Wednesday, September 09, 2009

O Calcutta

I write this in Calcutta, my hurried second trip to this magical city. And yes I am intrigued. It is a city that I could not ignore, was not one of those cities that you land in, finish your work in the allocated time and zip out of. The city forces you to notice it, not that it is vying for your attention, the grandeur (yes I use that word) and the irony forces you to stop and stare.
The city whizzed past me in techni-color frames as I sat in an Ambassador and traveled from the airport to the factory. I have abandoned many a post started for this blog because I could not complete them, but this one I shall. I shall talk about the city and what I saw and eventually fell in love with. So here goes, a quick list:

1. The city is layered much like many other old living cities. The layers co- exist, next to each other, often merging and blurring the boundaries. The most apparent one being the old and the new. There are old old buildings, some grand complete with facades often resembling half of a hexagon sometimes freshly painted sometimes old and peeling. Layers of poverty and comfort. Layers of rustic and urbane. Layers of literary and materialistic.
2. The many renditions of Durga familiar yet different but always beautiful with the kohl lined dancing eyes.
3. The Pandals being set up for Pujo, you can feel the festivity in the air.
4. The Bangla script, it is lyrical, poetic and artistic. I love how it adds to the many bill boards rather than just being a sub script for legal reasons as is happening with many regional languages.
5. I loved driving over the “Alipore Bridge 1932”, it was old and regal but the neglect saddened me.
6. The chaos, and how the women in their crisp cotton border sarees and big bindis seem to be dealing with it better.
7. How painting as an art form is integrated in the pop culture, how Vodafone does buntings with intricately painted Pujo scenes printed on them. How bill boards use paintings rather than photographs.
8. The color red splattered around the city in the old style big bindis, in the single bangle signifying matrimonial bliss, on the buildings and the bridges,in the CPM flags. It makes me wish I could paint.
9. All the buildings old and new had the beautiful and colorful cotton Bengali sarees hanging down from their terraces waiting to dry in the moist air, the Dhakai, the Kantha they added to the tapestry of the city in a wonderful way.
10. The city is green!!! Could not miss the mini swamps as I drove from the airport. The rain washed green foliage was refreshing.
11. I saw a building named “Artmosphere”; it does encapsulate the city in a way. The many music and dance schools I saw are a testimony to that.
12. How everyone is Dada, it is not just a word but the fact that the chaiwallah, to the taxi driver to your jolly old colleague is Dada in a way signifies dignity of labor. Somehow because I call the Taxi driver Dada, he is not compelled to dumb himself down or be cautious in my presence. He can be as intelligent as he really is and that is amazing.
13. As I drove past Calcutta I could not help but compare it with London, where I reveled in the old that London had to offer, but the old in London was grand, the old was heritage, the old was a lot of hard work and maintenance and preservation, the old was a matter of pride. Sadly old in Calcutta can also mean derelict. A lot of the old buildings are dying, peeling off and breaking down bit by bit door by door. These buildings are not abandoned; they are lived in but often because there seems to be no choice. In Calcutta I could see why it is easier to tear down the old, build the new and maintain it till the new becomes old and cumbersome. The difficult choice is to keep the old well old but mint new. The old in Calcutta sometimes doesn’t look like a choice but a compulsion, sometimes it doesn’t look heritage but more like hardship. But still the old in Calcutta is a matter of pride. Thanks for not tearing down everything like everyone else.
I wait for my next trip to Calcutta where I shall discover more of the city (and its food) not through a taxi. Because I am intrigued, I really want to know more about you Calcutta.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Happy Independence Day

