Friday, 31 July 2009

Pictures turn every moment into a memory

It was a series of coincidences that led me to write this post. Those coincidences revolved around picture... simple photographs that chronicle our everyday lives! It began with a unique contest that I had been part of which said, 'Pictures Do Get Us Talking'. I was particularly kicked about this contest because I truly believe that pictures do get us talking. How many of us need to just be reminded of many memories that surround that particular pose?
Apart from the memories these pictures evoke, pictures are also great conversation pieces. I have spent many hours with friends--laughing, joking, crying, reminiscing over pictures and the memories they evoked. This also got me thinking about how much of a picture person I am. Thanks to technology, taking pictures and reviewing them was never so easy, making us all so trigger happy. Even our mobile phones come equipped with high-tech cameras, which means that no 'picture' moment would ever be missed.
I have over 300 photographs with me; saved from across years and generations. In fact, my most prized possessions is a suitcase filled up with photographs that I have painstakingly collected since childhood over the years from family and friends across the country. I have this dream that one day, I will sit with this suitcase and sort through all the photographs with the aim of creating not just a pictorial family tree but a chronicle of all the happiest, special (and sometimes embarrassing) moments of my entire family. I've already begun that process in a tiny way... there is an entire wall in my house which is filled with all types of pictures... featuring all my closest family and friends!!
Coincidentally this week, I also added pictures to my Facebook and Orkut profiles. There was this sudden discovery of capturing moments of my life, here and now, and sharing it with my friends in the virtual world. I was trigger happy, truly excited about the endless possibilities this presented. The conversation that ensued with my Facebook friends was astounding... my album began with a photograph of a stunning huge ship stationed in the open sea like the prince and so many people had their own memories to share.

The week however, closed on a very sad note for me. The luminescent Rajmata Gayathri Devi and the beautiful yesteryear actress Leela Naidu left the mortal world. They made huge impacts in their lifetimes on millions like me, as seen in the pictures spread across the newspapers over the past few days. I gathered from the pictures that the Rajmata was the epitome of beauty, grace, strength and courage... a woman who fully experienced life and dealt with every situation with poise, dignity and grace.
I glanced at her through pictures, remembering her sharp intelligence and wit. For all of us, the vivid visuals of her extraordinary life, captured in thousands of photographs, provide us a small but somewhat intimate glance into this extraordinarily beautiful queen's life. Rest in peace you wonderful ladies. The mortal world will always remember you.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

An Ode To Friendship

It is certainly not a bright day here in Bombay--quite cloudy but the perfect time to sip on a hot cup of ginger tea and hot samosas. But no, I am not doing that today. In fact, I am sitting on the laptop writing this column. As I am getting totally getting bored of doing nothing at all for the past four months, I have only managed to keep writing and fulfil my targets that I had set for my food blog.

As many of you might know, the first Sunday of August is celebrated as Friendship's Day, but I have decided to write this considering July is almost over. Calling someone a friend is not an excuse to make them do something for your own benefit. Friendship is an excuse to be willing to give anything without the other having to ask. But one of my oldest and dearest friends was going through absolute hell and yet he refused to let me find out even a little bit about what was going wrong. He did not want me to help him out in English, because he knew that I was myself no pandit in English. He was flunking in English in almost every examination, but still, he would show me a sign saying that he was happy with whatever he got. He would rather hold my hand than take anything from it.

This was the most touching experience of my life so far. I literally cried when I found that he had passed the Board Exams with a whopping 75 out 100. You see, there are so many educated people out there, yet, so many find it hard to understand what unconditional love and eternal friendship is. Choose your friends with your brains and not your heart and then, love them whole-heartedly. Losing a friend is worse than losing a job, that's why we don't celebrate a 'happy work day' and we celebrate a meaningful 'friendship day'.

I would like to end my column with the words from one of Billy Joel's songs: Friends will be friends, when in need of love to give you care and attention, friends will be friends when your through with life, all hope is lost, hold out your hands, coz friends will be friends, right till the end."

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Bombay Boy

A couple of days ago, I went to Ganpatipule in Ratnagiri on the Konkan coast. It has an unpolluted beach and walked barefoot on the brown sands kissed by the waters. I snorkeled in the sand and sunbathed in the beach. The genuinely warm, funny Maharashtrians ensured that we had a great time. I guess it was natural because we were staying with a local family, eating all Maharashtrian food. The coastal town was enveloped with a pristine white sands, coral blue sea, acres of lush tropical wetlands, broad roads with tree-lined and cozy wayside cafes.

