December 29, 2010


Winter was a beautiful season as I grew up. The packaged vegetables were yet not available throughout the year and there were things mom could make only during winter – vegetable stew, soups, koraishutir kochuri and the likes. Nolen gurer sondesh would come into existence only during winter and suddenly mom would be making a lot more cauliflowers at dinner.

The magic of winter perhaps is dead today. You get the peas all through the year, some extra currency notes opens the freezer to bring out frozen veggies, the only saving grace being the sondesh. They still come only in winter. And you have to travel to Calcutta for them. Of course there is this new animal called, nolen gurer ice cream – that’s like Madhubala in modern day mini skirts. Yucks!!! Well, to be honest, they in any other name would perhaps tasted better.

I remember the shawls that used to come out and the monkey caps – the quintessential attire for the Bong ready to take on the winter. Give us our woollen socks, cotswool vests, shawls and monkey caps and we will be ready to race Captain Scott to the Arctic, of course from the confines of our very own “Babluda’s Tea Shop”.

Winter means the official passport to laziness. Missing a class because you just could not pull yourself out of bed seems perfectly logical. In fact not opting for classes that start in the “near freezing Bangalore temperatures” was a common habit. After all, if your future depends on your dreams, should you not sleep some more? And we did.

Mumbai this year has been the coldest I have seen in my four years and it feels nice, nice to be lazy once in a while and sleep those extra 15 minutes. We have grown up, a class can be missed, probably not a telecon. That’s when you realize you perhaps are not the masters of your own destiny.

But winters, harsh as they may be to the families under the flyover outside your office, also lets the fortunate amongst us to feel a bit of relief in this tropical country. We are city rats - having never lived beyond the confines of a “bursting at the seams” metropolis, we seldom understand how peaceful it can be under a spreading Banyan Tree on a hot summer afternoon. So we wait for our winters to show off our fake pashminas and probably original Marco Polo pullovers.

Yes we wore blazers to senior school and somehow for the first time, I had felt the urge to defy the authority. No body forced anyone to wear them but there were the ones who could afford it easily and others who could not. They were the first signs of social difference that crept in our “still very middle class Bengali” missionary school. In summers, post the recess everyone was drenched in sweat. In winter, you could easily show off your new blazer. Well, only 2 students could afford a cell phone.

Winters today are a lot about the coffee shops. You sit there with a warm cappuccino and discuss bonuses and appraisals as the year draws to an end. The bong now is a lot more smart – he knows Babluda’s tea shop is not hep and happening.

And that’s why you will see the Bong slip away from the Shivaji Park CCD to head towards the irani café for a cutting chai and a bun maska. He waits and hums – Sondesh e aate hain, hume tarpate hain. His mom is sending nolen gurer sondesh for him with his uncle’s neighbour’s daughter’s classmate. The ones in Sweet Bengal are just too costly.

And then he remembers his favourite quote from school – “If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

But Spring? Does that even exist anymore? We are better well off enjoying our winters.

December 27, 2010

Another Christmas and An Old City

Chandler came back home because he could not make himself spend Christmas in Tulsa - alone, away from Monica and his friends. Perhaps I am not as strong as him and I do miss going home during Durga Puja quite a few times and so Chandler remains a hero in my eyes. But for me even Christmas is big – I have probably spent more Christmas at home than any other festival and given that we have a strong missionary influence on our education, Christmas meant something special as we grew up. On the last school day before the Christmas vacations, we would have an elaborate function with Christmas Carols and plays and then we would come home to cakes from Nahoums. The plum and the fruit cakes were the ones to die for. And somehow, magically they tasted better at Christmas.

This Christmas I was all set to spend in Mumbai. The midnight mass was becoming a regular fixture, unless of course I was in Hyderabad meeting people important to the important people in my life. (That line almost had an Inception-isque tone to it!!!) Anyway, I was about to meet Sheila, someone would have been brave enough to go with me. And then suddenly I had to travel to Bangalore on work. Frankly, I did not mind. This was one city where my Christmases had been spent dressed up as Santa. And while I can’t be the Grand Old Man again, I thought it will not be bad to see Christmas outside the IIMB campus.

