Thursday, June 30, 2005


I am packing my bags and cleaning out my room and answering phone calls from friends and ironing my clothes and selling my art history books and gifting the other books away and hugging roommates goodbye and signing my lease and paying electricity bills and dragging my luggage into a taxi one afternoon. We set off for the airport and I wave goodbye to my friends of four years until they become dots. No, not dots, but tiny specks because we take a turn about ten seconds after leaving them. The road to JFK is bumpy and the friend beside me is quiet. To be honest, I’m in no mood to talk either.

It really is like a hindi film. With an hour left for the plane to depart, a hug isn’t just for the person, it’s for everything they take with them. Heads spin with intense emotions and the world becomes a grainy movie seen through half closed eyes. Someday you’ll forget what their nose looks like or how they slouched, and someday, more poignantly, you’ll try to remember their phone number. What will you think then? Will you feel sad about how much time has passed? Or will you laugh at a development you could not imagine? Maybe you will smile or maybe you will be moved very little. But that is then. What does one say now?

Finally the plane lands at Bombay but it doesn’t feel like a full stop as I thought it would. It is reinvigorating to be among brown faces, speaking a language that was an exception yesterday and the norm today. Somewhere outside, family awaits. They have moved here recently, so we are all strangers here. This city, we realize later, does not accept or reject strangers, it merely throws up obstacles; the acceptance and rejection is left to us. Along the way home we pass by several places that have no meaning to me then, but will play important roles later. It is an unnerving thought and, if you are accepting, a delightful one; that the roads and places we take for granted might gain significance for us one day. I’d imagine it’s closely connected to that line, “Where have you been all my life?”

A week goes by and nothing happens. With passing mornings jet lag fades away and I think that the reach of that country fades along with it. Pancakes, waffles and mashed potatoes are gone, and there are Sindhi breakfasts instead. The domestic help is half horrified and half pleased when I wash my plates, but insists I leave it to him next time. Ditto for laundry. Suddenly I have too much time on my hands. What do you do then but reach out to the last thing you left? At the end of the third week, the phone rings. It’s for you, someone tells me.

Two days later I’m done with the interview. It wasn’t really an interview. Just a chat; a flip through a portfolio and a smile. Come in from the second of January. I walk out in a daze. It’s this easy to rule the world at 21? Hectic phone calls are made. Aunts ask questions later and squeal in delight when they calculate that the first day of work is an auspicious day. For the optimist, India must be heaven because divine signs are everywhere. With all blessings added up, no task will fail.

I arrive at work earlier than anyone else, reading posters and humorous notes I cannot understand and put it down to a change in culture. While I sit and wait for people to appear, homesickness strikes. Not for a place but for people who would know what to say then, and who would feel what I felt. Not for a home abandoned, but caused by that sinking feeling when you ask yourself, “what am I doing here?”

It takes ten days to cure that. An instant friend shows me Bombay by bus. Now that you’re here, the friend seems to say, let me show you what your new home looks like. And it happens, just like that. Where there was nothing one morning, there is now hope. And you figure that forgetting phone numbers isn't the worst thing. What's worse is having no one to call in the first place.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

That new car smell

There's nothing like a visit to a car showroom to inspire thoughts of making money.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Monday, June 27, 2005

The others at the blog meet

A monthly ritual was followed yesterday when twelve of Bombay's bloggers encroached on tables and chairs at a Barista outlet adjoined to Regal Cinema. The participants and their points of conversation have been described here, here, and here already, so here's an account of what else happened during that time.

At a far corner of the coffee shop, three women took turns combing their hair. It was fascinating to watch them groom themselves unmindful of anyone else. One looked like Sameera Reddy. The others looked like her sisters. Not Sameera Reddy's sisters, but her own. Very attractive. They sat by a large window overlooking the shiny street. It was a late Sunday afternoon. What do Sundays remind you of? Suns, grass and hammocks, I would think, but the monsoons are here, so it was grey and wet and seemingly only a finger snap away from heavy rain. But it leaves Bombay clean and smelling fresh. Clothes glistened from recent showers as their wearers walked by. When they entered, the distinctive scent of recent rain came with them. As an ex-ex-pat, I can tell you that it is a smell we imagine with longing when the India in our lives comes only from television and bottled achaars. And then, upon arrival, the welcome scent is accompanied by an ankle high water level.

