fake.

Soon after, she dis­cov­ered that DecorMyEyes had charged her $487 — or an extra $125. When she and Mr. Russo spoke again, she asked about the over­charge and said she would return the frames.

What the hell am I sup­posed to do with these glasses?” she recalls Mr. Russo shout­ing. “I ordered them from France specif­i­cally for you!”

I’m going to con­tact my credit card com­pany,” she told him, “and dis­pute the charge.”

Until that moment, Mr. Russo was merely ornery. Now he erupted.

Lis­ten, bitch,” he fumed, accord­ing to Ms. Rodriguez. “I know your address. I’m one bridge over” — a ref­er­ence, it turned out, to the company’s office in Brook­lyn. Then, she said, he threat­ened to find her and com­mit an act of sex­ual vio­lence too graphic to describe in a news­pa­per. [NYT]

By |December 1st, 2010|Etc.|2 Comments

The King And I

He’s there every week at the same spot in the air­port; dark glasses; some quar­ters and the odd dol­lar on a blan­ket in front, strum­ming a gui­tar and singing and sip­ping a cof­fee. Star­bucks. Star­bucks? Except today, he was white and singing louder than usual. Happens.

I ignored him with stud­ied indif­fer­ence and walked on toward the trains to the city, head buzzing from the bad cof­fee and last night’s bagel and the non-dairy creamer and the sit­ting in a metal tube con­vinc­ing myself that the seat­mate had aller­gies, not swine flu. That the odds of drop­ping down were low, Air France notwith­stand­ing. Mov­ing walk­way is end­ing, and white guy was singing.

Except he was singing that song. My song.

Maaran Aran­manai,

Maadam Irandilum.

Deepam Erivad­henna.

Noth­ing a nap can’t fix, but right now I am inclined to con­clude that my past is singing to me. Eww.


For fam­ily with two earn­ers – gov­ern­ment jobs, for fuck’s sake – ours lived like it had no money. The house was rented and the kitchen leaked when­ever it rained. This was the same kitchen that had those ugly smoke-stains that formed when Gracy and her par­ents lived here and cooked fish. I could still smell the fish on some days, just as I could see Gracy and her long legs. Sigh. Pity she had mar­ried that loser and left town. The red-oxide floors had large miss­ing chunks that Ayyamma had patched with a home­made cement con­coc­tion, and when I was bored I would test my strength against that of the cement. I always won. Later my par­ents would tell me they spent all that money edu­cat­ing me, and you can see where that led to. A notable fea­ture of our penu­ri­ous exis­tence below the poverty line was a lack of access to any elec­tronic gad­get that could even remotely be called cool.

A few houses from us lived Mr. Mohan­lal (clearly, my quiver of fake Mallu names runs very deep), father of Gopi, bowler of lethal ten­nis ball bounc­ers and Suresh, whiny bas­tard who could never be leg before. Their house had mosaic floors and they rented a part of it to the Cheri­ans. Shared bath­room with pri­or­ity for the land­lord; cook­ing fish allowed. Suresh always wanted to pee when Jommy wanted to pee, let­ting every­one know just who the lord of the flies was. Ugh.

He never wore a shirt, this guy Cher­ian and he was a Malay­alee like his land­lord. Money-minded peo­ple, these Malay­alees. Jommy was his kid, and his wife, man.  Some peo­ple have all the luck in the world, don’t they?  All I wanted to do when I grow up was be shirt­less and do hot girls like her. Why was my chest hair not grow­ing like Ganesh’s was? And what exactly is doing? Points to Pon­der, like our copy of the Reader’s Digest said. Yeah, we sub­scribed to it, just like all the other poor peo­ple in India do.

The lucky dog Cher­ian had a brother in Dubai — that expanse of ter­ri­tory that included every coun­try in the Mid­dle East — a brother who brought him the fan­ci­est elec­tronic gad­gets every two years so he could sell them to the neigh­bors. Kumar amma said it was a dis­tant cousin, but who the fuck cared if it wasn’t a blood brother, right? Except me, of course, because I badly wanted that boot­legged tape recorder on sale that February.

