December 28, 2007

Cricket and More

I have been lucky to have a TV set near my desk at my offices since the time I have come to Mumbai. So with the cricket season on, I see people stopping by and stealing furtive glances or if they are like me, sipping their coffee in front of the screen.

Anyway, with the Boxing Day test on, here is something about proving a point. Pushy always writes passionately about cricket and Sachin. If only he wrote a little more.

December 26, 2007

Warm Christmas

It is a warm Christmas afternoon in Mumbai. I am lying flat on my bed with the laptop snuggled on my knees and typing away. This has been an unforgettable Christmas; one of the best in my life till date. Being born and brought up in Calcutta and spending 12 years in a missionary school ensures that Christmas means something special. In Calcutta it was always the plum cakes from Nahoums, a sudden gift box from Flurry’s or Cathleen’s and a beautifully lit up Park Street. Mumbai disappointed me. You could not smell Christmas in the daily rush of office goers. You could not feel the nip in the air, the oranges that mom used to give every afternoon had transformed into packaged juice from tetra packs, Christmas was on the way of becoming just another date.

Things began to change with my trip to Bangalore. Forgetting my jacket back in Mumbai made certain that the night air chilled me to the bones; the Mallu bakeries had started putting the decorations in. Though not completely, but Christmas was arriving. And then friends went to Goa. Sitting in a luxury suite they called me to tell me about Christmas coming in Goa. Still, Mumbai was far behind.

My Christmas Eve was actually the Saturday night before Christmas. I spent it with a cherished friend, rummaging through the books on offer at Crosswords, picking up Mera Naam Joker and Kabhi Kabhi from Planet M, enjoying a dinner and coffee that felt so comfortable and at ease and without pretensions, running into a pastry shop just before it dropped its shutters and then walking down wide pavements savouring the taste of Blueberry cup cakes while the wind whispered with the trees lining the road. It was a magical night, made beautiful by the realization that at Christmas, we seldom are alone even we are miles away from home.

And so on the actual Christmas Eve I did not mind working late. The ‘call’ had come long back and so at around 10:30 in the night three wise men walked towards the old Portuguese Church in Dadar for the Midnight Mass. The hymns were grand and pompous and I felt as if I was in the sets of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie. Somewhere the innocence I remember in the voices of my school choir was missing but then as the clock struck midnight, a child was born unto this world to bring peace to mankind. When we came back it was pretty late. But that did not stop us from putting on music and dancing the night away. 2 CAs and 2 MBAs make an awful dance group. That’s all I have to say.

As a child, Christmas was never complete without the stocking and my sister would always win on the number of gifts we found every morning inside our stockings. Times have changed, but I always have a stocking by my bed before I tuck in for the night. Today I woke up late, almost when half the day was over. A quick glance at the stocking showed that it was empty. “The child has grown, the dream is gone.” Just as I was starting to make myself a nice Christmas Brunch, the doorbell rang. And there was a Christmas miracle at my doorstep.

I have a senior of mine in the beautiful city of Hyderabad. A senior who has been like an elder sister who never scolds even when you are acting like a complete nincompoop. A senior who never tires to hear of my cribs, a senior who exemplifies whatever good is left in this world. As I opened the door and in a complete daze signed the form, I could not believe my eyes. In front of me was a HUGE black current cake with the words on it, “Always be happy.”

Merry Christmas everyone.

PS: you read about the play Jazz in my last post. It had the most amazing original Christmas joke I have ever heard.

Why was Jesus not born in Bombay?

It requires three wise men and a virgin for the Birth of The Christ.

And then the Music Died

Yesterday I went to watch a play at St. Andrews. A small and beautiful play, Jazz was in many ways a personal tribute I have always wanted to make to music that is eternal. I live in a world where Rock is commercialized, I live in a world where folk is dead, and I live in a world where the Sax no longer plays the Jazz. And though perhaps it is better to respect the old times and not mourn about them, I can not help but feel a sense of loss whenever I put on my old music.

Witty, humourous and ‘in-your-face’, Jazz traversed the glory days of Bollywood music and the importance of music in those days. It spoke of musicians with a passion; it spoke of those unnamed geniuses whose only aim in life was to create music that mattered. All through the play the music kept flowing through the Sax. Music that came from a time when my dad was in college. Music... which yet had the hope of making a better world.

Why do we continue to hope for a Floyd reunion? Why does Bangalore cry when Mark Knofler plays Romeo and Juliet? Why does the world cheer for an Eagle come back? Why does the Rolling Stone never stop? The old bard answered it years ago, “if music be the food of life, play on.”

By the way, have you ever wondered what John Lennon’s last hit was? It was the pavement.

December 24, 2007

Aamchi Mumbai

Of Gods – The visits to Hazi Ali and Siddhi Vinayak were interesting. On the way I picked up some fascinating pieces of information. It seems the road leading to Hazi Ali is under water for a span of time and the visits are obviously barred during those hours of the day. When we went to Hazi Ali, it was at a rush hour and one of us could not take the jostling in the crowd. We returned back half way over the sea and realized that the ‘call’ was yet to come. In Siddhi Vinayak I found a separate enclosure for breast feeding your kids. I think whoever thought of it was amazing. It shows that in India where ‘Godmen’ often rule our minds, the lesser Gods do sometimes care. Siddhi Vinayak actually reminded me of the Saraswati Temple at BITS. Teeming with people, yet quite, tranquil and majestic, it stood with open arms for one and all. The Churches are aplenty in Mumbai and even the smallest of them look beautiful. There is a Japanese Pagoda I saw on the way to Dadar and I think that’s somewhere I have to visit in the months to come.

And of Men – My works takes me to various parts of the town and meet different people. I think that is one thing that keeps me going and ensures that I do not actually dislike the Monday mornings as much as I claim to do. Anyway, ever since coming to Mumbai I have been hearing how Mumbai is a city for the rich but in my day to day work I keep finding examples that clearly says that to live happily ‘All you need is love’. (It is by the way one of my favourite movie taglines). A friend of mine coming into Mumbai called me up to ask if a certain amount of stipend was enough for survival in Mumbai. I agree I was stunned for a moment. Maybe life has been good for me until now and I have not had to worry about where my next meal was coming from, but when people ask if a ‘substantial’ amount of money is enough for survival, I do have my worries. Substantial anyway is a relative term. I was searching for my answer and this answer came to me from a housewife in sub-urban Mumbai who told me how happy her family was with the money her husband made. It was heartening to see how beautiful she had made her small 1 BHK apartment. ‘Mast rehneka, mast jeeneka.’ If only we could learn something from her.

Mumbai’s shame – I think if Mumbai loses its shine in any aspect, it is in its rude and insolent autorickshaws. In a city where the taxis set an example of hospitality, the autos remind you of your nightmare in Delhi and Chennai. In fact, I think the only place where the autos can’t do whatever they want is in Calcutta. But anyway, there they would do whatever the union wants them to do. The sad part is that the taxis are these days slowly but surely moving in the way of the autos. Refusals which were unheard of are now a reality.

Thank You Calcutta – I always knew that my upbringing in Calcutta will do me some good in ways I would never think of. It suddenly struck me while crossing the road outside Andheri Station. Anyone who has grown up in Calcutta knows that the sidewalks are for the hawkers, the roads are for the pedestrians and the automobiles must find their way between the two. So it gives us an uncanny sense of understanding the drivers’ mindsets while crossing road. In Cal, the speed of the traffic is so slow at times that you can cross the road twice before the car reaches anywhere near you. Mumbai is a little better but even then they can’t stop a Calcuttan from becoming a King of the roads. During the first two days, I waited and waited and waited and then the Calcuttan in me realized that he could teach a thing or two to the Mumbaikar. I fail to understand how a city which waits patiently in a line to get up on a bus do not know how to safely cross the roads.

I am my Own Fantasy - The shopper is the deity that I worship day in and day out and the stores are my places of pilgrimage. My shopping expeditions have been mostly with Amit who introduced me to the food loving bachelor’s saving grace; Muesli and (given the proliferation of corny people around me) to packed corn and baked beans. Anyway the other day I ditched Amit and went with Vishy to Hypercity and there to quote him “I went crazy”. Exotic salads, freshly prepared bread, fresh fruits, not so fresh packaged foods and around 20 kgs of milk and juice of every imaginable flavour filled up the trolley. By the time I left Hypercity, the food bill had almost touched the Rs. 2700 mark and I hoped if only all my shoppers were like me, life would have been so less complicated.

