Thursday, May 24, 2012

When History Beckons

Disclaimer: This is an extremely shallow and incredibly girly post (unlike my OTHER posts, which are deep, meaningful and replete with wisdom)…

So the only thing better than traveling is the pre-travel shopping. I know you are supposed to buy stuff during your trip and not before it, but if the destination in question is an expensive Western European country, and if you are going at a time when the INR has touched a record low and the Euro-Rupee exchange rate is as high as the average age of our politicians, you are left with no option but to be happy with our desi brands.

So yes, for the last 10 days, I have explored the shadiest corners of Mumbai, trying to find cheap holiday clothes, shoes and accessories apart from the usual rounds at the malls. Walking six and a half hours in the heat in Linking Road/Hill Road/Waterfield Road is well worth it, because you can find clothes/chappals cheaper than petrol. I bought a host of colourful bangles, bracelets, earrings and hairclips at dirt cheap prices, awfully cute chappals for 80 bucks (yes, I kid you not) and export-reject dresses and scarves at throwaway rates.

Of course, I had already visited the showrooms (henceforth referred to as temples) and splurged on ridiculously expensive stuff which I would never wear again, including a tunic dress from Vero Moda and a jumpsuit, which makes me look like a clown at a birthday party. Really, what was I thinking?

But that’s the beauty of holiday shopping. You don’t think; you just go with the flow, especially if the place in question is beautiful, romantic and straight out of the history books. The land of Julius Caesar, Michelangelo and Leonardo Di Vinci beckons to me.

Yes, I am off to Italy for two weeks tomorrow night

Monday, May 21, 2012

Cup of Life

Yet another Saturday night…
Yet another boring social event…
This time, I am sitting pretty uncomfortable in a black saree, stealing glances at my watch, and shifting uneasily…
Finally, the dinner is served…
I gobble it up, and run for my life (which is difficult, considering I am in a saree and high heels)…
It’s 10 p.m., there is still time for the match to begin, but I want to watch the pre-match analysis as well…
After all, it’s my first UEFA Champions League Final

Now the advantage of being a football virgin is that I am still learning, I am still in the haze of the initial ecstasy, my slate is still clean, I don’t have any loyalties and I am not a slave to any superhero: all I want is an exciting, breathtaking match, while being dispassionate about the outcome. After the last minute heroics of Manchester City last weekend, I had been looking forward to the final showdown between Bayern Munich and Chelsea.

So it began: red vs. blue, the favourites on their home ground vs. the underdogs, the young talent of Thomas Muller vs. the experience of Ashley Cole. Unlike cricketers and tennis players, here I don’t know most of the players, I am not familiar with their past legacies, except the vague recollection of a certain Didier Drogba, who represented Ivory Coast in the 2010 World Cup with a broken arm in a cast. The first half is scratchy; BM is in control, but falls short of converting its chances. I am a little bored, and I believe so is Chelsea, except Petr Cech, the goalie.
The second half beings on the same note; another half an hour; still no goal. I am sleepy and I begin to feel that the game is overrated, and the saree is making me all the more uncomfortable. And suddenly, out of the blue, a header from Muller somehow manages to go through and wake me up. It’s not exactly a great goal, but the crowd goes berserk. I can’t make up my mind whether to be happy or not, because I don’t know who to support, AND I remind myself to stay put lest my drapes come off. With seven minutes to go, Chelsea’s chances of winning the trophy are next to nothing, but, but, but Drogba had other plans. With barely two minutes to go, he comes up with an equalizer, and this time I am screaming my lungs out, my heart warming up in favour of the underdog.

When Robben misses the penalty during the extra time, I am ACTUALLY HAPPY, but I still can’t see Chelsea winning, so I am hoping that they hang on till the penalty shootout. It’s way past my bedtime; I am tired and my movements are restricted thanks to the god-damned saree.

The penalty shoot out begins; the story continues; BM leads as Mata misses; but Cech, who has been the busiest Chelsea player in the match, saves two penalties from Olic and then Schweinsteiger. As Drogba approaches, I am actually praying to god (and I never pray). My prayers are answered.

Drogba holds his nerve, Chelsea wins; I stare away with a vacuous smile on my face as I look at the smiling faces sharply in contrast to the crying Schweinsteiger; but I restrain myself and get up in a dignified and lady-like manner, rearranging my pleats, though the crazy girl in me wants to jump uninhibitedly.

