Thursday, December 1


When life was finding its way through sinuous alleys, it sat in a perverse corner of a musty linking road shop. Like the yellow orange of sun before it embraces its dark black lover of night.

The yellow bag, keeper of my secrets.

Pieces of jewelry bought in a girlish excitement, the black wallet that buys my retail happiness, already read books with arrows that guide through the pages.

My yellow red bag of girlish joy, retail happiness, already read books.

The khadi fabric that hold a story within the strands. Of gone by times.

They also hold promise.

Promise of lives lived together. The promise to be by my side, khadi of Linking Road against the rest of me.

Promise of rushed breakfasts, cold lunches and foil - packed dinners.

Promise to live through the scorched morning, the air-conditioned afternoons.

Promise of going through rush hours, delayed meetings, cold return journeys, locked apartments. Together.

Promise to be rain- soaked and sun- kissed. Together.

Coarse fabric and not- so- coarse woman on an unknown journey to seek the not- sought- truth.

An alliance forged by a transaction of 110 bucks.

A bargained relationship.

On an unceremonious trip, an aimless journey.

Blindfolded by unpredictability, exalted by possibilities.

My yellow bag and the rest of me.

Tuesday, November 15

an ode

From the window of my everyday life,
I saw you going away.
Like the sea receeding from the forbidden shore,
The wet shore maddened with possibilities.
A part of shore swept with the sea,
Swept. Vulnerable. possible.
A part of shore left behind,
Wet. Victim. Guarded.

Thursday, November 3

a deewali lost, a deewali found

A tired but not swollen throat
A 4 day holiday
Promise lurking on a mythical horizon

Trains wheeze bye. Memories of another Deewali. Washed earthen lamps in a washed phenyled courtyard. a dollop of ghee in the lamps, cotton wicks. The man sitting on an uncomfortable pheeda fidgeting with his socks, the dampness of the courtyard irritates him less, the nagging of his wife on a now thoroughly wet socks irritates him more.
3 eager children lurked around, waiting for the ritual to get over, the earthen lamps to be lit, the muted prayers to be said. Crackers waited in the bedroom. Childhood packed in polythene bags, waiting to be opened, mauled with , played with. Sweetmeats were arranged in the plate, in studied symmetry, pink with pink, yellow with yellow.
The simplicity of a homespun symmetrical deewali will haunt later. Much later.
In a now, far off from a then...
In a now, deewali got clogged in network, deewali got stuck in traffic jam, deewali got enticed by retail reward points, it planned a weekend getaway, it soaked on the beanbag at home. In a rare moment it showed solidarity to its phenyled courtyard cousin and reached a sweaty, smoky but lit Marine Drive.
Childhood sky brightened the Marine Drive and exploded loudly before it merged with dark anonymous adult sky. A sky for another sky. A bright cheerful sky for a ill-lit dark sky.A hopeless exchange.
At InOrbit Malad the happily retailed family flashed their cheap shinning goggles, as another mother not - as- symmetrical wiped off the Coca Cola with a soggy napkin. Retail family dropped rice puffs into the shopping cart, then candles, then designer earthen wares. Retail families brought Deewali happiness paying with their credit cards. Not- as - symmetrical mother scolded shining goggled son for dropping something else that enticed him.
Rice puffs, candles, designer earthen wares. Happiness. Deewali.All mortgaged with a bank. I turn to another face, another mother, she was part of a world we had shared. a childhood that too had exploded , given in to a dark unexplainable adult world.
We had been girls together.We had nursed our crushes , confronted our fears together.We had done smaller things too. We had made chicken curry.In another world, bent on the steaming cooker, spotted the same piece, held it with a spoon and tasted it. and approved its cooked consistency.Together.
Now we were standing on the opposite sides of an unbalanced world. The tied back bun were careless tresses once...they talked freely. without an inhibition.They were held back now and tied a story in the knots.
A story of marriage. A story of a daughter-in-law, of children being born,of children going to school, of roles played well, of roles failed. The bun was less forthcoming as we shared the noodles with the retail boom at the backdrop.
My own tresses must have told her a tale. Of a sky lost. of another sky found. will it find prime time audience in her son as he is put to bed?
We were standing on the opposite sides of an unbalanced world.
We finished the noodles in agreed silence, she picked up the bag and signaled to the son. The father, the mother and the son walk away. The picture perfect family walked away watched over by a pair of adult eyes.
Outside the November evening dissolved into the dark night.

Monday, October 24

In delirium

I am tired… I am ill…swollen tonsillitis glands hurts, my gums are swollen, my jaws are swollen and I have a voice that I don’t love to hear anymore.

I fell asleep with my swollen cheeks rubbing against the glass window pane of my cab.

Swollen wobbling tonsillitis glands resting against cold of the glass.

A chocked throat, a blocked nose, red shot eyes, swollen glands all reach office on a cold stricken Monday morning.

They have deadlines to meet, hoards of them staring menacingly out of the various windows on a metallic laptop. Demanding their share of sick eyes, swollen glands.

The blocked head bothers about the weekend gone astray in gurgling a throat…the story that did not happen, words that were blocked. Chocked. tonsil led. I struggled with my protagonists to end a story…this way or that way…happy or sad… …end or no end.

I am floating in a antibiotic induced sleep. Dsiprin dreams. Wading into and out of some schizophrenic dream where I am writing the longest story ever which doesn’t end.

Scene 1-People mourn a dead bird in a faraway town,
Scene 2- couple smile vacuously staring into an imaginary mirror. Lights. Crackers.
Scene 3 -Doctors flash a torch into a girl's throat. " Say Aaa". She opens her little mouth and Aaas sincerely. Checks for approval.

I awoke with a rude jolt of “Kasaka Mumbai” on FM.

I envy the happy and tonsil spared voice of RJ Archana.

I pop more pills at the desk and make a poor attempt of working on mean projects. captives of my here and now. Seizing the stories lurking in the head.

I forgo the idea of a Sick Leave, save them all for a dry smooth, not blocked, not chocked, tonsill spared moment when stories find their way , when words lurk out, when keyboard types a world I can sit back and marvel at.
World I can wade in and wade out of. Sea of my belongingness. Away from the aquarium.

Till then I wade into my Disprin laden dreams.

Sunday, October 16

The guest of monsoon

Another one... the last one evoked extreme reactions, friend either loved it or hated it.. do read this one.

The rain hit against the window. Roopa liked when it rained. She could sit by the window for hours and watch the rain hit against the glass pane. The garden looked washed, the green leaves dusted till it shone, the brown of trees moist and soggy. She liked the frogs that croaked in her washed garden, the snails that appeared from beneath the soil and stuck to the overgrown, wild and rain soaked greenery, they made her 10 year old world more filled. Her guests of monsoon.

Today it was raining since afternoon. Maa was off to Nani’s place and wouldn’t be back until Monday. This gave Papa a chance to be alone. Go drinking with friends. Or go out to play cards. Or just sit around and listen to the radio loud and noisy. It saved them from squabbling all the time. Papa had left home in the afternoon. He was at Jayanto’s uncle place playing cards and drinking. Papa should have been back by now. He never left them alone when Ma was away. Although they squabbled about it, once Ma left, Papa would stay back and take care of them. Today he was unusually late.

Roopa did not look forward to the monsoon guests, a strange sense of foreboding filled her, as though something was waiting to happen. She left the window and came to the verandah where her brothers Raju and Chotu were playing Ludo. A game of snakes and ladders. A strange trick of fate. A ladder that spiraled the players up and a snake that slithered them down.

It was unusual for the two boys to be home at the time of the day when the afternoons dissolved into evenings; it was their time in the day to play their boyish games with other friends, but today, rain held them inside. Her brothers seemed strange, like two shrubs - growing up in spite of everything. Papa didn’t spend too much time at home and Maa remained busy with the daily chores, Raju and Chotu seemed to be playing parent to each other. The boys seemed to have a secret between them- a secret they would keep from the rest of the world and carry to their manhood. She felt like an intruder watching them like that as if they would guard the secret. Not being a part of their world, holding her peripheral status in their lives and games made her jealous.

She was lost in her thoughts when Jhunna came running to her. Jhunna was Jayanto’s uncle servant. Half man, half boy, Jhunna spoke haltingly and with a pronounced emphasis that bordered on sycophancy. “Didi, he intoned, Papa won’t come home today. It is raining very hard, I am leaving early today, going to my house, Papa told me to tell you to bolt the door after taking the boys inside. I also got some candles for you.

Roopa felt like crying. How could Papa leave her alone in the night with the two boys? She felt the mosquito bite on her bare legs. Jhunna had already come inside and was cajoling the boys to abandon the snake ladder game. Roopa followed him wordlessly as though acknowledging the new role of the protector thrown on her by an absent mother and a reckless father.