The Wedding and The Travel

It was the first wedding of the wing and there was no way I was going to miss the wedding of the guy who has stood by me through thick and thin since the day I met him for the first time in June 2001. Weddings are a time when at our age we begin to introspect. I will have to admit a lot us were freaked out thinking what the future might hold for us. But that did not matter. The entire wing, well almost the entire wing, a huge number of juniors who were now successful men and women by their own rights came to the wedding and it was sort of a BITSian reunion in Bangalore. The food, the music, the dancing and friends, Bangalore turned out to be magical. And they looked so wonderful together. Meri Yaar ki shaadi thi aur main bahut hi khus tha. It’s not always that you are a good friend of both the bride and the groom.

But Bangalore was not just that. Bangalore was the nip in the air that the winter in Mumbai lacked. It was an empty terrace, at two in the night, opening my heart out. It was letting go of Corner House for Gelato. It was staying awake watching Johnny Gaddar. It was a fearful biking ride late into the night. It was having innumerable cups of chai squatting on the steps in front of a shop that had pulled down its shutters. It was waking up in the morning to aroma of filter coffee and Rawa Dosas. It was going back to the profs who made me what I am and find reconfirmation for my choices. It was Coffee Day on Airport Road. It was going back to a life that keeps calling me back.

Questions

What shall we use

To fill the empty spaces

Where we used to talk?

How shall I fill

The final places?

How can I complete the wall?

Floyd as usual came to the rescue on a lonely Thursday night.

December 05, 2007

Of Love and Un-love

“Hi Sis, Sid here… Na I’m fine… No I’m going out for Dinner… With B of course… Who’s B… Oh right you wouldn’t know. She works at the Office next door. A? Arre, A is just a friend…Haan Z is a good friend too... No.. yes… Arre… What!!!... Didi listen, I’m not a Casanova. Hallo Hallo Didi? Didi?”

Sid was exasperated. First Adi, his best friend and now his Sis. Everyone thought he was becoming a bohemian. No one understood what he wanted, who he searched for.

The cell rang again. It was A.

A: Hi Sid
Sid: Hey. How are you?
A: Sid, tell me something. Do you like me?
S: Of course I do. You aren’t a devil incarnate as far as I know.
A: I knew it. You are in love with me.
S: (faints) What???????????????
A: That’s why you are trying to avoid me tonight.
S: No, I’m actually going for a Dinner with B.
A: Don’t lie to me. Chirag told me everything.

Now Sid got thinking. Who was Chirag? “Ahh… that old geezer at Retail Banking.” Self imposed elder brother, the matchmaker of Indians in New York. He was famous for ‘sensing’ relationships, most of which reminded Sid of the famous Maine Pyar Kiya Dialogue. “Ek ladka aur ek ladki kabhi dost nahin ban sakte.”

That movie was the mother of K serials, Sid thought. Anyway, Chirag must have told A I like her because I too irritated to answer his question on what’s going on between us. Focus Sid Focus. You are on a call.

S: Now look A. I don’t know what Chirag said. But I seriously think there’s nothing between us. You were new to the city and I thought I should help you out. I help dozens of people. Sometimes I even help the cats of Mrs. Nopani when she brings a new one from her parent’s home in Lucknow.
A: Sid all my friends know that you have feelings for me.
S: (now searching for a rope to hang himself) And how do they know?
A: I told them. But wasn’t it obvious from the way you looked at me with tears in your eyes?
S: Well, unfortunately, onions do bring tears to my eyes. But… no listen… but… no… seriously… arre.. listen… jahhhhhh


The phone rang again.

B: Sid is that you?
S: B I am not in love with you.
B: (splutters) What was that?
S: No, please confirm that going out to dinner with you would not imply I am in love with you.
B: You must be crazy. Come on I am hungry.

25 years later
Sid is a married man, living happily without a care in the world. He claims he found his soulmate who claims she did the biggest mistake by marrying him. They have a cherubic daughter D.
D: Pop. Someone’s on line for you.
S: Who’s it?
D: It’s A aunty.
S: What now?
D: She wants to know if you have feelings for her still and why you have not moved on?
S: #^$^&#$#$%@#@#. Stop acting smart (takes the phone) Hi A. How are you?
A: Sid, I read the last book you wrote. It’s about our relationship right?
S: It’s about two megalomaniac robots lost in the tribal planet of Zinziba.
A: Come one Sid, don’t lie. The metaphor was so striking.
S: I think you are right. In my subconscious you are a megalomaniac robot. (Someone Kill Him. What did the Japanese do? Right Harakiri. Focus Sid. Focus. She’s on the line)
A: I hate you Sid.
D till now is listening intently to the conversation.
D: Pops. What’s wrong with her?
S: Well, she thinks I fell head over heels for her while I was working in NY.
D: Did you meet Mom then?
S: Nopes I met her when I was back in India.
Now Mom M returns from office at this point.
D: Mom, Dad’s extra marital affair continues
S: Et tu Brute?
M: Did A call again?
D: (Giggles) Yeah
M: Poor Girl
D: Mom, why does pop keep harping about you being the soul-mate he thought he would never find? In fact, B aunty keeps telling me, Dad bored every friend about how no woman he met was what he was looking for.
M: Actually, we were cellmates. We met while both of us were caught traveling without ticket at Mumbai and we spent the night in the lock up together. We got talking and somehow after three years we realized we were looking for each other all this while.

Sid looked fondly at his family. Yet, he was sad for someone. Sad for the Indian girl A who came to live in the apartment next to his and in that new world met people who changed her. Sad for A, who even 25 years later cannot accept the fact that someone could have nothing to do with her, except as an acquaintance. Sad for A, who takes pride in having the upper hand in relationships with others. Sad for A, who never was the remotest picture of his soulmate.

M looked at the frown on Sid’s forehead. He must be thinking about A. Sid always hoped that A would one day move on. What Sid did not realize that this thought of Sid being in love with her kept A going on for all these years instilling her sense of pride in herself.
Men, they would never understand women.

December 03, 2007

Aap ki Dua se Baki thik thak hain

It has been a strange day. Twenty minutes after the hour hand crossed twelve; I was woken up by yet another phone call, the last of them all. Time zones across the world play pretty tricks at times. After I kept down the phone, I lay thinking. It had been a no-events day as far as I was concerned and something felt wrong. For a change, I was not greatly excited about the fact that I was alive. Since morning I was trying to find a meaning for my life and just once statement kept popping up,
“My life is combination of piping hot oranges and icy cold baggages.”

Wow! That was profound. Blame it on the fever maybe. But that was not a reason for me to make ‘smart-alecy’ comments to the souls who were kind enough to call. Sometimes I felt the comments almost tip-toed across the line to become idiotic and rude. I guess I had nothing to talk to people and the place where the words come out of was on a high after an overdose of Strepsils. I guess the irritation was in not having a cake for the first time. Yups, that's a believable excuse in my case.

I have always believed that there is an author hidden within each one of us and it remains to us to find that special writer from amongst the people around us. The time I did my CF, I was searching everywhere possible for a theme verse. The ones I wrote perhaps were the most horrible, pompous and shallow at the same time. No one seemed to be able to pen a verse that would capture the lives and times of the 5000 odd BITSians and the numerous alumni. And then Saha came in with the most poignant melancholy and yet soothing verse I have ever seen in my life. That soon became the most powerful opening verse for any CF I have seen in my lifetime. But that is another story. A writer hearing only the calls of his inner voice, Saha has been the most reticent of them all.

Today as I tried to figure out what was troubling me, he came to my rescue with something he had penned a few months back. One of the best articles I have seen so far describing exactly what I feel today.

