July 31, 2011

Midnight in Midair

So a new phase of life finally begins; in a city I had no idea I would come back to. It was 2006 and there were 5 of us who had come to this city for a short project. Without much money in our hands, we had walked through the length and breadth of the city, trying to optimize the MRT fares. We all were a living encyclopaedia of what to do and not to do in Singapore. It was the first international trip for most of us and we wanted to ensure we made the most of it.

As I was flying into Singapore, alone and just a little scared, Woody Allen came to the rescue. Singapore Airlines had Midnight in Paris playing on their system. One of the recent quirks of the master film maker has been to romanticize Europe. And he paints the most seductive picture of Paris. But the best part was the originality of the screenplay. Suddenly, it occurred to me, this was so very Bengali – Loving the past, always reliving the golden ages, wishing that one was born before his or her time. The treatment was exquisite and Owen Wilson managed to pull it off to a large extent. Yes, probably someone else could have done a better job at showing his surprise. Imagine me running into Tagore. I would have fainted then and there.

The protagonist is a writer facing a block and one night he suddenly meets all his literary idols, and is transferred back to the golden age of Paris – 1920s. He has an option to stay there or come back. The subtlety with which Woody Allen shot the movie was sublime to say the least.

But most importantly, as I was about to land in a new city to start a new phase of my life, it taught me to treat nostalgia as it should be – like a memory that helps to keep you going, not hinders you by pulling you back.

5 years ago the city had struck me as being operated on clockwork. Nothing seems to have changed much. Yes, it’s a bit more crowded, definitely warmer, the Changi Airport keeps adding terminals and there are trains to take you from one to the other, the roads are smooth, chewing gums can’t be found in grocers, the food is super costly, the food courts are buzzing and the MacDonald’s have the ability to come to the rescue of a hungry nomad.

How the story turns out to be only time can tell. I believe stories make their own paths. They are alive and even if we try we can not dictate how they will turn out to be. Maybe yes, the best we can do is to give a nudge here and there. But that’s about it. A nudge. Life ensures that every story goes through their own twists and turns.

As the plane was getting farther and farther away from my country, I sipped on the most brilliant mocktail I have ever tasted - Awaiting the Golden Dawn. Maybe, it was just the mood, the memories, but somehow, when I said cheers to myself, as Owen Wilson decided to stay back in Paris, I realized I was lucky to be able to fall in love with the cities I go to.

Best part? The weighing machine in my room shows my weight to be 10 kgs lower than it was last week in Mumbai. Now that’s one welcome that can floor me any day. May the good times continue.

July 26, 2011


Recently in SNDU, everyone is triangulating. It’s the new buzz word. If you are not triangulating, you are not doing your job correctly. Last I checked, we used to call it connecting the dots. Anyway, the way work permeates my existence, I suddenly realized another form of triangulation just happened in my life, as if by Magic.

Somewhere in Class 12, I came across this play called Priyo Bondhu (Dear Friend). Heart warming, poignant and beautifully integrated into the heart of the city of my birth, it left a mark behind. In fact, so much so that I insisted all my friends have an audio cassette of it. I think I made it travel to almost all states of India and somewhere in some forgotten corner of teenage rooms there is a Priyo Bondhu left behind.

I read about the play putting the BITS internet and Google to good use and I realized that there were 2 more. The original was Love Story and its Hindi Adaptation was Tumhari Amrita. Being in Pilani and Bangalore did not help much as it would be an anomaly if suddenly out of nowhere Farooq Sheikh and Shabana Azmi appeared in Pilani. Even the Karnataka topper and her SPICMACAY could not have pulled it off.

The basis of the story was friendship in its purest form spread over decades. Two friends, separated by time, space and ego find their solace in each other through their letters.

Anyway, as soon as I came to Mumbai and my theatre bug hit me hard, I was on the lookout. I am one of the biggest fans of Rage Productions and somehow when I watched the real theatre in Bombay, I felt convinced that my selection of the BITS Hindi Drama Club as the more talented over the English Drama Club was correct. Anyway coming back to the second point of the triangle, Love story as the original was fantastic. Set in distant lands, it could have been a story about friends in Mumbai. And Rajit Kapur was out of this world.

But the triangle was not been completed. Tumhari Amrita was a rare screening and my nomadic life seemed to ensure I was never in the city when it played. But then as I was leaving Mumbai; a fact then known to very few people; I got a call to watch Tumhari Amrita from an old friend. It did not disappoint as a truly Indianized adaptation of a relationship that had redefined my idea of friendship way back in college.

The triangle was finally complete and the version from Calcutta stood tall. What made it unique was the fact that the two friends never met again unlike the others and that elevated the story and its beauty to a whole new dimension.

Here’s to the most tumultuous friendship. Here’s to Life.

July 07, 2011

Mumbai Food Guide III

I have not reviewed restaurants for a long time but it does not mean I have stopped paying visits to them. However, what has changed now is that I feel a bit grown up and just good food can’t get my attention.

