Wednesday, July 30, 2008


My friend G who we last encountered while buying a top here, is moving. Well actually she’s just moving 2 blocks away, so it isn’t anything drastic, but to me it means lugging infinite number of boxes and trash bags full of stuff to her new house. “The new house is terrible, cobwebs and all” G said. Apparently, the harami landlady had refused to clean it before handing it over, but G, clever that she is managed to shave off 50$ on her first month’s rent as a compensation for cleaning it herself. Enter yours truly. So on a lazy Thursday afternoon, G and me, went to her new house which she hated. The house was nondescript enough like so many others, old and lived-in. One step into the house and my jaw dropped open. Where G saw cobwebs, untidiness and blasphemy; (she must worship Poirot secretly, I have concluded) I saw heaven.

Every square inch of the house was piled with books. Tottering towers of Enid Blytons, carelessly discarded boxes labeled Shelley, Hemmingway and Frost. A shelf on the farthest wall held bound volumes; Tolkien’s complete works including the history of middle earth. I was salivating. While G muttered and devised devious plans to fool her roommates and grab the prettiest room for herself, I quietly poked around.

Flying off a small tangent here I am a complete sucker for books. A dodo if you will. And the one thing I like apart from reading is browsing in bookshops. A thrill just in seeing books, reading the back-cover, leafing through pages lazily (a thrill compounded by the emptiness of my wallet). One of life’s greatest pleasures, this. Tucked away in a leafy by lane in the heart of Mumbai, The Strand had piles and piles of books. Books were squeezed into crevices and lay carelessly on every surface. Exactly my idea of a bookshop; unlike crossword which I find sterile and impersonal. One of my primary reasons for hating Mumbai is the dearth of books there, which kind of makes me want to live in Bangalore (Gangaram's) or Chennai (plenty of places, all on leafy lanes!), book paradises. Also some moronic politician conspired to remove the second hand book selling people off the pavements at Flora fountain, making my life much sadder, and thereby ensuring that I never vote for his party again (democracy rocks!).

The upper rooms held Christie and Doyle in a huge antique shelf. Another box possessed papers, essays of Bertrand Russell and Shaw. The closet held PG Wodehouse (I was in 7th heaven by then). G had resigned to de-cobwebbing the house herself, poor thing. Apparently I did not even turn a hair when she screamed on finding a large tarantula (supposedly). The icing on the never ending desert came when I found a bundle of National Geographic’s, in the attic; 1987 to 1995. I had a silly inane grin, which I just couldn’t wipe off. Santa does exist.

This week we are going to clean the basement. My excitement is unparalleled. I also wanted to explore the attic a little more peacefully. My life is like the parched desert, which finds a rainstorm in it. I shall resist the bad puns, and most of my other activities till G throws me out of her home. Till then Adios.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Open letter to Haseena Bano Jaan

Dear Juhi Chawla,

I like you. There was I time when I idolized you, and a time after that when I thought you were a goddess. True, those days are far away, but you are pretty much in our minds. Raw in Bol Radha Bol, innocent in Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke, endearing in ishq and bedazzling in that two bit scene in Andaz Apna Apna. Jhankaar Beats saw you looking at your mature best. Why then? Why were you a prt of the debacle named Kismat Konnection? Why debase yourself as an idiotic childish psychic? At least you could have named yourself zara or something similar and be done with it. And why must you speak in rhyming couplets?

Still. I forgive this as a middle-aged transgression (slaps forehead). Maybe you were bored. Maybe you were paid a lot (still!!). But I will stop here. Zees is getting too much (insert bad Spanish accent here). Sigh…

Monday, July 21, 2008


I have a habit of dreaming about travel. I like to travel and I do travel, but not as much as I would like to. This makes me want to travel, and leads me to dream about travelling. Of fast trains and blurring views. Of majestic views atop mountains, of rapid rivers, calm seas, magnificent metropolises and quaint bucolic pastures.

This dreaming has progressed to such an extent, that I find it has become a hobby in its own right. I pointlessly look up pictures of strange places, possessed by an intense desire to be there, to experience it all. I want to stand by ‘Christ the Redemptor’ at Rio. I want to see Stonehenge. To be silenced by the Victoria falls, bustled about in Hong Kong and look at the Mona Lisa. To see the Aurora Borealis inflame the skies above Helsinki, cross the Danube on foot, Be enamoured by Hollywood. I want to travel down every road that goes somewhere and be on a train to a far-off destination. I want to see it all, have it all. Be everywhere.

