Sunday, 27 December 2009

3 Idiots over 3 D anyday

I slept through most of Avatar a few days back. I was sleep deprived. I had a heavy lunch before watching the film. But to be honest the story didn't engross me.

I watched 3 Idiots this afternoon. I slept late last night. Didn't have my post breakfast Sunday nap. The show coincided with my Sunday afternoon ghoom or siesta... sacrosanct to the Bong Bhodrolok.

I did not sleep in the movie.

Yes, it took off from where Tare Zameen Par left. And the second half was Munna Bhai 3. K feels it had every cliche possible and that it is no Dead Poet's Society or even DevD.

But I liked it. It was not new yet refreshing. There were cliches but it also made fun of cliches (the art house treatment of the Rastogi family poverty for example). The film oozed melodrama specially post the samosa break. Yet you could feel that the script writer hadn't left the building.

The message of 'excel in what you are passionate about and success will follow' is something some of us talk about. But it is a message which is still new to most of Joint Entrance Test crazy middle class India. Or at least something we don't talk about at home. A bit like sex. Yes, 3 Idiots it is no Dead Poet's Society but it has taken the message across to parts of India which DVDs from Bandra's Movie Junction don't reach. And in a manner that is light and engaging.

It is also a message which is particularly poignant to many thirty plus Bloggers I am sure. Folks who blog because they like to write. Writing is something which they don't do for a living. And they often write on things which, again, have nothing to do with what they do to earning a living.

3 Idiots raises many questions. Do we want to answer them?

Including, in a different vein, why shoot films in New York and Switzerland. 3 Idiots really romanced the hills of Uttaranchal. And the last sequence set in Ladakh, was breath taking. The blue of the lake was purer than anything I have ever seen.

With Aamir Khan is around 'All would be well' with Indian cinema. To think that I was a bigger Salman Khan fan when they both started off!

I guess there is still nothing to beat good old story telling. Even if it is in just two dimensions.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Happy Holidays

Out of office replies of offices shut from the 24th of December to 4th, in some cases 12th Jan, have begun to come in from the West. A few months before we begin to get ten day long OOOs from the Far East for the Chinese New Year. And then seven days for Ramadan and 30 half days from the Middle East.

Pity that we don't have the concept of vacations in Corporate India. In fact we are the first to criticise ourselves about the number of holidays that we have. Yet what do our OOOs read like? One day here and at the most a three day weekend there. Even the apocryphal shut down in Calcutta for Durga Puja is actually for three days which could include a weekend too. But then we have made self deprecation a fine art haven't we?

It's sad that life has passed India by.

And thank you Lord Clive for this three day weekend.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The importance of being 'Nyaka'

'Nyaka' is a Bengali term which beats translation. It could mean coy, coquettish, scheming, la di da. There is no one word which captures it. The term is used in a pejorative context and has a sarcastic tone to it. Used a bit more for women than for men. Has a feminine context when used for men.

I posed the challenge of translating 'nyaka' into English to fellow Bengalis in Facebook. Here's a sample of the answers that I got.

I have removed the names and kept the statuese as is, hope it's not too difficult to read

Bong man 1

Coy.....but that does capture the essence
14 December at 14:37 ·

Me
No ...not entirely. A colleague just suggested precocious. Maybe its too intrinsic a Bong trait to be translated :)
14 December at 14:50 ·

Bong woman 1

kol-lan, difficult to get a english / hindi word for nyaka.
14 December at 15:11 ·

me
that's the point
14 December at 15:15 ·

Bong woman 2
oh, i think the essence of the word 'nyaka' will be lost in translation. just like getting a bengali word for 'smart'. 'ustaad' is the closest ( as suggested by my bro) but it is a derivative from 'ustaad'. may be that's why we keep hearing bongs saying " bhishon smart";-)
14 December at 15:51 ·

Me
and then there is 'paaka' . Precocious would be somewhat there for paka but not as colloquial
14 December at 15:54 ·

Bong woman 3
affected, spoilt, irritatingly coy, are words/ phrases that sound somewhat close to me for nyaka
14 December at 16:45 ·

Bong woman 3
even pampered, could do somewhat
14 December at 16:45 ·

Bong woman 3
pampered drama queen could also work
14 December at 16:47 ·

me
ok ...the context i am looking at would be similar to 'aar nyakami korona'....say a person created a problem/ dispute and then kept beating his or her chest about it...just to clarify this is an academic discussion to illustrate a point :)
14 December at 16:48 ·

Bong woman 3
ya understood, in that context drama queen, appeals to me
14 December at 16:54 ·

me
i suggested that too...but apparently that was 'too strong'
14 December at 16:57 ·

Bong woman 3

arre it is more to do with how you say it that determines whether it is strong or weak na? so even if you say you little ass to someone who you are affectionate with, it may not come across as a gaali na
14 December at 17:38 ·

me
true a lot is in the inflection... we are a deep race
14 December at 17:39 ·

Bong man 1

I like this conversation
14 December at 17:42 ·

Bong woman 3
in the garb of affection you can get away with a lot....jus kidding..., but obvious that you are enjoying - given you too belong to OUR race that makes conversations as a way of life
14 December at 18:02 ·

me
and if this was a challenge try adikhyeta :)
14 December at 19:35 ·

Bong woman 2

chalak = street smart adikeyta = gluttony nyaka = acting the dumb blond act to get your work done
14 December at 21:16 ·

Bong man 1
Superb!!!!!
14 December at 21:18 ·

Bong woman 2

SM says coquettish.
14 December at 21:23 ·

Bong woman 2

A Csays : It took me a sec to make out the word...than a hearty laugh Nyaka is a word best suited to bongs only ,because I guess we r the only ones who can be like that but in a cultured way....others r more like Shaunda -Gunda types.Nyaka does not have a exact english or hindi connotation .In hindi/english it would incline to something not nice (vulgar), which it is not suppose to be .So just stick to Nyaka in all vernacular lang .
14 December at 21:24 ·

Me
Maybe we shd ask Arnab Goswami to debate at New Hour Bong woman 2, isn't adikhyata a form of nyakami. Taking on from A C can we say that Nyaka is like Mithunda and Bappida... Unique
14 December at 21:44 ·

Bong woman 4

nyaka is not pakka. it is sort of taish bangali mei! which again begs to be translated. nyaka is someone who wears high heels to the pao bhaji stall and says, " bhaiya...yeh vegetables sab bisleri mein dhoya hai na?naka is sharmila tagore in mere sapno ki raani. just watch her expressions.
14 December at 22:05 ·

Bong woman 4

oh. i think sanchita hits the nail on the head. nyaka is the bong version of dumb blonde. brilliant.
14 December at 22:07 ·

me
hmmm
Bong woman 4 ... That would be right up Tiger's street. And I don't mean Danny. Sharmila T or her bahu, Poo wd be a great analogy. But what about when one uses it in a bitter way?
14 December at 22:23 ·

