#Mumbai: And I Love You So…

There is a romance of the idyllic village.

Not a constant; a fragmented romance. In between the moments of a busy life, we feel it, want it, yearn it. Is it ever real? Or do we just want to get away from it all? An escape. Some of us can make the escape true too – even if, for a weekend. But that is the largest real fragment that is ever offered to us city folks.

Even the largest fragment, the weekend, is often fragmented. It is never a continuous experience. The shards are large enough for us to imagine it romantic; that is all that the weekend offers.

And I wonder.

Do places — the cities vs. the country, make a difference? Do cities consume us differently than the countryside. Is boredom about wanting to do different things or having more time than we can spend? And forget romance; what about love? Does one trump the other?

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There is a love for this city that I cannot let go. If and when we sit and argue — we will list the shortcomings of every place. But that would be such an academic exercise of worthlessness. An exchange of ugly facts; so bereft of emotion! And while facts have their own rightful place, they whither when confronted by love: unconditional love.

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I was recently asked to consider moving away from Mumbai. #WorkFromHome is the new norm – would it be so bad moving to a quiet place?

No, it wouldn’t be so bad. I’d like it for a few days, but, again, I wonder — would it be good forever? For that which has not come to pass, I can only dread. I could romance it even, but, I wonder — would it be true love?

But I have loved; it is within me. Perhaps a chance for the idyllic romance is due.

My love isn’t going anywhere. I am.

Crowd of Strangers

Fill it up. Fill it up. Fill it up. Damn the blank page. Put words. Words. Words. Words. And drop it in Times Square, NY. None of the words will know each other, strangers from far off lands revolving on the axis of their feet, drowned in wonder. The crowd of strangers is what gives meaning to Times Square. Not meaning itself. The meaning is in the presence; not in anything else. NY winks and we miss it in the blink of an eye. It’s at its naughtiest best.

Bow to the city, it has seen the birth of your grandparents; it is witnessing your death. Never, ever, however, has a city wished for a birth or death. It is a witness. It allows all. It winks, often, (and you may miss it) but it never asks for either this or that.

Fill it up. Fill it up. Fill it up. Damn the blank page.

I’ll just put five words. I’ll call it abstract. Not for what it is, but for what I can hide behind.

Nay, nay, nay! This wasn’t to be. At the peak of the strange words, there was to be meaning. For me, for you. Running around the base of the pyramid I am lost; for no stone at the base is discrete. I have to climb! Something forms at the peak. And it is built by these abstract slabs at the bottom. I am a slave to how these huge slabs were dragged in place. Without ropes, without connections, I am dragged down. I stay here as if a mutual belonging exists; yet the apex.

May I flex my wrists and twist my ankles. Flex my muscles and twist my body. Shackles will be broken. I will be free. In a foreign land. In New York. In London. In Mumbai. My I see the cities winking at me. And jump on those abstract slabs. Thoughtful; unlike the agitated Prince of Persia.

Once again, watching the crowd of strangers.

Vada Pav and Tapri Chai

The staple day-food of almost everyone who works in the field in Mumbai. It’s not an alien concept to me. I have lived this life, for almost four years, early in my career. It’s easily available and its cheap. When you don’t have a lot of money and time, it’s the perfect combination.

Having the Vada Pav and Tapri Chai, we’d gaze at the fancy hotels and say, someday. That someday came soon enough, and the days of gobbling Street food before the next appointment, were a thing of the past. Then came the era of fancy street food. Overpriced, badly cooked street food that was promoted through Facebook events. I visited those too, hated the food, and returned home slightly disappointed.

Most people I’d meet wanted to have breakfast meetings, in fancy air-conditioned restaurants. All this while, imagining Vada Pav and Tapri Chai, and thinking, someday.

Having a Vada Pav and Tapri Chai become the new luxury, for which I had to take time out and go out to the street to get one.

Today, I had Vada Pav and Tapri Chai. Work has changed for me and I am less bound to a desk than I was before. I love that sense. Not because it is nostalgic, but it’s a happy sense. Great ambitions have been cooked and inspiring dreams have been brewed over a Vada Pav and Tapri Chai.

There’s nothing wrong with fancy food. Food’s purpose is to satisfy hunger. All food can do that. Some food, however, not just satisfies your hunger, it feeds your soul.

Bengaluru-versary

Been a fine twelve months, these.

 

Made new friends, connected with old ones. Laughed a lot. Cried a little. Discovered new places. Went on city walks. Did some great work. Took in the lovely weather. Enjoyed the food. Read a lot. Lost a little bit of myself. Found much more of myself. Very easily started feeling at home. Connected. Often happy, seldom sad.