I was tired, man. Tired of lis­ten­ing to snip­pets of music on All India Radio, Coim­bat­ore Vanoli Nelayam. Ads for Sri Rajesh­wari Hall and Shobha, Shobha Cor­ner, Coim­bat­ore and Wood­wards Gripe water and Man­galdeep, bated breath, then the song.

Kalan­galil Aval Vasantham

Fuck­ing MSV. Even worse, AM Raja, singing like a girl. Girl like the spring, also like a paint­ing, also like win­ter. Who made this shit up? And make up your mind, dude. Spring is not Decem­ber. Com­ing to think of it, there is no Spring in the great state of Tamil Nadu because Mr. Jayara­man said through his spit­tle that we were too close to the equa­tor for any mean­ing­ful change in seasons.

Oh, she made a poet out of me!

Go away already! I wanted Ila­mai Idho Idho and I get fed this? Worse still, Ila­mai Idho Idho starts up and my dad starts up the Lamby and it is time to go to school. Radio was just not going to cut it for me.

Rajesh and Murthy, Gov­ern­ment school stu­dents, had a car stereo in their house, hooked up to Clar­ion speak­ers. It would bawl the Kanda Shasti Kavasam in the morn­ing and I was, like, so devoted that I told the Lord God that I would play it every morn­ing along  with Palli kattu Sabari­malaikku and other such dri­vel if he got me a tape recorder.


One such night, as I was turn­ing my Geog­ra­phy text­book (“Mir­ror of the World”) upside down to see if how it would feel to mag­i­cally turn  the 14 pages I had read so far into only 14 more pages left to read, I heard the song for the first time.

Idhaya Mazhayil, Nanaindha Kiligal

Udhayam Varayil Kulithu Kulithu

Ezha Veeen­dum…

Such haunt­ing music. And deep lyrics, about par­rots that got wet in the heart’s rain and wish­ing them many such happy show­ers till dawn. Some unknown guy with the most divine voice in the world singing the best song that could ever be com­posed. By the time it ended, I had tears in my eyes.

I got up, angrily looked at the Mir­ror of the World, walked to my dad and demanded that he buy the red Sharp tape recorder with APSS and two tape decks right away from Cher­ian, or else… Cowed by the implicit men­ace in my bari­tone, my dad agreed right away. (Okay, the truth was that he had already put a down pay­ment on it, but the truth never gets blog­gers any­where, does it?). Nat­u­rally, Cher­ian retained the two empty “Dubai” cas­settes that came with the gad­get when we took pos­ses­sion of it a month later.  After that, we went out to Big Bazaar Street and bought some cas­settes: Kanda Sashti Kavasam, Suprab­hatham, some hideous song that always made me want to run for cover that began Bavayami Raghuram.

My promises to the Lord notwith­stand­ing, I was bored after three days of lis­ten­ing to old sib­lings from var­i­ous parts of India (Bom­bay Sis­ters, Trichy Sis­ters) loudly work­ing out a quid pro quo arrange­ment with var­i­ous deities. Clearly, they believed that vol­ume trumped quality.

Dad, we need some good audiotapes.”

See, that’s why I said no tape recorder.”

Why that was a rel­e­vant answer, I don’t know to this day.

Please, let’s buy at least a few.”

Cin­ema songs spoil kids.”

Even more irrel­e­vant response. Not like I asked him for a list of things that spoil kids. I should try this trick at school one day. “Q: Where is the equa­tor? A: Planes fly on avi­a­tion fuel.” Focus, man, focus.

Why not just a few?”

Too expen­sive.”

Aha, some relevance.

Let’s stop Reader’s Digest and use that money for this. I don’t under­stand the jokes anyway.”

Uh oh. He wasn’t amused at all. He invited my mom into the conversation.