I came in as an agnostic, I was converted to a believer

Thursday, May 17, 2012

From a Railway Carriage

For a majority of Mumbaiites, the local train is more of a necessary evil rather than a romantic sojourn: come on, there is NOTHING romantic about squeezing yourself inside an already bursting 2nd class compartment, hanging on to the door for dear life AND hoping to be pushed and shoved close enough to the other end of the compartment because the blasted Dadar platform is on the other side.

But to me, who has never traveled regularly at peak hour traffic, the local train still holds some amount of the old world charm.

Like a child, I like waiting in anticipation and craning my neck, standing on the platform, waiting for the train, slightly anxious, hoping that I would be able to board the 2nd-class ladies compartment (and not get into a first class one by mistake, guiltily keeping an eye out for the TT)…

Like a mesmerized Durga in Pather Panchali, I like the way the train majestically halts on the platform, and like a chameleon, changes its colours as a stream of people rushes out, while another stream struggles inside…

Like a seasoned localite, I like planting myself by the window, put my feet up and listen to music, leaning against the dirty wall, idle thoughts running through my head…

Like a cash-strapped teenager, I like browsing through the hairclips and accessories, as the kindly vendor offers me a generous price…

Like a college student new in Mumbai, I like eavesdropping on the random conversations around me, admiring the camaraderie as the middle-aged women share their problems…

Like a wonderstruck traveler, I like to stare away, as the obscure stations pass me by, “Faster than fairies, faster than witches, Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches”…

Like a schoolgirl, I find myself reciting one of my favourite poems by Robert Louis Stevenson,

All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by

Life from a railway carriage is a tapestry of reality with a tinge of fantasy, unconquered, mystic yet alluring

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Cheap)

This is a long overdue post, but for whatever reasons, I have never addressed it exclusively on this blog. This is about my compulsive obsession with being cheap. While staying away from home on a limited budget does make one more financially conscious, I have always pushed the boundaries of cheapness to a new extent. And being an accountant’s daughter who has seen her parents find happiness over a “balanced” account statement, I take pride in managing my money (whatever little I have) down to the last rupee, despite my aversion to numbers. The only two exceptions are clothes and travel, where I don’t compromise.

My MBA friends still regale each other with stories of my Gandhigiri, where I would walk for miles (from the highway to campus) in the heat, just to avoid paying the autowala through my nose…

Even in Mumbai, I still take the 2nd class train over a cab, or walk it down rather than take an auto…

I travel all the way down to Crawford Market (in aforementioned 2nd class train) to buy cosmetics from a wholesale shop rather than splurge on Body Shop in Palladium…

I buy accessories in local trains/Colaba Causeway rather than from showrooms…

I don’t have a maid or a cook and happily devote my weekends to domestic chores…

I avoid luxuries like a smartphone or an AC and I sell old newspapers at Rs. 9 a kg…

I borrow old books from a library rather than buy them (no, not even on Flipkart)…

Thankfully, most of my friends are thrifty as they also have to make rent/pay EMIs/start up new businesses, so we eat at cheap restaurants, drink during happy hours, watch morning show movies and gift each other knick knacks from Archies Gallery on birthdays.

Having said that, I went to a “townie” undergrad college, where the crowd is very different (read sophisticated rich women who still manage to intimidate me) and when I am part of some social event where I run into them (like this weekend), I still feel like the 18-year-old timid girl with a bad dressing sense, looking down at the floor, wishing there was a hole through which she could disappear forever!

So why am I so cheap?

Partly, it’s because of an inherent sense of justice. If I know someone is taking me for a ride, I would avoid it even if it means additional inconvenience for me.

Partly, it’s because I appreciate the importance of financial security, especially given the low job security in my industry, my constant struggle with authority and the elusive "dream" of quitting my job to become a writer.

But mostly, it’s because of my middle class upbringing, where I have seen my parents struggle for the better part of my childhood.

You can take the girl out of the rented two-room apartment in a modest locality in Kolkata but you can’t take the rented two-room apartment in a modest locality in Kolkata out of the girl

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cowboy Casanova

So my post on pet peeves of women which piss me off garnered some demand for a similar post on the pet peeves of men. While I don’t intend to generalize and undertake an exercise in male bashing (as enjoyable as it is), here are some of the key attributes which I have noticed that make men, well, men…

The Remote Control Fixation: Yes, we understand that men have this inherent NEED to be IN.CONTROL (be it with their families, colleagues or the women they are with), but seriously, do you really need your self-worth to be defined by a battery-operated device?