Strangely enough when I do visit places, a profound sense of anticlimax dawns on me and I can only look at whatever I went to see. How much ever you believe in the journey being the real manzil, there must be a frisson of excitement when one reaches the destination. All I have instead is a jaded feeling of ennui.

Wanderlust ever conspires to waylay weary travelers. And that is how I find myself on the roads time and again. The pleasures gained on making a monumental journey to see ancient wonders and boast of having been to foreign lands, the pleasure of seeing your very own neighborhood after heavy rains, are they the same? Does geographical disparity interfere with the traveler’s conscience? Would I be as happy to spend a night at Hanoi, trek through Darfur or prance about in Patagonia?

And amidst such nebulous thoughts I am suddenly drawn back to the mundane world with the familiar ping on gtalk.

*Picture-Kaveri delta near Karaikal, TN, India

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Something i wrote a long while ago...i dint finish it then and i cant now, so here it is

Mumbai. Home to 10 million. City of dreams. City of seven islands. A place where money, fame and power entice millions, food, clothing and shelter entice a million more. Long beaches, rocky shores, thick forests all amidst an urban sprawl, ever alive, ever changing, always evolving. Primal human instincts clash with sophistry, bai’s rub shoulders with the jet-set. To an outsider it is a great city, with tall buildings, wide boulevards and magnificent views, to the insider it is much more; albeit the potholes and slums, and ganglords and the crowds, bollywood and residential sprawls; it is home.

Even a thousand visits will not rub the grandeur felt on glimpsing the sea; a presence so vital to the city. Omnipresent, enveloping the city in its salty shrouds, the ancient waters yielding fish and oil. Beaches full of tourists and weary denizens, rocky outcrops of land bursting at the seams with skyscrapers; gravity defying bridges cutting across earth and water, long forgotten creeks winding sinuously, teeming with smuggled goods, a large harbour full of the world's wares. To the north lies another vital aspect of the city; its lungs. A wild forest, tame yet primal. derelict ruins, caves with ancient pigments, scattered villages of tribals collecting honey and bark. Mountains, waterfalls, cascades and sinister lurking animals. Panthers and leopards, often victims of fast vehicles when they stray into the highways surrounding the forest. The stillness of the forest is only broken by a meteorological station and an air base well hidden from the masses. A green canopy, dark. Silent. Strong. Sinister. Hiding secrets since ages. Surrounded by suburbs.

But any description of the city would be incomplete without the suburbs. Vast. Sprawling. Teeming with life. By day an exodus of people readies to leave downtown, and at evening the same exodus returns. Buses, Trains, Cars all rushing at breakneck speed, heading ever northwards to the ubiquitous home. The seventies saw the rise of most of these communities, the eighties their peopling and the nineties their development. It was this age that brought schools, hospitals and markets to these sprawling communities. The new millennium ushered in a new lease of life for these places. Now these are literally sub-urban centers. With the glitziest malls, swankiest office complexes and multitudes of night-life, property rates have risen tenfold, slowly edging downtown, quite literally out of the map.

Some cities are hot, some cold. Mumbai has its rain. For four months between June and September, the city sees rainfall like nowhere else in the world. Not for Mumbai the many varied splendour of an Indian monsoon. It simply pours. Dense rain. Bone-wetting rain. Imagine an island, being flushed out of existence. With the seas in high tide, streets become sewers and hope literally floats. Raindrops physically puncture, and gloomy overcast skies predominate.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

If food be the music of life…

I have vivid memories of my grandmother. Freshly bathed, towel wrapped sternly around her hair, cooking and singing. This musical affection to cooking has always existed in my family. My grandmother would start tadka with small invocations to minor Gods, fry with lilting prayers to obscure Gods and cook the main course in Pallavi, Neelambari and Kalyani. I asked her why, and she said she was calling divinity to bless her food and make it taste good. And boy was it divine! It was ambrosia. My grandmother strongly believed that the busy Gods had not much to do other than descend into random South Indian dishes, however, I mean no disrespect and she was undoubtedly the best cook in that hemisphere.

Things changed with Amma. Following the good Indian tradition of displeasing the mother in law in every way, not only did my mother cook differently, she also sang differently. Yes, Amma also sang, but god forbid, film songs. I for one enjoyed the musical medley. Amma blended past and present seamlessly, an 80’s soulful Illayaraja followed by a peppy Rahman. Boney M and Bappida. Nithyasree meets Nazia Hassan. Abacharam screamed the mother in law. But this only produced, if possible, better food. Music blending from all four directions, the gentle sauté in mild spices. New age organic tofu and spring onions in a Kumbakonam eeya chombu made for a divine gastronomic orgasm.

