A Tale of Two Shirts

     abuelo2

      Eres un diablito, Luis. Un nino el diablo.” My grandfather’s bony fingers rapped my head. “How many times have I told you not to chew gum. Spit is out, en este momento.”
     Phoooey. It flew in the air, headed for the yellow plastic bin.
     It missed.
      Whaack. He wrung his hands together. “Go pick it up. Don’t they teach you to not litter in school.”
“–But Abuelo everyone else–” I covered the back of my head and shrunk.
       Pain seared through my fingers.
      My brother jumped in between us. “That green bus will go to Guadalajara, Abuelo.” He flicked his wrist behind his back, urging me to go pick up the gum.
       “Guadalajara?” My grandfather leaned on his walking stick.

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       “To our boarding school, Abuelo.” My brother draped a shawl over Abuelo’s shoulders.
       “Yes, I forgot. Yes. Let us go.” He took a few painful steps towards the bus. “Your mom and dad were so good at taking care of you. I can’t even control just your brother.”
        I jumped onto the aluminum steps of the bus. “El dictador, but you love me.”
       “El diablito. Surely the devil.” He coughed out.
       The bus lurched and stalled and sputtered forward and he began telling the story of our mother and father. How they met and how they glowed when my brother was born. His bony callused hands patted my brother’s head. “Mi pichón, go to sleep.” He hummed a phlegmy tune.
      “Look Abuelo, he’s drooling on your shawl.” I nudged.
       He encompassed me in his frail arms. “Let your brother sleep.”
The smell of jasmine made me cringe. “Uuuugh Abuelo, you used Abuela’s parfum again? Your bottle is in the right hand cabinet.”
      “I forget, Mi Gauchito.” He squinted his eyes to reach some hazy corner of his brain.
      “I’m a gaucho not a gauchito.” I pouted. “I’m big enough to take care of you.” I splayed all five fingers of my right hand and two on my left hand.
       He clasped all my fingers and kissed them. His bristly chin and long grey moustache ticked my hands. “The only thing I never forget for a moment in my life are your ages, mi Corazon. Seven and Ten.” He looked out into the sunset and sighed.
      Click click click. The bus conductor snapped his ticket cutters. “Tickets please?”
      “Three tickets for…” he lost eyes stared into mine.
       “Guajjara.” I managed.
       “OK Three for Guadalajara. That would be eighty one pesos.”
        He stuck his arthritic fingers into his shirt pocket. “Madre de Dios!” he looked around.
      “Is there a problem, Señor?” The conductor held Abuelo’s shoulder.
      “I forgot to bring money.” He patted his shirt pocket.
       “Maybe you dropped it.” The conductor bent down and looked around the seat. I put my head under the seat and ran my fingers through some dust bunnies. I retrieved an orange colored half sucked piece of candy covered with lint. “Abuelo, can I eat–”
        He held his head in his hands. His woolen monkey cap was partially off his bald head. “My brain. Oh my brain. I forget such simple things. How will I ever show you the path, my boys?” He sniffed.
       My brother stuck his hand into his pocket and held out three coins. “Don’t cry Abuelo, I have three Pesos.”
      “And I have orange candy,” I wiped it off my shirt and offered it to the conductor.
      The conductor sat down next to him. “Don’t worry about it, Señor. You don’t have to pay.” Abuelo lifted his face. The conductor’s eyes lit up. “I know you. You’re that famous contractor. My Papi worked for you for thirty years.” He touched Abuelo’s knee. “What happened to you? You’re the millionaire that employed half of our–”
       Tears had pooled by the rim of Abuelo’s thick glasses. “These are my assets now.” He ruffled our hair with each hand. “Other than that my brain is so weak that I keep forgetting to do things, to carry things.”
       I took the slimy piece of candy out of my mouth and held it in a pinch. “He’s my dictador abuelo. The doctor says he’s got –umm — err…”
       “–He’s fine,” my brother hugged my grandfather. “I don’t think he forgets. I think he remembers too much.”
       I chuckled and put the candy back in my mouth.
       His vice like grip clasped my cheeks. My lips protruded out like a fish. He stuck his gritty finger in my mouth, hooked it and flicked out the candy.
       I reached out for the glistening orange candy lying on the bus floor.
      Whacccck.
       I stumbled and fell, held my cheek with one hand and the candy in the other. “Daddy had taught me about the three second rule.”
      “Out of all he taught you, this is what you remember?”
       “At least I don’t forget to bring money.”
        Soc. My brothers small fist made contact with my shoulder.
        Abuelo pinched the bridge of his nose under his glasses.
        My brother buried his head in Abuelos chest. “He’s a silly boy, Abuelo. Don’t mind him. You don’t forget. You never forget anything about us. You remember our birthdays, our school fees and the parent teacher meetings.” He twirled the topmost button of Abuelo’s spotless white shirt. “You just have a lot to remember.” He twisted the button round and round. “You just remember too much because you care too much.”
         Abuelo’s ivory colored button broke off. His white shirt’s opened up.
My brother peeled back his shirt and looked up at him with brown saucer like eyes. “Look Abuelo, I told you that you remember too much. Here’s your money.”
         Beneath his shirt was another identical white button down shirt.

