Monday, January 28, 2013

The Meena Kumari Syndrome

I spent a major part of the weekend watching the Australian Open. Even though both Li Na and Andy Murray lost, I continue to be a staunch underdog supporter, more so than ever.

And when I did find some respite, I watched Inkaar despite the lukewarm response it has received in the box office, despite the loose script as claimed by a few and despite Arjun Rampal. Why did I watch it? Of course the Sudhir-Mishra-Chitrangada-Singh combination is addictive, but so is the world of advertising which has remained a much-cherished wonderland for me. The theme itself was a powerful reality: I mean as a girl I can totally vouch for the fact that we look up to our bosses, especially in our first job, and somewhere down the line, the admiration can easily turn into attraction and if you have someone as dashing as Arjun Rampal as the boss, it’s an obvious outcome.

Now compared to the glamorous setting of this strictly urban multiplex movie, Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola was the exact opposite, in its completely rustic appeal, the apparent North Indian touch and the over-the-top acting. Even the on-your-face predictable humour was so not my cup of tea. But somehow I simply loved the movie, with all its gulabi bhaes, the invisible hand in the form of Mao (an appeal to my communist roots) and most of all, Pankaj Kapoor at his drunken best! But the key takeaway was the Meena Kumari syndrome and as a friend pointed out, I seem to be suffering from it as much as Bijli.

So yes, I do have a problem: I am never happy, I am never satisfied, I am never content and I almost take a perverse pleasure in being the drama queen whose life is falling apart.

I crib because I want it all and I crib because I have it all

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Girl Who Played with Fire

Despite my strong communist roots, I have always been a staunch follower of the laissez faire policy. Like most urban middle class kids brought up in the 90s, we believe in liberalization, free market economics, minimum government intervention and zero protectionism. So given my strong capitalist bias, I accepted corporate self-indulgence as a part and parcel of it.

And then I landed up in an Investment Bank. The funny thing is while the money was important (it always is), it wasn’t the driving force behind the decision. I was excited about the opportunity to set up a new team so early in my career, I was motivated by the completely open mandate which gave me the creative freedom to do things my way and I was humbled by the trust and responsibility vested in me. Over the last couple of years, despite all the volatility, the multiple restructuring, the changing hierarchy, we were able to withstand the turmoil, stand our ground and even expand the team, doing more work, better work, building relationships and most importantly doing it our way.

But then I discovered my deep socialist leanings. I was never a conventional corporate person, but I did not think it mattered as long as I did my job, and I did my job really well. The best part of starting a team from scratch was that it allowed me to drive it my way, without falling in the trap of being a typical sycophantic ‘manager’. So I always believed in standing up for the juniors, the new hires or the quieter ones who were bullied, who could not defend themselves and who were the easy targets of senior management. On the other hand, I fought tooth and nail with authority, questioning their practices and demanding more transparency, consistency and fairness. Like a foolish girl (as my dad calls me), I thought I could change the system, I could make a difference and I could prove that I was as good as the rest of them, even though I wasn’t necessarily one of them.

But of course, I lost! I became the popular leader, but not the recognized one; I became the refreshing change, but not the welcome one; I became the respected senior but not the rewarded one.

I became the poor man’s Karna who put up a brave fight but eventually succumbed (to three large pegs of Jack Daniels)…

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fading Glory

This weekend I kicked off my 2013 travel with an impromptu (by my standards) trip to Aurangabad. I had been planning the Ajanta-Ellora visit for almost two years now, but somehow it never worked out. Till this Friday, when we just jumped into a train, sat through a painful seven hours and reached the small town touted for being home to one of the masterpieces of Indian art.

After checking into one of the budget hotels with the bare minimum facilities, we exploited the advantage of its location, as we took a short ride to Bibi Ka Maqbara, also known as the poor man’s Taj Mahal. For a monument built by Aurangzeb’s son Azam Shah, with a budget of just Rs. seven lakhs as compared to the lavish Rs. thirty-two million for theTaj, it was a visual treat. But more than that, it had this addictive quality about it and we couldn’t get enough of it, as we just sat there through the evening, admiring it from different angles at different times: sunlight, twilight, sunset, shadows and finally in the dark. On our way back, we took a leisurely stroll through Siddharth Gardens, and got lost in the process.