Thank you, Bengaluru!

Wish I Were Here! And There Too!

Cloning would seem the most obvious solution. But it’s definitely not.

A situation arose today. I wanted to be at a place. But I also had to be elsewhere. Not that I didn’t want to be (that) elsewhere. I wanted to be there too. If I had over-thought – I could have chosen one of the places. They are 1007 kms apart. I had good reason to be at both places. I wanted to be at both places. Needless to say, I had to choose. A few months ago, this wasn’t so difficult. I would have just left. It is becoming difficult by the day.

The Matrix

Cloning would seem the most obvious solution. But it’s definitely not.

Because I would not be the receiver of both the experiences. Clones do not have a common sense of experience, do they? No, cloning would not solve it. Nothing will, in fact. That’s perhaps, what makes up life and life experiences. I don’t know it yet, but I am better for it. Not that I made a “right” choice — in this case, it wasn’t about right and wrong. It was simple: I wanted both. And the other thing was simpler: I couldn’t have both. It was only a life lesson.

If you were here, with me, my smile would have confounded you.

Play

This tweet made my day!

The play in question was “The Square Root of a Sonnet.” I have been in Achyutha’s town for a while, and while we promised to catch up, we hadn’t. Going to the play seemed like a good excuse to meet Achyutha. It’s not that I was not interested in the play; I was. It was directed by Prakash Belawadi — an actor I have come to admire after I have seen a few of his performances in Hindi movies. Airlift, especially.

I dread going to the theatre. As an audience.

20160916_015919I have always maintained that my place in a theatre was on the stage. I haven’t been to a theatre in a very long time. (Except for one, half a dozen years ago, where I was, technically dragged to it). As much as enjoy to no end, watching a play, the sense that I am always sitting in the wrong side of a theatre bothers me when I enter the theatre and depresses me when I leave it. I am at peace, when I am in it.

I am learning to drown the dread.

It was my first play in Bengaluru. At Ranga Shankara, a compact theatre, which is probably modelled on Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. Needless to say, it has a sweet and swanky coffee shop. (Yup, those are mandatory in places like these.)

It was a wonderful evening, an evening that I haven’t had for a long time.

It did not end there. That’s what made the evening special.

It was the star-struck me, for the rest of the evening that made it special. And I am not talking only of Prakash Belawadi.

~

PS: If you read this in good time, The Square Root of Sonnet is staging tomorrow (Fri, 16 Sep) again, at Ranga Shankara, in Bengaluru. If you cannot make it to this show, lookout for when it shows somewhere near you. DO. NOT. MISS. IT.

 

My Bombay and Your Mumbai

London, for me, will always be close to heart. Not the name; the place. I lived for a short while there, and that city swept me off my feet, because of what it is. Not because what it is called.

I have the same emotion for New York, though I have never stayed there long enough, unfortunately.

Needless to say, my home and my heart is in Mumbai. Though, I could easily have my home and my heart in London or in New York.

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I must have been in school, I think, when Peking became Beijing. I still have to make a conscious effort to refer to my neighbouring country as Myanmar, rather than Burma. But I do. In the same way that I have eradicated the word “hate” from my vocabulary. I do use dislike. Once in a while, the habit wins.

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I am not originally from Mumbai. My formative years however, were spent in Bombay. This became home a little before, and soon after I finished college (in Pune). For me, Bombay is natural. Mumbai is equally natural. I come from a family that is native to this state. Given that the significant years of my education were in a school where Hindi was given its due importance, Bambai, is equally natural. You see, I use all these three names for the city, given the context. So while, we can chest-beat till we are out of breath about the bastardisation of Bombay to Mumbai, it means zilch.

8061: Visarjan Dance - 2

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My design guru (you know who are, Sam) once told me of design, as before-the-fact and after-the-fact. I see opportunistic mediocre photographers create expensive coffee table books for placard-bearers, of titles like “Bombay vs. Mumbai” and variants. Most folks I know cannot or will not (there is a difference) afford these books. Yet, they’ll spit-finger-turn-pages of these books in dying bookshops, walk-out without a purchase, and then have concerned conversations over expensive export-quality flavoured Vodkas in exclusive boutique bars wearing international fashion labels (or rip-offs) about how the changing of the name has depreciated the sense and the glory of the city. If and when I ever take a photos of such people, I’ll have a coffee table book of mine, titled, “The Irony of the Bastardisation of Bombay to Mumbai That Actually Never Happened.”