Jhunna took the two boys inside and started closing the windows an the door to the backyard. Atleast Papa had instructed him well. He kept his intonations floating. ‘Didi raining very hard. Water in Sahib’s compound. Sahib and your Papa can’t come. So your Papa said ‘Jhunna, you check on the children. I will come home when the rain stops. But this is the last rain of the season, Didi, it won’t stop till tomorrow morning’. Jhunna kept closing all the windows as instructed, he quickly wanted to get over with the last errand of the day to go to his home and cook for his paralytic mother. He came outside after lighting the candles, instructed Roopa to bolt the door from inside and not to open the door under any circumstances and left with assurances of coming back next day.Jhuuni also promised to inform Manju’s mother , Roopa’s friend who lived next door to keep an eye on them.

Raju and Chotu held to Roopa. “Didi, won’t Papa come home?” “No, she replied bravely. Don’t be scared. Nothing will happen.” Raju and Chotu kept hovering around her till they adjusted to the candlelight. Wind and rain kept howling outside, throwing itself against the doors and windows as though all the guests of monsoon wanted to break – in forcibly. Raju and Chotu lapsed back into another game of snakes and ladder. Roopa tried to concentrate hard on the game.

Raju had rolled the dice. The score was 3. It was a stair that took him to 21. Chotu looked crestfallen. There was no way to outsmart Raju unless he got some stairs too. Roopa felt her concentration waiver as the rain outside knocked with an abandon. Like an unwelcome intruder. Jhunni would have told Manju’s Ma to check after them but why would she bother in the rains? What was there to check anyways? They were bolted inside, what could go wrong?

Her thought were rudely jolted by a knock at the door.

“Mausi, Mausi open the door.” Roopa went numb. This was not Papa’s voice. It was not Jhunni either, nor Manju’s father. Who was this?

Raju reached 28, a snake, he slithered down to 13. Chotu was too scared to smile. Both the boys huddled around their elder sister.

With a brave voice she asked, ’Who are you?

“Mausi, Ramesh”, “please open the door.”

Roopa knew she had a brother Ramesh who studied in college in the town and went home to the adjoining town in the evening everyday. Ramesh Bhaiya had never visited them before and she had no idea how he looked. Opening the door to a stranger who claimed to be Ramesh was forbidden.

She kept quiet with the boys huddled towards her.

The voice outside grew earnest. ‘Mausi, what happened?, please opened the door’.

She uttered the unutterable. “Mausi is not at home. We are alon… and stopped midway.

The voice was silent for a minute. The candle flame flickered. Roopa glared hard at the snake that slithered Raju from 28 to 13. She could feel Chotu sobbing.

The voice became sweeter. ‘Is that Roopa, don’t worry, this is your Ramesh Bhaiya , please open the door.”

Roopa argued bravely, “Ma told me not to open the door for the strangers.”

The same sugar coated voice. “I am not a stranger, I am a guest, and I am your Ramesh Bhaiya.’

Roopa didn’t know what to say, her 9 year old mind told her that carrying on this conversation was inappropriate. And she couldn’t have a stranger, an uninvited guest of monsoon knocking the door while the three of the stayed indoors. Chotu had started sobbing and Raju looked like he wanted to sob too.

She stood there thinking what to do. She could probably open the backyard door and shout for Manju’ Ma. Would her voice carry in the rains? What if Manju’s Ma couldn’t hear and the stranger heard all the noise and found his way to the backyard. It didn’t take much, it was a narrow passage from the garden to backyard obfuscated with junk furniture yet not impossible to reach.

Yet this was her only bet. Quietly she opened the door to the backyard. The spray of the rain came inside extinguishing the candle. Chotu started wailing. She shouted for Manju’s Maa and ran inside to bolt the door once again.

The stranger cajoled her once again to let her in. Fate had it that Manju’s Ma heard the noise and came to her door guarded by her husband in the inclement weather. In places as this people lived for their neighbors.

Confusion reined at the font door, introductions were established, cross questioning took place, possible identity verification. Manju’s parents were convinced that the stranger was Ramesh Bhaiya for they called out Roopa’s name to open the door.

Roopa obliged. Ramesh Bhaiya was let in amidst the torchlight. Manju’s Maa reassured the wailing Chotu, the now clearly sobbing Raju and the petrified Roopa of the identity of Ramesh Bhaiya. Ramesh Bhaiya felt confident to light the candle. After staying around for half an hour, Manju’ parents left.

Ramesh Bhaiya made himself comfortable on the cot. He fondled Chotu and Raju and pulled Roopa’s cheek and admonished her for not recognising her brother.

Like the responsible one Roopa fetched him water and volunteered to make tea. Ramesh Bhaiya was insistent on making an impression so he followed Roopa to the kitchen to help her with it. Ramesh Bhaiya busied himself in the kitchen while Roopa made stuff available to him.

Chotu walked over to Raju and sat huddled next to him. Ramesh Bhaiya signaled from the kitchen.

“So Raju what do you want to be when you grow up?’ “Engineer”, came a guarded reply. Raju the elder of the two was finding it difficult to converse with someone who had made them so scared not so long ago.

‘I want to be an engineer too’, volunteered Chotu, his effort to fit into an adult world.

‘And what do you want to become Roopa?’ “Police Officer,” Roppa replied shyly not used to being asked this question often.

Ramesh Bhaiya went to use the bathroom while Roopa brought the tea into the drawing room. She looked at her brothers. Chotu had warmed to the idea of Ramesh Bhaiya, an audience to his childlike antics. Raju was still some what suspicious. He looked quizzically at Roopa. For the first time she felt connected to Raju. The thread was a tenuous one. Of worry. Of fear. Yet, it was a bond she shared exclusively with him and Chotu was excluded. She had broken into their club.

Raju was lost in his own thoughts. He remembered Ma’s instructions to never speak to strangers. But Manju’s parents were sure this was their cousin otherwise they wouldn’t let him in. At any cost.

But what if they had made a mistake? He shuddered at the thought. Improbable not impossible.

Ramesh Bhaiya joined them and started sipping the tea. ‘Roopa looked beyond the candle light uncomfortably, while Raju glanced at him suspiciously.

“Aha’, gushed Ramesh Bhaiya , we are playing snakes and ladders’, in an effort to look natural. Chotu recongnised his interest in the game as his chance to abandon another lost game and start afresh, a temptation he couldnt ignore. “Ramesh Bhaiya and Chotu started a game of snakes and ladders.

Chotu rolled the dice. This time he was a 3, he happily leaped to a 21 with the stair. Ramesh Bhaiya rolled the dice too, it was a 5. Roopa wished she could be young and careless like Chotu. Not bother about who the guest was. Accept him unconditionally. And live with the implications. The implications of inviting the Guest of monsoon.

She was still torn between the person who wanted to know what she wanted to be and the suddenness of his arrival. ‘What if Manju’s parents had made a mistake, what if this self proclaimed Ramesh Bhaiya was from a gang of thieves , they heard stories of so many of them these days, last week her class mate and her sister was stopped on their way back home by somebody on the pretext of asking some address. The girls ran away as fast as they could till they reached home. Could Ramesh be from the same gang? What if, he kidnapped Raju or Chotu? What if she fell asleep only to wake up to see Raju and Chotu gone leaving a ransom note behind, Papa would scold her and Ma would strangle her, she would fail the role of protector. She strengthened her resolve to stay awake and guard her younger brothers. She whispered to Raju who was lurking around, ‘Don’t eat anything he gives you.’ Raju looked at his sister, fear in his eyes… he was right, and didi was thinking the same thing. This was not Ramesh Bhaiya.

But there was no way of telling Chotu or making him understand this. He had accepted Ramesh Bhaiya. Raju wondered what he would do if Ramesh Bhaiya tried to kidnap them or worse harm Roopa didi. Didn’t Maa say once while Roopa didi was tying Rakhi that he should be willing to die to protect his sister’s honor, what did that mean? Did it mean that he should stand in the way of anyone trying to scare her? Or kidnap her? Take her away? He made a mental note of standing guard to his sister and younger brother while rain and wind threw at the door and a candle flame flickered in the room.

He also caught sight of the bag that Ramesh Bhaiya carried, he decided to seize it incase it contained anything that could harm her sister and younger brother. He started playing with it. Ramesh looked at him suspiciously and took it back.

Both Rooma and Raju looked at him and recoiled. Ramesh retrieved a small wallet from the bag, kept it with him and handed over the bag to Raju.

Roopa and Raju exchanged glances; the room was thick with suspicion. Roopa started reciting the Gayatri Mantra in her mind , a chant she was taught by Maa for occasions such as this.

Sleep engulfed the children in the room.

Roopa saw a horrible dream; she was walking with Raju and Chotu back home from school. Ramesh Bhaiya stops them and asks them to take them home. When they refuse and start running, he chases them. They run a good half a mile when Roopa discovers that Chotu is not running with them any more. She and Raju look back to see that Chotu is standing with Ramesh Bhaiya and waving to them. Ramesh Bhaiya is laughing like the villain in a movie they saw some time back.

Roopa keeps shouting Chotu’s name but he refuses to come. Roopa woke up with a start and heard her name being shouted couple of times. It was Papa’s voice. He was standing at the door. Sleepily she stood on the stool and opened the door. Chotu and Ramesh Bhaiya lay on one cot while Raju slept on the floor.