He wants us to give up the edu­ca­tional value of Reader’s Digest for cin­ema songs.”

Did you see my handbag?”

Runs through the fam­ily, as you can see.

Why can’t he be like his brother? He never asked me for such things”

Why don’t you bor­row some­thing from Draw­ing Master’s house for now?”

It is a mir­a­cle I grew up sane.


The bor­row­ing sug­ges­tion would have made sense except that the lender was totally messed up. This fam­ily next door to us, an art teacher, his wife and daugh­ters – they were the nicest peo­ple you could find. The wife was a source of great food and he was a great source to turn to for help with anatom­i­cally cor­rect ren­der­ings of the human heart for my biol­ogy classes. But audiotapes?

His col­lec­tion con­sisted almost entirely of Sivaji Kad­hai Vasanam tapes, audio­tapes that con­sisted of all the dialogs from pop­u­lar Tamil films star­ring “Sivaji” Gane­san, who could win any shout­ing match with any pair of sib­lings from any­where. So this guy would turn the tape recorder on and actu­ally spend his evenings lis­ten­ing to Sivaji secretly woo­ing Pad­mini at vol­umes rapidly approach­ing air­plane engine lev­els.  The only time these things are use­ful is when you feel like watch­ing Miru­danga Chakravarthy: they can reduce the trauma of watch­ing them famous Sivaji jowls shake the spit out of them­selves as he thwacks the poor miru­dan­gam with mur­der­ous rage.

So yeah, this is the stuff I was to bor­row.  I wish I at least had some blank tapes, but I had burnt my bridges totally with that Reader’s Digest sug­ges­tion, so I was doomed.

Or was I?

I was begin­ning to enter­tain a dan­ger­ous propo­si­tion in my mind…


Later that week, I walked to the neighbor’s house and asked to bor­row some tapes. I picked out a few espe­cially abom­inable ones and was told to “keep them safe for a rea­son­able period of time.” Out of this, I picked out the most abom­inable one for res­cue. My plan was sim­ple: I would tape over ran­dom por­tions of this audio­tape with songs I liked from the radio every night. I would then pro­ceed to lis­ten to the songs until I was con­tent, and then return the whole batch to them. 50% of 1 tape out of 10: my odds were great.

After some strate­gi­cally applied adhe­sive tape to cir­cum­vent write pro­tec­tion, the audio cas­sette was ready for its redemp­tion. Buh Bye Thooku Thooki.(What the fuck does that mean any­way?) Hello Ilayaraja.

The next few weeks were sheer bliss. The best songs from the whole wide world, right here on my fin­ger­tips. Tha­laiyai kuniyum Thama­raiye and Putham Puthu Kaalai and Vaanile The­nila Aaduthe at my beck and call, wait­ing to enter­tain me. Could any­one be luckier?

Then it was the turn of choice por­tions of the hideous  Thanga Malai Ragasiyam (Secrets of the Gold Moun­tains, which are not at all what you think they are) to give way to the vastly supe­rior Madai Thi­randhu and Nila Kayuthu Neram Nalla Neram. And finally, I caught Idhaya Mazhayil again, mak­ing my life almost totally com­plete. The exper­i­ment ended at two rounds when my dad relented and allowed me to buy 3 cas­settes a month.


A year or so later, we are invited to spend the evening loung­ing around with the draw­ing master’s fam­ily and their rel­a­tives who are vis­it­ing from a ham­let called Nan­jun­da­pu­ram. He plays out a few min­utes from sev­eral of his tapes as a pre­view for the rel­a­tives, who finally choose to lis­ten to the secrets of the Gold Moun­tains, per­haps because they were fooled by the title like I was the first time. A few min­utes into the movie, dur­ing an obvi­ously impor­tant moment judg­ing by the num­ber and extent of mouths held open, my song started again:

Idhaya Mazhayil, Nanaindha Kiligal

Udhayam Varayil Kulithu Kulithu

Ezha Veeen­dum…

Every­one seemed quite dis­ap­pointed and a lit­tle puz­zled. “How could this be?” the draw­ing mas­ter won­dered aloud. “I must have acci­den­tally taped over it,” he con­cluded, before adding that “it was such a great flim.”

