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This Uncontrollable Disease I Have...

23/09/2016 2:33 PM IST | Updated 23/09/2016 2:59 PM IST
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Ryan Etter

All the characters and incidents in this piece are imaginary, resemblance to any person dead or alive is purely coincidental.

A few days ago I met someone on a flight. He wasn't quite sure where he'd seen me before, but he was certain he had seen me on TV, so after an awkward silence and unsure selfie with a guy he wasn't sure was famous, he started discussing my work in detail. "Where do you shoot your films or web series, how much do you get paid for an acting job, do you really get to make out or kiss the actress, etc, etc." I explained, no this is all an act, it's not what it looks like. He said, "You guys are sorted, you get paid to lie, you guys can legally con people. Before every play or film you openly declare that everything we're about to say and show you is untrue. And yet, people sit through the whole sham, they laugh, they cry, some get upset, some bathe posters with milk, some burn effigies... You people must get together in a room and laugh at us all (chutiya banaya... bada mazaa aaya)."

It destroys something inside me every time, something that's pure, that's personal, that just belonged to me... this disease just snatches it away...

So I got a little ticked off. I had to tell him the truth. I said, "Do you know why I get paid so much to do what I do? Because the amount of truth I tell, in that fictitious story, in that moment on stage, or in front of the camera, is scary... I don't think anyone has the balls or the opportunity to speak so much truth anywhere else. In fact, I don't think I'm allowed to speak the whole truth anywhere else in life. Think about it, can you honestly speak the following truths in life?

1>"Mom, although he's your brother and my uncle, but personally I think Mamaji is a corrupt man, a male chauvinist, and I'm sick of pretending he's funny." You can't say that, because mom will disown you.

2>Can you tell your girlfriend, "I'm jealous of your Rakhi brother, I think he has a thing for you, (wo yeda banke peda kha raha hai)?" You can't, you'll be judged and dumped.

3>Can you tell a right-wing politician, "Stop smothering ideas that you cannot process. Read some more, travel some more, sleep a little less and you'll find less reasons to hate people." You can't, they'll stone you to death.

4>Can you tell your left winger, avid reader, pseudo intellectual friend, "You honestly love the sound of your voice, you don't want to resolve any problem, you just want to endlessly discuss issues... to flaunt how much you know." You can't say that, they'll talk so much your ears will bleed.

5>You can't tell your fellow citizens, "If you want to put a hi-fi speaker on a truck, get piss drunk, have a rave party on the road and destroy the sea with plastic and PoP... do it, but don't involve my dear Ganesha in this, he'd probably disapprove of the destruction ." You can't, that's not the kind of truth you're supposed to talk about.

6>Or, if you are a fan of the Dhoom1, Dhoom2, Dhoom97 franchise good for you, go play some video games at home, but don't ride your bikes around the city like maniacs on Eid and endanger everyone's lives. Go spend time with your family, have sevaiya, feed your friends some dum biryani... trying to kill yourself on a motorbike has no connection with this festival.

These are the kinds of truths that you can't talk about in life. People don't appreciate this kind of honesty. My co-passenger is already staring at me with some rage.

So, we weave all that we have to say, all that we see, we feel into our stories...

I tell stories for a living, I write some, I perform some...

This particular one is called...

"I hate Pepsi"

I think I was 6 or 7 years old when Leher Pepsi entered my life. It was everywhere—in shops, on the hoardings, in my school canteen. The sight of this black, fizzy liquid made me go weak in my knees. I wanted it. I wanted to put it on my lips and drink the damn thing in a gulp. The only trouble was... I couldn't afford it.

We lived in a small one-room chawl in Bhayander (east) in those days, and we used to travel to Jodhpur for summer holidays every year. We were at Borivali station, and my mother was stuffing me, my sister and our luggage into the general compartment of the Saurashtra Express. She was fighting with other passengers for half a seat on the upper birth for the two of us, but finally settled for the space near the toilet. We put our trunks there, and she put a bed sheet on them to create a berth for us. But amidst all the yelling, and screaming and chaos, all I could hear was the tinkling sound the bottle opener was making on those Pepsi bottles... it beat the sounds Pundit Shivkumar Sharma created on the santoor.