It was one of the best weekend trips as you can imagine. Yet, as I was nearing the end of the weekend, I couldn't wait to get back to Bombay. Yes, that Bombay of coastal wasteland, fast-paced life, concrete jungles, acres of slum dwellings and garbage lined streets. Yes, that Bombay, where if strangers greet you, you run as far away from them as possible. After 72 hours of being greeted with spectacular bird's eye-views, the trademark welcome of slums as we were returning back by train, gladdened my heart. I was home.

In 2002, my parents decided to put me in a residential school in Pune to "discipline" myself. I was in the fifth grade then, oblivious to this life-altering decision my parents had taken. Barely two months later, I faked a terrible fever and ensured that my parents brought me back to Bombay. My faking of a terrible fever was so genuine that my teachers were easily convinced. People still ridicule me for wanting to leave Pune for the grime of Bombay. Silly, spoilt brat they say. Perhaps so. I will always carry the guilt of making my parents waste so much money on transport as well as the school fees. But when I'm asked why, my answer is this: "I'm a Bombay boy. I understand it's over-simplified and cliched, but then there's no better way to say it."

What is it about Bombay that intoxicates your bloodstream and gets you addicted? What is it about the city that so many of us, who persistently whine about its traffic, pollution, corruption, slums and degradation, still manage to say with uninhibited pride, "I'm a pucca Bombayite."? Cynics will assert that those who love Bombay for what it is are those who are sheltered from its harsh reality in their plush high-rises or luxury cars. Others say it's the people who make the city. There are also those, who despite being born and bred in Bombay, abhor it. What do they see that we foolish lovers don't? I haven't quite figured it out just yet. If you have figured it, please send me a mail on . For now, all I know is that I'm happy to be back home.

That's it from me for today!! Until next time then, have a great week ahead and keep smiling so much that the other person is compelled to smile. :D

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Great Escapism

Over the past few days the news cycle has been on a rotation of sorts. The same news stories, day after day, with names changed to add variety. Crooked politicians, water-logged roads and water shortages in buildings. It all sounds incredibly exhausting if you ask me, almost as if everyone has his or her focus on something else.

Now if you think I'm hinting at something, you are absolutely right. No one really cares whether our roads get fixed or our trains get safer, because everyone's just too busy tuning into and (then ripping apart) the reality show du jour. Whether it's discussions on Rakhi Sawant's show that easily takes up hours of otherwise valuable conversation time, or whether or not not Indians should be playing, "Sach Ka Saamna", to what the boozing and promiscuous twenty-somethings are doing in "Splitsvilla", it seems everyone is more interested in someone else's reality to give their own much thought.

Why is it that we find ourselves so transfixed by the lives of others? Is this a social dysfunction that we are all possessed with? It seems to be in our inherent nature as a community to always want to get into our neighbour's business. When an accident happens on the streets, everyone feels the need to clamour around, offering some sort of analysis of the situation, some sage advice, and lots and lots of criticism (it is to be noted that very few actually come forward to extend a helping hand in such situations). Similarly, when two neighbours find themselves in a quarrel, it almost always carries out into the streets for the entire neighbourhood to privy in. This doesn't just happen in Bombay, mind you, but in virtually every pocket of the country, someone else is highly interested in someone else's life.

Clearly, we are a very voyeuristic bunch. We unbashedly enquire about people's lives like confident peeping toms. Do we do it because it makes us feel better about our own lives, knowing that somewhere someone is worse off? Do we feed off of other people's issues to feel more strength and confident in our own lives? It shocks me to ask: is voyeurism the new escapism?

In today's technology fuelled world, voyeurism has transcended to another level entirely. Facebook, Twitter, all sites dedicated to knowing what (and who) someone else is doing, wearing, watching are amongst the most popular sites on the Internet. Personally, I'm hooked onto Facebook. It gives me immense pleasure taking all those mindless quizzes and the rowdy fellows from my batch in school (you know, the ones who would always be the favourites of the teachers and walk around the corridors with an air of arrogance) who are now more rotund than being studs.

With friend requests pouring in everyday, I can't help but wonder whether Facebook or Twitter is really about connecting friends or being able to spy on people's lives without feeling guilty (but don't fool yourself, if you find yourself from going to someone else's profile more than once a day without interacting with them, you are stalking them). Surely, it doesn't require a sociologist to understand why we do what we do. Simply put, voyeurism is a great way to distract us from the bigger issues at hand. Distractions can be therapeutic, and sometimes can help to find perspectives, but the danger starts when the very things that distract you tend to run a blurring line between the one life and that should be of utmost importance to you; your own.

So much friendship is Facebook really about? For that matter, how "real" is reality television? If reality TV in India is real, then synthetic, fake and artificial must be virtues. Once we fall into patterns of behaviour, it usually takes something extreme to break us out of it.

