Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Case of Exploding Mangoes

One of the downsides of living in Hiranandani is the lack of viable options. Strange, isn’t it, because given the array of restaurants, pizza joints, snack bars, not one, but TWO department stores as well as a food court and a mall, you would think I am spoilt for choice. But NO, the sad truth is most of these places are sickeningly expensive and I thoroughly miss my no-frills kirana store which used to offer instant home delivery and grocery/vegetables/fruits were still available at reasonable prices or the dhaba where you could afford a sumptuous dinner and not be broke. And now, I feel lost in the posh neighbourhood of Hiranandani, almost like a gay man in a strip club: so many alternatives, and yet practically impossible!

If that isn’t bad enough, these department stores play mindgames with me, trying to dictate what I should consume or how much I should consume, pretty much like my boss. For instance, for something as simple as say buying tomatoes, I need to buy a full kilo of it, because the store refuses to sell in lesser denominations. And since I don’t cook that often, a part of it invariably gets wasted. Or take Kurkure. I stack up on the Masala flavour for my midnight snack to go with the Euro. But no, the store will conspire against me, and ONLY sell the inedible Tomato flavour. But the worst is when they purposely do away with the cheaper version of the curd I like, forcing me to buy a more exotic, creamier flavour, which is a full TWO BUCKS more expensive. It’s not about the extra two bucks, but I DO NOT (I repeat, DO NOT) want the store to decide whether I should or shouldn’t have more cream. Give me both options, and let ME choose.

And of course, buying Alphonso mangoes is now a distant fantasy, even more unrealistic than my OTHER fantasy, i.e. growing my hair like Rapunzel and letting Prince Charming climb up it.

But I LOVE mangoes; it’s been my favourite fruit since childhood, when we had a mango tree in our garden

Monday, June 25, 2012

Save the Last Dance

There are two things which I hate more than anything else, i.e. weddings/receptions/engagements and dancing, and this weekend I was subjected to both!

Now, I have trained as a classical dancer for nine years and got myself a diploma in Bharatnatyam since my parents were a little worried with my academic performance (or the lack of it) and decided to enroll me into an alternate career path, just in case. But all those grueling sessions in Alarippu, Jatiswaram, Shabdam, Varnam etc. and the pages and pages of history of evolution, decline and rebirth of the dance form, since the tender age of five have left me scarred for life, and every time someone even SUGGESTS dancing, I break down, pretty much like the Greece defence against Germany. So, despite all the dancing in the dark in college thanks to all the freshers’ parties, rooftop parties, birthday parties, new year’s eve parties and farewell parties, I am still as awkward as Sonam Kapoor in an interview, when it comes to dancing in office parties. Hence, my standard solution in any social situation which involves some amount of dancing is to hide in one corner, drinking excessive amount of alcohol and avoiding eye contact with the dancing queens/kings. I sincerely believe (and I can’t stress this enough), dancing simply KILLS the joy of unlimited free alcohol. All I need to complement an open bar is some good music, a sports channel (preferably with some live action) and a few friends who know when to be quiet. So on Friday night, when I was convinced that I had abused the free food and the combination of Antiquity Blue/Smirn Off/Blue Riband, I sneaked out of an office get-together as my so-called ‘friends’ gatecrashed into my house, with more alcohol and combiflam to rejuvenate me. BUT THIS TIME THERE WAS NO DANCING, as we put on some music, made ourselves comfortable on the floor, opened up the JD and Old Monk bottles and watched a GREEK TRAGEDY in the hands of the Germans. Now, that’s perfection personified…

If that wasn’t enough, two of my closest friends decided the get engaged (to each other), considerably weakening my Singledom Brigade. I was there, again, awkward and uncomfortable in a saree, trying to fend off curious family friends/acquaintances. Since I have grown up with both these friends as neighbours in Kolkata, I was an easy target for all the familiar faces who annoyed me as a kid and continued to bombard me with unsolicited advice like they did ten years back. From “Don’t worry beta, there is a private engineering college in Jhumritalaiya and I know the Director there. I am sure if I put in a good word, he would admit you to their Civil Engineering branch, which usually has a few seats left anyway” to “Don’t worry beta, I know this guy whose parents are looking for a girl. He has done his Civil Engineering from Jhumritalaiya Institute of Technology and is working with TCS. I shall put in a good word for you”, the circle was finally complete.

