Saturday, May 28, 2005

I'll have that. And that and that and that and...

Not long ago, we were outside doing a round of the roadside stalls. So much food. So much bloody food. And we ate all of it. All for a piece for a newspaper. And we've come home now because the stomachs can't take any more. And yet, ten minutes from now, we'll be back on the streets to explore and eat some more.

One thing's for sure: the food here is fabulous. This is the most fulfilling article ever.


Sweltering morning heat made way for a breeze that sprung from nowhere. Sweat froze, travelled upwards, and sank back into skin. Clouds grew puffier with every passing hour; dark travellers poised to revive in their wake. We sped away on a motorbike, trying to surge ahead, beyond our pursuer, giggling as we swerved around carts, families and the other obstacles an Indian road throws up, for we knew it was futile. But we slowed, daring it to catch us. Then I felt it on my neck. It was cool; a single touch cooling an entire body. I reached behind slowly to confirm what I had already known. The rains had come.

Friday, May 27, 2005

That special ingredient

When I visit family after a long time, I find that no matter how much we've changed, love finds a medium in food. What would you like to have, they ask shortly after I've unpacked my bags. Tell us all your favourite foods. What would you like to have for lunch? For dinner? For breakfast? In between? Between the two tea breaks between lunch and dinner? And what would you like to drink with each meal? Mango shake? Banana shake? Pepsi? A special recipe? No, don't have just one, have more. And then have one more!

How much love can one take? In this matter, I've learnt today, it is best to exercise some restraint. No more blogging till tomorrow. I'm recovering from love.

Green channel

Clouds have nothing to declare.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The real fourth umpire

During my years in New York I waited up at night, hitting the reload button to see if this man had written anything new, because anything he wrote was absolutely riveting. His commentary sang to me, and I loved how he went after cricket administrators on days when there were no matches. So problematic was his website for the BCCI that they did not allow them press passes, if I remember correctly. The man's name is Prem Paniker, and here's his blog: Fourth Umpire - not to be confused with Doordarshan's pre-match program where Srikanth murders Hindi and a recent probable Indian coach (okay, Mohinder Amarnath) sings patriotic songs.

It's still young, but it has a shape already. Check it out. He's in New York now, and as sharp as ever about what the game's up to.

Hookah delight

The cousin is hooked on hookahs. Not the hardcore kind with tobacco, but a safer version I'd call Hookah Lite. But he won't go just anywhere for this delicacy that allows him the freedom to exhale smoke without a parental caution. No, it has to be at Mr. Bean, a charming cafe in an old bungalow. So, after much enticing, we visited it with a few cousins.

It was literally like a restaurant in a house. You walk through the living room to make your order in the dining room. From there you settle into an adjoining bedroom with leather couches and are lulled into a motionless state by pleasant music. Glass walls separate rooms where the scene played out is similar: college heros and their heroines slumped on couches with a hookah pipe in their hand and a glazed look in their eyes, heads swaying gently to the music.

There he had his hookah, a double-apple, and tried blowing out smoke in rings while scandalised younger cousins watched in awe. "Can I try it?" asked the seven-year-old.

"No. You have to wait until you're in the tenth standard."


"You can blow smoke from your mouth and nostrils, but can you blow it out of your ears?"

Entirely apt conversation in a smoky haze in a coffee shop that's actually a house in Indore at 3:30 in the afternoon.

No cows? It must be Mcdonalds

I was here a little more than a year ago. The cows - there were so many! - have nearly disappeared. I wonder if it has something to do with Indore's push towards some sort of modernity, of which smooth roads are a good indicator - and there are plenty of new roads here.

This is a far cry from something I had heard in Delhi. A politician from Bihar had recently moved to Vasant Vihar. Upon discovering that influential Biharis lived there, he promised them that cows would be allowed free rein there. So he opened up the gates to several farms and cows, lots of cows, now park themselves on the streets of what is a rather pretty area. It could just be a story. But I did see the cows.