It is common knowledge that one addiction replaces another, so while I come up with something equally addictive for everyone to invest large amounts of their time into, do me a favour and treat these shows as you would treat a soap opera; enjoy it for that moment, allow yourself to get immensely hooked, but the moment the end credits start to roll, get off the couch and get back to your life, the one that you can actually do something about.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Don't Jump The Gun

I'm so glad that I read Akshay's blog last week. Yes, I admit that I am Divya Shekhar who hacked into Akshay's blog. I'm writing this to clarify my points as a guest writer. If I hadn't read Akshay's blog, the disorder he's suffering from would have gone unnoticed. I recognized the symptoms immediately...

* When they are faced with a different/difficult situation...the disorder kicks in, clouding all rational thought and judgement.

* Immediately after; and in a similar vein of Optimus Prime, Megatron and their gang of Autobots and Deceptions; these seemingly normal men transform into machines on a fight... shooting first and asking questions later.

* This is followed by utter confusion. Because at the end of it all, as they stand amongst the rubble of battle they began, they wonder... what brought it on the in the first place! Akshay... buddy, it's ok... don't panic. You've been inflicted by the 'Male-Jump-To Conclusions Syndrome' or the MJTCS as it is known medically. There's no need to to be frightened, it's fairly common and is known to have affected about 97% of the male population.

Unfortunately for you, as far as I know MJTCS is not curable. However, it is controllable. No pills or operation required, but I've discovered a few simple steps that involve deep breathing, seeking advice from women and also certain control techniques which are too long to list it. Rest assured, as a fellow blogger, I will do everything in my power to help you get through this.

Be comforted by the fact that the women of the world have recognized the MJTCS... and we have become accustomed to picking up the pieces after such attacks. On this occasion, I did what any woman in my place would do... I went looking for the truth, trying to understand the reality of "Akshay and the case of the hacked blog". I was determined to put your mind at ease and save you from days of bad moods.

This, in spite of the fact that you "jumped to conclusions"; and also in spite of the fact that you called me your "nemesis who was up to her old tricks" (that really, really hurt... sob, sob). A few calls and e-mails later, I had arrived at the solution... it was a simple human error that took place in Blogger when your blog was going to be published... it was not some diabolical conspiracy theory drawn up Doctor Destroyo or any other arch nemesis. Blogger is an open site and sometimes such small errors do happen.

After my task was accomplished, in the cold light of the evening sun, I put aside the hurt and the pain and did one more thing... I forgave you!! Because that's also what we do... we look ahead and seek ways to let peace reign once again. For your sake, I hope you're able to control the MJTCS in the future. I suggest you read the Sister Series regularly for some helpful tips! May the force be with you my friend!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Life's an open serial

What's the best thing a reality TV show can do for once-upon-a-time celebrities other than pressing loads of cash on them? Get them back into the public eye. So when former Indian batsman Vinod Kambli bared his heart and soul on Sach Ka Saamna, India's answer to The Moment of Truth, we all sighed and said: "Ji, hum aapki baatein sun rahe hain". (Yes, we are listening". In an emotionally-charged show, Mr. Kambli said in a polygraph test that his childhood friend Sachin Tendulkar didn't do enough to stop him from going-down self-destructive path which ended a glorious career.

Now many among us may want to know Mr. Kambli's dark secrets, after all we are celebrity junkies. But what possesses people like you and me to let it all hang out on national television? We'd thought that no one would be interested in knowing about our humdrum lives. But how wrong we were. There is a great slavering public out there lapping up every bit of discomfort and humiliation suffered by others. And why not? After all, if there were not so many eager to tell all on national television in exchange for a bit in the bank, there would be no reality shows at all. We in India are some way from the Jerry Springer type shows that remain so popular among a certain section of the US. Jerry Springer, is an evangelist of bad taste, stops at nothing to lower the bar on his show. Most often, the contestants resort to fisticuffs while trying to achieve their moments of fame, much to the delight of the audience.

Why are we so interested in the pathetic lives of people we don't know and never will? Is it that we see a bit of ourselves in their dysfunctional antics? Is it that we want our fifteen minutes of notoriety, even if it means that everyone gets to know our sordid secrets? It's yes to all the above questions. The money goes down a treat as well. So the next time you feel like unburdening yourself, don't ring up your best friend. Just nip to the studios, get it all off your chest and feather the old nest.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

A Day of Silence in an Indian Politician's Life

Newspaper statements were reporting about Congress MP Rita Bahugana had been arrested for delivering inflammatory speeches and using abusive language. I was just thinking of a day when no Indian politician would be allowed to talk. Silence has always been misunderstood in a country like India and has often been mislaid in the land of its origin. National leaders are busy taking cheap potshots at one another. Narendra Modi made sexist and inane comments about Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, during the elections.

