9.3.14

Violence vs Silence


I woke up this morning to the sounds of a man hurling abuses at a girl and physically assaulting her. Needless to say, my Sunday morning was about to be ruined. For about an hour all I could hear was the man shouting, hitting this girl and the girl begging him to stop hitting, that it hurt her, she screamed more than a couple of times.

The context

This girl – about 23 – is one of the three tenants of my landlord's other house next door. My landlord is also the building secretary. He does not live in the building. Is it even legal for a society to appoint a sec'y-in-absentia? And if yes, is it logical? I’m inclined to believe otherwise, in light of recent legal developments. But perhaps that is beside of the question.

Let me set the context. Like in buildings in most middle class localities in Bombay, my building too has a skewed sense of design. Most balconies - even with next door neighbours - fall at the bare minimum distance of about a foot and a half or two feet. Obviously, most sounds easily permeate to the neighbours if you're speaking even at normal decibels.

The girls next door are loud.

I've had to ring their doorbell several times in the middle of the night to ask them - ever so politely - to STFU. Most times, this works. Sometimes it doesn't. I've heard sounds that range from sitcoms and music, conversations with parents over Skype, phone calls with the boyfriend, girl talk about clothes and hair and first sex, to three rounds of sex itself, card games and as of today - abuse.

What is one supposed to do? The landlord has been told several times - in vain, of course. The neighbours can't do jack shit. And calling the cops is always a last resort. Do I not know that one can complain anonymously on the police hotline? Of course I do. However, will that stop the cops from harassing the complainant?

The law

I was at the CII India Women's Network launch on Friday, where Meeran Borwankar, Additional Director General of Police, and I G Prisons, Maharashtra State, was a panellist at one of the discussions. Since awareness & engagement was being spoken about in several areas of societal functions, the law wasn't spared either. This question of trusting the police sprung there too. The defence at both ends was legitimate. The police force is under-staffed and so want to close as many cases, and as soon as possible. They are frustrated. So they try and catch those unaware of the law and try and sweep matters under the carpet by passing off the innocent as criminals? Yes, it's a vicious cycle and we are left no choice but to accept that they need better facilities and to be provided for from the taxes we pay. But until that pipe dream falls into implementation, how are civilians expected to trust them?

Support

My first instinct was to confront the girl; tell her that both my roomie and I were literally just a holler away. That we may have had problems with them, but we weren't going to tolerate inhuman behaviour. Sadly, she was subservient.

I also tweeted about it. Despite the anonymity and a general sense of detachment of the platform, there is a degree of sensitivity and trust even in the unknown. People pitch in to advice, suggest solutions, offer the first impulse of support. In fact, here's a snippet of the conversation that ensued between the five of us - some simple inputs and advice that can be used at short notice.

Twitter conversation this morning (9th March 2014 - a day after International Women's Day, btw)


I also decided to reach out to our neighbours - thankfully this city allows socialising at one's own limited terms. The lady immediately offered her cell number and assured that the next time this happened I had only to tell her and she'd call the cops.

Hope

What is most amazing, is that the city still has faith in the law.

Hopefully, this blog post will serve as a window to help. Evidently, your educational qualification is no indication of your awareness and ability to speak up. Most importantly, it doesn’t even make you human. It was made clear at the discussions yesterday at the IWN launch too – we need to stop blaming the government, the law, and most importantly, men. It’s not an attitude problem characteristic to this country alone either. As my roomie said, the victim could have sold herself and still cannot be treated this way.


I am going to remain shaken for a long time. Not only because this was so real - after all, this girl should mean nothing to me - , but because I witnessed it at such close quarters. What warrants violence? And what justifies silence in us human beings, when reaching out is not difficult? Among the several loud conversations I’ve overheard (inadvertently, of course) from these girls, they come across as rather opinionated personalities who know what they want. Doesn’t safety figure in their list of priorities? Doesn’t self-love count for anything? What about the thought that they live far away from home and their parents would die of the worry at the slightest hurt that would come to their child?

13.2.14

Eating out in Bombay (and drinking too!)

A new acquaintance, Gautom from Coimbatore asked me to give him a list of 20 place to look out for in Bombay so far as eating/ drinking is concerned. This, over a slightly dizzy dinner at The Den. I found myself scribbling a list almost immediately. He was insistent I Whatsapp them to him, but I realised if I'm going to type them out, I might as well serve the general public.

