The Beginning of a Very Delhi Monsoon

I was witness to a Delhi today that was so different from the usual. It wasn't the burning heat that people curse, it wasn't the bitter cold of December in which natives such unreasonable pride.

It was overcast - the way overcast truly is - an eclipse in broad daylight. The rain drenched everything without boring little holes or lashing the glass panes. It came down sieved through the thick foliage thanks to the trees that line the avenues of Lutyen's vision, which one drove past. It seemed to wait until I got securely into my cab before coming down inevitably, yet never relentlessly, or ruthlessly.

I have always admired the manicured hedges and lawns of the national capital - its well-placed trees and shrubs, and its shower-cleaned-everyday leaves that reveal pure shades of green no matter how scorching the heat, no matter how polluted the air.

I spotted monkeys by the road along the ridge (the real red bummed kinds)! And I thought of my friend from the time we were at undergrad university (though not in the same course, university or even city!), Sajani.

I could fall in love here. Against this setting. Despite the gossipy tweenagers killing time and their closest friends' trust, despite the chooda clanking new bride in hot shorts, almost-South African blonde streaked hair fashionably held together in a messy top bun with Moroccan oiled strays carefully teased out to frame her face (moles surgically removed just before the big day), despite gaping aghast at the sheer entitlement with which men don't even consider the idea of being chivalrous... No no, this trip was not about people at all.

Delhi is actually better suited for recluses than how pseudo Bombay has proven to be so far. It allows you a little bit of open sky and some space to walk outside without being thronged by street vendors to submit to the moat carnal capitalistic need, that is to buy.

Delhi is about space. Space to breathe, space to catch some expanse in one's line of vision, space to  make informed decisions and continue to walk the middle path, space to walk for heaven's sake.

Delhi's middle class has no malice, its poor do not aspire to be rich, its immigrants are not scorned upon for taking away local jobs - see you keep veering me to people, Bombay! Stop it! This is not about people. Your people are finer, happy?

But there is simplicity in people's eyes, in their skin, in their at-least-slightly-imperfect body shapes. There are monkeys by the road! And they coexist with more beastly people. Those monkeys don't need some 100 acre plot in the name of a National Park as an excuse to nurture nefarious activities.

Believers walk all the way up to Gomukh to collect a couple of mud pot fulls of Ganga jal that would be poured over the phallic stone signifying the Vishnu disciple, Lord Shankara, since Saawan is His month (according to the Hindu Vikram calendar).

It brought to mind the several pedestrians one spotted en route to Prabhadevi's Siddhivinayak temple on the odd late Monday night. They think that should do the trick, whatever trick they set out to wield. Then they complain to the elephant God. The only difference, and god, Bombay, will you stop reminding me constantly of - yes, the people?

This piece was written a year ago on a day's "work" visit to Delhi. The day marked the beginning of monsoon (29 July 2016). I was there to meet my then Editor in Chief of a couple of months. Ironically, I post this piece only now, when I'm on a work visit to Bombay (not a moment to look up or breathe) as the rains make their presence felt. I promise I had not a clue the tables would turn so drastically about my city of residence in less than a year!


If Music Be the Food of Life...

I was at the Taj Mahal Tea House for breakfast this time two years ago in Bombay. As a trained Hindustani classical musician, the faint snatches of Aarti Ankalikar's aalap reached my ears soon as I entered the eatery. I was floored already. From my vantage, I also spotted what was neatly labelled as Ustad Zakir Hussain's tabla.

Now anyone who knows Ustad saab's playing would know a pair would not even cut it. In a faintly populated 25-table restaurant with patrons ranging ages 25 to 50 years of age, I wondered how many people spotted this inadequacy, impeccably designed as the interiors are of the Bandra reclamation tea lounge.

One person on my table thought the restaurant wasn't even playing any music until well towards the end of his Spanish omelette. This sparked a series of questions in my head:

Does Indian classical music still wield a magical effect on the listener?
Is it still considered therapeutic?
Does it still inspire the individual to aspire for a higher plane of existence?
Or has it turned into something of an unwelcoming war-waging mechanism against masses, in that, assuming a rather in elitist reputation, almost bordering divisive?

Why does the millennial perceive classical music with either indifference or misplaced reverence rooted in the utter lack of evolution as in the case of my last Shanmukhananda Hall experience?

Is it so dryly cerebral that it lacks any visceral or emotional appeal?
Is it too lengthy for a 140-character Tweet or 25-second Vine generation?
Do the ancient lyrics rooted in historical regions hold little to no meaning for our Hinglish mores?
Is it so contrived that the mediocre struggle to copy the bourgeoisie in an attempt to conform?

What constitutes the modern experience of such a constantly evolving art form?
What would bring it back to the recreational space?
Is collaboration the answer?
Are educated listicles and infographics the solutions?