Have you ever imagined a day when the Election Commission or the President would impose a day when no politician dare open his or her mouth? Since no government of India would dare risk its tenuous hold on popularity by celebrating the day of silence. It should order a day of silence every week specially during the polling season. Can you imagine the bliss that the Indians would have for 24 hours without the mindless banter of these politicians, the flinging dung of accusation and response, the flabby and often tired spokespersons irritated by the television channels.

Silence has always been the voter's prerogative, and he has become the master of the art, honing its many nuances to brilliant effect. This is why no one really knows what the outcome of the day would be.

Movie Review: Abhimaan

The 1973 Hindi film Abhimaan follows the life of playback singer Subhir Kumar (Amitabh Bachchan) is a very famous singer and he has lots of adoring female fans who sit by the radio and just drown in the soul of his voice whenever his songs are played. Out of all his admirers, the only he pays attention to is Chithra (Bindu) whom he flirts with often at the annoyance of his agent Chandru (Asrani). One day, Subhir receives a letter from his aunt (Durga Khote) who raised him when he was small. He runs to her house for a meeting. There he encounters and falls in love with Uma Devi (Jaya Bachchan), who is his aunt's granddaughter. Uma Devi is also a talented singer and after their marriage, he decides that he will sing with Uma now on.

A film producer approaches Subhir to request Uma to sing for the lead heroine in a film. Subhir happily accepts and Uma reluctantly obliges to sing on her own. Offers pour in and Uma's star begins to shine brighter than her husband's. Subhir is then consumed by jealousy as his own stardom begins to fade. Subir's vain personality is shown in his conversational scenes with Chithra and in the manner he swaggers on the stage at his concert. His forceful and straightforward personality also means that he cuts short to the chase and gets Uma to admit that she likes him without pretending that he has no idea.

The crumbling marriage is shown in subtle ways. Subhir is signing a fan's book but while doing so, his wife enters the room. The fan then snatches her book from Subhir who hasn't completed what he was writing and runs away to Uma. His hurt is visible because he is so used to adoration from female fans that he doesn't even expect their adoration to wane. He is annoyed by their over-the-top declarations of love and compliments, but once they stop pestering him, it bothers him. The movie begins with "Meet Na Mila Re Mann Ka" and most people who are shown enjoying his music are females.

In the honeymoon period of their marriage, Subhir often looks at his wife affectionately in the morning when she wakes him up. But the morning after the autograph incident, the attitude changes. When Uma wakes her husband up in her usual jovial morning mood, she is met with a cold response from him. For a woman whose life revolves around the love of her life companion, the cold gesture has a devastating effect. Thus a chain of events is set in motion where the marriage detoriates even further.

Amitabh Bachchan's portrayal is such that one can feel the pain of his character. Potentially, the character of a jealous and moody husband could have been very unlikable. He acts well in the scenes where he realises that his wife is becoming more popular than him that you feel that you can understand his predicament. Jaya Bachchan is simply excellent. She moves from being a new bride to a victim of shock with ease. Jaya and Amitabh have a nice onscreen chemistry. They look cute in the song, "Loote Koi Mann Ka Nagar", where they exchange flirtatious glances while singing in the film studio.

Revisit Abhimaan and see how movies should be made with conviction. It is a perfect movie to be watched on a rainy day, when there is nothing else to do.

Under Siege

I write to you today, as a broken man. I am disgusted, my faith in humanity shattered. I feel violated and unclean, as though I'd found a scorpion in my underpants. What I am about to say may shock some of you. It may anger many. If there are children or pregnant women in the room, I beg you to stop reading. My tale is not for the faint of heart.

Early Monday morning, as I bit into my chutney sandwich, I flipped open the paper and started to educate myself as to the day's happenings. I was reading the daily entertainment gossip because it's fun. I could tell something was wrong. I could see it in my peripheral vision; extra text! (not, as you might imagine, colloquially called 'textra'. One of the many words I tried to invent that never caught on, like reflectuate and pineapple).

I snapped my head 30 degrees to the right and focussed on reading my previous post . Bile rising in my throat, I started reading. "It has been an extremely interesting week for me and I'm very E (as in excited), It's a week where I set myself free.. from my fears and from life in general! I've said it before and I'll say it again..." What in the name of? That wasn't me! I didn't write that! As my anger rose, my head started to feel increasingly like a pressure cooker. In the back of my mind I wondered academically where the steam would escape from. My nose? But never mind that, there were more important things to deal with. MY BLOG HAD BEEN HACKED!!