Let me start from down south. A place I visit rarely these days. But the other day I was at this beautiful restaurant called Suzette. Italian crepes and brilliant coffee – That’s what makes it a nice place to hang out while you wait for the play to start at NCPA. The best part, they really care to ask how you would like your coffee, juice or food and they show that they care about your food. It’s a cosy little place and just so perfect for an evening of crepes and conversations.

Le Pain Quotidien is the other new Restaurant near Gateway and though I can never get myself to pronounce its name, it makes up for it by serving some amazing breakfast. However, it needs to have more veg options. I think it has a nice location for the shutterbugs. It’s a good idea to have time in your hands, your camera in your bags and wait for the sun to rise up above Mumbai. Somehow, South Mumbai is one of the only places in Mumbai where time seems to stop for a moment. And you can sip on your coffee and read a book. In South Mumbai and in my secret coffee day in Bandra.

Wich Latte, though a chain, actually serves really nice sandwiches if you care to walk down Colaba Causeway and look for a cute little shop. The service is a bit lazy but the sandwiches and the choice of breads make up for it. The coffee is average so you might want to see what other beverage is on the menu.

If you travel down north, you might want to stop for a nice lunch at Gallops, the restaurant at Mahalakshmi Race Course. The cuisine is mostly Indian and authentically so. The ambience is old world, the clientele are the regulars and you just might feel a little out of the place because clearly in your jeans and T shirt, you just don’t seem to belong there. But if any restaurant outside the gymkhanas, Jimmy Boy and Café Britannia can remind me of an old Bombay which was not yet Mumbai, this might just do the trick.

Coming back to my love of Mumbai, Bandra, the choices keep getting interesting. However, the two biggest disappointments also come from here. The first was Pali Village Café. This is a place where the ambience is one of my favourites and if you walk in on a lazy Saturday afternoon post the rush, you will be delighted with their service. However, you walk in on a weekend night and the waiter will be standing over your shoulder ready to swoop down before you can put down your soup spoon. Also somehow the place that has a fatter wine menu than a food one makes me a bit uncomfortable. If you have such an impressive wine menu, you need to have people who understand wine.

The second one that really really upset me was Eat Around the Corner. That’s the reincarnation of one of my old favourites - Just Around the Corner. But this is one reincarnation we could have done without. The pizzeria and Costa Coffee is gone, the entire concept of making your own salad is a thing of the past, the food is still good but they decided to put up a sign whose gist was “hey guys, if you come in here, spend at least 250 bucks and don’t treat this like a coffee place.” I walked out the first time I saw it. The next time I went back, thankfully someone had the sense to remove the message and I had to agree that the minestrone soup was really nice.

Khan e Khas on the other hand wowed me with their service. It is the poor cousin down the road to the well known Mini Punjab. But the food is excellent and one night V and I decided to order in a few stuff. Now we ourselves were embarrassed with the quantity we were ordering but the guy said, “Even if you order only 2 roomalis, we will deliver that.”  Now that’s service I would pay for.

Yellow Tree is my favourite Bandra joint in recent times – not because of its heavenly curly fries, but because it’s perhaps the only place in Bandra which can boast of some space and allows the luxury of a slow and nice dinner over conversations. The food choices are a little strange and I am never sure of what is the cuisine they excel in. But even then, the curly fries, OH!!! The Curly Fries.

The last in this list had to be Nanak Sai. It’s not a restaurant you would find in the regular food guides. But for us it has been the source of numerous breakfasts, late evening snacks and light dinners – you get the gist. It was one of the most affordable places until recently and even now the value for money remains extremely high when ordering in. I loved the way it’s located. There have been days when I have picked up a book from Danai, the lovely quaint bookstore beside it, ordered a cup of tea or a juice and read the book under the spreading shade of the tree outside the shop. But then someone decided to open a Costa Coffee and the cacophony drove me off :)

Happy Hogging :)

July 04, 2011


I feel at peace with myself – at long last. I know I can now look forward with hope, given to me by my past. While I know this might not be making any sense to you, I just wanted to write about it.

“And the world is busting at its seams
And you're just a prisoner of your dreams
Holding on for your life 'cause you work all day
To blow 'em away in the night” Bruce Springsteen

I just realized sometime over the last few months that who you were once decides not only who you are now but also who you can be. We all carry baggage, of varying sizes. And sometimes they just don’t let us be free. We keep on evaluating things as they might have been in the past and miss the present. And the dreams – that’s when they get blown away - for they are as strong as we let them be in the present. A dream kept safe for the future when you’ll be forty and have enough money for yourself and your family and your cockiness is just no longer a real one. For at forty, you never know what will come and hit you.

“Meeting Across the River
Hey, Eddie, can you lend me a few bucks
And tonight can you get us a ride
Gotta make it through the tunnel
Got a meeting with a man on the other side” - Bruce Springsteen

It leads us to question, to doubt, to judge and sometimes in the most extreme of cases to hate – not just ourselves or a best friend but at times life itself. You grapple at that point of time and that’s when a strong arm of a friend who refuses to leave your side however selfish you might have been pulls you out of that gloom and you realize that you have to meet the man on the other side – you have to face the other you.