Twenty something...
It is when you stop going along with the crowd and start realizing that there are many things about yourself that you didn't know and may not like. You start feeling insecure and wonder where you will be in a year or two, but then get scared because you barely know where you are now. You start realizing that people are selfish and that, maybe, those friends that you thought you were so close to aren't exactly the greatest people you have ever met, and the people you have lost touch with are some of the most important ones. What you don't recognize is that they are realizing that too, and aren't really cold, catty, mean or insincere, but that they are as confused as you. You look at your job... and it is not even close to what you thought you would be doing, or maybe you are looking for a job and realizing that you are going to have to start at the bottom and that scares you. Your opinions have gotten stronger. You see what others are doing and find yourself judging more than usual because suddenly you realize that you have certain boundaries in your life and are constantly adding things to your list of what is acceptable and what isn't. One minute, you are insecure and then the next, secure. You laugh and cry with the greatest force of your life. You feel alone and scared and confused. Suddenly, change is the enemy and you try and cling on to the past with dear life, but soon realize that the past is drifting further and further away, and there is nothing to do but stay where you are or move forward. You get your heart broken and wonder how someone you loved could do such damage to you. Or you lie in bed and wonder why you can't meet anyone decent enough that you want to get to know better. Or maybe you love someone but love someone else too and cannot figure out why you're doing this because you know that you aren't a bad person. One night stands and random hook ups start to look cheap. Getting wasted and acting like an idiot starts to look pathetic. You go through the same emotions and questions over and over, and talk with your friends about the same topics because you cannot seem to make a decision. You worry about loans, money, the future and making a life for yourself...and while winning the race would be great, right now you'd just like to be a contender! What you may not realize is that every one reading this relates to it.
We are in our best of times and our worst of times; trying as hard as we can to figure this whole thing out.

November 29, 2007

Looking Back

He walked forward with a smile on his lips, to what he knew would be his doom. He knew that there perhaps would be a knife driven straight through his heart and yet he did not care. She was waiting… for him. With anticipation he inched forward and nothing happened. He stood there; without armour; waiting for her to strike down his heart and yet she did not make the final move. Instead, she welcomed him with arms wide open.

He held her close; wondering if this was all a dream. There was only one word fit to describe what he felt – ecstasy. The past was gone forever. It was a new beginning.

Some say, her aim was immaculate and he never felt anything. Others say he never bothered. He always was ready to give up everything for that one last moment of ecstasy when she was his and his alone.
But they all agree that the smile never left his face even when he felt the first warm trickle down his spine.

November 27, 2007

Yeh Hain Mumbai Nagariya Tu Dekh Babua

Bombay seldom ceases to amuse me with the surprises it throws at me. Every day is a new experience; every day is an eye opener to the fastest city in the country.


Service Levels – Every single city that I visit, I ensure that I have been to each and every food joint worth its salt in the city at every single price point. The only issue in Mumbai till now has been finding the price points that seem reasonable. But I must admit that most of them have been extremely ‘value for money’. In fact, I actually do not mind places charging more for the service that they provide along with the food. But at times it does get onto my nerves. I went to this place called Chandragupta the other day, and I really liked the food. However, after dinner as I went into the restroom, I could sense someone following me there. As soon as I finished splashing water on my face, the feeling of someone looking over my shoulders became stronger. I wheeled around only to find the grinning face of a person offering me paper napkins. I now know how it feels to be stalked but I never thought I would learn it this way.


Stars and Starlets – Mumbai was always the city of the silver screens, however big the film industries down the South might have become or however much the movie world in the East laid its claim to the intellectualism of Indian Cinema. The other day I was having dinner at a place that looked Indian, sounded Italian and tasted good food. As I looked up from my plate, I could see a familiar face looking intently at his glass of liquor and then it struck me like ‘Aag’, Ram Gopal Verma Ki Aag. While I got all excited the people at the other tables continued as if this was a regular occurrence.


The next day, Nitin and I decided to go for a quiz and it turned out to be a TV audition. So we stood in front of cameras gave our voice tests and realized that a lot of effort goes into the making of even a K serial leave alone a movie. The number of times an elderly actor repeated his dialogues made me feel like standing in front of my hypothetical girlfriend’s father who threatened me in the voices and mannerisms of every Hindi movie villain I had ever seen.


The Celebration Spirit – Setty came down from Pune for a marriage and suddenly on a Sunday afternoon I found myself having a DOPY meet in a Gujju Marriage in Mumbai where I knew neither the groom nor the bride. While returning I found myself caught in a rally which was called to showcase the strength of a political party and I walked along with them realizing that it would be the easiest way to home. On the way, as I chatted with the people who were a part of the rally I realized that quite a few of them were here as it provided a nice way to pass the time in Mumbai on a Sunday. And so the celebration continues in India.

Where Goal fails and Chak De Succeeds

I pulled two reluctant friends with me to watch Goal. There is a reason behind it, beyond the movie. I have decided to watch every movie that gets released at Plaza. I miss the charm of the old world theatres where even during a movie the chips and the cold drinks never fail to come in, where I am not spoiled for choices, where going to a movie is a destination and not just another activity to kill the weekend. The other day I got the tickets and forgot to take the change. The old gentleman at the counter smiled and gave me back my change without asking a second question when I went back to him after watching a movie. With all their brilliance, watching a movie in a multiplex never has the same charm as in an old world theatre.

Anyway, coming back to Goal - The movie is a nice watch unless you have something more important to do. It has conveniently borrowed from movies like ‘Cool Runnings’ and ‘Shaolin Soccer’ and has put in threads of Asian Unity in the UK. However, that becomes the pitfall for the movie. While Chak De was about fighting for a common goal as well as individual’s triumph against adversity, Goal focuses only on the much used theme of cultural unity in a foreign land except perhaps for the last fifteen minutes. I am sure even if Chak De was made in India with the theme as the story of a Jamaican basketball team, it would not have seemed out of context. However, Goal with a faulty script never can match up to the standards of a Chak De. Not because it is a bad film, but because the film is out of our context. It fans the same spirit that every single human being should try to subdue in them. An Asian Football team trying to bear its communities’ identity in a multicultural Britain is not perhaps the best example of a global brotherhood which we all must strive to attain.

Since we are talking about movies, two quick references - I love the legislation that forces the National Anthem to be played before the start of every movie and I think Jab we Met was a nice movie simply because Kareena Kapoor acted herself.

November 19, 2007

Yeh Hain Mumbai Meri Jaan - I

Advertising at its best – In one of the train compartments I saw this amazing advertisement for a service, pretty much unheard of. This ad proudly proclaimed that they offer delivery of condoms anywhere in the city with the promise of strict anonymity. The first line said it all – “Are there too many people at the Chemist’s shop?”

Train them Young - I saw this young daddy the other day, kid on his arms, wife at his side and shopping bags of Diwali on my back. But what amazed me was the way his son imitated him and was learning to hold the rails on top to keep himself steady. It would come in handy when he becomes tall enough to reach them by himself.

Hot Favourites – I have found my favourite breakfast place, the CafĂ© Coffee Day on Carter Road in Bandra overlooking the sea with an impressive view, partially blocked by political signage. Guess it would be frequently visited now. I think I love Mumbai because of its closeness to the sea. Be it the walk along the Marine Drive or the beaches at Dadar, the Arabian Sea makes me feel at peace with the World.

The Cabbies at Work – I have always respected the cab drivers of Mumbai. After facing the blatant thievery of the autos in Delhi and the unconcealed impertinence of the autos in Bangalore, Mumbai is like a heaven to all. And till date some of my best conversations have happened with the cab drivers in Mumbai. They take me around the city, always introducing me to newer places, newer routes, telling me how to identify a good cabbie from a bad. I think the best description of Mumbai came to me from one of them. “Mumbai bahut fast hain bhai.”

The Beauty of Saawariya

In the lazy Saturday afternoon, I happily slept off on Amit’s couch after polishing off almost a quarter kilo of Muesli. In a moment of inspiration, we decided to meet Nitin and catch Saawariya. It served two purposes; I wanted to watch a movie in Plaza just to feel the charm of old world Mumbai Theatres and we anyway weren’t doing anything worthwhile.

Saawariya is a movie I loved watching, but I am sure it won’t be liked by most of the people I know. The beauty of the movie is not in the story; neither it is in the freshness of its lead stars. The beauty of Saawariya lies in the magic of its making. Sanjay Leela Bhansali has always been a master painter to me. Even in Black, the background scores, the layout of the sets and the placement of the actors in them spoke of a new way of making films. SLB has created a new world, a world every single one of us dreams of when we think of our past, of our unrequited love. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has written about bitter almonds telling the story of unrequited love. The sets of Saawariya - the bridge where he meets her for the first time, the water which carries the flames of a burning letter and the road full of poodles of water – tell us of a world that is safe in our minds, far from the prying eyes of even our closest confidante; a world where our personal definitions of love exist. Saawariya is not a movie to be watched with a gang of friends, it’s a movie to be enjoyed with select company.

