Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Indoctrination of Akshay

"Promise me you will not drink".

I took a deep breath and let the silence sink right back in. The phrase "pin drop silence" started to resonate louder in my head. While I plotted my next move, the static rose again as the skype call brought her voice back to life.

"Akshay, promise me".

I never give my word because I always end up breaking it but there was something persistent in that voice. She never calls me Akshay unless she really means it.I knew she would not give up and she knew I could not ignore her. Alcohol had become my refuge over the past few months and I could already feel my throat ache for more.

" Maybe if I could drink perhaps one a week" I pleaded hopefully.

"No No No"

"Once in a month, then ? " The pause on the line was either a skype buffering failure or a faltering and weakening resolve. " So just once a month then" I pushed on, more confident this time.

"Yes but no more than two pegs" she stated firmly. Then, knowing me she proceeds to define the measurement of a peg, in accordance to the nature of drink consumed. Damn that smart woman, I think to myself as she rattles on to define the permissible alcohol levels. With her strict instructions, I knew there was no way I would get drunk again.

"You promise" She questions my resolve gingerly

"Yes" I give in to the woman I owe everything.

"Thank you" she replies crisply but failing entirely to conceal the gloating triumph.

It was the early half of May when this conversation came to pass. Months of debauchery had blessed me with a paunch and a serious hankering for alcohol. With winter fast approaching her request could not have come at a better time (sarcasm). I gave up the remaining bottles of alcohol to my friends after symbolically dumping one down the kitchen sink in mournful and respectful silence.

It was hard the next few months as I worked hard to avoid alcohol and events where I knew I would find my favorite elixirs. My friends did absolutely nothing to help me in my predicament. The reactions ranged for bewilderment to disgust as their alcohol laced minds refused to digest this juice-less titbit from my life. Some tried to question my intentions - Did I do this to get the woman ? Did I do this to win her affections ? Others thought this was some weird stunt for me to shed weight or improve my financial situation.

As months passed, I remained single, sober, fat and financially unsound with impulse purchases. Slowly people began to accept my sobriety and ensure that there would always be some juice box around for me at parties. I started to host parties at my place unperturbed by the alcohol that freely flowed around or the stacks of bottles that remained in my fridge afterward. I am free of my need for alcohol once again.

I wont say that I see things clearly now or that there is any change in my life. Year ago I took up drinking due to a woman in my life and now I have given it up for another person. I conformed with the needs of one woman to fit into her social circles and expectations. Now I have given it up to honor yet another request that however has my health only as a core interest. Conformation seems much easier and my resistances are much weaker. I am the willing and the indoctrinated

