Wednesday, July 8, 2009

If Men are from Mars

I liked the Patel brothers.

Quite apart from their ripping, unholy ambition to take on the mammoth market leader, and new launches almost at the speed of light as compared to Indian marketing standard time, they had well balanced family lives, or so I liked to believe.

Juggling four cell phones between the two of them, or at least the four that I'd seen, one cell phone each was allocated only for calls from wives and close family. This was more of a guess than a certainty, as of late, any meeting that crossed 8:30 p.m. had their phones ringing almost in unison. These were well buried within their jacket pockets and fished out to be spoken into staccato in rapid fire Gujarati. Though that's not a language I speak, it was clear from their uniquely docile tones that they were responding to timely wifely reminders to leave our office as soon as possible.

This was extremely welcome, as our meetings with them usually went on from about 4 p.m. to half past eleven at night.

Have I already griped that our office had no policy where I could charge a cab ride home from our middle of nowhere location even at this late hour, to LL's overflowing coffers? Lately, I'd been asking around for pepper spray.

On this day, the calls were repeated every 2 minutes and a quarter of an hour later, it was clear why. Their better halves were actually waiting under the building this time and decided to come upstairs to see for themselves our den of vice that held the Patel bros' collective interests.

I was mildly surprised. Whereas the good natured and nattily attired Patel brothers had the sheen of overconfidence and power that comes from a long lineage of a well-stocked family treasury, they would never find themselves on the uppermost end of any list drawn up of the best lookers in business.

Their wives however, were stunningly beautiful, perfectly proportioned, elegantly attired, with lovely and charming personalities, minus pretension. With such a wife, any man would think himself a Greek God.

Trying to self analyse* why I was surprised, it could be because I'd seen too many bored, beautiful women living in comfortable marital (dis)harmony with their fat and balding obsessively rich industrialist husbands.

*A purely academic side hobby.

Am not by default implying that looks are important to make a relationship work. It's about the eye of the beholder, I do believe that. I mean the couples where there's no respect for each other once they're home, or complete disinterest except in living upto the t & c of the virtual contract. Upsetting. Just like yours, my vote goes out to those who marry because they're in love. With the person they're getting married to, ofcourse. The alternative is simply sordid.

Over the weekend, this set off a chain of thought along the usual depressing lines. When was I going to meet The One?

I know what it's all about, ofcourse. The euphoric rush, besotted, sleepless nights, countless imaginary meetings/ conversations.

So what if my most long term, committed relationship has been with the Snickers bar?

When couples talk about falling more in love over time, I know what that means too. I felt the same way when Snickers Dark was launched.

These couples explain it’s about experiencing new delights and consequently even more respect for your partner. I feel the same for the folks at Snickers. Despite a guaranteed winner on their hands with the original, they still made Snickers Dark! What do you call that?

They know how to woo. And they have me.

You say tall, dark and handsome? Have you seen a Snickers bar lately? The description fits.

If men are from Mars, so are Snickers.

Okay so am on a sugar rush right now. I have been bingeing on you can guess what. So they probably have addictives. Big deal. I don't smoke, my last drink was over 5 months ago and that's usually the case each time you ask me. Leave me my Snickers. Sure I'll give them up when I find my human, male substitute.

Am familiar with the flip side of the coin too. A tough break-up can get you addicted to endless reruns of Under the Tuscan Sun, One Fine Day and Something's Gotta Give. Who wouldn't want to buy a charming, crumbling villa, befriend and feed grateful Polish workers, assist in their love life, hang out with Italians and end by meeting someone (non Polish) who likes the way you write? All this in Tuscany mind you.

Next day, however, brought my mind firmly down to earth and perhaps, lower. I was back at Marrkit after all.

The office saw minor excitement of the sordid kind as it was discovered that the Accounts guy who came in thrice a week from our outsourced tax expert's office, had spent a lot of his time researching delectable internet porn instead of deductible expenses.

Normally this bit of scandal would have been swept under our imitation oriental carpets, but since he had been surfing the internet from Mrs. LL's office and her very own PC in her absence, she was quite vocal in her denouncement of the accounts chap lest anyone think she was the one using her computer this way.