The next day we decided to visit the Ajanta Caves and as we stood at the local bus stop, negotiating with the touts, I lost all sense of proportion. At times, I tend to forget that the basic objective of bargaining is to save money, and get all personal, imparting people with lectures on values, honesty and business ethics. After unsuccessfully arguing with a cab driver which ended with me screaming at him, “Your car may be nice, but you are not!”, we resigned ourselves to the travel desk at the hotel, hired a private taxi and spent the rest of the day trudging up the caves, overwhelmed, partly by the sheer beauty of the sculptures and partly by the tragic state of them. When I saw the faded paintings, battered and crumbling carvings, I couldn’t help feeling a tad angry. I had seen the Blue Mosque and the Hagiya Sophia in Istanbul or the Vatican in Rome, and the effort and investment made to preserve/restore the artistic treasures stand out in stark contrast to the callous attitude towards our national riches. But we still spent almost five hours, not missing out on any caves, devouring each sculpture and each painting, fully aware that the next time we come back, even half of these may not survive. Despite the borderline obsession with the Buddha and the Jataka tales, the caves did manage to stir a deep reverence for the intricate art that it stood for.

The last day was hectic to say the least, as we set out early, covering the Ellora Caves, Grishneshwar Temple, Aurangzeb’s Tomb, Daulatabad Fort and Panchakki, finally going back to catch a last glimpse of Bibi ka Maqbara. Now, as a teenager, I was fascinated (to the extent of being obsessed) with Muhammad Bin Tughlaq and Daulatabad Fort represented one of the many instances of his idiosyncrasies, when he decided to transfer his capital here from Delhi, only to change his mind almost immediately and change it back to Delhi. Despite the severe torture that my body was put through, I could not resist climbing the 700 steps leading to the top of the Fort, panting my way through steep, treacherous flight of stairs and musty air of the dark, damp rooms. But the effort was so worth it, as we enjoyed a panoramic view of the city, for a moment, imagining ourselves as a slightly paranoid, eccentric ruler back in the 13th century, forever insecure of being attacked by the enemy and looking out for signs of a possible outbreak of violence.

But the highlight of the trip has to be the Ellora Caves, or more specifically Cave No. 16, popularly known as the Kailash Temple. I mean, for all my respect for art, culture and history, there is nothing which I find completely overpowering. No, not even the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, as awestruck as I was with Michelangelo’s sheer genius. But as we were greeted by the imposing structure of the Kailash in Ellora, barely 30 Kms from the main city, I found myself automatically holding my breath. The sculptures vaguely reminded me of Hampi, but since I had visited the latter as a six-year-old, perched on my dad’s shoulders, with no appreciation of history or art, I couldn’t quite enjoy it. Understandably, the rest of the caves faded in comparison, despite the impressive mix of Jain sculptures, Buddhist monasteries and Hindu temples, depicting stories of the Ramayana, Shiva and Vishnu’s different avatars.

The journey back was equally trying, as we barely managed to squeeze ourselves in a compartment full of screaming, overweight Gujju/Marwari aunties trying to outdo one another in a contest for “India’s most annoying”, kids who were testing our patience and old uncles, making peace with the TC.

But now that I have experienced the glory (albeit fading) of Ajanta-Ellora, Angkor Wat has high benchmarks to meet

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Valley of Dolls

This week I went for a haircut. Now, my hair is one of the few things that I am fussy about, and I usually go to a well-known overcharging leech of a salon even if it’s just for a trim. So, as I sat there, lost under the oversized bib around me, surrendering myself to the expert hands of the stylist, I couldn’t help noticing the changing dynamics of the high end salon culture.

I looked around at the other customers, and except for a middle-aged lady with very chic hair, there were three men and a kid. The men were more vociferous in their demands: explaining in detail the precise length they wanted, the shape of the sideburn or the extent of the fringe. The metrosexual man has arrived and how!

But what took me by surprise was the kid: barely three years old, doll-cute and completely comfortable in her perched up seat, patiently sitting through the 30-minute process, almost enjoying herself, as her mom fussed over her, instructing the hairdresser. I mean she is three! Give her a break.

