Saturday, March 10, 2012

On being fine

There's a particular manner in which inconspicuous and enigmatic old men smoke cigarettes. Dry lips and wet palates, it's nostalgic to a point where you feel like they aren't smoking in the present, but smoking by association, in an older glory. They should ban long standing gentlemen from smoking, it's far more enticing than any screen moron doing it.

Being an intern, is an exercise in taming the pride of youth; the independence that undiminished, leads to either death or glory. So, I wandered aimlessly in a premier Indian journalistic organization, with no recognition, and mild sympathy from my colleagues. Besides learning that I do not want to be a journalist (special thanks to a cover journalist with a sub-human IQ and a lovely young copywriter who took an interest in deconstructing a non existent work environment for me), I learnt of inconspicuous, weathered old men.

In the hope of finding something mildly inspiring, I, the intern, decided to take a walk near the staircase (synonymous with smoking room for all print media establishments), where I saw a 5 feet 8', 60 something years old man relishing a cigarette. He smiled at me in full recognition of my presence on that staircase and almost as a conditioned reaction searched his kurta-pocket for his cigarette pack. He drew the pack out and presented it to me as a man his age would, a blessing. 'Would you like one?' he said, brisk and well-enunciated and just like that started up a conversation as genteel as the one we have about the weather, only nicer.

He had studied in a premier boarding school pre-independence and had gone to England to study. He had worked a while in different organizations, found some success and had returned eventually to fight a losing battle for the sanctity of the print media. He had returned to find deft touches replaced by loud colors. To find that wordplay and references had been replaced by jarring alliteration and disturbing use of font. He seemed harrowed and happy. A soldier who knew the battle was lost. He was just happy he fought, and happy that he was going to be gone before the New Order had time to establish itself. Kurta, glasses, titan-watch, loose jeans, receding hairline and perfect English intact, he was an Aragorn-of-sorts.

I was walking lazily up the staircase next morning, when I saw him and said, 'Good morning' his body jolted into an absolute response, the kind you get from people who really are looking for conversation. He said,'to you too, young sir. And how are you today?' and I said, 'I'm good' and halted just a while to finish off the cursory conversation. He lit his cigarette looked at me nonchalantly said, 'I wonder when fine became good'. And mumbled to himself in several tones, 'I'm fine'.

In one response he embodied the in-exactitude of everyday conversation. The unnecessary positive overtone of fast food marketing. The assumption that if you weren't miserable, the other condition, the compromised condition the world gave to you, was good. I have embraced the compromises I've made with that which surrounds me and I'm fine. Getting better.

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