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Debasement

How I wish life was structured like an operating system! When things get cluttered and performance lags, all you need to do is a quick reinstall and all is well again. Unnecessary programs deleted and all junk removed. You get that pristine pine fresh feeling that gives tingles of excitement coupled with that beautiful speed.
Unfortunately, life is built quite like a house instead. We work on a foundation and build bottom up. Even if everything crumbles down around you, there is only a finite and fixed amount of space and time to start all over again. Quite often, you are forced to recycle ruins that remain; repurpose bricks of a broken wall to build a kiln to make more bricks. There are those who come to see your ruins and even haul some of your broken stuff out. Maybe they would bring a lampshade that goes with the new furniture that lies scattered across the room. But in the end, when the dust settles and the hustle and bustle of life fades out, it’s just you lying awake in the middle of a makeshift bed in a broken house, trying to fight the urge to get up and search for that drip sound that permeates the gloom.
And when you are done building somehow it never feels quite the same. The walls are crooked or something creaks. It is still your space but you do feel alien in its midst. It is still your four walls but the coat of paint is not what you chose and it bothers you. You gingerly take steps around the room, testing the floorboards to ensure that you don’t fall through again. You don’t go down to the basement anymore because like every basement it is spooky but more so for you. Here in the basement where walls didn’t cave in, is something familiar and something that remained. Remnants that did not get damaged in the tumult but damaging to behold.
It pains you to stay in the basement but once you are there, you linger. Maybe it’s the odd familiarity, the presence of things that have been discarded a long time back but retained without an afterthought. You want to run your fingers thought the musty walls, you want to pick up a knickknack that lies in the corner and reminisce. There is part of you that wants to run away screaming to the heavens but there is that perverse side of you that forces you to remain and review all that remains despite the pain.
It's then that the air gets to you, thick, heavy and toxic. Your chest begins to hurt with every breath and all objects in the room swim around your very eyes. A loud crash upstairs brings you back to life and you stagger out of the basement choking and coughing as the air rushes back into you. Winded but curious you look for a sign of the commotion. Something has fallen on the floor- nay something has been thrown down. You trace the carnage back to the two feet that start firmly in the shaky ground and stares you down, arms combatively folded across the chest.
From the frying pan into the fire !
"What were you doing in the basement? "
You don't have an answer and you can see the white of the knuckles across the room. Somewhere the bugle of an incoming onslaught blares and you brace for the opening salvo. You fight back feebly but your arguments are moot. There was no purpose in the visit to the basement nor an excuse that could get you off the hook. Fight or flight - the question rattles your brain but you stay rooted to the very spot.
You will not throw the first punch nor will you place the last blow. The victor of the battle will wipe your blood from the gauntlets, only to know that in victory lies the greatest defeat. Because like the game "Jenga", the basement is all that is keeping you up. A tantrum can be thrown and a few more punches thrown but there is no joy in that anymore. The only question that remains is whether you are helped to clean up the mess or you listen as the door slams shut and the victor shuffles away from your desolation.
With all luck, you place a padlock on that door to the basement and you move on to furnish the house. But more often than not, it will remain open, a siren call that spirals you into depression. Maybe you will end up on the floor of that basement, wrists slit, silently hoping as your blood coagulates through the ground, all this will end and perdition will not be an infinite loop that throws you back into this again. Maybe you'll take a sledgehammer to the walls and try to work through the clutter. Maybe you will leave a little chair and a bottle of wine down in the basement so that you spend a quiet night ruminating on the items left behind.
Whatever you do, remember the basement is never for living - its where things go to die or be forgotten. Go back up the steps.    

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Resurrection of Akshay

Two continuous posts on alcohol, have got the few people who read my blog talking. There are two sets of people who call me about this- those friends who chose to remind me all the lengthy sermons I delivered against inebriation and the others who insist I must join them for a drink. To the first set, I do tell them that I stand by what I said and by stand I mean sway from side to side as I catch up with all those in the second set. "Bottoms up"

I am no longer that sanctimonious doofus who would remind you that long term binge drinking would seriously damage your pea sized brain. I am just the doofus who firmly believes that if you can drink when you are happy while avoid driving and resorting to violence, you should and must have a pint in your hand - Heck I will buy you one.

I insist that you shouldn't drink when you are upset and here's why. Back in March 2013, the 3rd of the Month to be precise, I received some really distressing news over Whatsapp - No less. It was disturbing information and multiple conversations over Skype and phone refused to convince me otherwise. The information was difficult to fathom and hard to swallow, but try I did, like a terrible movie cliche, I took several swigs out of a Jack Daniels. I blacked out after downing over half the bottle at one sitting without the benefit of dilution. I woke up on 4th morning, pale faced, wobbly and still crushed, vaguely remembering that I was already late to work.

At office, the girl next to me, sized me up and whispered - "You look like hell". I nodded back at her while noting that the single nod of my head felt like my brain dislodged itself in my skull. Minutes later, I was called into a meeting room for my scheduled annual performance review. I thought the day could not get worse but it did rapidly descend into chaos. Reaching home, the overpowering stench of vomit and bile that I spewed all over my living room floor nearly had me gagging. I got straight to cleaning up the mess, after swearing to myself to stay off binge drinking for a year until I got my head screwed back up right.

Exactly a year later, I wake up from a dream of the very same night but in my comfy room in the hills of Johannesburg. I resolutely tell my friends that we should hit the "Office" a local pub in "Joberg" that night.

"Really ?" Raised eyebrows and quizzical stares meet me across the breakfast table. 

"It's the middle of the week".  Quipped the other Doubting Thomas

"We should go"- I firmly state and it was settled.