November 14, 2007

Somewhere on Harbour Line

I love travelling in the local trains without my laptop. I don’t mind the crowded compartments. Somehow, the Mumbaikar always turns me around and pushes me towards the door whenever I have to get down. Yesterday, as I was travelling back from Panvel, I saw a lady get up from her seat and try to make towards the door. But somehow, she was not able to. Obviously, she was not a Mumbaikar. She was searching for someone and all she could see were hands clutching at the holders and the rails. Kurla was approaching and she was hysterical. The guy with her was nowhere to be seen. She had no idea where she had to get down. He had just asked her to walk towards the gate. She was almost in tears. And then the unbelievable happened. Like the parting of the Red Sea, the sea of humanity parted and she moved forward searching for a known face. And there he was frantically holding on to the rails, praying that she would make it to the door, the commotion inside a moment back seemed completely unknown to him. Kurla came and they walked out of the station, holding hands, perhaps promising never to let go again.

November 12, 2007

The Flower in the Desert

This is perhaps the most difficult post in this blog till date. Not because it discusses anything world-changing but because this post is about something that once defined who I was; who I would become. This post is about a magazine.

Today afternoon, as I spent a lonely Diwali, a knock on the door delivered a courier to me from a village in Rajasthan. Inside it was my college, packed in the form of a magazine – Cactus Flower 2007. Once it was a tradition for the person holding the post to send a copy to the previous Chief Editors if they had been acquainted. But then things had changed and it was really a pleasant afternoon surprise. Unexpected calls and unexpected couriers often cheer you up.

Quite a few things in BITS had required a large part of my time and attention. But none matched the passion that a magazine had instilled in me. I still remember the day I took over the responsibility, green-horned and untested. It was a terrifying night; never had been a Chief Editor been from the Second Year. Yet, I knew this was my destiny and this would be my nemesis. I had inherited a magazine steeped in controversy, a magazine falling foul of both the administration and the Students’ Union. What followed was a year of scrounging, saving every penny to plough it back into the magazine, fighting tooth and nail for retaining its autonomy. All along I had just one conviction. A magazine is a mirror to the world that we live in and it must stay true to itself. I had to take a lot of decisions that under other circumstances I would not have taken. I imposed strict self-censorship. I let go of my dreams to have an all colour magazine to keep the budgets under control. I lost my temper and fought with the person who perhaps had designed the best cover for any magazine in the world ever, as a result of which our months of effort over summer holidays at his house and over the phone never saw the light of the day. (It was a time when I had to sacrifice quality for equality and every single day I have wondered if the decision was correct) I, for perhaps the only time in my life, kept my dreams under reins.

I had always believed that the Editors of Yesteryears spoke to me through their magazines and it was an old order, facing the tests of time. I was the last torch-bearer. And that made me more responsible towards the cause. I knew a change would be inevitable, hollow idealism would give away to practicalities and just to ensure that one day a new order would come up, my main task would be to keep the hope alive.

Thus was born Cactus Flower, 2003.

Whether the magazine I created, with one of the most dedicated teams I have ever worked with, was any good is perhaps of little consequence to you. What matters is that it rooted out criticism. The magazine was safe and my task was done.

Since then, the magazine became like a stranger to me. The winds of change blew everywhere. I was there like the old willow facing the winds and offering shade to whoever wanted to rest. But then the world was speeding past.

In my final semester at college, the winds of change continued to blow. But this time I felt a fresh breeze of hope. The people coming in had the zeal I had found missing in myself at that point of time, people ready to take on any challenges. One of them would become Chief Editor, Cactus Flower three years down the line.

As I opened the pages of this edition of our magazine, my mind travelled back ages to see Auro, Saha, Magdum and myself waiting breathlessly at the printer to have our first glimpse of the magazine. Shaking off memories, I read through the magazine, page by page, line by line, word by word. I have always believed that the quality of content reflects the age that we live in rather than the capability of the Editor. Where the Editor can make a difference is in its presentation and in delivering the main objective of the Magazine – making it a storehouse of the aspirations of the entire student community. And then it struck me.

The old order was back, in a new avatar. The man behind CF 2007 could any day have donned the hat of an Editor, even in the Brilliant 90s. I could see myself as a BITSian in each of its pages; I could feel as the Editor what he felt as he worked on his drafts late into the night. I could see the unabashed way in which he asserted himself in each of the pages, I could see his scrutiny on every word and I think I know exactly the errors he would come across a year or so from now and hate himself for having overlooked them before the blueprint was finalized.

I could sense myself making CF all over again.

Why is CF 2007 so special to me? I think it’s because it tells me of the immense talent in BITSians that still lingers on. It tells me that the Editor is proud again, proud of being the Editor. This pride reflects in his work, for this pride is borne out of love for a magazine, for an ideal, for a concept. CF is once again unapologetic, it is no longer scared to spell out what the students feel, without resorting to symbolism, without subtlety meant to safeguard ones back against administration. It is contemporary, yet it upholds all ideals that a great magazine must have. It makes the same ‘mistakes’ that makes a magazine, a magazine for everyone and not a Kubrick movie for the ‘elite’. CF 2007, it showcases the dreams that I had reined in 4 long years back.

Mr. Chief Editor Sir, I, Madhurjya Banerjee would have considered myself honoured if I had brought out this baby of yours.

As perhaps the last believer of an era gone by, I bow to the Cactus Flower Team, 2007, for having strengthened my conviction that what’s true is eternal. It just keeps coming back to us in new forms. They say some flowers in Rajasthan bloom every four years. Today, I saw a Flower bloom again.

I think this is what is called The Circle of Life.

November 06, 2007

She's Always A Woman to Me

And she'll promise you more
Than the Garden of Eden
Then she'll carelessly cut you
And laugh while you're bleedin'
But she'll bring out the best
And the worst you can be
Blame it all on yourself
Cause she's always a woman to me


He thought he had enough of women for an entire lifetime. There was no way he could understand them, neither did he know any of his friends who did. Even the women he knew patted him affectionately after one more of his failed attempts at a relationship and say patronisingly, “You see you never should try to understand women. Just let her be herself and accept her as she is.” They were worried for him; all his friends were. He knew they really wanted to see him settle down and as they would often say, “be sensible” and yet there he was leading his life as he pleased without a care for the world around him.


As the elevator jolted to a stop he irritatedly moved aside to let the person behind him walk out. As he stood adjusting his suit, someone said, “14th floor please.” He turned around and like a movie running in a slow motion, his breath refused to come out of his lungs. Mechanically his thumb pressed the number 14 on the panel. He could feel his knees giving away. He knew the symptoms of the excruciating agony of love. It had been 10 years. His floor passed by and so did the 14th floor. The knees were strong again as he pushed the buttons to his floor. Yet, a pain (stronger than the weakness in his knees) stabbed at his heart.


She had not recognized him. 10 years - it had been enough for her.

Revelations

Most of my world changing revelations get shown to me when I am in the bath. The other day I had a discussion with someone on the meaning of our lives and the next day while brushing my eyes fell on the roll of toilet paper.

Did the tree ever think the meaning of its life would be reduced to….?

November 05, 2007

Sometimes you need to take a stand

After coming in to Mumbai, I wrote about the sudden change in my Lifestyle. However, that got me thinking. With every bit of change in our lifestyle, we begin to spend even more energy per person than our Earth can afford. The amount of water that everyone around me wastes, the line of cars snaking through the streets of Mumbai adding to the pollution level, the laptops around me, always switched on, everything seems to be screaming –“Death to the Planet” and it’s not a very nice feeling at all.

When it comes to loving the Environment, I am nothing like the Vishnois of Rajasthan, yet there are a few things that I can do to ensure that I don’t leave behind a world much worse than I inherited from my parents. Here are a few things I have been doing over the past one week and I think it’s the least I can do. Any more suggestions are always welcome.