He started look­ing for another tape when the song ended. Then it started again, except in my voice. In ret­ro­spect, I sup­pose prac­tic­ing my singing on tape was not such a smart move, but man, did I rock that song or what.


PS:  If this post reads a lit­tle dated, it is because it is. I started it off almost a year ago, and never did gather the energy to fin­ish it till today, per­haps fit­tingly on an air­plane to Chicago. Also, my apolo­gies for the rather long hia­tus from the blog. I sup­pose I could blame being busy for not writ­ing, but the truth is I don’t know why I didn’t write. I am pleased to say that the time off was rather pro­duc­tive – my wife and I had our­selves a baby girl in 2008, and she’s brought us more joy than most Illa­yaraja songs.

By |November 24th, 2009|   Life|6 Comments

Number Two

If you thought my posts were crappy, wait till you read this one:

My first day at the bath­room here. Deed done, I zipped up pants. And then, a sud­den gush of water, and my pants got drenched. Sop­ping, drip­ping, heart wrench­ing wet. Yes, I did get the order of events right, Ms. Know-It-All.

Puz­zled, I did what every guy does. My care­fully tucked shirt came out, and I walked gin­gerly back. I real­ize I am smok­ing hot, but can’t these girls stop look­ing at my pants for some time?

A few more attempts and some more pant wet­ting before I real­ized: Stop tuck­ing your shirt in, because the stu­pid thing will flush when­ever the tank is full, doesn’t mat­ter if a guy wear­ing his only pair of Calvin Klein chi­nos is in there fin­ish­ing up.

We’d sit around the table eat­ing lunch, or din­ner, or smok­ing cig­ars or play­ing poker or doing what­ever else a group of peo­ple in an alien coun­try can do sit­ting around a table. We’d start off well enough — how the food sucks, why the affir­ma­tive action pol­icy in Malaysia was all twisted, why work blowed and so on … A few min­utes was all it took though, for con­ver­sa­tion to veer back to our favorite topic: Toilets.

By |January 6th, 2007|   Life|15 Comments

Dinner Of The Absurd

And so, I am back. With plans — big ones — a Bangkok trav­el­ogue, sev­eral book reviews, the usual (at least a ) post a day promise, more Ileana pic­tures on the other blog, a short story, three nov­els and many, many such things I know you could care less about.

And so I am back, and what’s the first thing I read? Plans for a Sepia Mutiny meetup in Los Ange­les. A rare desi blog meet in this very coun­try, and where is it held? As far away from Florida as humanly pos­si­ble. Not a coin­ci­dence, I assure you: I know planned it that way.

In case you think I am over­re­act­ing, then how do you explain this: Peo­ple wait for me to leave Chen­nai, and the very next week, they hold some sort of Blog­Camp there. Clearly, it is part of a dis­trub­ing trend: Blog­gers just don’t want to meet me. I know my intel­lect can be a lit­tle off­putting to all you dum­b­asses, but still… You know what? Screw all you blog­gers. (Poor Manoj excepted, of course. The jerk meets me every­day so that he can have some­thing to laugh about with his new wife.) If you are a non blog­ger, the hot pic­tures are over on the other blog.

I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again now: My own blog meet, right down the street from my own home. At my favorite cof­fee shop, run by dear old Mandy and her hus­band, who were nice enough to give us exclu­sive access to the place for the whole evening…

Here are snip­pets from the meet…

________

Blog­gera: Smells cof­fee. Then tastes it. “Wow, this is great cof­fee. Ummm… just awe­some. What would the world be with­out coffee?”

