Monday, October 31, 2011

Urban Jungle

For a change, this weekend I did the “cool stuff" that you are supposed to do if you are in Mumbai: like dressing up, going to Bandra and spending one hour sweating in the traffic just to travel from Bandstand to Carter Road to Pali Hill. If that wasn’t being a “happening” Mumbaiite, we also had dinner at a nice-sounding place with very expensive alcohol. But of course, the climax was the 11:30 3-D show of Ra.One! No, I would not like to waste blogspace articulating what I thought of the movie, but let’s just say, I would have loved it if it remained a video game and did not inflict excruciating pain on the audience by turning into a “movie”. Even Ravan would be turning in his grave after this mockery of anti-heroes. Anyway I guess these days there are two kinds of movies: good movies and movies which make money, and unfortunately 50 percent of the reigning Khans of Bollywood are ONLY making movies for money. Now I am having recurrent nightmares of Ra.Two…

For a change, I also became this social person and visited my relatives (don’t you just love Mumbai for its lonnnng distances between places which always provide you with excuses to not meet people you don’t want to). After sitting through a two-hour discussion on death, diseases and failed marriages (I am not implying any correlation among the three completely separate topics), I was finally rewarded with the elaborate spread I had been eyeing ever since I entered the house: indeed, there is a reward for patience, and who am I to refuse a reward this delicious?

For a change, I also decided to pay attention to company policies and got my annual health screening done. Now I have always been a strict believer of ignorance being bliss. If I was carrying some deadly disease, I preferred not to know about it, even if the knowledge came for free. That would only reduce my life expectancy further. Besides, repeatedly having my blood sucked out of me or peeing in the cup or having strangers (even if they were doctors) feel me up wasn’t my idea of a perfect Sunday. But it turned out to be quite an experience: if you are a single woman in India and opt for certain tests (even if it’s because they are free), it gets the hospital authorities all hot and bothered, reaching out for all kinds of consent forms and asking all kinds of concerned questions that only make you laugh. If it wasn’t so regressive, it would actually be funny…

After so much of uncharacteristic activities, I restored some sanity by reading this year’s Man Booker Winning novel, “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes. Thankfully, all award winning books are not all hype. Or may be, this one struck a chord because I identified with the sheer mediocrity of the protagonist. There is some comfort in the story of an ordinary, unimaginative, conventional, slightly coward guy with dysfunctional relationships and all the human insecurities and imperfections.

There is comfort in other people’s shortcomings…

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Lil Brother Who Grew Up

So did you have a happy diwali? Did you dress up? Did you burst a lot of crackers and light a lot of diyas? Did you eat a lot of sweets?

Surprisingly enough I also had a good time. I got dressed up (is it my imagination or does the mirror play tricks when you wear traditional wear), I had awesome seafood (Bombay Duck is a fish by the way) and LOTS of chocolates, and I spoke to a few people.

But this post is about my my newly-employed, first-time-out-of-home kid brother. Now growing up with ten cousin brothers is no mean feat, let me tell you that. When I was not getting bullied, I was busy trying to fit in and not get dismissed as “oh she is a girl! She can’t play soccer or she can’t bat or she can’t climb up that wall.” Alright, may be I COULDN’T play soccer (I was a decent enough goalie though) or bat (someone should be in the field doing the dirty work right?) but I DID CLIMB UP THE WALL faster than any of those big fat bullies. Anyhow, just because it’s bhai fota today, doesn’t mean I am going to vent all my childhood frustrations.

But this brother was always special and I spoilt him rotten. Every year when I would visit him, I would save up my allowance and buy him ice-cream or video games or one of those useless things that teenage boys are crazy about. Every year, we would disappear for hours, going for long walks and then when he started driving, for long drives, when the crowd at home would be desperately looking for us. Being the shortest in the family, he was the only one who restored my self-respect, because at 18, I was taller than the pint-sized 13-year old boy. Unfortunately, that changed soon enough, and while I remained the shortest in the family, he grew up to be a strapping young man, head boy in his school, captain of his football team and most recently, placecom lead in his college. Besides being a computer geek, a car/bike enthusiast, he also cooks awesome and plays the guitar better than anybody I know. He knows how to live life king-size while I TRY to teach him the merits of frugality. But most of all, he has been my best friend in the last few years, who confides in me and vice-versa. From arguing over Sachin Tendulkar vs. Mohammed Azharuddin, we moved on to arguing about which one of my boyfriends sucked the most. And oh, unlike many grown men, he actually knows how to make a long-distance, childhood relationship work. So yes, he is the epitome of the “perfect guy”, and at times like this, I really miss him.

