Friday, September 30, 2005

Nicotine Dreams

There's a huge debate raging in Bollywood which raises some interesting questions. According to the Times of India the central government has imposed a ban on scenes in Indian cinema which show the characters smoking. The response has been mixed with Mahesh Bhatt challenging the directive in a court of law. Comment rages on the Indian press with people saying that a classic like Satyajit Ray's Shatranj Key Khiladi (The Chess Players) could never have been made if the characters were not allowed to puff away liberally at their hookahs. In fairness to Bollywood, smoking has never been such a big deal and most recent films at any rate refrain from characters lighting up. If anything, smoking has been portrayed negatively as something only bad guys do. Think of the villain lighting up a cigar or cigarette replete in his dark glasses (in an indoor shot) with his trademark chinese silk dressing gown. Or the vamp (the glorious Helen) with her blonde wig tossed back, cigarette in one hand and some garishly coloured liquid in a wine glass. Good guys only smoke if they're intense, confused or just plain off-the-wall. In the 60s and 70s Indian cinema (especially that of the "art house" variety) borrowed from its western counterparts and entire films were shot through a haze of smoke. The commercial hit of the 70s, Hare Krishna Hare Ram (with its drug infested soundtrack) could never have been made. That trend has since diminished as "healthy" actors and actresses have taken centre stage. Smoking doesn't quite fit into their clean living, gym toned, sugary sweet worlds. Put simply, its just not cool any longer.
But does all this need a government ban? First things first. What is the role of cinema in society. Is it to depict an aritificial Utopia or to hold a mirror up to society, warts and all? If cinema shouldn't encourage "bad" things, then surely smoking is only the tip of the iceberg. What about violence, terrorism, rape, alcohol...err chewing gum? Where do you draw the line? Second, there historic authenticity. Would it be possible to make a real film about Mr Jinnah without showing his trademark pipe? Or to show nawabs in 19th century Oudh not smoking a hookah? Third-and I think, most importantly-is the role of the state in relation to art. Should the state be the custodian of its citizens in matters such as these? There is now near global consensus on the harmful effect of cigarette advertising on television, but this argument is circumscribed by the logic that young children have easy access to this medium and may be seduced. Can it be said that young children have access to cinema on television (there are at least four or five cable channels devoted exclusively to Bollywood) and the same logic extends. I think not. The role of the State needs to be defined and minimised. I'd sooner have public pressure to get me to stop smoking-not Big Brother.
Lets personalise things a little. My father smoked till about a decade ago and my childhood memories are peppered with his 555 boxes and cartons. I abstained till I got to college. All my friends smoked and I succumbed to the temptation. Yes, I am an adult and I know it's bad for me. I've read the health warnings, watched the documentaries and coughed and choked my way through it all. So what would make me give up? A health scare- been there done that. Negative social pressure? It works. I don't smoke in front of my parents (though they know) or in houses where the hosts would prefer I didn't. I don't smoke in Clients' offices or in some restaurants. I never smoke where there's a No Smoking sign. Yes, the pressure is mounting and I may give up pretty soon. But I'm not going to give up or resume simply because Bollywood thinks so. But then I'm never the target for any of this. *sigh*