Fal­staff: “A World With­out Cof­fee. 1. It would be illu­mi­nat­ing to con­sider what the word world means in this con­text. The world…

Blog­gera: “Excuse me, but that was a purely rhetor­i­cal ques­tion. I don’t really want to know what the world would be with­out coffee.”

Fal­staff: “Oh, I see. But can I fin­ish off this speech though? I only have 37 more bul­let items to go through. And then, about 18 footnotes.”

Blog­gera: “Please, no. Let me drink my coffee.”

Megha: “This cof­fee is cho chweet. Gleat.”

Blog­gerc­thruz: “What a thought­ful sentence.”

By |August 31st, 2006|Uncategorized|46 Comments

It’s a constellation out there…

Harpreet Kaur lives for Hindi cin­ema. She loves Amitabh Bachchan (in a pla­tonic sort of way) and can’t imag­ine life with­out her daily dose of Lata. Harpreet is about a year into her Master’s in Com­puter Sci­ence at the Uni­ver­sity of Alaska. Her dad, back in Lud­hi­ana and prone to hyper­bole, never tires of telling peo­ple about how the Amer­i­cans were bedaz­zled by his daughter’s intel­li­gence and gave her “full aid” at the “best uni­ver­sity in the world.” Harpreet did get finan­cial aid, but she can’t get Com­puter Sci­ence for the life of her.

Srini­vasa is the tall guy that sits with her in the Data Struc­tures class. He hails from Nel­lore and has only a vague idea of how big Amitabh Bachchan is up north, but he gets Data Struc­tures really well. He used to look down upon Harpreet because she sucked at Com­puter Sci­ence, but every time he did , he ended up star­ing at the pret­ti­est pair of boobs in the world. And so, he fell in love with her.

Harpreet, on the other hand, liked the guy — espe­cially on days he did her home­work for her — but she wasn’t in love with him or any­thing. It didn’t help that he kept mix­ing up Lata and M.S.Subbulakhmi all the time. “I always have trou­ble dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing between old women singing in alien tongues,” he told her when con­fronted. She wasn’t impressed at all by that answer…

Harpreet didn’t know it then, but change was in the air.

A few days later, Harpreet came down with a nasty flu that brought the mean­est headache along. She took a Tylenol, and asked her room­mate Aparna Shah if she could bring her a bowl of Camp­bell soup, but Aparna refused because the Camp­bell soup in the refrig­er­a­tor was pur­chased from her share of the gro­cery fund.

Unable to counter her roomate’s sound logic, Harpreet went hun­gry that after­noon, and was deliri­ous by the time Srini­vasa came to visit her. He had stopped by to find out if she had really bunked classes to “be with her boyfriend,” like his friend Raviki­ran had speculated.

Moved by her plight (and by the sight a pretty girl coiled vul­ner­a­bly on a used Sealy Mat­tress), he made her some soup, and then sat by her bed and said com­fort­ing things to her until she fell asleep. He then watched the Tonight Show and spent the night on the couch in her apart­ment. He could’ve walked to his place, but it was his turn to cook today.

The next day, he woke up, used Aparna’s Lis­ter­ine, made some cof­fee and drank it together with Harpreet. He expe­ri­enced bliss, or some­thing like it.

This pat­tern con­tin­ued for a few days, and Harpreet no longer had the flu, though she was still not attend­ing classes because she felt weak. Sri wasn’t going to classes either, “to pro­vide her some com­pany.” He was now a reg­u­lar in Harpreet’s apart­ment, reg­u­lar enough that his tooth­brush was in her bath­room, and reg­u­lar enough for Aparna Shah to demand that he pay 14% of the rent that month. Things were going very well indeed…

What do you like? ” he asked her that after­noon, act­ing on advice from Raviki­ran “to find out her likes and dislikes.”

My favorite thing in the world is Amitabh Bachchan”

My favorite thing would be my iPod. But I do like Amitabh Bachchan. He is a great actor.”

Really? Thats so sweet. What’s your favorite movie of his? ”

Err…I thought Sha­hen­shah was great. So was Giraftar ”

Sha­hen­shah? Even I couldn’t stand that one. Tell me the truth now — how many Bachchan movies have you watched?”