It is time for those who appreciate classical music (not just Hindustani or Carnatic, even Western) to humanise this otherwise unnatural entity called Hindustani classical music. To what end, you ask? To begin with, for anyone who would like a less uptight approach to raga, listener etiquette, appreciation and avenues, perhaps. In a time when we live by stories and content, classical music suddenly seems so prosaic in its approach.

Why isn't a bunch of 20-somethings sitting around a campfire exchanging notes on what their teacher taught them without any sense of superiority or inferiority? Music academicians would serve a greater purpose if they helped listeners appreciate Ananda Shankar, and then drew parallels and pointed out differences between the Sitar Rockstar hippie and his Rock & Roll brother. Hell, it could just be a podcast in which a popular but trained (whose ear is tuned) musician would play snatches of the age old signatures (s)he learned and then just rant about why something perceived to be so disciplined and cut and dried is really so fluid.

Many years ago, when I first began training in Hindustani Classical vocals with Sheela ma'am, to teach me sur and taal, she would often ask us to listen several times first and then try to reproduce.  I remember singing several raaga bandish repeatedly to not only remember the song, but also graduate to the nuances while listening to the self.

As Sheela ma'am would say, "Taansen बनने से पहले कानसेन बनिये!"



I've maintained even in a previous post, May is a shit month in India.That shit is quick to hit the ceiling - of course, before that, the temperatures soar - and then humidity takes over in preparation of the rains that hit Kerala and the North East by June 1.

My May may not have been a grand departure, but here's a little glimpse of the roller coaster!

So in April this year, my four-year-long chapter in Bombay finally came to an end.

I left two amazing flatmates and a crazy cat behind (who, incidentally seemed to be waiting for me to leave so she would grow significantly in a month!)...

And decided to take a little break before I started my spanking new life in the cliched Rape Capital of India, Gurugram (you can Anglicise the name anytime you like but you can't change Gudgawaan).

My first stop was going to be decidedly Pune, since that's where the boy and a couple of dear friends live. Having lived in Pune before my arrival in Bombay, this seemed like a fitting revisit.

Several evening walks around Koregaon Park's labyrinthine lanes and a lot of indoor time helped me muster some courage to stretch myself some more. I booked myself return train tickets to and from Hyderabad. 

Clearly it had been a very long time since my last visit (2012), because I'd forgotten what bitchass weather was awaiting me. Between the platform and my cab, I spent a baking 10 minutes out in the sun and simultaneously questioned my intelligence and cheered about being able to add a three-digit temperature filter on my Snapchat (for the uninitiated, I'm a big fan and post inanely via bombaychuddies on the ephemeral photo-blogging platform). I had also forgotten how well-versed the locals weren't anymore because Hyderabad was now like any other communally charged city in India. So despite a universal force tying us (a la Uber), I was still hitting my head against an invisible wall with the driver, who managed to arrive after I was legit Baked PUtato.

I did the mandatory trips to my alma mater, EFL University and met both, my prof, and my friend who teaches at the campus and is closing retirement.

Staying with Karthik (that's him in the next picture. I still can't stop laughing at the unintended photobomb) helped because we had some serious catching up to do! It was a strange yet intimate feeling of being with a friend again, who had anchored me. His parents were only warm and caring and adorable. And it tore me to leave. :(

But not before I did the things I had to and wanted to do! I met dear dear friend, photographer and chowkidaar of the online photojournalism magazine, Galli (go cheggit!).

And convinced him to stay on for a play that a bunch of kids from EFL performed in the evening. I had forgotten that this was Hyderabad and on-time meant at least an hour's delay. But the production was surprisingly well put together and the performances were riveting.

Given these are possibly the country's most progressive bunch of humanities post-grads in the making, of course the subject was as sensitive, and handled delicately.

Of course I had to have logistical debacles, but that's my general state of being and Karthik's folks and dog were generously forgiving!
I arrived (with the first sophisticated instalment of suitcases and half a dozen cartons a few days in) in the middle of Gurgaon's April summer onslaught. But Hyderabad had prepared me, or had it

Thankfully, I took a few days to acclimatise to the bhatthi weather again and then start work (by which time it began raining? And dust storms made sure if i was home alone in the evenings, I was positively terrorised).

Soon after was my first real initiation, though. I ended up crashing a pre-wedding party of a friend's friend at a club one night. And that's when I discovered there's a higher chance of encountering better male dancers in this city than women.

And mother nature's bounty is infinite. I had found not only a flatmate, but also a kind, generous, thoughtful and intelligent companion in Swati.

She made sure my first steps in this new city were sure, not uncertain. She has now assumed the role of utmost authority and i try constantly to replenish my respect and adoration for her (apart from filling all the water bottles soon as they're empty and cracking depressing puns with Rahul, her friend seen in the picture above).