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Gramatically Purrfect

The readfest continueth. There are times in life when books take over completely. There are others when books lie forlornly on my bedside table begging to picked up. There is no method to my reading madness. I can devour stacks of books in a go and then there are dormant weeks where even flipping through Vanity Fair seems a chore. I have tried to gauge how it works, but there are no determinants. It just happens.
Next on my reading list was Kamila Shamsie's Broken Verses. Ms Shamsie writes well and I have read pretty much everything she has written. Her backdrop, invariably, is Karachi - a city I remember with terrific fondness. She writes about a world of which she has first hand knowledge- Karachi's elite Defence and Clifton areas, the people who inhabit them and the political background of Pakistan at the time. She has no qualms about not creating characters beyond this charmed circle and I laud her for it. There are writers who visualise life "across the bridge" and rarely (if ever) do they get it right. Broken Verses tells the tale of an England-returned thirty one year old woman with a dramatic past. Indeed, so dramatic that it threatens to take her over completely.
Aasmani Inquilab (an unreal name if ever there was one-it means celestial revolution) works in a private television company and dwells on the life of her mother (an activist/feminist during the Zia regime) and her mother's lover (a revolutionary poet) both of who have disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Aasmani relives the past when her mother's friend (a "retired" television actress) revives the past by returning with coded messages and a television performance which is based on her mother's mannerisms. I will not give the rest of the plot away, though I must confess that by the end of it my willing suspension of disbelief was hanging by a hair- and that too at the latent lesbianism running through the end.
My only problem is that each time I read a Kamila Shamsie novel, I come away feeling horribly jealous that I do not belong to her Karachi. For one, her characters (even the peripheral ones) are grammatically perfect. And they are all so clever. Their jokes are all about Gingko Biloba being a character out of Lord of the Rings. Their relationships are tortuous but they are endowed with the power of articulate self revelation. Even their fights are upmarket- they huff and sniff but never really let their guard down. They play word games, mind games and generally seem like the kind of people I'd like to meet (but never do) at a cocktail party. They only ever talk to each other - domestics waft around like lost spirits. They occasionally freeze themselves so badly that the sexual tension is unbearable. Is this the Karachi I knew? At many levels it is. But at others it doesn't suceed. For one, the wonderful cultural mix that is Karachi is Moulinexed into a bland puree. The eclectic speaking styles of the many "tribes" that make up Karachi are lost in a unified Karachi-Grammar-School-meets American-University-voice. The "Mummies" and "Daddies" have dark, hidden secrets which come tumbling out like toys from a cupboard. Having said all of this, Ms Shamsie writes with a studied passion. And I shall be there in the queue when her next book comes out.

Monday, September 26, 2005


I've just been on a massive readfest. Clearly the superficiality of "events" I've been attending has been getting to me. I started Johnathan Strange and Mr Norrell two weeks ago and ploughed through its thousand odd pages with rapt attention. It tells of a battle royale between two magicians in England during the 19th century. I was initially put off by its description as a "Harry Potter for grown ups". Clarke writes in the manner of a latter day Austen or a Thackeray. She has an incredible imagination but writes intelligently-and restrainedly-about beliefs in magic over the years. There's a Dickensian feel to her London and she does manage to pepper her narrative with real life figures- The Duke of Wellington and Byron among others. It's not a kid's book by any stretch of the imagination though its not great literature either. What did fascinate me was the "western" view of magic when compared with our more "desi" variants. Both views of magic have an uneasy relationship with religion and can be downright sinister. The big difference is that magic in the "West" is now toned down to UFO's or the "unexplained." There are still large chunks of humanity in this part of the world who continue to believe in the power of magic. Even in a country like Malaysia, with its skyscrapers and other symbols of affluence and modernity, the talk would eventually turn to spirits, demons and black magic as part of an everyday reality.
The characters in Louise Brown's The Dancing Girls of Lahore certainly believe in magic. Maha, the central character, is convinced that she is the victim of black magic because the first wife of her husband has cast a series of spells on her. Several trips are made to shrines in Sindh and in Lahore to rid herself of these and to cast equally venomous spells on the first wife. Brown writes affectionately of Lahore and the women of the "Diamond Market" - the red light area. The problem is that the characters she befriends are anything but affectionate. Apart from the odd spark of genuine emotion they come across as a bunch of manic crones intent on making the best of their lives. Yes, these are women who have been dealt a miserable hand and it would be unreal to expect them to shine through. Brown is an academic and tells her story without being patronising, judgmental or vaguely romantic- the sordidness of it all comes through in her graphic descriptions of rats running through houses, excrement all over the place, drug addicts and public urinals. There is a sense of history - the older prostitutes in discussion of how the profession has fallen to .....well, a profession as opposed to a time honoured series of arts in which young women were trained. Her friends include khusras who are either transexuals or transvestites but are not homosexual in the modern sense of the word. They are effectively substitute women. The sad part of it all is that there is no way out. The men and women portrayed here are trapped in their little walled-off city with the luckier ones making it to Lollywood or the Gulf States. Sigh.