Papa came inside the room looking visibly guilty. He looked at Ramesh Bhaiya in amazement who got up sleepily.

‘Hullo Mausaji’ how are you?” Papa smiled at Ramesh Bhaiya, “Hullo Ramesh, when did you come?

Raju looked up from the bed and smile languidly at his sister, Roopa smiled back. Chotu did not stir in his sleep. Roopa noticed the rain had stopped. She went to the garden.

The guests of Monsoon had arrived.

Thursday, October 13

The Noise within

Another one of my on.
Thoughts of Ma depressed Rajesh. There was so much he wanted to do for her, so much he wanted her to have, be part of, share with him. Here he was in Bombay, at the centre of the busiest city, part of a self absorbed urbane crowd that constituted the country’s largest working population. He was negotiating his life at a call centre job that forced him to wear a cheerful tone each time he spoke into the phone ‘You have dialed “talkfree” services, this is Rajesh, May I help you?” A 24x7 job that made him stuck at the bottom rung of the corporate hierarchy, making him one of the 1000 odd people who were disposed to wear a cheerful tone and help anyone who cared to call at talkfree.

Maa was still there in the old house at Allah bad. At her typist job. Clack Clack clack clack ……she used to type late into the night to keep a job so that he and his younger brother could go to the best public school in town. He had not yet grown over the noise of Maa’s typewriter. Back in college, his friends complained of the railway station being too close, the noise of train interrupting their young dreams….Rajesh knew what they meant. The typewriter’s indifferent Clack clack stayed with him through out his MBA days. The clack clack was recently getting replaced by the ring of the phone. Clack clack giving way to the beep peee peee. The telephone rang in his mind long after he left office. And was followed by the script. ‘Hi this is Rajesh from Talkfree services. Can I take a minute of your time? (a pause) I represent one of our client organizations XYZ which is providing free credit card for you and one more person….phew.”Sir we would be pleased to deliver the card to you at no extra cost…” and it went on like that.

He had targets to meet. He had to sell so many cards … “How was he ever to achieve these numbers by calling nameless faceless people?” If he had it his way he would not have sounded so cool about it or so distant. This mattered. More than anything. And he would look it. He would have barked into the phone.
“Listen, I am Rajesh Sinha from Allahabad, working in talkfree trying to meet some targets so that they promote me, your buying a card would help me meet my unattainable and impractical numbers and I shall get there fast. And before you hang up on me, you self conceited son of a bitch… … I have a mother in Allahabad who sits and types letters at a lawyer’s firm for peanuts. She does the clack clack wordlessly waiting for her son… to come and retrieve her from her assembly line existence. She has been waiting like that for the past 15 years… for something to happen….and you… you privileged guy with the car and the wife…you owe it to me to buy my card and more.

He would have done it if this were a Hindi cinema. And pulled crowds. But that was another time, another space.

‘How is the day looking, Rajesh’? gushed Maya. She meant, “How far off are we from our monthly targets, you ass? He wondered how Maya could go on with life with a name like that. But Maya was Maya… An illusion. Every bit an illusion .Every moment a mirage. The heavy hair, the dark eyes, the telling looks, a nymph like figure and a husky voice that was part measured part insouciant. With her prowess and her ability to move things on the phone Maya was geared for better things at talkfree. She was a process leader currently all set to become a manager. So when Maya spoke, it paid to listen. Rajesh hated her…. or hated all that she stood for….or all that she had and he didn’t …and all that mattered in the world of grabbing attention of an indifferent guy in a split second. Maya gave a monologue for the next 15 minutes. “Remember Rajesh, the number of cold calls you make will be the keey “, she could make key sound like a very big deal. “And get a commitment from the guy to call up when he is free, that’s the second keey.” He tried hard to concentrate as this Colaba bred kid who didn’t know what a murky law firm in Allahabad looked like kept opening the esoteric lock to telecalling.

This was his assembly line existence. Not too different from Ma’s. A job that made him leave the 750 sq.ft matchbox that he shared with a struggling actor from Allahabad and a coworker from talkfree .A quick walk to the station and taking the up the 8 00 clock local from Mira Road to Dadar. The noise of train engulfing the clack clack of his life. The salty human sweat mingled with cheap talcum powder around him in the second class compartment. Hands pushing him ahead. Hands holding him back. Crowd to crowd. Man to man. Odor to Odor. Once he reached Dadar he and his room mate would stand in a queue behind 100 people like themselves for a shared taxi to Prabhadevi to the office.

And after a non-descript day of calling people only to be hung up and being filled by the sight and sound of Maya, having a bland dabba lunch and insipid coffee, they would take the same route back home.

A 24x7 job priced at Rs1.5 lac per annum. A major portion of this went into paying for the matchbox existence at Mira Road, the remaining to hold oneself in a self absorbed city where everything came at a price, the rest was sent to the waiting widow at Allahabad.

Somewhere Rajesh, MBA from Allahabad University, knew life was slipping away, that his life would be a struggle between the noise of clack clack and the sound of beep beep, the latter engulfing the former. Dreams of a house in Bombay… dreams of bringing Maa here, of seeing her relieved of the burden of widowhood and responsibility would remain wistful thoughts. What was worse that he didn’t see a way out of this cobweb.

The other guys at home seemed so distant. Prakash, the struggling actor obviously had little worries. Son of the Chief justice of Allahabad high court; life had donned as a 70mm screen and he was enjoying it. The coworker Vimal too had only himself to bother about; nobody carried the burden of past, the clack clack of a typewriter like he did. Prakash and Vimal insisted that he loosen up, tried taking him to the restaurants, the cinemas. Sometimes they took him to a local joint for drinks as well. Prakash used to joke about girls with him.

On a rare occasion Rajesh had dated a colleague .Seema.She read the books he had read. Seen the movies he had seen. Smart and grounded, she was someone you could talk to. Rajesh had a pleasant evening with her but didn’t know how to take it forward. Seema too had appeared distant for some time. Maybe it was because once Maya heard about it; she would ensure Seema had a hard time. He was hoping to ask seema out again.

It was a Friday evening; people were leaving office a little earlier than usual. And then he heard the sound of claps coming from canteen. Some crap Birthday celebration, he thought until Maya crooned from the canteen.” Guys come and share the cake, Seema’s engagement. Rajesh felt a sharp pain within. A pang, similar to the pain he felt when he saw Maa going to the law firm. A pang, close to what he felt when he didn’t get through IIT. But this pang was illogical. Made no sense. He had barely known Seema. Yet the pain gnawed.

He held himself and came out of the office. Vimal was standing outside the gate smoking at the local tapri. He signaled Rajesh.

Whats up? Have you seen a ghost?”

No… he whimpered. “Then?

“Nothing, leave me alone”

“Aah, let me guess… Maya screwed you?”


Then? Nothing, and then he blurted softly, Seema got engaged.

So, did you have a thing for her? I mean I thought it was just a cup of innocent coffee
Yes… no… yeah.

C’ Mon, Rajesh what do you expect, we all knew she is a practical chick and she is getting married, you were not seeing her, listen you didn’t even know her, now what the hell are you upset about?

Yeah…true… he didn’t know Seema, he didn’t love Seema, there was nothing…yet there was a sense of loss.

Vimal insisted Seema was no loss and in retrospect he was right, you can’t lose what you don’t have. And you can’t have what you can’t afford. However there was enough reason to go and drown oneself in music or better alcohol.

And in no time Rajesh was dragged to a nearby pub Bliss. Bliss was one of Vimal’s favorite. Rajesh never visited pubs because he thought they were for rich blokes like Vimal and Prakash and not people like him. Anyways music did little to drown the clack clack that haunted him.

The pub had everything.. Enough music, enough smoke and enough booze to drown, float, soak, and forget the odors of the day, the noise of drudgery. Bliss lived up to its reputation.

There were hoards of pubbers that night. Small middle aged men who were probably school buddies together. They were laughing out loud and laughing lots. At their own dreams, at life, at who they had become, and who they had failed to become.

Another corner had a group of giggling girls, some call centre crowd, drowning the script of the day in the smoke of the night.

In the smoke his eyes caught Maya’s, she was sitting with the an ex- colleague and drinking into the night, she blew a kiss at him. This woman believed in 24x7.

And then suddenly he saw her. Exquisite, like poetry. Flowed like a dream. One of the most beautiful woman he had set his eyes on ever since he became part of this madness. She sat on the other side of the table opposite a suave looking guy. But that was a minor detail.

As the night kept floating around him Rajesh altered between two worlds, too noises one the clack clack within and the other a more pleasant one, a mellifluous voice that belonged to this woman.

Why was she walking over to him? Oh my god, this woman is actually here. She whispers something into Vimal’s ears. Vimal gets up and goes away. What was wrong with that bastard? How could he leave him and go away?

And who is this woman? Strange. Leaving the guy like that and walking here?

In another moment they were talking. Her name was Nisha. She worked for an airline. She lived in Colaba, she was a thorough bombaite, daughter of a hotelier. She loved this pub and the songs that played here. This was the first time Rajesh had met someone so beautiful, someone so free and someone so untouched. She smiled easily and laughed wildly.