The city, by itself, never changes. The people in the city do. And the rest of the people look at these people and think that the city has changed. That’s where, I think, you need to get a feel, a sense, a belonging to a city. Just liking it, on someone’s say so, is not passion. That’s borrowed euphoria; it’s transient. It is not a sense of belonging. And you either belong or you don’t belong. And that’s fine.

I’ve lived in this city when it was officially Bombay and I’ve lived in this city when it is (now) officially Mumbai. Nothing has gone wrong in this city. In fact, there’s more of Bombay in Mumbai than there was Bombay in Bombay, if we have to assign the assumed culturally distinct identities to names. (Notice, no one is talking about the city itself.) Assign the Bombayfication to general progress. Fair. But, there has been no regression.

Haji Ali - 2

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I owe it to you my dear reader, to give you a context of this post. The Independent, a newspaper in the UK, made an editorial decision. Henceforth, in all their publications, they will use Bombay instead of Mumbai. I must say this, I did check the date after I heard the podcast to see if it was the 1st of April. They do have good reasons though.500″ years of history, the editor said! Because, of course, that’s the extent of the history of this land. The city should choose one name, perhaps it would be easier on the readers of The Independent. They’d know where they are going. I mean, if they were boarding a flight to Bombay, and the air-hostess welcomed all of them to a flight to Mumbai, we would have a stampede, right? And of course if we choose Mumbai, we will just end up being a closed, ignorant, retarded, nationalist, rightist, fundamentalist, this-winger, that-winger, useless lot. That the Gateway of India is the Gateway of India, not of Bombay or Mumbai, is lost upon the editor. [Link] (Interestingly, the BBC interviewed the editor of The Independent. +1 @ BBC. Smart move!)

Suburban Sunrise - 1

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Why and how do cities change names? Why do we, in the Indian sub-continent, have places like Dalhousie, McLeod Ganj, Abbotabad, Jacobabad? Or, have, for example, New Amsterdam? One of my favourite three cities that I mentioned above, where my home and heart could be?

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Needless to say, there is vested political interest that The Independent has. And while I address you directly, my dear reader, when you see a mention of Hippokoura, in The Independent, let me assure you, (take my word, I’ve done research) they are talking of Kolhapur. That’s the name, 1890 years ago, for Kolhapur, given by the Ptolemy, in 126CE. History, right?

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But I care less about that. I feel sad about the lack of the sense of belonging that they are missing, as they set up this extravagant PR-oriented drama. They care less about the vibrancy, the energy, the enterprise, the chaos, the madness, and the order that this city is all about. In the same way that your city, my dear reader, has its own characteristics and a personality. And you sense it, feel it, live it. Would it be any different if it was called by any other name? Call my city whatever, it will never change its character. Unless the people in the city change theirs.

And those, who don’t go to boutique bars, don’t care about what you call our city. We are happy living our life, in our city, and we have three names for it.

All of them mean the same.

The Dull Thud, Thud, Thud

There’s a sheet of translucent paper covering the city every evening.

I am reminded of photo albums of old. The view is teasing, and the blur of an outline of a smiling face or a posed body, is there for us to guess. Then the distinct rustling of the smoky paper, as we slowly flip it over for the sharp image of a long-ago memory.

No such luck with the city. The softening paper is stuck to the image. The sharpness, can only be recalled in our memory from summers gone by. The ghost of the city stands still, and as the night falls, it freezes beneath the softly brushed rays of the neatly lined street lamps.

Nothing dulls the sharp thoughts that the mind has thawed after the long day. Inside the mind there is no translucency for the fissures that arise. Sharp, and clear in contrast, the hairline fractures, even, are as obvious as the confident strokes of a master calligrapher. The irony is there for us to see. The maze formed in the wake of the thoughts crisscrossing through, though, are sparse. Once the maze was dense with the tails of these comets, and we traversed every path they chose, sharply turning at every whim.

2015-12-08 17_Fotor

I recognise these thought-comets, but not all are clear or present. Some have just left. Some, I chased away. Some, broke. Some, are sulking in a far corner. I remember them, but can see them no more. Something like this effect of the translucent blanket that covers the city

I see them as dulled outlines of old memories and blunted emotions.

Capital Schizophrenia

“You never reveal your true self on Twitter.”
“I do, I just don’t like being personal in such a public forum.”
“How will we ever know the real you?”
“We’ll meet IRL (In Real Life) and we will discover each other.”
This goes on for a while.
Something happens, I feel strongly about it, I express my true feelings, as gracefully as I can, given the context.
“You are so rude.”
“No, I expressed what I felt, politely.”
“I can see the malice in your tweets.”