Event Mismanagement

It's Monday morning and the first rushes of caffeine and nicotine are begining to take effect. The weekend is now panning out in its true perspective. It has had some highlights and many many lowlights I'd prefer to forget. Among the latter is an "event" I was coerced into attending. What is it about fashion shows and the South Asian psyche? In all my years living away from Pakistan I was never ever (not even once!) invited to a fashion show. To my mind, these were specialist events where clothes horses, serious buyers, students, journalists and fashionistas mingled. On my return to Pakistan I gravitated towards a crowd of designers because they were "interesting" and, I must confess, because they were gay. We had a strange camaraderie given that my work is light years removed from the heady, tempestuous and often superficial world of fashion. I suspect that most of my friendships within that celestial galaxy have survived because I don't belong to that world. I have survived years of intergalactic battle by simply remaining silent and ducking the odd laser missile. My friends (and their shows) continue to thrive because the fashion-show-as-entertainment-syndrome is too deeply embedded to be discarded.
Anyways, back to the "event." I keep calling it an event, as what I witnessed defies more precise description or definition. A few days before I was invited by the chief designer and I tried to shrug him off by demanding an exclusive table. "I don't want to sit at the arse end of the room with a pillar or flower arrangement or a begum bouffant obstructing my view." My hopes were dashed. "But ofcourse, darling. You shall have the most exclusive table there. Just make sure that you bring the Transylvanian Ambassador and his wife." Damn. The Devil does wear Prada. And in exchange for a good table I had to bring an irrepressibly dull diplomat and his wife. I roped in Lady M for good measure and for good moral support. "This is going to be disastrous. It's not even C grade. I'd give it a D minus" she hissed in the car. This did not augur well.
We walked in through the usual slipshod security arrangments and were guided to a table right next to the catwalk. I could have reached out and tripped a model had I so desired. Well this was exclusive. Actually it was so exclusive that there was no one else on the table. We were in Social Siberia. At an adjacent table sat a group of men with high pitched voices and eyebrows to match. "Who are they?" I enquired. "Fashion journalists" I was informed. The show started. The clothes, in all fairness, were yummy. So were some of the models. The fashion journalists shot out their Nokias and began taking pictures. Damn. I thought they would have used old fashioned ring bound notebooks and pencils. I am so passe, I thought. The odd shriek from their table signified assent of the highest order while a collective frown of pencilled eyebrows meant the opposite. Hmmm. This wasn't quite so bad. Even Lady M was on the verge of upgrading this from a D minus to a C plus. Then it all went horribly wrong.
An MC (or "compere" as they're known in these parts) took to the stage. "I want CRAPPING" he implored. "There is not enough CRAPPING here." The Transylvanian Ambassador shifted uneasily on his chair. The MC then leapt off the catwalk to begin interviewing bewildered members of the audience for instant reactions to the show. Wisely, he kept away from the Valkyrian journos and tackled a few benign begums instead. "We lurved it" they gushed effusively. Having done the rounds, he then hopped back onto the catwalk and announced the arrival of a special guest from "across the border." Wow. I thought of all my favourite beauteous Bollywood types. Saif? Hrithik? Even Shahrukh would do at a pinch. No such luck. An unknown entity dressed not unlike a Lahori hooker took to the stage. Hang on. She wasn't dressed like one. She was one. For the next thirty minutes we were rivetted by her hip jerking/boob thrusting/crotch lurching/lip pouting/eyebrow raising "performance." Lady Transylvania leaned over and whispered "What kind of dance is this? Classical?" "Well, yes" I replied. "It is classical in a sense. It's a classic prostitute number." Errr. "Prostitute?" she asked as though she had misheard. "Yes. Prostitute. Hooker" I added by way of clarification. Silence.
The table conferred (well, all four of us really) and decided that a diplomatic exit was called for. My host caught us on the way out. Disappointment was writ large across his face. "Was it really bad?" he asked. "Nope" I said with a half smile, "It wasn't merely bad. It was horrendous." I couldn't lie. On the way home Lady M asked what I disliked most about the "event.". I thought about the plethora of defects I could chose from. "The hooker, I think." She asked why. "Dunno. I found it distasteful that a bunch of young people would resort to hiring a prostitute, tarting(!) her up and passing her off as an across-the-border import. I found it deeply offensive. These are the same people who rabbit on endlessly abourt womens' rights. And there they were crapping through it all." She looked at the receeding lights in my rear view mirror. "Let's give it an E minus then."

