The Road To Nirvana Is Paved With Distractions

During this lockdown, I’ve maintained a disciplined schedule of working out, sleeping well, eating healthy and lying shamelessly. But the one activity that I’m honestly trying to get better at is meditation, and yes I’m gonna ignore the fact that taking deep, relaxing breaths during a pandemic marked by breathlessness feels a little bit like showing off. It’s like running 100-metre sprints during the polio crisis or telling Okinawa war vets that kamikazes are delicious and they should totes try some.

For the record, I’d like to state that meditation truly is a life-changing invention, like the wheel or the ‘Skip Intro’ button. So any shortcomings are mine and mine alone. For example, on most days, I can spend six hours staring at my toenails but when I decide to meditate for just fifteen minutes, I suddenly have the schedule of an ER surgeon who’s also the President Of The World during an ongoing alien invasion.

The next step is to open the Headspace app on my phone (no, this is not a paid post – also nobody has paid for the written word since 2008.) But when I unlock my phone to open Headspace, some magical time travel happens and boom, it’s one hour later and I’m still on Insta and Twitter and now I want to slap people more than I did at the start of the day, so I’m worried a 15-minute session won’t cut it but I can’t do longer because remember, the aliens have just blown up the White House and I’m Bill Pullman giving a speech while simultaneously performing a C-section with my feet but whatever, let’s start.

Lights dimmed, notifications off, just the calming session playing and I start taking a few deep breaths, shutting out the world, my body relaxing as I focus on the inhale-exhale cycle, in through the nose, slowly out through the mouth, in through the nose, slowwwwly out through the mouth, in through the I LOVE IT WHEN WHEN YOU CALL ME SENORITA, NA MAIN SAMHA NA MAIN JAANA ugh earworm, okay focus, inhale, slow exhale, inhale, slow MUJHSE NAZAR NA PHEROOOO wow always the Abhay Deol voice, stupid brain, okay focus focus, why is my butt suddenly itchy, is it a symptom of colorectal cancer, is this how I die, I’m glad they called it colorectal cancer ‘cos if you told people they had ass cancer they would just laugh haha, oh hey that broccoli in the fridge might go bad soon, isn’t it weird how broccoli looks like gobhi that ate a lot of broccoli, oho is this what they call a veg joke wow Ashish aaj toh angaar hi angaar OKAY FOCUS YOU IDIOT and remember what you learnt: don’t try to fight the thoughts, let them come and go, don’t latch on to them, see them as clouds drifting across the sky, bye bye ass cancer thought, okay the mind is clear again phew, let’s just count breaths… 1… 2… 3… deep breaths deep breaths deep breaths deep RACE SAANSON KI!! I give up.

The lockdown is by no means my first attempt at meditation. I started a few years ago and by ‘started’ I mean I did it only when I felt like it, a strategy I’d also like to apply to taxes. My aversion was partly because I was once made to attend a three-day meditation camp as a kid. This proves the adage that whether it’s religion or karela, if you were forced to do it as a child, you’ll probably hate it as an adult. (Heroin is a notable exception to this rule.)

Anyway, this happened when I was ten and visiting my cousins in Ghaziabad, a town in U.P famous for its traditional murders, power cuts and murders during power cuts. But something worse was in store when I found out that I, along with two cousins my age, were to be bundled off to some meditation camp for kids, probably because the nearest gulag was full.

To be fair, some of my older uncles had gotten into meditation and wanted us to experience the same clarity of thought and peace of mind, which we did anyway BECAUSE WE WERE KIDS AND THAT WAS OUR DEFAULT STATE. In fact, the only stress I had in life was about being plonked into this camp during my summer holidays, which I’d planned to spend going back and forth between comic books and TV while slowly replacing all the fluids in my body with Thums Up.