After a while she complained of the smoke over bearing her, he suggested they walked outside; he liked women who were delicate and needed to be taken care of.

They left Bliss and walked outside together. She wanted fresh air and so they huddled into a cab and headed to Worli sea face. As the FM played old Hindi songs conversations became easy.

They sat together at Worli sea face as the calm sea purred in the vicinity. He told her things. Things about a job that sucked, of a boss that sucked more, he told her of a town, of the river, of the home, of the law firm, of the mother who didn’t complain, yet waited. Of weight of expectations, the burden of obligation, of failing them and she heard. Nisha was a great listener. Comes with the job he guessed. They kissed at the break of dawn. He hugged her tight. Strangely, neither the noise of typewriter haunted him, nor was he plagued by the beep beep. There was the sea purring in the distance, smug at the lovers, the birds chirping and everything else drowned out.

And then he heard a loud noise….”bastard get up, what the fuck is wrong with you? You drunk pig.”

Vimal was holding Rajesh by the collar; they were on the steps of bliss.

“We spent the night here. Mr. Romeo as you drank the whole night, kept blabbering about buying a house and getting your mother here.” And who the fuck is Nisha now?I thought we were celebrating Seema.”

Rajesh looked up bewildered. He looked at the watch, it was 4: 30 a.m. He got up to his feet and together the two dragged towards the railway station. To take a train to Mira Road. To be able to take a train back to Dadar. to his assembly line world. To the sound of clack clack giving way to beep beep.

Monday, October 3

Destined to guard.

A on...
I stay at 8th floor, C block .Railway Colony. Off Carter Road. Bandra.

The place, they say, is an old Apartment, at least that’s the feel I got when I came here the first time. I traveled through West, Satara to Thane, Thane to Bandra, at the back of the truck. The last journey from a village in Satara to a district in Bombay and then from the district in Bombay to a Colony in Bandra. To meet my fate …the fate of a door in the Sharma household. That was the last time I saw sunshine. But forget that, this is not my story.

It is the story of the Sharmas. I live with the Sharma family or that would be half the truth. I live in the Sharma household. I am not even supposed to live. But live I must …till I die. Again, I am sorry, this is not my story…it is the story of Sharmas.

So this is Sharma Household. Family of Vinod Sharma…Vinod is a nice man. He works for a manufacturing Company, worked as a shop floor supervisor when he came to C Block, Railway colony and then became a manager. He is a nice man. Ask me …how do I know? Well… I can say. The first time he held me…I knew. Trees know. We have so many people coming and taking shelter. We can tell.

He came here with his parents and two sisters. 8th floor, C block was a rather small place for a family of five. But they were a nice family and never viewed it otherwise. It must have been better off than staying where they did. I used to catch snatches of conversation between the mother and daughter on the merits of C Block over their earlier existence.

The mother and the daughters slept in the master room while the father slept in the little room next to the kitchen. Vinod slept in the living room that opened to the master bed room. And I stood guard to the master bed room.

Sometimes I wonder… if they ever knew that there was a sixth member in the family….a door to the master bedroom with eyes towards the bed room, a door that was not supposed to live, but live it did ….till it died. What would anyone do if they thought their bedroom door had eyes? That it stood as a mute testimony to their life, It felt happy at their joys and wept in their sorrows. That it had its own stories, that it missed a village in satara,missed being a tree, missed its sunshine, missed the rains, the birds that took refuge, the fruits it bore, but that is my story. If anyone knew their bedroom door had eyes they would… I shudder to think.

I must stick to Sharma’s story, for that’s why I live, that’s how I live. Through Vinod. As a door in a Sharma household, stripped of any identity as a tree in a village. This is Sharma’s story.

Vinod Sharma would get up at 6 in the morning and finish his morning ablutions, take a cold water bath and go out in the morning to fetch flowers for his mother’s pooja. Amma would get up before Vinod came in and complete her ablutions. By the time Amma finished her Pooja, Rinky and Pinki the sisters would have made hot steaming parathas and chai for the family. The whole family would sit together on the floor and have the breakfast together before Vinod left for office.

Vinod was a conscientious man. He gave his meager salary to his mother every first week of the month. Amma saved more than half of the salary for Rinky & Pinki’s marriage and spent the rest on the family.

Amma and Papa had few responsibilities, getting Rinky and Pinki married off to conscientious boys and getting a bride for Vinod. And then they wanted to go off to their home in Gorakhpur and stay there. Vinod, like the good son he was tried hard to find alliance for his sisters.

There were people who come to “see” Rinky. Amma would make the bai wait back and Rinky would be clad in red saree, made to fetch tea after few minutes of small talk. Pinki, the taller and the slimmer of the two sisters had strict instructions not to show up. After an audience of some 5 minutes Rinky would be asked to go inside.

And I was to play the door….my role in Sharma household. Guard to their inner secrets. I had to keep the taller, slimmer Pinky captive. When Rinky huddled to me, trying hard to catch snippets of information between her family and her family- to-be, I had to filter information... give her what she should hear, absorb what she should not… like a patriarch. I felt her bridal dreams as she stood there, anticipation and disappointment thumping in her young chest.

And then one day after series of facing family to be … Rinky got married. I was festooned with pink… and the whole household reverberated with Rinky and Pinki’s laughter. I missed Rinky when she went away and so did Vinod and Amma and Papa. I knew Pinki missed her the most. For her Rinky was the friend of her virginal days…Rinky’s marriage made Pinki more lonely…more forlorn and more beautiful. It did not surprise anyone when Pinki’s hand was asked for by one of the eligible bachelor’s in Rinky’s family… I knew what our beautiful Pinki did to him every time she raised her Kohl and love laden eyes to her name. Pinki’s marriage happened within six months of Rinky.

Maa and Papa slept in the bedroom while Vinod took the smaller room. I still stood guard. Destined to guard….consigned to hold fort…away from my own…leading life through Vinod. His state was not too different from mine. Like a tree he had to first create a world and then like a door guard it from the rest of the world.

His marriage was the last of Amma and Papa’s worldly responsibility. Minu came home. Vinod’s bride Minu.The light eyed high spirited Minu, the exuberant, lovely, girlish Minu. Minu reminded me of the creepers who grew around me during the rains. The creepers who tantalized the trees. Minu was the creeper in Vinod’s life. The creeper in my consciousness’… my life through Vinod.

Minu and Vinod took the master bedroom while Amma and Papa shifted to the smaller room. I stood guard to Vinod and Minu cuddled in the first gush of love, like a lover myself in the throes of lovemaking.

Minu won over every heart. She was a balm to Ma’s arthritic knees... a friend to Rink and Pinki…why she even bought me a nice Ganesha to adorn on my bare chest…my creeper Minu.

For Amma and Papa life was lived, they wanted to go back to Gorakhpur on their fed souls. I remember the last time Amma stood against me…one hand on her bending ailing back another on me. I stood like a forceful son….like I wanted to reassure Amma of being the ever faithful son.

“I stood by my promise Amma” .Still remember the evening when Vinod was away for to a friend’s place. Raju Baba was on his way to the world. Minu had labour pains in the afternoon. My perceptive Minu saw danger lurking in the corner and called up Rinky. She also readied herself for the hospital, a chore she and Vinod had practiced over the last few weeks. But before she could reach the bed, she fell at my feet. And I sat vigil to her pain until Rinky came.

Raju Baba took his first steps standing against my large bare chest. The naughty Raju Baba. The brat… children were different when we were young. Raju Baba took the little Sharma household by storm. Barely out of his diapers Raju Baba took a whole pack of crayons and smeared by proud white chest with his childish graffiti. A fatigued Minu picked up the boy. Later that night Vinod took a sponge and soap water to smear off Raju’s misdeed.

Did Vinod hear my helplessness that night? The agony of being trapped in a door and living through vicarious acts.. Can’t say but next day the painter came and painted me dark brown. When children happen you have to change yourself…I guess.

Raju had started going to school when a weary Minu got pregnant a second time. I hoped for a little girl this time and so did Vinod. Raju needed a sister. This time Minu was perfectly normal. Daughters I thought were always more accommodating. Lovely, they called the daughter. Angelic and beautiful just like my Minu.

Our lives revolved around Raju and Lovely. The school, the cricket matches, the dance classes, the report card days. They grew out of knickers and pigtails into unsure teenagers wanting affirmation from the world.

And they entered adulthood. In their own rebellious ways. Minu and Vinod had not practiced for the adulthood. It was different in their times.

I thought Raju played the music too hard and slammed me harder. Did he know there was a patriarch lurking within? And lovely spent far too much time in front off the mirror. She and Minu always fussed over what she wore. Can anyone tell this girl she looks very pretty with clothes on as well?

Youngsters these days….. Minu and Vinod were off to Nasik some day for some Puja. Our Raju got a bunch of friends and had a party. They made a complete mess of the place. Loud blaring music… my Raju boozed and smoked that night…how can he?