Friday, September 23, 2005


Its been yet another rough week. Yes, I know it sounds boring when you put it into words, but that is essentially what the working life is about. The sad part is that what seems so utterly consuming during an extended office day is of little (if any) interest to anyone in the outside world. Plus if the work you're doing is confidential, you can't really gas off about it to all and sundry. So when people ask "What do you do during those twelve hour days" you just grin inanely and come up with a half baked baguette. My mother asked me incessantly why it was necessary for me to come straggling home well after midnight. I had no answer. She assumed (incorrectly) that I lived in a parallel universe of which she was not a part.
Getting home late means that one's social life is curtailed and the options are limited to scowling at the dog (animal cruelty) or watching television (human cruelty). As I prefer to retain the Beast's sanity (or what passes for sanity) I decided to switch on one of the hip new private channels. I found myself cast into a programme for men. The usual grooming tips, fashion, accesories etc were trumpeted. And then the programme went into a "conversation" section with a bunch of ostensibly intelligent men and women babbling on about heterosexual relationships- the usual, tired, variation on the Mars and Venus routine. Suddenly the camera zoomed in onto one of the more vocal participants. "That man's a raging queen" I choked. "What's he doing on air talking about men and women?" The conversationalist in question had bust his closet majorly leaving a trail of splinters in his wake. I recall him being aggressively determined in his pursuit of men including, incidentally, his boss. (The boss succumbed and he was fired in due course. Talk about sleeping your way down.) And now I had to face the Faerie Queen talking about his relationships with women!
I know several gay men who are unable to openly talk about their sexuality or their relationships, except perhaps for some very close friends. That's fine. I also know many gay men who have had to grudgingly get married being unable to stave off social pressure. Ok. This is a tough call and will have to wait for another blog. But then you have people who are ardently, openly gay who surround themselves with women ("beards" as they are unflatteringly called) and pretend to be straight. In this case on national television. While I agree that people have a right to privacy they have a corresponding obligation not to project a completely false version of themselves. Or don't they? I do believe that stuffing your sexuality into someone's face is unwarranted. Sure there are tough moments where you may have to be "economical with the truth" if you want to. But to put yourself onto prime time TV and insinuate your heterosexuality is downright dishonest. And that is not a good place to be.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Stop Thief!