Bong woman 3
Sharmila T's Bahu? Who is that Kol-lan...yup agree Sharmila abso fits the bill....
Bong woman 2, I love the eloquent way you define nyaka, though my version of one is more like Sharmila T, and so obviously not the dumb blonde but a sexy siren with affected mannerisms :-)...Kollan nyaka in a bitter sense reminds me of those wicked shashuris and step ... See Moremothers in Bengali cinema who would give gaalis like nyaaka, delivered in a shrill-pitch, and prefixed by a sarcastic and sing-song hmmmmm, suffixed by mukhpuri type of words :-)
14 December at 23:00 ·

me

Bong woman 3, very good analogy for bitter nyaka. Bahu as in Bebo in K3G
14 December at 23:18 ·

Bong woman 3

Aah ok, Bebo :-).....
14 December at 23:21 ·

Bong woman 5
Coquetish
15 December at 02:03 ·

Bong woman 3
Coquettish, charming and irritating, all can be flavours of nyaka, but all nyakas neednt be all of those, tai noi ki?
15 December at 07:15 ·

me

good one Bong woman 5
15 December at 08:04 ·

Bong woman 2
this could be heading towards a 'nayaka analysis / analogy' summit. but then anything for much food and booze. unfortunately dont have enough bengalis in goa who would want to discuss this through :)
15 December at 08:52 ·

Bong woman 1
Bong woman 4your description of 'nyaka' reminded me of someone who we know.." sookha bhaaji and diet coke ;-))
15 December at 09:37 ·

Bong woman 2
Bong woman 1, we too have this variety available. they order sukhi bhaji poori and then dab a tissue to get rid of the extra oil from the puris :)
15 December at 11:03 ·

me

Diet Pepsi and rum :) I was thinking the same thing Bong woman 2 about the 'summit' must bookmark this for posterity. Wonder why hardly any Bengali men have commented though. Any thoughts?
15 December at 11:38 ·

Come to think of it, Ash, with her 'eesh' in Devdas would be a good example.

bong man 2 (would that make me Bong man 0?)
tahole, jeta daralo, english of nyaka is shormila...right?
15 December at 18:24 ·

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The creative race

I was quite intrigued to find that there was only one Bengali at the fag end of the list of the top 20 influential people in advertising. This was in the Brand Equity Ad Agency Reckoner 2009. There was no Bengali in the list of top ten folks in creative in the same report.

The reason for this slightly parochial post of mine is the disconnect between the rankings in advertising and the Bengali image, or self image, of being a creative race. While definitions of creativity abound, there is no denying the fact that advertising is one of the most prominent, with it and organised creative professions around.

Old timers or industry watchers bear me out on this but weren't there more Bongs influencing Indian advertising earlier?

Assuming that Bongs wielded more influence earlier I wonder what led to the current Bong famine in the peaks of advertising. Could it be the ascent of the Hindi language in Indian advertising? Or the migration of clients from Calcutta at a pace which was faster than the exodus of Calcuttans from Calcutta? Or was advertising seen to be too 'capitalistic' a rendition of art for the Bengali Bhadrolok? Or, dare we admit it, others were more 'creative'?

What's your take on this?

I know tons of bongs in advertising who are of my age. Maybe the results would look a different a few years later.

The scores would be a bit different if this was a ranking of the world of media (English only). The Goswamis and Roys and Mukherjees would pop up. Or Indian authors in English and the Jhumpa Lahiris and Amitav Ghoshes. Publishing perhaps. There would still be Bengalis there.

What about Bengalis in Blogging? Too many anonymous writers at this point in the Blogosphere though for such a survey.

For the record, I work in market research. So this is an outsider's perspective. A Market Research reckoner in India would still throw up more Bengalis, or T least people from Calcutta, in the list. But then few outside the industry would consider it to be a creative field.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

'Meat in the room'

A friend of mine gave me a DVD of In The Loop to watch recently.

It's a modern British political satire. The twenty first century inheritor of the legacy of the Yes Prime Minister and the Yes Minster series. It is cutting and irreverent as only the British can be. I guess there is something for being a race that swears by the stiff upper lip. My friend said that the film has been described as 'the Sistine Chapel of profanity'.

The film is set in the context of British and American polity and the build up to an Iraq like invasion.

I found an interesting concept there, that of 'meat in the room'. Apparently the Americans don't feel that a meeting is a meeting unless there are at least twenty people in the room. So Simon Foster, bumbling British minister, is asked to attend a joint US UK meeting. He is there to make up the number. Or as the British apparently say, to be 'meat in the room'. He is given strict instructions to remain mum and to not draw attention to himself.

Problem is that no one has told Simon he is meat in the room. He feels compelled to say something as he is in the room. He believes that the Americans who called for the meeting would expect that.

He opens his mouth. And sparks off a series of event which lead to the Americans and Brits deciding to invade an unnamed country.

Sounds familiar? Have you even come across meat in the room? Have you ever been meat in the room?

Have a happy and fulfilling Sunday.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Carry on doctors

Being an orthopaedic surgeon's son I have grown up playing with X Rays, little hammers to tap people on their knees, injections, stethoscopes and seeing my dad make plaster casts out of white water (POP). I learn lessons from my mother about not breaking the time sequence for medicines, not stopping antibiotics mid way, not taking medicines without doctor's prescriptions, getting tetanus when you get cut, dissolving Dispirin in water and eating something before taking a pain killer. These are the standard 'facts of life' lessons which most Bengalis get.

Imagine my plight when I come across the Wild West of Mumbai medicine.

My first encounter with a Mumbai doc was when I had fever and my P G aunty recommended that I go to the doctor she went to. This fine disciple of Hippocrates examined me and then gave me a set of coloured pills. Pink and blue at night. Yellow in the afternoon. This was the equivalent of going to the village Shaman to a person who is used to talking to his doc in terms of the merits of Amoxycilin versus Thrombocyn and the m g of each.

I asked him if I should do a blood test for Malaria. He said 'you can do it if you like'.

If I like ???!!! If I wanted to be poked with a needle I would do a tattoo for God's sake.

His parting words to me were 'don't have non veg food for a few days'. That's when I ran out of the chamber vowing never to return. Any respectable Bengali knows that chicken stew is synonymous with fever.

This happened way back in 1997. I have found a set of wonderful doctors over the last twelve years.

Our family doctor is a GP who gives coloured pills, a reality of life in Mumbai. I had read somewhere that you should find a doctor you trust who is your age and grow old with him. That's the case between us. I never have to remind him of any of my previous ailments. I can get him on on phone at any time if there is an emergency.

You know that he really feels for you. He seemed heartbroken when he had to prescribe cholesterol medicines for me and started by saying 'This is a sad day and I am really sorry to say that I have to give you... '. K and I had to console him. He looked psyched and distressed when I told him about my recent fish bone scare. Then I called him to tell him about my fractured toe. He replied by saying, 'Oh my God', and sounded like he'd seen a ghost.