Seething, I paced and down my room. Clearly this was the work of diabolical fiend, but who? Who would be so brash, so daring? Who had this kind of a bone to pick with me? Was it Doctor Destroyo? Surely, I had vanquished him for good.... The Night Moth retired after his elbow made it impossible to steer his glider... No, clearly this was someone else. Besides, there was something strange about this. It felt like a new person, but still familiar. I fired up my laptop and started to piece together all the previous posts. As I analysed the writing style, choice of words and the giddy girlish tone, the horrifying truth started to materialise...

The text was from the first paragraph of Divya Shekhar's blog dated May 26! I thought I knew deceit, but I didn't recognize the saboteur right in the front of me! It was old nemesis Divya Shekhar, up to her old tricks again! Clearly, she had managed to hack into my blogger mainframe and tamper with my posts, but how? The Blogger Mainframe Vault is the most secure place on the Internet, protected by a laser grid and a pressure pad alarm system, complete with temperature monitoring. (This maybe CIA Mainframe from Mission: Impossible, I sometimes get them mixed up).

Divya, I don't know how you pulled it off, but I'm going to find out. And I won't rest until I do. Anyone with any information, please e-mail me on . The game is afoot...!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Movie Review: Naalu Pennungal

An Adoor Gopalakrishnan is always a fascinating experience to watch. It was necessary to write the review of this Malayalam film, just to stay in touch with my roots and brush up on my Malayalam. Naalu Pennungal is different from the previous Adoor films, especially since it narrates four different stories, each distinct from the other with no apparent attempt to link them together. All the four stories written by the Jnanpith recipient, the late Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai) speak about feministic concerns. This is the reason why Naalu Pennungal interesting and relevant.

The first story in Naalu Pennungal is Oru Niyamalanghanathinte Katha, which has a street prostitute named Kunjipennu (Padmapriya) as the pivotal character. The story, set against the 1940's relates about what happens when Kunjipennu at last finds someone who loves her dearly and who wants to lead a life with her, as her husband. How society reacts to this is narrated subtly, and forms the rest of the plot.

The second story, titled Kanyaka, is about a very bold and industrious peasant girl Kumari (Geethu Mohandas), who enters into wedlock with a man named Narayanan (Nandu), who runs a shop and who has been praised by all as someone who doesn't have any kind of vice. Whether or not the marriage with Narayanan works out for Kumari forms the rest of the story.

The third story, titled Chinnu Amma, tells the story of a middle-aged homemaker named Chinnu (Manju Pillai), who is issueless and who is as sad as her husband Raman Pillai (Murali) about this. Then there is Nara Pillai (Mukesh), who is on a visit to his native place after being in Tamil Nadu for a long time and who visits Chinnu frequently with lecherous intentions.

The fourth story Nithyakanyaka is about Kamakshi (Nandita Das), a girl from an affluent family, who remains a spinster even after her younger sisters and younger brother get married and live with their families. The plight of Kamakshi and the way the society sees her and the way she reacts t the responses of those around her form the plot. The helplessness and vulnerability of the fairer sex, the inherent strength they have, and the vicissitudes of fate to which women often fall prey in a male dominated society are some of the issues that get discussed in Naalu Pennungal. A very important aspect of the film is that even seemingly minor characters are portrayed with due importance given to them.

Performance wise everyone has done a good job. The technical features too are worth mentioning. The cinematography of MJ Radhakrishnan is excellent. The editing, art work, sound recording, costume designing and the background score make the film stand out. Naalu Pennungal may be a letdown to those who venture out to compare it with Adoor Gopalakrishnan's masterpiece works like Elipathayam, Swayamvaram or Kodiyettam. Just view this film as an independent work, setting aside all prejudices and intellectual presumptions, and you will definitely enjoy the film. If you are the kind that enjoys well-told serious films

Thursday, 16 July 2009

My Bombay, My Home

My neighbours Divya and Sudhir have just returned to live in India after twenty one years. They left the city in the late 1980s when Mumbai was still called Bombay, when life was simple and the city had not been transformed to the maddening Mumbai it is today.

As I gaze at the moutains that I can see from my windows, I find myself rewinding into the past one decade. To a time when going to South Bombay by a double decker bus was a big thing, when the competition to get into a good college was not so cut-throat. Traffic riddled Powai was still a picnic destination. Chembur, a sleepy suburb. Most of these quiet, leafy lanes are gone now. The bungalows razed. Trees felled. The overflowing millions squeezed into stifling matchbox-sized apartments instead. Clothes were bought on the streets or stitched by local tailors. I was very envious of a friend who was the son of an industrialist who owned a pair of GAP T-shirts and Jimmy Choo shoes. His father had the opportunity to visit all countries in business class. Globalisation and mega mall mania seemed like the vagaries of another planet back then.