And when you walk all around your favourite places in the city with one of your closest friends, Christmas indeed seems magical. In fact, two of us felt that we were back to the place where it all started. And Christmas just got better on Boxing Day. I managed to have the most awesome Bisibelle Bhath at another friend’s house, after having successfully travelled to Yellhanka and then realizing Yellehanka is not Hebbal as much as the auto driver and the bus conductor would want to make me believe. And finally to top it all off, the Christmas weekend dinner was at Sues, the only Caribbean restaurant I have ever liked with possibly the best Christmas Plum Cake I have had this year. See real food is as important as food for thought :)

The funny part is that the only city I have seen embrace Christmas in its entirety is Calcutta. Both Mumbai and Bangalore seem to be trying hard to show they celebrate Christmas but a few Christmas trees and thin Santas in malls don’t make Christmas. So it was left to me to find my own Christmas in Bengaluru.

My idea of Christmas is essentially Roman Catholic and often I am guilty of pre assuming that everywhere it will be the same and as I walked across the roads in Bangalore in the hope of hearing the bells of a Midnight Mass I figured how good the human race was adapting customs.

Recent reports in the newspapers seem to suggest that this is the time when India spends more than even Diwali. Perhaps it’s true. The temperatures bring down the rage that boils within this tropical country for most part of the year and the mood all around seems to be cheerful. People spend; in fact the Indian today is not afraid to spend and retailers and manufacturers across are trying to get a pie of this ever increasing rate of consumption.

But Christmas is so much more than consuming. To me Durga Puja is about the celebration of family and the triumph of Good over Evil; Diwali is about homecoming and celebrations and Christmas is always about being thankful for what we have received throughout the year, including the socks that Santa used to fill up regularly and religiously every one of my growing years.

I called up Mom the night before Christmas saying that she needs to hang my standard socks in my room while I would be doing the same in my room in Bangalore. Santa did visit Calcutta but skipped Bangalore. And I was really upset with the Old Man. Then Mom gave the perfectly logical reason. Santa has to now bring gifts even for my niece and he is not getting any younger. He would rather travel to three places for my niece than two for me. And I think that’s perfectly logical. Anyway given the Metro in Bangalore and Mumbai, I would not want his poor reindeers to get lost in this maze.

Merry Christmas everyone.

December 20, 2010

The Calcutta Derby

Few weeks ago, my friends on social networking sites had become Spanish. All through the day I got status updates which spoke about El Classico. It was slightly funny. As if all of them lived their lives in Madrid. It’s ok to follow any football league; it’s another to put up status messages about some random match in some random country. I had anyway given up on fat ManU fans and skinny arsenal warriors. The EPL I understand can have a socio cultural reason; the Brits taught us the game! But come on, The Spanish League?

And that day I decided to write a post, a post about an idiot, a staunch supporter of a football club I hate, my oldest friend, my partner from the gang of the last remaining North Calcuttans.

When we were in school, the only football we discussed apart from the World Cup were the Calcutta Legaue, IFA Shield, Durand Cup, Fed Cup and a few other tournaments which we followed with our radios and newspapers. I still remembered in the early 90s, when Mohun Bagan signed Chima as the first foreigner, I was really really upset. Then when we whisked away Krishanu De and Bikash Panji from under their noses during the transfer season, I had done a little jig in the Tiffin Break while he refused to speak to me for a week. As if I had betrayed him.

The Calcutta Derby is perhaps the slowest game of football that is being played today. When I watch it on TV, I can see the reason why any other football league is preferred by my friends. But still some of the bongs never fail to turn up in Yuvabharati carrying their Hilsa or the Lobster depending on whom they support. But things have changed.