  • Switch off the AC – I have never switched on the AC in my room since I came to Mumbai. As the winter is set to arrive, I think the AC is something I can do away with altogether. I think the only persons I know who should use it are Chandy and Pavan, both somewhere in the Middle East.

  • Travel – Long live public transport. They might not be the best option in India but then with the oil prices threatening to breach the $100 barrier, I think it’s not just good for the environment, but also for the economy. The only other option is pooling a cab to your office. That should work fine too. But an AC car for yourself to office? God save Mother Nature!

  • The Power Saver option in your laptop/desktop. Yes, it’s as important to most of us just like we all need sleep, but keeping your machine switched on 24x7? I think that’s a crime. While going for lunch at your mess or work-cafeteria, ensure that you switch your computer off. In fact, a major reason I refuse to have an internet connection outside office is to have no reason to switch on my laptop at home.

  • CFLs – I hate white lights. I think the best way to light up a room is have the yellow lights in shades that diffuse the light and create a magical atmosphere in the room. But if CFL’s the answer, then so be it. And why on earth would you need all the fans in a room switched on? You may look like a freak but use only the one that is likely to have the most effect on you.

  • Paper cups for your daily intake of caffeine – I was just standing near the vending machine when I realized that people use the paper cups for a swig of water and throw it away. On an average 15 cups per person might get used up every day. Since then I pick up my cup of coffee in the morning and use it for refills throughout the day and get my bottle along to fill up water and chug it down whenever I’m thirsty. In fact, the best option would be to invest in a mug and save even that one paper cup per day.

  • Switch off every unused light source, stop every dripping tap you see and you can make a whole lot of difference to this world. In fact, I love the policy in my company where they switch off most lights on the floor during lunch hours.

And finally here’s something I want myself to do and haven’t had a success – stop using the elevators. I want to use the stairs more often than I do. That should be the next hurdle to cross.

The Intellectual Elitist

There are certain problems associated with working under some of the best professors in their fields. They inculcate a sense of perfection in you which is hard to let go of. You are never satisfied with half baked answers. You always want proof even for your own assumptions; unless it’s one of those hunches you tend to pick up in the markets wearing your shoes out. You begin to believe in JSTOR more than in Google; you begin to hate definitions picked up from the Internet, most of which are half baked or are not even cited. It becomes worse when you look down upon the greatest structure of Internet Democracy (in the form of Wiki) simply because of its lack of affiliation or accreditation.

It is then that you know that you have become an Intellectual Elitist to the extent of being called a snob; the word geek doesn’t come anymore as a form of insult; instead you begin to like it. You don’t mind questioning; you get upset when the answers are not there. And it’s then when you know that Man’s eternal quest for the Ultimate Truth still has a fighting chance.

October 31, 2007

Lifestyles

It’s been almost a week since I have been in Mumbai and like a movie in a fast forward motion, my life has changed dramatically. Mumbai has been this city which at one point of time meant just Marine Drive to me. It was always a pleasure to walk down the road, alone or with someone, with the sea murmuring beside you. Mumbai was the city with the most cooperative cab drivers. It was also the city of the greatest paradoxes where the rich and the poor play hide and seek on the same turf. But more than anything else Mumbai was Amitabh Bachhan in Deewar. The angry young man standing beside a window and remembering a lady walking down the streets with her two sons – Mumbai was always the city of dreams for me where the gutsiest of Indians "aaj bhi pheka hua paisa nahin uthate hain.

The last weekend saw me watching two movies and a play spending almost 25 times the amount I spent for a movie in Muzaffarpur (on each of them). From non descript hotel rooms I am in my own studio apartment trying to cook Noodle Italiano; (a recipe created by Amit’s and my miserable attempts at cooking), from mindlessly swapping channels in the evening to catching a really good play at Juhu with great company, from having Samosas for breakfast, lunch and dinner to having a proper breakfast with my eggs made ‘sunny side up’; life has turned different. However, the greatest kick till now has been visiting Sid’s place at Bandstand. He lives beside Mannat, a bungalow that incidentally has a certain Shahrukh Khan as its inhabitant. So my evening was spent in a beautiful room, where the winds swept you off your feet, seeing the dusk descend upon the sea while kids with their eyes full of dreams stood in front of Mannat with the desire of seeing their man of dreams in flesh and blood.

My love story with Mumbai will not be a short lived one. But I do wish it was still Bombay.

October 25, 2007

The Saddest Girl Ever Holding a Martini

She stood alone at a corner of the Alumni meet, the martini in her hand. Even after all these years, his eyes knew where to find her. She stood at a corner, against a tree, never looking up; the saddest girl ever holding a martini. Perhaps she was waiting for someone. He looked at the glass of juice he had held in his hand since he had come in. In the small swirls of his drink he could see the years as if everything happened yesterday. He never knew what had happened between them and he guessed neither did she. He knew she had attained what she thought she wanted; he also knew she had not achieved that one thing that could have made her truly happy. She had told him about it long back and he knew when exactly she had decided to destroy it. But then, they had pushed away each other.

He made up his mind. Slowly he walked behind the tree and humming to himself called up his imaginary wife. He hoped that the voice was loud enough. After a few minutes he looked around the trunk and saw no one.

He walked out and smiled to himself. Hate, disgust, anger; they were all better than sorrow. He could never let her be the saddest girl ever holding a martini. She hated him now. Perhaps she’ll be able to forget after all these years.

She looked at him from a distance. “Fool”, she thought. "Even after all these years he thought he should protect her." But somewhere deep down a young girl long dead within her wanted to receive that call.
She looked down at her martini. The liquid reflected back the saddest girl ever holding a martini.
PS: Title Courtesy, Vanilla Sky.

The Quintessential Bengali and the Durga Puja

Someone told me that we Bengalis have the habit of making life seem more dramatic than it actually is. I believe that it depends on how you look at it. While at home during Durga Puja, I wondered how this festival had turned out to be for us Bengalis. This is a festival where no one bothers about how mythology combines with local traditions. The Goddess is seen as the daughter of every Bengali family; she herself has a family of her own.
This is where your perception about Bengalis comes into play. You could either consider it a huge family melodrama competing with the K-serials for the prime time spots or you could consider it the ultimate simplification of the complexities of religion to a form for the masses. Take your pick.

For me even the incessant noises of Calcutta during the Pujas hold a special meaning. You had introduced me to Neil Diamond. And here’s something from him,

What a beautiful noise
Coming out from the street
Got a beautiful sound
It’s got a beautiful beat
It’s a beautiful noise

October 24, 2007

The Hiatus

Things have been strange for the last month or so and the blog was at rest. But the writing wasn’t. And then like an unseen catastrophe, the laptop’s hard drive decided to take a break too and with it was gone all that I had written about my last few visits to the cities of Bihar. The paradox that is Gaya and Bodhgaya, the once proud Darbhanga, the practices of Gauna, suddenly they were gone.
And like most of life, I realized that perhaps it was done to stop me from being emotionally caught up with yet another place. This blog was never meant to be a personal diary. So it doesn’t matter what happened in these few weeks. What matters is that Life, at the last count is always beautiful.
But one thing did happen. After 6 long years, I was back in Calcutta for the Pujas.

September 10, 2007

Bindaas Bihar

I have to write about Darbhanga and Gaya in some later post but for tonight let it be about my stay in Bihar. From tomorrow there would be no more scared awakenings in the dead of the night hearing footsteps in the empty corridors of my hotels. A drunken Bhojpuri song exactly at 23:30 hrs every night will not serve as my alarm bell. The burning funeral pyres on the banks of the Ganges will not remind me of the eerie stories of my childhood on the journey back on unknown trains (where it’s deemed unsafe to even open the doors unless the train stops at a station). There would no more calling up my cellular operator help desk and feeling helpless. There would no more be samosas for lunch, breakfast AND dinner. There would be no more breaking of stereotypes every single day.

Life moves on leaving behind unforgettable memories. I move on to experience another India.

Bindaas Bihar

I have to write about Darbhanga and Gaya in some later post but for tonight let it be about my stay in Bihar. From tomorrow there would be no more scared awakenings in the dead of the night hearing footsteps in the empty corridors of my hotels. A drunken Bhojpuri song exactly at 23:30 hrs every night will not serve as my alarm bell. The burning funeral pyres on the banks of the Ganges will not remind me of the eerie stories of my childhood on the journey back on unknown trains (where it’s deemed unsafe to even open the doors unless the train stops at a station). There would no more calling up my cellular operator help desk and feeling helpless. There would no more be samosas for lunch, breakfast AND dinner. There would be no more breaking of stereotypes every single day.