What followed was a three day bender which can be aptly summarized as such

Day one - The Anniversary -  Reach "Office" at 8 - Start drinking - Meet the off duty waitresses - Buy them drinks - Move to the next pub - Drink More - Come back to the original pub - Drink Even More - Head home at 2 - Wake up nursing a terrible Hangover with a smile

Day two - The Reprisal - Reach "Office" at 7 - Start drinking by exclaiming this would be a night to remember - Summon more people to the pub - Several shots of Ouzo, Tequila, Whiskey, Cocktails, Flaming drinks - Later find yourself laughing and screaming to the music with complete strangers - Reach home high as a kite - Review the booze bill next day to realise that 9 blokes had over 120 drinks over the course of 5 hours - Realize that 4 of them had spent most of the night eating food.

Day three - The Grand Finale - Take a roll count of people willing to step into the bar - Others sick or nursing themselves back to health with comfort food - Two of us reach the bar - The bartender politely refuses service and offers water instead - Acknowledge concern but toast the night with a beer nevertheless,

I left for Sudan the very same day but not before confessing to my friends the reason for all excessive drinking. I wanted to drink again only if I was really and truly happy. On March 4 2014, I realized that I wasn't drinking to forget, rather I was drinking because I wanted it to be night to remember.I didn't want to dull any residual pain but rather lower my inhibitions. The night was so perfect that I went for two encores. It was my resurrection and it was beautiful - One of my finer memories

That's the only way I let myself drink nowadays.

So if you want to drink to the good times, I will be there in a heartbeat. If you need to drown your sorrows, I recommend hot soup,croutons and a funny movie. That got me through most of the year. Invites for that are welcome as well,

Cheers !


Monday, January 5, 2015

The Child's Lament

I wake up to the sound of a baby bawling. In the hazy sleep after an all-night bender, I look to my side as if half expecting a cradle or a nursing wife. The fog clears enough for me to realize that none of my mistakes in recent past would have such immediate repercussions. I foolishly endeavour to climb out of bed but my sufficiently high blood alcohol levels render those attempts futile. As objects in room continue to swim around me, I unsuccessfully attempt to gauge the extent of my debauchery in the previous night. I run out of fingers for the drink tally process as the aforementioned bawling resumes.Enraged, I summon all remaining strength I can muster and storm into the hall. 

There on the floor, sprawled between several toys in various stages of destruction, she sits. With pear shaped tears welling up in those eyes, she stops mid-brawl and regards me in terror. I hadn't realised how scary my messed up hair, wild blood-shot eyes and orange kurta would look to a two year old African girl. For the next few seconds she look at me in shock as I survey the room. There are 5 kids in it, with ages ranging for 2 to 6, staring back at me and I am suddenly transferred back to the play-school run in my family house. However in the place of that compassionate guy, is an alcohol fuelled barbarian with no patience for nonsense. I look at the baby sitter and she grins sheepishly. We don't speak a word of each others language but my discomfiture was evident enough for her. She picks her up in one swoop and wipes the tears from the shell shocked girl. I grumble a half hearted "Merci" and slink back into my lair. Pin drop silence ensues in the house hall as the children digest the gravity of my appearance and remain quiet to prevent an encore performance.

I am cross as hell, angry at the parents who are out on a Sunday morning, leaving me to the mercy of their children. I blame the careless fornicators, the ones who believe that their happiness is exponentially multiplied by the number of offspring. I conspire to furnish contraceptives to the couples I know and spend the new few minutes defining a comprehensive strategy that included emergency contraceptive delivery, free i-pill delivery drones, anti-procreation social media schemes built by organic tie-ins with contraceptive companies. I pick up my phone to research my cause further, only to see a message on Skype - "come online - she wants to see you"

I wipe away the sleep from eyes,smoothing my ruffled hair and change my shirt before turning on Skype. Poor bandwidth results in an apparent violation of physics,her sound reaches me before I sent my sight on her. She jumps on her little chair in glee and blows me a few kisses as I point to my cheek. I am then served the entire day's eventsnin a heady cocktail of English words- real and imagined and an entire language that is her own creation, peppered with a thick anglicized accent. I feign understanding and laugh when she does. 5 minutes into the conversation, my head is clear and my body rested. I stay on the call for another hour enjoying her frequent interruptions, dances and antics.