Only those two on the video coach bus from Madras to Ban­ga­lore. Nel­lore the­aters only play Tel­ugu and Tamil movies. But there was a lot of poten­tial in his angry eyes.. I could see it very clearly.”

Oh you poor thing. That’s such a sad story… I need to show you how much you are missing.”

So she said, and put in a copy of Black into their Apex DVD player. A few min­utes into the movie, and Sri hits the pause button.

So you say Amitabh Bachchan is a big star in Bol­ly­wood, right? ”

Of course, he is a superstar. ”

If that is so, how come the title card doesn’t say Super­Star Amitabh Bachchan. If I call him a Megas­tar, would that be ok?”

Yes, he is a megas­tar, a super­star, a huge star. The biggest there is.”

He can only be one star. Tell me which one. ”

I don’t think I under­stand where this is going. ”

Sri takes her hand, and holds it against his chest.

Baby, before you explain Amitabh Bachchan to me, let me explain the South­ern movie indus­try to you. ”

I am all ears. ”

And thus the les­son begins.

Slim Pickings

Sonia Faleiro’s The Girl, a book I’d briefly men­tioned in this post at Sepia Mutiny, is a melan­choly novel set in Goa about two men and The Girl they both loved. The book begins with the young woman’s sui­cide — yet another tragedy in cursed Azul — and the two men are “achingly curi­ous” to find out why. And when one of them stum­bles upon her jour­nal, they use it to recon­struct her life lead­ing up to the sui­cide — the death of an unhappy woman whose last big hope had vanished.

Just a few pages into the novel, and it is obvi­ous that it is as much about show­cas­ing the writ­ing as it is about the actual plot. The Girl is a care­fully crafted book: every sen­tence is metic­u­lously assem­bled from delib­er­ately cho­sen words, each page is filled with pre­cise para­graphs con­struced from metic­u­lously assem­bled sentences.

There is plenty of word­play, and large doses of descrip­tive detail. Noth­ing is too insignif­i­cant to be let off with­out a metaphor or two, rang­ing from the inven­tive to the cliched.

Thus we have the earth “encrust­ing the cas­ket like pas­try bub­bling into hard­ness,” a bar and its loca­tion as mis­matched as “veg­e­tar­i­an­ism and a Goan” and as “pro­foundly antipodean” as the “Rua’s many lit­tle old ladies and the one young lady who lived oppo­site Breto’s in a stone man­sion, and many years later flung her­self into the well in the cor­ner of her garden.”

Introducing SilverScreen

Some­one talk­ing to me for the first time is usu­ally struck by two things: How incred­i­bly hand­some I am, and how incred­i­bly smart I am. If they can get over this, they’ll be struck by two more things: How much I love movies, and how much I love books.

Some­one meet­ing Manoj for the first time is usu­ally struck by two things: How much he loves movies, and how much he loves music. Ok, maybe they’ll also be struck by how smart he is. What­ever. That’s not the point.

So any­ways, Manoj and I spend the bet­ter part of our days IMing each other. In nor­mal Eng­lish, cap­i­tal­ized first words and all. (The only allowance for IMs­peak is the ubiq­ui­tous brb, which I thought was a mis­spelt female under­gar­ment when some­one first used it on me. Now I know, and love to use it coz it sounds so, um, kinky.)

Friends, Rolexes and Shirtless Men

Pic­ture Cour­tesy Wikipedia

Golden drag­ons sit atop the strik­ing green fa?ade, flanked by golden arches on the left and (over­priced) gold topped taxis beneath. A unsightly blue roof stretches along the entire street, designed to keep out the ele­ments and what­ever lit­tle charm the façade has to offer. “Jalan Petal­ing,” the mul­ti­lin­gual sign­board sus­pended from the low­est tier says. Petal­ing Street.