As I myself approach the last day of my 9-month stint at Madison PR, the discoveries just don't stop. South Bombay alone has a trove of quietly hidden coves to offer. However, I'm going to keep this list strictly top-of-mind! Also all the places are easily searchable on Zomato so please don't pop the question, "Where's that?!"

Safe Go-Tos

Bora bora
Big Bang
Bonobo
Den
Toto's

Salads

Suzette
Indigo Deli
Suzette
I Feel Healthy Today
Moshe's

Quick Meals

Dumpling King
Maroosh
Candies
Greko

End-Of-Month

Gokul
Janta
Yatch

Just Food

Universal
Crystal
Cafe Churchill
Theobroma
Britannia
Taste of Kerala/ Deluxe
Imbiss

Chaat

Elko
Amar
Juhu/ Girgaum Chowpatty
Swati Snacks (for the hygiene snobs!)

And since I was asked to shorten my list, instead of adding onto it, I will simply redirect all further curiosity and arguments to Eating out in Bombay.... Big fan, and ardent follower of all advice. The guy knows what he's talking about. His vegetarianism notwithstanding.

9.2.14

Animal People

Malika assigned a very important duty to me the other day as she was about to leave from work a little earlier than usual. She handed over a little tupperware box with dry cat food and asked me to feed a kitten just a block away on my way to the station. Of course I obliged, but little did I know, that when Malika had warned me this one is loud, she meant menacingly LOUD! The kitten, probably about 2 months old, screamed when she saw me and perhaps smelled the food. Of course, wary as they come, this one hovered around but kept distance enough not to be touched. As soon as I put the food down for her, she stopped showing any sign of recognition at all.

When I gave up my cats in August, I was torn. But I realised very soon after that that relationship went beyond spending time with them. It taught me minute nuances, about how not just every cat, but every animal has a personality of his or her own. How some love eating Gujarati friend snacks, and some insist on sleeping with their legs suspended in the air and the quirks never stop! What also never stops, is their love for those who choose to care for them and love them. And they have myriad ways of reciprocating this affection.


One finds several people within the folds of the extended family, friends' circle, workplace and more, the lack of this very understanding. And then, if you are picky, then you get lucky and a trend begins in your life to come across the most special 'animal people', as I like to call them. People, who transcend the space of mollycoddling their pets as if they are lesser, dumber beings, and learn to be compassionate towards them and respect them as really, superior beings. I have been thinking about all the people with whom my bond has strengthened because of this very love and openness to embrace the world's creatures. This post kind of serves the purpose of acknowledging the presence of these special people in my life as well as documenting their presence to serve a case in point that goodness prevails not just despite all odds, but sometimes simply to defy unfounded biases.


Malika


When I was about to move to Bombay  (Summer 2013), my friend Kshitij expressed the desire to adopt a pet. He had been domiciled here for a while longer. However, despite being an experienced dog person, cats were quite a mystery. I suggested cats, and he didn't mind the idea. I decided to speak to a representative from YODA who had posted a couple of pics. When I hit the dial key post punching the girl's 10-digit number, it turned out I already had Malika's number stored on my phone. It took my Goa holidaying mind a while to figure out how this was so. It turned out Malika and Paroma, another animal person I knew from Pune, knew each other from before! Paroma had in fact given me her number when I was looking to adopt a second kitten myself.

Malika ended up sending me a bevy of some of the cutest kittens ever - grey, ginger, white, combos and black too. And then she sent me a snap of a pair. A grey-and-white and a jet black one. I decided to push the cause further with Kshitij now. Get two, I said. He was already petrified - horror stories about kittens scratching had reached him before my experienced suggestion. I sent him all the photos. Kshitij took more than a couple of days to decide. Much reasoning followed. He was unsure of the black kitten, but the rest, as they say, is history!
They came as Cherry and Berry, they're now Kshitij's regal Amar and Prem!


In the course of those few days of coordinating the adoption, I also discovered that Malika and I were going to be colleagues at my new workplace! I was thrilled. I had at least one other cat aficionado to look forward to! Malika also volunteers with World For All which helps find homes for kitties and pups - both strays, as well as abandoned. Those who perceive these animal welfare volunteers as a particular type would be shocked by the lady's high-fashion diva-like oomph. Clearly, cliches are no more the norm when it comes to recognising from a crowd, just who will turn around and pat and feed a stray.