My cousins and I protested the decision but minority voices in U.P are often ignored. Three hours later, we were deposited at the camp in Delhi whose name I forget but it was run by the same people who run that famous 10-day vipassana course that your hippie friend won’t shut up about. That’s the one where you wake up at 4 a.m., meditate for about 10 hours a day while maintaining absolute silence for the entire 10-day duration, but by the end you feel amazing because you get to leave.

Thankfully, as kids, we had way fewer hours of meditation. The sessions were split across the day and drove home the basics: focusing on one’s breath and blocking out all thoughts about how much you hate your uncles. The No Talking rule also only applied to a small radius outside the main meditation hall because the headline ‘INSTRUCTORS MAULED BY TWO HUNDRED FERAL KIDS, NO ONE SAW ANYTHING’ would’ve been bad PR.

There were other non-meditation activities as well like drawing, playing in the park, slowly digging a hole in the wall and covering it with a Rita Hayworth poster etc. We also had multiple meal breaks where we enjoyed khichdi and lauki, the scintillating cuisine of jaundice patients. A huge curtain ran through the centre of the dining hall, separating the boys and girls, which was hugely discriminatory against a boy who had just spotted a cute girl and fallen in love, something that happened every three days at that age. It was pointless though. Even if I’d had the guts or the charm to talk to her, what could I really say at a meditation shivir? “Heyyy… nice nostrils. You inhale really well. Do you want to get some lauki tonight?”

Of course things have changed since, or as the poet Rilke once wrote, “Friendship ended with childhood, stress is my best friend now.” And while it’s definitely not a substitute for professional help, meditation has served as a helpful anxiety mitigation device, much better than my other techniques like large whiskeys and restless leg shaking that looks like Elvis getting electrocuted.

But you don’t need to wait for undue life stress to kick in before you try it. That sense of focus and equanimity feels great at any point. The only side-effect is that you might use the phrase ‘high on life’ unironically, in which case please walk into the nearest glass door repeatedly until that urge subsides.

Also, to the women reading this: in case you were at that meditation camp and think you may be the girl from my story, do feel free to get in touch. I don’t know your name but I will recognize your nostrils.

HAPPY RANDOM MARKETING OPPORTUNITY TO YOU!

(Note: This is my Hindustan Times column dated 2nd Aug 2015.)

Today we celebrate Friendship Day in India, and by ‘we’, I mean teenagers and people who watch Bindass TV un-ironically. The concept of Friendship Day was first promoted in 1930 by Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards. This was followed by McDonald’s promoting Cholesterol and Self-Loathing Day. According to noted historian Mr. Wikipedia, the Friendship Day fad ended in the US by the ‘40s but much like Bryan Adams, it did well in Asia despite being dead.

The concept lived on thanks largely to the efforts of an organisation in Paraguay called – and this is true – the World Friendship Crusade, who introduced the concept of World Friendship Day in 1958. Their plan was to turn the world into a giant Black Or White music video. Maybe it’s just me, but calling it a ‘crusade’ probably wasn’t the best idea. That word stands for friendship in the same way Bombay stands for green open spaces.

A World Friendship Crusade just sounds like a bunch of savages galloping from village to village, forcing people to tie friendship bands around their wrists while singing Purani Jeans. In fact, you can make the nicest, most innocuous thing sound fierce and warlike if you add the word ‘crusade’ to it. If you want to appear extra manly, don’t tell people about your first kiss – tell them how you went on a Hormonal Tongue Crusade.

The World Friendship Crusade continued to pester lobby the United Nations until 2011, when the UN General Assembly declared 30th July to be International Friendship Day. And people wonder why nobody respects the UN. It’s hard to, when you see them spending time on a concept that’s already covered by the most competent authority of all – Bollywood.