Somehow, I managed to survive the ceremony, posing for the pics and holding on to my drapes, as my friends also barely made it, overwhelmed with all the good wishes, hugs and the general aura of everlasting happiness (plastered smile causing havoc with jawline). But the real fun began after the ceremony as eight of us squeezed ourselves in an Alto and escaped to Marine Drive to cleanse our system of all the premonitions of a joyous union. While my friends heaved a sigh of relief, I stared out at the Queens Necklace and the stereo blared out the Eurythmics number: “Sweet Dreams are Made of These”

And then we danced, in the dark, in the rain, in the middle of the road

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reality Bites

So one of my guilty pleasures is my obsession with Reality Shows: the more idiotic they are, the more pleasure I derive from them. Obviously, I would like to claim that my favourite shows are Satyamev Jayate and Kaun Banega Crorepati, but the secret truth is that I simply love Emotional Atyachaar, Big Boss and of course Roadies. But, but, but one person I just ADORE and ADMIRE is Rakhi Sawant: her shows like Rakhi ka Insaaf and Rakhi ka Swayamvar are simply pathbreaking which have inspired me no end. Here is someone who has made a name simply by making herself a national joke. So yes, I have been a Rakhi Sawant wannabe for some time now, and finally when the chance offered itself, I just couldn’t help being excited.

Without getting into the details, a few weeks back, I was approached by a leading media house to star in a “documentary” for a national channel. While they assured me that it was NOT a Reality Show, and that I would have complete control over the script and editing, I realized that it was remarkably close to making me a household name. I could even overthrow my idol, my mentor and my guide and open up the field for competition! I could spout inanities which would become pearls of wisdom for little kids across the country, I could tweet my opinions on religion, politics and Baba Ramdev and feature on the front page of TOI and I could even take on A-list Bollywood actresses for not being bold enough.

It was an opportunity of a lifetime for someone with a mundane existence whose life revolved around powerpoint and youtube…
It was my one shot at stardom…
It was my moment of truth…

All I had to do was ‘be passionate’, ‘be honest’ and ‘believe that my conflicts relationship traumas are deep enough to be shared on primetime television’.

Obviously, as much as I would have loved to undertake an exercise in emotional cleansing with millions of sensitive Indians empathizing with me, as much as I would have loved to make my parents proud by giving them an opportunity to claim that their only daughter is an object of national scrutiny and as much as I would have loved to give up my boring job to become the next big thing after Mallika Sherawat, I decided to keep my personal life, well, personal…

My respect for Ms. Sawant is too strong, too ingrained and too wholehearted to throw in the towel.

I would rather remain a faithful fan than a fear factor

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cheerful Misery

What happens when you go to Manchester United Café wearing an Arsenal t-shirt? I am guessing nothing, but why take a chance? So we just shifted the venue instead. As my friends move on to the next stage in life, as our conversations drift from food and placements to high uric acid and cholesterol and as we make life-changing decisions and purchases, I remain the girl I was: slightly silly, slightly impulsive and slightly confused; older, but definitely not wiser than I was three years back. What with the rains hitting the city, the mood is slowly seeping into me: brooding, dark and depressed.

Before I left for my trip, I was reading a few translations (Paulo Coelho and Gabriel Garcia Marquez), but lately, I have added my obsession with history and turned to Orhan Pamuk for inspiration. My current read, Istanbul, (translated in English from the original Turkish) takes me back in time, through the streets of Nisantasi, the view from the Galata Tower, the cruise through the Bosphorus and the idiosyncrasies of the Ottoman sultans.

As I flip through the pages, it reminds me that may be I don’t belong here, may be I should have been born in some other era altogether, may be the rains would have been different then…

May be it’s just the monsoons, or may be it’s my life, shrouded in the dark clouds of cheerful misery

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Importance of Being Unimportant

Conflict: there is something about this word; it refers to the inner tussle, the tug-of-war between your body and soul, mind and heart, the left and the right brain; it captures all the inconsistencies and dilemmas of your life; it tries to free you from your inhibitions, yet holding you back in your comfort zone.

Lately, I had been thinking a lot about my own conflicts, wondering if they are even worth the tag of “conflicts”, because let’s face it, unlike Manmohan Singh, who has to choose between roles of national importance stooges, my conflicts are strictly mundane: “should I cook gobi or bhindi?”, “should I skip work on the pretext of headache or tummy ache?”, “should I wear my favourite dress or the full-sleeved salwar kameez?” or “should I consider an alternative career in Reality TV or Hedge Accounting?”

So what do I do to address these conflicts? I deal with them in the most mature way possible: MAINTAIN STATUS QUO, i.e. sit at home, order pizza butter chicken and watch Denmark vs. Portugal on my NEW DIGITAL TV, armed with a Toblerone bar. So yes, my life is as lame and uneventful as it gets, with my dilemmas as insignificant as Mamata Banerjee’s tantrums.