So, finally I asked my mother for a Pepsi.

She explained to me how bad Pepsi was for my health. The absolute lack of conviction in her speech made me realize how poor we were.

Her face fell. Both of us knew we couldn't spare that much money on a cola, we always had an unspoken understanding that I wouldn't ask for stuff I knew she couldn't afford. And what she could afford, she'd get on her own without me having to ask for it. But I was desperate so I broke the code.

She then sat me down on the trunk, fed me some achaar and home-made puri and explained to me how bad Pepsi was for my health. The absolute lack of conviction in her speech made me realize how poor we were.

It broke my heart.

After a 24-hour journey from Borivali to Jodhpur via Ahmadabad, we arrived at Jodhpur Station. The first thing I saw was a hoarding of Kapil Dev holding a bottle of Pepsi, smiling at me...

I reached my maternal grandpa's house. He was a very influential man. A high-profile lawyer, he was busy in his study holding a high-profile meeting with some high-profile clients. I ran to meet him, but his peon stopped me from entering his study. Honestly I didn't mind the fact that his new peon didn't recognize me and spoke to me rudely, but when I peeped into his office through the small gap between the swinging doors and saw two bottles of Pepsi on the study table, I started crying. Watching both these grown-up gentlemen sipping Pepsi through the straw broke my heart. I wandered around the garden for an hour, and as soon as everyone left, I sneaked into the office... and there it was... a good two sips left in both the bottles. I climbed the table, put both the bottles to my mouth and gulped the liquid down in a single breath. I could hear the chorus singing in the background, "Yehi hai right choice baby... Aaha..." As I wiped my face I saw my mother standing at the door, staring at me blankly.

Tears trickled down her face, but she said nothing. I said, "Pepsi thi yaar... pee gaya."

And that's why I hate Pepsi.

***

The thing is, telling stories is a disease, an incurable disease like cancer or AIDS. It destroys something inside me every time, something that's pure, that's personal, that just belonged to me... this disease just snatches it away from me and turns it into a beautiful story and serves it to the market. Nothing I feel, I experience is personal anymore... this disease in me will turn it into a story and sell it. When I'm acting in a scene, when I'm writing a script, when I'm hanging with influential people, when I'm writing a blog... I'm constantly telling stories... I can't stop myself...

My body is producing and selling stories without my consent.

It's like... this habit some people have, whenever they see anything beautiful, anything... a water fall, a wreck of an old ship, a lion, a sunset, they immediately remove their cameras and smart phones and start clicking pictures. For them, being there in that moment, witnessing this beautiful sight, holds less value than capturing it on camera and sharing it on a social media platform... and by the time they're done sharing it on their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat accounts the sun's gone and now its dark. These are all symptoms of the same disease I carry... only difference is... I get paid to share my stories.

What bothers me is that some stories will still be left with me for my consumption... stories my body couldn't digest, experiences my shrewd brain couldn't process...

As soon as I experience something beautiful I immediately chew it and swallow it and later sit and masticate like a cow... reminiscing about the experience, fictionalizing it, giving it a structure. And all of this is happening on autopilot... my body is producing and selling stories without my consent.

But I'm not sad. It doesn't bother me that the audience will buy all my experiences to entertain themselves, no... it doesn't bother me that I'll end up selling all the stories I've lived... nope... what bothers me is that some stories will still be left with me for my consumption... stories my body couldn't digest, experiences my shrewd brain couldn't process, instances that freaked the hell out of my disease... these unsold, untold stories will travel with me in my grave. No, it doesn't bother me that these stories are still with me, what bothers me is... it's just these stinky, rotten , sick stories that I'll be left with in my grave... the good ones will all be SOLD.

But like I said in the beginning...

All the characters and incidents in this piece are imaginary, resemblance to any person dead or alive is purely coincidental.

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