Constable's clouds

Jet Airways' flight 9W 381 to Indore was like any other flight to anywhere else. It involved a take-off, a cruise, and then a landing. But like every other journey, what lay beyond the window made it different. Somewhere over Powai lake, the aircraft returned to level. Below was a groggy Bombay. So there was little movement, except for specks of orange and white around temples on hilltops.

But up where we were, there was a different spectacle. In the distance a single layer of thick clouds stretched across the horizon, like an unreal world floating above the real one. They were dark grey and white and grey and pale. They were the same colour as the clouds in John Constable's paintings after his wife died. This was where Odin and Thor and all my Marvel-Comic-characters would play and woo and wage war. This was our monsoon.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

VVS Laxman, the photographer

I woke up this morning to the beep of an SMS. It was from VVS Laxman, saying that I should credit him as the photographer of the small picture on page 10. It was strange. I wondered why, but I wasn't going to fight it. So I thought 'ok' and lay back in bed until it struck me that I wasn't awake, and therefore VVS Laxman didn't message me. Then I woke up. It was a message from someone else.

It has everything to do with closing the magazine. Yeah, that's it.

Right. Now back to business

After the magazine closed last night/this morning, this is what I'd been working on: a piece about the ICC's proposed changes to cricket. And if it doesn't read right, it's because of very little sleep. Regular blogging begins soon. Cheers.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Magazine goes to bed...

...and I stay up telling it bedtime stories. Blogging resumes soon.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Rise! Write!

The writer finally wakes up, and posts here.


Fingers double-click, the mouse wheel is rolled back and forth, a chair creaks. The air conditioner, packed away above a false ceiling, hums a deep hum. Paper slides through the laser printer, making a scraping sound as it moves. A writer lies sprawled across a table close by.


Unlike a typical adventurer, the pilgrim seeks not to conquer the worlds he visits but to surrender to them; and unlike a missionary, he seeks not to preach but, in the silence of his supplication, to listen. A pilgrim does not have to be moving toward something holy, I think, so much as toward whatever resides in the deepest part of him: It could be a poet who gave wings to his soul, or a lover who broke his heart open.
Or a writer looking for nice travel writing. More Pico. More truths. Read the full thing.

The Storyboard Treatment: Sunglasses

Dressed in a salwar-khameez, she walks across a road carrying a notebook. She drops it accidentally. In the distance a car appears. It is a slow car and will take 35 minutes to reach her. She bends for the book and notices the car. Still 34 minutes to go. But there is horror on her face now. There's no way she can avoid it. No, in the 34 minutes left she will remain frozen to her spot, shielding herself from the inevitable nudge. Quick cuts follow, signifying action of some sort, and we assume the worst.

Cut to a hospital. She lies in bed with a bandage wrapped across her eyes. The doctors unwrap it slowly, as we grow more anxious, bursting with sympathy for this flower. Yes, it turns out she is blind. So she must wear Sunglasses. Big bulky ones that look like two black television screens. A lover places them over her eyes and leaves in tears. Another man enters her life, but she is doomed to blindness. Nothing can be done. Or can it? After sharing life for a while, he pays for her operation and she can see again. Such kindness. Now she will never leave him. Or will she? Her old lover appears at her doorstep one day with a rose, catching her and her new boyfriend off-guard. She rushes forth with her passions to reunite with her former lover.

The end.

The Storyboard Treatment

There are good music videos, and there are bad music videos. This is about the bad music videos. The ones that make you go 'wha...?' or, in sms, 'WTF?!' Videos that can be linked to some long-ago abuse. Videos that have nothing to do with life or love, though they depict both. Videos that tell a story, or several stories, in five minutes - including the singer's journey through life and how he or she helps the lovers reunite at the end before vanishing in a puff of glitter, and you later realise he or she's actually god/an angel/a fairy godmother.

