Friday, November 28, 2008


Sixty harrowing hours afterwards - its finally over.

The Heroes - some sung, some unsung. The unnecessary martyrs. Those utterly wasted lives. How can one explain, justify, brush it away.

The Terrorists - Mumbai brought to its knees by teenagers, young men. How do they have so much hate in them? Why do they have so much hate in them?

The Stories - One degree of separation. The ex-colleague at Leopold (alive thank God), my maids employers brother, my friends acquaintance (dead), my other friend's boyfriend (NSG)

The Brave hearts - The tale of the Taj GM who was ushering out guests trying to save them, as his wife and kids were getting burnt. The superb ( by all accounts ) staff at the Taj - who stayed calm, professional and helpful even in the midst of this chaos. Beyond the call of duty. Grace under pressure. The real heroes.

The politcos - conspicuous by their absence - where is Raj T when people from "North" of India chose to lay a siege on his city? The babbling incompetence, the blame game, the finger pointing, the marked lack of solidarity even when India needed them to come together as one.

The Paparazzi - there is no way they can be dignified by being called media anymore - chasing TRP's even as a tragedy unfolded. The inane, insensitive questions. The dangerous "LIVE and FIRST ON TV" reporting. And also, their courage to stick it out for hours and hours in a brave, if foolhardy attempt to cover the incident.

The Armchair Experts - Trigger happy with the criticism, shooting their mouths off - while the real heroes were shooting the terrorists

The Heroes - The Marcos, the NSG, the security forces who risk their lifes under inadequate ( and often non-existent) support.

The victims - May your deaths not go in vain. May this be a long overdue wake up call. May you rest in peace

The City - Bruised. Bleeding.Shaken. Weary. Angry.But hopefully not broken.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dear God. What is happening to my city?

A blast so close to my home ( Vile Parle) that my mother heard it.
Leopold cafe - a five minutes walk from my home of four years.
Taj Hotel, the scene of countless official meetings.
Ramada Hotel - the usual meeting place for me and S, the place I have gone to countless times and more for work
Nariman point - a stone's throw away from offices of two of my close friends.
I could see Sasoon Dock (where they apparently landed) through my dining room window.
One friend has the military stationed in her building.

I am watching the news as I write this and there is the heartbreaking shot of a mother-daughter duo looking out from a window where they have written "SAVE US"
And another of a terrorist ( supposedly) standing at the window with a gun.
Scenes of the terrorists escaping in a police van for crying out loud.
Twelve hours down and still a stall mate.
5-7 terrorists at the Taj still and another 7-9 in Trident. Gun happy, ammunition heavy terrorist.
101 innocent, helpless bystanders killed and 300 odd injured.
And hundreds still held hostage, helpless and terrified.

I don't think I felt even this heartsick when the blasts happened, or the great flood. I don't think I ever felt this unsafe.
How many times will Mumbai has to go through these trials?
How many more Mumbaikars will have to get hurt, die before the spirit of this city is utterly broken?
When are we going to start feeling safe again?
I can only weep tears, for my city is oozing blood.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Beautician Beast

I don’t like going to parlours. Apart from office and dentists I can’t think of any place I like going to less. The thought of strange women with clammy hands pummelling and pulling and doing all other manners of excruciating things on various parts of one’s anatomy is not quite my idea of a fun time. As an aside, I am completely fascinated by the legendary ladies who go to parlours once in two days – they must have a particularly masochistic strain in them.

However, I am reconciled to the fact that since I am female I cannot go around with Chinese whiskers and a French beard. Also, all these conniving, waxed, metrosexual types shame one into the periodic visit. Thus, I go to the salon, once every month/couple-of-months/once-in-three-months/till-people-start-lending-me-burkhas.

So anyways, today was the day ( after procrastinating for a month) that I had decided I would groan and bear it like a (wo)man.

The next task was to identify the salon.

Now salons are like dentists. Once one is stuck with a half decent place, one doesn’t change unless under considerable duress. The salon people, like dentists are also equipped with various instruments of torture – so the old cliché of a known devil, is particularly apposite.

Thus, for the first few months after shifting to Pune, I stubbornly clung to the old salon in Mumbai. A few months of this and I regretfully realized that it was not always possible to manage a parlour visit in my quick trips to the city.

So we come to Pune, and I go to the highly recommended (and consequently exorbitant) famous-brand-salon. Famous-brand-salon is quite infamously mind-numbingly slow - painstaking they would have us believe, but really, excruciatingly slow. Each activity was carefully orchestrated and choreographed for maximum effect – the instruments were laid out, the napkins had to be kept in just that particular angle, the cotton swabs needed to be absolutely round – quite reminiscent or brain surgery rather than a salon treatment. I vastly prefer quick and brutal pain/death than the slow, lingering variety.