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Alcoholics Harmonious

     Alcoholics1

     Where’s my husband?” Mrs. Sodhi yelled. “What did you do to my husband last night?” She charged right into Dad’s room.
     My father pressed his fingers to his forehead and cringed. “Uhh. I don’t know. He vanished.”
     “Vanished? You left the bar on your scooter. Then you’re saying he vanished,” she rubbed her thumb on her fingers, “into thin air.”

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     Dad pressed the coffee mug to his temple. “I was driving. We were talking. Then he stopped responding. So I stopped and looked back. He was gone.”
     Mrs. Sodhi threw her arms in the air. “Goddamnn you drunkards.” She slapped her palm to her head. “Let’s go find my husband. Are you sure he was seated behind you when you started your scooter.”
     “I…Think so.” Dad ran his dry tongue over his chapped lips and labored toward the bathroom.
     The revered Mr. Homer J Simpson said, “Alcohol is the cause and solutions of all of life’s problems.” My father would just say, “Chakk Glassy, te napp de killi (pick up the glass and hurry up to getting drunk.)”
     A highly decorated Engineer that worked for the Government of India on deputation to several countries during his tenure, my father lost his way after he retired. Directionless, him and his retired friends took to binge drinking. This was a regular scene at our house.
     However this was the very first time he’d actually misplaced a human.

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     After a few hours of scouring the small town of Chandigarh in Northern India, we ultimately found Mr. Sodhi in the state hospital.
     “What happened to you, Yaar (buddy). We’ve searched everywhere for you.” Dad traced his finger on the bandage on Mr. Sodhi’s noggin’, where some blood had seeped through the gauze.

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     Mr. Sodhi clutched his pant pocket with both hands. “Yaar, last night while you drove me home we both forgot where I lived, right?”
     My father nodded. “Yeah. And I was driving around the neighborhood so you could find your house. We sharabi’s (alcoholics) understand each other.”
     “Yes” Mr. Sodhi nodded. “We always look out for each other. You are my dearest friend. You know I always look out for you.”
     “Ofcourse. But what happened to you. I turned around and you were gone.”
     Mr. Sodhi smiled. “I saw my house and I got off. I knew you were getting late and I didn’t want you to stop the scooter.”
     I leaned in. “So you just got off?”
     “Yes.” He smiled. “I put my feet on the ground and your father kept going.”
     I shook my head. “Really?” I pointed to Dad. “You both are honored engineers? Ever heard about inertia of motion?”
     Mr. Sodhi winced, took one hand of the pant pocket he was clutching and touched his head. “I know now.”
     The doctor flipped his chart. “They found him in the morning. Sixteen stitches.” He put his stethoscope to his ears. “He was bleeding but he wouldn’t let go of his pant pocket.”
     “What do you have there?” I reached for his pocket.
      He angled his thigh away from me and beamed triumphantly at dad. “You see, Yaar. I fell, but I saved my pint.” He produced a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label from his pocket.
     I covered my mouth with my hands. “Really? You fell down and broke your crown. But you wouldn’t break your fall with your hands. You chose to protect whiskey over your head?”

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     Dad on the other hand was sharing the most blissful moment with his drinking buddy. Like co-dependent druggies they pored into each other’s eyes and smiled; in unison.
     Harmoniously.