He is very popular and you have to wait for ages to see him. But then it's no surprise that people would like to be with a doctor who feels for you.

I went to a Catholic lady doc, a G P, sometime back when our family doc was out of town. I had an upset stomach. I don't know how the conversation reached there but my visit ended with her giving me her recipe for pork spare ribs. She is a colourful character, full of life. And, surprise, surprise, gives prescriptions. She'd talk about the most morbid thing with a jovial voice...from breast cancer checks (!) to a parting shot of 'don't forget to take your vitamins, we are all hurtling towards old age and senility'. We went to her once for K's bad throat. Doc told us that it could be infectious and that we should avoid contact through towels, utensils and then suddenly threw up her hands and said, 'what to do, you guys will kiss naa?' And she has the most adorable, scuffed up, teddy bear in the room. Reminds me of Ross' visit to his paedio in F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

Both are very good docs.

I have my ortho on speed dial. I had read about the tea and coffee machine in his chamber in a Bombay Times feature way before there were blogs and before I had a back problem. I have never tried the coffee though the sign kindly asks you to help yourself.

He is another very nice soul. As, Julius Caesar told us, all roly poly folks are. Unlike other surgeons he won't ask you to do MRIs straight away. He is extremely patient and kind and will NEVER scare you. He will take the skeleton on his desk and will describe in detail about what's happened to you. And will often show you exercises at the jump of a hat. Don't forget that he is super sized. My mom in law calls him a teddy bear.

You don't feel that its all about money when you deal with him. He won't push his own physio or diagnostic clinic. At times he will prescribe stuff on the phone even if it means losing out on the visit charges.

Thankfully he was close by yesterday when I broke my toe. He called me over to the charity clinic he was in. Then called back by himself to tell me that I should take a Combiflam and a glass of milk before I left home.

He took one look at my foot and said 'yes, it's looking deformed' . Turned out he was looking at the wrong foot! Anyway he strapped up my toes and I am hobbling towards recovery. He didn't bother about his fees and said he'd adjust it a week later.

Almost everyone I know goes to him. We are the bad back generation after all. I think the time has come to start a Facebook group around him.

We know a genius of a Gastroenterologist too. A nice person to know once the little business of Endoscopy is done with. Some people shake hands when they meet, others hug. He pushes a pipe though you when you are introduced for the first time.

My mom in law credits him with giving my Pa in law a second life when everyone else was floundering. Our family swears by him.

I once told him about my cholesterol report and asked him about the dangers of mutton. He went into a monologue about how the mutton today is not a patch on real mutton. No fat, no taste, no juice. I was surprised to know that our skinny doctor had obviously seen life.

Feel free to drop in a mail if you ever need, and I sincerely hope you don't, the name and contacts of any of these doctors. They are all based at Bandra.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Mera Karan Arjun Aayega

Once upon a time there was a company called Bajaj. It used to make something called scooters. The entire Hum Log segment of India used to dream of getting one and would pray for years to be allotted one. There was another company called H M. It used to make a car called the Ambassador. The Polo Playing set of India would queue up for decades to get one of these.

Meru and Mega A C cabs were a boon to those frazzled by the stinking, dusty smelly black and yellow cabs of Mumbai. Folks who were willing to pay a bit more for a better ride. Good cabs which you only got to experience as a tourist in the Far East. Without the ridiculous fees charged by the scamsters who run Blue Cool Cabs.

Tons of folks jumped into these cabs and soon the demand exceeded the supply. That's when the problems started. Call centres which wouldn't give bookings for short distances. Huge waits to get through to the call centres. Cabs which never turned up despite committed times and driver numbers. Drivers calling up saying their cars had mysteriously stalled. Worse still sitting and wondering what happened as there would be no news of your car. Complaint after complaint which cut no ice. These guys had a winning product after all.

This morning was typical. K booked her cab for this morning yesterday morning, twenty four hours in advance. I booked mine last evening. Twelve hours in advance.

The time for K's cab came in the morning. But not the cab. She called up the call centre and was shunted from one apologising exec to another without the promise of a cab. The pitch of her voice got higher and I began to fear for her sanity and mental balance.

I launched into Beethoven's ninth in the shower meanwhile. I had got my driver details after all. while K was told that there were no cars in our area. We live in the same house.

After being reduced to imitating Mamata Banerjee after twenty minutes of banging her head on the phone, K got a car. Which is when my allotted driver called up to say that his car was 'stalled'. I called up again. Was promised a cab in ten minutes.

I hitched a ride from K twenty minutes later and then got into an auto rickshaw and bounced all the way to Andheri.

Post Script: I booked a Meru again to return from work. It has actually turned up. As, someday, will the Hero Honda Splendor and Maruti 800 of AC cabs.

Till then keep a blood pressure pill handy when you book a Meru.

Monday, 30 November 2009

The naughtiest car in the world

I thought that all those of years of automotive market research, listening to folks refer to their cars as wife, lover, girlfriend, mistress (the married ones), would have prepared me for today.

But no, it is not easy to see your first car go.

We had him for more than six years. The time by which most people are onto their third car these days.

He was jumpy and would rattle us in the rear seat. An attention seeker if there ever was one. He had the family appetite and would need a refill much earlier than others. He liked being pampered, car window washes, polishes, scrubs, metrosexual's the term I am looking for. Hot headed at times, he would blow hot air though the AC in the sun. Much to my embarrassment if I was with colleagues.

Tall, gawky. Chubby. Black as the night. He would get scratched up and covered with mud like a frisky poodle.

He would greet me with the biggest smile in car land. Waited patiently while I learnt to drive. And then again when he and I got lost time after time as we tried to navigate the by lanes of Mahim. He watched indulgently as K soon abandoned the driver's seat for the back seat. A series of nannies and he was still unfazed.

I loved the times when I would be driving him alone on weekends. Looked forward to the times when we didn't have drivers. When K and I had him to ourselves. I think he did too.

The last few days were tough on him. He aged quickly. A bit like Marley in Marley and Me. Each day saw a new ailment. A pipe which leaked. The steering wheel which went stiff. AC which gave in. Spark plug which got burnt. Headlights which went dim and needed to be replaced. Shrieking linke a banshee when we started it. Each time we would get a mechanic and fix him. But with each day it was clear that the end was close.

We signed the deal and traded him in. A last drive to South Mumbai yesterday with K and me. Memories of many such trips to Churchill and Martins. And the ones for ice cream and dessert emergencies to Carter Road at night.

Fuelled him for the last time. A goodbye treat of premium petrol. A last sprint up the sea link today. And off he went with a big goofy grin.

I guess the first ones are impossible to forget.

Post Script: Sam the car was there with us to welcome Princess Leia at the dealership the next day

Friday, 27 November 2009

Life after the fifteen minutes

I was walking at Carter Road last evening. Yes, I occasionally do exercise more than my digestive system.

