January 17, 2012

To All the Girls

A large part of my growing up post the Calcutta years have been because of the amazing women I have met on my journey of life, and I am completely leaving out my sisters here. They have moulded my childhood, but the women I met post 2001 influenced who I turn out to be as an adult.

They taught me the meaning of friendship. They taught me even in this age, how difficult it is to be a woman. And they showed me how they can take the world on singlehandedly. Their lives today are a testimony to their achievement and how easily they can give it all up for family.

I can write a lot. And I have three hours to kill in the airport lounge. But as much as I love O.R.Tambo airport or the fact it's one of those last moments of self introspection, I realize that what I want to say can't be expressed in words. At least not in words of my own.

Gratitude often can't be. 

But probably this song by Julio says it better than anything else. As life passes on from one stage to another as per as the codes of Manu, “Ladies, it has been an honour knowing you all.”

To all the girls I've loved before
Who travelled in and out my door
I'm glad they came along
I dedicate this song
To all the girls I've loved before

To all the girls I once caressed
And may I say I've held the best
For helping me to grow
I owe a lot I know
To all the girls I've loved before

The winds of change are always blowing
And every time I try to stay
The winds of change continue blowing
And they just carry me away

To all the girls who cared for me
Who filled my nights with ecstasy
They live within my heart
I'll always be a part
Of all the girls I've loved before

You did make me who I am today. And thanks for being there – always.

January 15, 2012

The Letter Never Posted

Dear Z,

How have you been? How has my Mumbai been? It’s been ages since I wrote to you. Every time I pick up the pen and paper, I realize I cannot stand the idea of writing one more letter to you. It never made any sense. I would never post it anyway.

But tonight, you know, I am in Beverly Hills once again. The ships are anchored in the horizon; the noise of the sea is drowned only by the melody of the piano and the occasional chatter of the family behind me, flush with their newly earned money.

You can always tell New Money.

The lighthouse down the beach sends out the signals to the ocean. The beam tears through the darkness, like ripping off a thin sheet of paper and searches for lost memories in the night. For the last hour I have been trying to get the beam of light on a picture and have failed miserably.

Like so many other things in life. Like us.

The candle flickers but fights on relentlessly. It refuses to die out. Like the times gone by. Ideally, the setting would have been perfect with a glass of the cherished South African Wine, a plate of cheese and some nice hand printed parchment and a fountain pen.

All that I have is a grapetizer, a broken ball pen, the paper napkin and a picture of us folded neatly in my wallet since the last time we met.

I was running by the beach today morning. The sun had come rushing in through the window and kissed me awake and somehow I did not want to disappoint the sun and so I ran – the black sand sticking to my feet, the wind racing against my cheeks; pretty much the opening scene from the Chariots of Fire.

Except that nothing was noble about me.

It’s funny though. We were as far away from water as one could be when we met. And the water in Mumbai is never something to write home about. But the waves seem to be singing our song. And when I listen carefully, the winds whisper the same thing.

The other day I was watching Adam Sandler’s Funny People and somewhere in the story an analogy was drawn between men and serial killers. All have this one girl that got away. I sometimes wonder why I ever wanted to get away. I wish you were a serial killer – explaining it would be so much simpler.

I wish, selfishly, at least I am “the one that got away” for you. We never had a story together. But still.

The grapetizer and the waves are having their effects. The family behind is getting unbearable. They stare at the only girl sitting alone at a table in this beautiful evening. They look to see if someone has come over to join me. They look.

Over and over again.

January 12, 2012

A Noble Death

Over the last few days there were some pieces of news going around the world. To most it would have been of no consequence. But to me, they were symbols of things I held dear, slowly passing away. The first was about a company that was synonymous with photographic films facing possible bankruptcy. The other was about bookshops slowly bowing out giving way to online retailers.

When I was home for the Christmas vacations, Mom made me clean up the mess I had accumulated over the last ten years. From the loft things were falling off – I had even single brochure printed in BITS for any fest. I had all the EPC articles that were published during the seven semesters I had been on campus and I had a bag full of DOPY snaps.

As I held the snaps in my hand, I realized that they meant so much more to me than on my laptop. There was an album with my favourite snaps which I had taken to Pilani in my first year – the one with my grandma, the one where C, S and I were standing together in the school in our uniforms for the last time.

And there was one with the favourite snaps I had of Pilani. One of them was of the two of us on our cycles standing just outside the Gyn G gates, the other was the famous 185 SK snap with C and A, the other was the 201 SK snap of the three of us.

As I held them in my hand I realized they were perishable, they were fading away but they would last me a lifetime and holding them felt so much more than watching them flash past on my laptop.

DOPY as I knew it has changed with the advent of digital cameras. And slowly probably the concept of taking snaps during the festivals be passé as everyone’s parents would have given them phones which have cameras that can take decent pictures to be put up on Facebook! That’s what people take snaps these days for anyways.