Occasionally a sour note would be produced, when Amma and grandma both cooked together. This was inevitable, after there are only seven swaras but eight notes, and when do-re-mi resonates with pa-da-ni-sa the odd dissonance shatters even the thickest of glasses. Weird tomato chutney and a soggy medu vadai, with lots of killer looks and heavenly curses. But it was soon forgotten, in the wake of fusion payasam and heaven-sanctioned tiramisu.

Appa also cooked. He would also hum sporadically, utilizing the pauses to decide whether he must add sugar, or salt to the concoction simmering away to glory. Appa’s food was like him, spicy, flavourful, hitting the palate like the rains on a Mumbai afternoon.

I recently discovered, much to my family’s horror, that I am a terrible cook. Amma said singing helps, good mood makes a good cook. Appa said humming helps concentrate, Grandma sent me a devotional CD. Only divine intervention can help now, was her diagnosis. I tried, but to no end. Probably growing up with too much good food, Newton’s third law at play, I reasoned myself.

But every time I cook, I can’t help but hum. A bad selection of odds and ends, songs neither here nor there. Not only does my wife have to be a good cook, she also has to sing, her own playlist.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Top tales

I went top-shopping today. Before the more imaginative among you start snickering, I went to buy a top for a girl. A mighty enough task as you can see. What compounded the fact was that I was doing it in USA, the land of high fashion. What made it maddening was the presence of the female species of a homo sapiens sapiens with me. Every top I picked was yeach, blyeach or bwack. Fair enough. The ones I liked were too slutty, too revealing or too flimsy (fair enough no?). The colours I chose would never ‘go’ with any pant. One could not wear a skirt with that kind of top. Another one would expose the belly in a most unflattering manner. The ones she liked..well I’d have to sell a kidney and my iPod to buy them. Finally after hours (I felt like yeach, blyeach and bwack myself by then) we managed to settle on a single piece of clothing.

Now the real ordeal began. My friend began to describe a skirt she possessed, the likes of which I had never seen before (we know each other’s wardrobes backwards) (only goes to show that one can never know all the clothes a maiden might possess). It was a faint grey. Not dark grey, not ivory grey. There was a black border, not jet black, neither carbon black. I was commanded to strict attention and was described a most peculiar pattern, supposedly the shape of an orchid that would grace her right thigh if she wore it, in a colour I had never heard of or imagined before. The task was simple. We had to find her a matching top for that skirt. Browns, greens and blues were out. Pinks and purples might be considered. Any red top was to be immediately grabbed by me and to be held on to till her heavenly sanction. Off I was sent, with a time limit. And I obediently went. You don’t argue with your guardian angel, food provider, date finder, and fun friend...ever…trust me. So I looked ,at first I looked at all the hot girls shopping, then I yawned, and followed a couple of bimbos around, listening to their latest sexual exploits. And then I spotted it. The red top. Perfect, with a non jet, non carbon but definitely black border. I lunged, tripped and fell. Not the one to dwell on my failures, I picked myself up and ran (you can already see it can’t you? There was just one of those blasted red tops…if there wasn’t I wouldn’t be writing so much would i?). Anyways, I was about to grab it when another pretty lass began cooing over the top. On one hand my gentlemanly instincts and chivalry rose like a gallant knight, let her have the top my mind said. Another thought saw my friends anger, and badly cooked food. I thought of telling the American lass about my terminally ill fictitious sister, or my unhinged girlfriend (a role my friend would have played then with utmost conviction). Instead I did the unthinkable; I grabbed the thing and ran. Communicating to my bewildered friend in a stream of most unchaste Marathi, I huffed, puffed and shouted ‘credit’ to the store clerk. That was the end of the ‘top affair’.


My friend likes the top. It ‘goes’ with the skirt, and treated me to a chocolate banana. She even admitted that im improving, and at this rate I could pataofy a girl on my own!

The American lass gave gaalis to my entire clan and my country, but what the hell, we got the top.

All’s well that ends well.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Happiness...pursued me

I believe I felt what one might call ‘happiness’ today. Not fleeting, not temporary. Not the orgiastic wave of pleasure, not the thrill of love. Not the rush of pleasant memories or the instant pleasing of any of the five senses. Just like that. I skipped, hopped even smelt the roses, sure sign of happiness this, I thought. It started with a walk and my iPod. Something in the universe however conspired to make it more than just a walk. Whether it was the brilliant playlist, steadily belting out classics, or the beautiful, mellow summer sunshine I don’t know. Somewhere on the way lush grass found itself under my feet, slippers abandoned…and pure bliss.