This is for the videos that put the entertainment back in music, for those that put women where they really belong: in cholis three sizes too small. The ones that are timeless for they skip the 60s and 70s, and aim straight for the stone age, where men watch the mating dance with intoxicated eyes before dragging a mate by her mane. The ones where emotions never simmer, they roar, for happiness is depicted in a mile-wide smile, anger with an ugly frown; think yahoo emoticons on people's faces. Yes, this is for those videos. The ones that deserve The Storyboard Treatment.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Cutting them down to size

Being part of the edit team on the magazine is delightful. Fine writing has been coming in since the day before yesterday. Writers who can write, writers who make you think, writing that makes you laugh - there's an inspired paragraph by Kamran Abbasi - some statistical writing, and lots else. The mails that come in are also fun. One says, "I know you asked for 600 words, but will 800 do?" One writer forgot what he was writing about. That was after I had reminded him he was writing a piece. Another's gone missing in Pakistan.

This is a change from being on the web team, where so much happens that sometimes I want to go missing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Reach for the clouds, but remember the safety net

Barely a day ago a man fell off the under-construction high-rise opposite my place. The worker had been balancing on a ledge before he toppled over, or so we thought. Today a local newspaper announces that he wasn't a worker but a producer and real-estate dealer who chose suicide. There were no financial problems, his friends said. Cases like this go away eventually, but not before the media digs up something. So we'll know more before long.

That's one matter. The other is, there are workers who walk on the edge of this skyscraper without a safety device. There are no nets, not even a rope attached to the waist. I see them on the ledge on the 16th floor, balancing precariously - it always looks precarious at that height - on the 19th floor, heck, even a fall from the first floor could hurt some. Do the workers even know they're supposed to have some sort of safety nets? I'm going the easy way and blaming the builder on this one. He has a real-estate empire in Bombay, and though his money-making skills are respected, the methods aren't. Yes, it's possible in Bombay to build a posh building and tell the government its actually middle-income housing, while selling each apartment for over $350,000 - that'll get you three brownstone flats in Brooklyn. It's possible to build that building without safety procedures. It's even possible to work around-the-clock and disturb the peace around the construction site while the police shuts down Christmas music performances at 10pm.

Bombay, city of dreams; you can do anything here. that thing you did

In a past life I was an art director who wrote copy. Now I'm a writer designing pages on the side. Harassing the magazine art director with design suggestions is fun.

Monday, May 16, 2005


I came upon this site only recently and wish it had never shut down.'s travel site, Wanderlust has beautiful writing. Here's a sample from Eric Lawlor's Close Quarters, about a train journey in South Africa with two coloureds, one black, and an oven:
For the fourth time in several minutes, the train shudders, eases forward and jolts to a halt. It can't seem to make up its mind. I eye the door. I have snared the only empty compartment on this train, and I'd like to have it all to myself ... The train begins to move again, this time with more of a sense of purpose. We clear the platform and then the station, and for the first time in more than an hour I can breathe easily. But it proves premature because, just then, the door to my compartment opens suddenly and two people enter, one a tall man in his 30s, the other a girlish-looking fellow in his late teens. For a moment I think I'm hallucinating -- that lack of sleep again -- because they're lugging two very large, very ornate mirrors, which they stow in a luggage rack. And then, without speaking a word (they act, in fact, as if they haven't noticed me), they leave.
Read the rest of it. It made me want to pack up and get on a train.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Kapil Dev and the other porn

After carefully watching channel C2 and MH1 for nearly a day, I now know that remixes are the other porn. No plot, no sense, just a lecherous camera. Mind-boggling. Like Kapil Dev this fad hangs about well after its expiry date.

Friday, May 13, 2005

He waits and waits and waits

Steady now, absolutely still. His eyes glance about before settling on a man charging at him. The man stops abruptly and moves his arm all funny, as if throwing a round-house wallop from ten meters away. The steady man raises his arm as his eyes leave the charger. There is no time. Instinct takes less time than thought, so he gives in to it. What does he do? He responds to the thrown punch by stepping back slightly and curling his body as his arms pull back like a trigger. And then the self-created tension uncoils at the speed of instinct. Arms rush forward while he twists his waist balances on the toes of one leg with the digits of the other barely kissing the ground. Then he waits and waits and waits. Steadily, absolutely still, before granting himself a single nod of approval.