What is it about Intellectual Property Rights that gets people so inflamed? Living in Pakistan, where IPR's are about as unknown as a duck billed platypus, there are some interesting views floating around. My first personal encounter with IPR's came about a decade ago when I approached to Microsoft to buy "real" software from them. It made no sense to work at an office on bootlegged stuff. The whole edifice could come crashing down any minute-client records, correspondence, forwarded jokes. The price that was quoted to me was so preposterous that I gave up almost immediately. "I'm trying to help" I floundered "but at these prices you're inviting piracy." "Sorry, there's nothing I can do" replied the dweeb. Well. I tried.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided to plough through a feasibility report that a friend was putting together for a music recording company. The figures were interesting. Record royalties were unknown in Pakistan. The bootlegged sales eventual took over. The real money came from concerts. However, India was a different ball game altogether according to the study. There everyone seemed to pay the regular price for a genuine CD. Ofcourse, India has its own prices which are half those of the regular Dollar price. Why can't these guys do something like that over here. If I did encounter "real" music or software at a "real" price I would buy. If prices can be revised to cover a huge potential audience in India, then why not in Pakistan.
Last night I was at my favourite CD haunt. As with all other shops in Pakistan everything here is bootlegged. Not a single genuine article in sight. As always, the bulk of shoppers there are expatriates. French, German, American, Chinese. It is the United Nations of the bootleggers. "These are the people who write reports on IPR violations" hissed a friend audibly. She's not wrong. Sales are now so extensive that the shop has baskets into which illicit CD's are heaped by the dozen. At around two Dollars a DVD that's not as extravagant as it seems.
At a moral level, there's the whole question of theft. The information stored on CD's is after all the property of the author. In many cases the "authors" (say Mr Gates or Mr Spielberg) are pretty rich after all and wouldn't miss the few cents they would have received had my sales been legit. Or that royalties on such products are exorbitant? But these are quantum issue which detract from the underlying morality. Had I been a Marxist I would have argued that all property is theft, but sadly I don't quite fall into that league either. In fairness to myself I can say that I buy the real product whenever it is on offer. But what do I when it's not? Do I forego the next season of Desperate Housewives because it is stealing? Or do I argue that I would have bought the real McCoy if the idiots who owned it bothered to give me the opportunity to buy it? If I were to draw up a Powerpoint pie chart (on genuine software!) I think most of what I buy is real and royalties do end up with the authors. But how many people can afford to shop online in Dollar terms? Can we all dine at the Ritz? So many questions. So few answers.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Moderate Enlightenment

An old friend sent me a dinner invitation for last night. He's an interesting guy. Quiet, polite, well read, well spoken and well-everything-else. He's achieved much in life, based on sheer talent, and has finally "arrived" in Islamabad. Dinner was in honour of an Important Person. I groaned inwardly, but decided to make the effort for my host. Dressing up in a suit, driving to the other end of town, getting frisked and being deprived of my cellphone are not promising preludes to dinner. What the hell. I decided to go anyway.
Upon arriving, I spotted a handful of uberdynamic women waiting in the queue to get in. We struck up a conversation. One of them blushed when I recalled that I had seen a Nat Geo documentary which featured her and some amazing work she was doing for women. The queue trudged along and we entered the dining area. Just as I was about to ask my friends to join me, a voice perked up "Ladies, this side please." Oh No. This was a segregated dinner. The "ladies" looked at me. I looked at the usher. "But they're professionals. And they don't want to sit there. They work every day with all the men on that side of the divide." "I"m sorry sir. I have orders."
Orders? From who? It cannot be our host. He's just not that sort of guy. "Well" said the young usher blushing "it's actually the Important Person who decreed that the dinner be segregated." Yuk.
For the rest of dinner, I gazed at the women caged off like colourful birds of paradise. I wrestled with a moral dilemma while sipping at my non-alcoholic drink. If I am invited to someone's house, I assume that as a guest I am supposed to respect the customs of that house. So, for example, if I see no ashtrays (or other people smoking) I will not light up. In any case, smoking is bad for one and there's the whole never ending passive smoking debate. But what if one's host does something one disapproves of? Say, if he behaves badly with a guest or (for the sake of argument) hits someone. I guess I would be disgusted enough to leave. Fortunately I know few, if any, people who lead me to situations such as these. I once left a dinner when the sparring host couple threw copious quantities of food at each other. (In a surreal twist, the servants proceeded to hose down the walls with water.) But that was a long time ago. What do I do now? Don't get me wrong. There are occasions where one puts up with some kind of segregation. Some weddings and some funerals customarily require enforced segregation. If these are the beliefs which people require of others, should I stand up and protest? Some more "modern" people have a half hearted segregation allowing the sexes to mingle in twilight zone somewhere on the gender-border. But tonight was positively martial in the enforcement of sexual separation.
Throwing caution to the wind, I walked over the "divide" separating the sexes and tried to enter the zenana. "Sir. Please. Go back to the other side." The little usher was now positively cringing with embarassment. So was the host. This was proving to be useless. I guess I had the satisfaction of knowing I had tried. I used the opportunity to slip out and head home. As I made myself a soggy cheese sandwich in the kitchen I had the miniscule satisfaction of knowing I had done the right thing. The only other alternative would have been to start a sexual revolution right there and then. Somehow I don't think the Bastille would have been stormed last night.