The three sisters smiled when a strapping man who carried himself with confidence pulled a chair to their table. They immediately commenced a jabbering so excited, it floated to our table some distance away. Elsewhere, a lady with a British accent repeatedly asked for a certain type of coffee. Forced to repeat herself, her voice grew more agitated with each repetition, and her accent more pronounced. This did not help matters. Closer by, our numbers steadily grew and, remarkably, the conversations fell by number until there was only one, not because there was nothing to say, but because Arundhati Roy is a subject that holds you even if you've never met her, or read a word of anything she has ever written.

Coffee shops have always loosely been conversation shops. A place to talk, of course, but also a place to listen to others at other tables talking about things. Sometimes it can seem creepily familiar. Of telephone bills and work hours and things you would talk about. At one table children were discussed by women who seemed a few years away from motherhood. At another, satisfied graduates spoke of college like war veterans. Beside them two lovers looked at each other and said nothing, their fingers touching, heads tilted and resting on an orange wall. Filling in the blanks in this case was easy. In some matters, we come from the same place.

As it grew darker, our thoughts slipped to food. A rooftop restaurant was suggested. A nearby bakery. The restaurant where Shantaram met his friends. A demolished joint reopened for business. The rooftop won, but it more to do with the view. Some went up, some went away. A month will pass before most of us meet. Come if you can. There's plenty to talk about. And plenty to listen to and watch, not all of it at your own table.

And do compliment Amit on his long silky locks. He loves it.

Update: I did go to Meerut, dammit! Does this look like something cut and paste from a Lonely Planet guide?

Once upon a time

Let me tell you a story, he said.

No, she interrupted. I want more than one. I want lots of stories, and none by you. I want Murakami, Yann Martell, Kunzru, and stories by a whole lot of others. And could you throw in an essay on lies, written by DBC Pierre?

I have just the thing, he said silently. Just click here.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The verbal juggernaut

A few nights ago a colleague, Anand Vasu, was on an NDTV debate over cricket rivalries, and one of the participants was Navjot Singh Sidhu. Now if you've ever heard Sidhu, you'll find it hard to forget his dialogue delivery. He tends to throw himself into his beliefs with disconcerting conviction, even when the basic point he's making is actually rubbish. So most of the program passed by with Sidhu's monologue about how the India-Pakistan rivalry was greater than the Ashes. When the others got a word in, they differed, and rightly called the Ashes the more prominent battle, reasoning that the subcontinental rivalry owes much of its reputation to jingoism. This incensed Sidhu, and he somehow became even more animated. And when Sidhu becomes animated-angry, it stops being funny and starts getting scary. The eyes spread across his face, his eyebrows touch the pagdi, and his mouth contorts in the visually violent manner that an Arabic speaker's does. And then he wags a bony index finger at opponents.

His persona becomes bigger than the subject, which is long dead by now. The monster that is Sidhu's reputation grows bigger and hungrier. He is, in a way, the opposite of Harsha Bhogle, who reduces his presence considerably to give the subject its due. But my thinking is, the reason why Sidhu is such a phenomenon is because he often displays the side of us that we're too polite to admit exists, even to ourselves. The one that desperately wants to get up someone's nose but is restrained by etiquette. I know I'd love to wag my finger at someone and chastise "you reap what you sow" but can't because people will think I'm being silly. But the part I love the most; the one I suspect many admire him for? It's where he's on a verbal roll, and neither moderator nor angry participant nor commercial break can stop him. He's a verbal juggernaut, winning arguments only because he won't let anyone else speak, tiring people with his relentless barrage of anger and opinions while his opponents raise their fingers and say 'err' and 'umm' and 'excuse me'. Forget the point he's making. In many cases it'll be nonsense. But watch the man defend his territory. He's simply amazing.

Ps. Here's a man who delightfully connected Sidhu and atheism. Okay, his name's Jai. You know, Jabberwock.

The forgotten generation

Yesterday night, and the previous night, and the night before and so on, I turned on the radio to listen to fresh sounds. Perhaps something in a different language or a new soulful melody. A song that I would look up on the internet, even. However, songs with a different beat and a sound we can't quite place don't have a home on Bombay's radio networks. It is important to know what you're getting into when you turn on the radio.

