Sunday, December 19, 2010

Of Knowing:

A couple of years back, my life seemed to have jolted to a stop mid-track. Changing tracks and getting back to a smooth speed took some time….but looking back I am happy that the jolt happened when it happened. Life seriously has strange ways of working!

A lot happened in the last couple of months. It had everything the rest of the months put together did not have and I made a lot of discoveries about myself and others.

I went to Delhi after almost a year and suddenly the difference in the attitude became much starker and I found it difficult to have long conversations with people I know there. There are long traffic jams, crowds rushing to get in the metro (reminding me of the locals here), everything as or more expensive than Bombay and its becoming more unsafe. Bombay has given me much more in the past 3 years than Delhi did in a decade. I am not at all ungrateful but I do feel good when I am back here. Somewhere, this city is beginning to make me feel at home.

I always had this strange bias that non-Asians are superficial people specially Americans. Recently I got a chance to meet people from across the globe and found many as down to earth, philosophical and friendly as I would find my friends to be.

I also got a chance to go to the interiors of Maharashtra. Though the beauty always leaves me spellbound, it’s disheartening to see that nothing really is free from the grasp of human beings. They are everywhere. In a few years’ time even the little stretches of uninhabited land will go. This state is the most corrupt state when it comes to dealing with land. The way it’s being depleted of the eco-system leaves me feeling really hopeless.

I also got a lot of chance to talk to ‘educated’ people who felt that saving the ‘big cat’ (read tiger) is all brouhaha. They vehemently argued that wildlife conservationists including me are making a big deal by getting villagers to leave the jungles to the animals. They said humans have lived there for centuries. With shrinking forests and growing population, where will the animals go? Going by their argument, animals have lived for millennia before the humans came and uprooted them from their homes. It’s a long uphill task to get them to see why one needs to save the tiger. Hopefully it won’t be too late.


Found this on one of the chain mails. Wondering what would he say now….

Lord Macaulay’s address to the British Parliament – 2nd Feb 1835
“I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief, such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, such high caliber, that I do no think we would ever conquer this country unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore I propose that we replace her old ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”


Signs on the back of the lorries.

Tata se banker chali kunwari. Muzaffarnagar mein sringar hua

Sair karon bagon mein, bazaron mein kya rakha hain. Katl karon nayanon se, talwaron mein kya rakha hain

Dekh saheli, tera sajan ja raha hain

Jalo mat, barabari karon

Ati hi aant ka soochak hain

Phir wahi talash

Sangharsh hi jiwan hain

Mehnat karke khalo, kabtak jahaj chalaoge

Friday, November 26, 2010

Being Friends:

The two girls came and sat in front of me in the first class compartment. They squeezed themselves in between the kids sitting there. Both were thin....not like girls who would starve themselves to size zero. They did not seem to come from an affluent or even a middle class family and were barely adults. A thinnes arising from being too young and not eating much.

Both sat next to each other, arm to arm, leg to leg. There was this strange closeness between them. One girl was whispering into her phone while the other leaned in to listen from the outside. After some time, I heard her tell the other girl "Rahul ko nau baje ka time diya hain." That's when I noticed her bright pink lipstick and cheap shiny shoes that you get from the roadside.

The kids and a few commuters left. They still sat as close to each other...not moving away. I overheard snippets of their now soft talk. "Jab paisa hoga na...." "Paise aane ke baad main sabse pehle.......machine kharidoongi" "Kya hain..." "Mera favourite....khareedna hain..."

Two stops later they got down hand in hand. I could only wish that they remain as close for many more years to soul sisters. There was that innocence, that closeness and understanding still left in this world. So different from the "me" centric friendships of today.

A strange nostalgia started setting in.

Monday, November 01, 2010

It Finally happened!

The thing I have been terrified of. One of the reasons I had avoided traveling by locals for a year after coming to Mumbai.

