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Urban Junkie

Saturday, December 31, 2005

An old one for the new year

I do love the concept of new year resolutions. Never mind what the cynics say, and never mind what we all know (now that we're all grown up and wise) about every day being a fresh start and why wait for a new year. There is something incredibly wonderful about the naive optimism that accompanies new year resolutions. A new year is a completely new slate, a new page of a diary, a brand new beginning unsmudged by the misdeeds and inertia of the year gone by. Of course it will be much easier this year to do all that we haven't managed for the last 20. This year will be different. This year noble intentions will actually turn into noble reality.

What would we do without the chance to begin afresh every year?

As I sip my last Martini (I'm giving them up from next year) and chomp into my last chocolate (ditto) I choose my words carefully while crafting my list of leaves to turn over. It is a delicate matter, this crafting of new year resolutions. It is a battle of wits between the Noble Self who is bursting with good intentions and the Pragmatic Self who wants to take things one at a time. "Pound away on the treadmill for at least an hour a day", thunders the Noble Self. "Uh, maybe we should aim for 20 minutes a week initially?" says Pragmatic Self coaxingly. And then there is the Wily Self who likes the sound of the noble intentions but wants to get there without the effort. No prizes for guessing which self I like best.

The trick, of course, is in getting the phrasing right. I discovered this purely by chance last year when, much to my astonishment I found myself putting a joyful tick against the Gym Resolution. Been there, done that! The resolve on paper had been to join a gym ... and join I did (pointed out Wily Self). For 3 whole months, I was a bonafide, fully paid-up member of Nirvana - the unfriendly neighbourhood manufacturer of toned bodies and aching muscles. The number of times these limbs actually made contact with those terrifying machines is of course nobody's business but mine. This year, unfortunately, Noble Self has added to the list a resolution to not waste money, which means I can only fork out the gym fees if I intend to put my muscles where my money is. Unless Wily Self can come up with new interpretations of not wasting money.

Meanwhile, the pointlessness of giving up Martinis altogether has just dawned on Pragmatic Self. Perhaps restricting them to one a week is better. Ummm ... maybe two. Besides, giving them up clashes with resolution number 3, to enjoy every moment.

Like I said, this year will be different.

Happy new year everyone, and may all your good intentions turn to reality. Good luck with your resolutions, have fun breaking them ... and may this year truly be different for all of us.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Oranges in the sun

I always, always miss Delhi in winter. Winter’s a wonderful time to be in Delhi … and Delhi is a wonderful place to be in, in winter. Despite having grown up there, this is possibly the only time of the year I find such nostalgia surfacing for the city.

Think about it. Who could argue with the contentment of long afternoons in the elusive sunshine, ploughing through half a dozen oranges? The sumptuous satisfaction of aloo parathas laden with melting butter? Burrowing deep into the 10 kilo quilt and sleeping late into the freezing morning? Hot buttered rum to take to bed? Chikkis with tea … and gajar ka halwa? And oh, the illicit pleasure of bringing the quilt into the living room on a chilly afternoon and curling up on the sofa. I’m not sure what is illicit about this … but where a nighttime quilt on the bed seems warm, wholesome and motherly, an afternoon quilt on the sofa totally spells wicked indulgence.

I notice at this point that most of my winter reminisces have to do with feeding the body or resting it. I can only say in my defense that winter is a time for doing precisely this. The body slows down in winter (my grandma used to say) and it must be treated gently. The body also dries out … it creaks and groans and freezes over … and must be coaxed back to life with richly sinful food. Butter and ghee are the operative words here.

Amen to that. Does one need a better reason to love winter?

The strange thing is, the images that evoke the most wistful pangs are usually of things that I never actually do, even when I’m in Delhi. I spent the last three years there, and not once did I sit on the terrace and eat an orange … even though that remains my most enduring memory of winter. Between workdays that began at 9 – much before the sun crept out over the fog – and ended at 7 when it was already pitch dark, locked into the comfort of a centrally heated office, I was lucky just to see the sun from my window. Afternoon snuggles in the quilt? Not nearly often enough. Sunday mornings in Dilli Haat? No again, and I really don’t know why not. Aloo parathas? Nah … not in these days of weight-watching paranoia.

The winters I am nostalgic about seem to be from some long-ago, faraway time. I seem to no longer make the time or effort to live them the way I’d like to, even though I love the thought of them. Every year, over the last 3 years, I would look forward to winter … and every year, I would watch the 2 potentially magical months pass by without making the time to enjoy them. And now I’m back in Bangalore, still hungry for my ‘Delhi winter’. What a waste.

I’m going to Delhi for a couple of days this week, and I just got a call from my mother telling me that the first fog has arrived. Wonderful. I am going to pack into 2 days everything I didn’t do in 3 years. I want one thickly foggy day and one faintly sunny one. I want aloo parathas for breakfast and a sunny spot on the balcony to eat oranges on. And yes, I very definitely want at least one afternoon snuggle in the quilt.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

If you don't go to the temple ...

… the temple’s gonna come to you. Right where you hang out – you don’t need to go an inch out of your way. In the midst of mall crawling, multiplexing, coffee-barring and pub-hopping, you can hop over to a readily accessible agent-of-god and get a dose of jukebox religion.

A bit of trivia I read a few days ago but have not been able to dislodge from my mind. The ‘culture ministry’ in Thailand, in an apparent burst of marketing savvy, would like to install monks in malls. Because (allow me to quote) "People nowadays have no time to go to temples, only shopping malls. They can get closer to religion if we provide the opportunity".

Seriously? Well, I know that the barefoot-up-the-mountain pilgrimage is probably passé, but … seriously?

I’m not sure what it is about this that bothers me so. I’m not particularly religious myself – have not been to a temple or any other place of worship in years – and I also don’t need to take up cudgels on behalf of those who do take religion seriously. Nor do I belong to the down-with-the-malls camp (occasional pangs of nostalgia for Sunday mornings at Russell Market notwithstanding). I revel in plush, air-conditioned shopping spaces, I’ve been known to get lost in supermarkets for unrespectable lengths of time and I’m properly grateful for the ease that all-in-one-place malls bring in the midst of an overworked, over traffic-jammed, never-any-parking bustle. I’m delighted to be a mollycoddled consumer, and thank you for all the convenience.

And that is precisely the point. Malls are about making the mundane more pleasurable and easier to get done – but surely not about reducing the potentially magical aspects of life to mundanity? Isn’t there a limit to what we’re spoon-fed in pre-digested, bite-sized doses? I’m also a bit intrigued that the advocates of religion – or spirituality – would think of this made-easy format as a desirable objective. Would this really work as a way for people to “get” religion?

Oh well. If others can benefit from marketing wisdom, why not religion? What’s sauce for the goose, and all that. Distribution, packaging and visibility … aren’t those the mantras for everyone? If shiny gold packaging works for coffee (pouted the priest) why not for me? Why not, indeed?

A young friend who read this snippet along with me had an entirely different take on the issue. The culture ministry apparently wants to “campaign for religion in places where teenagers gather" – a piece of information that caused a spontaneous shudder. “Oh, gross. I hope they don’t get the same idea in India. Imagine having to stub out your cigarette hastily because there’s a pundit sitting across from you in Coffee Day”. Hmmm. There’s a thought there for worried parents, though.

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