Life moves on leaving behind unforgettable memories. I move on to experience another India.

Farewell Old Friend

As I pack my bags for the early journey tomorrow, I look at my old blue bag, my partner in crime since I left home for the first time. Father Time takes his toll on everything and everyone under the sun and he did not leave my old faithful alone. Be it Singapore or Samastipur, my blue bag has been my signature. It has partnered with me in every single one of my travels since July 2001. But old friend, it’s time to rest now. Time you sat comfortably in a corner of my room with my mom doting on you everyday, dusting you now and again. You know what? You could tell our stories to my envious cassettes and books who miss me as much as I miss them.

Adios for now, I promise you one last journey together.

September 03, 2007

Of Ice Creams, Movies, Cricket and being a Bong

Sometimes Sundays do spoil you. Today was one of those very few. First I wake up after a much needed sleep, look at the Times of India sleepily and decide to do some work for Dad. The Sleep Fairy strikes again and then Sid knocks with the good news that Hot Chocolate Fudge is available in an ice cream parlour nearby.

In the evening I was spoilt for choices. A long awaited screening of Bobby in Zee Cinema, Tendulkar and Ganguly firing away to glory like the old times, I knew it would be a tough decision. But as India seemed to let go of another match, I started swapping the channels, and there was Saptapadi being screened in Zee Bangla.

As much as I loved Bobby, as much as I considered myself a patriot rooting for Team India, the Bong in me could not come to terms with the idea of missing the last 20 minutes of Saptapadi.


A Sunday worth its name. India wins the match, Rina Brown finally gets together with Krishnendu Mukherjee and Bobby and Raju jumps into a mountain stream but continues to live.

Trivia - Saptapadi is my all time favourite Bengali movie. And one of the very few where my dad's views match with mine. We both agree that the original story was more beautiful. It did not show a happy ending. Perhaps in real life there are very few Happy Endings.

Afterthought - When the villain introduced himself to Bobby as "Prem, Prem naam hain mera. Prem Chopra." did he ever think that a couple of decade later, Prem will be the most used screen name of our Sallu Bhai?

Ijjazat

Misunderstandings. They happen always; between families, between friends. Ijjazat has always been one of the movies I have always wondered about. Where your sympathy would lie, completely depends on your mood of the moment.

But the memories that we leave behind, can anyone return them to us?
meraa kuchh saamaan tumhaare paas padaa hain
saawan ke kuchh bheege bheege din rakhe hain

aaur mere yek khat mein lipatee raat padee hain

wo raat buzaa do, meraa wo saamaan lautaa do


patazad hain kuchh, hain naa .. ..

patazad mein kuchh patton ke girane kee aahat

kaanon mein ek baar pahan ke lautaayee thee

patazad kee wo shaakh abhee tak kaanp rahee hain

wo shaakh giraa do, meraa wo saamaan lautaa do


yek akelee chhatree mein jab aadhe aadhe bheeg rahe the

aadhe sukhe aadhe geele, sukhaa to main le aaee thee

gilaa man shaayad, bistar ke paas padaa ho

wo bhijawaa do, meraa wo saamaan lautaa do


yek so solah chaand kee raate, yek tumhaare kaandhee kaa teel

geelee mehandee kee khushaboo, zoothhamoothh ke shikawe kuchh

zoothhamoothh ke waade bhee, sab yaad karaa do

sab bhijawaa do, meraa wo saamaan lautaa do


ek ijaajat de do bas

jab is ko dafanaaoongee

main bhee wahee so jaaoongee

September 01, 2007

Washing away the Filth of Humanity - Rajgir

Rajagriha means the house of the Kings. Many do not know that it was the first capital of the erstwhile kingdom of Magadha. It was much later that the capital shifted to Pataliputra. In fact, if some sources are to be believed, this was the Kingdom of Jarasandha in the times of Mahabharata. A journey of around three hours from Patna, Rajgir is one of those places with an immense potential as a tourist spot, but the apathy of the administration never allowed it to be counted as one. First of all, there is a serious lack of good hotels. The two government establishments are a perfect example of the decadence that results out of the apathy. The room that I stayed in was big enough for five-a-side football match while the bath could easily accommodate a double bed and yet, few would be ready to bring their families there. Not because the hotel fails to meet the standards but because the concerns for safety and security are not entirely misplaced.

There is an Archaeological Society of India site at Rajgir, history to much of India’s glorious past and a pilgrimage for both Buddhist and Jain scholars. Running short of time, it was difficult to go trekking on the inviting mountain slopes, but a walk down the near empty roads soaking in the beautiful scenery all around was enough for the eyes and the soul. Here, the stupa of Ajatashatru lies forgotten between shanties that have come up all around. Time never forgives anyone. He was the one responsible for the shift of the capital from this city while keeping his father Bimbisara captive here. However, I shall have to come back again in order to climb the mountains to Gridhhakuta (Vulture’s peak) and Saptaparni, the site of the first Buddhist Council.

Sawan is an important month in these parts of the world, but more about that in another post maybe. Rajgir is also famous for its hot water springs, within the deep kunds of the Laxmi Narayan Temple. And immersed in water in the warm waters of the kund is where the title of my post originates.

I am thankful, Rajgir has been forgotten by the city dwellers and holiday package tour guides. Still it remains one of those places where the poor and the homeless can come without fear for their rendezvous with the Gods. And unlikely many others, here it’s not yet a pilgrimage for the rich, perhaps because the rich will not take the pains of travelling the unchartered territories.

The Kund still pours out the hot water like they have done for ages and people of every class of life takes a dip in that water, believing that it washes away their misdeeds. We live today, in hope for a better afterlife.

The kund quietly gurgles washing away the filth of the human mind. Everyone gets out and goes back to live the life they have always led, safe in the thought that redemption came about without a price tag.

(Picture courtesy: wiki)

Washing away the Filth of Humanity - Rajgir

Rajagriha means the house of the Kings. Many do not know that it was the first capital of the erstwhile kingdom of Magadha. It was much later that the capital shifted to Pataliputra. In fact, if some sources are to be believed, this was the Kingdom of Jarasandha in the times of Mahabharata. A journey of around three hours from Patna, Rajgir is one of those places with an immense potential as a tourist spot, but the apathy of the administration never allowed it to be counted as one. First of all, there is a serious lack of good hotels. The two government establishments are a perfect example of the decadence that results out of the apathy. The room that I stayed in was big enough for five-a-side football match while the bath could easily accommodate a double bed and yet, few would be ready to bring their families there. Not because the hotel fails to meet the standards but because the concerns for safety and security are not entirely misplaced.

There is an Archaeological Society of India site at Rajgir, history to much of India’s glorious past and a pilgrimage for both Buddhist and Jain scholars. Running short of time, it was difficult to go trekking on the inviting mountain slopes, but a walk down the near empty roads soaking in the beautiful scenery all around was enough for the eyes and the soul. Here, the stupa of Ajatashatru lies forgotten between shanties that have come up all around. Time never forgives anyone. He was the one responsible for the shift of the capital from this city while keeping his father Bimbisara captive here. However, I shall have to come back again in order to climb the mountains to Gridhhakuta (Vulture’s peak) and Saptaparni, the site of the first Buddhist Council.

Sawan is an important month in these parts of the world, but more about that in another post maybe. Rajgir is also famous for its hot water springs, within the deep kunds of the Laxmi Narayan Temple. And immersed in water in the warm waters of the kund is where the title of my post originates.


I am thankful, Rajgir has been forgotten by the city dwellers and holiday package tour guides. Still it remains one of those places where the poor and the homeless can come without fear for their rendezvous with the Gods. And unlikely many others, here it’s not yet a pilgrimage for the rich, perhaps because the rich will not take the pains of travelling the unchartered territories.

The Kund still pours out the hot water like they have done for ages and people of every class of life takes a dip in that water, believing that it washes away their misdeeds. We live today, in hope for a better afterlife.

The kund quietly gurgles washing away the filth of the human mind. Everyone gets out and goes back to live the life they have always led, safe in the thought that redemption came about without a price tag.

