Thursday, June 27, 2013


Given the environment I work in is a typical corporate set-up, where “fun” is defined as a compulsory team outing on a weekend, “excitement” is volatility in the stock markets and “common sense” is inversely proportional to the years of experience, my options are pretty limited when it comes to seeking out like-minded company, i.e. rebellious, unsuccessful and perpetually on the verge of unemployment. And then I can’t help wondering how on earth I got here and even worse, how on earth I am still here! I KNOW I should have done something else, but let’s face it, very few professions can offer a fairly decent lifestyle without completely taking away your dignity, unless you are Katrina Kaif.

Which brings me to the unexpected offer I received from UTV last year as already documented in this post. Obviously, I turned it down, not because I was against showbiz, but simply because I didn’t think I could record the most intimate moments/emotions of my life and parade it on national television. I had completely forgotten about this stray incident until yesterday, when a friend suddenly called up and bellowed on the phone, “Do you remember the show you were approached for? Well, it’s finally on air. It’s called Connected Hum Tum, and it’s screened at 10:00 p.m. on Zee TV Monday to Friday. And oh, Abhay Deol is hosting it.” Now, given my weakness for the actor, for a moment, I wondered if I had made a colossal mistake by not even considering it. So I went home and promptly Youtubed one of the episodes. And all I can say is if I ever had a doubt about being too conservative and not adventurous enough, I am glad about my decision. This may be Abhay Deol’s answer to Yamla Pagla Deewana II (incidentally who watched Yamla Pagla Deewana I?), but I could never make a spectacle of my personal life for TRPs.

Then the question remains, what’s the alternative? Do I continue to wallow in anonymous mediocrity writing research reports which nobody reads? Do I give it up for the love of writing and instead churn out light-hearted fiction which nobody reads?

Or do I stop worrying about life and just start living it? And when I think about living, the only option that excites me is traveling. By traveling I mean living out of the suitcase, by traveling I mean not knowing where I shall be the next day, by traveling I mean not wasting my life in Hiranandani, as nice as it is.

And by traveling I mean the song Ilahi from Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani.

Despite my traditional roots which make me the typical risk-averse, obsessive Bong, at the end of the day, the aspiration is always to be that Vagabong who broke away

Monday, June 24, 2013

Remember the Titans

So it’s no secret that I simply love sports; in fact I love it more than chocolates. I love it as much as Bengalis love their fish or south Indians love their gold or north Indians love anything that comes as dowry.

And this time of the year, especially this year, it’s like a typical Indian wedding season, as far as sports is concerned. Even before I could fully recover from the French Open, I was hit by the Champions Trophy, the FIFA World Cup qualifiers and now, the mother of all grand slams, The Wimbledon which begins today. And I am not one of those passive followers who go about their daily chores like Delhi men go about molesting women, briefly pausing to check the score on their cellphone/bribe a cop. For me, any game has to be watched LIVE, including the ads, the pre and post-match analyses and of course, the presentation ceremony.

Which brings me to yesterday. Having followed all of India’s convincing victories in the Champions Trophy, I was eagerly waiting for the final between the two top teams in world cricket: Shane Warne and Elizabeth Hurley. Sorry, replace Warne with Arun Nayyar.

Anyway, I digress. So I had planned my weekend accordingly, so that I was ready in front of my TV (complete with junk food and drinks), sharp at 2:30 p.m., one hour before the match was scheduled to begin. And I sat like that till 8:30 p.m. when it finally began. I kid you not. For six hours, I cursed the rain and cursed the ICC (especially Sourav Ganguly) for not keeping a reserve day. I mean seriously: first you go and keep an important match in Birmingham of all places, where it ALWAYS rains, and then you have the gall to say that there is no reserve day! Are they really dumb or did they just want to avoid playing India because they didn’t want to lose. I know, I know I am acting like a besotted annoying fan from Kolkata, but seriously even I can take only so much of Mamata Banerjee and highlights: that too after already watching ALL the matches live.

But when it did begin, it was a treat indeed. One moment I was abusing Ishant Sharma and Dhoni, and the next moment I was blaming everybody for match fixing, but as soon as Morgan and Bopara committed suicide, I was looking at Ishant, ready to smother him with a hug, forgiving him of his past sins and his long hair. And there it was, the moment of glory: even at 1:40 in the morning, I was wide awake, my eyes lovingly caressing the trophy. I remembered the last time I was this happy, way back in 2011, when India won the World Cup and we were on the roads at 3 a.m. Somehow, this was more special: for one, this was in England, against the home team under terrible conditions. But more importantly, this was a different Indian team: a young team without superstars (read Tendulkar), without egos and without any baggage. There were no larger-than-life individuals, no cold wars and no politics: these were simple college boys enjoying themselves, who were mature enough to rise to the occasion, but naïve enough to show their emotions.