#Facepalm

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I stepped out for a smoke. [Smoking is injurious to health. This blog does not promote smoking. If you smoke you should stop now. If you don’t, never start.] Two other young men stepped out too. One of them was a smoker. Smokers are confined to small places. We end up being more intimate. Overhearing their conversation, I realised they were from the Indian Army. One was posted in Leh, the other in Dimapur. Brothers. Different Mothers. They meet in Delhi during their furlough. As they were about to leave, I stopped them, asked if, indeed, they were from the Army. They confirmed. I shook hands with them. Thanked them for the immense freedom and safety I live in. I avoided mentioning how most of us wantonly abuse that freedom. We had a short round of wonderful introductions. I was ridden with goosebumps for the next half-an hour.

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My disgust at the word startup and related terms is well documented. [All disliked words are suitably italicised] To be sure, the disgust is about the terminology, not the act itself. I have immense respect for those who take a dream and struggle to make it a reality. I was there once, twice, thrice, before. I feel blessed, that I have had, an almost, equal measure of success and failure. And I have learnt from both events. And then, recently, I heard, “We are a startup, we don’t do documentation or plans.” A very small (thankfully) bit of me, died a writhing death. Some idiot, somewhere, laid out a sexy sexy (not italics) imitative path to success. And the entrepreneurs (another word I dislike) gravitated to it like engineering students to porn. I call it “Building bereft of basics.” And I smile, and go my way.

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Until you use the public transport in a city, you are a tourist. I know, even tourists use public transport. But there has to come a time when you say, bloody tourists – since they have no idea about the local protocol of the public transport. Man becomes one with a city when he makes the public transport his own. He feels possessive, guarded, and intimate with the system. Every city, in this world, has something that you can dislike. And if it is not a good thing, you should dislike it. If you live in that city, however, you have to also find what is lovable. Every city, in this world, has something that is lovable. I sensed today, that I can be friends with Delhi. I said hello, the city reciprocated. We smiled. We are going to spend more time together.

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I got my Delhi Metro SmartCard today. The equivalent of an Oyster in London. These are childish pleasures, but immense in their intensity. Touch a card, and the baffle gate opens, only for you. Automagically the amount is deducted when you exit, because, automagically it remembers where you boarded. It was fun in 2005, it is fun, ten years later. Those who were born into it, may not appreciate it, but if you knew what it was when this tech didn’t exist, you will know what I mean.

Delhi Metro Card

Delhi Metro Card

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I carried a book today. Thought, I’d read it on the Metro. But it didn’t come out of the bag. There was so much to see of this new city, I didn’t feel like reading. Distance, usually, is measured in length. In Mumbai, we measure the distance in time. So, if you ask someone in Mumbai, how far is [some place], they’ll respond in time, not in kilometres. So, traveling a distance is a means of consuming time. Books, for example. Most people today consume media. Head phones and eyes-down on a small screen. I was smiling to myself. Loudly. No one noticed. No one looked up from their screens, at my face. In Central Delhi, the metro goes underground. And it comes up at the perfect station: Qutub Minar. It’s far away from the station, but the view from a distance doesn’t diminish it, at all. Being childish, makes sense, all over again. [No, I didn’t take a photograph, I was busy looking at it.]

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It’s very easy to insult. There are print books dedicated to a number of insults. 1001 insults, 5001 insults, and such. I’ve always wondered if that extra, one insult is special? Reading and using insults from books is so yesterday. Good insults come from really smart people. I was insulted twice in a single conversation today. One, I easily defended, it was obvious. The other one, was smart. It took me a few hours to realise it. Long after the conversation was over. I just smiled, when the second insult did a sunrise across my forehead, and inside my head. It was a class act. I didn’t accept it, but I mentally saluted my insulter. The sophistication of an insult, that’s an evolved art form.

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I just killed four more thoughts that were supposed to make it to this post.

But that’s life.

 

What are Places?

When you undress them completely, they are just a pair of two numbers: Latitude and Longitude. But we like places with all the adornments. The this is there, the that is there. And, thankfully, this isn’t there, and that isn’t there.

If you are a new blogger, take solace in this. When you have blogged for eleven years, (and if you have blogged well), you do not need to search for answers outside. Your own blog will have it all, when you have a question.

Open Your Hand

I wrote this in the June of 2008. Perhaps, I was wiser, then.

