A Tie for a Tie, A Suit for a Suit

Christmas is a time for revelry, when the big fat old man in a red jump suit and a floppy hat goes around giving gifts to the children around the world, while burning a hole in their parent’s pockets. The story of Santa Claus is well known. It has been published under two genres, bed time stories for kids and nightmares for parents, for years and is very widely read. According to the legend if you somehow did manage to be a good kid for the whole year, you got gifts on Christmas but if you were bad you got coal. Let’s see, I didn’t get gifts and I didn’t get coals either; I got credit card bills, now that’s how bad I had been last year. And now I am paying for it in EMIs.

So this Christmas when my friend, let’s call her Jingle Belle, asked me if I wanted to go to the Christmas Ball at the Bandra Gym, my brain got confuzzled. What does a Ball have to do with Manik, unless of course we are talking about those round things that enjoy being hit around with whatever you can find. And of course those that should *never* be hit. Even before my brain could recover from it, she threw a curveball that knocked my brain out. It was a couple only event. Couple? I had to look it up in the dictionary. Hmm. Well I had half of it covered, but wasn’t sure from where was I legally supposed to come up with the other half.

Luckily she came to the rescue. So basically JB wanted to take me along to the Ball thing. She said it will be fun, there will be lots of people, dancing and stuff and then she said the magical words, “free alcohol”. If she was anywhere near me, my liver would have jumped out and given her a big, big hug. So I spent next few hours haggling with my Boss for a leave and finally settled for turning up few hours late.

Little did I know what I was getting in to. It turned out it was a formal dress event. I am about as comfortable in formal clothing as I would be on a bed of nails. But I had never been to a Ball thing before and I hadn’t met JB in a long, long time so it was a small discomfiture to live with for a few hours. So I got ready. Put on a white shirt, the same old new brown jacket, brown pinstripe trouser and realized I had no formal shoes. Now either I could buy a pair of formal shoes or buy alcohol on the next two weekends. Didn’t take me too long to decide on that one. So out I walked with my favorite pair of Caterpillars on. How appropriate.

It was Christmas and since I still hadn’t gotten around to converting to Judaism yet, I had to get JB something. So I picked up a book for her and set on my way. No sooner had I left did she called up saying she and her friend would take more time so I could come there by 9-9:30. Hmm. But I was already on my way. Oh well. Traffic was kinda bad so I thought I would get there by 8:30 probably and wait for her at Mocha’s, the coffee place. Turned out that bad was too good a word for the traffic that day. It was a typical winter evening in Mumbai, hot and humid. And I was sitting in an auto wondering why I was wearing a suit while I perspired last night’s beer out. All soaked up in my sweat, I felt like a used teabag. The auto crawled along the highway for over an hour, halting after every few minutes, allowing the essence of Mumbai to ingrain in my DNA. The dust, the smoke and the noise were as much a part of me as my grandfather’s nose that I received in legacy.

By the time I reached Mocha’s it was 8:50 pm and I was all suited, sweat-ed and soot-ed up. My body was starving after the strenuous ordeal of this odyssey so I went to Mocha’s for a quick bite. I ordered a cheesecake and a shake, I was going to need all the sugar to stay up. Even that turned out to be too much for me to handle and i gave up two thirds of the way through and started biding my time. Soon two beautiful girls, all decked in pretty black dresses walked in. One look at the girls I was going to spend next few hours with and I realized I looked like a country bumpkin. They looked like they were meant to be at a ball. On the other hand I looked like I had lost my way back from the farmer’s market. And when JB’s friend Shamata’s friend Sunil, boy friend to be precise, walked in I finally realized what formal dressing meant. I frantically pulled out my phone looking for a message from office asking me to come to work right away but alas they never do it when you want them to. Ok, so I was wearing a jacket that looked like I had just skinned a seal and wrapped it around myself, a pant that was forced at gun point to go along with the jacket, a shirt that, if you looked carefully at, looked like it might have been white when I had left Malad and of course the boots, how can we forget them, that looked more in place at a Texan ranch than a ballroom. Formal Indeed!

I still had not recovered from this epiphany that Sunil added the last straw. It was a Tie and Jacket event. A what???? Tie? They still wear one of those? The answer was a yes as he promptly pulled one out of his pocket. The horrifying memories of me struggling with the tie everyday during school flooded my head as I struggled to remember when was the last time I had worn a tie. It was pretty simple. Last day of that goddamn high school! Or maybe the US visa interview. In any case it had been good seven years since I had even touched that contraption. I did own a few of those and had I known I would have probably brought one along but what to do now? Sunil seemed to be playing a Samaritan, not only had he arranged for the passes but also he called up his friend and asked him to get a tie for me. Yippee! Problem resolved.