Nikhil


Another such digression is Nikhil, a software engineer, an avid photographer and a new daddy on the block. A few months back, Nikhil tells me on a phone conversation, 'I spent all last night at a police station.' I froze. His wife was expecting and only his dogs were at home to protect her. He got involved in a brawl with some local goons who had been harassing some street dogs in the locality and preferred to take the legal route, which veered along a meandering and rather messy route.

I have only seen both his Indian mongrels in pictures. And it seems only natural that ever since the arrival of his daughter, the cuteness quotient on his FB timeline has tripled. From volunteering at adoption camps, to caring for stray dogs around his house, to obliging to feed my cats while I was still in Pune - Nikhil is the epitome of compassion when it comes to the four-legged heroes. His affinity with the creatures is infectious. While I worry sometimes about his slightly maverick ways and them affecting his family, obviously, he has trained his guard companions well.


Manjari


The biggest surprise, however, came to me when I moved to my second house here in Bombay. About three weeks into the move, I discovered that my roommate Manjari has two Singaporean turtles! They would mostly bobble about in the aquarium tank, but every once in a while, they'd rise to the rock to sun bathe.


Amy, my roomie's Singaporean Red Eared Turtle

The only other person I knew who had a pet reptile was Jatan, back in Baroda. Somehow, turtles are even more fascinating. You'd think, them with their weird feet would make them rather inept at walking on marble flooring. Then you remember that they swish onto sandy beaches to lay eggs, hibernate. In the past few months of my stay in this house, I've begun to discover several aspects of their personality - familiarity, a little mischief, gay abandon and comfort are as much them as us or conventional cat & dog pets. In fact these days Amy, the female turtle even comes to my room and hangs out with me (not to mention bang her head or shell into practically all surfaces vertical!). It is at times like these when one realises you can gauge the personality of a person by the pet they keep...


My Professor from Baroda


My earliest animal people, however, happened to be closer home. When you're about to enter the gates to this lady's house, you spot a standard pet owner's warning sign with a twist - 'મગર થી સાવધાન' ('Beware of Crocodile'). Of course, there is no such ferocity in their backyard. However, their house was always abuzz with several urban species including a cock-&-hen, a crow, cats and dogs. The cats and dogs continue to be part of the residence. What is most fascinating, though, is the household's constant interaction with monkeys.

Most of the city's colonies of monkeys travel from one side of the perimeter to the other in the morning in search of food and a free terrace or tree top on which to play and rest during the day. they follow more or less the same trajectory back in the evening to return to their safe haven by night. Prof. B's house falls on this trail. Apart from being a regular ER for several of these creatures who hurt themselves, her daughter has even spared a room in the house to rescue and take care of one of their young ones when it went astray. The open space around the house, the trees and the rugged, un-manicured garden all invite you, along with these charming personalities. A Sunday brunch with all three - Prof. B, her husband and daughter and their lovely companions should be an experience for every animal lover - whether a resident of the city or a visitor. If Baroda needed an alternative animal lover's paradise, this family would be its first patrons!


I distinctly remember the day I became an animal person. It started with a cat, really. However, your affinity to animals can never be absolute. It also involves the embrace of the people you love, including family. We used to have a cat that roamed the house like Sphinx. At some point, she was ousted for having bitten me. Soon after, I left home for my MA in Hyderabad, where I met a dog named Sundari (with a loud bark and a lot of bulk, the name was only because she was white - I know, lame, but the poor bitch is stuck with it for life) guarded the women's hostel and Appy, the only woman who truly loved her. I have moved a few cities since, and had cats of my own too.

They say like minded people naturally gravitate towards each other in a new environment. I have begun to judge the hell out of people who do not like animals around them at least at all times. My space is incomplete without them. Even if just my mind space.

7.2.14

Amin Sheikh: "Bombay is for everybody."

I was at David Sassoon Library last evening to attend a short-notice replacement for the 8:45 play by EVAM that was cancelled because some communal duffers think Pakis shouldn't be allowed in Bombay. The panel discussion had little to do with the play cancellation - however I saw a glimpse of the solidarity that Kala Ghoda Festival participants are capable of showing in order to put such narrow minded and short sighted idiots in their places.

However, I ended up spending a bit of time with Amin Sheikh, who stood outside the library doors to market his autobiography and speak to passers by about it. Bombay, Mumbai: Life is Life, I'm Because of You is the name of his autobiography. The title itself caught my eye for obvious reasons. What also piqued my curiosity was the fact that it has been proofread and copy-edited perfectly.