The Continued Infatuation with Gadgets: I am sure the ipad 3 or the latest PS-whatever-version is the next best thing to Katrina Kaif, but at some point, you should stop, take a deep breath, and ask yourself, “When mom said go play with your toys, did she mean FOREVER?”

The Obsession with IPL: I know life is JUST NOT WORTH LIVING without cricket (believe me, I am a huge sports buff), but postponing everything (work, travel, visit to the dentist, sex) for two months to make up your mind whether to support KKR or Saurav Ganguly is NOT worth it. No, not even if Chitrangada Singh is there.

It Wasn’t Me-But-the-Alcohol Syndrome: It’s NOT ok to get violent in a party because ‘you were down a few pegs’; it’s NOT ok to run over people or dogs because ‘you are young and it happens’ and it’s definitely NOT ok to harass/mistreat/come on to women and apologize the next day blaming it all on the alcohol.

The Love Affair with Your Mother: We all love men who are family-oriented, but when it borders on blind faith (or an excuse to run away from responsibility), then it’s just lame. Yuvraj Singh may be a dream New Year’s Eve date, but he is definitely not the guy to come home to, because we need to speak to his mom if we want his opinion.

On that note, the weekend is here: it’s time for me to sit at home, fiddling with the remote watching P/W vs. RCB, drink JD and make drunk phone calls and speak at length with my mom, cribbing about men.

But then again, I am a woman, and hence allowed my occasional indulgences

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Parental Guidance

I strongly believe in Parental Guidance; not just believe in it, I RECOMMEND it, because let’s face it, PARENTS.NEED.GUIDANCE. Without it, they are simply lost souls, drifting through life, making impulsive decisions which can scar the children for life. Like the lady in the serial “Awkward” says to her teenaged daughter, “As your mother, it’s my duty to scar you.”

So yesterday was Mother’s Day. Now while I am not a big fan of these so-called ‘days’, my mum simply thrives on them (let’s dismiss it as midlife crisis) and she is the first one to wish me on these ‘occasions’: Children’s Day, Women’s Day or even Valentines’ Day. Hence I picked up the phone and called her just to make her happy. Instead of being grateful and thanking me for my sensitivity (come on, I was big enough to put aside my prejudices against commercialization of human relationships and call her), she started sulking.

-Me (faking a cheerful voice): “Happy Mother’s Day!!!”
-Mum (I could almost see her pouting): “You know I am not happy.”
-Me (knowing perfectly well where this conversation was going): “Why??? What’s wrong???”
-Mum: “How can I be happy knowing that MY ONLY DAUGHTER is still not married, when all my friends’ kids are well-settled?”
-Me: “But I AM well-settled. I am independent, educated and capable of taking care of myself. You should be happy for me. It’s all because of YOU.”
-Mum: “Do you think I am stupid enough to fall for that? I shouldn’t have sent you away so early. See how you have turned up (like I have become some hardened criminal).”
-Me: “I think that was the best decision you ever made. Don’t blame yourself.”
-Mum: “Who said I am blaming myself? I am blaming you. You should have married XYZ. He was such a nice boy and he was Bengali as well.”
-Me (raising my voice): “But I did not like him!”
-Mum: “How is that important? Did I “like” you father? I barely knew him when I got married but we were still happy.”
-Me: “But, but, but, I am not like you.”
-Mum: “What is that supposed to mean? Are you looking down on your OWN MOTHER? Is that what they teach you in your fancy colleges?”
-Me (thinking that this is the worst Mother’s Day in the history of Mother’s Days): “No, no. Of course not. I am just saying, it’s an important decision, and I can’t rush into it.”
-Mum: “How much time? You know I have high pressure and your dad is also worried. Who knows what will happen? We want to see you happily married. The other day, we went to ABC’s wedding. She is one year younger to you. We can’t even go to social functions now; everybody asks about you.”
-Me: “So let me get this straight. You think bad health, peer pressure and ‘concerned’ relatives and neighbours are the top three reasons to get married. This is like engineering exams flashback!”
-Mum: “You are impossible! What did I ever do to deserve THIS?”
-Me: “Is dad around?”
-Mum: “He has spoilt you. This is all because of HIM.”

