Friday, April 07, 2006

"One is the loneliest number..."

(From a few days ago.)

I logged on, a few days ago to what seemed like yet another social networking site I'd have/make no use of. While the invitation to join Orkut, on it's own, was mildly different from the Hi5, Friendster or spam I receive, one detail stood out. She had been unable to recall my last name while filling the invite-form out, and not knowing what to put in (a measure of Orkut's strictness), addressed it to: [my first name] Hobbes.

'Hobbes', of "the stuffed tiger who comes alive when other people aren't looking" fame. :-)

Returning to Orkut after eons, I committed on of the internet's cardinal mistakes - of giving out certain personal details - the type best left undisclosed. The most grating of these was mention of my mobile phone number in the profile - luckily, set to "viewable by friends only." (It's now set at "oh you bet...") The next morning, before 9am btw, the sms appeared. Don't remember its exact phrasing but the "hi, how're you, what's up, where are you, let's meet" etc etc betrayed a worrying familiarity. Many of you must've experienced this - messages from unknown numbers which imply that the game revolves around guessing who's contacting you. Painful, often. Avoidable, if the person on the other side is someone quite irritating.

Anyway, putting two and two together, I was soon able to figure out who it was (big clue: Orkut was the only place I'd revealed my number recently.) I'd met this guy a few years ago, at the university. He seemed to be spending some time in India, ostensibly preparing for GRE, and temporarily enrolled in the same department as me. As friends, we had only very few common interests, notably computers and technology. As acquaintances, I could think of nothing better to do than create and maintain an ambiguous distance, on discovering his carnal obsessions :-( Ugh.

Let's call him PsychoSmile. I'd rather not get into details of, to use a phrase I once heard, how he fell splat and went "booty blind"... Still, that phenomenon was a clue, a trace, to a larger problem - of him having a personal slime ecosystem. The 'break', when it happened, took place for me, and wasn't something I let onto. On mention of being unwell, and worried about having passed the cold/infection onto a very close friend (a.k.a. VCF), PsychoSmile chose to ask,
"So, the two of you share everything hunh... Do you share her too?"

The 'her' in question was VCF's love, but, apart from that, one of my best friends. It was said with the kind of eye gleam that made me want to gouge PsychoSmile's eyes out. To place heaps of dung beetles in the empty sockets. Over the phone.

Thinking back now - apart from about why the fuck I got to know him in the first place - he was the variety of wannabe hardcore nerd that's extremely frustrated. Trying to cover up the desperation for company and friendships, PS's preferred method of social engineering was the orchestration of get-togethers and parties at his place. Whose success is measured by how many women could be cajoled into coming.
Most of the time, it wasn't "how many" but "if any."

Some sms'ing, some google-chatting, and a couple of phone conversations later, the meeting was set. I've noticed a pattern recently... if between two people there's a distant acquaintance or some issues best left never discussed, then when either visits the other's city, the latent 'necessity' / obligation of interaction fulfils itself with a single meeting. None more are planned, because even the desire or impulse to be in one other's proximity doesn't exist. To twist what Jaspal Bhatti once parodied the mechanism's of the Government of India with, it's all "for formality's sake."

PsychoSmile called up unexpectedly (oof) and mentioned being in the vicinity (super oof.)
"We should meet for lunch."

Oh, you've lunched already? Let's still meet... you can watch me wolfing down and pay the bill too."
Hearing the jibe, one of the usual disgusting North Indian abuses that target people's sisters presented itself to my mind. :-( As unenthusiastic as I was about it all, I've been trying to learn (dangerous confession follows) how to be cheerful, chatting and engaging even when I'm not really happy about the circumstances. It was a barely interesting couple of hours and of the two or three snippets I'll remember about it till later, this post focusses on one.

We met outside/at a Pizza Hut, and on getting seated, my first remark was of having been (t)here a very long time ago (in college) with friends. Lunch was, in terms of food, largely uneventful, except for the unexpected and atrociously small portions. It was an an extended chatting session - during which I asked a lot of questions about his recent activities (stints at a certain 800lb software company, at their locations in India and U.S; future plans of the study of management at an institute much in the news for its eye-popping international placement salaries.)

About to wrap the afternoon/meeting up, we were suddenly disturbed by a multitude of noise(s.) Someone, amongst a group a few tables away, spoke up, bringing to the attention of everyone else on the floor that one amongst their midst was a year older. (Is THAT cause for celebration any longer? I'm most depressed on my birthdays.) Soon, a chap who looked 22 was clambering onto a table or chair, as the rest began chiming a song they were quite peppy about. As this was quite noisy, Psycho-Smile and me held in abeyance our discussion. Which, I should add, wasn't about anything of great consequence either.

The clamour died down and the restaurant's staff looked like they were mentally jotting down the need for discussing with management how events like this must be handled in the future. As this point, some other patrons left the joint. As they departed, they insisted on ringing a HUGE bell atleat twice, one by one. Still reeling from being subjected to a Pizza Hut birthday song, I wondered aloud about WTF was going on.

Psycho-Smile looked more shocked than when we were all caught unawares by people climbing onto tables, and asked me how many times I'd been to (a) Pizza Hut. The answer, three, (once in college, once with an uncle and aunt, and this time) caught him off guard.
Having been to Pizza Hut just thrice my whole life, I was, so it turned out, unaware of a curiously ritual(istic) practice. Of satisfied patrons being encouraged to ring the bell as they depart, to register appreciation of their experience. Much was mumbled, and while the matter seemed to have melted into the wind, it stayed at the back of my mind.

Not knowing what to do, and reluctant to call it an afternoon, I suggested going to another market in the vicinity to look for a Roger Federer style hairband/bandanna for my flowing locks. (Ick, long hair becomes sticky and irritating in the summer :-( Unable to find anything, Psycho-Smile got the idea of looking at/for some books. Inside the store, as we were discussing something deeply significant and world-altering, I noticed his lack of attention. My loss had been Playboy's gain, his eyes boring holes into a thick, glossy, 50 year commemorative issue, entranced by a 60's or 70's era nude. The next half hour was the most pointless I've spent/wasted recently, and hoping to draw it to a close, I asked him why he looked so lost and uncomfortable. Not having found anything worthwhile yet (apart from the aforementioned Playboy commemorative, he said he'd never been to the upstairs section of this bookstore before... "I didn't even know they had expanded... The last time I'd come and picked something up from downstairs."

(If you've been reading my blog (ha) a while now (ha ha) you'll remember (ha ha ha) an account of experiences a long time ago.) Suddenly lost, since I remember having come to this bookstore as long ago as Class 6, I asked how many times he'd been (t)here.

"Thrice, I think," he replied...

Bizarre, how extrapolations can (be made to) coincide...


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