Who else? Who else?

Two friends, perhaps in their early 30s, sit talking at the table in front of me. Their conversations are unapologetically loud, punctuated by lots of laughter and “are you f*cling kidding me?!”. Judging by their awkward but tight hug when they walked in, they probably haven’t met in a while.

I sit quietly reading my book, chuckling away to myself. I hear the words literature, theatre, Brecht and Neil Gaiman from the aforementioned table, and my mind automatically assumes I’m invited to the conversation.

In my zoning in and out of that conversation over the next hour, a conversation that began with “how do you get people to notice the literature part of your resume (which is pretty much all there is) as if it’s a real skill”, slowly becomes an entertaining people-mocking session about people I don’t know (I do, however, know much about their idiosyncracies by the end) as also some mentions about some people I think I know (enter comment about the world being too small). References to Victorian British literature and Chickflicks aplenty in the conversation while trying to make a point. As do some facial expressions that depict a whole different range of passion for disappointment in people.

At one point, the girl, heavily pregnant, stretches her neck, and with mannerisms that mimic someone going into a wrestling pit, she exclaims, “who else? Who else?”

I go back to the book. My attention is drawn to them again during their attempt to take a selfie. They cannot seem to be able to look at the screen at the same time. In a conversation about her nickname for him that ensues, I gather that the two of them used to be really close (probably even date) once upon a time, until he came out as gay (clearly, I seem to be surrounded by these men) and “got busy with his people”. She’s visibly livid that others use the unique name that she had for him. “Isn’t it an obvious abbreviation?”, he justifies. “Of course not. It’s so creative”, she argues, hitting him playfully. Thrice. “I can’t believe you have let your people replace me by letting them call you that”, she complains. He pulls her cheeks. She smiles. (How do men get away with that gesture, all the time? How??!)

I am finally called upon to click a picture. As I put my book down, she asks if she can look at it and tells me she’s been meaning to read it. We discuss it, briefly. Me sitting alone for so long surprises her. I laugh. I click their picture. They wave thank you-goodbye to me, hug each other and leave.

Another lady, sitting alone at the table beside them makes eye contact with me. She’s been eavesdropping too. We smile, like partners in this meddlesome form of guilty pleasure, and return to our books.

I think I see the waiters laugh too. Oh, the stories they could tell. I wonder if they compare notes, or if they would recognise the people mentioned in these stories, should they ever show up… or maybe they aren’t as easily distracted as I am?

Jayati Doshi
July 1, 2016

Also published on: https://medium.com/@jayatidoshi/peoplelistening-two-friends-at-a-cafe-fadab54707d7

Auto-ride lessons in negotiations.

Through my auto journey today, we come across several signals. Each with its own kind of beggars. The usual suspects. We meet a cripple, a mother with a son, eunuchs. Each have their own negotiation strategies that they use, inspiring a different evasion strategy from me.
Aap ko yeh bura lagwayenge. Kuch logon ko dhamkayenge. Aisa hi toh chalta hai (they’ll make you feel bad. some of them will threaten you. this is just how it works), the autowale-uncle says. Leads to a fascinating conversation with him about the politics of begging, the dynamics of guilt and privilege as he sees from his driver seat. There’s certain kinds of passengers who would pay, he tells me. Out of guilt, pity, generosity and also spite. And some who would look to him for help. Some who would be downright rude.
What is your stand on begging, I ask him. He starts by telling me how people who refuse to pay him Rs. 20 at night might pay Rs. 100 to an eunuch out of fear. I laugh and give him an unsolicited lecture about how sometimes it really is impossible to negotiate with both groups. He agrees. And then tells me in all seriousness that all of this is at the end about what one think deserves to be paid for, and what deserves more pity, and thus more help. You’d pay the shirtless cripple in coins; the eunuchs start negotiating at a Rs. 500, he points out.

The conversation turns to one about opportunities. If begging really is the only option. And who am I as a auto-affording citizen to comment on their opportunities, I mumble. Kisi ke chehre pe nahi likha hota unhone Kaise din dekhe hai (it isn’t written on anyone’s face what kind of days they have gone through), he tells me. Woh minute ke signal mein, aapko jo lagta hai, usi soch se paise dete ho. Agar aap ki shaadi nahi ho rahi, Aap chakke ki duaon ki bhi keemat karoge. Agar aap job karti ma hain, shaayad bacche ko dekhkar jyaada taras khaoge. (In that minute-long signal, each one makes snap decisions about what they are willing to pay. If you aren’t able to get married, you will value even the blessings of the eunuch. If you are a working mother, you would feel more empathy for the kids that beg)” We speak about the assumed hierarchies of what is considered under-privileged, and what, deserving.

We arrive at my destination. I pay him in notes of Rs. 10; there is a gap of Rs.5 that neither of us have the change for. We look around for shops to get change, while I search frantically through my purse. He knows that I’m late because of the last 2 phonecalls through the trip that he heard. I tell him to keep the change. “Rehne dijiye (let it be)”, he tells me instead. “Aur agli baar langde ko de dena (next time, give it to a cripple)”. Smiles. Waves. Leaves (Me thinking.)