I remember my childhood days, when my mom would take me to the local “hair cutting saloon” (and not even a parlour), where all the men in the neighbourhood used to gather for their chai, sutta and haircut. The 60-year old no-nonsense uncle would make me sit on the highest stool, wrap a dirty towel around me, put a bowl on top of my head (I kid you not) and run his scissors around it. No fancy headbath, no fancy clips holding up my curls, no fancy multi-purpose scissors and definitely no fancy hair dryers. 10 minutes later, I would come out looking like a kid straight out of “Paranormal Activity”. While I would cringe slightly, but too scared to revolt, my mom would look at me with great satisfaction and say, “don’t you feel comfortable? No more lice for a month at least” and I would nod, looking dismally at the girls of my age who had shiny stylish hair.

But over the years, as I have graduated to the branded chains, what stays with me is the memory of the old uncle hoisting me over the chair, asking me if I liked my school and offering me a biscuit after committing hara kiri with my hair.

For everything that my parents have done for me, the no-frills upbringing was perhaps the best gift

Monday, January 14, 2013

Devil Wears Green

So for someone who has spent roughly one-seventh of her life (including this weekend) in the trial rooms of different stores across the world, I can safely vouch for myself as some sort of a subject matter expert when it comes to identifying different patterns in a mall, especially during the Sale season.

For instance, you can easily identify the chronic shopaholics like me: they would usually be alone (religion is a deep, spiritual and personal experience which cannot be shared with other people), dressed very comfortably (in easy to change outfits and shoes designed to withstand 8-hour walking sessions), not missing out on any stores and going through the collection, comparing notes with last season’s collection.

Then you would also come across the aunties, who are new to the mall culture and visibly uncomfortable without their friendly neighbourhood tailor, chattering in the “Indian wear” section, asking the sales staff multiple questions and perpetually in the look-out for Large and Extra Large sizes.

There would also be the pesky, anorexic teenaged gang of girls, who would create a ruckus outside the trial room as they scream at each other, ask inane questions like “does it look fat?” while trying out the Extra Small size for everything.

Further, you can’t miss the newly married, tall, slim and fair Punjabi chick in the hideous combination of jeans along with two dozen bangles, which make a jangling sound every time she tries on a new outfit.

Finally, the most annoying specimen of women who would carry a dozen pieces of clothing inside the trial room, try each of them and come out to display it to an adoring boyfriend/husband, blissfully ignoring the long queue of people waiting for her to finish.

But to my credit, I did not let any of these to come in the way of my single-minded determination, and ended up splurging on six dresses, five tops, capris, three pairs of shoes and two bags along with matching accessories.

My cupboard, currently unable to bear all the excess baggage, has collapsed with my bedroom resembling a walk-in closet, but that’s a small deterrent for a seasoned shopper like me.

And oh, lately I had been totally addicted to yoghurt, and I just can’t get enough of this green apple flavour called Devil Wears Green…

Be the devil, eat the devil and wear the devil on your sleeve

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Flytrap

It’s been almost four years since I have lived and worked in Powai: the same old roads, the same old restaurants, the same old buildings, the same old shops and the same old people. My life revolves around the 2 Km radius, gradually stifling me into this dangerous web of comfort, familiarity and safety, so much so that it gets claustrophobic at times.

The place is almost like a Venus Fly Trap: it’s so attractive that it traps you and then kills you, even before you know it. It sucks you in with all the good things in life so early that you are scared to let go of everything that you are used to, and therefore the place OWNS you.

But on the other hand, it suffocates you to an extent that you want to scream, you want to run away as fast as you can and as far as you can. You want to give up everything and go see the world while you still can, meet the weirdest of people outside your comfort zone and eat random roadside stuff that you haven’t even heard of. And then you want to have the wildest of affairs with the most exotic guy at an exotic godforsaken location.

And suddenly, you are jolted back to reality: the fly trap is closing in on you, the world outside is fading away in the background and you are consumed with the realization that you are going to die on a Bloomberg terminal and an excel spreadsheet, mouthing the same jargon from an age-old powerpoint presentation which hundred other MBA grads have done before.

You have become the fly…

Monday, January 7, 2013

Between the Lines

I have been a Nandita Das loyalist for as long as I can remember. She is one of the very few Indian actors who has managed to hold her own despite being unconventional and unconventionally beautiful. So yes, while I staunchly defended her movies and her dusky good looks to a bunch of testosterone-charged friends who quickly moved on from the Aishwariya Rais to the Katrina Kaifs, I continued to eagerly devour her work.

