Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Paper Planes

Most suited when one is driving on the I-93. There comes a moment, precisely one, when the city looms over. Vehicles streaming into adjacent lanes. The cold air nipping through. The rough sea and calm skies with the sunlight bouncing off them skyscrapers onto your face and suddenly you’re underground. From up above, descending steeply into subterrainia. Speed. Lights. And a time flows liquid like, in slow motion as a million lights flash past by.

No bohemian atmosphere. Prudish and not ashamed of its intelligence. The subways teem of students reading Neitzsche and Proakis. Taking the “T”, walking among buildings whose collective intellect could shame some entire nations. Looking out the seafront, walking the freedom trail. Losing yourself in the north end among cobblestoned paths and ancient houses. Freezing in the cold longing for vendakkai curry and digging into hot clam chowder at Quincy market. Walking through its numerous squares with a gaping mouth, taking it all in. Looking down at the city from the Prudential tower at the brilliant autumn foliage. Cheesecake at Copley square. Gourmet Indian food at backbay. For a relatively young nation, this city oozes history. And snobbish aristocracy.

Suburbia is eye piercingly beautiful. Suburbs have no right to be so. Lakes with roads cutting through them, almost apologetically. Streams and forests. Homes, schools, malls are extremely incidental.

Cities like Mumbai and New York are made of real stories. Of grit and struggle and of hard life. These cities command a sometimes silent, sometimes bloody struggle and compensate magnificently. None of that shit here. No immigrants looking wishfully at plenty. No gangsters and pimps, certainly no one smuggling stuff into its exceedingly cold harbor. One is born rich, becomes only richer and dies in a golden grave. Buried amidst oaks and holly, on the Charles riverside.

Elitist. Cold. Old. Home for the past three months, and maybe for the next five. Boston, MA.

*Paper planes- ARR, Slumdog millionaire. Listen to it. More importantly, watch the movie. A lesson on how to laugh, cry, be shocked and be amazed. More importantly, a lesson on Mumbai.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Circa 4.30 pm. A cold Mumbai day.

K: “Outside my office in an hour”

Me: “Roger”

I started the piece of junk my bike had become and parked outside the station. Had a nimbu-paani just before I got in. At Durga’s. Set up by an enterprising housewife outside the local train station, slaking the thirst of a million commuters since 1975. Tickets in place and the 4.31 CST fast. K’s office in 25 mins sharp.

Khau galli in Ghatkopar is a small lane. Full of stuff to eat, obviously. All illegal carts parked flush with great food. The Gujrati palate meets South Indian. Half a kilometer of pure hedonism.

“1 Jain spring dosa and we’ll leave ok man?”


And we take Best bus 385 in the aftermath of the Jain delicacy to Sion circle.

Sion Circle is a circle. Surrounded by decrepit businesses, 3 restaurants all of which are mysteriously called Peninsula and the Cinemax theatre. Printing presses and small businesses thrive. S joins us there in all her bohemian glory. Kurti. Purani jeans.Cigarette and a sheaf of papers. Always the girl carries those mysterious papers. I wonder.

L calls and says she will be 10 minutes late. We wisely take that to be an hour and proceed.

Cutting chai at the tapri. Awesome.

“Let’s take a taxi to Matunga circle I say in a moment of inspired lukkhagiri”. They acquiesce.

Lounging around Matunga circle is very pleasant. Matunga circle feels right, anytime of the year. Old buildings look disapprovingly at newer towers. Maamis mingle with Bawas and trees overshadow humans. All round great places of learning (VJTI, UDCT) and tons of other not do great places abound, with their inexorable campuses. Mumbai was a surprising 20˚C that day. Browsing second hand books under wide peepal trees, politely haggling to buy books and a relaxed filter kaapi at Madras cafĂ©.

“Oooh…lets go to the temple” S says. “It’s been ages since I went to one”

The Asthika Samaj stands in Matunga, a former tam-brahm bastion perhaps as a testimony to more peaceful times in Mumbai. It’s very south Indian, from the gopuram to the flower vendors mouthing invectives in unchaste Tamil outside. Inside, S outdoes herself by correctly recognizing 3 Gods and we are rewarded for her religiousness by hot dollops of chakkara pongal by the priest. Lucky day!

Out again and this time R and C join us. R is very very hep and frowns upon us for having eaten at all the aforementioned “sad” places. C is meeting a friend at garnish for notes. We all giggle. C admonishes us, chastises us and proceeds to blush when a hunk of a man hand her ‘notes’ to her. Meanwhile K and S are gobbling dabelis outside at a cart as I pounce to bite my rightful share.

“Philistines” R announces.

L calls “Yaar yahaan koi nahin hai! Kahaan ho tum log?”

Oops. L is politely asked to come to Matunga. She politely replies (as polite as a string of four letter words across three languages can sound), and finally agrees.

7.00 pm and all of us finally outside New Yorkers. Facing bad bosses, personal prejudices, exams, placements, errant moms, global warming and other such vagaries finally we managed to meet at the same time. In we go and do what we do best. Eat.

“I’m not having this Jain pasta. What Rubbish ya”

“Oooh look look chocolate fondue!”

“Thu parakkadhe...saniyane!”

Hour and a half later, with bursting bellies we tumble out, laughing raucously.


