Origami Meditation

Among the many things you resign to your utopian bucket list, to pick up a hobby and to meditate often feature in our I-don't-have-time-to-smell-the-flowers-or-my-sucky-cappuccino life. Images of either clichéd dance & music classes or dorky philately are conjured in both, the writer as well as the reader's mind. Sorry to break it to you, love, hobbies don't work that way, meditation doesn't come that easy.

I've lately discovered that people in pain, or suffering some kind of catharsis often turn to work, or some kind of physical activity outside of work to keep them distracted. I was in doldrums too, about three years ago, when socialising or any kind of recreation seemed like too much work. So I signed up for a play-reading group that met once in three weeks to a month on a Sunday afternoon. Not enough to keep me from plunging deeper into the murky abyss of negativity and pessimism and a general lack of productivity.

I took to watching tv series on my laptop for a while, but that would only lead to more late nights, a wandering mind, and restlessness. On one such evening when my binge watching session was preceded by Facebook prowling, I stumbled upon Aziz's profile picture on Facebook back then (below).

Of course, what you see in the picture is a highly complex and skilled piece of tessellation that I might hope to achieve in perhaps the next decade. However, it inspired me to pick up a square piece of paper and start folding. In less than a week, I had a whole shelf dedicated folded paper animals, since those most fascinated me - a yellow elephant shared the corner with a centaur and a pegasus and a cat and a bird and even a turtle...

I later discovered a hole in the wall stationery shop on one of my jaunts out from Bandra station. This was the big break, for now I found paper specifically made for the purpose with vivid prints and textures so the folds would hold and not disintegrate.

The peacock that Mr Gandhi taught me
Soon I felt the need to inject some method into the madness that origami had become for me. since I was already on Meetup, I looked up the forum for contact groups that met regularly nearby, to learn certain folds better and explore the possibility of getting better paper, but alas, in vain. Then I remembered Aziz mentioning Origami Mitra, the group that met in Dadar.

At the end of that wonderful afternoon learning what paper to fold, and being presented with a peacock that Kamlesh Gandhi folded for me, he asked - "how did you know about us?"

A year before that afternoon, I had organized my first storytelling session for Pratham Books in September 2012. To make things more interesting for the kids, I asked Aziz if he'd be willing to conduct a basic origami session. Unfortunately, he was on the road, but recommended Himanshu Agarwal from Origami Mitra, and that really is where my tryst with the craft began. The wonders of turning any monochromatic piece of square (sometimes not even!) paper into (almost) any shape you desire!

The classic swan by Mr Kamlesh Gandhi
In my conversation with Mr. Gandhi, he told me about the origins of Origami Mitra. The entity was founded by the grand daughter of Lokmanya Tilak and a few friends in the late 1980s. Members range retirees, homemakers, and young students alike. A math teacher, regular at the fortnightly OM meetings, gives tangible form to math through origami. A couple of kids and young mothers and craft teachers were part of the motley that day too. Gandhi himself also deals in paper for origami folding among other things.

Apart from these meetings, Origami Mitra conducts marathon day-long sessions and annual exhibitions as well.

Most dismiss the art as a kids thing, but if the scale of international championships and convention events are anything to go by, both, the process as well as resultant models are nothing short of serious business!

My first real attempt was the Yoshizawa Butterfly and then a Fumiaki Kawahata Elephant and a frog. Easy it isn't, but if you're up for a challenge - John Montroll's giraffe that Himanshu and his 12 IIT-B student mates accomplished in 103 moves and 70 creases would be the standard to surpass. There are as many layers of study to the paper-sculpting hobby as to any other that one might take up. The world, largely divided into designers and folders.

My first folds

But how do I classify it as meditation?

Having trained in Hindustani Classical music, the level of precision involved in achieving the perfect final product is high. Not only does it require one to concentrate, but also be nimble handed and patient. I remember a dry throat and aching thumb when I attempted my first bat. Obviously I was jumping the guns, and eventually gave up in absolute frustration. But the multiple fold-imprinted paper occupies centrespace in my closet as a constant reminder that I must keep trying, and strive to get there someday, soon. The list of personality traits necessary to dive deep into the mesmerising realm of origami don't end there. You need at least a basic aptitude for symmetry, if not geometry, and the ability to judge the right kinds of paper - much like an editor's obsession with grammar - the instructor at my Origami Mitra session, Geeta ben threw a fit when she saw my marble paper!