I step out of the room for a bowl of cereal and the little baby looks up at me from the floor. I no longer look like the zombie that terrorized her earlier. With recognition, comes a cute smile and a hesitantly raised hand. I hold her hand as she coos at me, I smile at the other kids and high five the nearest before I step out to the kitchen. I take a bath and head off to my friends house, where his five children dance around me and hug me joyfully greeting me in broken English phrases.

I return home and sit on my bed re-evaluating my anti-procreation strategy. The love and laughter that filled the day surely did elevate my mood and I cherished the unadulterated love showered on me by the tiny tots. Perhaps procreation was for the best as all the children around me have been a welcome diversion in an otherwise drab location. I retrace my steps each day from work, awaiting the pitter-patter of tiny feet and the peals of laughter that greet me excitedly as I step into the hall. I consider logging onto Skype with the fervent hope for a few more kisses. I..I..I...

The wails start again, louder,unyielding and strong. She has most likely fallen down and hurt herself and these tears would go on for a while. The sound of her tears echo in the room beyond. I furtively search for my noise cancelling headphones to drown the noise out. Now it will be her parents turn to stay up and deal with the crying child.Grateful that it is not my problem to deal with, I lie down and soak in the music.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The drunk babysitter

I should start this post with a disclaimer. I am not a drunkard. Sure, I spent an inordinate amount of time during a three week visit to Johannesburg, soaking alcohol like a sponge but that was me straining at a self-defined leash of abstinence.Knowing that I would spend two months in the alcohol free land of Sudan may have further contributed to the wild nights in Johannesburg and I may have gone overboard a couple of times. I however reiterate - I am not a drunkard - not yet.

Back to my story. 

I spent my last night in Johannesburg, predictably downing glasses of alcohol that were placed in front of me by a sweet and persistent waitress. A couple of shots and cocktails later, I was comfortably smashed and heading to the airport with a hastily packed bag having bid a fond farewell to South Africa. The airline staff were as supportive as I was generous, pocketing bribes that helped me take my excess baggage through to the flight. I even ended up paying a lady to wake me up in time for my flight and I really consider myself lucky to make it to  flight given the state I was in.

My flight to Khartoum on Kenyan airways was an 8 hour journey broken by an unfortunate 8 hour stopover at Nairobi airport.As I staggered through the corridor hauling my cabin baggage, I noticed to my dismay a burly lady tightly wedged in my pre-booked window seat. The middle seat was majorly unoccupied, if you discount the tiny tot that was bouncing in one corner of the seat. Chivalry,drunkenness and a realization that the bathroom would be my constant companion for the night lead me to heave myself into my corner seat for what I hoped would be a blissful siesta till Nairobi.

 If only I knew then how wrong I was.

As soon as I settled, I could sense a scramble near my feet. The tiny tot was pulling and yanking something that was lying on the floor. I shuffled around to help her, only to realize that she was yanking at an in-flight headphone packet - my in-flight headphone packet. The headphones was extracted in a flash and soon found its way into her mouth. It may have been a flash or my slow drunken responses exaggerated them but munch on the headphones she did.

It's then that I observed her carefully. A pink dress, curly hair, big eyes, cute smile and a nice little laugh -that's what made Bunny (my name for her) what she was. A little more than the age that required a separate seat for her, she was in stark contrast to her sober looking burkha clad rotund mother. Sensing my slow and wobbly drunken moments as an open invitation for friendship, she was up on my arms in seconds.From staking claim to my magazine, headphones and the book in my hand, to giggling and muttering in her baby tongue in my ear, she took to me in such a ridiculously short period of time.

I on the other hand, drunk and tired, could view all this only as an assault. I was getting bullied by 10 kg of soft pink brute force that chortled every 5 seconds. I put the squirming kid into her seat-belt the first chance I could get, using exaggerated motions due to inebriation and so that her mother could mimic my actions and put on hers. However the minute we were airborne, bunny had squirmed out of it, giggling laughing and drooling on my shoulder.