7/11 near Matunga station. Ice Cream.Bliss.

And like most meetings conversation had almost staled. We needed alcohol and since Murphy was our patron God, we couldn’t find any. So the awesome day ended with a pursuit of cheap alcohol. Ashish beer bar, Roshni deshi Daru and Laxmi wines later all we had managed was a little beer. Split among five (C lectured again). Time to say goodbye. S took a western line fast train. R borrowed fistfuls of notes form all of us and took a cab. C whistled for her chauffeur and magnanimously decided to drop L. K dropped me at Ghatkopar station and I hesitated a little before I plunged into a crowded fast train, heading homewards.

In the train I thought a lot. Of the awesome food I had had. More about the people I had them with who had changed through the years, yet stayed same in essence. More importantly I thought about the city that had fed us. The city that has seen us grow, fall, stumble. Love, burp, eat, puke and sweat. The city that in all its doom could not stop its benevolence. The city of tired nights, weary days and crowded noons. Of spicy chaats, dirty iced golas, filling vada-paos nurturing the immigrant. Seaside cotton candy, corn in the rains and pizza by the bay, with jazz. Wine soirees and beer drinking binges. Pav bhaji with chikoo milkshake in the rains. Mumbai in all its infinite gastronomic glory.


Thoughts flew as I was pushed onto my destination by harried people and the station was awash with vegetable vendors selling wares at half price. Getting rid of stuff before they too caught the last local home. I got a bunch of badishop in a Rupee. I delicately plucked them enjoying the taste as I burped and kicked my bike to life.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

January musings

Happy new Year all. I'm home. And i shall not dispense with needless adjectives to describe it. It is as all homecomings are. A mixture of feelings and mostly the anticipation of awesome food. Today as I was digging into my computer I came across classics (kuan ma, page 3; deewane by the awesomely awesome shweta shetty; lootela ... the likes) . I also found several things in my hidden folders (not that I have anything to hide, windows just creates them meaninglessly) and I shall post one of my earliest writings from there, for the benefit of my intrepid readers.

Here goes


It was more sudden than the most sudden thing one could think of. One second it was swelteringly hot, sweatily oppressive, a world of shimmering concrete, and just a nanosecond later it began to rain. Even before I could soak up the smell of mud, or rejoice in the coming of the monsoon, I realized I had not a scrap of anti-rain clothing with me, and sprinted to a nearby bus-stop. Unfortunately, half of my city’s population was in the same predicament and had the same idea, so I found myself a wee bit cramped. The bus stop, which had never been used as one before, (people here just wait around aimlessly, and when the bus arrives, there’s some sort of a mini-stampede cum id’ kill you to get in type scuffle) was suddenly home to about twenty-five of us, all in various degrees of wetness…

There was the bone dry man…he belonged to that rare breed of people who can sprint in the rain without getting wet. My idol, maybe because I get drenched even in a washbasin. Then there was the anxious human, ready with a half-unfurled umbrella, pants rolled, cellphone carefully wrapped in his handkerchief, prepared to beat the rains at its own game, staring at the sky with part awe, and part worry. Occupying the driest corner was a large family. The men stood in a protective circle around the women and children, resembling a herd of wildbeest on the African savannah, and all of them were eating noisily passing snacks from one end of their circle to the other. Their brats, unmindful of nature’s vagaries, were engaged in various activities and without much ado bawled, screeched and made enough noise to make you wish you were born deaf. The rest were a motley crowd of office going women, jamming cellular networks by frequently calling home barking thousand confused instructions to their children, ranging from the mundane “shut all the windows, no I don’t care if you suffocate, I’m not going to have pools of water everywhere” to the slightly bizarre “its raining, throw away all the food and start stringing the hall with clotheslines”

Our peaceful existence in the bus stop however, was rudely interrupted by a troika of ‘babes’, snobs, right down to their branded heels (sounding something like shooing a dog away). The babes cursed the rain, the clouds, and their fate (I just got my hair permed! Drat this *swear word* rain…What? Why do farmers want it to rain?) .Another one was seeing a bus stop for the first time”What’s this structure? Isn’t it cute? I’m going to ask papa to build one for us in the balcony”. Their leader had the sense to keep her cellphone dry and was frantically trying to reach her driver…The uncles of the large family had stopped crunching chips, stopped minding their little brats and were unabashedly looking at the ‘babes’. Their wives sensed the danger. Gathering their various children they began glaring at the babes, hard enough to burn a hole right through one of the babe’s freshly permed hair (which suspiciously resembled a wig, the girl’s tense expression and precarious demeanour only fuelled doubts).Working women’s association weren’t too pleased either, and began issuing a fresh set of instructions home “don’t get out unless you are wearing a burkha…”

By now everyone was getting fidgety, the intrepid slowly ventured out, and then began moving about, the safe ones decided to wait… Meanwhile a big car pulled up, as one of the babes uttered a shriek and ran pell-mell into it. The other two followed suit, looking immensely relieved. Slowly the rains abated. The world looked clean, and fresh. I stepped out, leaving behind me the human exhibition the bus-stop had become, with the delicious realization of the rains having arrived…

Minutes later, as the sun shone, the bus stop was deserted…as if it had never housed people in it.