THE VALENTINE’S DAY CONUNDRUM- BOLLYWOOD STYLE

THE VALENTINE’S DAY CONUNDRUM– BOLLYWOOD STYLE

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           I learnt all my romantic moves or lack of them from Bollywood movies. Because the pudding defines the proof; my being single is proof that the Bollywood romance formulas are foul pudding.

          I’m an engineer. To my logical brain, If A=B and B=C then A should equal C- always.

           So Bollywood taught me there seven ways to woo a woman.

1)      If you love here follow her to the ends of the earth;

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The hero chases the heroine from London to Punjab, from Gujarat to Italy.  So I showed up to my girlfriends door in Switzerland and for the second time I got the response- What on earth are you doing here?

2)      Save her from a bunch of thugs;

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This has to work right? The brawny hero bangs up an un-imaginable number of goons. I saved my prospective girlfriend from an eve-teaser in a bus once. Well, I got arrested, refused to pay a bribe- went to court. Offered three months pocket money to a grossly incompetent and comical lawyer- and never saw the girl again.

3)      Use a furry friend;

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A cute dog (for some reason a Pomeranian) carrying a rose between its teeth and wearing a bow around its neck. The heroine carries the dog and sings a song, twirling amongst flying ribbons and balloons. My Doberman scared the crap out of every girl he approached. He was the gentlest dog but all he could carry was his reputation. Not only did he not find me a girlfriend, he never found one for himself. He was feared amongst all the strays and neighborhood dogs.

4)      Let her go;

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Sacrifice. That one must work. The hero reunites the heroine with a previous lover. Just in time the heroine realizes how important sacrifice is in the grand scheme of things and returns to the hero. I let my girlfriend go. And she left- darnit Bollywood. Then I followed her to the end of the earth and we know how that story turned out in point number 1 above.

5)      Have your mom be you wingman;

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The hero’s mom has the ability to explain away her son’s worse characteristics to the heroine. “Yes he is a serial killer, but he can touch his nose with his tongue.” Lo and behold the heroine melts. My mom was an expert in scaring away women I was almost engaged to. “Are you sure you want to marry Inder? His last girlfriend was…”

6)      Ignore her completely;

Now go figure this one. The hero completely ignores the heroine- and she still falls for him. In the harsh reality of things- every hot chick has fifteen guys wooing her. Here is a ratio to explain my point. If you turn over any rock lying on the ground there are 3 men found under it and one guy will be sitting on that rock. My last hope was the questionably attractive girl that was ignoring all these guys- seemed like a slam dunk. Five dates and five hundred Rupees later I found out that she was gay.

7)       Get her wet (noooooo literally- in the rain);

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Well if it starts raining in Indian movies the hero and heroine’s fate is sealed. Song first, wet clothes next…  Dry them by a fireplace… Kiss coming… Birds will fly out of the trees; they must… no sexual act can happen without birds flying out of trees. Some sobs and “I gave you my virginity’’ dialogues later- marriage happens. I got one woman wet once.  A hospital visit and a fight with bone-chilling fever later- I was still single.

 

                I am an engineer but if All of A is B it doesn’t mean all of B is A. Hence proven- Q.E.D

 

© Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

THE KISS CULTURE – The only culture I know is agriculture

-Inderpal Sandhu

         I’m sure if the band ‘KISS’ had played in 80’s India, they would’ve moderated their name down to ‘HUG’.  That’s the culture in which I outgrew my boyhood. Having grown up in boarding schools, I’ve learnt most everything from Bollywood movies; friendship, respecting parents, singing songs, whistling through life and romancing.

         When the hero and heroine were about to kiss in Indian movies the camera would cut to a shot of two flowers touching each other and we knew a kiss has taken place. Alternately the heroine lifting her leg in the air confirmed that the hero has successfully planted his lips on hers. I would stop chewing the popcorn in my mouth, my jaw would drop. I couldn’t risk blinking or I’d miss it. And God forbid, if the camera showed birds fly out of trees, my pre-teen mind had to imagine that a carnal sin had taken place. The heroine was no longer a virgin. Ohhhh Noooooo.              