I got stuck in the surging mass of hysterical women and could not get down at my stop. It so happened that I was at Mira road one day waiting for a Churchgate local at 6 in the evening. It was 20 minutes later that a Borivali slow came. Not wanting to waste time, I decided to take it, little realizing that hundreds of women would be getting in at Borivali to go to Virar.

Though I did manage to get down, I was thrown right back in and like a ragged doll was tossed about here and there by the ever increase mass of humanity. With not even an inch of space to maneuver myself and slowly rising claustrophobia, I managed to grab hold of the hand rail. Thankfully true to the nature of local travels, I got pushed out at the next stop at Dahisar even before another mass of humanity could surge in.

I have heard stories of peak time travel and seen people doing it day after day. Some even find it fun. This, to me is the acid test which makes one a Mumbaiyya. For me, the line stops here. I guess I can never become one.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Great Indian Traveler:

Of the international type!
I had heard stories about them but somewhere I always thought it might be a myth. They can’t be that bad in this day and age. And then I saw, hordes of them on my flight. Initially I could not figure out which category they belonged to – the workers or the very middle class travelers who are traveling for the first time. Upon close scrutiny I noticed that most of them are actually seasoned travelers and knew the working of the processes. Apart from one stray family, all of them were males. Later a friend pointed out that most were small time traders and shopkeepers mainly from areas like Ghatkopar who go to Bangkok to buy stuff which they then sell here. Made sense. Second category were the males who went to Bangkok to just have ‘fun’. Looking at them, that also made sense.

Scene 1: Man behind me pulls and pushes my seat every time he gets up and sits down. No apologies given. And he must have gotten up some 20 times during the 4hrs journey.

Scene 2: Man clicking pictures of flight attendants. He is asked politely to refrain. He still keeps clicking pictures and then putting his leg out to obstruct the cabin crews’ way. He finally stops when the airhostess shouts and warns him in Hindi that she will lodge a formal complain with the captain.

Scene 3: Seat belt sign is on. Man gets up. The hostess tells him to sit down. Another man gets up. The hostess again tells him to sit down this time in Gujrati. Then a third man gets up. By now the air hostess is shouting in all languages to get the men to sit down and tie their seat belts.

Scene 4: A thud sounds. Quickly others get up to see a man sprawled out on the aisle, stone drunk. His co-traveler tells the airhostess that he isn’t used to drinking.

Scene 5: Man approaches my seat when boarding, “Madam, aapka seat number kya hain?”. He doesn’t know what seat is A, B or C. Same man has been given a non-veg dinner as per the request put by him when buying a ticket. He is aghast because he is a veg. He turns around to me and asks me “ Madam aapka kya hain?”. As if I would have given him my dish even if it were a veg dish.

By the end of the flight, I wanted to give the Air India flight attendants a bravery award for facing these people day in and day out.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Land of Smiles:

The immigration officers looked grim, so did other airport officials. No smiles! I had thought that I will feel like a village-idiot-going-first-time-to-town. But at the Bangkok international airport, it was smooth sailing. My main fear always is not knowing how to operate hi-tech loos. Though friends had reassured me many times, I finally relaxed when I found the systems in the loo to be the same as ours. There onwards I knew I would have a good time.

After a harrowing Air India flight, I was seriously glad that there were no Indians in the flight to Phuket. Roaming around with my friend in her neighbourhood, I felt at ease…not out of place in a foreign country. Later I realized that it was because all Thai people were as short as I was….so I could melt into the crowd. I quickly learnt the traditional Thai greeting (Sawadi Kha) and used it with aplomb even imitating the nasal sing song stretch of the word at the end. I even befriended the local street dog, who initially barked at me and then wanted me to scratch him.

