Siblings in a Bathroom

"Do you mind?": I had the strangest visitors.

“Do you mind?”: I had the strangest visitors.

They didn’t notice me. If they did, they couldn’t have cared less. They sat, arms crossed, looking deeply pensive. They didn’t move for the longest time. Two house mice in my bathtub.

I tried dabbing them with a pole, attempting to scare them off. They remained resolutely still. I nudged them with a sheaf of rolled-up newspaper. To no avail.

“Do you have an empty plastic bottle you have no use for?” I asked my mom.
“Why, what happened?”
“There are two little mice in my bathroom and I want to get them out”.

A bathroom is the last place on earth you want company. When I was a schoolboy, we used to have yoga taught by a Naturopath (a doctor who treats patients using natural remedies). He was an energetic man in his early 30s, but spoke and moved with the zest of an adolescent. He had twinkling eyes, foppish hair and always wore half-sleeved shirts, untucked. A well-maintained mustache covered his upper lip, and he always wore a warm smile.

We had to close our eyes during the class so that we would feel uninhibited while doing the yoga exercises. Even while making us stand on our heads or touch our foreheads with our knees, the doctor took care to keep the atmosphere relaxed and light-hearted. He would crack jokes, would whisper in your ears if you were doing something incorrectly.

“Why do you grunt, instead of answering normally when someone calls you when you’re in the bathroom or toilet?” he once asked us.
We giggled and there was muffled laughter.
Knotting his brows into a frown, tying his hands behind his back, he strode back and forth in the classroom.
“Mmmmmmm….. what?” he said in a shrill, childlike screech of a voice.
Tell me mom!
He was mimicking how we’d react in such a situation.
There was more laughter, this time free and unrestrained.
What is it?
“Isn’t it true?” he said, turning towards us.
He had stopped pacing.
“Do you know why? Because those places are the only ones where you are completely with yourself. You’re completely free, there is no one else you need to worry about. No one wants to be disturbed while in there”.
He spoke of it like it was a spiritual experience.

That has stayed with me, for some reason. Maybe because it helps, in part, explain the appeal that solitude holds for me. I like being around people with whom I don’t have to apologise for who I am, either through speech or gesture.
The bathroom is where I close my eyes and make my dreams. I soap them and nurture them. It is where I give myself a thousand affirmations, the place where I draw my energy for the day to come. And now there were two little mice sitting there.

Rummaging through the kitchen cupboard, I secured an empty 2-litre Sprite bottle. I turned on the gas stove, heated a knife and carved an opening in the bottle big enough for mice to get in. Then I slipped a slab of peanut chikki, an Indian sweet made of jaggery and groundnut, inside the bottle. The idea was to coax the mice into the bottle, capture them and release them outside the house. A trap, but without the spring.

I rushed back to my bathroom, bottle in hand. “If a mouse jumps at me, I am going to bat it away with a defensive flick,” I thought, gathering a rolled-up newspaper in my left hand and willing myself to recall my cricket-playing skills. “Just remember, as far as the mouse is concerned, you are a much bigger animal”.

Taking small, tentative steps towards the bathtub, I noticed that the two mice were in exactly the same position I had first seen them in. They could have been in church. I placed the bottle — the side with its open mouth — near the mice. I nudged them with the newspaper. Their tiny eyes darted back and forth, as if aware something was afoot, but not serious enough to demand movement. Finally, I gave a resolute push at one of them and it bolted straight into the open bottle, while the other scurried to the end of the tub. I immediately placed the sheaf of newspaper at the mouth of the bottle, trapping one mouse.

I gingerly lifted the bottle and headed for the terrace. Common sense said I should let the mouse loose right that moment. But that’s what growing up with a brother does to you. They two mice looked very similar to each other. They also looked like they hung out together all the time. They scaled walls, traveled distant lands… anyway, I was reminded of me and my elder brother. When we were kids, we used to be a two-member gang. My brother is the extrovert and I am the introvert, so I used to tail him wherever he went. Our parents taught at a university, so we lived on campus. We used to hide among the mulberry plants and bunk school, rear puppies in secret in a mango garden, run scams selling wrestling stickers to school mates. We even fell off a tree once, together. We were fellow travellers, co-conspirators.

No, I would set both mice free together. What if they were brothers? I didn’t want to make them lose each other.

Holding the paper at the mouth of the bottle, I placed it upside down on the floor. I added a hefty notebook on top as contingency, in case the mouse was too strong and tried to topple the ‘trap’.