I came across a candle march/ forum with Milind Soman standing there. Every girl I knew in college had a crush on him As do most women I know now. Turned out that the gathering was organised by NDTV. A Celebrate Bandra rock show was going on five feet away. It was close to nine o clock and they stopped the band for a few minutes to observe silence. The band joined Soman for a TV grab. A few teens clicking it all on their mobile were asked to join in by the anchor.

I resisted the urge to jump in, come on TV and wave at my mom. I marched on, instead, in my war against cholesterol. Without a candle.

I have got nothing against candle marches. As Rahul Bose said on CNN IBN yesterday everyone has their own way of coping.

Nor am I belittling the attacks because they happened in the 'First World' of South Mumbai.

The point that I am trying to make is that there is a lot that needs to be done. Jawans guarding the Gateway sleeping on the pavements? NSG Mumbai base formed at Pune because of land problems here? Force One Guards borrowing AK 47s from the CRPF to practice as guns haven't been procured for them?

No Prime Minister, not happening.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Candle in the wind

Coldly put, Mumbai and Sobo five stars would be the media planner's equivalent of a Times Of India, front page, full page ad.

Since then Maoists have gone on a rampage. The Chinese have put on boots and are walking all over Arunachal. Terrorists at Guwahati are competing with those at Peshawar for the most number of bomb blasts in a day. And Qasab does biriyani reviews in Mumbai.

Our polity fights over what language to swear in. And over who leaked the report of a seventeen year old study. And for three days news channel programmers don't have to think of new themes to cover.

Well at least candle manufacturers will be better off a year after 2611.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The dreaded B word

I read a very nice link on Facebook today on 2611. The author, someone who has come to Mumbai from Calcutta to work, vented her anguish on the year gone by. Here's the link. It's that time of the year when we have all become cynical again. But why not. Nothing has changed since then has it?

There was an interesting reader comment on the same Facebook post which referred to the 'silly debate on Mumbai versus Bombay'.

So here, at the risk of getting stoned and tarred, are my two bits on the subject.

Mumbai will always be Bombay in my heart. That's because I grew up in an era when Mumbai was Bombay, Chennai was Madras, CST was VT, and Myanmar was Burma. And, in case you are wondering, Kolkata is Calcutta to me.

The truth is that Bombay doesn't officially exist anymore. Like it or not, it is Mumbai. And it has been renamed by those who belong to the city. So one can cry for Bombay. Ridicule the change. But Bombay will remain Mumbai. Till it changes again.

Frankly I doubt if the essence of the city has changed with the renaming. It is still a city on the move. A city which doesn't just talk. A city of doers. A city where everyone wants to come to. A city which people hate. Yet love. As the Eagles would say a city you can check out of but can't leave. To the world Mumbai is India. We suffered that when the terrorists attacked us last year. They knew that nothing can give the sort of mileage that Mumbai would.

It is a bit like a woman changing her surname after marriage. The person remains the same. But the documents need to be changed.

Mumbai is the new name of Bombay. And there is no point in using any other name in an official forum. Offical forums would be forms and applications, reports and organised mass media. The Blog space remains personal still and I am not sure if rules apply here.

My argument therefore is that one should refer to Bombay as Mumbai in official forums. There's nothing ideological about it. It is a fact.

One's personal relation with Mumbai is a completely different though. What the Mumbai brigade should understand that most who refer to Mumbai as Bombay do it more out of habit than as an intentional slight on the city or its culture. Politicians who insist on taking their oath in Hindi might have hidden agendas. Not the average Jaikishen who is trying to scrounge his rent for the most expensive hundred square feet in the world while hanging precariously from a local train.

I would compare it with a term of endearment which you might have for your lover which might not be her formal name. Or like calling an old college classmate 'fatty' like in the old days though he is now a trim and fit Mr Arora, MBA Harvard. It is not an insult. It is how you relate to the city. if characters in films and books say Bombay that's because people still do.

And, emotions, can't be doctored or tailored. Nor can art and literature. Ask Goebbels.

So what I am trying to say is that if you want call Mumbai Bombay, remember it is Mumbai now. Get real and don't end up being a lover from the past.

And for those who swear by Mumbai, the city needs a lot more from you than your bashing up those who have used the B word.

There is a hell of a lot that needs to fixed in this city. So let's not get sidetracked and then marvel at the Shanghais and Singapores and Dubais of the world.

Post Script ... I read a nice article by Bhavin Jhankaria of Mumbai Mirror a few weeks back. He made a similar argument. This is the link

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Time heals all? A city in denial

I came upon a very well packaged feature on last year's 2611 terror attacks in Times Now today. It's called 'Those who fought for us'. I got hooked onto Times Now during those horrible days when we were all shaken up.The earnest and passionate coverage of Arnab Goswami and his team struck a chord.

Watching the programme set me thinking.

  • Qasab's still alive. The Arthur Road Jail road block to keep him safe means that he is till a thorn in the flesh of Mumbaikars. As if reading about his giddiness and pleas for biriyani were not enough to make our blood boil
  • The ministers who were sacked after the attacks are back. One in the same post
  • The government has been re-elected at the Centre and the State
  • While the opposition goes about whacking people for calling Mumbai, Bombay. Pity they didn't try beating up the terrorists who were immigrants to Mumbai too
  • Retired cops are probably trying to get book deals by raking up controversy
  • While the SRPF Jawans who are protecting the Gateway to Mumbai have to sleep on the footpath
  • For many the effects of the attacks are traffic jams in Tulsi Pipe Road thanks to naka bandis. Or the irritation of having to get your cell phone checked at Malls
  • While a few have had their lives scarred for ever
  • Mumbai's own Bollywood is addressing the issue of terrorist attacks. In New York City.
  • And marketing teams have ad campaigns ready to ride the memories of the carnage

Bomb Blasts, Train Blasts, 2611 ... I guess there is still some of the famous 'Spirit of Mumbai' left to wash clean our next wound

Friday, 30 October 2009

Where one city ends and another begins

I am in Kolkata right now.

The 'Coffee House' part of this blog is from Kolkata and its famed addas (chats) of the India Coffee House. The blog was supposed to reflect my part Kolkata part Mumbai identity.

Yet I realised that I have begin to view the city from a tourist or travel writer's eye.

Right from the attempted scams at the airport (tips to load your suitcase by pulling it from your hand or proposing to locate a cab which is in front of you) to rude, disinterested, non change returning, men manning the prepaid counter, the airport loo which was out of a Ramsey horror film and the four men who sat in the front seat of the cab I hired to the cabbie who will charge twenty Rupees extra to take you home and the joy of the Metro Station just opened outside our house and the bewildered attempts to place stations called Mahanayak Uttam Kumar (Tollygunge), Netaji, Masterda Surya Sen (my Bansdroni) and Kobi Nazrul Islam).