Jayati Doshi
29th May, 2016. 1.30 pm

A flight journey. Too many families. A gorgeous man. And me. (Among others)

I find my seat in the flight. 3 kids and 2 infants in a 2 row radius. Check the battery of my ipod; gonna need that. A newly wed couple arrives on the other side of my row. And a gorgeous gentleman takes the seat beside mine. Light teal blue shirt, jeans, octagonal jaw and just the right amount of stubble. And a warm full smile.

Food is exchanged, kids are threatened and bribed around me. Families returning from a summer trip to the north exchange mundane information across the plane. Phone calls that suddenly seem more urgent are returned.

The gorgeous man takes out a book and puts his bag in the shelf above. Chronicles of Narnia. I smile. He notices the smile, and smiles back, sheepishly. Or charmingly. I can’t really tell.

I realise there are cookie crumbs on my shirt. No idea how, since I haven’t had any cookies all day. As I dust it off, he points out an insect in my hair. A live big insect. I gotta have set some kind of a record for awkward introductions.

The plane takes off. The man really is reading the Chronicles intensely. (I’m totally thinking Hot Dudes Reading)

Electronic devices are now allowed to be used. The couple plays a game together on their phones. A grown man in the seat diagonally behind me plays candy crush rather competitively. Sounds on.

A father and his 5ish year old son in the row diagonally in front take turns playing a video game and exchanging tips and reactions, complete with sound effects. The mother, when not distributing biscuits to the family (2 kinds, brought along in jars) cajoles her other baby son with rhymes on her phone, playing at full volume, her singing along with it.

The kid sitting in front of her stands up on the seat to watch. His mother keeps tugging at his shirt to make him sit. While trying not to wake up her toddler.

Another father in the seat right in front of me is helping his 11ish year old daughter with hangman, which she explains quite succinctly to him. After a while, he takes the phone and starts playing it himself, promising the daughter to give it back after yet another one. When the daughter gets angry, he gives her his phone. Meanwhile, this mother has joined the father in playing hangman. The daughter cannot find any interesting game on the father’s phone, so threatens him by trying to read his messages. He locks the phone. Her phone gets locked meanwhile, and now she refuses to give him the password till she has the phone back. Finally, the negotiations end with the three of them now playing together.

Another man sitting on my other side has just asked for his 9th glass of water,each time only getting ruder.

I turn my attention to the Narnia man. He’s still reading as he sips his coffee. Notices I’m looking and responds with an explanation. He can’t remember reading it as a child. So he’s catching up. Why? I ask. Why not, he says. Also reads adult books though, he clarifies. The last fiction book he read was Kafka. I now realise I’m staring. Probably blushing. There has to be a catch. And then it comes. His boyfriend introduced him to Existentialist literature.

The kid in the row in front screams. The one in front of him joins in the symphony. Another from somewhere else in the plane adds his high pitch little person voice. The kid behind me wakes up and takes his place in the orchestra. The 5ish year old brother screams “shhhhhhh”, echoing sentiments of the plane. Some kid gets thwacked somewhere in the front. Loud crying. Slowly all of tiny lungs do get tired. Takes a few minutes for the plane to quiet down.

A few minutes later, a man (presumably a relative) comes strolling to the family in the row in front. “I knew it had to be you”, he says to the baby in Gujju. Laughs. Asks the father if he has Rs. 50 change. The mother, now trying to put the child to sleep, gives it to him. Along with a biscuit. The man wants another one.

I return to my book on the business and politics of AIDS and its research. Titled “Wisdom of whores”. It suddenly seems too adult.

The flight is now landing. The very thirsty man beside me, now down 12 glasses of water, decides it’s trivia time. Do you know why they ask you to raise the window panes? He asks, and then answers himself, proudly. I knew, I wanted to say to break his bloated balloon. I don’t.

The flight lands. The gujju mother calls her “maharaj” to tell him to start making the “rotlis”. Another aunty calls the driver. Phones start to buzz. Lots of comments about the humidity in several languages.

I see the Narnia man one last time as I leave the airport. His equally handsome Camus-loving boyfriend (presumably) has come to pick him up.

I breathe in the horrible weather. Oh, Hello, home-ish city. I have missed you.

Jayati Doshi
27th May, 2016. 3.45 pm

 

Also published on: https://medium.com/@jayatidoshi/a-flight-journey-too-many-families-a-gorgeous-man-and-me-among-others-5227ac7c23

Sibling negotiations.

(on my way from Mumbai to Baroda)

In the train, there’s this mother travelling with her two children. The older one, about 3-4 years old, says versions of this to his little sibling, who’s only about a few months old, every time it cries: “Mummy is really worried travelling with just the two of us, so we have to behave like a big boy. And I can’t take care of her if you keep crying. So cry when we reach home, please?”

And then makes funny faces at the infant, who pauses the crying to just stare at the older brother.

Jayati Doshi
24th March, 2016. 5.37pm