But then I read this blog post about how important are those snaps and how important it is for those physical copies of the photographs and I realized how we love to hold on to our memories.

Visiting to bookstores and printing a photograph might slowly be dying out but they are dying a Noble death. They did what they were supposed to achieve and they have left us with glimpses of our past. And I know I probably can order a book home at a much lower price but till the day the last bookstore stands I shall always buy from there. It’s stupid but then every man has his quirks.

January 09, 2012

Dance Like a Man

Last year my niece started learning Hip Hop and when she met me, she challenged me to dance with her. Well, as much as I love dancing and appreciate a twirl or two on the dance floor, my girth does not allow me much flexibility. But I did start early, as early as in kindergarten where 6 of us were made to wear sarees and made to dance to Rabindrasangeet. That would have been the first time I did any form of serious dancing.

In school however, the bug was dormant till around class 12 when we did not even have a team for the interclass dance competition. We only had one guy who was really really good and then we became the background movers and shakers and in an emotional speech before the performance we made it clear to all the judges how difficult it was for us to put this show up. And they listened. You see in a missionary and slightly snobbish boys’ school, the fact that someone was trying to put up an eastern classical dance show was extremely courageous. Men and dancing somehow did not gel well together, unless you were claiming to be Mithunda or MJ.

The next was in Year 1 in College in the Music Nite. And mostly it was a wild flaying of hands rather than any coordinated movement but by fourth year we had perfected the basic moves. Sridevi trained us on the Nagin moves, Govinda on the basic bollywood steps and the Roshan boy gave the ones who were a little better something to emulate.

By 4th year, we were serious about dancing and the Dance Workshop was coming up and we hijacked T to come and teach us the steps that would get us selected for DW. T was the best dance teacher I ever had. He saw the bunch of us in our tattered dresses, gulped hard visibly a few times and then went ahead with his job.

DW was one of the most fun memories I carry back from BITS. And I loved every moment of it. Feeling the music, letting it control your body is something that helps you to release all your inhibitions and your fears. But for the love of my life, I could not do Charleston! I loved Jive, I loved the Tango and the Waltz just blew me off my feet. And I looked down upon the new age dances ever since.

I mean Hip hop was born in the 70s. How young is that!!! At least we have seen Mithunda breaking to Bappida’s music but Popping!!! Really Popping!!! And I am leaving Locking aside for the time being. But my 5 year old niece loves her hip hop and I am the cool uncle who’s gonna take her dancing when she’s 13 and I’m well, I’m 14. So I needed to learn Hip Hop.

And I walked into a class. In the first 5 minutes it was clear that the hips and their movement is an important part of the entire hip hop basic steps. Now both Shakira’s and my hips don’t lie. Her’s speak of the hours of gymming that have gone behind them and mine; well mine shows the effect of unhealthy eating habits on human anatomy. It was all for a good cause.

Now there is something to learn from everything. There were lots of beginners in the class. And while the arms and legs were not exactly coordinated, the Indian women beat everyone is the hip shaking. I guess the years of watching the Bollywood stars help. I also realized that if Britney and I both posted our respective hip movement videos on you tube, mine might just have more hits due to its insanely comical features.

But not to disappoint my niece I trudged on and I realized I am more prone to ankle injury while hip hopping than while doing kick boxing.

Long story short, slow down the music a bit, give me a floor and I am ready to hop. The hip shall come in soon.

January 06, 2012

World Domination 101

There are some cities which are regal, some cities which are vibrant, some methodical beyond imagination but there are those rare cities where stepping out on the streets makes you realize that a new world power is emerging. I have never been to any city in the developed world of the West but my travels have taken me across the orient and the so called emerging economies and never have I felt what I felt the moment I stepped into Shanghai.

Nothing in Shanghai at first sight is unique, but the combination of modern architectural miracle with a Nation’s ambition is something worth mentioning. The skyscrapers look as majestic as they should and they fit their role as the future beehive of the financial world. Around 1990, China proclaimed that Shanghai would be the focus city and they developed Pudong. For years, the vacancy rates of the buildings at Pudong were alarming and yet as it expected of a culture dating back thousands of years, the Chinese waited. And the millennium got Shanghai what it hoped to achieve. The world set up shop in Pudong.

I stood on The Bund on a cold, rainy December evening, freezing to my bones and I beheld a Skyline beyond anything I have ever seen. Dubai and Singapore looks like mere child’s play with Lego blocks in front of The Bund. The TV Tower, the high rises and the river all come together in what can be termed as impressive but not majestic. This is what George Lucas showed in Star Wars as his city of the future. This is how cities will look like. I remember a young boy I had met once, who had honestly dreamt of urban city planning as a civil engineer. He wanted to build cities. The boy is no more. (Well, he is very much alive and happy but he’s a different man like most of us now.) But if he was still alive in some distant dream, he would be able to wonder at what has been achieved in Shanghai beyond just the financial buildings and the multilevel flyovers. However, the curse of urbanization remains evident with people cooping up in pigeonholes just like they do in every metropolis across the world.