So when does a city start becoming a stranger? I have been in Mumbai for ten years now. Another five and I can officially call myself a Mumbaikar apparently. In the process I romanced Mumbai eateries on my food blog, presented papers on it in research conferences on Mumbai and now write on it on the B A's Mumbai Metro Twin too.

Is ten years enough to make a city a memory? While I did live for eighteen years in Calcutta, I was not born there. I moved in when I was eight. My parents weren't born there either.

Calcutta remains the central city for all Bengalis who don't live in Bengal. The mother ship. The lodestar. Our Jerusalem. I am no different.

I guess a city is also made of its people and its memories. I am writing this post on my dad's desk which used to be my study table through school and college. In my room where I navigated through those awkward teen years and hit the twenties with baggage such as Rambo and Juhi Chawla posters. I went to Park Street earlier today where every step brought back million memories. And walking around our building where I moved in when I was ten is a Cinema Paradiso flashback sequence of Durga Pujas and Leo Mattel plastic Mauser guns and Star Trek transmitter made with two match boxes and a rubber band.

Then there is the warm fuzzy feeling of being with family. Discussing and listening to problems and plans and stories from the past and flipping through sepia hued albums... my mother who thinks I have lost weight, have had a nice hair cut and write with a certain 'grandeur' to my grandmother who thinks I have put on weight (!) and then plies me with fish curry and sweets a week after she came out of the hospital. Plans for my grandfather's ninetieth birthday the day after and my little brother who insists on treating us to expensive restaurants.

I guess a city can fade away from our lives as we move on. But its memories and its people never will.

And so I sit at home and think of returning home. Waiting for the caffeine to go out of the system. Brushing away my mom's entreaties to call it a day.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Reporting live from Kargil

0020 hours and heavy bombing begins.
This gives way to intermittent gunfire.
The machine guns are called on and there is not respite.
0200 ack ack begins and goes on for an unprecedented ten minutes.


No conscription hasn't begun in India and I am still at Bandra. But I am either getting old or it was my loudest Diwali at Mumbai last night. As I wright this there was another short round of crackers which went off. 1.30 AM, the day after Diwali.

One explanation could be that our earlier house was at a junction at Bandra and people followed the police rules in the open. We are in a quiet alley here (an unfortunate use of words given the context) and people just took off.

Now I am no Uncle Scrooge. I am all for festivities. Whether I follow them or not is a separate issue. Festive cheer is important in the pressure cooker lives that we lead. But does it have to be at another person's cost. Does Diwali become any less fun if you finish bursting your crackers by dinner time? Is it, as Bryan Adams said, all about waking up the neighbours?

After all we wish each Happy Diwali.

Not Heavy Decibels.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Climate change anyone?

The skies were gloomy and overcast at Mumbai today. Wet. Damp. The odd drizzle. The problem is it's Diwali. And I don't remember Diwali ever being wet.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The audacity of vote

The Maharashtra elections were held yesterday. We got a holiday in Mumbai so that we could vote. Some TV reports said that about 52% of people in Mumbai voted which was up from 45 % from the parliamentary elections here (don't hold me to the numbers, but these are roughly what I remember). My home constituency, Bandra W had the lowest turnout at 42 %. Though the Bollywood Khans and Munnabhais who live here voted. If you dissect these numbers more than actually less than 52 % of those eligible voted. 52 % of those on the voters list voted. But there are many who are eligible who aren't on the list. So as a market researcher would say, one has to apply a correction figure and down weight the numbers.

In English this would mean that actually less than 52% voted.

I voted yesterday. As I did in the recent parliamentary elections. But then I am a migrant from a city where politics is religion and voting is a fact of life.

I learnt from a recent panel discussion on news that you are officially a Mumbaikar only if you have lived in Mumbai for fifteen years. I am in my tenth year and need to figure out where to register. Any suggestions? In the same talk show a custodian of the city said he would be OK if migrants came in with a job and a house to Mumbai. I guess he will be fine with me as I had asked to be transferred to Mumbai years back and had fixed a paying guest accommodation before I came in.

Voting was fairly easy ONCE you got yourself on the voter's list. That took us about two to three years. And it is not as easy as the sarcastic wise guy drinking tea on TV claims.

But once we were on the list we got our voter's slip before the last election. And this time too. Our names were given an interesting spin. But that little detail aside the slip gives you the name of the school where you have to go to vote, the room number (!) where you will vote, the timings, list of documents required... everything short of asking your meal preferences.

So we woke up at twelve. Made a round of coffee shops searching for breakfast. Bought samosas from Punjab Sweets as the coffee shops were shut. Went home home. Made coffee. Had breakfast at one PM (it was a holiday guys), drove down. Found the school. And the room number. Easily. Stood in the queue. Fifteen minutes. Pressed a button. Voted and out.

Now that's as uncomplicated as it gets.

Yes, I know, whom will you vote for, all parties are the same, nothing will happen, etc etc

But you can register a no vote, you can vote for an indy who won't win ... as someone wrote on Facebook yesterday, now that she had voted, she had earned the right to crib and rant through the year.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Voting days are here again

Just picked up our voter's slips from our earlier place. So come Tuesday we will be voting again. The Government holiday on voting day won't see us just goofing off then.

I think I have a hang of who the candidates of the two larger parties here are. I have no idea what their single line promise is. Not because I am not interested. Perhaps because my demog is not important enough for them to reach out too.

Still I would like to know what their stand is on:

  • why the tiny lane in front of our house had to be fixed just before the election? And why has it taken a week and still looks more like Baghdad than Bandra?
  • stopping a repeat of the great floods and the terrorist attack
  • public loos
  • an airport befitting the commercial capital of a BRIC country
  • traffic jams which get worse by the day
  • the various metros...underground and above
  • Shivaji's statue, riots over Mumbai vs Bombay and things which people really care

An interesting observation on marketing vehicles. I now live in a Catholic dominant building and got a flyer from the ruling party in English and Hindi. When I crossed the road to get my voter's slip from our house which is in a Muslim dominant complex, I got an Urdu flyer from the same party. And of course my Maharashtrian sounding surname gets me SMSs from the latest saviours of the Marathi Manoos.

Fantastic media planning!

Breaking news

Upcoming awards for the most powerful man in the world:

  • Oscars for best lifetime achievement, best actor in a motion picture, best director, best character in an animated film
  • Grammy best lead vocals, best upcoming artiste
  • Olympics 100 m dash... and Marathon
  • Miss Universe 2010
  • Asian Paints Sharod Shomman ... naah that's reserved for Chairman Mao

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

City of dreams

I almost did cartwheels when I read the papers this morning.

'Almost' because I have never done a cartwheel in my life.

But I almost did when I read about the proposed elevated air conditioned corridor from Virar to Churchgate at Mumbai's Western line. I had visions of the wonderful train networks at Bangkok and Dubai. And emptier roads.

'Almost' also because I then read that the project would start in three years. And finish in ten!

The Dubai metro got over in two years. But the Calcutta one took three decades. So why complain?