The Barettos, Muritala and Chidi dominate the teams; we have not only lost our football but our footballers too. Even the coaches, Naim or Diamond Dutta are no longer the toast of the Calcutta giants.

The passion has definitely come down. Goa and Kerala have perhaps got out even better football teams in the recent years than Calcutta. We have lost Md. Sporting and Tollygunj Agragami and have just added Chirag. But then Indian Football has lost Mahindras. All in all, we are not hep and happening any more. It’s like Jatras of Bengal. If a kid can watch Tron, why will he watch “patir punne satir punno”? (In the good deeds of the husband is the good deed of the devout wife)

So the main reason I am writing this is because I have lost the passion myself. It doesn’t matter to me anymore if the news channel reports that Bagan has held Dempo to a draw and not the other way round but if the Calcutta Derby comes up, I never miss a chance to call up and claim that this time we will give them a 5-0 drubbing. But he has remained true. He follows the team, ensures he is at the matches and celebrates the wins, whenever that happens.

But I think one day we will get back our football and then we will continue to fight over who wins the Calcutta Derby but with more pride than El Classico!

December 09, 2010

Legends and Oaths

The Gangetic plains were known since ancient times as the land of legends. And long long time ago there lived a noble prince. One day, he took two terrible oaths, unheard of in all Aryavat. History calls him Bhishma. His stories inspired his clan and the whole of India became oath takers. And all went well till one day Dharam Paji said, “kutte kamine main tera khun pi jaoonga” but did not go ahead and drink the blood at all. We lost our moral high ground.

But a few years after that, a boy was born. His parents named him like a nice Bengali boy should be named, but Fate had decided otherwise. He was soon called Banjo. This is his story, rather the story of his oath.

Banjo loved watching movies. He also felt a close connection to Bollywood and more so to Johnny Lever, the first to travel to the path of light from the soap lines. But then the world in his times worshipped the Khans. Dejected, he decided to watch all movies and write “chote chote, chote chote” reviews about them. In all his innocence one day he wanted to watch a movie about snakes and brain tumour and a woman and a foolish police officer. And people told him, “Banjo, you want to watch porn? What’s wrong with you?” Some even advised, “there are some websites, you know. You might want….”

That’s when the soul of Pitahmaha Bhisma spoke in his ears and Banjo promised, “I shall not write a review till I write the review of Hissss and a few more ssss” and it took him a trip outside Mumbai to finally watch it. And he kept his promise.

First of all, we have been unkind to the movie. It’s an amateurish movie but definitely I have watched worse ones. Let’s say it’s an Anaconda meets Species trying to emulate Nagin. Now that’s the biggest challenge. Nagin has always been Sridevi and probably a little bit of Reena Roy and a collection of not so great supporting cast did not help the cause of the movie. Irfaan Khan was wasted, at times the snake resembled a dinosaur. Ms. Sherawat did not have a dialogue through the movie and that really helped her. If only the screenplay made a little more sense and had intelligent dialogues, it would at least have been perfectly watchable.

Jootha Hi Sahi was an honest effort gone haywire. The story had an interesting plot but once you try to make a story all too predictable, it loses its charms. Also it does not make sense if you let go of the well timed comedy that made Jaane Tu so endearing. You understand why John needs to start his love story with a lie but then the events and the situations seem very strained and set up. He lies, plays a dual role for the girl he loves, Madhavan comes and rants and raves for no apparent reason, there is a Japanese guy who keeps on proclaiming his love for a Pakistani girl, there is the customary gay story but none of them make any sense.

Golmaal 3 on the other hand delivers only what it promises. There is a complete lack of sense, everyone is an orphan, Mithun comes and does a cameo and I once again sigh at the brilliant actor who won 2 national awards.

Break Ke Baad is a movie that you can watch once but never twice. In fact, what happens after Break Ke Baad is completely confusing. The concept makes sense. After 10 years, you just might feel the itch and decide to see how things might work out if you take a break. And the story is convincing. It also shows the usual problems if a relationship becomes one sided or if distance and time zones come between two people, all very realistically. But why they came back to each other after Break ke Baad, is something which many intelligent friends of mine failed to understand. Leave me alone, as I said, I watch every movie and find them convincing.