Then there those that effect change. And there is only one way, I believe, that they make the change happen. They embrace it with complete and utter blind trust. Not in the result of what that change may bring, but in the change itself. The complete surrender. Because, there is no such thing as a better tomorrow. Either there is a tomorrow or there isn’t. Your notion of a better tomorrow is your today being recycled and realigned to make you believe that your today is better than yesterday. Take the last thirty days and run through them you will know what I mean.

Tomorrow can either be impregnated with the sameness of all your suspicions, cynicism and scepticism, or it can be the tomorrow that rids you of that sameness that you so despise.

VICTIMS OF COMFORT – III

How desperately we claw and cringingly latch, to our fleeting today, is a result of our yesterday’s fears, that hurts our tomorrow.

 

Writing on Travel Writing

What do I tell you, my anxious reader, of my travels?

I know not what you seek. Perhaps tips and tricks of dealing with the shopkeepers? Of how to navigate the streets? Or of best places to stay? There’s an app for that. Or at least a website. Perhaps I could tell you my experience. Yes that would be nice. But other than being an interesting read, it wouldn’t amount to much. There is no way that you would ever have the same experience, when you go there. But, if my experience motivates you to travel there, or any other place, for that matter, it is worth writing about.

Food, monuments, and peculiarities have become the mainstay of travel writing, and I have developed a distaste, over time, for this kind of writing. All the writing is review-like — this is good, that isn’t; do this, but don’t do this. The experience is laid out for you. I’ve (very few times, thankfully) travelled with people who template-travel. Most of the times I have been on journeys with people who permit an unknown experience to occur and relish it. The other few, however, want to recreate someone else’s experience, because it is popular. Once, Mahendra, talked of how how people come and tell us how they did a place. An example, would be, “We did all the major European cities.” I think somewhere in their head there is a green check-mark being applied against place names. I’ve never had a bucket list, I think I never will; which doesn’t mean I don’t wish for things. A bucket list is a constraint, in a way, it forces you to see in the bucket. Which means that if a wonderful experience that’s not on your list, presents itself, there’s a good chance that you’ll miss it.

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Apart from having heard of Kazakhstan in Geography textbooks, when we were learning about steppes, I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about the country. I got the opportunity to travel to Kazakhstan because of work, but I feel blessed to have been there and known that country and its people, even if slightly. You can perhaps, by now, realise that I have very little to tell you in terms of touristy spots and such (which any travel site will tell you). But in that very short, one week, that I spent there, my personal experiences have been plenty. They’ll surface in the days to come, in the various posts in the days to come.

17.49.36: A Cloud Flare

I’ll leave you with this: the clouds and the skies in Astana, Kazakhstan had me mesmerised for the entire week. I know I have said it in the previous post. But that one theme recurred, from when I landed in the country, right up to the moment I left the country.

It All Comes Together

Bugis Junction

Bugis Junction

It was early in 2000 or 2001 that I took this photo. As the caption (on Flickr) says, “A photo that has eluded me for long. I probably took more than sixteen pictures of this place. I wonder why…” These were the days before the digital camera, when you can take a few hundred photos of one thing, choose the best, and happily delete the others. Film photography was expensive, and perhaps that is why we spent more time composing a photograph and ensuring perfect exposure. But it never comes easily to an amateur. Some exposures (photos) will go bad.

As you can see, I still didn’t get it right, after sixteen exposures. Yet, this has remained one of my favourite photos. Why this place and this name fascinated me then, was also a mystery. (Fifteen years ago, I wasn’t inclined as much to curiosity as I am now.)

Cut to today, after that evening with an elusive photograph, fifteen years later.

I am reading The Spice Route, and early into the book, one and a half decades later, I see the word again. Instantly the elusive photograph comes to mind. Something about travel, photography, and reading, makes perfect sense.

Bugis.

By foreigners — Asian or European — seeking to usurp control of the most obscure extremity of the spice route, all such indigenous operators would be termed ‘pirates’, a pejorative freely applied to any rivals and especially to local seafarers who attempted to defend what they considered their own territorial waters and maritime rights. The Bugis of Makassar, in particular, invited obloquy. Master-shipwrights and excellent navigators who were supposed to be able to detect a reef purely by smell, they darted in their rakish prahus (sailing vessels, sometimes with outriggers) from unsuspected anchorages on the coasts of Borneo and Sulawesi to challenge all rivals. Against monopolistic Europeans the Bugis would continue to wage a rearguard action well into the nineteenth century, by which the term ‘bogey’ or ‘bogy’ was entering common English usage. This may have been a coincidence; but allusion to the spice trade being not uncommon in nursery rhymes, those who as children were hush-hushed to bed by ‘here comes the Bogey-man’ may well originally have been threatened by a ‘Bugis-man’ who, at the helm of a piratical prahu, would certainly ‘catch you if he can’. ~ The Spice Route, John Keay

The online-etymology dictionary that I frequent often, has a different tale. But I did find other references for the etymology of ‘Bogey.‘ The disagreement about the etymology notwithstanding, it was an excitable moment for me, to encounter the word.