The local market, lanes and by-lanes were filled with street food - pork sausages, fish with variety of sauces, noodles, chicken feet, shrimps, squids – oh how my mouth watered at the sight. Thais love food and I loved that fact about them. Thais also love their food just as spicy as us Indians, which soon became a problem for me. Like in Maharashtra if you insist ‘no mirchi’, they will come back with a dish full of red chilly but no green chilly; so was the case with the Thais. ‘No peppe’ meant less chilly. Strangely these food marts were always filled with people – my god! how much they ate! And yet they were so slim with glowing skin. Soon I understood why. At each local eatery, they give you a side basket filled with raw beans, a wedge of cabbage, some fresh herbs and fresh neem to munch on!

Most Thai houses kept a huge earthen-flat-bottomed vase filled with water just outside their house. Most had water plants like lilies in them while some even kept tiny fishes. This automatically had such a calming effect around. All Buddhist houses also had an intricately designed, beautiful and colorful ‘spirit house’ near the gate. According to beliefs, they were made beautiful so that any bad ‘spirit’ around would get attracted to that and reside there instead of the main house. I didn’t want to question myself when I found myself being so enthralled by their designs that I forgot to look at the main houses.

Transport sucked. Each trip to any part of the district cost a bomb (300 baht or more). I wondered what the cost would be when the tourist season started. A quick and tourist-free trip to Phi-phi (Pee Pee actually), the magnificent green sea which changed to a dull green when the clouds rolled in, lazing around on the white beach and tons of good food later, I finally had to say goodbye to my school friend.

Another harrowing Air India flight later (post coming up soon), I was back at the dusty Mumbai airport breathing slowly in the sounds of the city.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


One of my favourite flowers is aparajita (as called in my native tongue) or shankhpushpi in Hindi. I have seen them mostly in the eastern part of the country, hardly any in the north or west.

So I was really surprised when I found a wall full of these flowers cascading down right here in this city. I had walked that path from Churchgate to office and back some thousand times in the last many months, but never noticed it before. Strangely it was on the last day’s walk from my office to home when I saw them. White and filled with drops of water after the brief shower. I picked one up and put it inside my diary, marking the date.

It seemed like a signal. I smiled….one chapter over.

And waiting for the next one to begin.

Saturday, August 14, 2010


It was one of those days when the rain just fell and fell without a stop. Sometimes heavy and sometimes light, subduing the sound of chaos in the city. My time travelling mind took another trip back to the small town in eastern India where I grew up. Monsoon there meant endless days of grey sky and non-stop drizzle. Like a thin wet sheet that covered everything. It drove people to stay home venturing out only when necessary. Something about that weather made you want to feel snug, huddle close to loved ones and listen to their stories over a nice cup of tea.

Some days the rain used to pick up in the evening and pour throughout the night. By daybreak the sky would be overcast and it would drizzle the whole day. During those days of heavy rain we would get constant updates on the rising level of Ganga on the local radio. There would be a queer sense of anticipation and foreboding all around and the stories shifted to that of floods and near disasters. We listened to them spellbound.

I loved those grey wet days. The best part was not that the schools would be shut. The best part was to sit by the window, look at the rain falling outside and feel the gusts of wind blowing droplets all over you. My hyper-imaginative mind would re-create all the stories heard before and I would be totally lost to reality. The best part was sneaking into the garden with an umbrella when my mother was asleep and shake the flowers drooping with water. I would be certain that the flowers were happy to be relieved of their burden.

I was looking out the window at the wet railway tracks. When the muted sound of the locals faded in the distance, the sound of the continuous drizzle took over. Right ahead across the railway tracks was a tall building under construction. I could not see any signs of activity or people there. It seemed isolated, abandoned and forgotten under the grey wet sky. A woman with her son in a raincoat and half pants walked past the tracks, the only sign of humanity around. Strangely desolate.

A gust of wind blew the droplets all over me. I turned around to look at the people inside the house. The TV was on and all were talking about one person’s recent visit to Chicago. Somebody exclaimed about the nuisance of the going out on a rainy day like this. I detected irritation in her voice.

I turned my attention back to the outside world. I longed to hear the stories my father used to tell. I longed to go out and shake the water from the flowers and hear their relief.