Khelen Hum Jee Jaan Se was the biggest disappointment so far, maybe because I expected so much out of it. Ashutosh Gowarikar must take a leaf out of RGV. If a movie is becoming too long just make it in two parts :) It was an honest attempt to showcase a forgotten chapter of Indian Freedom Struggle. Abhishek with his restrained acting negated some of his horrifying hollers in Raavaan. Deepika and Vishakha Singh were a delight to watch. But the movie was slow and it missed the chance of being one more Valkyrie. Also it did not help that I was watching the movie with two of my oldest friends. Here are some of the gems I heard during the movie,

“Arre, this part about love story was not in our text book”

“He should have made a movie about Khudiram. Would have been short.”

“I am sure he did not make so many blunders in real life like Abhishek Bachhan is doing.”

“Arre, the kids are being sent to Andamans. What have they seen in life? He at least married once”

“Don’t cry yet. I am sure someone else will die soon.”

But the point is that a tighter script perhaps would have made a better movie, instead of giving us the sense of watching a very well made documentary. But I highly recommend it just for seeing how a bunch of young actors bloomed under the direction of a great director. As slowly the realization of the futility of their endeavour began to sink in, the young revolutionaries’ faces spoke of their dejection.

Aakrosh was one of the most powerful movies of recent times. Brilliant casting of Akshaye Khanna and Ajay Devgan ensured that Priyadarshan’s foray out of family comedies was successful. It might not have been a box office rage but it definitely was a story well told. I guess when you make movies on topics that media has already made a movie out of, it loses its sheen. Honour killings came in the mind space of the nation for a few months and then vanished again. As they say in the movie, “Let India win one match and the public forgets.”

But the movie to definitely not miss was the first instalment of Hari Puttar. The muggles who went to watch the movie thought it was boring and slow and that there was little or no magic. But for those Pottermaniacs amongst us this was a treat. True to the book, Deathly Hallows Part I was a perfect set up for the brilliant Part II we all are eagerly waiting for. But this Harry Potter is not for your little niece. Like you, Harry too has grown up. And that’s what makes it more real. We all grew up with him and we like to see the boy wizard finally fulfil his destiny.

The oath is fulfilled and Banjo is back. Bhishma rests once again in peace.

December 02, 2010

Being Big Brother

My sisters have always been important to me. Didi was always this Superwoman – the perfect One. My elder cousins were no less and I was a pampered kid as I grew up with the constant care of these elder sisters. But there was someone who was always special, my first girlfriend, my first wing woman, my only younger cousin. And I pampered her. I listened to everything she said. I never got angry with her even as she ensured I was linked to every best friend she made in school. She was my partner in crime; she demanded my time over every other matter which she considered unimportant. She never called me Dada, unless she had to really really show her affection. We discussed everything and I mean everything. We fought over silly things and then made up within a day.

I always bossed over her, giving her gyan on everything under earth till she hit me on the head and made me stop. She went on and on over the phone and since I could not tell anyone anything about what she said, I had to ensure mom was not around. We watched Star Movies together till 4:00 in the morning in the hope of catching a movie which no one would allow us to watch. And then we would tiptoe up to our rooms and pretend we had slept well on time.

She made me Friendship Bands which I brandished about in school. They were my secret weapon to create a sense of envy amongst all my friends. Everyone in school knew how protective I was towards her and made fun of me all the while. And I didn’t mind. She was my kid sis.

Then I left Cal in 2001 and we kept in touch. STD calls were too expensive. Cell phones were unheard of and we wrote emails and more importantly we wrote letters. I would wait for her mails to come telling me how she had passed Class 12, how she was beginning to like her college. And slowly they became few and far between till one day they stopped completely. We both were confident that nothing would ever change between us even though we did not speak regularly. So whenever I came back during vacations we would lock ourselves up in a room and exchange stories. She would continue to find her “boudis” in the pictures I brought home from Pilani and then we would fight as I would call her immature and she would call me the same.