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I am enjoying the coming together of my travel, photography, and reading. The fascination with a word or an image, the context and meaning coming to you, years later, is a wonderful experience, even if it is not new. I recently told a friend, that I watch movies twice; just like I want to visit places, at least twice.

There are times when you can visit places again, without actually going there, and that’s a fine feeling.

Of Warm Winters

There’s a chill in the air tonight.

When someone from Mumbai says that, you have to think differently. Don’t automatically assume it’s cold here. The temperature has dropped just enough that we don’t perspire while watching TV. The ceiling fans in most places in the city will run at 4, instead of 5. Today is the day most beer-drinkers shift to rum or some other spirit. Beer is a summer drink. Which means we all drink beer 10 months in a year. It’s very unlikely that any Mumbai resident has warm clothes, unless she travels. Also, the drop in the temperature is often imperceptible. So we whip out the weather apps on our phones, and talk of the cold in terms of temperature. If a friend calls you from Mumbai, and says, “It’s 23 degrees C here!” — you should engage in the conversation. Be sympathetic. It’s a big deal for us.

Screenshot_2014-12-15-00-27-26I did use my app for this, yes.

From the time the Internet came along, and then mobiles, I’ve always wondered what the big deal was, about weather apps. Apart from the three-odd months of monsoon that we get, nothing changes in this city, in terms of the weather. During the monsoons, we assume that it will rain and carry our umbrellas. Not that they are effective though, given the kind of rain we get. And most of us don’t mind getting wet in the rain. It warm, unlike in London, where the rain is cold. We don’t check weather apps. We check how the locals are running.

Long ago, I was in London, during a December. My Mom called me from Mumbai: It’s 19 degrees! I cursed myself. I should have been in Mumbai. While I was enjoying a snowfall in the UK, I wished I was in my city experiencing 19 degrees. I love winters, but I love my city more. Seven years in my city, since that call, and not once have we gone below 20 degrees. Damn! World over zero degrees C is a standard. In Mumbai, we maintain it at 20 degrees. Anything below that is a cause for celebration and extended conversations.

Since this city has no winter, as such, we make up the winter. It may sound silly to you, but we like the 2 degree drop in temperature.

We call it winter.

It’s Enough That We Love Each Other

The other day, a friend asked if I had shifted to Pune. I had been checking-in on various social networks in Pune. Incessantly. Needless to say, My sister and both my nieces ensured that I enjoyed my time while I was there.  When my friend asked if I had shifted base, I replied: “God, no.”

Obviously a part of me does not want to shift to Pune.

Then, that remaining part of me questions me. I hardly twitched when we had to shift to Hyderabad many years ago; no opposition or complaints, when we shifted to Vasco-da-gama. I am thankful that due to the nature of my father’s work, and his insistence that he would take his family along, I have no roots, so to speak. Maybe I am like a Banyan Tree (I am assuming that’s the tree that spreads its roots wide; if it’s some other tree, just imagine I mentioned that one) But I have made many friends. And thankfully, I have made friends across the breadth and the length of this nation. I have some sense of a regional identity. I do. I feel immense pride however, that I experience a national pride. There are a very few people like me, who, do not have a regional identity. People like us feel comfortable in any place almost anywhere in the world.

I had the entire nation to choose as my hometown. A banker, who travelled the nation taught his children to feel at home in any part of this country. There was a time when I could speak fluent Telugu or Konkani. After I finished my education, it was time, to go somewhere. Goa seemed a very good choice to settle down, then. I’ve always loved Hyderabad; still do.

1994. I chose Mumbai. My first love.

By sea, land or air. Mumbai Skyline, Worli

I lived this city. I breathed this city. I made it mine and it made me its own. Since then, my love has only grown.

I saw the various ceremonies that were held today to commemorate the valiant. My hopes from the government notwithstanding, nothing has changed, since a few terrorists came to this city and wrecked mayhem, six years ago. Governments have changed, but the apathy has not. To them this city continues to be place for tax collection.

But, in spite of the apathy, my city will prevail. With, without, in spite of, the government.