I still love grey wet days.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Growing old is Fun! Firstly I have become more un-social….and I am loving it! Earlier there was always this pressure of going out, meeting friends or basically just doing something. Otherwise it felt as if you were wasting your time. Well now…No More!

I look forward to weekends purely with myself tucked away with so many books (there are so many to read and so little time!), old nostalgic music, movies, cups of tea, some good food and that’s it. There’s absolutely no pressure about meeting people or going out. If you can meet friends….just great….if not, I’m happy anyways.

I don’t really care that much about what I wear or how I look. So many times I have gone to Shoppers’ Stop and Baristas in my home pajamas, chappals and hair un-combed. Really! It’s kind of freeing to just be. I took it to another extreme last month when I joined a martial art class. All other students were dolled up…with perfectly fitted exercise clothes and glassy skin. I wore loose tracks which rode up while doing some stretch exercise with legs up. The hair on my legs resembled that of the guy’s next to me. Well….it doesn’t really bother me. I chose to wax when I chose to wax.

The best part I think is the extreme patience that I have developed….partly for others but mostly for myself. If people understand me, Good! If they don’t….who really cares. I am past the age where I need to explain myself to others. I can look sagely and benevolently at the troubled youngsters and tell them..."This is hardly anything; Grow up!"

Just being…is Good.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


I have often wondered how would one describe Bangalore, who are the people that make Bangalore the city it is. Like Delhi’s identity are the bureaucrats and the rich snobs, Mumbai is the city for dreamers which makes for a crazy eclectic mix, Calcutta is for the intellectuals (pseudo or otherwise) and Pune is for students. I couldn’t pinpoint Bangalore’s societal make-up until a recent visit.

On one hand there’s the expats – they were everywhere…wherever I went. I might sound xenophobic, but I am not sure I liked seeing so many of them there. They tend to spoil the market, like in Bandra here. Everything becomes un-affordable – from rent to vegetables.

The other group which actually makes up for most of Bangalore, are these ‘young couples in their thirties with a kid between the age of 2 to 9 years’. Societies after society apartments are full of them. Mostly a double-income household with a car, the father is mostly in shorts and a t-shirt and the mother is mostly in three-fourths and a top hovering protectively around her child. Most apartments I could peep into had similar looks – dark wood furniture, flat screen TV, a kids’ room full of toys and fabindia curtains – only the colour changed. In other words, a young professionally successful nuclear family.

Looking at them, I got a distinct feeling that success (and money) comes easily to them. That most would not know or understand a life not like theirs….the struggle of Bomayites, the need for cultural difference for the Calcutta folks or even the snobbery of Delhites.


Mumbai looks so dazzling and alive from above even at 2 in the night!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Love unconditional:

I laughed when I read Com. Dilip Donde’s comment about his constant companion ‘Mhadei’ (wonder if it’s an Indian name?). He says “Don’t think I’d be too off the mark if I said I am in love with her!” The first rejoinder that instantly popped in my mind was – man and his love for machines…so typically male!!

But then I remembered with a heavy heart how much I loved my car. It still pains me to think about her and I still feel awfully guilty that I sold her off. I often wonder how she is doing…whether her new owner is treating her well or not. Whenever I go to Delhi, one part of mind keeps a watch on the road hoping to catch a glimpse of her, to know that she’s still there. The other part does not want to see her again…..what if she’s in a bad condition, what if she is not being treated well, a rough hand steering her around and driving over bumpers and potholes. I will never be able to forgive myself then. It would pain me too much.

She was just as temperamental as I was and left me exasperated most of the time with her demands of attention. But I loved her enough to fulfill all her demands and on time. She was simple, without any frills and looked younger than her age and we both shared so many special moments, bad and good together. Whether it was pouring rain and thunderstorm, tyre-deep water, blinding fog, scorching sun, balmy afternoons, or a blue sky with woolly cotton clouds. Whether I was happy, sad, melancholy, angry or just plain bored….she could sense my mood and play along. We would listen to music together driving slowly or just look at the scarlet sunset while I cried my heart out over some long lost memories. I could take my frustrations out after work and she would listen. She never left me stranded in dangerous places neither did I ever leave her unguarded or with strange people.

