The last few days, I had been teaching class at a b-school near Mumbai. I love it, and have been doing this off and on for 6 years now. I love those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed youngsters, with their smooth clean faces staring up at me, drinking in every word I speak. I love their questions, some of which are pretty tough to handle, make me wish I had really studied the topic more thoroughly. I loved the quizzical look on their faces, when their minds are trying to grapple with some abstruse idea, and the frown on their brows that tells me that the process of assimilation is still not complete.
I must have been like that some 30 odd summers back. I must have looked like one of these kids, with the same frown, the same fuzz on my cheeks, the same clear and smooth skin, the same bright eyes and the same bushy tail. The big difference, though, is that I was never pretty or ‘cool’; I was the proverbial middle class Bengali kid, with oil on my hair (I still got more hair on my head than most of my classmates, so there!), little pocket money, just discovering girls and no clue what to do with this newfound knowledge. Many of my classmates were like me; a few who were older took pity on us from time to time, and let us into what we thought were momentous secrets of life, the universe and everything. Most of these tips were useless, as I discovered after many failures.
I never became pretty. In the dim light, on a moonless night, seen from certain angles, particularly rear three quarters, where you don’t get to see much of my face, I am quite all right, especially if you are drunk. I am quite used to the idea of being someone you are not going to enjoy running into in a dark alleyway at midnight in one of the less frequented streets of Mumbai.
However, this morning something happened which has prompted me to put up my collar and strut about with my nose up in the air. One of the girls in the class called me a “cool dude”, and I know enough English to figure that she meant it as a compliment. I didn’t ask her about reasons why – intuition told me that would have been disastrous: she might have thought about it and taken it back. I let it lie and am now luxuriating in the thought that one pretty lass of 22 summers thinks I am a cool dude. My wife doesn’t count – now that we’ve been married more than two decades, it doesn’t matter whether she thinks I am cool, or even a dude, or not. Sometimes I think my son thinks I am cool, if not exactly a dude. To illustrate this point, let me share a couple of family stories. Some time ago, I decided that salt-and-pepper hair is boring, and dyeing my hair black is worse. So, I dyed my hair dark blue, really dark blue. When I got back home from the saloon, there was much drama and excitement – my wife hated it, and my son was ecstatic. I guess that’s when he starting to think that his dad is quite cool. This view got reaffirmed when my son shaved off the hair on his head. The wife threw a huge fit, I loved it – “status quo is boring” is what my son said, and I quite agree.
(first posted on sulekha.com on Nov 13 2006)