 Origami frog tutorial

Kirigami cards at Temple Street, Hong Kong
The gathering at the Origami Mitra meet up felt more like a disorganised tuition class, chaotic and distracted. And that first visit was already the death knell to any subsequent visits. YouTube has proved a useful platform for learning, exploring the same methods in better detail, and of course discovering new designs and tutors in the comfort and confines of one's own room or office or even a commute. Finding funky craft paper was not a challenge, but I grew ambitious. Now I wanted various kinds of paper that would lend itself to more fluid designs.

Bestie, Twara's demand, a little sunny snail
So I asked a friend in Kuala Lumpur if he was to return any time soon. Not only was he confused trying to look for the right paper, he was also boggled by the sheer variety. He simply gave up. On my recent visit to Hong Kong however, it didn't occur to me to look for some myself, though I did stumble upon a roadside Kirigami card seller at Temple Street.

A photo posted by pu (@bombaychuddies) on

I have since experimented with with quite a few designs and even been to a few exhibitions. But as old Prof. Salat at MSU as well as Prof. Ashok at EFL said, you have to internalise to remember for posterity, to pass on these precious pieces. And so I decided to parse the folds. I practised and practised till I could remember the butterfly, the classic crane and some varieties of boats. however, I leave you here with my little zoo!

A photo posted by pu (@bombaychuddies) on

A photo posted by pu (@bombaychuddies) on


Up In the Air

I derive some inexplicable pleasure in choosing the emergency exit seat on flights. A lot of people find it restrictive: you can't keep your hand bag on you, you can't shut the window on a sunny afternoon, you can't recline, you can't keep your tray table open for too long, your seat belt needs to be clutched at all times, and the barrage of bondage is endless.

Several others though, especially the particularly long-limbed, count the merits of the emergency seat. 'So much legroom!' they argue to silence the naysayers.

But my reasons, even I do not know.

The standard set of mandatory special instructions arrive in the form of an extra pleasant air hostess - one who will smile, not scold, and almost sympathize with just how many times you must have to put up with this routine, yet lend her a patient ear. She can see that I come prepared: no luggage in hand or under the front seat, no reclining, no fussing about the sunlight. In medical terms, I'd be the ideal patient. Patient, practical and reasonable.

This window seat invariably distracts me from my book, even if I've flown to or from the same airport several times. The colours, shapes, markers of the wider landscape surrounding it, especially those that change rapidly whilst developing the city's outskirts, make me wonder what motivated the change. A farmhouse property outside the city periphery below the wing of my plane still flying rather low on this high visibility Monday afternoon shows chunky wooden garden chairs and a trampoline and a single storey with canopies on all sides widely spread on the property. The colours belong distinctly to the retro circus family - white, red, yellow, cobalt, mint...

I spot another estate not too far away with a remarkably vast lawn and a single white (presumably) cane pool-side recliner in one corner. It presents a picture perfect frame from up here. Of tasteful affluence, of awareness about the good things in life.

The flight climbs higher in altitude. We float above the occasional little bursts of snow white clouds dotting the blue filter, beneath which one can still make out land demarcations rather vividly. Then my gaze stalks the swiftly changing palette from ground to horizon to the sky above.

'Sky blue', the hue we've all grown up referring to lighter shades of the primary colour, has, one realises from this intimate distance, a perceivably powdery texture. It is not as pale as the chalk in your wax crayons box. It is so much more intense and bright. It has the authority to lay down its cards yet not allow you a varied perspective. It's all the same beyond this point, it seems to affirm. Yet I can't quite pinpoint the particular angle at which one might look and decisively state, from here the sky appears constant.

I also think this preference for the emergency seat comes from my lack of tolerance for bullshit. Can you imagine the hazard someone fussy and idiotic might cause in a situation that requires helping, thinking on one's feet, and exiting from here?

I'd probably end up yanking the person out of the aisle and flinging him or her to a place of no hope. Perhaps even stabbing such an imbecile. I reckon I'm doing a lot of passengers just a huge favour- taking one for the team, as it were.

A perk of extra leg space for the average tall Joe or Jolene, well it just sweetens the deal for this superhero.