August 29, 2007

My India

Sis never fails to surprise me. Be it a sudden phone call, be it her memory and attention to the most minute of details, she is always one step ahead of the smartest people I have met in my life. But yesterday she surprised me by sending in this picture.






They say pictures speak a thousand words. This picture perhaps sums up all that I have tried to say in my blog about the floods in Bihar all this while.





There are some people in this world who have the ability to laugh at anything life throws at them. And in these parts of India I have found such people aplenty. There are problems I admit, but then very few things in this world are perfect. We can opt to crib about what we do not have or fruitlessly blame the system or we can take a cue from people who are fighters to the very end. I have seen similar tales of grit and determination over the last few months. I have seen the same smile on the faces of people forced to abandon their homes.





At least the gentleman in the picture saved his last precious possession. I have seen Gandak destroy everything and everyone along its banks.



August 19, 2007

Pataliputra



Long long ago, in the glory days of Indian civilization, there used to be a kingdom called Magadh, one of the erstwhile Mahajanapads of India. Though the world remembers Porus and his famous clash with Alexander, it was Chandragupta Maurya who put an end to the first invasion of the Indus and Ganges by the West and established the Mauryan Empire. This was the age that gave India it’s own Machiavelli in the form of the shrewd Kautilya, whose Artha Sashtra is something I believe should be a part of the curriculum in any B school of the world. The kingdom centred around its capital, Pataliputra and thus began India’s peaceful invasion into foreign lands holding the hands of a powerful new religion, Buddhism. It was the land that gave India its greatest emperors. This was the land that not only nurtured the World’s Greatest Religions but also gave Modern India its direction post independence holding the hands of Ashoka. And here in Pataliputra, known today as Patna I continued my love story with Bihar.



The first thing that struck me was how an entire civilization had been wiped off by the hands of time. Today the glory days of the past are remnant only in the names of hotels around me, Chanakya, Maurya, Pataliputra Ashok etc etc. The town is an urban jungle like most other capital cities in the country, the only difference being that the right of the road has been clearly distinguished here. In Patna, the first right to use the roads lies with the cows, next come cars with the red lights, then auto rickshaws, then the cars with the yellow lights, then rickshaws, then motorbikes with helmet less riders and finally to the common man. In fact, Patna is the only city where rickshaws are allowed everywhere. A capital city with no public transport! I think this has been accepted by the people around.



Like other Indian Metros, Patna too is witnessing the coming up of a large number of flyovers. And when it rains like it has been raining for the last one month, things go completely berserk. Standing instructions are always to leave the road to the buffalos under such a situation. The city is the first in Bihar to experience the entry of Modern Retail and it would be interesting to see how things turn out in the long run.



But everything put together, I find Patna a nice city. The Gandhi Maidan at the centre of the city serves as the heart of Patna. It has its own Cannaught Place in the form of Maurya Lok which serves an amazing variety of Panipuris. The Sanjay Gandhi Botanical Garden, which laymen like us will call Patna Zoo is the ‘Patna ki fefra’ by its own admission. The Ganges is nearby making everyone admit that it’s all right to waste water in ‘jis diesh mein Ganga behti hain’. The people of Patna also have a favourite pastime wherein they take you to visit the House of Laloo. Though the erstwhile first couple of Bihar has shifted from their famous Anne Marg residence, their new house still has hundreds of visitors lined up every day for the ‘darshan’. And there are shamianas put up for them.



The month I spent at the capital of Bihar was enlightening. Always of the opinion that as a free citizen of a free nation it’s shameful to be afraid of anything anywhere and at anytime within the boundaries of the country, I was pretty chilled out. But then one night during the course of returning from work, scenes from Omkara, Shool, Apharan and Kalyug kept flashing before my eyes. Every story we hear has a beginning in a grain of truth.



And yet, four of us could safely walk back to our hotel in the dead of the night without any worries after a rather eventful show of Partner in the night show at a nearby movie hall, where they serve free samosas to ‘Diamond’ ticket holders.





Classics heard while at work in Patna,




“Look at your side. That’s where the Indian Airlines Flight crashed sometime back.”



“You want a helmet? Don’t worry, no one will say anything.” (Personal Safety????)





“Do anything in Patna. Just never get on the wrong side of the Police.”



“That’s the police station public set fire to yesterday,”





“Sir, we know why you are here.” (Something I did not want further clarification on)



“Sir, Madamji bhi saath aayi hain kya?” (Spluttered tea all over)





Nothing remains complete without a mention of the splurge I make on food invariably wherever I go. In that aspect, Patna is an expensive city, something I found very strange in Bihar. Even before the floods hit the state, the cost of the vegetables in the mandis had been higher than I had witnessed in Calcutta. Anyway, Patna is a heaven for anyone who loves a good dish of mutton. In fact, after seeing Chicken Dosa on the menu at a hotel in Bangalore I had convinced myself that few things on an Indian’s platter could surprise me, and yet there was an extremely popular dish called Chura Mutton. It’s basically a mutton preparation accompanying a healthy dose of chura. Next in line would be Litti Chokha. If there’s anything Bihar eats more than Samosas, it has to be Litti. And then of course there is Makahana, something that seems to grow under water and the seeds pop up like American corn at your nearest movie theatre. It seems that’s the biggest export of the Mithila Belt.



Most of us, including me, make this direct connection between the Bhojpuri dialect and Bihar. But the place where I have been for a considerable time now, swears by Maithili. The Maithili songs are immensely melodious, specially the folk versions. It seems it would not be a bad idea to research a bit on the origins of the folk music but somehow work prevents me from doing that.






Bihar continues to struggle under the worst flood in decades.


August 17, 2007

Fear

It was an afternoon like any other. I was at the market, trying to see if any nuggets of consumer insight could come my way. The wait was in vain. All approach roads to Muzaffarpur had been cut off. The feeder market was servicing itself and trying to stay alive. And then suddenly it happened.

A cycle came running in from the direction of the Akaharaghat Bridge. The rider seemed in a state of shock. The traders were out from their shop in an instant. The man stabilized after a moment and then gave the news. The embankments on the sides of Gandak had given away. The water was moving in and would soon flood the last remaining island in the district, the city of Muzaffarpur.

They say bad news travels fast. I still have the news alert sent on my mobile by Airtel, “Buri Gandak dam has given away”. Within minutes I saw the market clear off. The main city market bore the desolate look it adorns at night and I stood there wondering. After a long time in my life, I saw panic in the eyes of the people around me, i could sense the fear in the atmosphere. We were like mice trapped in a cage which some cruel boy playfully was letting down into a bucket full of water. Nature was playing with us.

The entire incident took place in exactly 8 minutes and yet, everything seemed to happen in slow motion.
Fear, it cripples even the sense of time.

The Latest TV Ads

Recently Government enforced ban on the screening of few ads on Indian Television. And though it warranted a post as much as a post on our new President, sometimes age and work begins to tell on you.

Let’s write then about simpler things. About ads that seem to stand out amongst the ones that we get bombarded with everyday. The first one definitely is the one of Iodex. The gentleman sees a Rs. 500 note lying on the ground, pauses for a while and walks away and while you wonder if some ethical message is due soon, Iodex tells you that relieving back pain can be a good idea.

The “Gorgeous Hamesha” ad by a hair oil(Parachute). Beautiful music, something you would not want to swap with your remote and that’s where it succeeds, in capturing its audience. By the way, her name is Kritika Kamra.

Alpenliebe and Kajol. One of the most talented actresses, (though wasted in the ad as she possibly won’t be identified by the target audience with a candy) she carries around the alligator with her with ease. I just hope that she is not inspiring youngsters to throw food at the animals at our zoos.

Airtel. Though I crib while uploading every post of mine about the irregular connectivity of my cellular network and my internet, I love the ideas that the airtel ads come up with. The one with the little kid, the rains and a father in the middle of a desert pulls at your heart.

The Latest TV Ads

Recently Government enforced ban on the screening of few ads on Indian Television. And though it warranted a post as much as a post on our new President, sometimes age and work begins to tell on you.