This is what you won't hear: western classical, world music (broadly), Dave Matthews Band.

This is what you will hear: Meri beri ke ped mat todo (DJ Sami mix), Harry Anand's remixes, remixes with Rakhi (Rakhii? Rakkhee?) Sawant busting out of her school uniform in videos, and remixes of every old song T-Series has the rights to. And then, after they miraculously run out of remixes, you are thrown the original versions of the remixes.

So the teenyboppers have their Casio tunes, and our parents have Mohammad Rafi. Nothing for us. I think I belong to Bombay radio's forgotten generation.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Mental notes for 25 years later

During a phase in my teenage years, I believed that my age was the perfect age to be, for I stood at the precipice of adulthood and the end of adolescence. It was the perfect place to be because it was a vantage point in time, and a look behind confirmed immaturity and a look beyond revealed responsibility. I imagined giving good advice was a big part of being an adult then. Sometimes I thought that was all there was to being grown-up. And so I saw it with the interactions between my mother and younger sister. Advice was given and sometimes accepted. I would make mental notes that would help me years later in dealing with my own children when they became broody teenagers. How would I tell my kids to be home in time without offending their sensibilities? How would I advise them to study without seeming too forceful? There were answers for everything; answers I had up here (I'm tapping my head). These were mental notes to be kept up there safely, ready to be unleashed during those perilous teenage years when every day would be a powder keg, and every word a potential lit match.

Six years later old notes have been replaced by new ones, even when experience reveals that to make notes is futile, for every year the textbook is changed, and what's French now will soon be Greek. I've watched myself and others hold on to notions of how things should be, ignoring how things are. It's an idealism of sorts. (So are even the most orthodox among us idealists?) A stubborn idealism, because we end up fighting reality, for nothing remains the same. Not our notions of happiness, not our notions of a golden age, not our notions of the value of money. I guess that's the biggest note I'm making to myself mentally. Hopefully I won't forget.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Relentless rain

I stay two minutes away from work. On some days I think it robs me a drive. But on days like this, when office lines buzz with news of immobile traffic and flooded drains sweeping roads, and I watch open umbrellas pass below the window quickly, I'm happy that I live only two minutes away. It's not that the magic of the rains has evaporated. Far from it. It's just that sitting back sometimes and watching it fall is rather nice.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Red light, red light, what do you say?

This morning the traffic signals outed. What usually ensues in these instances is utter chaos, with cars traveling in four directions gridlocked in a perverse jigsaw. But today a traffic policeman stood in the middle, cajoling and guiding and halting cars with a look and a brief flourish of his hands. Drivers obeyed - except BEST bus drivers, who would edge god off a road if he rode a scooter - and stayed behind the white line. It would have been different had the signals worked. Rickshaw drivers would have hesitantly edged forward, looking left and right before breaking across in a blast of noise and exhaust, and they would be trailed by other drivers who would be emboldened by this, and also the fact that there were no cops around. Then drivers in other lanes would be miffed by this disregard for red, yellow and green, and would set off in similar fashion after a reconnaissance mission to look for hidden traffic policemen. It would be a cheery affair, for all were bound by an understanding that they really shouldn't be doing this, but hey, it's only a signal.

Sometimes, and only sometimes, when this happens, I stay still while the cars beside me rush past the red light, and I grin at the rear view mirror at the driver behind honking furiously, urging me to follow everybody else. The more he honks, the bigger the smile. I love it, I really do, because here, in this country, you can irritate a lot of people by obeying rules. Heh.

Monday, June 20, 2005

A perfect goodbye

A dear friend left for Canada. It was her first trip out of the country, and as we drove to the airport late at night, she hummed to songs playing on the radio. It was, as you know, late; at a time when people are fast asleep. But some were awake, calling up the radio station, chatting for long with a polite jockey who did not know how to stop them. We turned the volume down and kept silent, the weight of the length of her trip away seemingly everywhere, on our heads, in our hearts. What can one say? Come back soon? Take care? Our friends and family carry our unsaid prayers and greetings with them.

Later, standing by luggage outside terminal 2A, I remembered how heart-breaking goodbyes were when I left for college, carrying prayers, greetings, and lots of laddoos. Every goodbye that meant something came back and reminded me that there is an art in saying goodbye; not too long, or it may seem overly sentimental; not too short, or it will seem incomplete. In the end, after her trolley was loaded and we stood in that weird limbo between here and departure, the words came by themselves. It was the most perfect goodbye of all: a look, a brief bye, and a touch that said 'I'll see you soon.'