​Navsari, a nondescript little town en route the Western Railways main line, a station between Valsad and Surat, native to many a Parsis and as many Gujarati Jains, the closest rail to Dandi - where India's first realisation of freedom was spelt. The place where I discovered Gujarati gastronomical wonders such as લસણીયા બટાકા, cheese butter masala, Budhiબેન ની ચા and the array of delicacies waiting to put you in a culinary tizzy at Lunsi Kui.

Since that first time in March 2012, it's also been a town, which I've met more people who call home in some form or another. A past that is more resistant to change for fear of losing its heritage than for fear of change itself. An ethos so full of purpose for the causes it had supported so far, and promises to carry forth through generations to come, quietly, but resiliently.

Unlike bigger cities of Gujarat, Navsari has steadfastly spat in the face of bulldozing development, even when its excavators and concrete slabs prevailed, almost as if echoing the sentiment of the man who broke the salt law not farther than 14 km away. It has not cowered in the wake of modern political oscillation. It has shown the middle finger to Bombay.

Then again, it has opened its arms to embrace Bombay's injured and inebriated.

Navsari opens its arms to embrace Bombay's injured and inebriated

And then Navsari comes to Bombay. And it says, you folks don't know how to live; I don't blame you for not singing here in your open voices, and not throwing back your heads uncontrollably when you laugh helplessly; આવ, હૂં તને પમ્પોળું; આવ તને વ્હાલ કરું અને પ્રેમ આપું; તારી ચિંતા અને કદર માં તને વઢુ અને સમજાવુ (come let me caress you, let me give you my affection and love, in caring for you and appreciation, let me scold you and teach you).

I've written about it before on this blog as a place of music, a short drive to the beach, and as the childhood nurturer of my friend, Veeram. Navsari belongs to anyone who wants to be Navsari, really.  In that, Navsari is a sanctuary that is independent of its geography, its people, its old architecture and meandering lanes. Hell, it might be a town with few or no opportunities, but where loans and debts are not equated to sustenance or sustainability. Patience and perseverance get you there.

You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave
If you want to be (in) Navsari, you needn't even take that four-hour train ride, for it is not some memory stamped on your heart or nostalgia.

Navsari is a state of mind. To achieve it, you must be honest to yourself constantly.

And then you enter the realm of the real and the realistic. Then even your tiny hole-in-the-wall-like room in the queen of Bombay's suburbs would feel like Navsari.

Navsari is like that. You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave.


Too Young, Too Soon

At about midday yesterday, a Gtalk Messenger chat applet from an old friend from college opened on my office laptop. Such days are few and far between when even in the midst of a swamped day, I steal a glance at a non-work window. I would have probably missed it too, had it not been the sheer boredom of the transcript I was proofreading which was laden with errors.

Looked like the day was all of errors.

My friend said quite simply - Hi, Dhruv Ganesh passed away.

My first thought went back to the recent death of a young designer at a music festival in Goa on account of drug overdose. Had I profiled him in my head despite never really having known him? Or was this just honest speculation, because this girl too, was believed to have been ODed by someone else?

Whatever my state of mind, whatever my predilections, they did not matter in that moment. I was stunned. so this is how the ground slipping from underneath your feet felt like.

I had bumped into Dhruv three years ago at Andheri, outside Infiniti Mall. He looked exactly the way he did back in college five years earlier. For that matter, he looked exactly the same in his films and his ads... As if age had given him a total miss. As if weight gain had dissed him. As if fame had not corroded his demeanour.

I was never a friend. Barely an acquaintance. We performed together in a play once, where I took the liberty of overacting while basically admitting I was among the hundreds of women in campus drooling over him. We barely had a few common friends from back in college. And yet, the incident was a rude wake up call of sorts.

My first instinct was to look it up on Twitter - since Google showed nothing. I finally called a common friend, who I knew would know what happened, and who did tell me more about what brought about the death.

I posted a little verse for him on Facebook.
A few of our common acquaintances expressed their shock and sadness.
One friend commented on the lines I wrote to him.
Another friend messaged me on Whatsapp to check if I was alright and told me about another of his own friends, a banker, who died sudden cardiac arrest in his sleep. He was on leave, visiting family.
My roommate told me her boss took leave - she was Dhruv's best friend.