Watching a Tendulkar six over midwicket was theatre.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Life in song

If life were a song, I’d make it noisy and raucous and loud and loveable. And each breath would have meanings that needn’t always be understood but whose beauty was understood. And the notes of each second would hit high and low, and each note would know its history, and know its place in the world.

A few days ago, I asked a friend whether modern songs had become less memorable, or were we just getting older? She explained to me that songs had changed because this was earlier the domain of poets and writers immersed in poetry. Then standards dipped in the 70s before dying in the 80s – this I can confirm, for the classic of my childhood was a Jeetendra musical called ‘Mama Mia! Pom Pom!’ This left us with Gulzar and, to a lesser degree, Prasoon Joshi, who can write some wonderful songs. But these are only two – there must be more – in an industry of average work.

But I wonder if writers who don’t write for a living can be moved enough to compose songs of their own. Song-writing, from what I hear, can be a personally rewarding experience. With blogs sprouting everywhere, it seems like every other one of us wants to publish a book. A bit of help, and many could adjust to creating songs. It’s exciting to imagine that there’s a talent waiting to be exposed so we can all be blown away and feel songs and music again. But who could? Or should? My nominations are Chandrahas and one other, who I'll link to later. I haven’t read too many blogs, but of the few I read everyday, there’s something of the poet in this bunch.

There's also one more, but she doesn't blog.

Courage the cowardly dog

An extract from Joshua Doder's book for children, A Dog Called Grk:
Most of the verbs are irregular. Half the idioms make no sense. The [Stanislavian] dictionary is full of words which are almost impossible to translate into any other language.

'Grk' is one of those words. There isn't one single word in English which means exactly the same as 'grk'. To translate it, you would need at least three words, and probably more. In a rough translation, 'grk' means brave, generous and foolish, all at the same time. You would use the word 'grk' to describe a warrior who lost his life in the service of a noble but rather pointless cause.

When Natascha Raffifi was given a tiny puppy by her parents, she thought that he looked very brave, very generous and a tiny bit foolish. So she called him Grk.

Read the whole thing here, at the Guardian.


One day, I’ll actually get used to this. The jostling for space, as if every second has to be spent moving forward and forward only. I was one such jostler today, battling cars for a right to cross a busy road, as much holding my left arm out valiantly to stop them as to block them from view; if I couldn’t see them, they didn’t exist. Such tricks traffic plays on you.

Anyway, I crossed it to run right into more traffic: the two-legged kind. But this I didn’t mind. This was at Juhu beach, the city’s longest, most visited beach. To get there, you have to pass a great wall of eateries, where boys offer you samosa, dahi wada, dosa, whatnot. I remember these as shacks of dubious exteriors when I was a child, corrected now, visually palatable only because of one of those occasional frenzied modernisation drives that grip Bombay every so often. This was where camels’ owners fought for attention a dozen years ago, where miniature ferris wheels squeaked and rattled to add to our horror as we hung on to life when the wheel reached its terrifying nadir of eight feet. The horses were gone, the air guns that we used to shoot at balloons were gone. Only the people remained.

Only people remain. I found her, arms folded, standing straight as children of a young family ran around her. She was watching the sun go down. It vanished softly, taking its colour with it. The moon was a sliver of white in the sky, lost in the light blue now, but it would distinguish itself soon. (Wait, wait, your turn will come.) So under this ambivalent sky we walked and talked, the direction of both of which were familiar. Joggers bounced by, giggly infants raced ahead and then cried at how far behind their parents were, couples linked fingers and arms and themselves in scattered formations over the beach and voyeurs sat nearby to watch. The seaside is a great provider for all sorts in this pressure-cooked city.

