Thursday, April 24, 2014


It’s Election Day in Mumbai today. I remember 10 years back, when I had just been old enough to vote, I was so enamoured by the charm of being part of the largest democracy, I was completely overwhelmed by the dance of democracy and I was all about being a responsible citizen. Being part of a college where moral science was more important than science, it was considered an embarrassment if you didn’t know the who’s who of the political world. Voting was important, but more important was voting for the right candidate. Naïve as I was, I actually believed that there was indeed a “right” candidate and all I had to do was educate myself, read, follow the news and make an informed choice. So for six months, I sacrificed my academic obligations and chose to pore over newspaper editorials while having animated discussions in the canteen, as I bunked one political science lecture after another. The “India Shining” campaign was at its strident best, and for all of us, the urban Indian first-time voter, the NDA was an automatic choice. But of course, the reality was something quite different, and the UPA came into power, and a decade later, they continue to be in power, albeit with its share of detractors.

2009 was less significant for me politically, as I was pre-occupied with recession, placements, new job, new house and new-found independence. Besides, UPA I had a fairly successful term, so the country wasn’t exactly up in arms in the anti-incumbency wave as it is today.

Five years later, as the UPA II stares at a hostile electorate: a country exhausted and disgusted with the multitude of scams, mis-governance, inflation, unemployment and slow growth, I have grown into a more mature and pragmatic citizen from the idealistic teenager, who strongly believed that democracy was indeed the solution. But with age and maturity, also came cynicism and a bit of helplessness.

Today, as I fervently scan the political space, looking for that small window of hope, all I am left with is disillusionment and an aching desire to press the NOTA option. But I also know that the NOTA option is not really an option, but more of a tool to run away from the reality: the reality being we are a billion plus population, young enough to move mountains, gifted enough to take the world by storm and intelligent enough to pose a serious challenge to the best, but also crippled by an ageing, regressive and rhetorical set of political leaders. A few months back, when the AAP party swept its way into power in Delhi, for a brief moment, I was excited, or even optimistic: not because I agreed with its ideology or its manifesto (both of which were still ill-defined and incoherent) but because it was something I could identify with: young, educated and clean. I was willing to give it a chance despite its relative political inexperience. But of course, six months down the line, I am back to square one, still looking for that one candidate I could put my trust into, I could see leading the country as it deserves to be led and who could rise over politics and get along with governance.

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

Today, on Election Day, I imagine about the day when politics will stop making me cringe as it does today…

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hong Kong: The Wisdom of Crowds

It’s been a while since I last blogged: I can go on and give you a list of reasons excuses, but then again, that’s all they would remain: reasons excuses. The truth is it’s been a fairly stressful phase in my life: call it an existential crisis, call it a case of an empty mind being a devil’s workshop or call it a writer’s block, I have barely slept, let alone think creatively or put my thoughts on paper.

May be I just needed a vacation or may be I just needed some time away from work, away from the daily humdrum, or simply away from Mumbai. But I didn’t really have the luxury or the frame of mind to plan an elaborate summer holiday like I usually do, even though there are so many places that I wistfully look up on the net, hoping against hope that I would go there soon (think Sri Lanka, think Egypt, think Greece, think Kenya, think Andamans, think New Zealand, think McLeodganj, think… you get the drift). So given my current state of volatility and anxiety, I did the best I could: pile on my cousin brother’s generosity, book a ticket to Hong Kong, get visa on arrival and plant myself close to his place for a week, so that I would get an obliging family who would show me around town, without having to use my brains, research, decide an itinerary and look for the best deals, i.e. things that I usually enjoy doing, things which make the travel experience so much more enriching and things which make me remember the subtle nuances of my trips all the more vividly.

But this time it was different: it was not so much about traveling, as it was about family, about rediscovering the joys of being together in a foreign country or sharing the foreign cuisine while getting on one another’s nerves.

As a city Hong Kong is like any other global financial capital, with its cosmopolitan culture, busy streets, tall skyscrapers, impressive infrastructure and vibrant nightlife. We did the usual touristy stuff: visiting the Tian Tan Buddha (The Big Buddha) by cable car, getting a bird’s eye-view of the city at night from the Victoria Peak, relaxing on the beach at Shek O, trying out a new dish by the waterfront at the picturesque little town of Stanley, going around the city on the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus, trying the different modes of public transport (MTR, trams, buses, ferries), walking along the Avenue of Stars in Kowloon, bargaining in the night market at Mong Kok and window shopping at the glitzy malls, wishing we had more money or less propensity towards maths (as an Indian, we invariably end up multiplying the figure on every price tag to calculate the value in INR). Time and again, I was taken back to the memory of reading "Tintoretor Jishu", one of my favourite Feluda stories. Written in the backdrop of Hong Kong, it was later made into a movie as well and shot in Kowloon.

But we also explored the less commercial aspects of Hong Kong: like taking an early morning ride to Discovery Bay for breakfast, walking down the fishing village of Lama Island which also served up the most delicious variety of seafood I have ever tasted and taking a long bus ride to Tai Po and cycling across the scenic coastal area.

However, not being amusement park or gambling enthusiasts or five-year-olds, we gave the Disneyland, Oceanpark and Macau a miss, though some day I do hope I get to visit China and sneak a day into Macau too, even if it’s for the sake of experience!

So if I had to choose the top five highlights of the trip, I would go with this list (in no particular order):

1.Quality time with family
2.Cycling after almost ten years at Tai Po
3.Seafood at Lama Island
4.Taking the wrong line in MTR and then figuring out our way
5.Being stopped by three Chinese ladies on Avenue of Stars and asked to pose for a snap with them, like I was an alien from The Planet of the Apes

Hong Kong may not be the city of my dreams, but as a place which offers a eclectic blend of Oriental and Colonial culture, a charming landscape of the hills and the sea, a delectable array of cuisines to choose from and an impeccable combination of the life in the fast lane along with the slow relaxing pace of sleepy towns and fishing villages, it’s quite a fascinating destination which doesn’t require too much of advance planning.

I came to Hong Kong as a skeptical traveler, still enamoured by the tragic history of Cambodia or the sheer diversity of Malaysia, but I left, reassured that there is indeed some sanity in mundane city life as well…