The last day, I walked with her new owner from the bank to the place where she was parked. Throughout that time, I explained to him all that I used to do for her and what she required. When I finally handed over my keys to the new owner without meeting his eyes, he said “My god….you are really attached to your car.” That did it. I turned away without even glancing back at my car. It was all I could do to stop myself from bawling uncontrollably right there in the middle of CP.

So, it’s not just about the ‘man’ and his machine. There is something indefinably special about the love we have for our machines. Wish we could say the same for all our other relations.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Decoding the future:

It all started off with an argument with A about the motormen going on strike and leaving people stranded. She was livid at the way they just stopped the trains mid track and people had to spend the night on the platform. I, for once sided with the motormen. In a country where mere notice or petitions does not work, what else can you do to make your needs felt? I don’t believe we are a poor nation at all. It’s flush with money as all of us have seen during the IPL fiasco. Plus the fact that (as a colleague once told me), if you put all the monies collected by our politicians since independence in Swiss banks, the country’s debt can be paid 13 times over!

But after I got angry and put the phone down on her, my head started to spin….with thoughts which got morbid by the minute. Exactly where are we heading? Me, others, the society, country as a whole and even Earth? How did we land up in such a terrible mess?
Each of us is living vicariously, for the moment and only for ourselves. Collecting and hoarding mindlessly. There might be 210 friends on your facebook account but how many friends are there with whom you can just sit and not talk at all, or on whose shoulder you can lay your head and cry your heart out without feeling stupid or judged later.

Long time ago, maybe 7-8 years back, a colleague was doing a pranic healing course. She could read auras (yes, I believe in all that) and sense the strength of each chakra in a person. For fun we experimented with other colleagues. Almost everybody’s heart chakra was tiny showing how little we felt through our hearts, how closed we were. At that point, it was fun to see this and we all laughed it off. But now I believe it’s true for everybody including me. We have no heart left.

Maybe we have crossed the point from where we could have righted things and now it’s a steady downhill. Maybe only a big calamity can sweep the plate clean so that a fresh good beginning can take place.

Maybe Mumbai’s chaos is getting to me, maybe I need a break and go to the mountains.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

You Know:

You know you are in Delhi – when a person you hear mumbling behind you is passing lewd comments.

You know you are in Mumbai – when a person you hear mumbling behind you (and not talking on a cell phone) is mumbling to himself about his plumbing problem or neighbor problems

You know you are aging – when your (young) colleague tells you that he has seen the ‘Inzamam rushing to the spectators with his bat raised to hit them’ on youtube…while you still remember being aghast when you had seen the incident on TV.

You know something is wrong with the system – when you see a woman police (constable?) in uniform wearing sandal and carrying a purse.

You know you might not be that bad a person – when your friend’s toddler daughter who cries at the mere sight of a stranger gives you a beatific smile and hugs you when you hold her (given the fact that you don’t like kids)

You know you are wanted and loved - when you scold a stray bitch who comes wagging her tail at you but refuses to eat the Parle Gs you force into her mouth because she only eats GoodDay (as told later by the locals there). When you tell her to go away….she meekly sits with her paw on the biscuit, looks at you and then slowly takes a bite of it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Home Coming:

I have become a monster. Well, my sister, mother and a few close friends will tell you that I was always one. But I now have become the worst type…a cynical, cribbing and nagging type. I can only see the bad part of things. For example,

It’s a good thing that’s there’s a sabzi mandi right outside my building but all that I see especially in the mornings is how bhajiwallahs spit and then lay down the vegetables just next to it. Needless to say, I don’t buy vegetables from there. I walk to another market some 10 minutes away and buy vegetables laid out in carts which are several inches above the ground.