Petal­ing Street, a nar­row stretch of road in down­town Kuala Lumpur is the green dragon facaded, blue roofed home to a gigan­tic flea mar­ket sell­ing boot­leg mer­chan­dise. Fit­tingly, the mar­ket oper­ates from dawn to mid­night, draw­ing an enor­mous throng of bar­gain hunters look­ing for Rolexes and Patek Philippes; Guesses, Guc­cis, Givenchys and Louis Vit­tons; Star Wars and Flight Plan and Sims and Civ­i­liza­tion and food.

A row of stores on each side of the street, and down the mid­dle of the street a dou­ble row of stores with their backs to each other, split­ting the nar­row alley into two nar­rower alleys. Enter through the left, bar­gain your way up the street till the end, gawk at the ven­dors sell­ing fried fish, and kabab rolls and ice kacang, and a Rolex or two; turn around and hag­gle back down the other way. Along the way, a sen­sual treat: the bright flouroscent light­ing, the smell of sweaty bod­ies laden with faux Ital­ian fash­ion goods mixed in with the the smell of bar­be­cued fish, the sounds of hag­glers hag­gling and touts touting.

This will do just fine…

In which a forced break from blog­ging causes one to over­com­pen­sate by writ­ing an overly long post.

I was six­teen. She must’ve been a few years older.

I was the kid that snot­tily buried his head in a book through the hour­long bus ride to school, except to look at the occa­sional poster. After her, I was the kid that was start­ing to fan­ta­size about bury­ing the head else­where. Dirty thoughts, I know, but not as dirty as you think. I didn’t know all that then.

In truth, she wasn’t all that pretty. Thin and wiry and bespec­ta­cled and fair and squeaky and rude and unsmil­ing. But she wore excep­tion­ally short skirts that fell just below the knee. Can you imag­ine? And trav­eled the same route as me every sin­gle day for two years, stand­ing but a few feet away from me. And most impor­tant of all, she went to Nrimala[1] Col­lege. What could be hotter?

Ever since a we’d heard that story about a bunch of girls at Rin­mala who raped the milk­man that went to deliver milk to their hos­tel, the hot­ness quo­tient of every­one that spent any time at all in the gen­eral vicin­ity of the cam­pus had increased by sev­eral orders of mag­ni­tude in our eyes. Espe­cially because Rex — who assured us all that he knew — informed us that the story was very true. He also threw in a few details of the inci­dent — oh my! — that made me think that being a milk­man wouldn’t be a bad way to make a liv­ing. Wake up, clean bull­shit, milk cow, visit col­lege, get raped. Bliss.

Could the girl on the bus be a rapist, I won­dered. And then hastily assured myself that she couldn’t have been. Given the time of the inci­dent, she was prob­a­bly in this very bus when her class­mates were doing the nas­ties to the poor milk­man. Unless it was a pre­de­ter­mined crime, and she had stayed back that night. Quite pos­si­ble, you know, with these young col­lege going types.

Now, in case you think we believed every story we heard about IrN­mala, you are so wrong. That story about the girl and a bro­ken test tube for exam­ple: In spite of the obvi­ous truth that in those days — most young girls pos­sessed rather loose morals and were capa­ble of most acts of debauch­ery a male brain could think of, this one was a lit­tle too far­fetched to be true. Also, it coin­cided a lit­tle too well with our entry into the world of pipettes and burettes and — you guessed it — test tubes. So we only partly believed the story.

And then one day, the girl didn’t show up. After she kept up the habit of not show­ing up for a few more days, I knew I had lost her — either she had grad­u­ated or she had fled the law. It must’ve been the lat­ter — how could some­one grad­u­ate in Decem­ber anyway?

She had van­ished with­out a word, my schem­ing rapist shrew girl­friend. Thank God I hadn’t intro­duced her to my par­ents or bragged about her to Rex.

We’d been see­ing each other for a good year and a half, and what did I get out it? A sorry glimpse of knee.

This won’t do.