For all of us born after the 1983 World Cup, we haven’t seen much of success, as India was mostly relegated to the 4th/5th position of the ICC rankings, marred by controversies and regarded more for its superstars than for its ability to win consistently, especially abroad. But in the last few years, things have changed gradually. What began with the T20 World Cup, we have now won every major tournament, beaten the best at their backyard and proved to the world that we no longer rely on individual excellence.

And all under my dedicated, single-minded and determined focus backed by sheer hard work.

For Dhoni, the next milestone is probably 2014 Lok Sabha Elections. But what about me?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Now and Then

Now: Watching a movie means a new release at high-end multiplex, popcorn and pepsi in a mall on a crowded weekend…
Then: Watching a movie meant a black-and-white Bengali classic on Doordarshan at home with family with home-made papad or alubhaja…

Now: Shopping means casually picking up new clothes from a branded shop because I am upset/happy/preparing for a trip/preparing for a job interview/preparing for a festival/it’s on sale/it’s just too pretty/I have to have it…
Then: Shopping meant an annual ritual with family before Durga Puja…

Now: Eating out means piling on the junk food and alcohol on weekdays/weekends because friends insist/it’s a treat/there is a new place which has come up in Bandra/we are celebrating something/we are distressed about something/there is an IPL final…
Then: Eating out meant semi-annual Chinese food at Barb-Q with family…

Now: Traveling means jet-setting to eight countries in four months…
Then: Traveling meant sleeper class train to Kerala once a year with family…

Now: Communication means being constantly connected on whatsapp, texts, gtalk, email, facebook…
Then: Communication meant waiting for thirty minutes anxiously at landlord’s place to receive a long-distance STD call from dad…

Now it's a colourful umbrella of events, people, activities. Then it was just about letting the raindrops spear through the clouds straight on me...

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Joker

All my life I have believed in humour; You can get tired/bored of everything (romance, friendship, drama) but not humour; humour is something that can be entertaining, romantic, thought-provoking or all at the same time. But by humour, I mean the witty, tongue-in-cheek kind and not the slapstick/physical expression that is so common all around us.

Still, this weekend, I think I had an overdose of humour. What began with the movie Fukrey and ended with a Vir Das show, with Hangover III and Pakistan batting in the middle, seemed a bit too much, even by my standards.

If you thought Fukrey was yet another bubblegum movie about college kids, designer clothes, picturesque locations, you couldn’t have been farther away from the truth. Imagine Student of the Year. (pause, while I puke). Now imagine the exact opposite of it. Here were three below-average kids and a talented musician with modest dreams which most of us take for granted: dreams of having a normal life with college and fun and friends, dreams of making it big as an artist, dreams of finding the perfect girl or dreams of looking after your family. But they are broke, they are stupid and they are unlucky. So far so good. Who doesn’t love a bit of light-hearted North Indian humour garnished with some Punjabi abuses? And then comes the twist: they also have a gift, which lands them into trouble and then more trouble. The second half is a fast-paced journey which eventually reaches its destination of a feel-good comedy, endearing in its own way.

Then yesterday, I braved heavy rains and bad traffic to watch History of India- VIRitten by, surprise, surprise, Vir Das. Now, I am an absolute Vir Das fanatic and every year I make sure I watch at least one of his shows apart from the random stand-up comedy that I witness through the year. But this was one show that I have been craving to watch, simply because it served up the delicious combination of two of my favourite subjects: history and humour. So I traveled all the way to NCPA, taking a variety of transports to make sure I don’t get stuck in the rains, when a friend suddenly conjured up the tickets for the show, just sneaking in on time. While parts of it was indeed funny, at the end of the day, I left a tad disappointed, asking myself if it was just me or have I seen better before?

May be I was too close to history to have it made fun of… (nahhh)

May be the focus was more on visual expressions and less on script…

May be after a wait of more than a year, my expectations were too high…

Or may be, just may be, as absurd as it sounds, humour was finally losing its shine to the glare of the joker called life

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Purple Rain

Rain fascinates me. It always has. Even as a kid, I simply adored H W Longfellow’s poem “Rain in Summer”, I wrote long essays about rains and as I grew up I fantasized about dancing wildly in the rain with an equally nerdy but romantic guy.