So that was the end of that.

Then I found another parlour quite conveniently located in the same building – reasonably, clean, quick and efficient – so that worked for a while. Then after a few months the lease ran out and they had to shift out of the place. I went to the new location for a while, but apparently the owner has not managed to pull in enough of her clients and none of the assistants are willing to go to the new location, so the place has shut down.

So we come to today - I search on the net and find one – suitably close to my house.

Go there; get all the painful stuff done and over with.

Then, as a belated birthday present to self and because I have been suffering from a niggling pain (from a bad catch) in the back which is just not going away, I decide to get a back massage. Something which I have almost never done in the past and after today, am pretty sure I will never do in the future.

So all is going well, there I am, feeling reasonably relaxed, the back pain is better, and am quite somnolent on the trolley.

And then suddenly - I find that the dame who is massaging me, is on the top of the trolley straddling me from both sides.

Promptly all traces of sleep vanish and the relaxed back muscles spring right back into the earlier knotted condition. At one point when she is trying to reach my neck - well, let me put it this way, if a divorce lawyer was to see us then, he would have had no hesitation in labelling it as er..a compromising position.

While this happening, one part of my brain is planning (wildly improbable) escape routes, another part is squeaking vocal but very ineffective protests (and there is not much one can do when imprisoned in that fashion by a muscular lady sitting on one’s back and shoving one’s face on the trolley) and another part of my idiot renegade brain is rolling on the floor chortling at my predicament.

Soon she is doing some form of convoluted dance meets voodoo thing which is completely surreal – which involves waving her hands a couple of centimetres away from the back which besides being definitely ticklish and uncomfortable is also plain damn weird.

Ah well. I live to tell the tale, with my er..honour intact. Back to shopping for another parlour. Sigh.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bombay Diaries Volume 2: Scatty thoughts of nothing in particular

I have realized that in my life, how the day is likely to turn out is completely and absolutely dependent on traffic choke points which I encounter in my daily routine. For me, one of the big ones is the Mahim-Bandra causeway. On the rare days I manage to sail through it with minimal traffic (No traffic is a myth in Bombay), I will suddenly find that every other aspect of the day suddenly falls in place. I will not get delayed in queues, the bus will leave on time and land on time, won’t be stuck with a smelly co-passenger, the maid will come, and every other chore will automatically be done smoothly without me having to hit my head on a few hundred walls.

That is my "I'm feeling lucky' day.

Speaking about the co-passengers, I find that my patience with blushy, gushy giggly sheltered women is very, VERY low these days. When a female in her late twenties calls up her husband and has conversations like this (transliterated from Marathi) "Ticket was for Rs.235 they gave it for Rs.225 ...giggle giggle...maybe it’s because it is afternoon they have reduced the ticket fare ..paroxysms of giggles...they also gave a small water bottle..giggle some more" and about forty five minutes more of this silly laughing fest. The urge to throw the woman under the bus to see if she giggles is quite high. I certainly WILL chuckle quite happily then.

Random conversation with the mother

Ma: I want to go to Kolhapur to see the Ambabai Temple and to Ganapathi Phule to see the Ganesh temple there.
Me: Are you planning to do a tirth yatra?

A sidebar here. My mother is NOT one of those prayer-bead-counting super religious people. She is quite street-smart, social and outgoing and well very Bambaya (almost verging on tapori sometimes). Not the devout pilgrim school of thought/deeds in other words. heck the couple of times, I have asked her to meditate she has gone off happily to sleep.

So anyways conversation continues

Ma (Dramatically sighing) : Haan ab umar ho gayi, kya karein tirth yatra hi karni padhegi.
I have to kindly point out to her that not less than a month ago she was clambering on to the Fort at Aguada with the best of us and frolicking (well standing) in the sea and behaving in a very untirth like fashion.

My mother is such a fraud.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Maid in Heaven

After the extremely harrowing and ulcer-generating task of shifting was done, the next big thing was the hiring of the maids. Actually, if I had had my way I would have hired them before we shifted (it would have saved me the washing dishes and (hand) washing clothes which I had to do – shameless sympathy fishing here, please oblige).

So anyways we got here and then I set the domestic-supply grapevine in motion to get all those random people needed as a support system to keep the house the right side up (viz. the maid, the cook-types, the istri-wala, the milkman, the newspaper-wala, the cable-guy and some more walas who I can’t recall right now. If I ever decide to shift again, someone please copy this paragraph and spam my mailbox with it yes?).