Outraged and on the warpath, she took it upon herself to root out hitherto unsuspected immorality amongst the lesser staff.

She triumphed while reviewing the monthly fax expenses which had hit the roof. Coupled with constant complaints from clients that they could never reach our fax line, she pounced upon the Head office boy one evening glued to the fax line phone, having spent many happy after hours connected to a phone sex line. This was even bigger scandal.

Which hardly came as a surprise to us.

My colleagues and I were quite sure that this particular head office boy who ruled the office floor and particularly the stationery supplies like the local representative of the mafia, was an established member of the underworld for some time now.

All Marrkitians had to fill out a form in triplicate to issue a five rupee ballpoint. The boy would then bring the requested stationery, with enough delay to boost his self importance and only after having surreptitiously inspected our workstation drawers lest we were indulging in some lucrative ball pen smuggling. Sure. He also controlled rationing of the tea and coffee supplies. Okay, am not sure what all this has to do with the point I was making, but it goes to show our bias. See, I can be fair.

We were not surprised when he was not sacked, as this office boy also doubled as LL's houseboy and presumably knew too much. The only downside from his point of view was that he had to from now on, show up in uniform and that too, clean shaven. We celebrated this miracle.

On this day, with Greeks and Italians very much in mind, a very creditable Indian version walked right into the office. I forget what he was there for, but knowing the laws of Murphy - as they applied to my world in particular - I knew he had to be engaged or married even before I noticed his diamond studded gold ring. All seemingly eligible guys are usually out of circulation. The Gujarati ones, far earlier.

I said as much to my colleague who couldn't take her eyes off his fair Kutchi face.

"I didn't know Murphy wrote about guys and stuff?" she said.

"Okay I don’t know if he ever actually said that, but you know what I mean".

I decided to test my theory, just in the interests of getting her expression back to normal. The guy seriously didn't need any more of an ego boost. Like those extremely good looking guys who know they're something special, he had that look on his face. He was so sure we fancied him. Annoying.

"So, congratulations", I smiled at him, "When was D-day?"

"Oh, last month. Just gotten back from our trip to Europe".

"Cool. We were just talking about how parents should support cross-cultural marriages. If you don't mind telling us, was it love or** arranged?"***

**Note to readers: Please don't send me impassioned mails saying the two don't have to be mutually exclusive. I agree they don't. Not always.

***Note to global readers: In India, this is a valid question. If you still don't know about the Great Indian Arranged Marriage, get back under your rock in Mars. Okay, that was mean. You may write in and I'll send you a list of movies you could watch to be clear about the concept.

"No, no. It was love at first sight", he grinned.

"Hey that’s so romantic. Did your parents take it well?"

"Ofcourse, they had no problem".

"That's really great". I meant that genuinely. I'd have to get back to my mom and tell her that Gujarati parents were also equally as progressive.

"That's so nice, your kids would learn at least two Indian languages and absorb both cultures" I gushed. Indians are bilingual at the very least. We know a native language or two and English, a fact noticed particularly by China while analysing why Indians who landed upon foreign shores in equal hordes had an edge over them. The next generation would be a super generation, linguistically. Learning two or more native languages and English to boot.

"So you would teach your kids Kutchi. What language would they learn from her? Just calculating how many languages an average Indian kid would know", I explained while imagining his future tots prattling in 4-5 tongues.

He looked at me as if I were a dunce.

"She's Kutchi, ofcourse!"

Now I looked at him as if I were a dunce.

"Ofcourse?" I had to ask, confused.

Perhaps this was a twist of fate. What were the odds? I thought of my Parsi friend who wanted to marry a Gujarati guy and had to go through major drama including excommunication. She could've used such luck.

"Well, I would always follow my parents' wishes" he replied, still looking at me like I was a lot dumber than he'd first estimated.

This guy was beginning to bug me.

"I just mean it’s lucky that she turned out to be Kutchi. What if you had fallen in love with…a Catholic, or Parsi or an American? Would your parents still be cool?" I went on purely because we seemed to be talking at cross purposes.

"Oh no, I'd never do that!" he said, genuinely horrified. "I knew she was Kutchi before I fell in love with her!"

Sure my job's hazardous. I owe some of my greys to this conversation.