According to her, the roasted ear of corn was good, the chana had too much masala, while the dry bhel was the work of an artist. We ate using strips of a magazine cover as spoons, with only the glow of lanterns and streetlamps lighting the beach. If, at that instant, all the lights went off, there would be shrieks, giggles and the sound of clothes rustling. Power cuts should happen at night, when the pent-up heat in this city needs somewhere to go.

Homes that took us to Goa mixed along the beach with buildings that cruelly brought us back. There was a time when this was Goa. Then things happened, the city grew up, grew beefy, grew mouldy. But she loves this city. Like many other who hate it also love it. But we were far from all that then, far from the city’s sounds and opinions. One by one the families left with their children, leaving the sea sole rights to address our ears and calm us. During the day there is no time to think; at night, by the beach, with the sound of waves in the ears, we are not allowed to think.

On some days we find actors rehearsing for a play in a corner, a cigarette in one hand and a dialoguebook in the other. Always animated, eternally alive to life. Today there were none, so there were no rehearsals and no dialoguebooks. The roles we played were our own. She strode lazily, pausing to ask questions, and then started abruptly and walked quickly if the answer was snide. I would pace behind, stepping on her footprints in the sand until she slowed down. So it went like this: talking, moving forward, tracing footsteps, and then moving backward. It was wonderfully un-Bombay.

And so a day at Juhu passed.

Hello, I'm Mr. Drill, your new neighbour

"It's 5:30 now," I imagine the owners of apartments 13b, 15b and 14a connive over a teleconference call, "let's wake up the Bhatias." And then it begins. Thak-thak-thak-thak says a hammer on the upper floor. Wheeeeeeeooooo says the drill machine from below. And from the flat next door come shrieks and shouts of labourers and a bone-vibrating slam. What space do sleep, conversation or silent thought have here, in this chaos? Plates vibrate off tables, remote controls off their resting places, cracks on walls stretch from ceiling to floor. Construction work out there spells destruction in here. As I begin writing, some intuitive guy has begun drilling.

I ran upstairs in a huff on one particularly noisy day and discovered why the 15th floor home had taken over nine months to do up. The floor was of wood, as was the ceiling, the walls, the commode and the bathtub. It was, by far, the most senseless house I had ever seen. Nine months of noise in the morning, afternoon and evening and this is what they come up with? But hope was alive, for their work was gradually ending, as was the next-door neighbours'.

Then one day, the floor went 'tap'. It was a soft tap, as if someone had knocked once. A while later, there came another tap, with more conviction. By the third tap I knew we were dead - construction was about to begin below us. We were in the unenviable position of being under siege by powertools since early 2003. And when this is done, I suspect the guy above will discover his house is a monstrosity and tear everything down.

A silent afternoon. What I'd give for a silent, peaceful afternoon without drilling and sawing and hammering.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Light and music

After a long time, gorgeous mornings are more common. When the view outside is a watercolour painting and the sparrows, crows and pigeons outside the orchestra. And I feel a cool breeze that others can't. There's been no catalyst for this. Nothing out of the ordinary, but then nothing's been ordinary either. Every day seems like a satisfying movie.

These days hinted long ago that they would come. And they came, jarringly at first, but more fluidly after, perhaps hastened by my recent move to Wisden Asia Cricket, which gives me twenty days to write before production kicks in. Or it could be the 58 books bought in the last three months, including Maps for Lost Lovers.

And it's good to know these mornings could get even better a month from now when the rains come and wash the streets with their own pitter-patter beat.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The path of clans

In all the families I know, of all the parents I know, all are joined by a single loose thread. That link is a desire to watch their children touch success. Families expect to surge forward by the thrust of their young, who are fuelled by the blood and ambitions of generations. Your ancestors take every step with you, like a thousand feet stepping at once on the same patch of sand. All seemingly move forward together towards a lighter future where name, happiness and wealth abound. But I wonder about our hidden histories. Were we always a line of bankers or traders? Is there a thief's blood within us and also that of a journeyman? And more importantly, how did they know which way was forward?