In my short tête-à-tête with Amin, I disovered some of possibly the many aspects of the man. Amin Sheikh currently runs a car rentals service by the name of Sneha Travels. He also doubles up as a city guide and knows 5 international languages!

Largely a self made boy, Sheikh received help at his orphanage in terms of some education and moral support. I did not buy his book on the spot. However, unlike most who did not want to be harangued by yet another marketing gimmick, I couldn't help being entranced by the story of this man. I still know very little about him. In fact, all I remembered from last evening's conversation was him mentioning Kitab Khana selling his book for charity. I had to call them first, to ask his name and the name of his book, so I could at least write this quick piece.

Amin maintains a blog as well as tweets regularly to keep his supporters updated on latest developments on his book. Bombay, Mumbai: Life is Life, I Am Because of You is sold on Amazon as well as at Kitab Khana for charity. Proceeds of the book go to raising funds for Sheikh's dream venture Bombay to Barcelona - a library cafe which will in turn earn for his orphanage.

I think I'm going back to DSL this evening to buy the book. And perhaps have a more emancipating conversation with sheikh. About Bombay, about dreams, about fear, and perhaps about his lack of fear of calling Bombay, well, 'Bombay'. If anything, for the line in the book that says it all - Bombay is my heart, and I want to write my book with my heart.

1.1.14

Reubens, et. el.

Much like my post about my Ajanta-Ellora visit back in April 2013, writing about my morning stroll along a few walls lined with 17th century Flemish art was not easy. Their documentation of a time in the past, their maintenance, their precision and detail was so remarkable, I kept looking for other references to club with the subject and write in my sort of meandering style, connecting them all to make melody out of the notes. Alas, this too, was too beautiful to be spoken about in any plural form.

'Winter' in Bombay, is more a pleasant time of year meant for sweatless walks out in the open, not so much about bringout out your fall-winter collection. It begins with art. Public walls being repainted by kids or graffiti artists, contemporary displays at Jehangir or even at the Kala Ghoda Festival and travelling exhibitions from across the world. The latest to take Bombay by storm, is a phenomenal collection of Flemish paintings at the Prince of Wales Museum (Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalay for those who care more about bloody political correctness than the enchantment that is this heritage building itself) on its first visit to India. My friend from Pondicherry, Dirk first posted a link to the Hindu Business Line story and Mumbai Boss did another short piece later too.

I asked my faithful culture explorer friend, Anuj to accompany me and he said yes right away! He made for the best part about the walk - patiently waiting for the school-kids visit to get out of the way and see each piece quietly, unlike the noob art critics who can't zip their opinion. A big rooter of the Art-For-Art's-Sake school of thought, I steered clear of those and wisely so. We did a leisurely late Sunday morning visit to the museum and weren't disappointed.

The first three paintings that greet you, as if with a gentle, pious, pristine 'hello...', are Reuben's. Angels sometimes peeping from, and sometimes making, the clouds. It was the Van Dyck steed, that despite its slightly distorted proportions, impresses with its sheer magnitude. And the museum guys have placed a little settee strategically in front of it for those who'd care to be wowed by it in peace.

Like all things ancient, these paintings instill an instant sense of awe - of being able to see a piece of such exquisite art at such close quarters, all these centuries later. It is much like watching teacher and disciple in tandem. Like having heard Abida Parveen and Sanam Marvi in a span of barely a few weeks a couple of years back. The graduation, evolution and encouragement to rise above norms is clear. And while I may be jumping the guns to some extent, sauntering past Tenier, Wautier, Coques, Gysel, Lytens and Francken's evolving styles made for an excellent insight into what probably graduated to Impressionistic art in France is not entirely hard to make, especially Lytens' Winter Landscape.

For me, the oils on panel were a personal discovery and so were the engravings. The latter, a fine example of how the printing press might have had some history in the painstaking detail of hand-engraved copper plates used to print multiple copies of certain scenes from the Bible and Greek mythology (look out for the Samson & Delilah piece at the fag end of the display). There are some brilliant landscapes - easily classic even in our times and where we live, especially scenes from Antwerp's town squares that show vivid movement (including a pair of canines humping).