Somewhere down the line even that stopped. I became too busy. She became too busy and we paid a heavy price. Suddenly we were not best friends. We did not know what was happening in the other’s life. Today as I look back I think this was one thing that taught me never to let a friend go away irrespective of the distance. “Out of sight; out of mind” is a sad reality. It happens to the best of us.

Then one day, suddenly I heard that she was getting married. And somehow she knew I had expected it to hear from her. So she called me up. And I was furious at first but then I knew I deserved it. I was the one who had left Calcutta. I was the one who was the elder brother though probably she was the one who had grown up. And I felt really happy for her. And we started again.

Today I met her for the last time as a bachelorette. Within the next few hours she will take a very important step in her life and I know I will be there. And I know that she knows her oldest friend will be there by her side and he is really sorry he missed a couple of years in between. And her Big Brother is still big enough to take on the world for her.

That’s what being the Big Brother means.

And also of course singing extremely sentimental songs. If only I could sing :)

December 01, 2010

Reversing the Digits

It’s the night before I turn 28. And I have been drinking for a few hours now. For a change it’s not water, Red Bull or Diet Coke. Didi has given the most adult and awesome birthday gift ever. It’s like I am finally growing up. I just finished a whole pack of brandy liquor chocolates. I am a little high just thinking about it and there’s Teachers left and some more and to follow them up are my favourite dark chocolates. The last of my worldly sins - Somehow the scene from Matrix comes floating. It’s the way Cypher describes the Matrix.

“You know, I know this steak doesn't exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”

The microbe lady asked last week how I can stay awesome always. I think I don’t. But when I need to talk I write and that helps.

I think the world works in strange ways. It shows signs and symbols which we can’t make head or tail of. But we fervently hope they hold a meaning. In those strange sightings we delve deep to find directions for truly there are none that we can find with open eyes. Sometimes you need to just fall and hope for the wings to come out. The wings are not an answer in the end. The butterfly and the bat, the good and the evil, the manifestations are large and many. But who ever dreamt of the Devil without first fearing the wrath of God.

Pain, hurt, suffering if thought more of has the ability to increase their power over us and yet we embrace them and sing about them but to break the bleak shades of grey, you just need one mirthful voice ringing across the chasms of your heart. And slowly the void fills with a glow and you know that life once again is worth living.

We wish for friends to come back, we wish for a hand brushing against the cheek signalling that all indeed is well. Dreams begin to fade, the façade grows stronger till the charades become a reality. And then the aura spreads from a client con call saying there is hope, there is still hope.

I am home for my birthday and just before I turned a year younger I was talking to the kid who grew up and she suggested the name for this post. I think nothing suits the mood better than what she said. Kids these days!!! They act so grown up.

That’s applicable to my niece as well I guess. Finally a woman who speaks her mind and tells me exactly what she wants me to do. Phew!!!

And yeah the digits are reversed J Figure it out!!!

November 18, 2010

Watching Movies

I suddenly realized on a lazy Sunday morning that G leaving Mumbai has had an adverse impact on my movie viewing. As I sipped on my milk and crunched into the delicious taste of Pure Magic biscuits, I realized that I have skipped quite a few over the past, most notably amongst them being Hissssss and a few more sssss.

The married men refused to go being scared of their wives, the married women had no intention of watching the movie and the couples typically follow the wish of the women in such matters.

The single men in their quest for looking cool and cultured refused to accompany me, the single women probably wondered if I doubted their intelligence by asking such a question and I figured going alone to watch Hissssss and a few more sssss would confirm to my sister that I had lost it, finally.