Reminded me of a discussion which I had with some foreigners about India. We are quite a quirky country. On the one hand we have certain private sector enterprises like five star hotels or airlines where we match up to the best in the world. Or achievements in the ethereal world such as mobile networks and the quantum leaps there. But when it comes to brick and mortar stuff .... infrastructure, roads, public toilets, airports, traffic management, its phoos.

Though I must say that I am impatient but not a cynic. There is a lot of talk these days. And some plans too. A bit like the 'big bang'.

I hope something will come out of it.

Question is when and what?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Country roads


We just returned from a twenty day trip across two countries, nine cities, three airports, innumerable train stations connecting most of the cities in one of the countries.

Seems daunting? Not really. We breezed along quite easily with the one strolley and one rucksack that we each carried.

We didn’t have to fill any forms at the airports. Immigration was a breeze. There were trolleys at every stage. And moving tracks and escalators. Very important given that I, like most others of our generation, have a bad back.

We could walk through the airport straight to the train station to take us to the city.. The intra country train rides weren’t a problem as there were frequent trains, running with clockwork precision connecting cities. Escalators or elevators within the stations to carry your luggage. Steps to push your bags easily from the platform to the train. And there were places to keep your bags in the train while you sat somewhere else and yodelled as the train passed lovely country sides.

I am talking largely of Switzerland, its train stations and of Zurich airport.

And of Dubai airport. The latter had a retina scan but that was a two minute affair without any tension or loss of my few remaining strands of hair. And there was comfortable seating for those who had come to receive us.

We did get stuck at one of the three airports we went to.

This was the only place where we had to fill many forms. Where we landed and had to make the long march from the plane to baggage check without a trolley in sight. Where we ran into a village fair before we could go to immigration. Figured out that it was a swine flu ‘scan’. Where we were first told me we needed one form for the two of us. And that we didn’t need to fill it.

Where we were then sent back because we didn’t fill it as we followed our earlier instructions. And that we needed to fill a form each. Where we thrust our forms through the card. After writing that we did not have fever. Where a hand struck back with stamped forms. Neither us, nor the stamper saw each other. But we were deemed swine flu free. A fact that the folks at Zurich and Dubai airport didn’t overtly care about.

Where our luggage came out on the conveyor belt and was kept on the side while we went through the swine flu tribal dance. Where we continued to wait expectantly by the conveyor belt as noone told us that the luggage from our flight had been kept separately. The only airport where our luggage in the Green Channel had to be screened. For which we had to lift the heavy suitcases far more times than necessary. Bad back be damned. And where we were asked for our embarkation slip thrice. Unlike in other airports where it was one stamp and off you go.

No points for guessing that I am speaking of the Mumbai International Airport. The airport to the commercial capital of India. The seat of one of the largest film industries in the world. And some of the most expensive real estate in the galaxy. A country which many believe will be a super power within our lifetime. Gateway to a country which many of us believe has tremendous tourism potential.

Hopefully someone will look at this once they have decided on what name we can call our city by.

Wonder why tourists don’t throng in till then though.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

'No reservations'


I attended a prayer ceremony for Mamma on Sunday morning.

Nothing wrong with that except that the official norms of her religion didn’t allow for folks from other religions, like me, to attend their prayers. I had the good fortune to be a part of it thanks to a lot of love and affection of the family… and a priest who was willing to fulfil the wishes of those who didn’t wanted to be constrained by the shibboleths of their religion. In fact I was not the only outsider there. There were two close family friends too.

Not that Mamma would agree to a prayer ceremony for her which excluded those she loved.

But that set me thinking of the various religious dogmas that one has heard of.

There are certain Hindu temples which do not allow non Hindus. It was before my time but I think Mrs Gandhi wasn’t allowed into the Jagannath temple when she was the Prime Minister as she had married a Parsi. Other temples don’t allow Hindus of certain castes or to women. There are limits to who can be priests too. Parsi fire temples are closed to all non Parsis. I don’t think women can be Christian priests very easily. I remember reading Erich Segal’s “Acts of Faith’ where the same applied to women and Jewish priests. Menstruating women can’t be part of ceremonies across religions. Women can’t go to all mosques. At least there were mosques in Turkey which claimed that they were one of the few where women could come and pray. I am not absolutely sure about this but I think that non Muslims can’t enter the Muslim Holy City of Mecca. And I know of at least one ‘modern’ philosophy of life interpretation type of practices which don’t enlist people who don’t speak English in India or who do not belong to the Middle Class or above.

Now I don’t want to really debate on the factual accuracy of the above. I could be wrong on some of them.

What I do find interesting is that most religions were started by someone who wanted to protest against the overbearing nature of the religious order of the day. The new religion was supposed to be ways for ordinary folks to connect with God without having to pay their tax to the religious toll keepers.

Then the new faith became an organised religion.

Religious wars and oppression started.

And the world waited for the next Prophet.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Mumbai Rocks... Metrotwin Mumbai

Hey, this is something very close to my heart and a dream come true for me.

Metro twin http://mumbai.metrotwin.com/ is a BA effort to add colour to Mumbai for foreign travellers. I am a strong believer in the tourism potential of Mumbai and India.

A lot of things suck in terms of infrastructure but there's so much to see and do here, there is so much character. We just need to get people excited. We can give tons of popular destinations a run for their money. We can't fix the roads and loos and the Governmental apathy but we can definitely help build the romance of India. The rest will change I am sure.

So please introduce Metrotwin Mumbai to your friends overseas.

Let's spread the Mumbai story.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Money down the sea?

It's a bit scary to write about the great Maratha king, Shivaji. Those who do normally make it to TV. With news of their being stoned and beaten up.

But the fact remains that Shivaji is, what one would could these days, a 'rockstar'. And this is not just in his native state of Maharashtra. I remember that we were big fans of Shivaji in school in the last century. We'd often play Shivaji and the Mughals those days instead of cops and robbers. Everyone wanted to be Shivaji. And this was in Calcutta at the other end of the country.

The Government has recently sanctioned plans to build a statue of Shivaji in the sea. The aim is to make this taller than the Statue of Liberty. Reports peg the cost of the project at Rs 350. The aim is to honour his memory and make a tourist attraction too.

Rs 350 crores is a lot of money. Especially for a state which is going through tough times and where there is a high incidence of farmer suicides due to economic depravity.

Could this money have been used better?

In fact there is a lot which can be done even in the tourism front.

The other day I had wandered into the old by lanes of Kalbadevi, Mumbadevi and Gamdevi near South Mumbai by mistake. There is so much vibrancy and life there. Each lane has its own character. You could be walking by imposing Muslim mosques and minarets in one with dry fruit shops beside you. And then by ornate Hindu temples in the next lane with hardware shops around you. I was so tempted to jump out of the car and hit the streets with my camera to capture the riot of colours. These lanes are a treasure trove in a world where many are trying to hold on to the liveliness of the past as we move on to a mechanised robotic future.