Then the domestic supply pipe started gushing. Candidates started coming and ringing the doorbells. At that point in time, both my Ma and the MIL were at home (and I typically was at work). So the first round of HR-type interview happened at this level. This resulted in the candidates being told to come at X time to meet the reluctant COO (viz. me) and the CFO (viz. the spouse). The CFO as is the habit of all CFO’s, managed to sneak out of the whole process with the silly excuse that since he was paying, he was damned if he was going to manage them too.

And as usual the COO is left holding the wotchamacallitthatoneisleftholding?

So at about six thirty- seven in the morning the door bell rings– I sleepwalk and open the door. And I see various types of maids in all shapes and sizes to whom I stutter out questions about geographical eligibility, previous experience and core competencies. After a few weeks of this, I have come to the conclusion that they can be classified thus.

There is the Mata Hari types (also known as Chammak Challo). Multi-hued sari, betel juice stained pouty lips, swaying hips, long hair, tinkling bangles and anklets.
One specimen that comes seeking employment at my house looks like she will eat me for breakfast. She is also eyeing S rather lecherously and appears like she might make a pass at the man of the house (almost worth getting up in the morning to see this bit). I whisper the same to him.
S, very nervously, tells me not to hire her “I wouldn’t know what to do if she hits on me”
I wouldn’t know what to do if she hits on him either – but I rather suspect it will be untimely, un-wifely levity rather than righteous anger and melodrama. (That’s what happened the last time a maid hit on S. Though, when the same lady made a pass at me – it got a bit confusing– incestuous almost. We (S&I) spent some fulfilling and productive time debating about which of us she desired more.)

The second types are the members of the Maid Mafia. These operate in gangs and there are rival gangs. If you have multiple employees you need to make sure they are not from opposing gangs because that is a sure-shot way of getting caught in the crossfire . The Chandan nagar gang for instance thinks very poorly of the Yerwada gang and their working style and vice versa.
So anyways, one opens the door to see three or four standing at the door staring belligerently at one. The Don (Doness?) fires all the questions in a staccato manner which is quite intimidating. How much money. How much work. What time. Who all is at home? Suddenly one feels transformed from the COO to the person who is giving hafta. Usually the most timid of the gang is the one who eventually ends up working – but the bodyguards (big, muscular ladies these) come to ensure that there is er.. no dirty business ( pun unintended) is done.

Then there is the Maid Nazi. This is the one who has a SYSTEM in place. Things need to be done in exactly HER system. All one’s entreaties and habits are promptly thrown out of the window. My way or the highway she declares grandly. This is rather confusing considering the fact that she is the one who comes into one’s house.

Then there is a Multiple-personality dame. Efficient yes, but with a highly exaggerated sense of her own abilities – will commit the same time slot to two different employers and causes a great deal of confusion therefore. Eventually she ends up doing some sort of musical chairs with the two households.

The result of all this negotiations and cogitations is a domestically harassed Cynic. I have come to the profound conclusion that getting a half decent maid, is significantly more difficult and fraught with hassle than finding the right partner. If a prospective spouse throws attitude one can always walk away after all. It needs much more courage to walk away from a maid (as with the famous (?) Ugamma).
Also, one doesnt have to pay the spouse.

So much for the “WHY do I need to know cooking and housework? Ill simply hire a maid”

Coming back to bite me. Sigh.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Red Hot n Happening!

Ed Note: Recycled post from Nov 2004. Rediffblogs is gobbling up my old posts, so have to shift these here, and this seems to be the only way. Please bear with me.

Anyone who has worked or interacted with an agency would know that “Work on fire” is probably the most used and abused terms of all time. But what happens when the work is on fire…literally?

Yesterday at about six fifteen in the evening, my next-door colleague suddenly sniffs the air and says “kuch jal raha hai”. I obtusely grappling with a more-than-an-ordinarily testing statistical chart snap back “Haan mera dimaag pakh ke jal raha hoga”.

Two minutes later, the gentleman wiggles his nose again and says, “ I’m serious! I can really smell something burning”. Burning smells are much more interesting than correspondence maps so I get up to investigate.

Our work-bay is filled with this nightmarish maze of electronic/electric circuitry. So we periodically give Cassandra-ish predictions that someday, someone is going to get burnt to a cinder. The obvious conclusion, therefore, is that there is a spark around us. We duly search for the source. Nothing.

Next step is to check boss’ cabin that has this hideous piece of antiquity, which is euphemistically labeled as an air conditioner. That also seems to be in its normal rattle-shake-wheeze-some-gusts-of-cold-air condition.