During rare moments of absolute clarity the road forward appears as muddled as during times of confusion. Do I take the path taken before by my ancestors? It guarantees a degree of fortune, if not fame. Or do I choose the road that appears more desolate? Because trading, not writing, is in my blood? But what of its rewards, those intangibles that leave the sweetest of tastes?

A reward of this nature is difficult to explain to anyone but those who have sought it and tasted it. It is like the first drop of the monsoon or a warm conversation or a meal prepared well. The rewards are beyond value. You feel as if you have been touched by life itself. It is a tempting path to take.

I wonder whether years from now a sindhi child with a wide nose will imagine his predecessors. "
Do I take the path taken before by my ancestors?" the child will ponder. "There is fame, but no fortune. Or do I choose the road that appears more desolate? Because writing, not trading, is in my blood?"

Bad language

"Do you know why I am here?" Sibylla asked Balian sultrily in the dead of night in Kingdom of Heaven after entering his room in her nightie mere scenes after they shared special smiles. Balian, played by Orlando Bloom, said nothing. Perhaps it was the query. Preoccupied with heavy questions about god - He loves me, He loves me not - redemption and protecting the peace, our young crusader, who would take on the might of Arabia after the interval, was thrown off by this. In any case, Sibylla spelt it out to him and they then rolled about a bit before the Indian censors cut to the next morning.

Couldn't that cut have come a minute earlier? When she opened her mouth, for instance?
The movie was littered with similar sledgehammer instances. Whatever happened to silence and a look that said everything? Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love, for example, spoke with their eyes and bodies. They spoke gently, aware that their own marriages were in peril, as if words would break what held them together. It was subtle, it was beautiful. But then again, Kingdom of Heaven is one of this year's first summer blockbusters.

And subtlety, romantic as it is, isn't a prerequisite in money-spinners.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A trip, a cousin, and lots of stories

This is exciting. I'm making a short trip to Indore at the end of this month and, like last month's journey, there will be plenty of stories to tell. Especially since the family of relatives I'll be with tend to have a funny take on most things. The youngest member of that family, now 15, is especially delightful. He spends lunchtimes with friends inventing quirky urdu poetry.

His story is by far the most interesting - like magic realism - in what is an overwhelmingly large clan. The youngest son of the youngest son in a brood of eight, he emerged crying, and that's all the sound he could make for years. For three years he strained but remained largely silent. What does one do? Treatment, surely, but doctors said not much could be done. So everyone took turns conversing with him and, in some time, the sounds he had begun forcing out became coherent. Then, suddenly, within months, he spoke with more clarity - both in sound and thought - as if it was nothing new. He spoke as quickly as words could come out. Barely would one end before the next began. There were no fullstops, no commas, no silence, and all day long he was a fountain of speech. The more stunning thing was that he thought as quickly as he spoke, which led us teenage cousins to believe that we had a genius on our hands.

So Indore, with its kaanch mandir (glass temple) and markets and havelis (palaces) and a cousin who can't keep quiet, beckons. This is all rather exciting.

Saying hello to India

It's only been three weeks since the game in Delhi. Why does it feel longer? The calm after the trip has been a restless one, fraught with anxiety over the next stint. I stare at the calender, calculating dates, planning budgets, looking at maps, and then recalling a sister's wedding or a relocation and starting from zero again. My nights and days are spent dreaming of shawls and steam engines and a hot drink on a verandah on a December morning in Kashmir. There are stories out there, not where you are, my imagination tells me. This is a lie, of course, but I'm happy to listen.

My smiles to no one attract attention from everyone as I mentally plot an unsteady line across India, imagining the train's path, the fleeting villages and people of every colour and accent. There is some detachment from reality here, because the trains run on time, these people of varying colours and accents are always amicable, and the village huts are almost always made of straw. In other words, I need to see more.

"You need to see more," a friend said quite some time ago, nodding her head sagely. Well-travelled, lucid, and often too worldly for her own good, she suggested travel as a method of learning more about India. I was fresh off the boat then and bathed in the particular clueless self-assurance that afflicts many college grads from America. Travel? Pshaw. "Sure," or something like it, I said. It's been a while since then and India has been calling. I'm not sure how I'll answer, but it's calling, and the calls have been ringing loud for some time.