We spent hours gazing at local trains in Chembur station. Cousins used to come home regularly and we laughed over cups of coffee or tea. So many familiar restaurants are extinct now. Replaced by the swanky coffee shops where the complicated list of coffees confuses you. The good old South Indian coffee or Irani chai fail to find a place in their menus. Even poor Leopold Cafe is marred with bullet wounds. We chatted endlessly on our landlines and wrote long letters to each other. The postman was so important back then. Now even the local grocer has a mobile. Love is declared by an SMS. Sorry and thank you communicated via e-mails. The human hand has been replaced by an impersonal keyboard.

We went for long walks in Joggers Park, we cycled, we swam. We ate everything. No whole wheat bread or organic food. No olive oil or skimmed milk. People seemed healthier then and now so many friends have had heart attacks. We dressed up and went to the theatre to catch a movie. We spent enjoyable Sunday evenings eating idlis, dosas and drinking coffee while chatting with our relatives. Those were really innocent times. We hoped that someone's marriage should be fixed so that we could go to our native places in air conditioned train compartments. Even when someone used to go abroad, we could go in to the terminal, no gun-toting guards or metal detectors spoiled the view. When we saw an unaccompanied bag in the train, we would worry that someone had forgotten and tried to find the identity of the person. Now we run for our lives.

Still staring at the mountains, I worry for Divya and Sudhir. How will they cope in this new Mumbai? Suddenly, I hear a familiar cry. It's my laundry fellow who has come to collect the laundry. The laundry fellow who knew Divya passed away, but his son continues the tradition, coming at the same time his father used to. The flowers still emit the same smells that they emitted when they used to hang outside the doorframes. I suddenly realise that however much Mumbai might change, so much that it is Bombay, never will.

The road leading to my house and college will still get flooded in this monsoon. The spluttering three wheeler autos will somehow take me to my destination. Galli cricket will still be played on Sunday afternoons. The sound of Venkateshwara Suprabhatham will still be heard every morning at five a.m. sharp. As the late Busybee said, "Everybody has some place he/she calls home. This is my home, Bombay. I would not live anywhere else if I was paid five months salary in a lump sum." On behalf of fellow bloggers, welcome home Divya and Sudhir.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Good Morning Sunshine

I'm tired of reading depressing front-page news--of corrupt politicians, Michael Jackson's demise, the city facing water cuts and the country heading for a drought. Helpless senior citizens being murdered in their own homes. Children fighting to be the next toppers amidst cut-throat competition. I'm fed up of the daily grind. All of us pushing and shoving to reach the finishing line in this rat race of life. Rushing to reach work and then the tiring commute back home. Ragging through traffic. Sitting in pigeonholed cubicles. Scowling into computer screens. I need a break from it all. I think we all do.

So remembering Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, I wrote to all my friends around the world asking them to make a list of their favourite things. The tiny stuff that bring joy, even for an instant. Join me for the next few minutes. Forget those big dreams we spend our days, our months, our years chasing. Let's revel instead in those small, trivial, banal moments that bring us joy.

Here is what my friends sent in, in no particular order:

* Riding a cycle very early in the morning or late at night when the streets are empty and the air is cool and warm.
* A cuckoo singing outside the window
* Babies--their smell, their smile, their yawn and their tiny toes.
* An elderly couple taking a stroll hand in hand.
* Chocolate--rain or shine, day or night, happy or sad.
* Listening to the beautiful melody of the flute seller on Sunday mornings
* Buying flowers for no reason at all
* A good, tight hug
* A soft pillow and freshly laundered sheets
* Spending time with family and friends
* Reaching the platform just when the train pulls in
* Watching back to back movies on a Sunday when Monday is a holiday
* Finding a forgotten 100 Rupee note in your back pocket.
* The smell of freshly baked bread
* Singing aloud loudly to old songs
* Listening to someone else with headphones on singing loudly, oblivious to how off-key they are.
* Being welcomed home by your pet especially after a horrible day
* Eating fresh mangoes with vanilla ice cream
* Drinking a warm cup of hot chocolate or freshly ground coffee or a hot cup of pudina chai.
* Watching a child rip open a gift-wrap on a birthday present.
* Going to a class reunion and looking younger than most people there
* Putting off your mobile for a few hours
* Cooking a perfect sunny-side up egg
* Doing a tough Sudoku or crossword and getting it right
* Watching the unabandoned dancing of street children when a wedding procession goes by
* Reading a book that you can't put down, but you don't want it to end.
* Receiving an unexpected letter from an old friend
* The comforting smell of an old sweatshirt
* Walking in the rain, eating a spicy bhutta in the rain, curling up in the bed with a good book along with all the rain songs to keep you company

We all smile in the same language. It costs us nothing. One size that fits all. As one of my friends said, "Sometimes we get so tired of life's burdens that we forget how good smiling feels. Then a stranger we pass on the street or on a train grins at us. Reflexively, we smile back. Suddenly, our spirits lift." So stop reading this right now wherever you are, find something small that makes you and smile. Till then, have a superb day ahead!!