“The government has invited you to London to discuss your little idea of freedom” thus spoke the then Viceroy to the Mahatma, the disdain and ridicule in his voice barely concealed by the stiff British upper lip. As I watched Gandhi for the nth time I was overwhelmed as I recalled my conversation with the clerk at the VFS office who asked for irrelevant documents “in original” ranging from the marriage certificate to letter of leave and even NSCs in “original”. Also it is important to note that none of these documents were mentioned on the official website as a prerequisite to granting a visa to the UK. But before we could even get to the point of presenting our “incomplete documents” at “our own risk” we were kept waiting for 2 hours twice even after an appointment and were told that we had to wait if we wanted the much revered stamp on our Indian passports. I snapped at that point and gave an earful to the clerk as I reminded him I was not interested in driving a cab illegally in his country but wanted to go there as a tourist, spend money and probably even contribute to propping up their declining economy. I realize now that I have taken that freedom of speech for granted. I took the right to point out the small injustices for granted. But yesterday as I saw Gandhi, I was reminded who I need to thank for my fundamental right, the freedom I have. It was a goose bump moment, I know it sounds inane but I have always thought what I make out of my life, how I live it is the series of choices I make from the point I started out from, but I think I have taken the starting point as a given, never gave the starting point much thought. But yesterday I stepped back and thanked the men who fought for me to have that right, who knew I could make something of my life if I was given that starting point, the men who hoped we would make something of this country after reaching that starting point. Thank You. I am more aware of my responsibilities too.
As the film progressed, I was reminded of a conversation I was having the other day about prejudices and we observed that it was difficult for people who have survived the partition to let go off their hatred and prejudices that have had its roots in the madness of those barbaric days. As I saw Gandhi I realized that I have never heard any person who lived in the pre independence era declare that letting go off the pain and humiliation that was meted out by the Britishers is difficult to do. I have never heard any one discriminate against or just plainly hate the Britishers for what happened for more than 200 years. In fact come to think of it the world does not discriminate, incriminate, stereotype people who belong to the colonizing nations who well in a nutshell enslaved people, plundered nations and sometimes even wiped out civilizations. No, as mature, sane and rational cultures and nations we accept that these are different times, different people and most importantly not everyone who belonged to the imperialistic nations even in the times bygone, endorsed or participated in the atrocities. Isn’t it shocking that all of us without exception have been mature, adult and decent about dealing with the past? The pain is remembered but the hatred has been confined to the perpetrators of that violence. The hatred has not been extended to the entire community, the nation and its future generations. Peace did get a chance.
I said it is shocking because today the world that we live in does stereotype, discriminate and envelope an entire culture/community with the hatred and prejudice that at best should be directed to the misguided members and their heinous terrorist acts. We should not beat around the bush; it is a fact that the Islamic community today is living in a world that has declared them guilty till proven otherwise. I cannot bring myself to imagine living my life where everyday people make me feel unworthy of simple things like renting an apartment, applying for a job, boarding a plane and sometimes even making a friend because a moron with a similar last name decided to go berserk. If that does not alienate people further what else will? Why hold a community at ransom for what a few delinquents do? Maybe on this Independence day we should pray for freedom from these stereotypes and these prejudices, maybe on this independence day we should hope that our minds and hearts open up just a little more.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Blog on Books