But it was nothing compared to what lovely was upto. I knew the way she looked at Raju’s friend that love was brewing.”. So next afternoon when the maid went away and Raju was off with friends, Lovely got him home. That was the only time I slipped in my duties off guarding the family secrets from the outsiders.. the duty of an inanimate door. I slammed against myself, thanks to the August weather. My bolts loosened…yet Lovely went on the forbidden path…youngsters these days…..

Things change…Raju got through Engineering and went off to hostel. Lovely looked lovelier as her childhood kept giving way to matured youth. A letter arrived from Gorakhpur. Amma’s touch…was gone. Amma would never touch me again. But things move on…people are not destined to stand rooted to a place and guard like me.

Like Raju moved on to the States. I hear his letters when Vinod reads them aloud to Minu and Lovely. Stories of a life that filled the whole household now truncated into a letter. Then an e-mail. And then a picture on the desktop.

Lovely moved to States as well. Another life reduced to an e-mail and phone calls. The house looked empty; I had nothing left to guard. Vinod took retirement from his job. Life for them was left to walking in the park, watching TV, an occasional e- mail or a phone call. That’s about it.

The children kept in touch but people don’t come down for small things from the States. Minu’s arthritis, her dark circles, her increasing BP all of them were small things. As if the whole world was waiting for the big thing. And then it happened.

One morning, Vinod didn’t get up.

Vinod…. Vinod…Minu kept shouting but Vinod wouldn’t listen. I kept screaming, slamming against the wind. Vinod…. You liar… I have not lived yet…you cant go away. But Vinod did not listen…he had lived his life and he didn’t care about mine.”

Raju and Lovely came over. A quick cremation and a simple discussion. My Minu bowed her head down. Her life being lived she would accept her part in her children’s future, their lives; she would go to States too.

They locked the apartment and left. Discussion of selling it was too painful for Minu. That was for another time another day….when memories turned sepia…and so I stood guard to an empty bedroom in a locked apartment…a life marred by a lock.

I had been like that for the last so many years…until last week when a key stirred the lock. From what I hear of the conversations between the labourers.The house has been sold to someone…and it was up for renovation.

A young man in his thirties is looking around the house with forlorn eyes… “Raju….my Raju… that’s my Raju. He looks so wonderful. Yes, he has come to claim me.” Raju looks at me…Is there a flicker of recognition…does he recognize the surrogate patriarch?

Raju has a small chat with the labouers. Next day the boy who smeared my chest with crayons gets the door pulled down and orders an axe in the middle of my heart.

“Do you see blood coming out Raju? Did you see the father dying? ”The men worked for 4 hours and made a lovely wine cabinet for Raju to take back to States to his family.

somewhere in a small village a tree died. somewhere in the City a door was pulled down.

Friday, September 30

Life after…

Like so many of us who would be reading this piece, I stumbled into HR.

My generation grew up in the shadow of low employment and Mandal. We saw a state inching towards insanity - the government losing its charm as the most favored employer. It was a strange time when such strange bed fellows like Politics and Economics gave rise to the phenomenon called Globalisation. Globalisation became the common man’s lingo. And his libido. It gave him expression. It gave him purpose. It gave him choices.

Among the manifestations of Globalisation was the rise in Non government jobs which made the hitherto elite MBA education a middle class dream. It was a career option that seemed accessible and respectable. I reacted to it no differently. I tucked away my own dreams of changing the world to embrace “The Great Indian MBA Dream” and one cold evening, I packed my suitcase and joined TISS.

TISS taught me loads. If I were to bulletise (wonder why Oxford hasn’t yet incorporated this word) in a fancy Power point presentation,

ü To be or not to be.

ü Do Lunch or be Lunch ( with due apologies to Michael Porter)

ü That a lunch never comes free.

ü The lunch that is not free is served for an hour in Dining Hall, if you reach late there is no lunch ( it’s held me in good stead in most lunches in Life)

ü Choices are something you have. (Like there are 3 choices to any assignment a la KBC )

o Helpline (
o Phone a senior ( and take all his last year notes, assignments before the senior feels peer pressure to clean up the room for hostel night)
o Audience Vote ( get all 30 of you to write the assignment together , this is called soldiering in a factory environment)

ü Choices have implications ( This is strictly retrospective thinking, didn’t occur to me in my two years at TISS)

ü Opinions are something you should have. And if you don’t say it, you don’t have it. (especially in a 15 minute GD)

ü The gender ratio in TISS is reversed as compared to IITs. It sucks.

ü HR is a strategic partner.

And then Life struck us, almost unawares. We had our placements and thanks to a reasonably good economic year; we got jobs. To begin with, job life is great, (especially on pay cheque days). Quite like Globalisation. It gives you purpose. It gives you expression……

But soon job life starts teaching a lot , changes the way one thinks, changes the way one is…

There was simple stuff I learnt and then there was complex stuff, stuff one needs to get reconciled to…stuff that hits, then hurts a while, and then stays there like a dead fish in an aquarium.

Here is work life presented through the prism of 20 something (quite a bit actually), negotiating her space with her job, her profession and her life.


ü It takes almost 9 minutes to reach from Siddhivinayak to Stanrose House after 9:00 a.m; it takes exactly 3 mins before 9:00 a.m.

ü Nageshwar, Nagabhushan and Nagarjuna are three different people and it helps us to know who you are writing to - to avoid a PG Wodehousian situation.

ü Whoever made V (look up) and Pivot knew his stuff. Whoever made power point did not.

ü Asking for more data is an excuse to defer decisions.

ü All three theories on lunches in TISS hold true.

ü The evening sky looks very beautiful if one doesn’t see it all six days a week.

ü If one wakes up late on Sundays, one wakes upto half a holiday.

ü We still have choices, what makes life tough is the knowledge of implications.

ü Feedback on performance … yeah… Competency based feedback on potential ….sure…tell me what I wont do right tomorrow because you cant find what I don’t do wrong today.

ü Vision is what hangs on the wall like the Mahatma Gandhi poster; Values are an addendum like the picture of Nehru next to the Mahatma.

ü The gender ratio in the work environment is not reversed. It doesn’t matter.

Also some more sublime ones….

You will see more if you stand on the shoulders of a giant and see. (with due
Apologies to Sir Issac Newton)

I think Newton was a sorted out guy to have built on Copernicus’s theory than build his own. It takes a lot of guts to build on someone else’s theory …one’s got to be ok with being boring. Staid. Repetitive.
We 20 something get very caught up with our creativity to look at the Power of Ctrl C, Ctrl V. The work that some other original 20 something did, not long ago or Ctrl Ced, Ctrl Ved from some place. I know a guy who called it Resource mobilization. He has done very well for himself. Big stuff. Managerial quality. Mark my mumblings.

Meetings do not end on time because of our inherent need to value add.

Most of us who had average childhoods are taught to be useful. Taught to contribute, to take decisions, to think, to be visionaries. We suffer from a pressure to add value. We need to have an opinion on things. Like where should the next employee picnic be held, should we have compensatory off or not, should the world change or not and if it should then how? And so when reasonably intelligent blokes meet, this age old need lurks up. It forces most of us to go on and end up concluding when to meet next to discuss the same things all over again.

The more you do there is always a competitive bloke who does it better or faster or an experienced bloke who has done it before.

Last week couple of us got together and wondered why has most of the stuff already gotten talked about or written? Or done. What’s more its done better. Done faster.
Performance, they say is not absolute, but relative. So are values. Even energy, said Einstein, was not absolute. Yeah… it’s an unfair oops ‘relative’ world.

I used to work with someone who had traveled to every town in India with a certain population in his distribution stint. I mean, try telling that guy how hectic work life is…and how traveling on weekends is a toll on the very tenuous work-life balance. He just shot a “been there - done that” glance which actually meant “this topic is closed for further discussion”. Or take the perennial issue of sitting and working late. So you sat till 12 midnight, some other energetic 20 something beat you by sitting till 1:00 am….you see…even gestures are relative…it takes a lot more than guts to say….I am not part of this madness, pack up at 6:00 pm and lead a complete life. Got to be straight out of a Nick Hornby book.

Networking be damned…gimme a party that rocks.

The last party I went to had the right concoction. The rustle of fab India silk… the flowing wine.. the restrained smiles. The inane conversation… “so what do you handle? Oh, what do you do? Oh, wonderful…..I fought an inner urge to say – I do Ref checks…anchor all ref checks for the organization. Yes… that’s what I do… pick up the phone and do Reference Checks… no jazz, no high end stuff, just plain ref checks…and I can do about 30 a day.
Over the last few years… my idea of a party is reduced to a strange place with strangers… some booze…lot of music….blaring music that drowns any noise ….engulfs any conversation.

Team work is a noble idea…that’s what it is …a noble idea

This one needs no explanation, we all know what happens when people “who don’t see because they do not stand on the shoulders of others and see” are “driven by their inherent need to value add” come together to work with “competitive blokes” under “experienced blokes “.

Chaos is the only way it works … or goes. I would rather be left alone to do what I do best…and leave others to do what they do best.

It takes a lot to be an ordinary guy with no stakes involved.