The second mouse had hidden itself in the bathtub drain when I returned. I would have missed it if I was not looking for it. Welding itself into the edges of the drain, like a furry Letter C, it was impossible to prise it free using a newspaper. I finally placed an empty bathroom cup near the drain and specked a few drops of water on the mouse. It sprang from the drain on pure reflex and ran straight into the cup. My coup was complete.

Closing the open end of the cup, I sat it down near the other mouse upside down. One by one, I then took both of them to the terrace. Standing behind a railing, I first let go of the mouse in the bottle. It fled my presence in a series of hurried hops and was out of sight in no time. The peanut chikki lay on the open terrace, unbitten and gleaming in the sun. I hurried to release the second mouse. When I set it free, it too scuttled away in short, rapid leaps. It seemed headed in the same direction the first mouse had. I hoped they hadn’t lost each other. If they had, maybe they would come back for the peanut chikki.


A Hero’s Final Stand



Sachin Tendulkar has announced his retirement.

There’s a brilliant scene in Memento, the Christopher Nolan-directed movie in which a vengeful Guy Pearce (who plays Leonard Shelby) battles short-term memory loss. In the lead up to the scene, Leonard has just smashed a guy to pulp but then can’t remember why he did so. Looking for an answer, he comes to know he did it as a favour for ‘Natalie’ (Carrie-Anne Moss) and confronts her. Natalie tries to convince Leonard that he did the job after offering to help her, and that no one made him do what he did. Leonard is unconvinced.

You decided to help me. Trust yourself.
Trust your own judgment. You can
question everything, you can never know
anything for sure.

There are things you know for sure.

Such as?

I know the feel of the world.
(reaches forward)
I know how this wood will sound when I
(raps knuckles on coffee table)
I know how this glass will feel when I
pick it up.
(handles glass)
Certainties. You think it’s knowledge,
but it’s a kind of memory, a kind you
take for granted. I can remember so much.
(runs hands over objects)

That’s the kind of memory Sachin Tendulkar has become. Like a knock on wood. Like a ball that jumps off the earth when flung against it. Like the giant shadow your little finger produces when held over a flame. In a nation with a billion people and its own dynamic, with hundreds of languages, cultures, political and social differences, he was one of the few constants for almost a quarter century.

When Sachin made his international debut in November 1989, DTH could as well have stood for a south Indian political party. You had ‘status’ back then if you had a telephone at home, period. Today, you invite benevolent sympathy if you don’t post your status despite having a phone. Back then, the 25 paise secured surreptitiously from your dad’s pocket would buy honey-dipped candies that could sustain you for the rest of the day. Today, that kind of dough wouldn’t get you a lick of those candies.

But Sachin’s still playing.

He’s the most prolific run-getter in cricket history, still the biggest name in the game, and his off-drive is still a looker: knees bent, head down, bat perfectly in line with the off-stump. As he freezes himself in that pose after dispatching the ball to the boundary, a lusty crowd cheering him on, he looks like a gladiator saluting the mob.

“It’s hard for me to imagine a life without playing cricket because it’s all I have ever done since I was 11 years old,” Sachin said in his retirement statement. The feeling is mutual. Sachin’s been around so long you take it for granted. Like a knock on wood. Like holding a glass.


Well, not anymore.

You Do What, Exactly?



Had I not clasped the railing just in time I would have tripped 30 feet to the floor below and been splayed on the mauve tiles on the ground floor. I had stepped on the thin thermacol sheet that comes with packages of new household items, like televisions and washing machines. The sheet itself, gray and rectangle as a doormat, lay on the vacuum cleaner, resting comfily like a defeated man leery of redemption.

The vacuum cleaner was creamy white with slabs of angry orange on its sides and top. The patina of dust on it made it look weather-beaten. It was. The machine’s been with us for almost 20 years. The cobwebs that hung about the vacuum cleaner, fluttering about in the wind like drunken lovers on a ship, were the only things alive in the machine. It didn’t look angry anymore.

I walked away. I was on my way to take a leak. “Vacuum cleaner,” I thought, once inside. “Vacuum. Cleaner. That name makes no sense at all. How do you clean a vacuum? You can’t clean something that’s not there. Or does it create a vacuum by cleaning all the dust and cobwebs?”

I flushed.

“But why then is it called a vacuum cleaner, and not a vacuum creator? How do you clean vacuum? It’s vacuum because nothing’s there in the first place, isnt’ it?”

I have no idea.