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Slo Mo

I've just returned after another two day trip to Karachi. The horrendous state of Karachi's traffic continues unabated. Roads have been unceremoniously dug up and the city's innards are on display. I'd reached a stage where I decided to avoid going out simply because it would mean hours of waiting on choked roads. Mobility became a luxury to be judiciously used. People (well, journalists really) often describe roads as "arteries." In Karachi's case these would be better described as "veins" as they should, theoretically carry bad blood. This is not the case. On one occasion I drove by watching miles of stalled traffic in the opposite direction. The faces trapped in cars were calm, placid-as though awaiting beatification. In many other cities, road rage would have taken over. I was told (the morning after) by a local resident that my perception was incorrect and that people do engage in horrendous road battles. I prefer my own theory - that there is an inner resignation to the apalling state of Karachi's traffic and that people prefer to retain zen-like composure as an alternative to reaching out for the revolvers stowed away in their glove compartments.
This train of thought synched with the copious Japanese anime films I've taken to watching over the past week. One of them - don't laugh- entitled Mobile Suits Gundam tells of an incredibly complex series of gang war, with the pro/antagonists wearing special suits or sitting in their cars to provide them with protection against the enemy. Watching Karachiites bubble wrapped into their cars gave me a clue. Perhaps sitting in a car is not unlike a return to the womb. Its safe, most cars are now airconditioned and there's music to while away the hours. Perhaps this engenders a sense of complacency or (at best) some kind of neo-nirvana. Stare into the middle distance, watch traffic inch its way forward and remember a better world where the sun shines, children play and cars move at a normal speed. My friends talk stoically about waking up an hour earlier so they can get to work on time. I assume that schoolchildren do the same. Gosh. I feel like an ingrate living in a city where everything (and I mean everything) is no more than ten minutes away.
Scarier still, nobody seems to know when the agony will be over. No two people I spoke to had the same time estimate of when all this would end. Six, eight, ten months. More maybe. There's been political change at the local government level, so perhaps even these figures will change. "They don't care about us" said a columnist friend. (Nearly all my Karachi friends now write columns.) "Who's they and who's us" I enquired gingerly. "They" is the new political establishment which lives over at the other end of town. "Have you been there?" he asked. "Once" I replied, "ages ago. I think I may have lost my way." "Ah well. Go back again. They make sure everything works there." Hang on. But isn't this the ...well... rich end of town. Where you can buy a 100 dollar jar of Estee Lauder moisturiser, rambutans and tubs of Hagen Dazs in one basket? "Fat lot of good our money has done us. We're stuck with bad traffic forever." Sad. Where's the political will ? Zilch. Karachi, despite having some of the most politically aware people ever to the walk the earth, becomes flaccid on these issues. There's none of the civic pride which Lahoris have. Forget roads, people aren't even willing to clear garbage from their front gates. There's a belief that this is Government's job and Government has failed. Self help doesn't seem terribly high on the list of priorities. Strange.
My trip to the airport usually takes thirty or forty minutes. This time round I am on the road for an hour and twenty five minutes. When I do take off, I feel a sense of palpable relief. I have lived away from the city too long and I do not share the bottomless pits of patience that my friends have developed. Airborne, the tailbacks look even scarier. This was a city on the go. When arteries are blocked, the body tries to develop new shortcuts to keep the routes open. When that fails, the system packs up. I hope that My Favourite City doesn't meet the same fate.

Rhymes of Passion

These are entries to a Washington Post competition asking for a rhyme with the most romantic first line but the least romantic second line.

Love may be beautiful, love may be bliss
but I only slept with you, because I was pissed.

I thought that I could love no other.
Until, that is, I met your brother.

Roses are red, violets are blue,
sugar is sweet, and so are you.
But the roses are wilting,
the violets are dead,
the sugar bowl's empty
and so is your head.

Of loving beauty you float with grace.
If only you could hide your face.

Kind, intelligent, loving and hot;
this describes everything you are not.