Bollywood is the place that first taught us that ‘ek ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahin ho sakte’ unless the ladka and ladki are actors being interviewed by people whose idea of journalism is ‘tell na who u making sexytime with’. Classic Bollywood is how I learnt to make friends, especially with the opposite sex. The basic procedure went like this:

  1. Be the college stud.
  2. Wear jeans, jean jackets, jean shirts and jean banyans.
  3. Spot the new admission. She’ll be the pretty one in a frock that looks like a Monginis cake threw up on her.
  4. Make a move only to get rejected because The Song hasn’t happened yet.
  5. Chase her around with your mawaali friends while singing about her nakhra, which is all just code for ‘Y U NO LET ME TOUCH’
  6. The girl smiles and eventually gives in to the creepy denim gorilla.
  7. Stockholm Syndrome complete.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. There were other lessons I learnt i.e. celebrate Friendship Day by losing to your tomboy friend at basketball and then marrying her when she gets hot.

It was pop culture like this that led to students cutting up perfectly good ribbons and turning them into friendship bands. When I say students, I mostly mean girls, who expressed love with meticulously crafted bands and handmade cards involving six types of glitter. Meanwhile, the boys stabbed each other with dividers.

This isn’t to say that boys aren’t civilised. As a kid, I once handed over a card to a guy friend on Friendship Day. It wasn’t handmade because that would be weird and as an ode to our manliness, it featured a commode and some pun about poop. Who’s immature now, huh??

Friendships work differently now, especially in frenetic, stressed-out cities like Mumbai. The older you get, the harder it becomes to make friends, mostly because there’s no time and everyone thinks everyone else is weird. The loneliness eventually leads people to take extreme steps, like arranged marriage.

You do end up accumulating a lot of acquaintances though. It’s easy to mix the two up, but an acquaintance is someone you bump into at bars and make small talk about football with, whereas a friend is someone you can get embarrassingly drunk around, trusting him or her to not turn your stupidity into a viral video. Consider yourself lucky if you have more than a handful of these around. Keep in touch and if you’re feeling extra nice, grab yourself a divider.

Seven Old Monk Facts That May Or May Not Be Made Up

(Note: This is my Hindustan Times column dated 19th July 2015.)

Like an aunty who just saw the neighbour’s daughter with a boy, I have plenty to talk about this week. We were witness to the incredible Pluto flyby, a testament to the power of science and curiosity that reminded us yet again of our place in the universe.

This was overshadowed by another great scientific achievement when Professor Emeritus Of Center Parting And Net Banyan Studies Salman Khan announced his theory of ‘Selfie le le le le le le le le le le le le le’. His fans scrambled to follow his instructions, leading to a number of injuries because it’s difficult to take selfies when there are three of you on a bike.

But the news that struck deepest was the imminent collapse of Old Monk, aka Molasses That Went To College. It was reported that the dark rum was on its way out, until the makers clarified that yes, there had been a dip in sales, which they were dealing with by downing Patialas and listening to Jagjit Singh, and no, Old Monk was not going to be taken off shelves.

So in celebration, here’s a list of Seven Old Monk Facts That May Or May Not Be Made Up:

  1. As the name suggests, Old Monk was first brewed in the hills by an actual monk, because living in a monastery is so boring that watching sugarcane ferment seems like legit entertainment. Old Monk is made using the moustache hair of a military officer ranked no lower than a Colonel, and the tears of a first-year engineering student who just got dumped and in response, will spend the next four years wearing the classic T-shirt that says ‘99% of gurlz are beautiful….. the rest are in my college’.
  1. Old Monk is manufactured in Ghaziabad, a city that shares a border with Delhi and is known for its wide variety of kidnappings. It likes to say that it’s part of the Delhi-NCR region in the same way that Kambli likes to tell people that he’s Sachin’s best friend.
  1. Old Monk was the largest selling dark rum in the world for years and is India’s most loved export since Anil Kapoor’s English at the Oscars. Oddly enough, the world’s finest hash also comes from India. See, that’s the kind of patriotism I can get behind. Once I’m done with these six packets of chips, that is.
  1. The large Old Monk bottle is genius design because it shows you the exact shape you’ll turn into if you don’t stop drinking. You can also smack people over the head with it when they start intellectualising the drink instead of shutting up and just drinking it. 
  1. Old Monk fans swear that it is great at curing colds and coughs, which proves that your friends will say anything to get you to drink. In every group, there’s always that one guy who will offer scientific logic like ‘See diseases are caused by germs and alcohol kills germs hence proved SO DRINK NA SAALA LADKI HAI KYA MARD BAN WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU’RE IN A COMA JUST DRINK NA BASTARD’.
  1. For some reason, Monk fans also swear that it does not give them a hangover. These people are either lying or they’re Australian. It’s amazing how, as a die-hard fan, you could be curled on a bedsheet adorned with the previous night’s partially digested nachos while your head feels like Ganesh Acharya is tap-dancing on it, and you’d still go, “Dammit, it must be something I ate.”
  1. Because Monk is primarily a guy drink, men get turned on by a woman who can chug the good stuff. So yeah, date a girl who drinks Old Monk. Date her because her sweat smells of rum and that’s hot. Date her because she can fart the opening riff to Smoke On The Water. Date her because that girl is so much like you. No wait, she is you. You are alone, and you deserve to be if you’re taking dating advice from stupid listicles.

On that note, it is time for me to step out and get my weekend drink. If you see me performing an ode to my drink, please smack me over the head.

This Column Has Been Sent For Extensive Testing

(Note: This is my HT column dated 7th May 2015.)

Here’s a newsflash: it turns out that everything you like is bad for you. From your favourite cigarette to your favourite heroin dealer, it turns out that everything and everyone is actively trying to kill you, while also charging you money for it.

Of course, we’ve known this fact all along, but it gets ignored harder than a PETA activist handing out flyers. It only really sunk in when it was learnt that several batches of Maggi tested positive for massive amounts of nostalgia, which makes you completely ignore the fact that those noodles may as well be branded ‘Maa Ke Haath Ki Lead Poisoning’.

So much has happened since the first set of allegations cropped up last week. Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order. I guarantee that you’ll be able to read through all of them in two minutes. And your time starts now:

  1. In March 2014, thanks to the efforts of an official from the UP Food Safety and Drug Administration, a Feb 2014 batch of Maggi was tested and found to be pumped with enough lead to classify as an extra in a Michael Bay film. This came as a shock to everyone, especially the part where a U.P government official was found to be doing his job.
  1. In July 2014, Nestle challenged the test results, presumably on the grounds of “Aye it doesn’t count – first ball is always trial ball.” The second test results came in April 2015, and basically said that yep, it was Maggi that drove the Romans insane.
  1. So naturally, the next logical step was to file FIRs against Madhuri Dixit and Amitabh Bachchan for endorsing Maggi. Because everyone knows that brand ambassadors are in charge of manufacturing and quality testing. In fact, their contracts stipulated that Bachchan would stir a large vat of noodles while Madhuri Dixit personally ground up lead pipes and dropped them into the mix, along with the souls of little children.
  1. Another devastating fallout of the testing was that Priety Zinta became relevant again, after she was also named in the FIR for having endorsed Maggi – wait for it – twelve years ago. If you’d forgotten about this, then it’s okay, it’s probably just the lead in your brain. Meanwhile, Madhuri Dixit was probably sitting there thinking, “See, this is why I left India.” This is reportedly the most ridiculous thing to happen to Madhuri’s career, and that’s saying a lot, given that she was once wingmanned by a sanskari pomeranian. Meanwhile, Amitabh Bachchan said that he’d cooperate with the authorities, because he’s too polite to say, “BRO ARE YOU F******* KIDDING ME?”
  1. Then things got worse, with everyone scrambling to make terrible puns involving the word ‘lead’. This is obviously a symptom of lead poisoning so if you see your loved ones doing this, please call a doctor and have them put down.
  1. Faced with a bunch of state bans, Nestle finally pulled Maggi from shelves across India. This is when everyone’s nostalgia kicked in, because Maggi is pretty much a part of our bloodstream, along with things like TB and corruption. Everyone has a favourite recipe for Maggi – even those who are otherwise capable of burning down the kitchen while boiling water. Some people like it soupy. Other people like it dry, and to those people I say, what the hell is wrong with you, you monsters?