Chalo chalo, Mumbai ki sair

I've been thinking. There's so much to see in this city, so much to do, and there are layers, I imagine, which exist like a world alongside this one. It's this I'm going to try and find out more about during this monsoon. For myself, and to write.

Bombay has a lot to offer; it has a limitless supply of stories and things happening everyday. Much like the rest of India. But I can't do an all-India trip now, so an all-Bombay will have to suffice. I can't say it'll be all new to you, but most of it will be new to me. I'll begin in a few days. It'll be like a Mumbai ki sair, but in alleys and bylanes instead of around monuments and on famous roads.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Waiting for Ashraful

Here's the hero of yesterday's Bangladesh v Australia game, Mohammad Ashraful:

"I was not getting runs and it was very frustrating for me. Whenever looked at my statistics I wondered if I'm that bad. I rang my mother last night and was seeking some solace. But I laughed a lot when she said you are very small compared to the people you are playing against. So, it's not possible for you to do well."

Well, he may be short, but his game's pretty big when he gets going. Ashraful scored a fine hundred to help Bangladesh beat the meanest, biggest, baddest collection of marauders in international cricket. If you've followed his career, and watched him play, you'll know how frustrating it is to watch this 20-year-old - bursting with talent - throw it away again and again. Late last year, he played one of the finest innings you will ever see, and I mean finest - the kind of innings that makes you giggle in nervousness years later. I was bulletining that game, luckily, and walked on air for a few days after. But then he just tapered away, losing it more in the mind after gorgeous strokeplay, much like VVS Laxman has done for much of his career. It's unlikely that he'll play this way for a while, considering the pattern of his career. But keep watching, because when he does, and there's no doubt he will, it'll be unforgettable.

Here the bulletin of that Test innings.

And here's my end-of-year write-up on it, in our selection of the best and worst of the year. I'm the third writer from the top. Thank you, Srivaths.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Tap dancing

And then the sun was blot out, leaving a delightful grey upon us, and then like a tap-dancing routine that picks up as it progresses, tap tap tappity-tap, the rain finally came. Now the band, thunder, has started its routine.

I should really get back to work, but this rain is distracting. More later.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Umm, pavements please?

The Times of India has a news report on a recently-married woman being run over by a private bus. Her husband refuses to talk. But the local residents "blame the police for the accidents. They claim the traffic cops posted on Paltan Road do not take any action against illegal parking and private buses, which create most of the traffic problems."

People have no business being on roads. Unless proper pavements and subways are provided, there will always be more deaths. Where does one walk if there's no sidewalk?

Update: Never accuse the Times of India of sentimentality. Or sense. Here's their Times City Quiz question, only three columns away from the report of the accident:

Where did Tuesday's accident occur?

A: Gorai
B: Sanpada
C: Palton Road

To participate SMS TCQ to 8888...Participate and win great prizes. Three correct lucky winners get Provogue gift vouchers worth Rs 500.

Perhaps they'll hire an editor someday. Perhaps we'll have pavements someday.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Endangered culture, etc

The help went off to feed a cow something from the puja. An hour later he calls up to say he can't find a single cow, and is calling from seven kilometers away near a shed which contains buffaloes. Still no cow.

Two hours now and he hasn't yet returned. No cows on roads? This goes against everything I know of Indian culture.

One's tongue is firmly in cheek. See? See?


During a puja today, I was asked to hold a bundle of straw to my heart while pouring oil into a contained fire. The reasoning behind this was that a long time ago, rakshasa would interrupt the prayer, called a havan. So warriors kept watch with swords clutched close to their chest. Now, since swords were a strict no-no, the clutch of straw was held on as symbolism. In the same way god was a stone I poured rice on for food offerings, and he was fed water poured from a spoon. Later the same procedure was used to bathe him.

During these ceremonies, I'm always somewhere else. Today I wondered if this is one reason why symbolism seems to be prevalent in India - because it is in religion. A few months ago, a friend in Tamil Nadu very gently asked if I had enjoyed the food at a stopover to a village. We were at a table, our banana leaves folded after a filling meal, and her interest seemed more than casual.