I want to feel your sweet embrace
but don't take that paper bag off of your face.

I love your smile, your face, and your eyes,
Damn, I'm good at telling lies!

My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife:
Marrying you screwed up my life.

I see your face when I am dreaming.
That's why I always wake up screaming.

My love, you take my breath away.
What have you stepped in to smell this way?

My feelings for you no words can tell
except for maybe "go to hell."

What inspired this amorous rhyme?
Two parts vodka, one part lime.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Tower of Babble

I've been following the horrible, horrible trail of death and destruction come out of Hurricane Katrina. Yet even the horror does not spare bureacratese from operating. Consider this statement in today's papers:
"We are open to all offers of assistance from other nations, and I would expect we would take people up on offers of assistance when it’s necessary,” said spokesman Scott McClellan.But asked whether this was a request for foreign aid, McClellan sharply replied: “No.”
Does this mean "we're not asking, but if we get something, we'd be grateful?" But then if you're not asking does it mean you need it? Or does it mean we're too proud to ask? (Hence the "sharp" response.) A tragedy is a tragedy. Asking for or offering or receiving help should be straightforward.

Let The Games Begin

Why do people compete with each other? Athletes do it, but they're trained (and paid) to do it. Students do it, because the exam based teaching method encourages competition as normal and healthy. Lawyers do it in courtrooms but they're just faking it-most of them are good friends offstage. Businesses do it as part of the great capitalist ethos. But what happens when friends do it? Let us begin at the begining.
I first met Peroxide (he became a blonde much later) through a friend. Although we had little in common I was still going through my "if-he's-gay-then-he-must-be-good" phase. Imbecilic. Puerile. I've since learnt that classifying people on the basis of sexuality and making sweeping generalisations based on this is disastrous. Hence my dislike of that great event-the gay party. Back to the story. Peroxide and I continued to meet periodically. He would show up for weekends (usually with some hapless boy in tow) and we would chat-with his Latest Mistake glowering gently in the background like a petulant agarbati. I remember feeling incredibly low each time he would leave. Hormones? Sleep deprivation? None of the above. With the advantage of hindsight, I now realise that my lows came from having been run down by Peroxide for hours at a stretch. This would usually take the form of a series of innocuous remarks. Stuff like "Nice shirt, though green isn't quite your colour." Or "God, you've become fat since we last met." "How come you've been single for so long?" Nothing major. But lots of minors do become a major major once you've amassed a cumulative series.
The denouement to all this came on a Sunday afternoon. I'd been chasing what I thought at the time was an Object of Beauty. (Let's abbreviate that to OOB). OOB had not the slightest interest in me, but I was at that stage where I was determined to succeed. When all else had failed, I decided to invite OOB over to meet some friends over brunch. If he saw how wonderful my friends were, perhaps he would see how wonderful I was. Curious logic, but its something we've all done. Peroxide invited himself over and arrived with his trademark tresses flopping all over the place. I went into what my friends call "hostess trolley" mode, running to and fro from kitchen to dining table. In between my treks, I got the distinct (and gnawing) feeling that Peroxide was cosying up to OOB. Ah well, maybe he's just trying to get him at ease I thought flaccidly. On my fiftieth trip from the kitchen I peered through the glass partition. The truth stared me in the face. Through the triangular piece of glass I could see Peroxide dipping strawberries into cream and popping them into OOB's mouth. I froze.
The rest is history and geography. I moved away from town, from Peroxide and from all that he stood for. He called once to ask why I'd frozen over. I let him know. "Oh. But you're being protective over someone who doesn't give a damn for you." "Yes, I know. But its my life and my business. And will you PLEASE find someone else to run down." I got my final lecture on what a shit I was. I listened patiently swearing never to get into this sort of relationship again. Years went by. I was out for dinner in Karachi last week and over the buzz of conversation in a shi-shi su-shi joint, I heard a familiar voice. I looked over. The discrete overhead lighting lit up a peroxide head with his Latest Mistake in tow. We looked at each other and nodded politely. Neither of us made an effort to get up and talk to each other. Closure. Phew.