         A few years later, un-kissed by a soul (barring a rare shining moment of glory that my mother deemed was kiss-worthy) I was pushed into the world of dating. My father’s friend’s bumbling sixteen-year-old daughter seemed like an easy-enough start.

“You can have all my Sidney Sheldon novels.” I slid the stack toward her.

She threw her arms over my shoulder. “You’re such a sweetheart.”

The smell of Listerine lingered between us. Inder, that’s one strong mouthwash. Either she’s giving you the ‘go ahead and kiss’ signal or she has serious oral health issues because that mouthwash is one pH away from being classified as an acid. Come on man, your friends asked you to lookout for clear hints. Slam dunk– I closed my eyes and opened my mouth slightly, cocking my head to my right I leaned in.

Her body stiffened. She arched away. “What are you doing?”

“I’m umm…err…uh… nothing. I was just… I thought–”

She struggled out of my arms. “I knew it. My friends say all boys want the same thing.”

I punched my open fist when she walked away. What’s this ‘same thing’ that girls keep on talking about? Kissing is the biggest deal. Six months of exchanging gifts and notes and holding hands. When’s the right time for moving on to the mouth to mouth handshake?

Ten years, several girlfriends, many pull-backs and an occasional slap later, I had taught myself to just ask first. To kiss or not to kiss- that, my friend, is the question.

At age 24, I immigrated to the US. My first date here was a fellow-intern.  After failing miserably within my own community I was now venturing into cross cultural dating.

I downed the fifth refill of diet soda and suppressed the thirteenth burp. “Why do they keep refilling my glass?

She leveled her palm and waived. “–Because you keep finishing it. You stop- they stop.”

Duh.

            She held a cookie in her hands and used her thumbs to crack it open. She pulled out a small piece of paper from a secret compartment within. “Man who scratches ass should not bite fingernails.” She read aloud the profound wisdom in the paper. “What did your fortune cookie say?”

Gulp. “Mine didn’t have anything in it.” I picked up another one. No wonder that cookie tasted so darn horrible. Chinese restaurants in India do not have these–

“–Well what does this one say?” She chuckled.

I pulled out the paper. Fuckgoshdarnit. I held it up in two fingers for her. Passionate kiss like spider’s web, soon lead to undoing of fly.

She guffawed and winked.

Wow. I mean wow. “Girls here are easy.” My Indian roommates had preached earlier that day. “Just make sure you take protection with you.”

“It’s the first date, guys.” I’d stated.

“Yeah, but it’s best to be prepared. If she gives you a lead in, invites you in for coffee, talks about making out or ahem ahem…. chitty-chitty, bang-bang… you know.”

I had run into the Walgreens just before picking her up and purchased a packet of ‘To Maximize Her Pleasure’. The best place to hide them was under the passenger seat because she might open the glove box for any reason.

The waiter nudging me with the check brought my thoughts back to the date. What? 4378 There goes 5 post tax internship hours. “Per November’s Cosmo, if the bill is more than 40 bucks, you have a 33.3 % chance of getting laid.” My software engineer roommate had clarified while he primped my tie.

I pulled back her chair and draped her jacket over her delicate shoulders. The indicators were clear as day.

“You’re such a gentleman.” She crooned.

          Fuck. There go 50 dollars down the toilet.

I opened the passenger door to my hooptie and adjusted the second seat-cover over her seat so that her dress wouldn’t get torn by the multiple springs poking through the foam.

When I spun on my heel she was breathing down my throat. “Thank you for the date, Inder.” Her silver polished nail traced the side of my mouth and slid off my chin.

          Listerine? Darnit. I stared deep into her eyes. “Would you like to kiss now?”

She straightened her head. “What? Why would you ask me that?”

I tried putting my arm around her back but she put her palm on my chest. “I thought it’s better to ask–”

“That’s such a momentum killer, Inder.” She straightened her elbow.

“No No…we have momentum.” I reached out for her waist.

We drove silently for a few minutes. You almost had her, you bumbling moron. If only you could’ve kept your pie-hole shut for three more seconds–

She placed her sweaty palm on mine. “I understand the cultural differences, Inder. Kissing and sex is such a big step for–.”

        No No it’s not. How do you think we became the second most populous country in the world. It’s just that–

Her voice became crisper “–Your society is very conservative. In the US it is acceptable for people who are dating to be intimate.”