It is little wonder then, that the exhibition of the 28 exclusive paintings from the collection of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp and 25 engravings of the print room of the Plantin-Moretus museum, opened by Princess Astrid of Belgium from November 27 should be on your next weekend list of things not to miss! For those short on time, plan a visit in the month to come, since it's on only till Feb 8th. Gift yourself this visit first thing in the New Year.

Book Review: Lady, You're Not A Man! by Apoorva Purohit

Anant Rangaswami shared an image quote on his FB timeline yesterday that said, "Seeing someone read a book you love is seeing a book recommending a person". And of course, you'd want to say 'how true!' It got me thinking about all the times that I carry a book to read on my daily commute or to a cafe when I know I'll have to meet a friend who has the CLS (chronic lateness syndrome) or even on a beach holiday. How do people perceive me when I'm holding a Coetzee's Disgrace, or Mistry's Such a Long Journey or Barsamian's series of interviews with Noam Chomsky or - my latest weight-in-the-bag - Radio City CEO, Apoorva Purohit's new self-help bible Lady, You're Not A Man!.

When I was given this book with the prime motive to review it, I dreaded it right from the start. For several reasons:

1. I don't read self-help, so I'm probably the wrongest person to ask for an opinion
2. The title turned me off
3. It would mean reading and then having to write about the writing

I realise I made the mistake age-old wisdom warns you against - you know what they say about judging a book by it's cover.

Lady,... is an easy-to-read-&-implement sort of book. It's the sort of manual that should be prescribed reading in all graduate schools for women. Having known several managers and now being one myself professionally, it's blatantly clear that Apoorva has implemented her b-school lessons in life quite successfully. As someone who has evolved from, instead of placidly accepting life's lemons, you can quite see how she's made serenely pink lemonade out of them.

I love how she has not, even once, fumbled or mixed up feminist sensibilities in her book and cited several anecdotes in the book to make it most relatable. What makes this book most credible is the little acknowledgements section at the end that lists the women whose anecdotes Apoorva has included in the book. A couple, I happen to have known professionally. And that is what makes the book an interesting read.

Whether you're a daughter, mother, wife, daughter-in-law... intern, noob, mid-level manager or part of the senior leadership at your organization... whatever role(s) you play and/or cherish/ detest, this one's a good go-to. It's like Art Of War decoded for the urban woman in the 21st century. Matter-of-fact, practical and compassionate.

Dedicate your next long train commute to Lady, You're Not A Man!. It's not a bad compensation for losing some cradling sleep.

20.11.13

Nouveau Art, Nouveau Fun: Bombay reads together

When I returned to Bombay 6 months ago (yes! It's been that long since I got here), I was bogged by several responsibilities. Some of them, in retrospect, I realised I didn't even need. To add to my woes, Bandra seemed like one helluva shallow locality to live in, what with all the fashion forward junta flocking its labyrinthine roads from Hill Road to Pali Naka to Union Park and more. My prejudices, combined with the fatigue of daily commuting and work stress left me rather drained mentally and I found my productivity suffering (apart from receiving a rather stern reprimand from my CEO for getting in at work late quite regularly). It dawned upon me soon that this constant demand upon my creativity at the workplace meant reinventing myself regularly. Three months into trying to settle into this new pace and lifestyle, a Meetup group caught my eye on the website.

The name felt lofty, but inventive. They read plays. The format sounded like all those auditions back in college. So I signed up. Nouveau Art Play Reading Group had met a couple of times already, and had something of a membership already - about a 100 people. The Facebook page showed lovely pictures of each of these meetups: smiling faces, a little relieved after something of a long conversation - only, it was a conversation not so much among them as them.

My first session with them was extraordinary. Moving, not just because the man behind it - Noel - is a sweetheart, but also for the sort of script he chose. Several people in the group have had trouble understanding why he chooses narratives that end on an offhandish sort of melancholy note. For me, that first session set the tone of what was to come, like a sign of the times. By the next meetup, I'd had a minor catastrophe of my own, and it dawned upon me - that's how life is, too: a little sweet, a tad savoury, with a few pungent and bitter moments thrown in for good measure.

By this time, the crowd built up. There were the 'regulars'. Then there were some faces each time. I had made a couple of friends. There have, of course, been several dropouts. But our last meetup, a momentous one (and meaningful in ways that have revealed themselves subsequently), was perhaps the most qualitative so far. I can say without doubt, it's been the best one. Everyone present (regulars and newbies) was there for the love of plays. Not so much theatre. And the difference surfaced ever so poignantly.