It’s not just Maggi. If you told me that half the stuff I consumed as a kid was toxic, I would have no reason to doubt you. For example, there’s no way Goldspot could legally taste that good. But nobody cared because that orange Goldspot tongue was our version of the post-coital cigarette. Simply put, our lack of standards is a reminder of simpler times, before stoopid facts came in and ruined our toxic eating habits.

And with that, we come to the end of two minutes. If it took you longer to read it, then it’s probably all the lead slowing you down. Go take it up with Madhuri.

BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM I WANT YOU IN MY CITY!

As anyone who has ever attended a gig in Bombay will tell you, we are the number one destination for international musical artistes who have been classified by other countries as “clinically dead”. For example, at one point, you didn’t know if Bryan Adams was coming to India to perform or to reincarnate.

The latest on the coffin tour is the ‘90s electro-pop sensation Vengaboys, who will be performing in Mumbai, Goa and Chennai in May. The shows are expected to go off smoothly, mainly because their name is Vengaboys and not Jerry Seinfeld. But on the flipside, the Mumbai venue is – and I kid you not – a mall in Kurla. Yup, a band that was one of the most popular acts on the planet at one point is going to be playing venues that even DJ Suketu would spit at.

It’s so sad that we live in a place with 25 percent entertainment tax, 14 percent service tax, a licensing regime that is basically The Hunger Games but less compassionate, and yet, Kurla is the worst thing that could happen to you. Ah well, I suppose it could be worse. The government could ask the organisers to squeeze in a Lezim-and-Musical-Chairs act in the middle of the show.

The Vengaboys have performed in India before, back in 2001, when their fans hadn’t yet been afflicted with conditions like Male Pattern Baldness, or Babies. They had a spot of bad luck back then too, when their Guwahati show had to be cancelled so as to keep “in tune with local sentiments”, which is just another way of saying that some angry people thought their music would inspire copious amounts of sexytime. That’s ridiculous because in the 90s, there were way more people who hooked up after whacking dandiyas to ‘Pari Hoon Main’ (thereby completely ignoring all the lyrics).

But it’s not difficult to see why the moral brigade would have a problem with some of their songs. I mean one of their biggest hits is named after Thailand’s number one export. It’s weird to think about now, but I remember kids, including me, listening to Boom Boom Boom, completely oblivious of the sexuality blasting out of those old truck-sized “hi-fi” speakers. This is what those deep, metaphorical lyrics went like:

Boom boom boom boom

I want you in my room

Let’s spend the night together

From now until forever

Boom boom boom boom

I wanna double boom

The good thing about those days was that nobody overthought this kind of stuff. Or if they did, we didn’t have to hear about it. We danced, enjoyed and got over all of this without having to read grave op-eds about how Boom Boom Boom is either:

a) A misogynistic song that promotes objectification and patriarchy, and is the worst thing to happen to women since stilettos

OR

b) A feminist anthem where a woman fearlessly expresses her desires, while deliberately keeping the identity of the lover non-specific, so as to encompass all races, sexualities and body types.

But now, I imagine the Vengaboys would end up having to justify themselves to everyone with a smidgen of authority and/or access to the internet. I’m not sure what they’ll say, but the following culturally-approved explanation might help:

Boom boom boom boom

(Sound of dholak beats for cultural reasons)

I want you in my room

(Because good boys and girls don’t go outside at night…)

Let’s spend the night together

(… and also because you missed the last local, so sleep over, but on separate mattresses)

From now until forever

(Signifying commitment, because flings are for white people)

Boom boom boom boom

(More dholak to drive away impure thoughts)

I wanna double boom

(I want two kids.)