I turned to face her. Her eyes became wider. She clasped my hand. A tinge of red light fell on her face. My instincts made me hit the brakes as hard as I could.

Her head almost hit the dashboard. She lurched back.

“Phew, that was close.” She straightened back up. “Hey what is that–?” She pointed to something between her feet.

I looked over. Her immaculately painted toes were inches away from a small box. It said in bold letters. Ribbed, for her pleasure.

© Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Love-Love Match

-Inder Sandhu

             Quitters never win, winners never quit, but those who never win and never quit are idiots. I run my fingers over the yellow ball smoothing out the fuzzy strands. Wilson 2 embossed in bold black letters catches my fingernail. I stuff one in my pocket.

“Match Point.” Angela announces the score.

I bounce the ball a few times. My opponent swings his racquet in anticipation of picking a side. His partner smoothes her skirt and crouches by the net. I toss the ball in the air and arch my back. My opponent skips on his toes and moves towards the forehand. I change the angle on my racquet. When the ball is at the apex of the toss I unload with all my 170 Lbs behind the serve. The serve is directed at his midriff. He’s jammed temporarily and just moves out of the way of the hundred mile and hour serve.

Thud. The ball hits the canvas behind the court. Angela throws up her hands and I run towards the players.

            “Good game guys.” I slap a few palms.

“We just hope we’d given you more competition.” He points at the 6-0, 6-0 score on the board.

I pack my tennis bag. “Good game partner.” Angela slings her bag over her broad shoulders. “Do you think we can make the playoffs?”

“Dunno. Who cares anyway? We’re just having fun, right?” I spin my phone in my hand.

Yep. Who cares about Victory.

Three weeks ago I had driven out to our weekly tennis meetup with Veronica. “I’m switching partners. I’m going to play this season with Jacob.”  Veronica’s voice was firm.

Before I could react, Jacob walked into the courts and they did the ‘fake-kiss-peck-greeting’ thing to each. I stood behind her. Next, he clasped my hand in his clammy palm.

Is he going to kiss me too? My pseudo-Indian alienation strategies made me want to chew my fingernails. I stiffened my elbow so much that it wouldn’t have bent if I had to drink the last gin and tonic of my life.

“Whassup bro.” He slapped my back.

Phew.

            So the new equation was that I and Jacob were on a first name basis and Veronica and Jacob were on a kiss-cheek basis. She must really-really want to win. I would never ever ever ever change my partner to win a league. I swished my palm flat pretending to hit a forehand. What value is victory in my life?

The very next week I and my new mixed doubles partner, Angela played our first league match. We barely knew each other. We didn’t even attempt making friends. Me; on account of not giving her the wrong message. She; on account of not caring either way.

We lost the first set in a tie-break. We were down and out in the second. A great cross-court shot that Angela made left the opponents grunting. We made eye contact and decide to make a go of it. We pulled out the second set in a close 7-5 score.

            In the third set we were up 6-5 and lost the next game. In the tie-breaker, we were up two match-points. I chipped an easy return into the net because I wanted to be cute and play a low percentage drop-shot v/s an easy hard hit. On the next point Angela was standing behind the baseline. The ball was over hit and almost at Angela’s ankles.

“NO.” I yelled out, imploring her not to hit it.

Too late. She dumped the volley into the net. Ugggghhh. Two match points wasted. We lost the match on a very questionable line call. Amongst muffled apologies for not playing up to the mark we both left. I sang songs on my drive home, grooving to the music, drumming the steering wheel.

I reached home and text Angela. Well played. That was fun. It was followed by a smiley face with a halo on its head. Loss; the cost of victory? It’s easier to say who cares about winning when you lose…

Back to today’s match. We won the first set 6-0. We were up 5-0 in the second. I pondered letting them win a game, or to bagel them in the second set as well. The decision was to not give them any hope of a comeback. It wasn’t done for embarrassing them. They could’ve been boyfriend and girlfriend, or husband and wife. I should’ve cut them some slack so they won’t blame each other.

I send Angela a text message when I reach home. Good game partner. I add a smiley face. This one has a red face and the devils horns on it.

At what cost victory?

© Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Inderpal Sandhu and inderpalsandhu.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.