"Yes, I did."

"Then you need to fold the banana leaf the other way. Towards you." By folding it away, you tell the proprieter that you did not like his service, and chances are you would not return. But folding it towards you meant acceptance. Sometimes, she said, the same method is used when a boy visits a prospective girl for marriage. One could make a career of studying these nuances.

But what does one feel towards tradition or religion when everything is done by rote? Passion? Unlikely. A following? Perhaps. But perhaps people question why and find answers in things that might not really be there. But symbolism can be interesting; seeing how a mammoth task has been abbreviated to something manageable; to something that can be completed in 90 minutes. Instead of having one brahmin who chants 120,000 times, we can have six who chant 20,000 times each. How convenient it can be. All the benfits of religion, with a fraction of the trappings.

The more I watch religion, the less I wonder about god, and more about the people who wrote these books.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Red, round, and shiny

Two months ago I was in Meerut to do a story on how cricket balls are made. The process was fascinating to watch for the care involved as well as history at work - the process had not changed for hundreds of years. Equally interesting was watching the men at work, because theirs was a repetetive task and, even then, by the end of the day, they had created an object of beauty.

The piece on balls is now up on Cricinfo.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Super Sunday

Cold coffee, 97 unread books to choose from, windows wide open, a monsoon wind, and an entire day with nothing to do. Yay.

Wandering dervish

What is it about the Sufi that holds such interest for the travel writer? Is it that they look for the same thing; a knowledge of oneself and the truth?

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Staring out windows

The rains are a week late, and the stock exchange index loses value. Meanwhile, it is muggy here. Muggier than on most days. There will be relief when it rains. Rains and snow force people to create warmth in a way summer can't. Love stories will be read, fritters will be had, stories will be written - not all by hand. The rains, like snow, are a physical indicator of passing time. Years will be recalled by what fell from the sky.

Warning: story ahead. In Dubai it hailed once. We were in class, attentive towards the dark sky outside, distracted only by the faint voice of a lecturing history teacher. Dark skies meant rain, and rain meant a flooded school, because when it rained in Dubai, it rained. And we would go home. Then water pattered against the windows and into open school corridors, not falling downwards but seemingly sideways, with the wind wheezing and squeezing through cracks under doors and narrow spaces. We walked towards the exits at angles, feet always a few steps behind the head, fighting a furious wind that raised sand and caked it on our faces.

It was satisfying, for a high-school boy's aim is straightforward: how do I get out of school? This was a means to an end. But then, as we boarded a bus, something else happened, which I had hoped would happen again sometime, but never expected to see. Ice fell from the sky. Dubai, a desert on Latitude 16.55 East 25.6 North, to the west of Oman, north-east of Saudi Arabia, in a part of the world where it barely drizzled in some years, Dubai finally had hail. We scattered, bags over heads, fingers pelted by ice, in gleeful panic towards buses revving up to get out of there. Along the journey we saw all the things we had heard happened during hail. Cobwebs spun across windscreens, dented cars, accidents, rainbow-streaked oil spills, and the world looking like an ice-factory explosion. The day passed in breathless descriptions of sights and sounds and mock fear and telephone calls to friends in various parts of the city - "It's going to hail here; I saw something fall, I swear!"

The next day, assignments were given: "What is hail?", "What is the greenhouse effect?", "Write a 500-word essay on pollution." Subdued students stared at skies, wondering when they'd see ice from the sky again.

Years later, a subdued adult stares out his window, wondering why why why the sky is so blue, and why it doesn't just rain.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Inner Ecstasy

Just yesterday, a cricketer, Asim Butt, was charged with substance abuse. The use of this recreational drug, Ecstasy, meant that he was banned for a year. The drug is illegal, but what does it actually do? Here's a pretty good account of the experience:

It distinctly was not an out-of-the-body experience, as it was not a mind-expanding one... It distinctly was a further-into-the-body experience, and a mind-clarifying one. An impenetrably penetrating experience. An excavation of the self. An exhumation of the other. Because that is how one finds gold—one exhumes it, excavates, one digs for it, deep, and deeper.

This isn't the best part of 'Confessions of a Middle-Aged Ecstasy Eater', an essay in Granta which describes, vividly, how a man turns to his son for drugs and what happens to both their lives. Interesting stuff there.