Apart from that, I struggled to finish a booker-winning novel, and finally accepted that may be it’s alright if I don’t understand why a certain book won critical acclaim, instead of ploughing through one painful chapter after another, trying to find a reason. So I pulled out old boxes, located “The Last Lecture” (thanks to the sixth reader of this blog) and finished it in one evening. And after a long long time, a book managed to reduce me to tears, and these days, that doesn’t happen too often…

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Diwali Dampener

I always had a sneaking suspicion that I was a loser, but now I have proof!!! So apart from everything else that is wrong with my life (stark staring singledom for over a year, a job that only gets worse by the day and a book that refuses to get moving by itself, if you leave out the other macro factors like inflation, recession, corruption) there is also Diwali.

I don’t know whose “bright" idea it was, but I think it’s a completely useless festival. I came up with this illuminating hypothesis when I switched OFF the lights in the washroom at work and walked home by myself. The roads were empty, but the whole of Hiranandani was lit up like we were in a developed country with ample power supply. Add to that the waste on diyas, crackers, gifts, sweets and two days of holiday, and it runs the risk of being the most senseless event right up there with the IPL.

This morning again, as I walked into my office, all decorated in ugly rangolis, I switched ON the washroom lights, wondering why I even bothered to go home. Oh, TO CHANGE from ONE OVERPRICED NEW OUTFIT TO ANOTHER.

On that note, happy diwali, if you are reading that is. Why should you get to enjoy a long vacation when I can’t?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sunday with Morrie

It was a pretty awful lonely weekend. Everybody seems to be going home for the festive season, while I am stuck here in this godforsaken city, working like a maniac. I was planning a solo trip to Ajanta Ellora during Diwali, but had to cancel it because of work.

I am so sick of the computer screen that I decided to spend the weekend doing something completely self-indulgent, and yes, away from the screen.

Of course, there is nothing more uplifting than SHOPPING! So yea, I spent a very satisfying five hours in the mall, buying completely unnecessary stuff at prices I can’t afford. Dear showrooms, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT assume for a moment, that just because it’s Diwali, you can fool people into buying overpriced clothes for sentimental reasons. I was completely aware that the dress I bought wasn’t worth the price tag, but still I bought it, well, because I WAS DEPRESSED. Anyway no regrets. At least I can look pretty at work while I sift through slide after slide of gibberish. Not that it matters; almost the entire floor is on leave but still I like the smell of new clothes on me.

More importantly, I did a LOT of reading these two days. What with the assassination of Gaddafi and my complete ignorance about the dictator’s whims and fancies, I had a lot to catch up on. At times like this, I do appreciate why my dad calls me UNEDUCATED. Besides, for a change I read a good book. Lately I had been reading a lot of junk dished out by Indian ‘writers’ (because someday I aspire to dish out similar junk), so I had almost forgotten how it felt to read a really good book. Thankfully, this weekend, I found one. “Tuesdays with Morrie” is no highbrow literary masterpiece, but it sure is a breezy read with just about the right sprinkling of humour, philosophy and candour. And oh, before the book became a worldwide success, it was rejected by several publishers and one went as far as to declare that the author didn’t know how to write a memoir! So I guess there is one thing common among publishers across geographies: STUPIDITY!

“Don’t let go too soon, but don’t hold on too long”… as you say, Morrie Sir!

Friday, October 21, 2011

TGIF... Really?

I have been staring at the screen for over 60 hours this week: vacant, blank, empty. My eyes are lined with dark circles, my head hurts and my body aches. I have work piled on my desk email, and I am completely lost. It’s Friday (and I have no plans, except that I do know I have to work late and fill up the damn year-end appraisal form), next week it’s Diwali and yet, I am as far away from the festive season as I could possibly be.

What happened to those Friday nights when we would brave the Mumbai traffic and local trains just to go to HRC or ogle the Bandra crowd?

What happened to those Friday nights when we would have all the enthusiasm in the world to dress up at 10:00 in the evening and go for the latest movie on the first day itself, irrespective of how bad the movie was? (ajab prem ki ghazab kahani anyone?)

What happened to those Friday nights when we would rush straight to the bar from work (to take advantage of the last 30 minutes of the happy hour) with me cribbing about the huge laptop bag and the shabby outfit?