Some interesting observations keep surfacing. Every session has a round of introductions either at the end or the beginning. Titled the official 'drama queen' of the group, Nidhu once pointed out - the veterans just say their names, the newbies feel the need to give out more. Artist and Teach For India associate, Mahesh (or Ma Pa as he likes to introduce himself) and I once chatted about how the guy sitting beside me couldn't keep his hands from shaking while he read. He said it happens to everyone. This was Rameez's second time apparently. I have begun to stutter.

But this is not the case for everyone. For some, it comes naturally. There are several innately gifted good readers, with great voice throw and talent for intonation. Some venture to make things more interesting, and break the monotony with impromptu movement and onomatopoeic sounds too!

There is a lot of warmth that I have received at the hands of this group, especially Noel and Cecil (two of the four organisers - Noella and Jay being the other two). Sometimes the warmth can turn into a heat of bugging pings and tags and comments on Facebook and Whatsapp groups during the readings too. But that's a risk one runs with every new interaction. Every time I go to a Nouveau Art Play Reading meetup, my eyes light up at the sight of the familiar faces. I receive the same response from some of these people too, which makes the deal sweeter. And there's always the change of an interesting conversation at the end of the session.

So what's the format? Noel posts details of the next meetup about 2 weeks in advance on the Meetup.com page. People RSVP. About 20 people meet. Noel distributes scripts to those who ask for it before hand. There are some who get their tablets to read it on. We usually meet at a restaurant on condition that everyone must order something. We got thrown out of Candies recently too (because they didn't see any profits pouring in). Much of the group moved to Carter Road and continued there. People are allotted characters on the spot, order their coffee (or iced teas, as in my case *wink*), read, read some lines more than once, a talented photographer (that'd be Jay) literally catches everyone in the act and captures moments and expressions as documents for posterity. And we end with a deep sigh.

What began as a little activity for a bunch of like-minded people has been noticed beyond friends circles too. NAPR group has been featured in the Express Eye (under 'Soul Curry' - scroll to the bottom) as well as MidDay and on Zee News. The crowd that attends isn't exactly the literary types always. My first session saw a dentist, an actuarial professional, a banker, a businessman and an IT professional among others. The motley hasn't stopped being more bizarre. Some members have since moved to other cities, but they are missed, for they are friends, above all. The gooey warmth has only swelled in the core of each one of our hearts. And the excitement of belonging as a Dramebaaz just doesn't cease!

11.11.13

Kahani Filmy Hai!

He stepped into the compartment of my train from Churchgate to Andheri, at Bombay Central? Chomsky had been keeping me utterly engrossed on page 30 of Class Warfare, a book I began to flip through under unusual circumstances at a recent acquaintance's house and decided & requested to borrow soon after.

Back to my he. He stepped into the compartment and almost immediately I got the stare one usually does from travellers who see a woman sitting alone in a general compartment. Even in First Class. Unlike a Delhiite, this look is that of welcome surprise, not one that says, 'How dare you'.

The young man first chose to stand by the door right in front of me. Against the wind - though it was late enough and the weather has been forgiving enough for it to be comfortable under one of the fans. The seats were all empty except perhaps mine and the window spot on the other side. Sunday evening trains to Andheri work like that, I guess.

At Lower Parel, he moved to the door on the opposite side. His back, still technically against me.

Elphinstone went past and he walked to the outer corner seat closest to where he had stood. The thick railing of the entrance divided both our views of each other's faces partially. The eyes, particularly.

Dadar came, and he stood up from his seat and stepped down from the train. One is generally in a hurry to get a bus or a cab or an auto (if in the suburbs) in Mumbai as soon as the train so much as slows on the platform.

This square-faced man, in his powder-blue round neck tee-shirt and light blue jeans with a backpack slung behind, walked a few paces and turned around. He looked straight at me. I knew without looking. Looking yet, at least, anyway. Then I couldn't resist and had to look up. He eased his gaze to his right. I slid mine back down to my book. He turned around with great deliberation and slowly began to climb the stairs of the foot overbridge. I was curious. As if on cue, he stopped at the third step. Looked again. I did too. I don't know if I smiled as I looked away or afterwards, but the only thought that crossed my mind was - 'Bombay...' - and I shook my head like an old granny as the train trudged out of the station and sped its way towards Matunga.