Ex-art director

I should have known better. There's no reading substitute for black text on a white page. I'll keep the layout, but change the colour. The font size will seem bigger that way. That'll be my last experiment with this layout for a while.

All those lessons in art direction. All gone.

The flavour of history

Lately, I've been reading up a lot on India for a project; its history, myths, and other stories that don't find their way into newspapers for a number of obvious reasons: controversy, fear of taking a stand, ignorance, or not enough current news value. The authors of these books are Indian and foreigners, and even though I'm just starting to discover Indian history (never having lived here, I studied European history in school and university), I find that the more enjoyable reads and the more relaxed prose comes from non-Indians. It could be my inexperience, but there is a sense of discovery to their books, and they express it simply, which is delightful. They find stories within history, knowing that history by itself can be interesting, but weighty. There are attempts to humanise the past and place it in the context of the present, and this brings history alive, and prompts questions and curiosity; it is very much like having an interesting teacher who makes you question, rather than one who comes to class, lectures, and disappears.

The Indian books I've read so far have, in comparison, the feeling that the subject of history is so jaded that it leaves me jaded. History is often put down pat, as if it were more a 12th-grade textbook and less something to be understood and enjoyed. I've had to read many of Romila Thapar's sentences three times to understand certain things. It was like being back in school again, where many textbooks had history with none of the excitement of history.

It is a pity because our history, I'm realising more and more, has some interesting periods that have relevance to today. The anti-conversion law, for instance, is not in keeping with our past or anything like that: it only clamps down on individuals. If protecting a religion is the aim, it's an utterly short-term aim, because religions expand and contract over centuries: Buddhism, for example, grew to become the state religion before Hinduism had a major revival, while Jainism went from being a major religion to a minor one. It takes centuries, you learn from history.

But back to books: in the end it really doesn't matter who knowledge comes from if it is accurate and readable. Indian or foreigner, it doesn't matter at all; it's just that one group is a lot more readable at the moment.

Update: Amit points out a piece by Ram Guha on - among other things - why Indian historians sound so laboured. Here's the piece, and here's Mr. Indiauncut's post from February.

Further update: The man's turning out to be my trove on this subject. Here's Rudrangshee Mukherjee on why there isn't any style in Indian history writing, and this is Amit's post.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Shashi Kapoor's Bombay

A wind picked up and swept across land near the Arabian sea, bringing respite and hope and an upward glance to see how dark the clouds were. But it was not yet time. Moonlight penetrated the foliage of trees and illuminated the red-brick path before us, as well as the man who approached us slowly; we had never met before. Tall, balding and wearing clothes that betrayed a particularly savage day at the office, he slung his bag over his shoulder and took step beside us. His head and eyes ran up and down and back up us again, telling him everything he needed to know. Not a foot separated him and us, and I looked ahead, straining not to glance at him, but keeping watch at our three shadows cast by the streetlights behind us. Then he spoke clearly, with deep feeling, "Mere paas bangla hai, gaadi hai. Tumhare paas kya hai?"

This is Prithvi, whose environment encourages a mad spontaneity. Performing isn't only on stage; it seeps through the exits and into the public area outside, where the dinners on stone benches come with the odd loud dramatic announcement: "No, I will not have your children." Heads will turn towards the source of this vehement confession, half-embarrassed, always curious, then disappointed that it was only an act, but in hindsight admiring of the convincing delivery.

The large acting community is small, for aspirers recognize other aspirers, and just as envy is ever-present, so is a smile of recognition. Tables meant for four will have seven plates on them, chairs not a foot wide will have two seated, waiters will nod and bring teas without asking, knowing how much of what to serve when. For the unfamiliar ones, the gravel beneath and the bamboo sticks above provide familiarity with a deep-rooted self, the part that yearns for silence and baser things. But baser things apart, there is the walnut brownie and Irish coffee which are unrivaled in their potency.

On some days Shashi Kapoor ambles in and sits beneath a tree, leaning forward to autograph and be photographed, and then settling back comfortably after his fans have retreated. Waiters will rush by with water and other things, like offerings for a rather large idol. I remember him looking dapper in his pilot's uniform in movies, appearing more charming than Amitabh or Dharmendra or Vinod Khanna. Still, he's absolutely huggable. With him and a few others, this isn't just a theater, it is a commune.