What happened to those Friday nights when we would just stay at home, watch Friends and kick off our weekend pizza marathon?

What happened to the kohl-rimmed eyes, the high heels and that transparent shade of lip gloss?

What happened to the uninhibited laughter?

What happened to me?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Three Wise Men

Some of the most famous and talented people passed away recently, and they were relatively young as well: Pataudi, Steve Jobs, Jagjit Singh…

They were all achievers in their own right, they all touched a lot of lives, and each of them made a huge difference in their respective fields. Sure I have never seen Pataudi play, but I have heard about his charismatic leadership qualities as well as his regal presence in the field. Being a completely technologically challenged person, my exposure to Steve Jobs has been limited to using the i-pod and listening to his presentations during the launch of a new product. As for Jagjit Singh, one of my biggest regrets is that I never saw a live concert of his, even though some of his songs are forever etched in my mind i-pod.

They all seemed invincible at their peak: the world at their feet, enthralling people with sheer genius, touched by the magic wand of success, glamour and fame. Every little kid had a poster of them by their bed, inspiring them to dream of making it big as they went to sleep. They taught us that obstacles were just minor distractions, if you were passionate enough, if you worked hard enough, if you wanted something bad enough. If Pataudi could do it with one eye, if Jagjit Singh could continue performing despite a tragic personal loss or if Jobs could do it without a college degree, surely there was something more to success than conventional wisdom.

They gave us a reason to be mad, an excuse to be impulsive, the courage to follow our dreams, the nerve to stay foolish despite failing repeatedly.

They taught us to LIVE, even if they died young

Monday, October 17, 2011

Message in a Bottle

This is an alcohol post… pure, unadulterated, shaken but not stirred, though it does stir up quite a lot of memories!

Now people who know me well will vouch for the fact that I am an occasional drinker, who, can at max hold five (at times as little as two and a half) drinks. Anything more than that, then beware of your car/home/clothes, because I can throw up on any of them. And that too, as my dad aptly says, like all other things (meaning guys), I have very immature taste in alcohol as well and his isolated attempts to help me acquire the taste of whisky or red wine have fallen flat. Me, I prefer to stick to my breezers/ vodka/ gin/ tequila/ LIT/ margarita and the occasional sex on the beach (the cocktail).

Over the years, I can confidently say that alcohol is one thing that has stood by me thick and thin, in the hardest of times as well as the happiest of days.

My tryst with alcohol started in high school, when as a seventeen-year-old, I was pining for my “best friend” who was leaving the city for good and we drowned ourselves in an entire bottle of port wine kept in the fridge and then filled it up with water. Ahh… “love”, separation and alcohol make for a lethal hangover…

My initial days in Bombay were pretty mundane, when I was this sincere, demure career-oriented CAT-oriented girl, “who did not want to let her parents down or misuse the trust vested in her” (my mom’s words, not mine). So for three years, I just studied, topped my exams, took CAT classes, discovered the joys of roadside shopping and street food, without giving in to peer pressure to party. Thankfully, I never felt I was missing something, as I watched sloshed girls sneaking into the hostel from the safety of my 8/8 room. May be the watchful eyes of my religious Muslim roomie who prayed twice a day and stayed away from all the ‘vices’ kept me in my senses…

But soon, I was working (after failing to crack CAT in my first attempt) and then I decided enough was enough. Being “good” and “responsible” was getting me nowhere AND my above-mentioned “best friend” was now moving to the States which meant our occasional phone calls and annual Kolkata meets would also come to an end. Now that I had a little money, it was time to “misuse the freedom and trust vested in me” by my parents. So the next year, I really “discovered” all that Bombay is famous for. The vodkas and the LITs poured in, affections were showered, the music became louder, the nights longer and the morning-after hangovers more frequent. So yes, I was finally ready for B school…

The key takeaway from MBA was discovering my OTHER passion (writing, and no, the first one isn’t finance). But very close was our ability to find the most creative excuses for drinking. You give us an event (say xyz company is visiting the campus for placements) or a non-event (xyz company cancelled its visit due to recession) and we would automatically reach for the bottle. And then add to it, freshers’ parties, farewell parties, birthday parties, clearing exams, failing exams, placements, lack of placements, Neev, Kerala, Goa, well, you get the picture…