I love Mumbai. One of my best memories will remain sitting on the steps of the NCPA and watch the Queen’s Necklace light up as the sun sets on the Western Coast of India. But as much as I romanticize with my Mumbai memories, possibly the only road worth mentioning in the city is what an average side street in Shanghai looks like. As the cold biting wind hit me with its gusts of spine chilling rains, I saw Pudong light up in the night. And I knew I was looking at a Nation that in all probabilities will dominate the world in the years to come and it will not even need the help of the world’s largest army. On how many buildings on Marine Drive would you see the Indian tricolour flying? Once the awed foreign tourist turns back from The Bund, she will see another line of magnificent buildings all proudly displaying the National Red Flag.

With Power come problems. And Shanghai’s dark underbelly is as active as any other city’s. Whether you are a tourist at Pudong or on Nanjing Road walking around what claims to be Shanghai’s Times Square, you will be accosted by pimps and prostitutes. Like many other cities, prostitution is illegal and your hotels will have big warning signs and just like many other cities the police turn a blind eye.

Apart from that, there are the standard scams that are characteristic to a city. If you are spotted as a single tourist, someone will come up to you and offer to take your photograph. Once she has started a conversation with you, she will then offer to show you around as she “loves to talk to people from other countries”.  Since hearing flawless English is rare, people often fall for the student so willing to help. Then you will be invited for a cup of tea and before you know, the bill is at least 500 Yuan.

Shanghai amazed me. But Shanghai can’t be completed over four nights. It requires going back. It requires another indulgence over a hotpot and another post over the food.

January 02, 2012

Why He Exists

2011 was a strange year. Well, every year since 2001 has been strange and it never ceases to amaze me how much the world can conjure up moments and memories that live with you forever. But 2011 was strange because I could sense myself changing; for better or for worse only time can tell.

Exactly 10 years from my first trip outside Calcutta, I made my first trip outside India. I went to Pilani leaving every friend behind and made new friends who will last a lifetime. I learnt the meaning of sojourn that might last lifetimes. I hope Singapore does the same. But the me of 2011 is a different person and I can’t be sure if he is as nice and the innocent as the boy who went to Pilani. Or maybe even he wasn’t that good as I think him to be in hindsight. It’s strange – nostalgia not only makes me like my earlier self, it also seems to shade its many follies and blemishes.

2011 was crazy. I loved my work, messed up my personal life forgetting the small things that makes so much of a difference like ensuring to visit parents at least every few months. But more importantly, somewhere along the way, my unflinching faith had waivered. I have never been able to figure out if I am religious. But I knew for sure I am spiritual. I believe in a power beyond human imagination. Depending upon my world view at that point of time, I am at times a follower of Advaita, believing in the fact that I am His manifestation, at others I can’t believe that someone like me can be a source of infinite power and then I start believing in God in the more traditional sense of the word. Those are the times when self doubt begins to creep in about the absolute goodness in this world which must win, in the end. Or so I believe.

What was worse was that I looked around to find people around me becoming intolerant, argumentative and outright rude. And maybe people think of me in the same light. I really do not know. We rarely stop to hear others’ views. We want to shout and impose our views on others. The earliest Greek philosophers and the Indian saints knew the importance of the dissident voice. The Greeks might have fed a few to lions or given them hemlock but more or less tolerance was a virtue. Today, it’s seen as diplomacy, a lack of spine or even submissiveness. What many forget is that an arrow that has been fired or a word spoken can never be retrieved.

One thing that made a real difference this year was the viewing of Miracle on 34th Street a few days before Christmas in China. When faced with the question if Santa Claus exists, the judge rules that the people of America have reposed their faith in God and on every dollar bill they proclaim, “In God we trust.” All was asked of us to have faith as small as a grain of sand. Sometimes, even that’s difficult. And we need to remember why He exists. This was the 1994 adaptation of the 1947 classic but good nonetheless.

Nat Geo had this brilliant article on King James Bible in the December issue. It was The Bible that defined the English Language. This year around Christmas as I was cleaning up my attic, I chanced upon my Bible from school.

Everyone interprets religion and gospel in different ways. Everyone reading this would remember the story where The Son of God says, “let who has never sinned be the first to throw the stone.” I always thought it was the best proof that God loves us. I have not found anyone yet who can throw a stone. Allowing such a species to exist is perhaps the greatest demonstration of a cosmic filial love.