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Monsoon Masti

Mumbai was being lashed by heavy rains yesterday. I am so happy and experienced a sense of relief, thrill and pure excitement. Given that the rain Gods have been so generous, I just wish that they continue to be so generous for the next three months. I wish get I stuck somewhere while coming back from college. So here I was trying to jot down the things one can't and shouldn't miss during the rainy season:

* Having chai and samosas at a dhaba: That's the one quintessential thing that one needs to do atleast once in a year! I personally believe that the monsoons are the best time to visit a dhaba. Don't miss the conversations that take place around you when at the dhaba sipping a hot cup of chai and samosas.

* Go for a long drive: It's great if you're accompanied by someone but even if you're not, music can be best your companion. There's no need to be in a tearing slowly and enjoy the weather. In Delhi, I think The Greater Noida Expressway is a nice option whereas in Bombay, I think the Mumbai--Pune Expressway or the Bandra-Worli Sealink is a better option.

* Take your partner out on a date: It doesn't matter whether you belong to the 50s' generation or the 90s' generation. Monsoons are indeed the best time to liven up the romance. Our good old Bollywood movies bear testimony to the fact. If you've been waiting for that ideal moment to ask someone out, this it. Watch some timeless romantic Bollywood movies to spur up the mood of the place. Well, if you are looking for something more romantic, take a boat ride when there's just a slight drizzle.

* Play football or cricket: If you have a single sporty bone in your body, wear an old t-shirt and hit the open ground and start playing football. Playing football or cricket on a rainy day is always a treat. Just make sure you are prepared to accept the fact that your shirt is not going to be spotless by the time you finish your game.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Finding the real Akshay

I'm in a haze... a daze...with a mishmash of thoughts and emotions swirling in my head. There has been so much that has been happening...good, bad, sad... that just can't seem to find a mood to set up home in even for a few hours!! So, I'm fairly certain that it will be reflected in the randomness of my of my thoughts this week, so please bear with me.

These times are hugely contradictory... they drain you physically and mentally yet those same moments give you the extra adrenalin to surge ahead. Is this making any sense? Maybe not.. but writing this seems to be making the situation a little better.

Writing, I've discovered, is therapeutic. Quite surprisingly, so is Facebook. I'm suddenly hooked. It started as a statement to be in the "cool" crowd... a quest to keep in touch with old school friends and now, I find my fingers twitching to login to Facebook and update myself anytime something interesting happens! So far, I've had a great time on Facebook and so, I'm totally convinced that Orkut is now passe and all my loyalties have now shifted to Facebook.

I'm still depressed about Ustad Ali Akbar Khan... watched the way how his demise got neglected due to Michael Jackson's demise. I cried for his family and specially for Ustad Ali Akbar Khan saab's sister Annapurna and for the fans of Hindustani classical music!! I wish I had learnt classical music in order to appreciate the finer points of music.

It's a wrap... my 14 years of exile from school life is finally over and I'm equally happy now that I have got admission in college and now, I am heading for impromptu samosa sessions. After all, these were the days I had been for over three months now. I can't wait to share the final result with you all yet I'm apprehensive and nervous. Given that I've chosen a language like Japanese and subjects like Economics, Political Science, Psychology and Logical Thinking. I sometimes end up getting cold feet wondering whether if I'll be able to cope with the syllabus... but before I reach college, a weekend holiday is desperately needed for the real Akshay Iyer!

I've heard about how Delhi is frying in the heat and I know that we are lucky to have the rains in Mumbai. But, they can be equally delightful and frustrating. This week I've enjoyed the romance of the rains and have also been stuck in the endless traffic jams caused by the excessive waterlogging that takes place when we have heavy showers! It's the dichotomy of everyday life!

Began writing a new set of short stories. It's just as much as fun writing new interesting stories. That's been my week! Until next time then, have a great weekend and keep smiling so much that the other person is compelled to smile.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Money Hain Toh Honey Hain!!

There has been a silent revolution happening, at least in the big cities, in the field of education. The silent revolution has brought along several changes...unfortunately, not all are good for the society. Education is fast getting out of reach of the common man. There are various boards one can now choose from SSC, ICSE to CBSE, and a few modern equivalents or supposedly better. Like all things new and trendy, so has been the trend with education.

Honestly, the new systems of education don't always mean better. Statistics show that families in India have to spend a lot more on the primary school education of their children, making the fundamental right to basic education for the poor Indian families a distant dream.