That’s one of the many reasons which enamoured me about Bombay when I first moved here ten years back. The splashing waves on Marine Drives, the beautiful sea, as dirty as it is, and of course, the dreamy combination of Haji Ali swept by the windy rains and puchka (not Panipuri) by the guy from Kolkata who made it the way I like, just brought me closer to the city in my early days. Over the years, while my relationship with the city has been reduced to a strictly live-and-let-live equation and as we have grown apart, the rains still manage to captivate me the way it did when I was a teenager, reminding me of the crackling chemistry we once shared.

All the crumbling infrastructure, the traffic, the breakdown of public transport notwithstanding, the rains in Bombay remain one of its eternally charming facets.

A surprise day off from school/college/work…

Getting drenched to the skin…

A hug from behind…

Slight tug of the pigtail…

Playful teasing…

Some warm hot chocolate to go with the unhealthy pakodas…

Laughing till you have tears in your eyes: tears which merge with the raindrops on your cheeks creating a heady concoction which is more addictive than the entire bottle of Black Label…

When it rains, it pours and how

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ugly Betty

So I watched Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani over the weekend. To begin with, let me warn you that it’s an extremely crappy movie which drags itself (and you) to a slow death. Add to it the painful second half which is entirely about an elaborate destination wedding which never ends and of course, the typical filmy dialogues, the complete lack of a storyline, not to mention the forced climax (why is Bollywood so obsessed with happy endings) do make you want to run out, get drunk and watch Hangover III.

There was nothing new about it and we would all agree that it was a rehash of some of the popular Bollywood movies: Dil Chahta Hai, Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara among others.

Friendship, check
Finding your dreams, check
Ugly duckling turning into a swan, check

Having said that, I cried in the movie. Yes, I am hypocritical that way. But there is something endearing about the Ugly Betty (Jassi) especially since I have spent most of my school/undergrad days in similar circumstances: nerdy, awkward, shy, uncool, bespectacled with no social skills. Of course, this being Bollywood, she HAD to transform into this hot chick, while I have remained in the nerd club, complete with the books.
And then you also have the familiar story about seeing the world, living your life and dreaming big as opposed to surrendering to the mundane mediocrity of societal parameters.

All of it you have heard before and all of it resonates with you and if you have ever been in a relationship which didn’t work out because of this very reason, you would identify with it more. However, what does NOT convince you is the abrupt happy ending, forced for the sake of happiness. God forbid, if Bollywood had the courage to bend the rules, to explore the dark side of the moon, to portray reality without sugarcoating it.

And speaking of Ugly Betty and making dreams come true, Serena Williams still manages to dominate WTA, as she romped to yet another Grand Slam title, defying age, competition and her first-round humiliation in 2012 French Open.

We Ugly Betties have dreams too, and sometimes, just sometimes, they also come true...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Around Eastern Europe

The last couple of weeks flew by (literally) as we traveled across Eastern Europe by trains, buses and cabs, braving the weather, living outside our inadequately packed suitcases (which carried very little warm clothes), hopping from one hotel to another and admiring the plethora of cobbled streets, churches, gardens, rivers and architectural wonders on our way.

For a journey which began with boarding the wrong train from a desolate Munich station on an unusually cold May morning and ended with arguing with the crew on Lufthansa (I would strongly recommend avoiding the Frankurt-Mumbai Lufthansa route for multiple reasons which don’t really deserve a post on), there were a host of experiences in between, some of which left us spellbound, some of which shocked the very core of our beliefs and some of which made us realize how fortunate we are.

So we traveled from Munich to Salzburg to Vienna to Budapest to Prague to Krakow to Berlin, finally boarding our last flight from Frankfurt, covering five countries in a span of two weeks. While we didn’t do justice to each of these countries, especially Hungary (I definitely need to go back there again), I would rather remember this trip for visiting six different cities rather than their respective locations.

Salzburg: For a small city overshadowed by its more glamorous and cosmopolitan cousin, Vienna, it has its own charm, most famous for being the birthplace of the noted musician Mozart. So everywhere you go, you would find something named after him, be it hotels, streets, cafes and of course the elaborately designed Mozart Square which takes your breath away. But the irony lies in the fact that Mozart never really liked Salzburg and spent most of his life traveling around, since he found the city too deficient in terms of arts and culture. The other reason which makes Salzburg so popular is Sound of Music. If you have seen the movie, then you would identify with the landmarks where parts of the movie were shot: for instance, Mirabell Gardens and Mirabell Palace, where Maria and the children sing 'Do-Re-Mi’, Hellbrunn Palace and the beautiful Lake District. While the film is based on a true story, Hollywood being Hollywood changed bits and pieces of it, which were more evident now that we visited the real house of the Von Trapp family, heard the real stories and understood the real characters a little better.