Kevin Spacey told a consultant in the movie American Beauty:” I am an ordinary guy with no stakes involved”. While saying so he exposed the underbelly of our lives and times. It takes a bit of rigor and a whole lot of passion to be different, to be extraordinary. But it takes much more to remain ordinary…

I recall being part of a livelihood generation project in another world… another space… It involved traveling to a place called Harudi in Bhuj. Also traveling with us was the founder of a Delhi based NGO called Goonj. Many years my senior, this guy loved what he did. He was nuts… he wanted to create livelihood in the drought hit Harudi… It turned out that he had a professional degree in Mass Communication from a reputed Institute. Yet, he chose to be with the people he thought needed him most. I never saw him looking at his life as a series of bullet points on his resume. Or his career as a series of meaningful experiences….

He had learnt some things right: about doing the right thing vs doing things right.

In his maverick way he taught me life was more than a resume. More than a profile. More than a job. More than success. It was about being an ordinary human being… which eludes a whole lot of us.

Globalisation is here to stay. And so are choices. Also their implications.

Wednesday, September 21

that one moment...

It was a moment... a precise moment... a fraction of time pitted against 28 years of living when it came back to me... a moment of joy...against infinite moments of reasonably lived life...
A hectic day, a gruelling assessment centre, a call on people , putting a tick or a cross against another life of hopes, ambitions, needs.
A day of reckoning for some fuelled by a tick... hopes truncated by a cross.
It was therefore a night to assauge a lacerated self.... and so I stumbled into Bottles and Chimney at Hyderabad.
The yellow light.... the blaring music... people dancing to the music...swaying with their reasonably led was a precise moment...when the yellow light flickered in my conscious.... the trance playing at bottles and chimney seized me to a moment of bliss before my life claimed me back.
In that one moment .....poetry came back to me... poetry locked in a chest of drawers with clothes I dont wear any more .... the bright pink scarf I picked up in a gush at Fashion street years ago or the lemon top which hugged my uninhibited self on a Matheran trek... a yellow blob of sunlight in a rain washed poetry sat with my discarded clothes ... locked in a chest of drawers ....while I wore my reasonably lived life.
Something in me that night walked to my old drawer while yellow lights and music guarded the my here and now. the drawer... it made a noise as I pushed it open... as though it wanted to be sure, that I hadnt forgotten its untouchable status,that it was discarded,that it was not meant to be... yet I pushed it open, picked up the pink scarf, held it in my fingers, the musty smell of years of neglect filled me.the stench of the untouchable.
And there it sat, the yellow papers. my poetry. my spilled self over sheets of paper.. the code of the combination lock called me. lost and forgotten.and my life came back to me.... a fish thrown out of the aquarium into the sea, the sea of her belongingness. and then it swims... first unsure, then sure, then brave,then bold, and then never to stop.
I wrote a poem wearing a bright pink scarf on the back of a tissue paper.... a self spilled on the back of a tissue paper at bottles and chimney... a self you can wipe your careless fingers with.a self you can fold and keep in the wallet.
My spilled self...
chingari hein Jindagi jala ke dekho sulaag jayegee
mere pehlu mein aa jao, tumhari jindagi badal jayegee
akeli hein raat, andheri hein raat, ek paheli hein raat
raat to ek mom hein, kuch der mein peeghal jayegee
sapna ek thama hein, koi raasta ruka hein, kitna dhuaan hein
gum ho jayo isme, tumhe jindagi mil jayegee
kachcha sa dhaga hein, palo ke moti hein, dil na bandha hein
sanjo ke rakho, lamhon mein piroyee jindagi beekhar jayegee
dara hein maan,rootha hein maan, jala hein maan, paglaa hein maan
koi kahani jo tum suna do, aaj jindagi bahal jayegee

Sunday, August 28

the best of Nick Hornby

Allright, I picked up Nick's book " A long Way Down". He is kick ass. Totally. I mean have to give it to the guy for being so matter - of - fact about love , loss and life. Though you laugh with him, it hurts, and while you laugh out loud, you can hear your pain , distinct, suicidal and completely lunatic. You know that the tears that welled up in the corner of your eyes are not because you are tired laughing but because you wanted to cry. Instead you laughed.

Here's Nick Hornby quoted...straight from A Long Way Down, some matter- of -fact yet kick ass statements that made me laugh and weep in tandem.

1. Being owed an explanation is like being owed money, and not just a fiver, either. Five or six hundred quid minimum, more like.

2. Surely the coroner's inquest should read, " He took his own life away after sober and careful contemplation of the shambles it had become'?

3. The papers have been full of shit about me, and every word of that shit was true.

4. No, we were finished as serious people. We had sold our seriousity for twelve hundred and fifty of your English pounds.

5. She dumped me because I wasnt going to be a rock n roll star after all. "Shitiness, they name is Woman."

6.Most people have a ropethat ties them to someone, that rope can be short or it can be long.( Be long Belong. Get it?) You dont know how long though. Its not your choice.

7. Telling me I can do anything I want is like pulling the plug out of the bath and then telling the water it can go anywhere it wants. Try it, and see what happens.

8. The problem with our generation is we dont want to do something, make something, we want to be something.

9.One thing the last couple of years had taught me is there's nothing you can't fuck up if you try real hard.

10. You see? Ex wives: really everybody should have atleast one.

11. Hard is trying to rebuild yourself, piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are supposed to go.'

Monday, August 15

Bombay : my soulmate

Mrinal Sen calls Kolkatta his El Dorado, I call Bombay my soulmate, the city that I so absolutely love.

Bombay understands me, loves me, spurns me and then draws me back , holds me and loves me all over again. Its with me. In my insanity. In my rationale world. In my triumphs and also my traumas.

We courted the first time I read Midnight Children by Salman Rushdie and then one day I came to Rushdie's Bombay.And thats when the love affair started. The City of dreams. The City of infinite limits. The City of untold possibility. The city that springs back almost as if nothing happened. Suketu's Maximum City. And my own soulmate.We share a secret.A truth never betrayed.

Its strange to come from the wild East ( dont get me wrong, i love my roots)and be part of this structured anarchy, view the glitterati and the urbane jungle in disdainful juxtaposition. In unique harmony.

A city of strong contrasts, a world with two opposites, Bombay at the end of financial year 2002-03, paid Rs 28,000 crore in taxes, 35% of India's collection of Rs 82,000 crore yet plays host to world's largest and most miserable slums.

With a literacy rate of 85.6% (female: 82.7%, male: 90%) compared with India's overall literacy of 65.4% it is the only City where you may bump into an average Bombaite at Phoenix Mills who would be oblivious of the mills history.And not ashamed of it.

Only in my Bombay can the suburban rail systems carry a total of 2.2 billion passengers every year.Incidentally, the world's population is 6 billion.Yet it has the highest number of Lone wolfs and grit Girls ( 30 something and single , a term coined by Times of India) living on their own terms without the marital bliss and joys of parenthood.

Only in a world of steel independence can such contrasts coexist.....the steel bombay.. the sponge bombay that absorbs differences.

I am losing my objectivity...

Meandering at Bandstand or staring into nothingness at Marine Drives, having the cutting chai or taking the locals, i love Bombay for all that it stands for and also all that it does not.

Needless to say my first digicam had me meandering in the city and trying to capture the life here.

Enjoy the pics.

Sunday, August 14

Rising fails, Ketan falls

Another sensitive film maker succumbs to the lure of mainstream Indian cinema. The man who gave us Holi, Mirch Masala & Patel brings to you Mangal Pandey: The Rising.

What is the Rising? It attempts to be a whole lot of things. Its wanna be Lagaan, it’s wanna be historical chronicle , its kaleidoscope India ( straight out of a glossy travel magazine) and therefore it ends up being nothing.

To start with Ketan’s India of 1857 lacks sincerity. India in 1857 was not about starched colorful turbans and salubrious men discussing British Rule casually. It was not about opulent ballrooms contrasted by idyllic pastoral settings. It was about a society that was being stripped of its religious rights, its age old beliefs, an army that was pitted against its own people, loosely held states reeling under British interests, the ignominy, and the starkness of an imperialist set up, none of which hit us in Ketan’s cinema.

If history remains silent about Mangal Pandey and the possible causes of his revolt the movie takes the confusion to a different level. Mangal Pandey in Ketan’s world looks at home, hobnobbing with a British official or making love to a nautch girl yet he shuns the untouchables and the greased cartridge.

Farrukh Dhondhy’s screenplay leaves room for more research. He has sourced enough stereotypes for the movie – white man beating up the black , Indian women nourishing white children ( courtesy Roots : Alex Hailey) the friendly British Officer, the great Indian Bazaar where women get auctioned , the white – black friend ship ( courtesy : Paul Scott, Lagaan , etc. etc.) so on and so forth. The roles are poorly essayed, the characters do not traverse a journey , they merely play a part and fade, stories are left midway –the tenuous relationship between Gordon and the widow Jwala ends up in a soft love making sequence by the candle light… a la Parineeta.

Ketan Mehta’s treatment of women in Mangal Pandey is reduced to pulling crowds through extremely highlighted curvatures. Rani heaves and sighs in her backless choli, her talents wasted in a male dominated story line while Amisha does what she is best at- the sacrificial lamb act.