30.10.13

Flying With Wings

A pilot's life couldn't get easier, it is felt. No traffic jams, no drunken driving to mitigate, no question of road rage, and the babes - oh the butterflies fluttering around 'em all the bloody time! Besides, landing those Boeings isn't some rocket science now, is it? 'It's all on auto-pilot - they land themselves,' one has heard several times. Then, you meet a commercial pilot. Sans the pretensions of defending the country or boredom of drills. A pin up image for the service industry. The men who've got it all! Every girl's dream. Everyman's envy. One who spread his wings and took off when most of us were were still contemplating our collective tomorrow, comfortably barricaded behind an ongoing post-grad degree.

The general perception about these 'high-flyers' is that they're just overpaid drivers in the disillusioning lure of a uniform. They are always put up in star hotels and forever look mega groomed for the job. Then you see the mask fall.

A vulnerable, tired face comes to the fore. A face that plainly reflects the relief of touching base, walking without the responsibility of 200 lives on its brow, happy to hear songs from his favourites list and holding doors for a lady instead of worrying about ensuring her child doesn't wake up from the irregularities of the sky in turbulent weather.

"You get used to it," he dismissively shrugs, and takes another deep drag of his B&H cigarette - checking his phone now, his wrist watch now, making a couple of calls (identifying himself with his official designation prefixed to his full name), yet surprisingly mostly attentive to what you may have to say. He doesn't have a vicious social media footprint. His Facebook pictures are mostly with friends at parties or poses straight out of a Bollywood romance.

I wonder what piques his curiosity. Just then, as if telepathic, he expresses an afterthought, "It's awesome to see Bombay at landing... the shanties give you a strange feeling." He pauses. Then he asks, "What's the best place for pancakes in Bandra?"

22.9.13

Gannu Drowns

18th of the month was not my first Visarjan in Bombay. However, the experience was vastly deviant from the expected. And yet I don't know where to begin. So the best place would be work. Like all offices in SoBo, ours too shut early that day (late afternoon which extended into early evening really thanks to work taking unusual affinity towards a day everyone was looking forward to running back home soon). The roads were comparatively deserted and a colleague was kind enough to drop me at Churchgate.

The train was emptier than Sunday afternoon in general compartments and the weather added its two bits. When I was exiting Bandra station though, the drama of an unusual quietness struck me. I touched KFC at Linking Road in a record three minutes. Suddenly I had a LOT of time, no crowds by which to be bothered, with all the shops still open, thorough policing on the roads and nothing to do. So I shopped and managed to walk home.

I still had time on hand and so decided to go visit my cats. By this time night had fallen and I could already hear drums and recorded dance music hollering from the loudspeakers on the roads. 'Shit' was my first feeling. So I avoided the main road and trod the inside roads of Khar to get to the closest exit near the old Santacruz house. I prepared myself at the last leg (read: the last crossroad where I had to turn left towards Linking Road) to confront the cacophonic crowd.

I was shocked. One side of the road was completely empty. The other side had people dancing, vans-trucks-motorbikes-wheelers carrying the deity as well as at least 4 bazooka speakers that played one or the other of the (by now-) standard 5 item numbers. Traffic was still passing smoothly beside them, and people were fearless to walk past them.

What took me completely by surprise was a servicing tradition I have never witnessed anywhere ever. Several housing societies that line the arterial road were out supporting & cheering these pedestrians out to say goodbye to the elephant Lord for the year, imploring him to return again next Chaturthi. But the act wasn't empty - they had set up stalls with water, soft drinks and other light refreshments to keep up the morale of these night walkers. But not for no reason - for all said and done, this was quite a show! The procession of colours, music and creatively rendered forms of Ganpati enthralled an audience not only of passersby and the refreshment stall attendees, but also attracted more who had parked their cars and were sitting around with their own popcorn-n-cold drink for the show.

On my way back, I even saw quite a few oldies sitting out on plastic chairs firmly footed on the pavement on the opposite side for a comfortable view!

I've seen this city enjoy free shows of all sorts. The other day a tight-rope-walker distracted me while I was in a cab taking my boss's call. Brawls in Dadar and the chawls of Bandra and Dharavi are probably everyone's favourite live (& free!) entertainment. Watching a Ganpati Visarjan rally was something of a novelty that will take its time to wear off...

2.9.13

The room of my dream

The first time is always hard. It's as if snippets of its appearance or fragrance or layout are from another time and space. Unknown yet familiar. Like they belong to several parallel universes. Like déjà vu. Like a Freudian slip coming back. The darkness pierces and comforts, all at once.