Company D was just an extension of college, except now there were occasional company-sponsored parties which meant you could get drunk for free. And now that we had more money and we were yet to learn to cook, we would be eating out multiple times a week, and of course, no self-respecting first-year analyst has ONLY dinner at a restaurant. But, but but, then we discovered the beauty of home-delivery of alcohol. So on a particularly lazy weekend, we could just order for tandoori chicken, beer and vodka to be delivered right at our doorstep. Of course, having a flatmate who prided herself on her “refined tastes” and relaxed with a glass of whisky after a long day, was constant peer pressure, one that I didn’t mind giving in to. Now that bachelor parties were starting to slowly replace birthday parties, the only thing that restored the sanity was alcohol. Admittedly, I have a very poor track record as far as bachelor parties are concerned (I have thrown up on each of them), but I completely blame the enormity of the occasion rather than my inability to hold my drink.

And then it was new year’s eve… and it turned out to be the longest and most expensive hangover of my life!

After some impromptu drinking binges, t-shirts soaked with tears and sweeping changes, I am sober again, and except the occasional moment of weakness, I stay conscious and careful and very much in control…

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Once Upon a Time...

Once upon a time I wanted to be a cricket commentator… and then I saw Mandira Bedi

Once upon a time I loved reading fairy tales… and then I realized life isn’t about happily ever after

Once upon a time I watched all romantic comedies… and then I discovered the ugly appeal of American Beauty

Once upon a time I listened to mushy pop music… and then I came to know George Michael was gay

Once upon a time I was seduced by Mumbai… and then I fell in love with the small-town charm

Once upon a time I was a little girl… and then I lost my rose-tinted glasses

Once upon a time I was happy… and then I became ‘independent’

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Paper Planes

There is nothing romantic about poverty. Trust me, there isn’t. I respect money, mostly because growing up, we didn’t have much. So every time people tell me how money isn’t important or how it can’t buy happiness, I nod along respectfully, though in my heart of hearts, I do know that it makes life a lot better. Let’s just say I would rather be rich and miserable than being poor and miserable. So yes, while money can’t buy happiness in the long run (neither can poverty), it works wonders for instant gratification!

Take my Kerala trip for example. The first time I went there, I was 11 years old. We traveled for 44 hours in the general compartment and by the time we reached Ernakulum, I was almost sick with exhaustion, dirt and pollution. The second time was a lot more fun, when we went from college (more details here and here), piling on a Mallu friend and the famous ‘Kerala hospitality’ ensured that the shoestring budget didn’t affect us.

But this time around, the four-day self-indulgence with all the luxuries just made me realize that probably money isn’t a dirty word after all.

So there we were, at The Leela Palace in Kovalam, soaking up the sun, the beach, the pool, the rejuvenating spa treatment, wondering if this was what heaven was made of, while I secretly harboured apprehensions of the next day, when I would be back home in Mumbai, in my one bhk pigeonhole masquerading as an ‘apartment’. I was used to it, but I was scared of how my folks would react to my minimalist existence.

But as it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. We checked out of Leela, boarded the flight, braved the peak hour traffic and finally reached my handbag (aka 'flat') in Powai. Obviously you can imagine the drastic transformation in a matter of few hours as I nervously welcomed my parents inside. They didn’t bat an eyelid, as my mom quickly took charge, sent me for grocery shopping and within an hour whipped up a sumptuous khichdi that only my mom can make, while I made my “delicious” chicken curry without any major mishaps. And there we were, just like old times, sitting on the mattress, newspapers spread on the floor, eating home-cooked food. As they relished the food, I stared at their happy faces more out of relief than anything else, deeply grateful. As we sat by the window in the dark, my dad smoking and both of us grumbling (much like the old times), he summed it up, “I have traveled all over the world, stayed in the most luxurious suites, tasted all sorts of exotic cuisines, but nothing beats this moment.”

May be there is something romantic about poverty after all… or may be it’s just the nostalgia!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Is it Me?

Is it the glistening sand, the virgin beach and the out-of-this-world sunset?

Is it the serene backwaters, the fishing nets and the charm of the local fishermen?

Is it the quaint little church with the rich history?

Is it the pristine waterfalls lashing against the boulders, the gurgling resonance breaking the early-morning tranquil?

Is it Kerala?

Or is it just me?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wedding Jitters

If you have been reading this blog for long enough (yes, all five of you. I was told that there is a fifth reader lurking around), parts of this post may be familiar to you. Anyway, here is my Viewspaper column this week.

Now am off. Flight in two hours.