The only exception to this fledging piece is A for Aamir. Yes, he is struck back and struck back with a vengeance. Aamir fills up the screen with his presence. He tries to find the real Mangal Pandey, a sepoy who shot his senior official prompted by probable religious reasons in this highly ambitious project. Aamir portrays the struggle of a man caught between the job and the duty with aplomb. His intense expressions and his conviction lend credibility to the character. Also noteworthy is Toby Stephens as the warm and affable Gordon – a desired balance to the conflict ridden Mangal.

The dialogues fail to strike a chord. The legend of Bhagat Singh had Ajay Devgan telling an Indian police officer: “ Tum namak ka farz ada karo mein mitti ka karz ada karta hoon.” It gave us goose pimples. Mangal Pandey tells his English counterpart: “Aapne hamaari dosti dekhi hein aab aap hamara krodh dekhenge”. Run off the mill.

A R Rehman fails to create magic in this movie. Ketan’s The Rising may do roaring collections thanks to its marketing efforts but its actually Ketan’s falling as a filmmaker.

This Independence Day one would rather watch “Patel’.

Sunday, August 7

Fillum fillum filla

Sunday was a delight. Two reasons.

# Saturday was a late night and we had actually managed to finish the presentation that seemed so inconclusive. Work didn’t expand to fill up the Sunday available. (Parkinson was wrong, his principle was wrong.)

# I had something interesting to do.

Mocha has an interesting movie club where they screen short movies.

Short Movie Making in India is not a commercially viable option. Indian entertainment is still about blockbusters. It is still about pulling crowds by the star, about sari in its minimal form and about glycerin smudged eyes.

Lot of talented filmmakers and wannabe filmmakers’ who dream of making a good movie do not find either the financial muscle or the creative patronage that is crucial to tell a good story without commercial compromises. In case they do, finding an audience within the country is difficult. To all such people Mocha film club is a welcome alternative.

This Sunday saw the screening of 6 short movies. The first of them was a French movie “Charlotte Et Veronique, Ou Tous Les Garcons S’ appelent Patrick (wonder what that means!!!) This was directed by Jean – Luc Godard.
An extremely tight script and screenplay. Two friends stumble into the same man. They succumb to his advances. They fall in love. Promise a date. They share their girlish experience. Both women see what they want to see. Only to discover the truth at the end of 21 minute movie. The movie had an old school charm to it. Haven’t seen too many movies of Godard to compare.

The second movie was Red (My Dream, My Curse) by some Dhruvesh Jhaveri. Jhaveri boy has got it all wrong. The gawky camera work kept flirting with some svelte who couldn’t paint in red color. We didn’t know why? Oh yes!! Jhaveri told us later. She had seen a chicken getting slaughtered in her childhood at the local butcher’s. Pleeeeaaasssse!!! Don’t know where Dhruvesh grew up but we all have seen chicken and more getting slaughtered. Unpleasant as it may be, it does not really leave a scar on our memories. Get real, guys, Indian childhoods have far more real problems you can pick up and make movies on. And more importantly, Research. Well, Red didn’t convince the eclectic crowd at Mocha, it won’t elsewhere as well.

“A matter of hair” – a 11 minute movie directed by Anna Torres Alvarez was a wonderful spoof on the urbane obsession with cosmetic centre culture. One could spare few laughs at the work.

The short cut section had the soft spoken film maker Ruchi Narain (of Hazaar Khwaishein Aisee fame) talking about her movie Kal- Yesterday and tomorrow. The talented cast of Hazaar … Chitrangada Singh and Shiney Ahuja will be seen on screen with Smriti Misra thrown in. I am going to watch the movie because I watch all Bollywood movies.

Vivek Vaswani did some hard talk. About Cinema. And about the Industry .About how tickets sell, how money is raised in this world. How Cinema in India is a debt market. How Cinema in Hollywood is an equity Market. And why India hasn’t broken the vicious cycle of prostitution in Art. Why we still get movies where a middle class heroine living in a small town breaks into a dream sequence with Bombay at the backdrop wearing a see- through sari. Yes, Vivek Vaswani made sense. Aastha did hundred days in Patna not because a housewife succumbing to the crass commercial culture captured the town’s imagination but people wanted to watch explicit sex scenes between Rekha and her men. He made horse sense. Yet something in me still aligned with Saurabh Shukla when he said- “I don’t care whether my movies sell tickets, I would still make movies I want to make.” Thanks to this resolve we still see meaningful Cinema.

Sachin Kundalkar presented Bath. Bath told the story of a male prostitute in Mumbai. Sponsored by Sambhavana Trust, an NGO in Mumbai, the movie had a simple agenda- Male sex workers exist in our society. Men in our world are fathers, brothers, colleagues, friends, lovers and suitors. Yet male sex workers exist in thousands, fulfilling the carnal desires of a society caught in throes of a try –sexual phenomenon.

In Sachin’s film, a male sex worker goes to work, meets men, pawns himself and lives. He hates it, the waiting, the humiliation and everything else associated with transactional sex. He comes back to his chawl to wash off the filth. His meager bath under a municipality tap never washes off the smudge of his life. Yet somewhere in some tiny village there is a home to keep. A kitchen to run. Hopes to fuel. And thus life goes on.

And one day he meets a client who makes love to him and gives him a bath. An unusual experience for a hooker.

Sachin said he had no message to give. The movie was made after he & his actors met interacted and spent time with the Male CSWs. Don’t know if he was being modest or society’s deviant spoke through Sachin’s lens, or rather clamored for his share of human dignity, the movie was a cry for respect for the commercial sex workers.

Sensitive subject. Sensitive cinema.

The other movie was “With 500 rupees to heaven” made by a German director by Jan Gassmann & Thomas Jorg. The two filmmakers freaked out in autorikshaws in cheenai when they asked them to take them to destination heaven. The racy 9 min movie evoked laughter for its simplicity. Answers to “destination heaven” ranged from ridiculous to the sublime. They were charged 20 – 200 rupees, taken from Marina beach to red light areas to Spencer. Different heavens… all under the same sky.

The last movie was a Project work submitted by XIC students. Sanika Prabhu and others. Spurious development and Mills of Bombay City. A very laudable effort by students. A very nice combination of visuals. Yet the movie lacked research. It tried picking up where newspaper reports had left after the 1982 mill strike. It talked about mill workers being an integral part of Mumbai’s fabric & their alienation in the new development process. It failed to present a well researched, balanced view. And somewhere it ended up being a leaf stolen from Manoj Kumar’s film book. So you had somebody at Pheonix Mills saying – “Yes Mumbai would become a Shanghai” and the track dissolved to a mill worker asking “Where is my share of Shanghai?”. The lyrics were amazing, couldn’t catch the lyricist’s name though.

The crowd was forthright in its view, the atmosphere ripe for debates. There were filmmakers around. People who had ideas. Who had stories. Who wanted to be heard. I met a mechanical engineer who used to work in an organization. He kicked his job and joined a film school for a year. He wants to make movies. Born and bred in Bombay, his Nasik based parents are not aware of this. This 22 year old guy is looking out for a director under whom he can learn. His conviction in his calling was unnerving and endearing. May he realize his dreams. May he be the dream maker. Best of luck!

Wednesday, August 3

Drenched days

It’s raining in Bombay. Cats and dogs. I am stranded in the house, with my laptop and the need to write, to dry my drenched memories. NDTV telecasts are getting aggressive by the minute. Rain soaked news reporters are holding fort in various parts of the City reporting updates. Cameras, umbrellas, mikes trying to capture the elusive, evasive and currently washed off average Bambiya or Mumbaikar.

I watch the Police commissioner touring the flooded conscious of a city in a navy boat. There is also some debate on the state of submerge. A city under seize etc.

I like the deluge. I like the action. I like the debates its causing. I like the anger. I like that the city has stopped dead in its track.

Though I am glad that the city is not held to ransom by some underworld psychotic wanting to bomb its innards, or by some political jugglery driving it to ethnic genocide prompted by some vestigial lineage. Instead the spirit of Bombay is haunted by some thing more commonplace. Something that does not make news elsewhere because it happens everyday. Darbagha in Bihar is destined to be deluged for the rest of its existence, thanks to administrative apathy and defunct state mindset.

But this has happened to Bombay, the financial fulcrum of the country, the cinematic capital; it’s the blue eyed boy weeping. And thus the debate.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the City. The romance started way back in 99 when I packed my small town morality in a suitcase and came here. Still not over it, I love to flirt with the city, challenge its limits; get more out of it, every time. I love everything about Bombay. I have been a student here once and now I am the part of the human sea which braves the city everyday for the serious business of life. I will save that for another day, when I am more objective about my lover.

What irked me about that fateful Tuesday was Life felt challenged in a City which celebrates it unconditionally.

We heard stories.

Of people who reached home, to see those little things they painstakingly built to call a home their own cruelly floating around.

Of a man calling his wife to tell her he would be home in the next few hours. She continues to wait. His name flashed on the missing person list. For her the monsoon is for life.