Well writing is my hobby but books are my passion, so to further my passion and give it it's due I have also started posting on my new blog appropriately named "Book Bound". The few visitors, some of whom I gag to visit this blog, before I hound you personally into dropping by the new one, please drop in of our own accord. Enough said, let the posts speak louder than my threats. I hope to be regular there, I promise.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Numb, this has been my state of mind ever since I woke up in the morning to read vague headlines of “Rash of Terror Attacks in Mumbai: 80 dead”. In my foggy, sleepy state of mind I could not comprehend the headline, 80 dead how, when, I saw the news till 9 pm, there was no news of this sort till then. I even thought it was a cruel, insensitive media gimmick. But truth is never that simple. As the fog in my mind cleared, I read the newspaper in shock, in numbness not completely understanding what had happened, skimming through the papers searching for the obvious and now much too familiar modus operandi of bazaars being bombed through surreptiously placed tiffin boxes. There were no serial blasts. What does ‘firing indiscriminately” mean, what does they “threw bombs” actually mean. I just did not get it. What I did read clearly was that 80 people had died, that my brother in law lives on Napean Sea Road, that my brother lives near Vile Parle and loves Leopold CafĂ©. I called them up, relieved that they were fine, messaged friends and got back comforting replies that they are all fine. I spoke with my dad; he said that “this is war, it is not a terrorist attack”, I was forced to switch on the TV. And probably that is when the enormity of this ghastly, horrific attack dawned upon me. Yes, they “threw bombs”, they “fired indiscriminately”, they walked around with knapsacks on their backs and AK 47s in their hands and they wore jackets full of grenades. They stormed into the Taj Hotel, The Trident and Nariman House and opened fired at guests, staff. They opened fire on the streets, in CST; they opened fire and threw grenades at people generally enjoying a drink at Leopold, attacking hospitals where the sick were healing. And at 8 when I switched on the TV, they were hostages and guests trapped in Taj and the Trident. I could see smoke emanating from the beloved Taj Hotel. I saw images of some of these menacing crazy looking terrorists roam around the streets with hand grenades and AK 47s. I just could not believe that I was seeing those images on television, that this had actually happened. It was not about the numbers of causalities, but about how they entered Bombay on motorized dinghies through sea, about them just mocking and making a cruel joke of how “secure” we are in our own homes, on our streets, in our offices, our hospitals. About how they could walk around the streets opening fire where they wanted to, throw grenades in any direction they fancied. About how easy it was for them.
As I write this at 6 in the evening, Bombay has come to a halt, as a friend living on Cuffe Parade tells me; she heard gun shots all through the night and well into the day. The streets are deserted; the two hotels in question still have guests and staff trapped inside as the army combs each floor of the hotels. Images of guests dressed in white, leaning against the glass windows asking for help, trying to convey that they are safe waiting to be rescued have been flashed through the day. People are waiting outside, calmly, fearfully, hoping for the best and not thinking about the worst. I spoke with friends through the day and we all are terrorized, there is a fear unspoken at times but palpable immediately. Up till now we all felt that avoiding bazaars on crowded days, immediately reporting suspicious looking unattended bags would ensure safety, but now there is no plan on how to avoid this. All strategy fails, how many aspects of our lives will we change to finally feel safe. The terrorists seem like cockroaches; every time you find a way to kill them they mutilate their gene to be resilient against that particular brand of insecticide. There is a feeling of helplessness. I am incoherent but that is how a lot of us are feeling.
But come to think of it, maybe this attack, this war declaration, this brazen invasion on a city that is the financial capital of the country is not as dangerous as the unabashed north Indian “bhaiya” driving a cab in Bombay, maybe concern over terror is not as legitimate as the Gujjar demands, maybe this day is not as historically relevant as the Ram Sethu, maybe not as revolting as the MF Hussains paintings, maybe not as scary as couples making out in parks, maybe not as catastrophic as homosexuality, maybe restoring peace is not as important as ensuring no one else is “converted”, maybe these terrorists are not enemies enough as the opposition parties (only till you need to bed them for power after next elections). Because these are the issues all our “leaders” have been focusing on since time immemorial. None of them have ever addressed terror rationally, never has the political parties come together to fight this menace at a grass root level without getting political about it. They just cant seem to get enough of creating politics of hate. Terrorism and gun men firing randomly may be damned, only till the “leaders” can make a poll issue out of it. I am angry, angry that the prime minister addressed us after 19 hours of the beginning of this mayhem, that Shivraj Patil has not resigned even after this, that the NSG took 8 hours to arrive in Bombay as they were busy protecting the leaders of the nation, angry that since July of this year we have been attacked again and again and we have been watching like the timid shy school boy whose tormentors, the bullies are getting more audacious by the day, appalled that I sit every month watching a new city being attacked by a new group in a new way.

As I watch the horror unfurl, I pray for the souls departed, thank the firemen, policemen and army forces fighting to save lives. I pray to God for this to end quickly. But we all know this is not the end.

