Sunday, October 16, 2016

Augmented Realty

You must have read the mail about the new list of neologisms allegedly released by Washington Post? Those concocted words where you give an entirely more sensational meaning to an existing word by altering a single letter? Kind of like a Freudian typo.

The list features gems like ‘ignoranus’ (a person who is both an imbecile and an orifice) and ‘Dopeler effect’ (the tendency of dumb ideas to seem clever when they are thrown at you rapidly). But it’s the same list going around year after year and the neo is getting a bit worn out.

So I’ve been trying to help out by carefully mis-hitting the keyboard when I type and collating the most interesting results. Like when I was typing ‘restaurant’ and hit ‘f’ instead of ‘r’ (a very plausible mistake – they’re right next to each other on the keyboard).

Festaurant. Think about it – a festaurant would be an eating joint which specializes in cooking only with the oldest ingredients. Limp lettuce, green meat, rancid oil; toss it all in an yeast-coated pot and let it fester to taste. A ‘recycling restaurant’ where one man’s leftovers become another’s hors d’oeuvres – after a week. I can imagine soups that bubble without being heated, and could power the place for a week if only you knew how to bottle the gas they release. Multi-coloured breads festooned with assorted fungi. Selecting a half bottle of a redolent, nutty, 10 Year Old from the Milkshakes section. Cheeses that walk around the plate unassisted – the possibilities are infinitely revolting.

And what if you’d hit the ‘t’ by mistake instead? You’d get a Testaurant – a conceptual eatery where testosterone was the ruling ingredient. You wouldn’t make a reservation at the testaurant, you’d just land up and throw out whoever was sitting at the table you happened to fancy. Every item on the menu would pack a punch, and so would the waiters. The food would be cooked in WD40 and the salad dressing would be of leather. And, of course, no ladies loo.

Just by changing a letter. All you need are sloppy typing fingers and an overactive imagination.
One hot Sunday afternoon, we were driving through Vasant Vihar, with its broad roads, big bungalows and little population. On weekends, the population becomes littler still, till you can barely see a soul. The name Vacant Vihar suggested itself as being much more appropriate, and I wondered – Can you change a place by changing its spelling?

Since then there’s been this recurring image stuck in my head. It happens to me whenever I take the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road to Delhi. On this road lies Sultanpuri – an ex-village now absorbed into the NCR everspread. I once worked at an office in Sultanpuri. And as I drove past its small-time furniture showrooms, its fledgling malls and its motley army of 20’ x 20’ multi-storeys, I couldn’t help but imagine a secret avatar of this otherwise ordinary locality. A parallel dimension where an ‘l’ has been replaced by an ‘n’.

If you went over in a helicopter you’d discover the secret sandy rooftops of Suntanpuri, with sunbeds and shacks and swaying palms. Skimpy swimsuits and beach ball. Exotic cocktails. Shapely ladies, possibly from Model Town, bronzing in the sunshine. A luxurious tropical paradise, undiscovered and unsuspected by the hoi polloi forty feet below.

Then the lights would change and I’d turn towards office. Even now, if you catch me gazing wistfully out of a window on a Tuesday afternoon, it’s a safe bet I’m sipping a sundowner on some breezy rooftop in Suntanpuri.

Every year when the Formula 1 season rolls around, I have this urge to book myself a ticket to the Singapore grand prix. It’s the only night race on the calendar and fairly jaw-dropping too, with spectacular lights and seafront and all. But I haven’t gone yet. I guess I’m still waiting for them to add the ‘w’ that would shift the event a mile into wildside. The Swingapore Grand Prix – now that would be something. Imagine a 1940s Big Band playing the opening anthem, the engines revving in a 4/4 tempo. Team Ellington and Team Basie would be locked in rhythmic battle for the title, and Ella Fitzgerald would be the promising rookie with a great future ahead of her.

And what of Swingapore itself? What a transformation the place would undergo. The jitterbugs at the swinging Night Safari, chicks jiving at the bird park, the hats and suits crowding the Clarke Quay jukebox bars. The birth of cool. Sweet. That would be the time to pick up the phone and call – oh, lovely – Indian Hairlines.

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