Holler for the IT guy and tell them that there is a spark somewhere and curse him a bit for all the wires and rant about dangerous workstations and why is our department meted out step-child treatment. While the gentleman is on his knees examining the machines, someone yells from the corridor that there is this actual true blue (er.. red) fire happening in one of the rooms on the other side of the wall from us.

In about five minutes, the entire office is standing (far away from the danger zone of course) in the corridor right outside where media planning sits and watching the fire with the rapt attention normally reserved for Cannes winners. No panic, no screaming, no worry, just pure, unadulterated enjoyment of a show one is hardly ever privileged to see: - namely, a fire in a storeroom, people clambering on desks trying to break windows, and lot of people running up and down with fire extinguishers (that they don’t have a clue about how to operate).

Smartass comments from my office people commence (The media outfit is a part of, yet not a part of my agency. It’s a sister agency, but we share the same office, the same cafeteria, and often work together with the same clients. However, the creative wing and media are not exactly on very amicable terms, largely due to gallons of blood shed over the pool table and first playing rights on the same).

“Ah, we always knew that these media people had a lot of hot air in them”

“Bung a few of them inside will you!”

Suddenly someone (probably HR, who is a normally slow burning …er bulb I mean) realize that, the fire poses health hazards to the poor hapless employees. So the process of evacuation starts. By this time, all the electric mains have been switched off, so we are all grappling in the dark going back to workplaces to salvage bags and baggage. By this time, our desks and places are completely filled with smoke. Dramatically, we go to get the bags out- coughing, and with tears streaming down our eyes. Mind you, there is still no urgency except for the HR who is screaming up and down the corridors like banshees trying to get us out as quickly as possible. And then everyone is bunged out of office (some really smart people, instead of walking down the four flights of stairs took the lift - in an electric fire!).

Sporadic comments overheard on the stairway

“First time in my life I actually want to stay in office and they are sending us home!”

“It’s a conspiracy I tell you, other agencies were jealous of our work”
(Followed by extremely loud and derisive hoots of laughter by everyone around)

The firefighters have already reached by the time we reach downstairs. The entire office is again assembled on the grounds craning their necks to see real firemen in action.

Client calls start. The statement of “Uhm…our office caught fire today, don’t think tomorrows work will happen” gets a medley of reactions

Fires will happen, cyclones will happen, doesn’t mean work can stop can it”

“What all excuses you people give - I have also worked in an agency remember, you always say there is a fire or some thing”

“Okay, send me a mail and cc my boss that you can’t work”

“Yes of course, the work is on fire, we need to catch the publication at six o clock!!!”

“Tu mar war nahin gaya na?” (Said in tones of extreme regret)

And this interaction that happened in the middle of the evacuation process. Accounts fellow meets colleague in the corridor while everyone is trying to leave. “Here is the duplicate bill you had asked for”. Colleague looks at him and puts the bill into his bag. Sometime later, they meet again downstairs. The Accounts guy asks, “You have the duplicate bill kept properly don’t you? I will NOT give you another copy if you are burnt upstairs!”

Hot place to work? You betcha!

P.S. We all ended up at office today, but couldn’t do any work whatsoever since switching on anything electric was considered unsafe. So there was cricket in the corridors, gossip in the cafeteria and generally a good time to be had by all.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Udipi Ode

There was an article the other day in Outlook on Udipi restaurants – and how they are slowly going out of business.

I was saddened by that news. It’s hard to imagine a life without the ubiquitous and unassuming Udipi restaurants. The Shanbagh and the Kamath hotels, with their charming pineapple-sweet lime garlands , the butter soft idlis-delectable dosas- mouth-watering sambhar-steaming coffee, and the impossibly quick service, that are such an intrinsic part of the cultural and epicurean landscape of any city.

For me and for many of my generation, Udipi restaurants were the favoured, and sometimes the only option, through school and college. This was before the Mochas (and money) became as common as they are today.

At that time – there were only two types of eateries. At one end of the spectrum one had the exorbitant ‘five star’s (on a shoestring pocket money budget, any half-decent-half-clean-eatery fell into this category)- These were the places one went for birthday treats or when a parent was funding.

And then there was the affordable roadside refectory - composed of grandiosely named Chink’s Ming (with their fiery red meat stakes hung upside down characterized by the cloying ajinomoto odor) or the samosa-and-wada-wala who used to produce steaming crisp samosas from a degchi filled with a speckled liquid that could euphemistically be called oil. (My classmates assured me that it was this indeterminate concoction which gave the distinct flavour to the food. I never tried it though – I’m slightly neurotic about food hygiene) and the ever-present sandwich-vendor.