Something has been shifting steadily: an understanding of my own life and place in the world. There's nothing extraordinary about it, for I guess everyone has their silent but monumental moments. India has a lot to do with mine. It has few laws and yet it survives and grows. It throws up and swallows crises everyday. It does this, it does that; nothing surprises you, everything could horrify you. This utter chaos is appealing because it is, in a sense, like each of us. Understand me and you will understand yourself, it says.

So I'm wondering how I got here. Sometimes it feels, rather romantically, like predestination. At other times, it's like waking up groggy one morning in Vegas and finding yourself married to Britney Spears. I love it, but it leaves me and a few others I know utterly helpless. What to do then? Fight it out? Or throw yourself into it and see what it makes of you, like it has done to countless others before?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Like a bat out of Meerut

Many years ago, behind my building in Deira in Dubai, lay a large patch of sand. We played cricket there, and were horrified when, some years later, bulldozers and sandlifters parked themselves there for construction work. Yet we found a sandy bank to play in, or if there weren't any, we'd flatten a long patch and begin playing. Then, when the parking lot was made, we adapted to this new pitch and its bounce. As bowlers, with a deadly taped ball in our grasp, we were Akram, Younis and Donald. As batsmen however, we were unbeatable. We were Sunil Gavaskar, because all we had were SG bats. We thought that's what SG stood for. Still, a new SG bat created a wave of excitement. Boys from the adjoining playgrounds would come by to see it and knock on it with knuckles, nodding appreciatively. Then some guy would visit India for his vacations and come back with a better one. Such is life.

Some time last month I visited Sanspareils Greenlands (SG) in Meerut to write a story on balls. There I met Paras Anand, who runs the place. We spent the afternoon walking about, him talking, me questioning. There was one utterly enchanting spot in the factory, where unlabelled bats leaned by walls along a long corridor. They weren't shiny yet but, man oh man, they looked gorgeous. One had a heavy butt (curve?) and a label around its neck naming an Australian player. I stopped to stare while Paras went on talking and walking. "Do these cost less in Meerut, since they're made here?" I asked.

Sure, I expected him to say, it costs about 200 to make it. I would have snapped up two, or maybe five. "If you want one, you can have it from the factory," Paras said. "Free."

Free scares me. Free is light on the wallet but heavier on something else. I grinned, nodded no, and we got back to talking about balls.

Thursday, May 05, 2005


Five years ago
I'm at Pratt Coffee Shop on the corner of DeKalb and St James. A pink milkshake and a half-eaten burger are on the table. It snowed last night and there's a line outside, huddled shivering figures trying to get in but too polite to evict us slow eaters. The Russian owner smiles and digs for change while I find the Rupee and Dirham notes cluttered among others on the wall behind him. I step outside and the cold goes through my nostrils to my head. There is homework to do, but all this weather does is make you sleepy.

In time

I'm thinking of Kashmir, a mountain in north India. I find myself there in a cottage, writing happily and without a cell phone. We're having chats outside the bread shop, and at six in the evening, the storekeeper joins us for drinks and we tell stories in the dark.
No woman, no cry plays somewhere and I hum with it, singing my favourite parts: Everything's gonna be alright.

But there is a woman. The song is a parody now, sung in bachelor days of the past. My clouds don't have silver linings now, they don't need silver linings. They're whiffs of cloud, feelings of eternal lightness. It's night and I'm on this mountain, thinking of all the times I sat and watched the stars and I remember that each time was significant. Once, on a bus to Goa, and then in a tsunami-swept village in Tamil Nadu; at either end of a relationship.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Losing a day

From a lucid Pico Iyer essay on the disorientation that is part of travel:

I get off a plane, 17 hours out of joint, and tell naked secrets to a person I know I don't trust. A friend starts talking about her days - her plans, her friends, the things she wants to do - and tears start welling in my eyes, in a restaurant. I can't sleep at night (because I've been sleeping in the day), and so I try to go through my routine, as I might in the daylight world. But I write the wrong name on the uncharacteristically emotional letter. I shower the stranger with endearments. When the lady at the bank offers me a $3,000 credit for the $30,000 cheque I've given her (a large part of my yearly income), I smile and say, 'Have a nice day'.
Catch the rest of it at the Guardian.