I have never been a jingoistic, patriotic Indian who shouts from the roof tops about Arya Bhatt or IT revolutions, I have always been confused about what I feel for my motherland, realistic, affectionate, sure that I would never want to be born as anything else but Indian though unsure about the reasons why I feel that way. However I have always been proud of our thriving democracy, smug that in this hot bed of troubled neighborhood we as a country have a functional democracy, an economy to be reckoned with and a country that does not have fatal and fetid issues to deal with like our neighbors have. I am not so sure any more. To the outside world probably we are just the same now. I know its not true, but am too scared to say that anymore.

I want to do something about it, but I do not know what to do. I want to walk into the parliament and shout till I am heard; I want this nightmare to end. I want politicians to stop fuelling politics of hate because this is what happens at the end. Can you tell me what WE can do about this?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

This is a First

In many more ways than one….

1. The first time I am posting two posts in a single day
2. The first time I am posting a picture of myself, which actually come to think of it is no big deal since all of you already know me, but so what it is a first.
3. The first time through a piclog I talk about one of our many weekend jaunts…

So here goes people brace yourself!!!!

This is me sporting my new haircut!!!

Same picture but now lo and behold with a torso and hands and all!!!

And now for the weekend jaunt!!!

This was to Bheemeshwari Fishing Camp, ideal for a spontaneous weekend getaway, we planned this trip as we got bored on a Saturday evening, called up friends and we left for this magical place 90 kms away from Bangalore on a sleepy Sunday morning at nine am. I love weekend jaunts that don’t involve getting up at ungodly hours of 4 in the morning.
We reached the place at around 11:30, spent some time looking for a place to set up our little picnic, thanks to Mridula decided against it and signed up for a day trip to the much famed Bheemeshwari Fishing Camp, run by Jungle Lodges and Resorts. What was great about this is that we had been planning to plan a weekend trip to Bheemeshwari for ages, but could never get a reservation for an overnight trip. But signing up for this day tour that included an early morning trek, lunch, tea and boating in a coracle was fairly easy and required no prior booking. And now the Piclog!!!

The Cauvery in all its glory

Another view

This is us, lazing on the riverbank.

The two women all set to take charge.

Do not get fooled by the picture, we realize navigating through the river Cauvery is no laughing matter. Please to be noting, we are alive to tell this tale because there was a professional boatman (seen in the picture making last minute adjustments to the coracle).

Two men waiting in the coracle
Miffed a little as the earlier attempt to set sailing was foiled by big fat raindrops and a small thunderstorm. But we got back in again after the skies calmed down a little.

The waters were really choppy somewhere in the middle and we were glad to be wearing life jackets!!!

The deep waters and dark skies.

And then a bright (well not that bright) rainbow, had been a while since I had seen one of them!!!! Umm Can you spot it.. go on squint a little turn your head a little there you go...

And this brings us to the end of our little adventure!!!!

We drove back happy and content reached home at 9 in the night, glad to have taken this impromptu trip.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Because I am Daddy’s Girl

Well I have been going through a rough patch at work. The one’s where you believe that the entire world is conspiring against you, trying to make life difficult for you at every given opportunity while they drive their own agenda. The kinds where the entire day is spent screaming and banging your head against deaf and stupid walls. It is not the kind of crisis where you are not getting along with your Boss, or you seem to be caught up in meaningless work, or you resent the slaving away for long hours. It is the kind of crisis where you see the whole year’s hard work come crumbling down, days clocking away with asking rates climbing upwards, days where you are at your tethers ends as seemingly simple solutions are twisted beyond recognition by complicated situations. Basically I am feeling lost and dejected. What makes matters worse is the fact that I have 15 people in my team who look up to me for support and guidance and everyday I feel that I fail them as a leader. And the thought that the success or failure of these three months is going to affect each of them of them personally, professionally and monetarily weighs me down. It does not help that I actually care for my team and am genuinely pained as I am forced to be a mute spectator to their trials and tribulations.