And India is the new black with the world looking to India to see how we have held our ground in the times of recession.

Yet Singapore sells 'Little India' to tourists while we have not thought of making tourist attractions of our heritage.

Once you have had your fill of the India in the crowded lanes, you can head South to areas such as Colaba, Fort and Fountain to feast on a well preserved slice of 19th century England. These areas have some astonishingly beautiful Gothic buildings from the times of the British Raj. Walking down these lanes take you to another era where life was slower, the world was still being discovered and the air was unpolluted. A world where aesthetics, style and grace counted for something.

If you have had enough of history and want to clear your mind and let new ideas come in then you can head to the Marine Drive nearby. You can sit by the sea and let your thoughts wander as you unwind the way nature wanted you to.

Go down North and you hit the grimier mill districts of Parel and Dadar with its flower, vegetable and clothes bazars. The squishy markets make you cringe? A lot of Far Eastern countries sell walks through these markets to sanitised Westerners. Just check Bobby Chi walk the markets of Malacca and Bangkok in his programme on Asian food. And Istanbul's Istiklal Cadesi has a very fancy food dome with well heeled restaurants serving Turkish food inside. The dome is decorated with flowers and chandeliers. It used to be a squishy wholesale flower market earlier!

And if you need a breather from this pre-modern Indian stuff then you can head to Bandra and celebrate the free spiritedness of modern India. This is the youngest, liveliest, trendiest and most welcoming suburb of Mumbai. And within its hip and happening spots you will find idyllic lanes which smacks of a village in the most modern spot of Mumbai.

My heart bleeds when I see cities like Singapore and KL making tourist attractions out of a thirty year old heritage. When I see the transformation that Istanbul has had since the times of Orhan Pamuk's post Ottoman melancholy to its post Euro Cup glory.

There is so much which can be done at Mumbai to harvest our potential for tourism. You will rarely get a city so rich in its past and so open in its thinking. But this needs good airports, clean roads, proper taxis and public transports, maps, affordable hotel rooms, facelifts and restorations and most importantly a desire to welcome guests. Something which made Turkey so wonderful for us.

Does anyone have the will to do this?

Coming back to the statue ... that is relatively easy to do. But how about restoring Shivaji's forts. Building trails, train rides along the hills where Shivaji used to charge down at the Mughals could be an idea. Entire tours could be built around siginificant events in his life. This would grow the legend of Shivaji. AND develop the economy through business and employment opportunities across the state.

There are icons in modern history such as Shakespeare, Tagore, Marx, Einstein, Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi and Emperor Akbar to name a few who don't need statues to be remembered and revered.

I would dare say that Chhatrapati Shivaji would be part of that August group.

Interestingly the Statue of Liberty was gifted to the US by France.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A good book doesn't need a bookmark

Well this heading sounded more profane than a good film doesn't need a popcorn break.

I first saw The Scent of a Woman at The Nandan Cinema at Calcutta.


This was way back in 92. I was on my way to college and it was raining heavily. I had just started college and couldn't bear to stay at home. I had pimples... those who have watched the film will know that this didn't count for much.



I had to get off the bus at the Rabindra Sadan stop as the roads were flooded. I thought I'll go and check out what was running at Nandan rather than go back home. The Nandan compound was flooded. I had to wade through water to go to the back gate where the ticket counter used to be. The irony was that I wouldn't have got wet if I went straight to the theatre.



So I watched the movie alone with my pimples, soaked trousers, no intermission, no toilet break, no snack break. And I didn't realise any of that till the movie ended.



Need I say more?



Saturday, 8 August 2009

Just another day in India

I went to Hearsch Bakery near Holy Family Hospital after ages to pick up a burger for breakfast this morning.

I saw an elderly gentleman, possibly in his mid sixties, standing opposite Holy Family in the alley. He was simply dressed like middle class folks of his genre, white bush shirt tucked out, grey trouser. He had a red and white jhola, the sling bag favoured by folks of his generation. He had round glasses, was slim and probably looked the way my grandfather would have looked twenty years back. A typical, middle class gent in the early years of his retirement.

And he had his hand stretched out asking for alms.

I remembered seeing him when I had come to Hearsch's months back. I was very puzzled even then.

I wondered what his story would be. Was he abandoned by his children? Was he laid off? He did look in good health. Didn't look particularly poor. Yet, there was a strange mix of serene desperation on his face. What would have driven him to beg? Should I offer him some money? That's what he was standing there for. But he looked so professorial and dignified. How could one go and offer cash to someone like that? Should I get something for him from Hearsch. Was he a vegetarian? Should I offer to take him to Hearsch and buy him something.

And then I found myself in my car, driving off with my burger.

Poverty and deprivation is so in our face in Mumbai. Even if you leave the slums and people defecating on the roads because they have no option, you have an incessant stream of beggars of all sizes and genders knocking on your car windows. Amputed people lying outside train stations, trying to get your attention by flicking some body part.

Most of us have developed an immune system. We have learnt to move on to the next traffic signal without thinking twice. Common arguments would be that you are doing the kid a disservice by giving him money. And we know that most are run by Ganglords and begging syndicates. We cringed when Danny Boyle showed this to the world. But we knew it was true.

I know folks who have their soft spots. The other day I was with a colleague in a car who took out some coins for a listless boy who knocked at our window. He is a father.

Then there is someone who opens her heart and purse to elderly women. She misses her grandmother.

Rolling the car window up is an option too.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Be afraid... very afraid

I saw the scaffolding come up for Ganpati Puja and I shuddered.


I work a stone's throw away from Mumbai's biggest Ganpati Puja at Lalbagh. Seeing the workmen awakened horrific memories of insane traffic and fighting for every inch on the way to work.


Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Ganpati Utsav. I love festivals and I think that they are a wonderful outlet for pent up energy. I used to live in Kolkata which used to come to a standstill thanks to do a Goddess. And I am not talking of Mamata Banerjee.


The thing about Durga Puja in Kolkata is that it is a holiday for everyone. Pretty much like Chinese New Year in the Orient and Christmas in the West. So those who want to celebrate it do so with unbridled passion. The rest stay home and chill without worrying about work.


No such luck with the Ganpati Puja here. Offices are open so you have to navigate through some pretty insane traffic situations to get to work. Those who celebrate it have to balance work and festivity. And that's no fun. Or they have to take an off day for a festival celebrated ironically by the largest community of the city. And those who don't celebrate it are pressed through the oil mills of tortuous traffic for no fault of theirs.

Add to this the Wednesday jams because of the Mahim Church, the Dargah jam for a week in December, the Mount Mary Fair blockades in Bandra and you will soon pray for freedom from religion.

It's sad that in India religious festivity is coupled with civic frustration.

A really sorry state of affairs. And I hope that it's not coming soon to a street near you.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Baby you can drive my car

I often wistfully think about the promised lands where my friends who have moved out of India live in.

Especially when I am stuck in a traffic jam caused by a religious festival, waiting to take on the potholes of Mumbai.