 

To Travel the Distance

There’s too much talk about time-travel and too little about distance-travel – which is what we should focus on and work towards improving it drastically. Distance-travel is more useful to us.

When two friends, in different parts of the world are ready to meet and the only thing that separates them is distance, then the thing that we should be looking to solve is not time-travel, but distance-travel.

How can two people who live away from each other, meet in an instant without having to spend time travelling? Better roads, faster trains, and advanced aeroplanes can only do so much.

But distance also has a purpose – and we cannot ignore that. It gives us the means to understand deeply, how much the other person means to us and the lengths we will go to make the meeting happen.

Of Green Grass

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Town Hall, Kolhapur, MH, India. 9 September 2006

 

Green grass, yonder,
Rusted fence in between.
Allow time; nothing will stop us.

The Temporal Tapri

I love chai. Not tea, chai. Not the chai that is served in unnecessarily expensive coffee shops, but chai. Chai as it was originally and has remained so pretty much in most of India. In homes like yours and mine, and in the ubiquitous chai tapris in India. Tapri doesn’t have an exact English-equivalent, though you could say it is the same as a “road-side, makeshift stall” – but this phrase construction doesn’t do enough justice.

Some of my friends like tea, I prefer chai. Tea, for me is hot water lightly infused with tea-like flavour with a hint of milk (optional) and the almost absence of sugar (often always). Chai, is a concoction that arises of a process. The tea characteristic is subtle in one and dense in the other. One is not better than the other – they are branches of the same family.

There’s good conversation with a chai ka gilaas (a glass of tea, not a cup, mind you) and a cigarette. Conversation isn’t the domain of a coffee; tea and talk go equally well together. There’s a different romance to a talk with tea (I would have liked to say talk, tea and tobacco, just for the sake of the alliteration, but then, this post would have to come with a statutory warning and disclaimer. That is why I have also avoided saying coffee, conversation and cigarettes).

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The tea and the talk at a tapri will occur standing, usually on a pavement, or in some corner of the street, and will be equally refreshing. The language will perhaps be coarse, to suit the grungy environment, which is where you’ll usually find a tapri. Classically, the clientele of a tapri has been the blue-collar, but it seems to be finding favour with the white-collar as well, perhaps because of the recession; perhaps because it is hip. I suspect, it is because, you gotta love the tapri chai!

Chai tapris do not offer discounts, loyalty cards, or combo offers. There are no menu cards and they do not accept debit or credit cards. There may be a simple snack of a cream-roll and stale nan-khatai, but that’s not what you go there for. If you want your chai done differently, you will have to wait till it is made for you. The chai-maker is usually the chai-server; the overheads are low and therefore, the chai is cheap.

And while it is not very difficult to find a chai tapri (just ask your rickshaw or taxi driver nearby, he’ll tell you); I’ve started making it easier to find. I have recently started curating (for now, only listing) all tapris that offer wonderful chai all along the streets of Mumbai, as well as in other towns, where life takes me. Introducing The Temporal Tapri:

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The chai is sweet and thickened with milk and over-brewing and I love my tapri-chai.

Here’s a preview of some of the recent tapris I have been to.

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Fictional Rain

Technical writers make for the worst fiction writers. If you know how technical writers work, you’d think that they would make the best fiction writers. There is a trained eye for detail, context, and surrounding.

Yet, they don’t write good fiction.

I am not a technical writer (I used to be, a long time ago). And I should stop writing fiction. The last few attempts at fiction, by way of feedback (or lack of it) have been obvious disasters. This isn’t comment-bait. I am not asking that you pity this post and like or otherwise acknowledge the attempted fiction writing. You should never be wasting your time on things that don’t make sense.

It’s just that I feel writing about your everyday environment makes much more sense and is less laborious. Writing what you see is much simpler. There is no appeal to any specific emotion; it is what it is.

I bought a week-load of vegetables after a walk that was meant to silence the chaos. Apart from spilling that chaos all over the streets in my neighbourhood, I am not sure what I achieved. Just as I finished paying for the veggies, it started raining. Everybody in India loves a good monsoon. It rains promises along with the drops. Better crop and such, we think, but inflation is the sun’s cousin, it rises, everyday without fail. In Mumbai, we don’t care much about the inflation; as long as the lakes are overflowing by mid-September, we pretty much don’t care about anything.