Now as is clear from the address of my blog,I can be a little capricious, to quote myself from the very first post of this blog I easily fluctuate between extremes, “there are times of extreme happiness followed by those of extreme melancholy, extreme optimism followed by extreme pessimism, extreme anger followed by unreal forgiveness; annoying verbosity followed by worrying restraint, profound courage followed by loathable fear....”. And for all those who know me I am not one for hiding my emotions, what you see is what you get. This entire fortnight my team really saw my emotional, angry and desperate outbursts sometimes caused by them and at other times just aimed at them. The fact that my team also cares about me makes my misery painful for them too. Basically it has not been a good work week.

Today was particularly bad, I sought advice from close friends at work and the super efficient and extra professional husband, got the usual spiel on detachment and dispassionate approaches, all of which I knew were right and were probably the only things that would salvage my sanity. But somehow the burden of acknowledging that there has been a fundamental flaw in the way I deal with professional crisis made making amends all the more difficult. The sense of defeat as I witnessed my greatest strength compassion, turning around its head, teasing me as it rolled its eyes and tongue at me to become my greatest weakness made me cling on to the impassioned, emotional reactive frame of mind that I had gotten into. The more the voice of reason and well meaning colleagues told me to distance myself and care a little less, the closer I pushed myself to the problem till it became a blur I could not see but could not help caring about. As I dealt with all this, quite emotionally may I add, I got a call from my dad. Normally conversations with my dad are about things back home or about what we do apart from work with some fleeting and inconsequential references to work. But today I just spilled the beans and cried my heart out as I told him how bad things at work were and how I have been struggling to bring myself together to deal with things a little more effectively. I cried about how much I cared and how I felt cheated every time something went wrong for no fault of mine. I complained about how other seemingly casual colleagues seemed to get past all the daily tribulations like a breeze. I cribbed without the hope of learning anything new; with the sense of quite defeat as you anticipate yet another person embark upon the familiar lecture of the wisdom of being pragmatic and practical and the foolishness of being emotionally involved with work. To my utter surprise I heard my dad in his usual matter of fact tone say, “But what is really wrong with being emotional, passionate, what’s wrong about caring for the people you work with?”. I was shocked to say the least, I mean even though I agreed with what he said, I knew it was not the right thing to do. He went on as I listened spell bound, “Who would not want a boss who cared and did not treat her subordinate as just another resource at her disposal, I would be glad to have such a Boss and so would you.” Somehow what he said started making a little sense to me. This seemed like the conversation I had wanted to have in a long time. He went on to recount stories from his work life, where sometimes his passion and emotion were misdirected but he did not seem to regret his passion and emotion. He was sure that at the end of it all people around him had been left a little better off than before because of his passion. At the end they seemed to care about him too. He went on, and so did I cringing a bit while narrating various incidents and events that had been nagging me for a while. He listened patiently and each time cajoled me to look at things in a different perspective, a perspective that forced me to be a little less censorious of myself than I have been and a point of view that gave me a little more credit than I was willing to give myself. I was already feeling much better, the smile was inching its way back and my head felt much lighter. And at the end of the phone call, my dad very simply told me; “Be emotional, be passionate but don’t take it personally”. As the conversation with him ended, I realized that not only was my father probably the only one who knew what it is to be me, who appreciated my motivations and motives, the only one who empathized with my agony, he was also the only one who knew how to set me free. It was not about my misguided passion or emotional outbursts or about caring a little too much, it was about not taking it personally. My dad reminded me of the two lessons I had learnt the hard way in school and college:

  1. Accept who you are, be matter of fact about it, be neither apologetic nor cavalier about who you are.
  2. Its not personal, professional things are never personal.

As I came in from the balcony, I smiled as I realized what my mom always knew; I am Daddy’s little girl.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


A Haircut can really change the way the world sees you and the way you see the world. It was the welcome break I was seeking....I mean I am Happy!!!!!!!!!