Then I console myself by reminding myself that I live in a country where you still get domestic help. That I won't have to go back and do the dishes. Or navigate the crazy traffic myself.

Reality?

Our maid has bunked for the last couple of days. Our kitchen's a disaster zone.

And we have been driverless for a while.

Bunking is our maid's thing. It used to bug me and I often wanted to sack her. My wife restrained me and six years later our maid has become Pygmalion to my Henry Higgins. When she comes to work that is.

But our luck with drivers is the stuff of Bollywood tear jerkers.

We have been without one for a while. Three of the last four didn't last beyond a day. We sacked one, the next one inexplicably disappeared after day one and the third called me after the first day saying that he was getting a better salary elsewhere. The fourth came to our place, agreed to the terms, and never turned up.

I ate the humble pie and called our last driver who was a bit of Cinderella and wouldn't want to stay beyond eight even for the love of money. He had this angry young man thing going and would normally greet me with a scowl. We let him go in the promise of one who was highly referred to me. The new guy didn't live up to the build up that he got and was the first of our recent one day stands. I had to read him the riot act.

Anyway Cinderella responded to my pleas to make up with a SMS (!) which said "thousand Rupees more per month, two hours less per day".

Since then I have been at the mercy of Meru cabs and a few attempts to drive myself which end up in a backache.

We have had more drivers in the last six years than the number of craters in the average Bandra by-lane.

The first one taught me how to drive. It was his first driving job as well. He used to drive tempos before. Things were fine till he began to think of me as an ATM machine for some reason. Loan for school, farming, house, a difference of opinion on paying up loans (I felt he should, he felt he shouldn't) and we had our first break up. Like Taylor and Burton, he joined me a few drivers later and then left. He fell for the call of the wild. He went back to driving tempos! The sad thing was that we had to hear this from other people. He had told us that he was returning to his village.

In between we had one who used to mysteriously fall ill on Saturday and Monday and take extended weekends. Another who could barely see, wouldn't recognise us if he saw us on the roads and would make potholes seem like air pockets. And there was one who would run at eight to have dinner with 'Maushi'. Even if we were in the middle of nowhere. Replaced by one who claimed to be a Bandra boy, but didn't know what lay across my road in the centre of Bandra. He drove like a maniac. Then quit before I could sack him. He told me, "It's not you, it's me" He said that he was a 'pilot driver' and that I deserved someone nicer and less wild.

Then came Raju. A stable driver. Polite, diffident, middle aged. Happy times? Well, he looked up to his name sake in the film Sri 420. He would take off home for a nap while I was at oblivious at work. With my car! And bought an expensive colour camera phone after taking money for us to buy a basic phone. There was no money left for a SIM card to activate it. His response to my flustered threats in Hindi was a whimpered "Lalach me aa gaya tha Sir" (I succumbed to greed sir).

I feel very hassled when I have to tick off a driver. I could be seething in anger but would be at my wit's end about how to convey my angst in my broken Hindi. I would blurt out something at the end with no idea about whether the message got through.

My parent in law's favourite, 'Tauji', came next. As old as Methuselah, with the heart of Shumacher, and a rasping smoker's cough which would make us flinch in the car and send him to the doctor. All was fine till he disappeared for six months for his daughter's wedding. This wizened Obi Wan is back in town and often pops unexpectedly from below a car these days asking me for a job.

And then there were the ones who came to try for the job and didn't make it. Most didn't know how to drive. One damaged the car while taking it out of the parking lot at home. Seven thousand rupees down. Another was a gym attendant who knocked the car while taking it out of the building gates during the trial. There were quite a few whom I asked to get off the wheel two minutes after they took it out of our house for the test. One flummoxed me by saying "meri tamanna tha aap ke saath rehkar driving seekhu." (It was my dream to be with you and learn driving). He was the doorman of the restaurant opposite our house.

Valet parking guys, cake delivery guys, studio stunt drivers ... I have tried them all.

The only thing that keeps me going was what Madhuri Dixit said in the film Dil to Pagal Hain ... "Someone..... Somewhere..... is made for you"

I hope she was talking about drivers.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Bangla Rocks

I was trying to get the little woman to leave her Jap and Mexican authors aside and read Sankar's Middleman.

"Why are you Bengalis so clannish?", she exclaimed in exasperation.

She would know, being married to one. And, being in advertising, quite a few of her close friends are Bengali too.

I have heard others smirk and say that two Bengalis always break into Bengali when they meet each other, even when non Bengalis are around.

Well I have seen Malayalis, Tamils, Parsis and Gujaratis do that too. So do people from the Hindi belt except that Hindi doesn't stand out as much as quite a few speak it.

But yes, it is downright rude to break into a language when there are others around who don't understand it.

Put two Bengalis together and they will rubbish Bombay's biriyani in comparison to Shiraz's and Chowpatty's paani puri's in comparison to Lindsay Street Phhuchkas. And nothing will convince them that even Golden Dragon or Royal China or China Garden are a patch on the Chinese of Barbeque, Tangra and Jimmy's Kitchen or that there will ever be a continental dish which matches up to Mocambo's fish a la diana. We are food chauvinists.

But I have seen Tam Bran friends go weak in their knees over tahir sadam (might have spelt it wrong) or curd rice and Punjabis who go to buffets and fondly call dahi vadas dahi vallas and black daals maa ki daal.

You would also find to the last existing die hard fans of Saurav Ganguly amongst Bengalis. But cut us some slack. There hasn't been a single Bengali sportsman of note since Netaji kicked his Principal down the steps of Presidency.

While I am not much into it ... Bengali books and papers are widely read in Mumbai. And music from Tagore to Hemanta to Bangla Rock would be in quite a few Ipods of Bengalis outside Calcutta.

But then I have Malayali friends who would be in seventh heaven when they found Malayali films in grocery shops in New Bombay.

And if there are eight Bengalis, one more than required to start a trade union, then you will surely find a Durga Puja. Even if its on the surface of the moon! I think that's where we over shadow festivals of any other immigrant communities.

The Bengali accent and their way of speaking English and Hindi are often subjects of mirth in pop culture. But then show me a single Indian community which doesn't have its own way of speaking English and I will show you an American who spells correctly.

I think that the one reason why Bengalis and their idiosyncrasies stand out is that you have a disproportionately high number of us in circles such as arts (films, music, literature), media, advertising, market research and even marketing. Circles which a number of Facebookers and Bloggers belong too.

On the clannish bit... I think that there is a certain comfort that emigrants, or probashis as they say in Bengali, find in shared memories. This, I think is fine and innocuous in comparison to the communal diatribes, lingual xenophobia, religious posturing and cultural intolerance that surround India today.

I have heard out of towners say they find it tough to mix in and feel at home in Calcutta. I agree with that.

But then show me any other city in India, apart from Mumbai, where people can feel at home so easily.

So are Bengalis clannish?

I would think so.