This weekend, I finally managed to watch her debut play, “Between the Lines”, featuring her husband, Subodh Maskara. I always respected her as an actor, but for the first time I got a glimpse of her as a writer as well. You might call it a predictable story dealing with the much-rehashed theme of an urban, educated, happily-married lawyer couple caught in a professional squabble, which eventually leads to marital discord. Yes, it asks the same old questions about the woman’s place in society; yes, it points out the glaring hypocrisy which exists even in so-called modern Indian families and yes, it gets jarring at times when the woman is psycho-analyzing every move while the man is simple to the extent of being insensitive. We have heard it before and we shall hear it again, but the writer in Nandita Das manages to treat the issue with humour, avoiding the pitfall of sounding moralistic.

And she got me to think as well. Isn’t it true that as women, we always tend to put other people’s needs ahead of us? And I am not just talking of women who have to cater to large families and have limited resources. Take my case, for instance. I am supposedly this modern, independent girl who lives her life on her own terms and is not answerable to anybody. I can also do what I want and when I want, but the truth is that I don’t.

I can afford to live better, have a car or a maid. But I don’t, because I am not conditioned to indulge myself…

I can cook (or ask the maid to cook) all my favourite dishes, but instead I choose to survive on cafeteria food or milk and oats. In fact, I can’t even cook something as simple as chicken JUST for myself, unless I have people over…

I can take a cab from Parel to Nariman Point, but instead I choose to walk down to the station, take a train and walk again…

I can assert myself and demand more from other people. But my instinctive reaction is to not make things awkward/uncomfortable for them…

Like they show in the play, the husband tells his wife, “See, I got your favourite cake”, and then takes a piece.
The wife points out, “You ALWAYS take the bigger piece.”
The husband asks, “Ok, so if you had to pick first, which one would you pick?”
The wife replies, “Instinctively, I would take the smaller one.”
Puzzled, the husband says, “Exactly! Either way, you would end up with the smaller one. Where is the problem?”

The problem, it seems, lies between the lines, and I am not yet empowered enough to rise above it

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Suddenly everybody seems to be in their annual review mode now that the year has ended and a new one has begun: so yes, TV and radio channels are out with their “best of 2012” playlists, newspapers are churning out articles on the “key highlights of 2012” and bloggers are coming up with their two cents on “the year that was”.

Of course, everybody with a weight problem have made new year resolutions starting with “lose incredibly unrealistic amount of weight in 2013”, everybody unhappy with their job have decided that “they will revamp their career this year and move to the Gulf/Asia Pacific” while everybody in the Gulf/Asia Pacific have decided that “they will come back to their hometown in Jhumritalaiya to look after old parents” and everybody with relationship problems have made up their mind “to meet their soulmate on xxx matrimonial site and live happily ever after” while everybody married have vowed “to live life on their own terms and no longer be stifled”.

Now, since I have ALL the above mentioned “problems”, why should I also not join the bandwagon? Why should I miss out on this opportunity to “look back, reflect and plan the way forward”. As it is, I am someone who simply hates the “take it as it comes” kind of spontaneity; I have this compulsive NEED to KNOW what shade of pink I would wear in my friend’s cousin’s flatmate’s wedding, the date for which is not yet fixed.

So, yes, I would divide my New Year blueprint in three main sections: “the year that was”, “the year that I plan” and “the year that will actually be”:

A.The Year that Was: It sucked.
But I read a fair bit, wrote a fair bit and traveled a fair bit.

B.The Year that I Plan: It would be life changing.
•I shall lose 8.34 kgs.
•I shall find a job which lets me travel a lot, write a lot and pays a lot.
•I shall meet this really rich, handsome, versatile, witty, humble, well-read, well-traveled, honest, responsible guy who is not gay and who will fall helplessly in love with me the minute he sets his eyes on me, even though I am being myself (i.e. rude, messy, non-homely, non-pretty and incredibly sarcastic).

C.The Year that it Will Actually Be: It will suck.
But I shall read a fair bit, write a fair bit and travel a fair bit.

And may be, just may be, I can spend less time playing freecell.

So here’s to a happy new year: may it be the one where Manmohan Singh finally speaks up