Dear Vengaboys, if you’re reading this, first up, thanks for teaching me that you can make an entire song with just one word i.e. BRA-ZEEEEEEL. And secondly, feel free to use the culturally-approved subtext above. I ask for nothing in return. I mean I would’ve asked for a free pass to the gig, but um, it’s in Kurla.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 12th Nov 2015.)

Does This Marksheet Make My Brain Look Big?

My favourite thing about the CBSE board exams is that they took place fifteen years ago. But as it turns out, they’re still a thing, with millions of students taking the plunge this week, one and only one question on their minds: How much do I need to score to make aunties and relatives shut up about my future? (Ans: Move to Siberia.)

So first up, best of luck to all you students and/or the impersonators you’ve paid to take the exam for you. Chances are that by now, you’ve heard tons of friendly advice from older people, because giving gyan makes us feel good about ourselves. The advice usually ranges from “Don’t worry, I also scored 23% and I’m rich enough to go to Phuket for honeymoon now” to “If you mess up that six mark math question, you’ll end up wiping windshields for heroin money.”

I have no clue how you’ll do in life but statistically speaking, if you’re a girl, you stand to do better than the boys in your class. I know this because every year, every newspaper in the country will announce the results with the headline ‘GIRLS OUTSHINE BOYS NYAHNYAHNYAHNYAH BOYS SUCK’.

It has been this way for as long as I can remember. In school, the tongue-in-cheek explanation was that girls got extra marks for neat handwriting. Now this sounds like a typical sexist reaction by boys who can’t stand a girl scoring higher than them, but honestly, as hard as I try, I cannot recall a girl having bad handwriting.

When you say ‘girls’ handwriting’, it conjures up an image of perfectly spaced words perched on the line like elegant tightrope walkers, whereas a guy’s handwriting looks like those tightrope walkers fell eighteen stories and splattered across the page. And then there are those girls who take notes with six differently-coloured pens, highlighting and underlining keywords as they go, while the boys are using their chewed-up 045 to draw breasts and horns on historical figures.

Another headline you’ll always see on result day will be along the lines of ‘POOR KID OVERCOMES ALL ODDS TO TOP THE EXAM; MAKES REGULAR KIDS LOOK BAD’. People of privilege – myself included – cannot even begin to imagine the tenacity it takes to be that person, and we have nothing but respect for such people, but it’s also the kind of thing that makes you feel like Deepak Tijori at the end of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. I mean does your 90 percent even count if you didn’t spend months studying under the streetlamp outside your employer’s sweatshop? My parents always tried to inspire me with examples like these and said things like “If you don’t work hard, that poor kid will grow up to be your boss.” Because if your ingrained class bias isn’t motivation enough to study, I don’t know what is.

I imagine it’s tougher for students to study now, what with a million distractions fighting for their attention. If I’d had a cellphone and broadband in school then, well, I would never have gotten out of school. I’d still be living off my parents, scrolling through six different social media feeds while they tried to get me to mark “Top three coal mines” on the Indian map. (Hint: When in doubt, mark things in the general vicinity of Bihar.)

In fact, teachers today should use the internet to teach boring subjects in a manner that students will understand. They should get rid of those dreary post-lunch history lectures and just send students links that say ‘A British Trading Company Came To India. You’ll Never Guess What Happened Next’. The flipside is that you’d get to see exam answers like, “so like Simon was this guy who came here and wuz all up in mah bizness and peeps were like Y U NO GO BACK and he was like no u lol.”

But on a serious note, good luck once again to everyone taking on the biggest challenge of their lives that will totally determine their self-worth for years to come. Here’s hoping you do well so you can move on to the next challenge, and the next one, and the one after that until you wonder why you were even worried about your boards in the first place. In any case, you always have the Windshield Wiping industry to fall back on.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 8th March 2015.)