(bickering in the background)…

Seizing the opportunity, I hang up.

After a point, you just have to let parents be, even though you know better

Monday, May 7, 2012

Black or White

I am somebody who is a typical run-of-the-mill product of the great Indian middle class: well-schooled (as opposed to well-educated), well-fed (as opposed to well-nourished) and well-paid (as opposed to well-employed). So yes, I am this poor little rich kid, who hasn’t seen much of the world, who lives in her own cosmopolitan urban haze, who hasn’t experienced any serious setbacks, challenges or discrimination. For me, a setback is a dry day on a national holiday, a challenge is recovering all the movies and music from a hard disk crash and discrimination is when a nice guy in a crowded public transport offers me his seat because I AM A GIRL.

So, no, I DO NOT subscribe to “affirmative action”, “reservations” or “emancipation”, because, to me, they are all synonyms of “votebank politics”. When I was taking all sorts of MBA entrance exams back in 2006, there was a lot of hue and cry about Arjun Singh’s decision to have an additional 27% reservation for OBCs in the IIMs apart from the existing quotas, and the staunch activist that I was at that point, I wrote a lot of letters to various newspapers strongly criticizing that move, and dismissed it as yet another populist measure pandering to an archaic caste system.

With the rose-tinted glasses firmly perched on my nose, I envisioned a world of Ayn Rand, where only individual brilliance and meritocracy counted: either you were good enough or you weren’t, either you deserved it or you didn’t, either it was black or it was white.

But over the years, I figured out that it was, in fact, not as simple as I thought it was. Not just in India, which has a rich legacy of social injustice going back centuries, but across the globe, racism is an ugly truth: be it the Apartheid in South Africa, the African-American civil rights movement in America or the Holocaust in Germany, history is replete with examples of prejudice. It got more complicated as I read stories of ordinary people being victimized: from the 9-year old Scout’s story in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird to the 13-year old Anne Frank’s secret diary, from the young professor’s hapless experience in To Sir with Love to Celie, the poor and uneducated 14-year old black girl in The Color Purple, and most recently, the sordid life of the African American maids in the sleepy town of Jackson, Mississippi, as illustrated by a white journalist in the book, The Help (Octavia Spencer won the 2012 Best Supporting Actress in the movie of the same name).

So when I watched the “Justice with Michael Sandel” episode on affirmative action which argued the case of a white aspirant, Sheryl Hopwood, who, despite her impressive grades and test scores, was rejected by the University of Texas, although her black counterparts made it with similar/lesser achievements, I couldn’t help wondering if this was an instance of history trying to correct itself for all the years of injustice and nepotism.

But can two wrongs make a right?
Should the present generation pay the price for the mistakes of the past?
Does justice invariably involve some amount of inequality?

There are really no right or wrong answers, because it’s never really black or white

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Hangover

The last couple of weeks have been unsettling, to put it mildly. For someone who is resistant to change, too many things are happening too fast: not all of it is bad, mind you; but it’s change all the same. So far I was dealing with it in a matured manner, i.e. binge drinking, binge eating and binge reading.

There is a certain amount of comfort in those tequila shots…
There is a certain amount of familiarity in the butter chicken and rumaali roti…
There is a certain amount of feel-good factor in the crunchy chocolate bar…
There is a certain amount of relief in the pages of an old cult classic…
There is a certain amount of pleasure in spending two hours in a shady theatre laughing out loud…
There is a certain amount of security in the repeat episodes of Friends and BBT…
There is a certain amount of joy in browsing through the new collections in the shoes section…
There is a certain amount of happiness in long phone conversations and text messages…

There is still something to look forward to

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


So I finally did it: no, I am not proud of it, I was drunk and I was weak, and yes, I gave in. Go on, judge me, call me shallow, say I am a hypocrite. I know I deserve it…

As much as I hate him, as much as I criticize him, as much as I abuse him on public forums, I am still one of those people who go back to him, especially when they are feeling low…

As much as I consider myself an intellectual snob, I still fall for the on-your-face temptation…

And as much as I try to restrain myself, at the end of it, I ALWAYS find myself turning back…

So yes, despite being true to my resolve for six months, I finally read Chetan Bhagat’s latest book, "Revolution 2020", and almost as if to rid myself of the guilt, I also read a NON-FICTION, “Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall” by Anna Funder…

The latter is worth a read, and as for the former, I don’t dwell on my mistakes