Friday, September 26, 2014

That elusive fast food luck

You’ve been craving this divine (and really filling so not your typical) ‘fast food’ from this joint where the lines are so long you drive by numerous times but never actually have the courage to step in. The odds have thrown you off each time and after much careful consideration you finally think of a perfect time. Friday afternoon, 3 pm. It cannot possibly fail, right? I mean, who else is going to be hungry for a substantial meal mid-afternoon on a Friday? It’s just past lunch time and way too early for happy hour. Got to be an exclusive experience, you cheerily tell yourself. Still, as a backup, you take a book along. Picking that absurd hour also means you have to skip lunch that day which you gleefully abide by because you mean business!
You land up at the joie de vivre (Chipotle, if you insist), walk in jauntily and the scene breaks your heart! A good twenty people waiting in line, some giant men included who you know for a fact take twice as long to order because they want everything twice as much and after a while the server rolls her eyes then argues then declines at which point a fight breaks out. The restaurants around are either closed or you don’t particularly fancy that cuisine so you decide to stick to your choice. But you know better than to wait in line so you find a corner table and yank out that book and coax yourself into reading it, one eye firmly on the line. The queue, much to your disbelief, never quite seems to shorten. The moment it appears to be tapering off, a few ravenous bodies barge in and make it impossibly long again. This continues in a loop but you are in no short supply of faith. Besides, the book’s picking up steam so it’s really a win-win.
At some point you glance at the watch and it’s been twenty freaking minutes, not that you’ve been keeping a count. You realize you need a new strategy. A simple read-till-the-crowd-vanishes will simply not suffice. So you move to the table closest to the queue which, just your luck, happens to be filthy, but come on, no one’s too big or too small for any job so you decide to be the good citizen you are and wipe the table clean. You collapse into the chair comfortably and begin reading again. The plan is simple. Let the line continue to shorten and just as you see someone walking through that door, bam, you jump in the queue. And it works! You hadn't spent days learning Nonlinear Optimization of Queuing Systems in MBA for nothing.
You’re finally in line and there are just two people ahead of you. It instantly lifts your spirits. A line that’s on an average about 20 and you get in when it’s just 2? A stroke of genius! You take a note of the guys in front of you look to kill time and they look a little like counterfeit Russian mafia. They even check you out like counterfeit Russian mafia. Not that you know how the counterfeit Russian mafia check people out but minor detail. They begin requesting their stuff with too many specifics but they actually seem like nice guys. You woudn’t know because you’re so darn thrilled to be close to the food you’ve been salivating over that it is a little overwhelming to zero in on your pick. The traditional burrito or the naked one? Taco Bowl? Quesadilla! And definitely an extra dollop of guac. Oh that thing is heavenly.
“Miss? What can I get started for you?”
“Ah yes, a veggie burrito bowl please with brown rice and black beans.”
“I’m sorry we just ran out of brown rice.”
           Before you know it she’s already stacked your bowl with a pile of white rice that you have no appetite for. Then she scrapes a container hard, thrice, to pull out all the stuck, disintegrating beans because that’s all that remains of them. Your heart sinks. But your stomach is growling. So you stay put despite the slap on the face. And from that point on, nothing goes right. She’s out of salsa so she spends five precious minutes replacing it. Ditto for the corn. Finally she throws in a bucket of sour cream because that’s what she grasped when you said, just a little bit of cheese, in your lyrical voice. Your eyes fall on the two bowls the counterfeit Russian mafia is checking out and holy cow there’s Mount Everest on those paper boats. Seriously, you don’t know any self-respecting people who’d order that. The Mount Everests remind you where your fair share of brown rice, black beans and the condiments went. You decide to make peace with it; spot the original table you had found and decide to relish your much deserved burrito bowl despite the minor inconveniences. The second you sit down and glance at the queue, you gasp. What queue?

When two authors meet

A piece I was asked to write for Storizen magazine about running into fellow authors. Link at


There’s a certain charm associated with meeting frien-gers – strangers who give the illusion of being friends. Strangers because you’ve never met them personally. Friends because you’ve read about them and read them. And you realize you’ve been so privy to this person’s innermost thoughts, known them so intimately that meeting in person is just akin to starting in the middle of a conversation. No introductions, no ice-breakers. Just an immediate connection that transcends the norms of a social meeting. I’m talking about running into fellow authors.
            Madhuri and I had met up on one midweek summer evening in San Francisco about a year back and painted the town red. Which is writer speak for ‘found a corner table at a quiet restaurant and talked our hearts out long after most patrons had probably turned in for the night’. We were eventually asked to leave, politely of course, by a blonde stud boy who we were apparently holding up from some sort of a life-threatening emergency. Our last ditch attempt to wrap up at a coffee shop was also futile. We promised to meet again and parted ways.
            If one must count on an external event to bring along some surprises, let it be the rains. This monsoon we met again in Mumbai, a city very close to my heart. It was an unplanned get-together. I was in for a treat watching Madhuri charm her way with the patrons at this lively restaurant in Versova. She has a zany energy about her, the kind that is very contagious. The entire restaurant crew was buzzing around her at some point.  As writers we give so much of ourselves to what we write that I occasionally fear there’s nothing more left to us. You’ve written every word you know. You’ve put every thought that has ever crossed your mind out there. Has someone figured me out entirely by reading me? I’d never know. With Madhuri, there’s not even a hint of that worry. She’s a revelation every minute, seamlessly jumping from one anecdote to another, oscillating articulately between ideas. I’ve caught up with many writers over the years. Some, I meet regularly in various writers’ groups. The kinds I’ve known mostly are intense, speak at their discretion, every word measured, and you walk away knowing less about them than you did when you met them. Then there are others who are perky, uninhibited, and sparkling conversationalists. Needless to say, I was in good company for the evening.
 With new books in both our kitties there was a lot to catch up on. But it wasn’t just that. It was the countless other things about the vocation that must be discussed, no holds barred; like the opportunities and the challenges, the high notes and the pitfalls, the thrills and the trepidations, the semblance of inspiration and the lack thereof. There’s a mystique element to writing if you are outside looking in but like with any other profession, only those in the same boat would nod vehemently as you verbalize the tiniest pain-point and offer you a tissue box when you weep like no one’s looking. It’s a cathartic relief, a joyous one.
There are myriad other things about the world we inhabit that connect two like-minded people to each other – families, friends, enemies, frenemies and favorites. Favorite writers, favorite books, favorite author interviews, favorite quotes, favorite cafes  to write in ; the list is literally unending when there are two girls in the mix.  Then there’s the other favorite – favorite worst writers, the ones that make us cringe. Dissing is fun, did I mention? It helps you digest alcohol.
          Ultimately what makes a rendezvous memorable is how much you’ve “clicked”, the connection you’ve established, the stories you’ve shared and received and the encouragement, the stimulus, the inspiration you’ve walked away with. I’ll raise a glass to that… until the next time.