My best friend and I had been on a mini cold war of sorts for a month and I had to call her in the dead of last night. I had to know if something happened to either of us, regret had no place in our grief. She forgave me. We both apologised for the nasty things we had said to one another. Later in that 3 AM conversation, I ranted about the nothingness of our very existence.

A couple of years back, another dear friend had passed. He too was young, barely beginning to earn life's little perks. I had known the family, I had hung out with him innumerable times. Despite having known and often preempted dire consequences of his rash driving and a serious accident before, no one really expected a car accident to be the cause of his life cut short.

Not just about taking care of oneself, but it also brought on several realisations, the rudest of which was that life is rather unpredictable. Sudden illness and brief suffering has the same power to bring about an effect of high magnitude upon a person and her or his loved ones as a terminal disease, a calamity, an accident or just OD.

But the effect death wields upon those not close to the deceased can also possess as much impact. We 'acquaintances' may not have the bandwidth to reach out to the dead's parents or imagine their loss; we may not share a bank of memories with her or him to recount at their funeral or later to our children; we may not experience that numbing feeling of the end of the world that a close friend or lover might experience, but we do feel shock.

My only memory of speaking to him, apart from the play rehearsals, was when occasionally we would hang out outside our department building and share some casual banter about his eyebrow piercing. I would ask, "Does it hurt?" He would nod with a mischievous grin. I would shiver at the thought of going through it.

When I met him last, I had already undergone three new piercings.

Dhruv was too young - I had reason to believe he was doing well in life. One saw him out there - on TV, on billboards, on the silver screen. He definitely possessed that quiet zest to achieve...

They say God calls you back when your deed is done on the Earth. I'm not sure what exactly the brief was for Dhruv.


Art - 2

Weekends have become synonymous with discovering art the past couple of months. As if to return to texts and studying, I have taken to loitering the corridors of NGMA, Jehangir, and the Prince of Wales Museum in something of a big way. Yes, I've been art hopping, and HOW. And of course I have a partner in crime!

I've done several hops in the recent past, so I'm really just going to do a swift review of them all - not that I'm an academic authority, but for the emotions all of those walks evoked within...


The first mention in this series is Amrita Sher Gill's paintings on display at NGMA. Much acclaimed and praised for her work, I found Sher Gill's style nothing short of amateur and at most akin to a student's - underdeveloped and leaving much to be desired. Given - she died early, led a large ill and unhappy existence, etc, there s still a certain level of laborious effort visible in at least her early work, which was large during her Paris art school education. At best, I enjoyed the works that dated between '35 and '39. However everything else fell rather dull in comparison. What disappointed me further was the poor maintenance of these works of art. If they were so valuable, why did they have cracks?

Cracks in the painting
The number of self portraits basically made her the equivalent of the Delhi/ Bandra selfie-obsessed chick of her time. While a heavy influence of Van Gogh is visible in those portraits, none of the texture or strokes have either been replicated with intricacy or originality. All in all, I was only disappointed.

Climb up to the NGMA Dome
What was also a fantastic discovery, however, on this particular trip, I happened to realise the dome of the Gallery was open. On reaching the top of the stairs - the echoes reverberating louder with every ascending step - i stood agape: about 50 of the country's - I kid you not - the COUNTRY's most prestigious, most valued and most beautiful pieces of modern paintings and sculpture lay elegantly displayed on the periphery of the space. I did not know where to begin. Here is a glimpse...



The following weekend, I was at Prince of Wales with the original agenda of having a dekko of some select works of modern Indian artists. Apart from the Bendre and one lonely Hussain, nothing really struck a chord.  The Bendre was a 3D painting, entirely in oil and canvas. Needless to say, I was spellbound and sadly, may never lay my eyes on that precious discovery ever again, Having said that I'm glad I at least had the opportunity to claim with conviction, that I know what a Bendre looks like.


What was a bigger surprise was the ensuing weekend during which I saw a series of line drawings by various artists - since it was themed, once witnessed this rich diversity of stylistic possibilities within what was broadly termed as "line drawings". From Bawa, to Ghulammohammad Sheikh, to Bhupen Khakkar, to (my new favourite-) Bendre, to Hussain's Sansad Upanishad (yes! they actually left a copy of the gigantic coffee table book for suckers like me to leaf through!), they were all there for the art-lover's sore eyes.