Of friends who waded through knee, waist and neck deep concoction of filth and stench mingled with water to reach home after being stranded in office for the night.

I also saved a tear for the death of a tree on Turner Road…. Uprooted and crestfallen the gloom persists.

My own experiences were far more secured to make a 70 mm.

I left office at 8:00 p.m. because I couldn’t sit around anymore. I had also had a fill of omelet sandwiches with extra chillies at the friendly canteen. I had to feel the rain on my face and be on the road. Frankly the magnitude of the problem had not struck my cocooned world.

And I was wondering about non issues like should – I – carry – the – laptop –home or can-I –pick - up -some – CDs ?

Well, judgment or lack of it prevailed and I ventured into the rainy night. There wasn’t a single cab in sight.

Bombay was on the road, people walking all the way from town. And they had a long way to go. A lady had to reach Borivalli. She was coming from Lower Parel . Her cell was not working. Her children had not gotten in touch. Her husband was away. We waited by the roadside to get through the numbers. Bounded by nature’s fury, we shared worry and concern.

In her anxiety she chided me. For being alone. For being drenched. For venturing out. For being mad. I saw worry in the old eyes for myself. It strengthened my resolve to be safe. To be home.

One minute I was wading, another minute floating in the miasma. My sandals weren’t geared up. I was never so unsure. Never so brave also. Mumbai at Sddhi Vinayak rent the air with “Ganpati Bappa Morya.” When all else fails, Faith works.

I chose the less trodden Shivaji Park to reach Mahim. With clean and clear roads for the first time it struck how wet I was. Deserted Taxis and cars parked on both sides of the road. Darkness enveloped all around, rain kept washing the self confidence. A fitness enthusiast was exercising in the Park. For some life goes on…

I needed the comfort of crowd, the stench of human sweat. It made me feel better. I took the main road back.

I had barely walked down for another 10 minutes when a taxi driver popped his head out “ Sister where do you want to go” ? I half tore the door and said Bandra. He had another passenger, going to Santacruz. I didn’t care.

I was inside. The first thought was to call Old man and wife and tell them I am safe. Tell them their daughter has grown a little more. Learnt something. I knew news would be flooding the living room in my home hitting their carefully crafted facade. I knew the wife would have walked upto the phone the nth time to dial my cell. I know the old man would be looking the other way averting the answer to the question “where is she? Will she be safe?”

I could not get in touch with anyone until the next morning.

We were stuck in the jam for next 2 hrs. The taxi driver was from Lucknow. He was a Bombay Raodie for 10 years now but this was new for him as well.

He dropped me off at SV Road. Another 5 minutes and I would be home. Fortunately one could see the edges of the road. I got drenched again. A good Samaritan stopped his car and asked if I needed help. I smiled and said- “I did some time back”. Now I am home.

The sight of my house never felt so good. I stumbled into the darkness. No candles. No charge in cell. No food. No water. Yet nothing matter. I had just survived. And I felt grateful about it.

It all came back the next day. The electricity. The network. Old man was choked with emotion. He told me the death toll in Mumbai. He narrated the horror stories. He just made inane conversation. At some level, he was just relived to hear my voice. He was tolerant of my need to be on the road.The Wife was not. She was hysterical. Candles??? Do you have candles? And bread? And have you filled up the filter? I knew they had not slept the whole night. I wept and laughed…

We were marooned for another few days, but it was not so bad. Unexpected holidays ( would be compensated later but that’s ok) . We had survived and so had the City.

Bombay recovers fast. Its drying with the little sunshine that filters through the concrete rooftops in the urbane jungle and while news papers are counting the death and destruction we go back to normal life with our drenched memories.

Sunday, July 31

Remembering TISS

Pursuing a professional course at TISS was a joy in retrospect. In retrospect. Some of us did not value its timelessness then. We thought it was bureaucratic. We complained about things not moving. May be it was. May be it was not. That was the best thing about TISS. One could afford to talk in “maybes” and never be judged. It passed off as an attitude. Unlike lot of other campuses in the country who measure themselves on the basis of computers per students or sq. ft of space per student and eagerly wait for survey results we chose to be different, we shunned all surveys, didn’t want to be part of them. May be it was a good way to be, may be not.

We were a chilled out, relaxed class of 29 people who had taken up the PMIR course. A special course in TISS that catered to the Human resource needs of the organization. In fact this too can pass off as a personal opinion. We didn’t care who we catered to. I can visualize some old school Professor squirming at this piece and later debating that TISS is an academic Institution and catering anyways has something to do with the hotel Industry. Customer Satisfaction be damned!

TISS is a very green campus for Bombay. Very lush. A little too romantic for studies, some of us often countered. If it were not for the inconvenience of the attendance system, the rains would have us completely drenched waiting for more rain to happen. We celebrated Monsoons at TISS in Aamchi Bombay style. With the new batch joining in the festivities were doubled. Drama, dance , blaring music, invoking the rain God through the age old festival of Megh Mudra. It actually worked, it did rain. When it didn’t we got water in huge tubs and pipes, threw newcomers into the puddle and made merry. People had opinion on wasting water when women in South Gujarat (I guess) had to walk miles and miles to fetch water for their lives. A poster to that effect was put up in all the bathrooms making morning ablutions a very guilty affair.

That was the other good thing about the place. Opinions floated in the air, just about everyone had one. In fact opinions were available, everywhere, the general body meeting, the discussions, the dining hall had chart displays, full of opinions. On anything under the sun. Female feticide, non vegetarianism, WTO , India signing the CTBT, Narmada Dam, gender inequality, just about everything, one just needed to align oneself to the available options. The campus had a seething political underbelly, not apparent to a passerby. But extremely functional within.

One of the few Institutions in the country with a reversed gender ratio, the manifest inequality would be a fantasy for the IITs of the world. The good looking junior guys were paired with the smart senior girls in the megh Mudra. The list was drawn painstakingly and had representation from all departments. The annual candle light dinner had men being asked for; it also saw women dining with each other. Surprisingly nobody raised eyebrows. Tolerance floated in the air while the campus swooned to Elvis Persley tunes. Feminism too came in different shapes and sizes. It was also visible in a disdain towards looking good - Khadi Kurtas and crushed salwars being a fanatic uniform and bordered towards a chest beating attitude on gender issues. But on a sublime level, women defined the contours of their lives in TISS in academics and research away from social stereotypes. We learnt that fulfillment was usually abstract and mostly within.

Oh yes, the interruption of lectures and assignments in an otherwise learning Institution. Generations of seniors at various interactive forums had cautioned not to let schooling hamper education. And since this piece is on retrospective thinking, lectures weren’t bad at all. We read about real stuff, one that gave goose pimples. Sometimes. When we were not discussing Freud and the Odiepus Complex. Freud intrigued us and inspired many vodka sessions in a run down highway Dhaba called Vijay Punjab. We gurgled cheap beer and cheaper Vodka in the non AC section over shocking revelations. Accusations were hurled, beliefs were exchanged for debates and Victorian values attacked while Vijay Punjab thrived on the money from our homes. We also read about the Trade Unions in India, the rise of Datta Samant. He garnered support and engineered the Textile strike in 1982. We tried psychoanalyzing this hero of the downtrodden in our Psychology assignments and later abandoned him in favor of Hitler.Our reasons were far more pragmatic. Internet had more literature on Hitler than Datta Samant. We went to Bombay Dyieng almost a decade and half after the Mill Strike. Our questions were theoretical the answers were very uncomfortable. Years later when I walked down the Tulsi pipe road I got some answers which had eluded me in the Bombay Dyeing factory that day. Few days back a Taxi driver struck a conversation on my way back from office. His rootless ness from a small village in Bihar was a chosen one, his job as a taxi driver was not. I met another victim of the strike that day, learning goes on…

We were an odd bunch of people. A curious mix of intellect and insanity and the latter often got better of the former. We had a guy in the class whose initials was PHD. And it couldn’t have been more apt. PHD was interested in studying about endogenous growth theories. Well… bugger was also interested in quoting them in the Economics class much to the abhorrence of the Literature graduates. PHD got picked up from Campus to help the richest man in the country save his money. Don’t know if he liked to do it, last I heard, he went to INSEAD to do some more theories. “Serves them all right”, I can almost hear the English Honours snorting.

We passed out with our degrees and our jobs. We did cater to the Industry (sorry, Prof- that’s where the dough is). We made Rewards Program and Employee communication for various organizations we worked for. Some of us are actively selling jobs to people in market, we hire regularly for organizations we work for, with or without the psychoanalytical tests. Some left well paying jobs to study more (like our PHD). Some have found joy in matrimony and some of us are still searching for the higher meaning in Life. A fellow TISSian called up, he has just quit his job and “dropped out of Life” Just kidding, he has taken a break from his mainstream career and wants to be with himself in the hills for a while. It’s just that his insanity took over his intellect.

People marvel at the choice he made while we smile, we know where he learned to choose. Our alma mater taught us to choose. Chose to be or chose not to be, ultimately you choose or else eventually you will have to choose.