Super Cooler landed in Mumbai from some Chinese city and called me up to watch Letters to Juliet, it being my kind of mush and I guess it was. You know, the kind where the world is a beautiful place, where people sip wine and quote poems on love and don’t have to make PPTs during weekends. Ahh, the lives of such people. Action Replay was however a mistake. Happy Boy and his wife insisted that I watch the movie and all I wanted to do after the sumptuous dinner that she cooked was to sleep. The popcorn was the most interesting part and the next thing I know the autowallah got me from Thakur village to the Sea link and said, “Bandra aa gaya hain.” Sea Link always looks beautiful in the night. Hauntingly so.

But G is not the only reason. I realized I have tons of unread books that I must make an effort to complete now. It’s unfair to hoard them like some demented ruler hoarding diamonds. But I needed to buy books and so I got a few more for the love of my life and she loved them. Ahh, the lows a man must stoop to in order to make a woman love him. Bruno, Bubbles and now Pepper, her three best friends will now be with her.

The third most important reason for movie viewing taking a beating has been the Reality Shows. Last couple of weekends I have tried to figure out what’s happening on the shows, how the TRP games are being played out and how Kiran Bedi’s role has now gone to Rakhi Sawant. But amongst all of them I love Masterchef India. The contestants are real people. The emotions seem original. The evaluations are rational and apart from the fact that they are randomly getting Bollywood to come and endorse the contestants, the show’s brilliant. I know it’ll probably lose out on the TRP game but to me it’s a winner. There are obvious flaws. I love it for the love of food but the viewer has nothing to gain from it, no recipe, no insaaf, no ek crore, no Dolly Bindra.

But there have been seldom any movie I have waited for with such eagerness than this one - Khelen Hum Jee Jan Se perhaps will be a fitting testimony to the valour of the independence struggle in Bengal. It has always pained me somewhere that the so called Athenian traits of Bongs have completely overshadowed the Spartan gallantry. We have been called Anglophiles and the babus of the Raj and people easily remember Bhagat Singh a lot better than Masterda. Bose, as Benegal correctly puts it, remains a forgotten hero and I don’t like it a bit. Chattogram Astragar Lunthan (The robbery of the armoury at Chottogram) was perhaps one of the strongest blows to the might of the Raj and I would love to see it on celluloid.

Till then, I am busy knowing Lisbeth Salander.

November 15, 2010

Play Fair

Mom was always good at sports and amongst the many life lessons she has passed on to her children, the most important perhaps is the idea of playing fair. The idea is quite simple. In life be honest, give your 100% and then whatever happens will happen.

I was just taking stock of life and it just struck me. Mom’s influence has lingered on. If I can look back today and be proud of something, it will be about the fact that I have always played a fair game. At least I have tried to.

The reason I have been blabbering on about playing fair is because as you grow older, you begin to realize how easy it is to be tempted to be unfair. It’s natural to try to pass on your mistakes to others, it’s natural to try to take credit of things which have been done by teams and it’s easy to shine in glory that’s necessarily not yours. I received a resume a few days back of a person I know claiming to be what he never was. Now, to him, the idea was fair enough as the use of this piece of info meant no harm to the ones who actually worked, but in the bigger scheme of things, it was unfair and grossly so.

Sundays at 10 I typically play cricket with the kids in my building and I feel a lack of the sense of fairness and pride. Like typical kids they all want to bat a lot, not bowl at all and beat me all the time. Now I have no issue in that. But I have do have an issue when they want things the easy way. No effort goes into bettering themselves, no effort goes into actually trying to get me out and for all who know me, I am no Sachin Tendulkar. For example, they give up in less than 10 minutes if I refuse to make it easy for them.

Baseline – they don’t give themselves the best shot that they can give as they don’t play fair. And I have a big issue with that. If you don’t play fair, you don’t have the right to play.

It’s not that I am a saint following my own principles. I have messed up myself. I haven’t been fair to a close friend and it has been painful. It’s one of those decisions you wish you didn’t have to make but then you trust that one day you’ll be forgiven. And you do. You get a phone call.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that life is never fair but that does not mean we should not try to be.