There was this movie called Aks. And if I remember rightly the tagline was – there’s someone in your mirror and it’s not you. Even without taking the help of the supernatural, it’s scary when you realize you don’t actually know the person who looks back at you everyday in the mirror.

She once believed...in every story he had to tell...
One day she stiffened...took the other side...
Empty stares...from each corner of a shaped prison cell...
One just escapes...one's left inside the well...
And he who forgets...will be destined to remember...oh...oh...oh... - Pearl Jam

It’s difficult to forget. Even without knowing we all have been playing The Game. And when you can’t, you end up remembering with a vile taste in your mouth; the pungent, putrid taste that leaves behind only bitterness. But today I know I can look forward with the strength from my past. The ghosts are buried, I hope, for the one last time.

“Time it goes so fast
When you're having fun” - The Bangles

(Every time I come back and play my audio cassettes, I get few jewels out. On the last night of my supposed annual leave which mostly was work from home, Bruce Springsteen came to my rescue. 2 of the quoted texts are his songs)

July 01, 2011

The Face Off

My family has been the traditional Bengali Middle Class family, unassuming, modest, loving their Rabindranath, giving their children the best they can, sacrificing their own comforts but insisting that they know their poetry. Didi and I have been brought up in a fashion that makes both of us extremely connected to our roots. But also it made us rebellious. That I guess is in the Bong gene. We always debate the status quo (and some say we just debate). 

Didi revolted and she was the first who embraced Sukanta Bhattacharya as an alternative to Rabindranath. But she was the stud. She straddled both the worlds beautifully. Somewhere though, my path went completely tangential. Amongst my entire extended family, I would be placed in the bottom tertile when it comes to knowing Rabindranath. Sometime in my second semester at Pilani I faced the Big Bang of my musical sojourn. Different sounds, beats, rhythms, lyrics, cultures, folk, rock, pop everything erupted in my mind and somewhere around then a gentleman called Anjan Dutta made some of his most memorable music influenced highly by the jazz masters and Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger.

When he had come into the Bengali music scenario, the choice of the elite was still Suman Chattopadhyay with “Tomake Chai” and “Gaanwala”. The masses (and us in school) were being wooed by Nachiketa. Everyone had fallen in love with Nilanaja. Bengali “Jeebonmukhi” songs were at its crescendo in the mid nineties to early 2000s. Anjan Dutta had a very niche following and his first album was one of his lesser memorable ones.

Anjan Dutta’s music slowly became a part of who I was, led by his album “Asamay”. His songs reminded me of my home in North Calcutta, his words always brought back the city I had left behind within the four walls of my tiny hostel room. And then I would play the song “Janla” and look out of my window losing myself. And I somehow kept myself away from Rabindranath.

I belonged to an age which represented an exodus of Bongs from Cal – for studies, for work, for a life in a city which slowly had brought itself to a state of flickering hope and for me Rabindranath became very distant. I read him like I read a Charles Dickens. I loved Dickens but I always believed he was talking of a time beyond mine.

This time in Calcutta, it was time for a face off. There was Noukadubi, which you might have seen in Hindi as Kashmakash and ‘Ranjana ami aar asbona’. Rabindranath and Rituporno against Anjan Dutta. A new Calcutta, vibrant, arrogant and finally a lot more experimental.

Noukadubi was classic Rabindranath. If you had the misfortune of not reading it earlier, you would be on the edge of your seats trying to figure out what happens next. And the story – such a bold story on human emotions can perhaps be written only by someone like him at such an age – in a flippant note he’s the only one who can take on Rajnikanth. There is not a single season in a year, not a single moment in a day and not a single human emotion in a lifetime which Rabindranath has not touched with his prose, his poetry and his music. And Raima Sen finally proved that she is worthy of the legendary inheritance that she carries with her.

Ranjana on the other hand was what I had expected it to be. Well I did not expect to see a topless Anjan Dutta for around 70% of the movie, but that aside, it was autobiographical and an honest effort in being so.
But it also posed to me many important questions – what is our relationship with our protégé? Do we have any right to control their lives? Do we rejoice in their success but want them to be forever indebted to us? Do we want to get into their deepest, darkest secrets but insulate our own from them? Do we stifle them? Do we cry when they leave? Do we want to live forever through them? Can we ever be friends again?

Ranjana is not a masterpiece. It is a sketch by an extremely talented man who at times brings himself down to play to the galleries. The naming of the film is perhaps the best example. Noukadubi on the other hand is a gem. But Ranjana is more important to me as it makes me sit face to face with myself in all its rawness which the complex intricacies of human interactions in Noukadubi can not. And Porno Mitra has the capabilities of being a fantastic actress. If only she keeps her head over her shoulders.

Anyway, the verdict rests with the people who will go to watch the movies. But to me, it was the same kind of face off I once used to encounter in the corner room in Budh Front Wing. And after listening to Shesher Kobita, I would feel an emptiness and put Priyobondhu on.