If you have only an hour in Bombay and wish to see as much of it as possible, don't go anywhere else, just come right here. This is where you will see what the city used to be, as well as its spontaneity and madness and Bollywood. You might not see corruption or poverty here, but you will go away with a feeling, or even several feelings. They will tell you a lot about Bombay.

Monday, June 06, 2005

It all comes down to better pavements

A frequent problem drivers experience on Bombay roads is the intrusion of their 'space'. This results in damaged sides and fenders. Last night, after a rickshaw managed to violently bump into the back of my car in slow traffic, it seemed that minor changes in the law could lead to more organised traffic, which would ensure a smooth flow and fewer road accidents.

Bus drivers tend to cut across lanes after dropping off passengers at a bus depot, not only holding up the cars behind in their own lane, but causing an immediate stoppage in the lane they've just entered. There's a reason why they don't stick to one lane. It's because people often use that lane as a parking spot, or rickshaw drivers tend to drive very lowly there. My recommendation is, these cars should be towed away, and rickshaw drivers should, on no condition, stop there to pick up passengers.

Another recommendation is, mandatory use of indicators. There also has to be lane discipline. Don't swerve between lanes just because there's a slow car ahead of you. And for heaven's sake, don't drive your car right between two lanes.

One other thing the authorities could observe is jaywalking. Driving is tough enough without having to look out for others, especially pedestrians. It might not be possible to prevent jaywalkers, but fines or even simple instructions to use the zebra crossing (hah!) could help. But there is one other problem here. People walk on roads because there are no pavements. So by creating pavements or other walking spaces, a significant number of walkers are off the streets, and this could actually lead to less stressful driving, and less of the siege mentality that both drivers and pedestrians acquire on the street. Could this lead to a somewhat less-stressed city?

Sunday, June 05, 2005


D is, in a way, an art director's movie. Language is sparse, while the background score and lighting convey mood. Scenes are framed like paintings, with light and dark often creating tension out of nothing in an environment that we are familiar with. This is apt, for it tells us that violence is never far in this city. It is this subtle message that runs across the movie; a man is pushed off a train and people pretend to not notice; a daytime shoot-out occurs at a bungalow off a road in Juhu.

The movie's director is Vishram Sawant, who did time in the gritty underworld of advertising, where knives and shredders lie easily beside 2b pencils and yellow writing pads (I'm kidding, it's not that bad.). In his version of Bombay there is no agonising over moral dilemmas or some such. You want to shoot? Shoot. Don't want to? Don't. In hindsight, I like this movie even more because it presents Deshu's journey as a set of clear-cut decisions which he knows he alone is responsible for.

There are wonderful moments that help us understand this man who covers his emotions with a straight face and sunglasses. One such instance is when Deshu exercises his power without moving a finger, imagining a policeman who tormented him previously squirming somewhere while wondering when Deshu would pack him off. These throwaway lines and thoughts are what help us form impressions of people. They may not always be accurate, but they are good guides. For example, the first time he smiles is during a conversation with an actress he's protecting. It's a part of him not many others will see.

On opening a few papers this morning, I noticed the reviews were harsh. Perhaps they know better, but I didn't see much wrong with it, and feel that even if this movie's setting is similar to the one in Ab Tak Chappan, Satya, and Company, it adds to our understanding of the different characters who make up the underworld. And even if it doesn't do that for you, why not look at it as an individual piece of work, rather than compare? If there's anything I don't understand, it's the mind of an Indian newspaper movie reviewer.

Postscript: This was on Rediff's movie review: "...Randeep Hooda [Deshu] is star material, as long as he does not shave his stubble."

One big sigh.

The other genius

While reading James Gleick's Genius, a book about Richard Feynman, a passage in the prologue caught my attention. In this, Mark Kac, the mathematician, beautifully describes why Feynman, a brilliant man in many ways, left behind few students.

"There are two kinds of geniuses, the "ordinary" and the "magicians." An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they have done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. They are, to use mathematical jargon, in the orthogonal complement of where we are and the working of their mind is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible. Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark. They seldom, if ever, have students because they cannot be emulated and it must be terribly frustrating for a brilliant young mind to cope with the mysterious ways in which the magician's mind works." [Italics mine.]