Noticing the kind stranger in the airline who was playing with her child,the mother did what any mother would in such a secure environment that I was a captive in. Leaning against the window, she was asleep in seconds leaving me to the mercy of her child. I ended up babysitting bunny all the way to Kenya. From letting her sip my water to playing a ridiculous game of peck-a-boo, we did it all.  As the night dragged along, my inebriation eroded as the effort needed to keep up with bunny began to improve my mental faculties.

Soon after midnight, she settled down leaning against my shoulder, all spent and cosy. Her mom lay in the nearby seat snoring to glory. With my blood alcohol levels returning to normal, insomnia kicked in and I ended up spending the rest of the journey ensuring that my hand was an effective pillow for the little one. To the outward eye, we would have looked like the perfect example of a travelling family. The mother asleep on one end, the father taking the first watch through the night and our child comfortably cradled between us.Of course we were a weird couple - Me wearing a black T shirt with a slogan extolling my inebriation, the kid a pink bundle and the mother a rotund black snoring pillow.

As the first rays of dawn hit us and the plane began its gradual descent to Nairobi, the kid refused to wake up, one hand obstinately clawing into mine. My plane-wife and I decided to let my plane-daughter sleep till the plane landed. The air-hostess helped us with the pram for the child and we emerged ahead of businessmen and irate travelers, the tired family moving on the wet gleaming tarmac of Nairobi.

At the end of tarmac, a beautiful lady with a board announced my impending separation from my African family. It was a quick farewell - the burkha clad woman may have expressed her gratitude for all the help in the flight. However all I could discern were her eyes narrowing into thin slits within that purdah. The little pink bundle gurgled and gave me a half wave, comfortably ensconced in her pram. I gave the lady a warm smile, held the little girl's hand for a while and set off in the opposite direction to my next flight to Khartoum.

I entered this flight sober, eager for some polite conversation, gladly noting that my co-passenger seemed my age. I settle into my seat and after a while politely ask

"What are you going to Khartoum for ? "

He looked back and solemnly declared - " I am a bomb disposal expert travelling to Darfur". He goes on to tell me how anything and everything could be made into a bomb and how unsafe a lot of things permitted onto a flight are, much to my consternation and to all the passengers around us.

At that moment, I suddenly realized how i missed Bunny,my little bundle of joy and did the only thing left to do.

"Ma'm Can I have something to drink? "

This flight cant reach Khartoum soon enough.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Heal a broken heart

The basis of this poem was not angst, rather the word play of cello tape, glue and clue. Random words that perched in my idle mind at 4.00 am today. I may revise this poem or scrap it all together but for now it holds my fancy.


How do i heal a broken heart? 
With cello tape and glue?  
They may initially play their part  
but will it last - I've got no clue  

So maybe i'll bind it together  
with rope, thread or twine  
depending on damage altogether  
will choose it coarse or fine  

But balance between loose and tight  
is needed for heart to beat just right  
And knots can hold only as much  
as the hand that created them by its touch  

So I’ll need to find a hand that's steady  
to loop the knots and get it ready  
A hand so delicate and with powers such 
that the broken pieces barely feel its touch  

So when the knots come undone  
all pieces stay together as one,  
neither stress pressure nor sun  
can weather the repairs done.  

And i'll look for that hand to clasp  
and move on with life
The healed with healer in his grasp
marching away from strife

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Bed

Been a while since I written a poem. There have been several false starts, drafts that gather digital dust in my inbox that would not see the proverbial light of day.

So this is one that did. It started out like a lament to the lonely but halfway through took a twist for the romantic. Not my best effort by any stretch of imagination but a poem it is.

This night has reached its end 
How much longer should I pretend
that the pillow resting beneath my head
Is pulling me back to sleep instead

I should get up and lift the shades
Let the light in, so the night fades
Watch the blue sky burst into light
And dispel all traces of lovely night

But its still warm and cosy in my bed
With you in it,your arms around my head
The day beckons and the hour hand turns
But it is to your smile my gaze returns

I try to rise but our bodies are entwined
My feeble attempts you have divined
Within you in arms I remain entangled
Any tighter and I might get strangled

Our eyes meet and you flash a smile
That tells me,I will stay here for a while
I cease all struggling and kiss you instead
And spend all day with you in bed.

-
Akshay