Should I be happy that my life is so childishly simple?
Should I be thankful that I have no deep dark meaningful dilemmas?
Or should I CREATE complications just to make my life a little more exciting, a little more interesting and a little less mundane?

The ‘con’ in conflict is trying to delude me into believing that I am made for better things, that I deserve more from life, that I am not just an ordinary girl with ordinary dreams and ordinary dilemmas

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Slice of Life

The first thing (ok second thing, because I posted about my trip before anything else) I did after I came back to India (even before I unpacked) was watch Shanghai. Not only is it directed by THE Dibakar Banerjee, it also has one of my three favourite actors in the mainstream-yet-sane-arena, Abhay Deol (other two being Rajat Kapoor and Kay Kay Menon). Now I have seen Oye Lucky Lucky Oye n number of times, while Love, Sex Aur Dhoka remains one of my offbeat favourites. But Shanghai is different in its intensity, in its treatment of the contemporary politics-corporate greed-bureaucratic corruption nexus and in its portrayal of the evergreen battle between right vs. the easy way out. What I like most about the movie (no, not Emraan Hashmi, though this is, by far, his best work) is its complete lack of judgment or moralism: may be Shalini (Kalki) and many other crusaders in real life are looking for the Devta, or that someone special to look up to, to take them forward, to lead them, but s(he) doesn’t exist. Even Dr. Ahmedi, with all his good intentions and inspiring speeches, is just another human being, with his share of weaknesses, particularly his intelligent, attractive and young female students. And allow me once more to rave about Prosenjit, as I have previously done in case of Autograph and Baishey Srabon. For someone who has grown up on his movies and seen him grow into a mature actor from the silly, slightly overweight Bengali hero, dancing around trees, it’s been quite a journey.

Otherwise, my life (more specifically my house) is falling apart, literally. First my clothes hanger (which is actually a thin rope outside my window) gave in under the weight of all the laundry I did over the weekend, which resulted in ALL my favourite clothes being soiled/ruined. This is like the greatest tragedy conceivable in my worst nightmares. Secondly, the fan in my living room shoebox stopped working, and the uncooperative electrician refuses to fix it, although he has already taken the money. Then, my loserly cable operator blocked Neo Prime till I installed the god-damned set-top box, something I was avoiding so far. But since I HAD to watch the French Open final, I decided to shell out more money on digital TV, which I don’t need. After all, Euro 2012 has started and I have already stocked up on junk food, chocolates and lemonade (what? I am off alcohol for some time after my binge drinking in Italy). Hence access to Neo Prime is of immediate importance. Finally, my operating system crashed, which means I have to now get my laptop fixed as well. In summary, the last three days have cost me a lot in terms of capital expenditure, which is tough, considering that half my monthly salary goes to my landlord and the other half is divided equally among paying bills/watching movies/eating out/shopping, leaving no room for luxuries like fixing the fan or watching digital TV or buying a clothes hanger.

Still I managed to buy Manreet Sodhi’s new book The Taj Conspiracy and got it signed by her. An engineer and an IIMC management graduate who gave up a successful corporate career for writing, initially I had dismissed her as yet another in the new breed of contemporary Indian writers. But as I interacted with her and listened to her journey through literature and history, she came across as a sincere and serious writer, who is not scared to experiment, and most of all, who writes for herself, rather than dumbing it down for the audience. While her first book, Earning the Laundry Stripes was a semi-autobiographical, tongue-in-cheek account of a woman’s journey through corporate life, her second book, The Long Walk Home is a historical fiction, while The Taj Conspiracy is a historical thriller.

As I listened to her story and saw the copies of the book disappear from the table, I stared longingly, conjuring up an image, where I would be sitting in that chair, slightly nervous, slightly anxious, but at the same time, satisfied and fulfilled to have lived a dream.

Writing, as she said it, is a calling, not a career or a profession

Friday, June 8, 2012

Roman Holiday

If there was ever a civilization that fascinated me, it’s the Roman civilization. From the charisma of Julius Caesar, the treachery of Brutus, the bitter battle between Romulus and Remus, the religious persecution by Nero, the rise of Christianity under Constantine, the dark ages plaguing the empire, the revival of civilization during the Renaissance which witnessed the birth of many geniuses like Michelangelo, Galileo, Botticelli, Raphael and finally to the unification of Italy by Victor Emmanuel, the history has enough drama, infidelity and twists to put any saas-bahu serial to shame. Add to that the natural beauty sprinkled with the ruins of the past, and you have got me hooked for life. Following my trip to Cappadocia and Istanbul last year which was the centre of the Byzantine Empire (erstwhile Constantinople), this was a perfect sequel to my journey through the history books.