It is a simple standard square. The dulled pale yellow distemper on the walls and oil paint on the room; balcony doors & window frames, at first sight, make the place look stale, unlived-in, un-cared for, for a while. The latent odour of seepage and peeling paint begins to build something of a personality in your mind. But before you form a middle aged graying figurine in your head, a whiff of cool breeze from the window and balcony, that was just opened, hits you to shake things up. It's the effect that twilight's hues have on a dusky face, taking away the years, adding charm and youth.

You begin to look at this space in a new light. The light of street lamps along the highway that seeps in from the window, the high mast florescent light within the oil company's housing campus in Bandra, in the wee hours of the weeknight. The light of comfort that leads to a new excitement, and opens avenues for the brewing anticipation.

The room is compartmentalised in clutter as well. A wall closet and another steel almirah, a functional desk laden with assorted items of use – a strip of medicine, a shaving kit, some books, a pair of spectacles. Hooks on the adjacent wall do their job with assembly-line efficiency. At a level a tad lower than one's hips is a plain sand-papered wooden shelf, about six feet long and peppered with more items of male clothing. I notice a swivel chair later too – happily filled, not with the wearer but with his wares - a towel, laundered clothes, freshly discarded garb - the yield of the exploits from that building store of energy dying to pound.

Wires, papers, a water bottle, a wrist watch - all jostle for the spotlight on the little bed-side table. They all struggle to tell their story. A story of exhaustion from a long day at work, of haste to get out as soon as one gets in.

Then there is the flooring - an 80s style mosaic - functional; serving the dual purpose of lasting sturdiness and camouflaging occasional aberrations, smoothed over the years. Clean.

I have been here before, says a voice inside. Then I remember my friend from Baroda whose dad too retired from the same organisation. Memories of a simple standard layout company quarter come surging. Memories of laughter, late night tangents and giggles and gossip ensue. The immediate present slaps me back to reality almost instantly. A slap almost welcome. For this moment too has been joyous, perhaps in a more evolved way - hardly qualifying to be grown up, however definitely as peaceful and satisfying.

The last time, I noticed a metal name plate on the door too. In a child-like notion of being grown up. Not his name. Hardly the idea of the current occupant. This room of my dream is more real, more tangible, more accessible, hardly embellished. I stepped out of that dream and woke up to a reality that is truly liberating. Space comes in so many forms.

28.8.13

Prayers & Mothers

The month of August has been nothing short of eventful. From catastrophe to serendipity, it has given me the proverbial new life that Indian Monsoon is said to bring. One struggle was finding a new house. Having been written off as being too picky and having too many criteria, and being indecisive over and above, and coming across some of the worst maintained and most over-valued living spaces in Santacruz, Khar and Bandra, a couple of nights ago, I sent off a mass message to 16 people:
'Pray for me. Don't ask why or what just do.'
A whopping 14 came back saying they did. A few couldn't resist the temptation of asking why and some got worried also, but here's the thing, I must be darn lucky. they all responded in a hopeful positive. A couple followed up immediately or the next morning. One had a wise one to crack as well. Funnily enough, the idea was to not jinx what good may have been coming by saying it too often or jumping the guns or counting my chickens before they hatched or whatever, but in a fit of anger I did end up slapping it upon my current roommate's face when I was pestered and driven up the wall. Yes it has been two of the most excruciatingly painful and anxious days of my time in Bombay so far, but all the prayers, I'd say, paid off. I paid the token amount for the new place I'm moving into on Sunday, and have the weight off my chest finally.

So what's special about the place? It's a dilapidated old 3-storey building with no lift and the house is on the top floor, not to mention crammed and what will be my room, rather like a hole. So why clamber about such a place? Because of the roomies. Now, perhaps, I'm jumping the guns again, but my first interaction with both was full of laughter and empathy. They were not just sweet, but real. Who, after all, lives with a grumpy douche if one has the choice?

If you're wondering where do mums come into the picture? Well the day after this mass message was mom's birthday. And she said that Dida, one of the people whose prayers I believe to have significant power, told her about the message. She concluded simply - 'beta, remember,' she said, 'god helps those who help themselves, and you help yourself phenomenally! You'll always succeed.'

They say blessings from elders especially on their birthdays are nothing short of divinity itself at work. I concur.