And shubho bijoya…

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Happy Days

So today is “Oshtomi” or as all of you spell it, “Ashtami”. Don’t worry if you are a non-bong and hence it means nothing to you. I am a bong, and STILL it doesn’t mean anything to me. Except that I do know this is supposed to be the most important day of the five-day circus or what Bengalis call, Durga Pujo.

I don’t even remember the last time I spent this auspicious occasion in Kolkata. Ahh, the dhak, the crackers, the excitement, the décor, the waste

But what I do remember are my childhood days when these five days would rank as THE MOST IMPORTANT OCCASION right up there with my birthday and bhaifota.

Each year, the Durga Puja event would have three distinct stages:

Stage 1: The Preparation
This would start a month or even earlier, when my parents would start working hard and shopping for the occasion. The instructions were clear. As a seven year old who was newly exposed to multiplication, the math was simple: five days of Durga Puja equals 5*2=10 instances of going out (mornings with friends and evenings with family) and no self-respecting seven-year-old would be caught dead wearing an old/same outfit on these 10 occasions. Ergo, Durga Puja DEMANDED that I should have ten NEW outfits. Ergo, my dad had to work overtime.

But they (evil parents) also did their math. I was told that my budget would be Rs. XYZ and I could choose how I wanted to spend it, i.e. divide Rs. XYZ by 10 and buy 10 NEW BUT CHEAP dresses. Alternatively, I could divide Rs. XYZ by 5 and buy 5 NICE dresses, though I would have to repeat/wear old stuff in the mornings. Unfortunately, my division was a weak link at that point (why have TWO methods of division anyway?) and I agreed to the first option without really understanding the implications (me sticking out like a sore thumb in my ankle-length, ill-fitting 50-rupee frock when the others were fashionably dressed in branded clothes).

Stage 2: The Event
The actual five days had NOTHING to do with religion or worship. It was about having a legitimate excuse to dress up and hang out with friends since morning, sing along to bad music played at the pandals, participate in all the art competitions, eat roadside puchka without having your mom looking over your shoulder and play antakshari (our contribution to the overall bad music) sitting five feet away from the place of worship.

In the evening, I would again dress up in the different set of new clothes, go out with my parents (and relatives) pandal-hopping across the city, comparing and counting. Now for those of you not familiar with the chaos that ensues in Kolkata during Durga Puja, the closest analogy I can offer is the Indian fielding team comprising Navjot Sidhu, Bishan Bedi and Saurav Ganguly. The traffic goes haywire, there is no such thing as parking and everywhere there are separate entrances for men and women. So inevitably we would lose track of one another and in an age prior to mobile phones, it wasn’t as much fun as it sounds like. Besides, being the precious little princess (I can so imagine someone commenting on this) that I was, I would refuse to walk after the first 45 minutes, thereby spending the remaining night happily perched on my dad’s shoulder.

Bijoy Doshomi (Dushera) would be the final day when there would be tears all around, the women would feed sondesh to the idols and we would swear that even Ma Durga had tears on her painted clay cheeks (I am not exaggerating). All the kids would bring their text books and place them dutifully at the feet of Saraswati (for the uninitiated, Ma Durga is always accompanied by the entourage of her children: Laxmi, Saraswati, Ganesh and Karthik, each with their respective accessories/pets). I would make a last-minute dash to our third-floor apartment (we didn’t have elevators) and come down panting with whatever book was lying nearest to the door (come to think of it, it was NEVER Maths). Finally, it would be time for visarjan and this was my favourite part where we would dance on the roads as we followed the matador carrying the idols. It’s pretty much close to what happens in a Punjabi baraat (I have attended one and hopefully that will be it), only it doesn’t have the tragic ending.

Stage 3: The Depression… and The Anticipation
The next few days following Durga Pujo would cast a shadow of gloom over all of us, who had gotten used to the luxury of indiscipline. Now it was time to go back to the books, eat boring home food and wear boring old clothes. But we would soon cheer up as Durga Pujo only marked the beginning of the festive season. There would be Laxmi Puja, Kali Puja, Bhaifota, Christmas, MY BIRTHDAY and New Year punctuated by something called Half-Yearly exam which nobody bothered about.

Sighh… those were the days. It’s oshtomi today and I am at work in my ONLY new outfit, with my colleague forcing me to listen to Akon singing Chammak Challo.

But, tomorrow I am off to Kerala for the third time. Self-indulgence, here I come!