The Russi local

At midnight the immigration officials came banging on the doors. The train was still so you could hear them coming. For an hour and a half the carriages were infested with uniforms, Polish, Belarus and Russian passport officers in green and Belarus customs inspectors in blue and without hats. Three countries' border formalities completed in darkness in a single, surly bureaufest of inkpads and suspicion.

At 3am, with a series of resounding jolts, we were shunted into a dimly lit shed for one of the most eccentric frontier procedures in the world. Because the gauge of Russian railways is 89 millimetres wider than the standard gauge used in the rest of Europe, the wheels of the entire train have to be changed. Each carriage, passengers and all, is jacked up and adapted for the rails of Mother Russia. Nobody has ever invaded her by train.

Peter Hughes takes the Trans-Siberian Express, a fine journey.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Househunting observations

In one apartment block, the floor sequence in the elevator was "8, 9, 10, 11, 12, T, 14, 15..."

In Andheri, living on a higher floor is not a good idea. On the 18th floor, one side had a view of slums, while the other was of the rooftops of residential Andheri, in itself a rather glum sight.

If the builder says it'll be ready in six months, add another six to his estimate.

Builders will throw in words like 'Diwali' and 'New Year' to influence you. Eg. "It'll be ready for possession by Diwali." Why Diwali, you ask? It's an auspicious time to buy a house or make major changes, according to Hindu tradition as I know it.

Building societies are a monstrous pain in the butt. Any changes you would like to make in your flat, a place you have spent your own money on, have to be approved by a fat, balding, wheezing building secretary who isn't getting any.

Going by the intensity of the schpeil a builder gave me about the Otis elevators, home buyers are influenced by the smoothness of their elevator rides. "And it has 24-hour music too," he added.

Builders begin by assuming you're an ass. One took me to a tenth-floor window and pointed at the barren ground that lay below. "Look there," he said, "you have a view of a garden."

"What? Where?" I asked.

"There, where you are looking. It is a garden."

"But it doesn't have any grass and there is nothing there. There's no one there. What makes it a garden?"

"It is government-owned and there is a sign outside the plot that says it is a garden."

I didn't know what to say.


It is 3:12am. The birds have already begun chirping. The stray dogs haven't stopped barking since 1am. This is a city that never sleeps because the animals keep it awake.


Today, a broker took me to seven apartments around Andheri and Versova so I could choose a place to move to. The first had no view. I mentioned this to the landlord, who said rather merrily, "Oh, but there is a view. You can see the next building's garden from the bathroom."

The second was quite good, and everything seemed right, but something important I could not think of was missing. The next was boring. But the fourth, now that was love.

The dealer unlocked the door to a smallish two-bedroom apartment on the first floor and I stepped in. What happened next was, well, just like love. It struck hard. I felt that if I moved here, nothing would ever make me sad again. It was cozy, it was warm, it was near the ground and the rooms were clustered together, like a little commune. At that moment thought would have been useless; amounting to nothing. I wanted to bring the world here and say 'this is happiness, this first floor 2bhk' with a view of children playing and a little flowerbed outside each room and a kitchen with a full length window where I imagined cooking pancakes and Thai green curry without gobi.

Friends could cook themselves something and crash out. They could come and go as they wanted - while I was around, of course - and we could watch movies and have tea and make plans to do devious things. My front door would be a revolving door.

I used to think love was an intense feeling that no one understood, so it could not be shared with others. But I was wrong, for I want to jump about and share this place and tell everyone I've fallen in love.

The kindly broker took me about to three more places but it was of no use. My mind was elsewhere; I'd found love.