Vienna: To begin with, you can be in Vienna for a week, and still not be able to explore the city the way you would want to. So in the two days that we spent in the city, we probably just got a glimpse of everything that it has to offer, without really savouring it the way we would have liked to. From the grand buildings of the Rathaus [City Hall], the Austrian Parliament, the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Art History (Kunsthistorisches Museum), and the State Opera House, the treasure trove of paintings and carvings at the Schönbrunn Palace, the leisurely walk by the Wien river while exploring hidden gems like the St. Stephens Cathedral or the Anchor Clock, the tragic history of Mayerling in Vienna Woods to the Austrian delicacies at Rosenberger, it was all too quick, too little and yet too much crammed in too little time.

Budapest: I shouldn’t even be writing about it, since we barely spent a day here, rushing through both Buda and Pest, only stopping for a little while to enjoy the authentic Goulash soup by the Danube river. But Budapest really has much more to offer than the impressive Heroes Square, Fishermen's Bastion with the Mathias Church or the House of Parliament that we saw. After all, it IS the Paris of the East. And like they say, there are two kinds of people in Budapest: one that lives in Buda and the other that WANTS to live in Buda (i.e. the Pestians), but typical tourists as we were, we didn’t manage to see either very well.

Prague: Now this is one city which was definitely one of the major highlights of the trip. I simply loved everything about the city: the old world charm with all its impressive architecture, the St. Vitus Cathedral, the boat ride through the Vltava river, Franz Kafkas’s birthplace right in the middle of a busy street, Ivan Lendl’s presence all over the city and the Astronomical Clock which is as astronomical as the people and their appetites. In our eagerness to devour Czech food, we ordered three dishes, managing to finish only half of all the pork ribs, trout and goose preparations. We also visited the slightly creepy but nevertheless attractive Bone Church in the UNESCO heritage site of Kutna Hora, about an hour away from Prague. We also managed to lose an entire bottle of Black Label, and like seasoned alcoholics, my parents argued over whose fault it was, while I maintained a pious and detached silence, though it was killing me inside.

Krakow: Some time back, if you had asked me to go to Krakow in Poland, I would look at you the same way I would look at Salman Khan. On a cow. But not anymore. Apart from being a popular low-cost nearshoring destination for MNCs, it does have a lot of history too. Like the Wawell Castle, Kazimierz (the Old Jewish town), the Cloth House (Europe’s primitive shopping mall which is still one of the best places to buy souvenirs), St. Mary’s Church and the salt mines. And then you also have the place where Pope John Paul II, the first Polish Pope, used to meet his followers.

But of course, the main reason to go to Krakow is Auschwitz, just about an hour away. Nothing, I repeat nothing you read on the internet or the books or the movies/videos you watch on TV/Youtube can prepare you for the blood-curdling atrocities committed in this place. As I listened to the grave narratives of the tour guide, as I saw the left-overs of the inhuman torture barely seventy years back (the human hair, shoes, clothes, teeth) and the remains of the traumatic conditions (bunk beds, wooden planks, toilets) and as I put the pieces together trying to get a picture of what the victims were going through, I failed hopelessly, numbed by a cold shiver down my spine. Work does NOT set you free, rather it makes you a slave. Auschwitz is NOT a tourist place, rather it’s a solemn reminder of the millions of people who not only lost their lives, but lost it brutally.

Berlin: If I had to describe the city in human terms, it would Cinderella: a city which is different from the picturesque landscapes of its more fortunate cousins, a city repeatedly ravaged in wars, a city which has been through enough struggles, a city which has stood like a wall, in spite of the making and breaking of another. So despite the awful weather (probably as bad as the worst November day), despite the plastic sheets and machines (the city is under a major renovation) and despite the horrible traffic which moves slower than Ravichandran Ashwin, Berlin stole my heart: Checkpoint Charlie, the Reichstag, the remains of the Berlin Wall, Potsdam Platz, Hitler's bunker and of course, the historic Brandenburg Gate, all of which made me laugh and cry at the same time.

It was a trip of conflicting sights and emotions, it was a trip of the ghosts of past blending with the angels of the future, it was a trip which merged hopes and promises with despair and anguish.

It was a trip of a lifetime...