Or was it? So we took up autos and after some left turns, right turns, almost turns, missed turns and U turns managed to find the place. It was a huge premises with chain link fence running on top of its walls to prevent intruders from climbing in. Or was it to keep me from escaping? I was getting paranoid by the minute. First the suit, then the tie and now chain link fence. Me no likey! Just outside the entrance we ran in to a bunch of friends, who’s friends I don’t know, but there were like 12 people I was introduced to and I forgot all 15 names as soon as I was done greeting them. I am not used to so many new people!

So we stood there for like half an hour, waiting for the guy with passes to arrive. JB’s feet were killing her already, being tortured by the new pair of shiny black sandals she was wearing. People were standing in groups within the group and chattering about people that I didn’t even know existed. I was trying really hard to listen to the music streaming out, trying to see if there was a song I had ever heard in my lifetime. They played some Elvis which gave me some hope. Two left feet or not, anyone can dance to Elvis. All you have to do is to act like you are learning to walk for the first time and there you go! Finally the dude with the passes arrived and every one streamed in. Except the four of us of course. The want of a tie untied us from the rest of the group. Half an hour more of leaning against walls and cars and then the tie finally arrived!

Now the problem was who will tie the tie. I hadn’t done that in a long, long time and none of them had much clue. So I went down the memory lane, tripping and falling over all the rocks and potholes, and finally remembered how to tie a knot, albeit very, very vaguely. In fact so vaguely that thing I came up with resembled a hangman’s noose more than a tie. Any way I managed to wear it around my neck without choking to death in the process. And then we proceeded to walk in.

We walked past the patrons of the club who checked our passes and let us in with a confused look, their brains unable to comprehend how someone could wear formals and still not look like he is dressed in formals. Before they could change their mind, we were happily lost in a sea of gowns and suits. We ducked, strafed and wiggled our way to where rest of the gang was sitting and well we sat there watching people dance. Gentlemen and beautiful women every where. Some of them were drinking. Some of them were eating. We were staring. Of course I couldn’t drink as being a responsible worker there was no way I could turn up at work with alcohol on my breath, right? They started playing some hip hop numbers I had a brief encounter with while surfing the channels on TV or was attacked with when I strayed in to one of those “hep” clubs and pubs once in a while. Now we were at a Ball so obviously we were supposed to dance. This is was one part of the equation that I hadn’t considered earlier.

The thing is that it is forbidden to use the words Manik and Dance in the same book, let alone the same sentence. They just don’t go together. Like World and Peace. Or like Pop and Music. I tried to explain to JB that I have two left feet but she laughed it away saying so did she. Okay well seemed liked she was asking for some proof to validate my claim. So we hit the floor, or more like the floor hit us.

Two minutes on the floor and we both had an epiphany each. I realized that it is impossible for girls to have two left feet. It’s just not possible. Even if they just shake their head to say no it looks so graceful! And I am sure she realized that Manik wasn’t kidding! Manik after four drinks can dance like a horse at rodeo but a sober Manik is dance-less. Let me put it this way, if I was made to compete in dance against a victim of multiple fractures ,who is covered in plaster from head to toe, he would still beat me by a comfortable margin. No, I am not exaggerating. Anyone who needs proof please feel free to contact JB. Thankfully before I could embarrass us any more people decided to go crazy. All of a sudden the place was transformed in to Andheri Station and people were running in train formations, as usual loaded with people. There were trains in front of us and trains behind us and we were getting crushed like the commuters on any given day. So we did what people do. We jumped on to a train and saved our lives. So for next few minutes we were running around like a train and it wasn’t bad at all. It was actually kinda fun.

Finally sanity prevailed and trains got derailed. We all got back to our seats as they proceeded to belt out more bad music with the subwoofer cranked up high enough to embarrass a rock concert. The night was cooling down and people were having fun and suddenly I realized I was actually having a good time! So I tried to get my boss to give me leave for the night but unfortunately there was some very important work to do at office. So reluctantly I took my leave of these wonderful and charming people and I left JB behind as she was going to stay there till it closed. Lucky her! Hopefully she had much better time after wards. Surprisingly I got out from the front door instead of climbing the chain link fence as it was expected earlier.

So I reached work to see what was the emergency that prevented me from drinking on such a wonderful night and leave that place and come to work. I had to conduct an exam for promotion of Level 2 support staff. Brilliant! I was tired, sleepy, sober and pissed. Needless to say I set the paper in a bad mood and left. Later on when the test was conducted, I was told, the shrieks of horror and cries of frustration of the candidates had the management worried, especially about my safety the next time I came to work. In the end just 2 guys managed to pass and I am still alive despite being inundated with all the complaining from the candidates the next day. One of them bemoaned that he could never be promoted as long as I was working here. Tough luck!

It was a strange night when I did something which was so out of my character and still had fun. Is this a sign that I am finally growing up? Hopefully not. But it was an evening spent with these people I had never known that made me realize maybe I am not anti-social after all and maybe people aren’t such a bad thing. I haven’t met JB since then but I am sure it’s not because she is mad at me. One thing is sure I have hung up my pair of two left dancing shoes for good. Till the next Christmas of course!