The same trip to South Bombay also yielded discovery of a new photographer - Zeeshan Latif. Tarq was hosting a collection of this young photographer's black and white pictures of his grandfather. The sheer personal-ness and intimacy of every frame touched me. I was at once, charmed as well as transported to Manivilla. South Bombay must have many such stories. However, the charm also lay in this particular tale's telling. Instead of the usual b/w photos matte printed and framed with soft lighting in the gallery, Tarq was robbed of all light and the photos were back illuminated as if mini kiosks at bus stands. Whether it was the aged China or the wrinkles on his grandfather's face or the pigeon legs in the corners of his German Shephard's eyes - it all came alive through this interesting new representation. It wasn't exaggerated, but the starkness left an impression.


Several months ago, almost, perhaps last winter, (was it during Kala Ghoda, may be?), I was walking down from Jehangir Art gallery towards Kala Ghoda, when I saw this bunch of painting students hard at work on live portraits. I decided to capture some moments from that time too, considering I was never going to be part of an art class myself nor had I witnessed one before...





Hyderabad boy rescues Bombay girl

PU raises a cup to Harsha's support. (Image: PU Selfie2014)

Virtual friendship redefined with friends exchanging banal recipes from YouTube in aid of insomnia & other such nocturnal mental disorders

14th May, 2014, Bombay: In a bizarre turn of events last night, in a crumbling apartment of a housing society in the western suburbs, a girl finally learned how to make decent, edible tea after nearly three decades of ignorant existence.
And loved it.

The girl, one PU, 29, was online and as per addiction, chatting with her friend, one Harsha, resident of the Himayatnagar locality in Hyderabad, post-dinnertime on Tuesday evening at her Khar residence. With supper put behind a good three hours early, in a vain attempt to regularise her recently disturbed sleep cycle, the extended wakefulness yielded acute hunger pangs in the said girl, originally hailing from Vadodara, Gujarat. Marking a year in the city on the day, she was keen not to celebrate in any significant way.

On revealing the intensity of her atrocity, the friend of nearly a decade suggested she have some tea. We enquired further about Priyanca’s acumen in tea-making and she revealed, "I can't make tea to save a finger, leave alone my life! In the decade that my nanaji stayed with us back in Baroda, he asked me to make tea twice and regretted it on both occasions."

The tutorial was administered via a YouTube video, the link to which, Harsha sent on the chat applet to PU. So easy did the video make the process seem, that she was inspired to refresh her culinary talent in the hot-beverage-making department! The girl entered the kitchen at approximately three minutes past midnight and put some water to boil in a saucepan. At the serendipitous discovery of lemongrass in the deep recesses of her refrigerator and finding all the other ingredients (ginger, pepper, clove, cinnamon and cardamom) by the time the water started to boil, she was encouraged to administer them into the saucepan and claims to "have enjoyed overseeing the recipe first hand, for the first time."

On further probing about how the tutorial came about, PU said, "My friend Harsha is a photo-journalist who keeps late hours on account of his own assignments as well as gatekeeping his photo-journalism magazine, Galli. I figured cribbing to him might be of some use. After coming up with outrageous suggestions such as ice cream at 11:40 pm (why not, you argue? With the spate of attacks on daft women travelling in autos late at night without a care for their blingy handbags that get stolen in a split second without the thief having to put up much of a struggle, the notion of stepping out alone at the hour was insane), he finally said 'चाय बना ले (make some tea)'. First I thought he'll tell me how. After patiently waiting a few sentences, when I had to finally ask for the recipe, he said his is an 'annual event' because his amma makes chai  for him. All these spoiled boys living in their parents' house!  The mention of his amma made me miss mine. But instead of moping about missing home, I decided to explore the YouTube link he had sent in the interim, and get to work."

PU's newly acquired talent comes at a time when her existentialist angst had begun to peak, she rues. In the wake of several extreme epithets being bestowed upon the corporate writer, from 'multi-talented in the singles domain' to 'over-qualified in the eligible bride market', her epiphany has led her to vow she 'will make masala chai every night!'

In refusal of any special commemoration however, PU has declined any direct or indirect self-invites to tea, even at honourable hours, as a clear sign of selfish demeanour. A trait, she declares, Bombay has instilled in her in the year gone by. Ironically, the achiever reveals that she has accomplished the feat of surviving a whole year in Bombay once before, at the start of her career four years ago. Her anguish in the back-linked blog post about Salman Khan not being punished for murder seems to have ominously been answered. Everything else, she says, remains much the same...