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Carrying an umbrella in late-September in Mumbai is a sign of weakness, so I don’t. Obviously! Standing in a shop’s shelter, is the lower sign of carrying an umbrella. It must be the last shower of the season, I think let’s get wet, and so I leave the vegetable vendor. It’s raining hard, I stop to pick up my cigarettes. He knows me very well, we’ve been transacting tobacco for a decade. He looks up to me, confirms that I am completely drenched, unlike the other two customers who are weak and carrying umbrellas.

He attends to them first.

If I am already wet to my bone, more water won’t harm me anymore. He chooses to serve the tottering umbrella-bearers. I wonder if I should make a case and identify me as the more deserving of prompt service, since I lack the umbrella that I have consciously avoided (he doesn’t know that!). I let go, for almost the same reasons that, I think, he decided to serve those shivering smokers.

Also, it suits you if you are a technical writer by training. The structure, rules, and constraints become your friend and guide. It’s easier to obsess over the placement of a comma rather than whether the character is displaying consistent behaviour.

We are better off being who we are than who we want to be.

Missing Dave | Ground Burger Store

Six years ago, I was sitting at the Ground Burger Store  in Chiswick in London. The lovely place has now closed down, but my memory of that very lazy Saturday afternoon. The burgers were sumptuous and the salad colourful and filling. It was thankfully a Saturday with nothing to do. And while i did leave home with my camera bag and books to read and notebooks to write, I wasn’t really sure, which one, I’d use.

There were not many photographs taken, except this one – and I am glad I took it.

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That slow Saturday afternoon was not to be about photographs or about reading a book. It was to be about writing: a story about Missing Dave.

Blessedness

It was a Monday. Morose, melancholic and mournful as they have been made out to be. Monday’s by themselves have no character, apart from the one that we have imposed upon them.

On a taxi-ride south to north in my beloved city, amongst other things that I thought of and experienced, there came a word to my mind that excited me – as a writer; fair enough, I stand corrected – as a blogger. My consciousness split in half, one with a focus on the conversation that I was having, the other tracing and romancing the word that the rain had just teasingly poured through the half open window of the taxi.

It isn’t a word, I assured myself (and to no avail; I learned later) – I have just felt it.

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Blessedness.

Imagine my dismay when I discover that it is a word that has (for a while) found its way in the dictionary.

But I am unwilling to shed the romance that I experienced when I discovered this word for myself. I am not blessed – as such – but, I am in a state of blessedness. The renaissance I mentioned in my previous post contributes to that blessedness.

Friends.

My friends move my life. I have never planned to have a friend, and all friends I have, have contributed immensely to my life, without transacting. We are allowed to believe anything about ourselves, even convince ourselves who we are, but our true friends become mirrors and help us see ourselves, better. It’s a closed room and you are the only audience of yourself on stage; only friends can do that. Like I chose to employ the word ‘hate’ with some respect, I am now learning to use the word ‘friend’ with the same reverence. Notwithstanding Facebook’s use of that word.

Conversations.

I have a newfound respect for taxi (and rickshaw) drivers. (In fact, with anyone who is willing to have a conversation.) I believe that a taxi driver’s conviction in your short-term memory allows them to share far more than we are capable of. More often than not, the passenger becomes a listener and the driver a sharer; which is not really a conversation. The anonymity that the driver feels, should equally work for the passenger. The driver ends up sharing strong identifiable information (license plate of the vehicle, etc) – the passenger shares much less, when he should be sharing more. These guys are so easy to talk to. They bare all. One long drive in a taxi with an ongoing conversation is therapeutic. And since you are (eventually) paying, you can often decide the direction and tone of the conversation. We have made some unfortunate decisions about who we can talk to.

Knowledge.

What do we know? Many things. We read books, we read articles, we hear from people, we study. That helps us know more. But there comes a moment in our lives when we get to know something which stumps us. It may not be a tweet-able thing, but something that makes us wonder. That is a wonderful moment, because we aren’t “angry” that in spite of our planned laborious knowledge acquisition, we didn’t know it, but we are exhilarated of the discovery; wherever it may come from. 

Family.

We will always have a love-hate relationship with folks that are “tied” to us (You love some; you hate some). You cannot ignore that. But, we will have to look within and discover that, actually, we do things for the family not because we are supposed to or want to – but because we want to. This is difficult to discern. We make different kinds of investments in our family. Some are of pure love, some borrowed and some lent, some are transactional, some opportunistic – but they all are investments of sorts. Sometimes we make bad investments. But, the metrics that apply for traditional investments, do not apply here. Love, is the indicator and the index of our investment. Soon enough, the transaction becomes void.

Beauty.

That’s for us to decide, isn’t it? You could say there’s more to it or less, but blessedness is beautiful.