The dark and nondescript exterior of the pub doesn’t prepare you for the blast of bright yellow light that hits you as you enter. Maybe it is the contrast that you are not prepared for, or maybe it is just too early for such lights. Mamaji is sitting at the largest table in the centre with his usual contented face. He gives you the impression that he owns the place, and maybe he does. It is difficult to tell with him, especially given the fact that lately he has been telling everyone, except me of course, that food sector is the safest bet in Bangalore these days. If you are an investor, that is.
My maternal family is very enterprising, very street smart to the extent that sometimes they appear to be crazy. They are the exact opposite of the scholarly, sensible and overtly mundane paternal side. Dad has a brother who is a senior professor. I don’t remember when I met him last, but whenever that happened all I remember is a discussion about the merits of studying science. And its not just him, none of Dad’s cousins would be comfortable in this glaring yellow light, which somehow, seems to have acquired an acceptable luster now. They would definitely object to the EDM playing, even though and surprisingly is not loud. But then, its early in the evening and this might be a test run.
He waves a hand towards the drinks counter and smiles at me.Two people, one with a tablet and the other with anticipation appear. They are given swift instructions and dispatched off.
So yeah, one could never be sure about Mamaji, he has tried his hands at anything and everything. The last business, which was also the shadiest was micro-finance and small scale funds, probably an euphemism. He doesn’t talk about it, but then he doesn’t talk about his other businesses with me openly, willingly. I get information from Dad, the reason being Mom doesn’t want him to influence me with his crazy business ideas, her fears are based on the transient nature characteristic of her family members, which apparently is showing in me, more so as I age. Mamaji is afraid of Mom for some reason that I suspect is not as simple as her being the elder sibling. As a consequence, like all kids who are kept away from an uncle who looks funky, and dazzles in the family, I have always been a fan. He likes me too, and says almost every time we meet that I might be the most intelligent man among all his relatives.
The beers arrive.
“Don’t tell about this to your mom”
“Oh but I have.” I had no idea this was supposed to be a secret, because when I told Mom that I am going to meet him in the pub she didn’t react.
‘Ok in that case, no questions about business and I am not giving you feedback on your weird startup ideas’
‘C’mon Mamaji, why are you so scared of Mom, she is so cute’
‘Says the only son’
‘Well, at least tell me if you own this place’
‘No, but then it depends,’ he acquires his signature glazed look every time he thinks of business, and future plans.
‘Depends on? oh but you wont elaborate, great! why are we meeting here’
‘To get you drunk and find if you are not gay’
‘How noble of you, are you going to use one of those waiters? and what makes you think I could be one, you of all people who knows of my past’
‘Yeah, but it could be a facade. If I was friends with M since childhood I would have proposed her at 10′
‘Now don’t bring M into this, she is a friend, always will be a friend, also she is short’
‘I guess not very short, ok, she is like a friend and she has a boyfriend, remember D?’
‘Hmm. So what was wrong with the woman you met, the tall one, what was her name, I forget’
‘Oh she was good, a serious type,” I never liked the giggle girls, in more ways than her serious disposition, she was ideal, “but she was just too tall’
Also, she said she loves wearing heels, kind of her way to set the standards high, but that’s my pun which went only so far as to get D laughing.
‘What is it with you, one is too short one too tall. you sound like one of those guys who always see the glass half empty or half full’
‘But isn’t it how the world works. The glass, Mamaji is either half full or half empty, and you see how and what you choose to see.’
The beer arrives and he guzzles half of the mug as if he has been just rescued from a desert, maybe rescued from the dry conversation we are having. I know he hates these family matters, both he and I would have loved to discuss start-up ideas, his ideas and my pitching in with implementation details. I wish I could convince Mom, but moms are incorrigible.
There is a silence as he relishes the beer, sipping and trying out the chicken and cheese nachos. I drink slow, out of respect of course. The beer is good, not so much the food. People who come early to these pubs are either groups of guys, or are women who don’t care about their attire or looks. As the night builds up, fashion kicks in, both in terms of opulence of the cars they come in and in terms of economy of the clothes they come in.
I find him looking at me quizzically.
‘I don’t think you are gay, look at how you are checking out the women’
‘Great, glad that it is settled, no tests then. Can we order that single malt?’ I wink.
‘No, we are not, we are discussing your marriage. So where were we,’ he stifles a yawn.
I cant help smile at him, out of sympathy.
‘Yeah so either the woman is short or tall, is it? Do you realize how shallow you sound’
‘No I am normal, and unlike yours my glass is empty, do you see’ I wave it with flourish, just to cheer him up.
He waves in turn for a fresh round and continues, ‘yes I remember, and it is not the glass that is half empty or half full my boy.”
He pauses, a little too long, as if trying to remember the rest of the sentence and giving it time to come back.
‘The glasses that we keep looking at don’t matter, it is the bottle that matters. And more often than not, the bottle is quite full, look at the bottled up energy, bottled up potential within you young people. You waste it by talking about philosophy and politics on social media’
‘I want to talk about business, my job sucks’
‘But it pays well, business is done by people who cannot get such jobs, people like me’
‘Ok, fine. and it’s not just philosophy and politics.’
‘I know your generation are gung-ho about nationalism, Modi is your savior’
‘Mamaji, are you a leftist, liberal?’
‘No, neither are you right-wing. It’s just academic speak, deep down you know that if you stick to a left or a right at every step or thought, you keep going in circles.”
‘So you are a centrist’
‘No, a realist. There are many things to commit to in life, besides the right, left and centre, sometimes you need to follow a hyperbole, sometimes you have to carve your own path out of nowhere. That’s why you should just marry the next woman you meet. It’s always more about yourself than others.’
‘So you are saying there is no right woman or wrong one, no black or white, and the world is gray’
‘Yes it is but it can’t be taught, takes us time to realize that, and then we start forgetting,’ he ruffles his unruly hair as if lost in thought.
I know this routine, he does it to impress his clients and funding people, to convince them that he is wise, and very thoughtful.
‘Look at hair for example,’ he continues, ‘we start black, as if we are in the dark, when everything matters, right or left, empty or full, and then we end up white, the other end when everything is just white noise, and nothing seems to matter’
‘In between we have gray haired wise uncles,’ I chime in with self congratulatory glee, ‘the gray cells overflowing from their brains coloring their hair’
‘Yeah,’ he laughs heartily when he does, ‘except some color their hair black proving they are still the kids they were, like your Dad’
We both laugh. But I think he does it because of Mom, the ubiquitous mom. I would have consulted with her on the topic of women rather than wise graying Mamaji, but she keeps coming back to M.
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