That, dear readers (all 5 of you) is the gist of my 12-day vacation to Italy. But no, you will NOT be let off so easily, because now I shall proceed with the details of my impressions of each place I visited:

Venice: Touted as the most romantic city of the world, I found it rather over-hyped. Granted it’s beautiful and unique in the way it’s right in the middle of water, with all its Gondola cruises and vaporettos (water taxis), but it’s not something I would want to go back to.
My top picks: Marco Polo’s neighbourhood, Bridge of Sighs which led to the Doges Prison where Casanova spent his last days and Burano Islands.

Florence: This is where the Renaissance movement began and the city simply thrives in brilliant works of art. The birthplace of Michelangelo, it is also the place where John Milton finished his Paradise Lost and Dante wrote his The Divine Comedy. As we walked along the lit up streets at midnight, we could see the quiet city basking in the glory of past creations.
My top picks: The statue of David, the midnight view of the whole city from the Michelangelo Square and the Baptistry.

Siena-Tuscany-Pisa: Famous for its age-old rivalry with Florence, Siena is a small town which comes alive during the Palio (horse race) twice a year, while the scenic countryside of Tuscany took my breath away with all its vineyards, farms and lakes. San Gimgnano, with all its castles and fortresses, held my attention simply because of the ICECREAM BAR which was awarded for the WORLD’S BEST ICECREAM between 2006-09. As for the Leaning Tower of Pisa, for an architectural blunder, it makes for quite an impressive structure.
My top picks: Piazza del Campo, Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (the oldest surviving bank in the world) and The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Pompei-Sorrento-Capri: This is probably as good as it gets when you think about the combination of ancient history and nature at its virginal best. The ruins of Pompei (the bakery, the brothel, the public baths, the amphitheatre) all add upto a tapestry of a flourishing civilization before the explosion of Vesuvius in 79 AD destroyed it. The Sorrento coast with its breathtaking view of the Mediterranean surrounded by hills manages to soften even the most hardened cynic (me) while the day trip to the Amulfi Coast tells you why Capri is considered as one of the most romantic places in the world.
My top picks: The ruins of the Red Light Area in Pompei (some things never change), The Blue Grotto in Capri and the sunset in Sorrento

Rome: We had saved the best for the last, and we weren’t disappointed. It’s hard to imagine one of the major commercial cities in the world with all its traffic and busy streets could also be so effortlessly rich in history and culture. We marvelled the careless disdain with which the local people took for granted the Trevi Fountain, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the St. Paul’s Basilica and thousands of other artistic monuments, fountains and churches right in the middle of the city. Of course, a short drive away was The Vatican City which simply challenged our imagination, the Catacombs (underground tombs) which was a cold reminder of the persecution of the Christians, the Appian Way and the Aquaduct which act as a memento of the sophistication of an ancient civilization which managed to inspire modern technology.
My top Picks: The Sistine Chapel, Piazza Navona and the Colosseum

Other than the tourist destinations themselves, the country itself had its old world charm which gradually managed to weave us into its spell, despite our resistance to what we considered was a “typical lazy Western European country”:

The Food: For 12 days, we lived on the local delicacies of pizza, pasta, seafood, ice-cream and of course, wine. While some of our experiments went awry, and we had to settle for a McDonalds take-away once in a while, I am still savouring the taste of the artichokes in Rome, the soft cream in the cold coffee in Capri, the three-scoop ice-cream in San Gimignano and of course the Tuscan wine.

The Transport: While it was a challenge finding our way through the cobbled streets with an extremely confusing and intimidating map in hand or running from platform to platform with five pieces of luggage with no one to ask, it was quite liberating as we hopped from the Eurorail to the Orange Bus to the Hotel Shuttle, avoiding the cab drivers like a plague.

The Local People: Granted they didn’t speak much English, but they made themselves pretty clear as they cribbed about the economic breakdown, the high unemployment rate (about 10%), their disenchantment with the new regime (apparently Berlusconi, with all his indiscretions, was still a better administrator), their passion for football and their pride in their history and cultural lineage. We also met some illegal immigrants from Bangladesh selling fake Gucci bags or working for local restaurants, who confided in us (in Bengali) about how the downturn has affected them, with a lot of factories shutting down.

So there it was, my 12 days in Italy, which took me back in time, occasionally stopping by to let me savour its beauty, its romanticism and its heritage.