Let’s write then about simpler things. About ads that seem to stand out amongst the ones that we get bombarded with everyday. The first one definitely is the one of Iodex. The gentleman sees a Rs. 500 note lying on the ground, pauses for a while and walks away and while you wonder if some ethical message is due soon, Iodex tells you that relieving back pain can be a good idea.


The “Gorgeous Hamesha” ad by Parachute. Beautiful music, something you would not want to swap with your remote and that’s where it succeeds, in capturing its audience. By the way, her name is Kritika Kamra.


Alpenliebe and Kajol. One of the most talented actresses, (though wasted in the ad as she possibly won’t be identified by the target audience with a candy) she carries around the alligator with her with ease. I just hope that she is not inspiring youngsters to throw food at the animals at our zoos.Airtel. Though I crib while uploading every post of mine about the irregular connectivity of my cellular network and my internet, I love the ideas that the Airtel ads come up with. The one with the little kid, the rains and a father in the middle of a desert pulls at your heart.

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi

In the 60th year of our independence, I came across this article in one of my old saved texts, written by Sudhir Mishra, the director of this beautiful movie. Living in Bihar where around half of the movie is based and where like me, the three main protagonists rediscovered themselves every single day, the thousand desires of a forgotten generation seemed to reach out to me. The Generation that they represented was a generation before mine but letting go of the past is something that we Indians are not very good at.

To India, my Native land... Derozio knew what he was talking about.
Here is the article...
"At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India shall awake to light and freedom..."

That was India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, addressing the about-to-be independent nation. Panditji, as he was fondly called, was getting a bit carried away and committing a horological error. When India awoke to "light and freedom", the world was NOT asleep. It was, for instance, 2 in the afternoon in New York.

However, most in my father's generation overlooked these minor aberrations. They loved him and believed in the "light and freedom" angle of his dream. They needed to. Because there was 'darkness' all around. More than a million had been killed during the partition of India and they had inherited an impoverished nation from the British in more ways than one.

By this time my elder brother and sisters (not that I had any) went to college in the late '60s, the Nehruvian dream had faded and India was being crushed under the weight of a thousand desires.

A Maoist inspired extreme left movement had erupted in the eastern state of Bengal and the long suppressed lower caste of India were finally reacting..

This is the story of my imaginary siblings' reaction to those times. And as I tried to tell the story, certain characters emerged and surprised me with where they wanted to go. It became a story of how one begins life in a certain way, but how it takes twists in ways unimagined. Of how the 'worst' can be in the 'best' and how the 'best' resides in the 'worst'.

So while it may be the story of a generation I idolized and saw dissipating, a generation that I still have faith in, and which will gasp one more time before dying, it is also my story. Because the best and the worst of India also resides within me.
If someone is interested further, here is another article.

August 07, 2007

Vijay Deenanath Chavan

Set Max was screening Agneepath. Everytime I compare it with Scarface, it wins every single time simply because of this amazing piece of Poetry by the Late Harivansh Rai Bachhan.
Agneepath Agneepath Agneepath,
Vriksh ho bhale ghane, ho ghane ho bade,
Ek pat chhav ki mang mat, mang mat,
Agneepath Agneepath Agneepath.
Tu na thakega kabhi, tu na thamega kabhi, tu na mudega kabhi,
Kar shapath, kar shapath, kar shapath,
Agneepath, Agneepath, Agneepath.
Ye mahaan drishya hai,
chal raha manushya hai,
Ashru shwet raqt se lathpath, lathpath, lathpath,
Agneepath, Agneepath, Agneepath.
Set Max seems to be hell bent on destroying my plans of waking up early. They have started screening Guddi. At least I'll clean up my excel sheets.

Friendship Day

Before the age old debate starts about keeping aside a specific day for any emotion or relationship, I would like to make my stand clear. I do not mind it. What I mind is that when such a specific day comes the chords in the heart start playing the old forgotten numbers, once patched wounds let out the pain stored hidden in them and Airtel begins to send you irritating messages to download yet another ring tone.

And yet, somehow that got me thinking. Almost 10 years ago, a little girl called me up to stop by her house after school so that she could give me her self made Friendship Band. One of the very few to wear such a thing to school, I was in for a surprise next year. Suddenly everyone in school seemed to be talking about it. And my little girl kept on making the bands for me till I left for Pilani.

We were growing up. On our way back from school, we put on our smug, little chauvinistic faces and discussed the demerits of an Archies outlet near a Girl's School. And I'm sure every single one of that gang of ours secretly wished the other would get the 'Guy' Bands made for ourselves.

In Pilani, it used to come just after the new session started and it seemed to be fading away in importance. But I was proven wrong from my second year onwards. People made preparations for it during the summer holidays itself. A dinner at C'not was the minimum one could ask for.

At IIMB, we were reminded of it by the cards sent from Old Friends. In your first year, you hardly knew anyone and by the time you got to know people, it was time to leave.

And today, all alone in a hotel, engulfed in silence broken only by the Rabindrasangeet on my laptop, and the occasional shout of a drunken reveler in the roads, it seems that time travel is a necessity in such times.

Two songs come to mind, the first one is for all those who I want to grow old with, who I want to meet for the last time if suddenly I know the world is coming to an end tomorrow.

Old Friends - Simon and Garfunkel


Old friends,
Old friends
Sat on their park bench
Like bookends.
A newspaper blown though the grass
Falls on the round toes
Of the high shoes
Of the old friends.

Old friends,
Winter companions,
The old men
Lost in their overcoats,
Waiting for the sunset.
The sounds of the city,
Sifting through trees,
Settle like dust
On the shoulders
Of the old friends.

Can you imagine us
Years from today,
Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange
To be seventy.
Old friends,
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fears


The Second one is for the wish that I could have made up for all that happened. I wish we could have one more chance.

Friends Never Say Goodbye - Elton John

There isn't much I haven't shared
With you along the road
And through it all there'd always be
Tomorrow's episode
Suddenly that isn't true
There's another avenue
Beckoning the great divide
Ask no questions, take no side
Who's to say who's right or wrong
Whose course is braver run
Still we are, have always been
Will ever be as one

What is done has been done for the best
Though the mist in my eyes might suggest
Just a little confusion about what I'll lose
But if I started over I know I would choose
The same joy the same sadness each step of the way
That fought me and tought me that friends never say
Never say goodbye
Never say goodbye
Never say goodbye
Never say goodbye

Suddenly that isn't true
There's another avenue
Beckoning, the great divide
I would choose
The same joy the same sadness each step of the way
That fought me and taught me that friends never say
Never say goodbye
Never say goodbye
Never say goodbye
Never say goodbye


To Friends, old and new and not yet met...

August 03, 2007

Mera Bharat Mahaan

Every news channel and newspaper has been carrying horror stories of the floods that we are witnessing and yet everything seems so peaceful. People have left their houses to live in the school buildings and yet everything is peaceful. At times, I silently pray for a boat service in the main roads of the city and yet everyone here is at peace. Everyone has come to expect certain things in Bihar. There will be rains, the rivers will not be de-silted and the drains will not be cleaned and of course Nepal will let go of its excess water. Everyone believes in Chalta hain. Sab kuch yahan pe chalta hain. Since our childhood we have been taught to adjust. We adjust to everything around us. And as I fret and fume I hear myself telling a newcomer, don’t worry Chalta Hain. Almost 5 lakh people displaced in Bihar alone and yet sabkuch Chalta hain. The National Highway 57 is now a refuge for people displaced from their homes and yet Sabkuch Chalta hain.

These were some of the headlines in Today’s TOI:

Bagmati shows rising trends again

District Administration orders closure of schools

Rivers flowing over danger mark

Passengers stranded at Samastipur

NH-57: The home for homeless

Kareh embankment breaches at two places

And while the world around them did not care a fig about it and I with all my high and mightiness was just a mere spectator ranting at night on my keyboard, there were people who collected funds out of their own will to send Chura and Gur to as many families as possible. Yes, it’s true that given a chance, I would not allow that anywhere near human consumption but when hunger strikes and water dances all around you in its mad ecstasy of destruction, I guess you don’t have a choice.

Sandrine had asked me while she was at IIMB on exchange, “What gives you so much confidence about your country?” The answers I had given then were somehow not satisfactory even to me. But today, seeing the sun after almost a fortnight and humming “Sunshine on my shoulders” as I watched people pack the food relief, I knew this was the answer I was looking for.