As a cricket writer, I find myself wondering if this paragraph could be applied to Sachin Tendulkar. During his time as captain there were suggestions he lost his cool with teammates if they failed to complete a task he considered simple. Could it be that to Tendulkar's magical genius, Rahul Dravid is an ordinary genius, for his excellence at orthodoxy is obvious and easily understood? Both men play the game in their mind, but one was born with it, while the other worked towards it. This could also be another advantage if Dravid becomes captain. He could coherently help players understand their talents better.

Postscript: There are others more qualified to speak about minds, genius, and psychology, but this passage, accurate or not, struck a chord with me. I thought I'd share it with you.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


I love this. Ram Gopal Varma announces that he'll be making yet another movie about the fascinating Mumbai underworld some months ago. At first we refer to it as 'D-company', and that's how the film is discussed - as one about Dawood Ibrahim, who's living it up on the other side of the border. So months go by, Randeep Hooda cultivates a nice frenchie, finds a pair of sunglasses that look just like Dawood's (the triangular kind with the rounded corners), and posters of the movie - now called just 'D' - are stuck up everywhere.

And then, five days before the movie is released - and this is the part I enjoy most - Varma allegedly receives a call from Dawood, who asks what the movie is about, ie. "Is it about moi?" No, Varma is reported to have said. You are a muslim based in Pakistan, and my character is a hindu who lives in Bombay.

And yet, replace Dawood with the censor board, nothing changes. In Maximum City, Suketu Mehta writes of an instance where Mahesh Bhatt is before the censor board, who haven't seen his to-be-released movie, Zakhm, and are wondering what bits to cut. This happens after the all the hard work is done and it is on the verge of release. Replace Zakhm with Black Friday or numerous other films. The filmmaker has no idea of who is going to object to what and when. Most probably, questions will be asked a day or two before the film is released. This benefits no one. Perhaps there could be proper channels and a timeframe to air greviances. That way the business of making films could be less complicated. How that'll stop Dawood from calling up people at odd hours I don't know, but it'll prevent the censor board from clowning around too much as and when it wants.

The Storyboard Treatment: Superheroes

He's Superman, she's Spiderwoman. They're caucasian. He's way too happy. She doesn't need a mask and her costume is stretched to the limits around her hips. It is a match made in heaven: DC's Superman and Marvel's Spiderwoman (if she truly exists) are dancing together. Dancing like they've fallen in love and have run away from home. Dancing with joy, vigour and around a tree. They've fallen in love, so who needs to save the world; love will save the day. So they dance and dance and dance while their friends (the justice league? The X-Men?) prance around in the background. But wait, is that Clark Kent? A bird? A plane? No, it's Govinda. And the other unmasked menace (where's Jonah Jameson when you really want to tip him off?) is Kimi Katkar.

Just how was this song part of a movie?

Discovering each other again

Someone, somewhere, wrote that travel writing was the last resort of the failed writer. I forget who it was, or where I read it, but it stuck with me. More like haunted me as I seriously thought of taking it up. But all the same, when I get out and write about travel, it strikes me as difficult; not at all a last resort. Infact it takes a level of skill to pull it off. Too involved, and you come off looking self-obsessed; too detached, and the piece might feel impersonal. Then in between, there's history, modernity, the people to cover. It's not a last resort by a long shot. And then there's the worry about how Bryson, Dalrymple or Pico would have described the place. Their impressions would have been masterful, so where does one stand?

How well could they describe places they had lived all their lives? It's quite strange to look at your own residence with a traveller's eye. A hair saloon is a hair saloon. In any other city, it would have been a cultural statement. Restaurants are places that feed you. In other cities, they become part of a bigger picture or a culture. Then there are prejudices. I feel a certain way about the inhabitants of my suburb, Andheri, and quite another about the folks in Bandra. It's not easy to look at things too differently. But then I suppose this genre of writing forces you to open your eyes and look differently.

I'm writing all this because of a piece I have to write about Indore - a place I visited every year and formed rigid impressions about. Then, during the course of this research, I saw the city again after much hard work. It had changed in the gradual way that clouds blow, and was now clearly a new city. It felt like getting to know a new person. Or an old person again.

The doctor is in

Was away for a few days partly because I couldn't look at the screen anymore, or read books. It was the small print.

But I'm back now. Irregular blogging resumes.