Udipi restaurants managed to fill the golden median – cheap, yet clean, wholesome, yet tasty and thus, many of my food and growing up memories are inextricably linked to various Udipi restaurants across India.

Class 9 in Hyderabad, one of the first unsupervised trips to an eating place, Shanbagh Hotel – Panjagutta. A classmate got offended when a waiter looked askance at the bunch of broke-looking-kids-in-school-uniform. He proceeded to call the waiter to our table, produced a soiled Rs.10 note from his pocket and waved at him, grandly declaring that “Humare pass paisa HAI – SACHHII”

Or that poky little place in Santa Cruz where we used to go from my Aptech Class (I actually went for 2 years to Aptech sigh. Follies of youth and all that) for a desperately needed ‘Special' Ganga-Jamuna juice to neutralize the sweltering mid-noon heat. Incidentally, I have always been fascinated by the 'Ganga-Jamuna' juice and once I was lucky enough to get a 'Ganga-Jamuna-Saraswati'- I forget what the 'Saraswati' was though.

Or that small hotel in Bandra where Goonda, aghast, decided to take an impromptu SQ test minutes after I admitted that I thought oral sex meant TALKING about sex.

Or while at B-school, where the next door Udipi joint idlis formed the staple diet of all the local students after they were guilt-tripped out of their dabbas by purportedly starving hostelites. The place the waiters knew us by name and didn’t bat an eyelid when ONE idli plate was methodically divided by 8 (my friend R has been immortalized for her “Bhaiyya iske chotte chotte tukde kardo please” in her slightly anglicized accent)

Those early working years, where I and my friend B would meet up in Irla for a medu-wada, and to bitch about work, love and life.

Or at Coffee House in Camp – which was one of the first places which S took me out to in Pune where we stopped bickering and learnt about companionable silence.
Incidentally, this was also the place we went for dinner the day we got married. Probably the only couple in the universe to eat their first meal as husband and wife in an Udipi joint (with my mother, uncle, aunts and cousins for company and with me in full bridal choora. Long story, will post about it someday)

And oh so many more – of reunion and partings. Of gupshup and gossip. Of food and friends.

Ah sigh. It will be such a tragedy if they do disappear.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Journal

Ed Note: Blogger's block. Random fiction written being posted now.

There was just a small paragraph in yesterday’s newspaper

“IT PROFESSIONAL KILLED IN ANDHERI. 29 year old Avinash Mathur was driving his motorcycle when a truck mowed into him, killing him instantly. Mathur, was working in an IT MNC”

Such a small paragraph couldn’t possibly have a huge impact could it? Well it did. On his family, our colleagues, on our other roommate and of course, on me.

Three days later I was at his desk, clearing out the drawers, when I found his journal. I opened it, thinking it would give me one more chance to feel that wonderful, charming Avi still lived

I found this.

20th July I saw her today the new recruit. I felt the craving again. The itch in my soul, which tells me that I want her, that I MUST have her.

25th July I walked by her desk and gave her my special smile. The one which Anu called my ‘angel smile’ just before she went ‘missing’. This one smiled back. MUCH more delectable than Anu was.

28th July why does civilization shackle us? Why can’t I just possess her like our forefathers did? As animals do? Why is blood, lust, taboo? Why must I go through this courting farce?

8th August I must have her. Her skin so creamy, that figure just begging for love, that delicious mouth. I must make it mine. Just like I owned the others, make her beg for mercy. Be patient Avi. You can’t scare her like you did little Sumi. She shouldn’t suspect anything.

16th August She stays in Andheri. Her family is in Kerala. Ah the Malyali sultriness and that lovely, voluptuous body...

28th August Progress. I took her for coffee today. She had a good time. She laughed a lot and flirted too. I don’t know how I kept hands off her. How I put my social face, made jokes and talked normally. She trusts me now.

29th September We’ve gone out every weekend. She’s attracted. I can sense it. I wish I could like her normally – the kind where you date, get married and live happily ever after. But this urge doesn’t go away; it’s like a fire behind my eyes, thundering blood in my head.

10th October She thinks it’s romantic to keep “us” a secret from everyone else

18th October I don’t know how I can last much longer. This fire will destroy me, I dream of taking her, and then afterwards, my hands squeezing that beautiful neck until it snaps – just like that. Like a twig. Just like the others did.

23rd October Her flatmate is travelling. I’m going to her house now. Today is the day. The day she will join Anu and the others in my secret place where I can see them, touch them, love them. With me forever till posterity...and the itch will go away.

23rd October – the last entry in the journal .The day he met with an accident. On his way to Andheri...