Could This Headline BE More Obvious?

Twenty years ago, the world watched its first episode of Friends, and given the rerun cycle in India, I’m sure my grandkids will end up watching it on their deathbeds, getting nostalgic about a world without nuclear winter. Friends is said to be responsible for the rise of everything from a certain haircut to coffee sales to awkward guys using sarcasm as a defence mechanism because clearly, that’s all we do all the time for no reason.

Friends hit Indian shores when I was about fifteen and I could tell it was something big because it was the only thing that made us stop our cricket game and rush home to huddle in front of the TV. (NOTE TO YOUNGER READERS: A TV is sort of like a physical Youtube, except someone else is in charge of the playlist and you don’t get to leave nasty comments about people’s mothers.)

Back then, we had no real idea about the stuff they were talking about – being on a break means nothing when the only girlfriend you’ve ever had is a Kate Winslet poster – but we lapped it up because it was our first proper pop-culture look at adults in America. It was like Archie featuring yuppies, it was three-big-laughs-a-minute and honestly, if someone from my generation tells me they didn’t like it, my brain automatically classifies them as horrible people, like serial killers or MBAs.

In fact, I’m sure that even the most despicable, blood-thirsty bastards on the planet are fans of the Central Perk gang. This must’ve happened at ISIS camps at some point:

Terrorist 1: … And then, Rashid here was like, “Boss, I forget to carry detonator.”

Terrorist 2: Hahaha, you pulled a Monica!

Terrorist 3: (spots a girl in black) How youuu doin’?

*awkward looks all around*

Terrorist 1: Dude, that’s a curtain.

Friends helped an entire generation of people discover themselves, which is just another way of saying that everyone thought they were Chandler Bing. I was convinced I was Chandler because of my tendency to make bad jokes while gradually putting on weight, which, if you think about it, is a pretty generic brief. Nobody ever thought that they were Ross, because that’s the kind of realisation that would drive a man to three divorces. As for Joey, I didn’t even think such people existed, but then I started working in the entertainment industry and long story short, you can shoot a Joey spinoff in any gym between Bandra and Andheri.

But the biggest validation for Bright, Kaufmann and Crane has to be the fact that we ripped off their show to create something called – the subtlety will blow your mind – Hello Friends. It featured Nikhil Chinappa, Maria Goretti, Cyrus Broacha and Mandira Bedi, because I guess VJ Shehnaz was busy digging her way out of the cardboard and glitter avalanche that was MTV Most Wanted.

Hello Friends was pretty much like the original, if you removed all the funny bits. One difference was that desi Ross did not have a lesbian wife – he was just a regular divorcee. This was because lesbians did not exist in India in 1999. We only imported them later when we realised that we had way too many plaid shirts and not enough people to wear them.

Friends faced the same criticism a lot of sitcoms face – “It’s so unreal”, “How can they afford that apartment?”, “Can I get the number of Phoebe’s dealer?” – but nobody really cared because the other stuff made up for it. Sure, the theme song sounds less saccharine and more realistic now – I’ll Be There For Youuuu (Until I Get Married Or Move Cities And We Lose Touch Because That Kinda Thing Happens Watchu Gonna Do About It).

But the rest of it feels real enough, especially once you’ve started living on your own: Having people whose fridges you can raid, no questions asked, hearing them out after their sixteenth break-up with the same person and then getting drunk because that’s as good a reason as any, having people come over with soup when you’re sick and being as exclusionist about your group as those six were, and believing that a Chandler-Monica romance is possible because she’s not obese anymore.

I recently came across a photo of the grey and saggy Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc hugging at an award function, and all I could think was, “Goddamn dust allergy, making me sniffle.” So I know that if a Friends reunion ever happens, I’d be the first to drop everything and watch, all the while thinking, “Could I BE more senti?”

(Note: This is my HT column dated 21st Sep, 2014.)