Recently, I was sitting with my sister who was working out on her monthly budget, and trying to understand how she could save money. Usually, I just warm up the chair when I am there but when my sister gave me the numbers for the school and tuition fees for her kids, I was appalled!! The amount she was paying for her two kids was probably enough to pay the monthly mortgage on a fancy Land Cruiser. I don't think that the school will consider the option of reducing the fees, on the contrary, the school's fees will only increase. So in about 15 years of education that she intended to provide to the kids, she could have moved into a super luxury apartment. I'm not exaggerating. My head was spinning on hearing the astronomical fees. I couldn't understand how the government could allow educational institutes to charge exorbitant fees?

Since when did greed become a part of the education system and just when did the field of education merge with cold calculations of business? Isn't education the basic right of every Indian? Wasn't education a part of India's effort to build a progressive and productive nation? Education doesn't just help the individual but also society on the whole. I asked my sister why she chose such an expensive school for her kids and why she couldn't send them to an ordinary aided school. She told me that ordinary aided schools just didn't have it anymore (read: not glamorous enough because it didn't have too many kids from wealthy families and the reputation of the family had to be protected).

Besides, these modern schools had better techniques of education and focussed on the overall development of a child. The school buses became a point for consideration since the parents didn't have to worry about getting their children transported to schools. While talking to her, I realized it wasn't education any more but more about social status for parents. Schools are no longer considered as temples of learning but an extension of fashion statements, like acquiring a new pair of Jimmy Choo shoes or being the ideal places to flaunt a new Prada bag. Except, this was a more expensive statement.

I understand the parental need to provide the best for their kids but this trend, especially when it comes to education, needs to be addressed and if possible, stopped. What amazes me is that when exactly did this happen? I seem to have missed it. I was in school till March and education in my school was affordable, to almost everyone. When I compare the scenario with today, it's all about the money!! Thank God, I've many more miles to cross before I become a father.
PS: I've recently started writing a new food blog. The link for that is . I request you to please pay a visit and send me appropriate feedback on or drop comments.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

It started on Tuesday

I was supposed to submit this post in June and here I am submitting my post in July. Honestly, I hate it, because I'm so particular and punctual in writing 'decent' blog posts about how I go about my blog content I write. I like to do things to the best of my abilities, and I am not very punctual. So as you can imagine, I did not panic much.

I'm sure by now you must be wondering how it all went so horribly wrong and delayed the post. Atleast, I hope you are, because if you are not, that makes it really difficult for this story to go on any further. It all started somewhere on a particular Tuesday. (I'm not certain, and I may have to research further, but I have a sneaking suspicion that nothing good happens on Tuesdays. Food for thought...) I'm in a position which every writer frequently finds themselves in, and no one enjoys. The time when you are struck by writer's block. The time is indeed so harrowing that you actually try to kill the block but then it just aggravates the situation.

Now you should know that writing, as a process involves a steady flow of thoughts, choosing the right locations for a story to take place, the kind of mental pictures you imagine of a character. Every single day before you start writing, it's, "Oh, where should I put this female?" or "Oh, the profession is not suiting this character!" or something. Then you begin writing and it's all "Oh, the sun is setting and I haven't even completed half of my story for today!" or "Oh, this character seems so misplaced, change the setting!" or "Oh hello, the costumes look royal when you are trying to portray her as a poor woman." The emergencies never stop, and when you are in the middle of writing a story, what happens? That's right! You get to deal with a lot of brickbats and twice as many emergencies, isn't that fun?

Believe me or not, it is not fun. For some people, it's fun. Some people enjoy high-pressure jobs, they thrive on the challenge of it. If you work in the creative fields, you better be one of them. If you are bursting with ideas and writing, it's great. It's kind of like getting a "freedom from jail" card for anything, you just say "I'm writing, let's figure out this later", and that's it. You are off the hook.

But if you are not writing, you're in deep trouble. You will have to analyse ways to kill your block and overcome the obstacles. You have to haggle around to find inspirations and then bearing the taunts of someone close who'll be praying for your rejection as a writer, and yet one has to manage a dozen problems on the phone in between trying to look for ideas. Oh, and you can't give anything less than your 100 percent to anything, because it'll show. Once again, trust me; those of us who write love it.

That's what we live for. We like tension, the adrenaline, the high stakes of the publishers and high drama. It's the stuff stories are made of. But last week was different. The stakes were higher; the drama; melodramatic!! Tensions rode high, and the adrenaline pumped incessantly. I spent last week in trying to complete this blog post since my "Ab Ke Saawan" post, which got published in June. Yes, it all started somewhere on Tuesday.