House of Light

I was in Navsari a third time this Holi. A few of us with the Pune connection gathered at Veeram's home of his childhood (thank god, his folks haven't sold it off like every other small town Gujarati who either migrates to Amdavad, Bombay or New Jersey).

The three-day stay - as always - was to be a relaxed affair. You take in the house itself - decades of history fitted and carpentered into functional yet artful furniture, fixtures and detailing. Some of the chairs, and now tables, even restored or replicated from old designs for Veeram's love of shapes and endeavour to re-imagine for higher comfort.

Forms new & old: Veeram's abode in Navsari

When I was still in Pune and would visit him at his Kothrud house every weekend for our late-into-the-night musical sessions, he would mention Navsari often. Sometimes he would talk about the peace of the town, sometimes of the beach a short drive away and sometimes just how easy it was to be there. He built up the castle for a whole year in my head. To me, it sounded unreal, surreal almost. His sister would rave on and on about the place. What about it, was still a mystery.

The typical trip encapsulates a drive around town at least once, see the two lakes, eat street grub, keep up so late you hear the first birds chirp in the morning and indulge in the ultimate debauchery of unlimited music and its faithful companions, and sleep till your eyes can shut no more. Yes, the lights in this house seem to never go out. Soft, buttery, warm yellow light fills the house even in the wee hours for the architects work as if putting the world to silence with their thought and infinite obsession with optimal aesthetics to serve every purpose - sometimes small, sometimes unquantifiable.

Going to Navsari also extends to driving 14 km down the narrow state highway to Dandi - the sea-facing town whose beach Mahatma Gandhi honoured with the breaking of the Salt laws. There is a commemorative Gandhi Ashram set up on the highway, which we were dutifully ferried to on our first trip last March.

This time, our visit to the beach went a tad beyond the usual frolicking in the water and cricket on the sand. Before the short trek through the dry loose sand onto the beach, we were led to the Kanai Creek lighthouse. My host had been there too many times already, so gave it a miss. However, this was my first visit to one! Having recently finished PD James' The Lighthouse, I was even more intrigued by the black-and-white tower. The whodunnit revolves around a murder in a revived lighthouse on Combe Island some distance off the Cornish Coast. That combined with my unfulfilled wish of visiting a lighthouse on two previous occasions - in Pondicherry as well as at Guhagar - had fed my curiosity to a tipping point.

The Kanai Creek lighthouse

Unlike both my previous experiences, where for one or the other reason (women unaccompanied by men not allowed; entry post 5 pm prohibited respectively), I couldn't explore this port phenomenon, the little lighthouse of about 5 storeys at Kanai allows legitimate ticketed entry. Of course, the caretaker had run out of ticket stubs, and in all probability, pocketed the income. An odd instruction as we entered the edifice blocked our way up, however – we were asked to remove our footwear at the entrance, like a temple or one of those old cheap Cyber Cafes where keeping the place dust-free was a constant concern. The request remains unexplained since most lighthouses have that last bit of vertical thin-stripped ladder to climb which is safer with a pair of rubber soles under your feet. That last upright phase of the staircase is really an iron ladder that leads to a floor doorway, which in turn opens to a small 2.5 ft archway into a circular balcony around possibly the biggest lamp I’ve ever seen at close quarters!

Perhaps I haven't seen any other big lamps - at close quarters or otherwise. But when my photographer friend Harsha showed me the video of Yenga Pona Raasa from Maryan, I couldn't help notice the sequence whence the female lead, Parvathy stands in the way of the light in the lighthouse gallery.

Female lead, Parvathy in Yenga Pona Raasa from Maryan

Isn't that not-allowed? Shot almost the way I imagined James' Combe Island, Bharatbala brings alive for me a memory and awakens inside a wish to discover more ports and lighthouses along this country's vast coastline. May be some day, I will extend my love of the beach to the things that belong to the coast...


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?


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.


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?


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


Indigo Deli
I Feel Healthy Today

Quick Meals

Dumpling King



Just Food

Cafe Churchill
Taste of Kerala/ Deluxe


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.