There was no question about it. This was to be my summer romance. I mean, what's there not to love in that Laburnum? Or the several tree-lined roads of Lutyen's Delhi? Or the wide pathways to the Parliament and the India Gate? Or the golgappas and samosas in every market. Sigh...
The boy too made a quick visit before getting on the plane for his holiday and we met his spunky ex-colleague from here at the butter chicken haven, Gulati's at Pandara Road.


And very soon after acquaintances emerged from every corner of G-Town! I was amazed at just how happy they were to absorb you into the bunch.

And finally I met this child after an entire decade last week! Aastha and I were roommates along with Tweshaaaa at EFL. She works with special children now and continues to retain that streak of spontaneous madness to this day. Considering she stays right around the corner, I look forward to taking up the offer of a nightover soon!

And of course, this poster in Hauz Khas village outside Elma's reminded me of what I've left behind. 

But warmth and sweetness this fine also gives me the hope that I might just last it!

Precious III: Lawyer Lawyer Lipstick

May 2014 spelled a new phase of my life in Bombay. Suddenly, the focus of my social existence shifted from Engineers, MBAs and PR people, to Pilots, Doctors and Lawyers. I seem to bump into a hell of a lot of the penguins especially.

A few weeks after a most surprising and enjoyable first rendezvous with a couple of them at a dance after-party following a singles meetup (I was signed up for it, for heaven's sake! Really, you think I went to one of my own volition?!), I ended up having a most engaging conversation with yet another at a gymkhana gathering to which I was invited by a friend. Amidst all the chatter about football, common friends, and a LOT of swearing, this gentleman - let's call him The New Precious - mentioned arbitration. Now unlike all the arbitrary cock (ahem) and bull that goes around on all our screens and stages, this one actually made some sense. Drunken stupor and Friday evening notwithstanding, I finally met someone who was as passionate and proud of what he did as the people I adore the most.

Precious-the-Latest (PtL, going further) has changed the course of his career more than once.

While he began with banking - selling accounts to HNIs across the length and breadth of Bombay, he moved to selling tin plate as partner in a friend's firm and even corrugated cardboard products and packaging soon after. Needless to say, success was his to play with. But among the many things I've known about PtL in the past (close to) two years, it is not repeating a pattern that excites him. Ambitious to the point of seeming to spread himself thinner than he can afford, PtL wants more constantly.

He can appear almost jobless (like the first time I met him and lived in the assumption for the next three months), because that's the way he's wired. He thrives on the challenge of citing precedent, while his thoroughness with the law books comes handy.

In a recent meandering post-dinner chat with the young advocate at a south Bombay restaurant, the conversation veered to the skyline of this enchanting part of the city. If you climbed to the terrace or even a high enough storey of any of 'Bombay's' buildings, you'd witness a cluster of some of the most remarkable edifices and a host of shimmery lights. And whether you have Eros Cinema, Flora Fountain, the Oval Maidan, or the Ravissant in your purview at the fore, a significant part of the backdrop is the Bombay High Court.

Much like this hogging of the skyline, practitioners of law cannot be ignored either, wherever you go in ‘town’. The phenomenon is fed by the presence of the TADA Court, Custom Excise & Service Tax Appellate Tribunal, Special Court, Bombay High Court and City Civil and Sessions Court buildings dotting the stretch from Worli, right up to Fort.

As if to mirror this concentration of law professionals in the vicinity, lawyers themselves lead a rather immersive existence. You’d imagine their lives end at knowing the law in theory – at most the years and years of applying those laws. However, as is the rue of many who come at cross hairs with crime and punishment, the law is open to interpretation; the words, yielding to the user’s purpose. As PtL puts it, “The amount of reading is exhaustive. Even a measly order can serve as a significant precedent. A lawyer can never know it all, yet must endeavour constantly to get there.”

Since there is no way for lawyers to publicise their wares, the best law practitioners are known first by their 'hit' rate. But that't not all that they're known for. While previous generations have produced polo champions, social reformers, freedom fathers, ecology conservators, ace pianists and Everesters, along with courtroom drama of the triumphant, PtL also regales me with stories of how he unwinds. Recreation to the him is as immersive as his occupation.

A man of varied interests, one spots him at his childhood friend's apartment complex dribbling a ball to its basket, or at another pal's beating or beaten to a high octane virtual game of FIFA. In the maximum city, where glamour rules the roost, he is not untouched by films, for he much spend at least a third of his monthly wages on late-night shows to the latest releases. He is happy to tag along to catch the latest in the art district with the girlfriend, and excited about a new eatery in town.

And when popular culture gets his goat, he suggests in his powdery baritone, "Let's catch a play this Sunday?"


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?