It’s so nice to see the ladies compartment full at 10 in the night. In fact, at certain stations there’s still a mad rush to get in and get a seat. I don’t take the first class at that hour, so a couple of days ago I got in the general ladies compartment while traveling back from Thane. As I hurried to an empty seat, another woman came and sat next to me (kindly adjust variety). I almost choked to death. Both the women sitting on both my sides were stinking of dried sweat. With so much of money flowing in this city, I wonder why people can’t buy even a cheap Rs.50 deo.

Last week, I hailed a taxi. There was a small puddle where it stopped and the driver told me “aage karta hoon, wahan kachra hain”. Considerate! At the next ‘singal’ (as they say), I saw that the driver who was chewing gutkha probably, open his side of the door and spit out. Then he proceeded to gargle some 3-4 times and spit the content out….as if the road was his own private toilet. You might think people who are a bit educated will not do any of the above. But people in my office do similar stuff in the cafeteria area. They will eat and not clean the table, they will wash their plates in the sink and leave it dirty. I keep wondering will they do the same at home.

Ok enough now. It’s a good thing I didn’t get married. I am such a serial nagger.

It was a short mad dash to Delhi and then to Uttranchal…on work. I can’t forgive my boss for calling me back for an important meeting, cutting my visit by almost a week. But those few days in the vicinity of the mountains and the perfect spring weather of Delhi was such a welcome respite. It was clear, bright and cold with a perfect view of the snow-covered Nanda Devi. For those few days, I was totally free. I was home.

Monday, March 01, 2010

To a Brother:

I have often wondered
If you are there somewhere
If we will ever cross paths
In this life

I have often wondered
That if we do
Will you still be a brother to me
Or just another general acquaintance
Who we meet and forget

I have often wondered
If you know that I remember you
When I am happy
When I am melancholic
And when I am just me

But something tells me
That you know
You have always known

Friday, January 29, 2010

My bit on Avatar:

To come straight to the point, I loved it. Yes, the graphic, visual effects and imagination was great but that’s not the real reason why I liked it. There are 2 reasons. I am sucker for these human-like alien stories (I cried copious tears at Steven Spielberg’s ET even as an adult and loved the TV serial Roswell). I tend to get really carried away into these extraordinarily imaginative worlds and Avatar’s world was far more vivid than the others.

Second and The primary reason (which surprisingly, not many have talked about) is the way they have portrayed Nature and it’s connect with the people there. How true when S Weaver says that everything’s inter-connected in nature and that there’s an exchange of energy that happens between nature and the people there. It’s not just some figment of somebody’s imagination about Pandora and bio-chemical reactions, but true of Earth as well. It’s just that we have stopped believing in it or even recognizing it. I loved the way they showed how the Na’vi people loved and respected nature. If the theatre was empty, I would have bawled openly and loudly when they showed Earthlings blowing up the big tree….I was so engrossed in their story and their pain.

I was planning to give the movie a miss (recession still)….but now am glad I got a chance to see it (thank god for good friends!).

Monday, January 11, 2010

The long road to December:

December is a month when even nature seems to be in a holiday mood. With the sun baking the earth and then the monsoon melodrama, winter is like a balm to the tired soul. I and my friends drove down to the Konkan coast along roads lined with happy shiny trees. The grass had turned yellow but it wasn’t dry yet, the sun was golden and light on the skin and the sky, a bright blue. And then came the azure sea against the white sand. We forgot our past and future. This was it. Joy!

December seems to envelop everybody in a strange happiness. In Delhi it is the excitement of the impending cold. In Bombay, the air turns nippy and the sky shines. Then there are the festivities – of the year coming to an end. And always always a strong hope for the best ever days in the coming year.

In Jan the euphoria slowly fades and a seriousness comes back into everybody’s life. I love December. I love the cold winter month. Wish it could stay longer. It’s going to be another long wait.