Friday, November 28, 2008

I mourn...

I mourn…

The death of all those innocents caught in the crossfire of a mindless terror war. Because in the final analysis, politicians will have their say and innocents will lose their lives.

I mourn…

The death of values that we hold dear. Values like trust and hope. And with the way things are, there’s just despair all around, they are not coming back to us in a hurry.

I mourn…

The death of our sense of freedom. While our fatalistic sense tells us that nothing is certain, fear is now taken to another level with the knowledge that it’s very easy for terrorists to enter and take siege of our beloved city

I mourn…

The fact that the ones who we can depend on the most, the ones who are prepared to lay down their lives to protect us, the ones who have reinstated our faith in the system are the ones who have gone into combat, in the frontline, virtually unprotected.

I mourn…

The fact that the ones we would lay our implicit trust in, are the ones we have lost.

I mourn…

The short term memory of the people. Because the family of those who laid down their lives are soon going to go into oblivion after 10 days of intensive melodramatic coverage and interviews by the media.

I mourn…

The vilification and mindless destruction like the Taj Hotel. Because the Taj Mahal Hotel represents to a Mumbaikar an iconic symbol of Mumbai as closely linked as the Taj Mahal itself is the symbol of India My heart aches at the rape of the Grand Old Lady. Because every flame destroys our pride in our city, our spirit and our self-respect, every thing that the Taj Hotel represents for us.

I mourn…

The silence of those who vociferously proclaimed war against another community and proclaimed they would wipe them out. Why can’t the same spirit be used to wipe out terror? And where are these voices now? Where is that warrior spirit today?

I mourn…

The resilient spirit of Mumbai. Because no longer is it resilience, no longer is it tolerance, it’s almost ‘doormat’ behaviour and we are being taken for granted because of that.

And I would willingly mourn

The death of this Mumbai spirit we are so famous for, because it is time that we stopped being tolerant and rose in anger against one common enemy, terror. And there can be no holds barred in this war, no resilience, no tolerance, just war.

I mourn.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Traffic Offenders and other roadies (2)

The Diesel Dawdler

There you are at the red light.
Second in line. In the first lane.
The signal turns green.
You are all systems go. The guy in front refuses to budge.
Your civic sense makes you refrain from honking.
You wait. And wait some more.
By this time your heart is sinking with the painful realization:
The vehicle in front of you is a diesel car!

I don’t know the anatomy of the diesel car engine. I don’t know the physics of torque and BHP either. I just know that diesel engines, (or vehicles that have them) don’t move the way they should. And especially when they should.
I only wish the owners of these vehicles knew that. And if they do know that, I wish they would accept the harsh reality of a diesel vehicle… they dawdle. They simply dawdle.

Seen reluctant children been dragged to school by enthusiastic parents? The children are sleepy, irritated or outright bawling. Yet the parent smiles brightly at everyone around as if their enthusiasm compensates for a reluctant child.
The diesel car is somewhat like this child. Owned by an enthusiastic parent who dreams of doing the impossible. He is a guy who encouraged by Shaw ‘dreams of things that never were and says Why not?’. Now I am not one to discourage the leaders of tomorrow to achieve the impossible but a diesel engine trying to pick up speed in the first lane is not impossible, it just plain Darwinian stupidity. It’s against the law of nature. It’s not meant to be.

I am told that it takes the diesel engine some time to warm up. But once that happens, it can take on any petrol car. Now if anyone can understand that I can. But surely diesel car owners know that it takes about half an hour of running for the engine to really get warmed up? In a city like Mumbai, try getting half an hour of steady running. And then allow the first-gear-second-gear-stop-again traffic to let you take on anything… even a cow.

Picture this.
A flyover. Peak hour traffic. And a diesel beauty in the first lane.
The second lane occupied by a truck. The third by a bus.
And you, lucky you, are in the first lane, skipping along to work, just in time for the important meeting with the powers-that-be. For once, you are singing.
And then it happens.
You spy with your narrowed eye the diesel car! Right in front of you.
You hit it! Not the accelerator… the panic button.
You look around for an alternative. No way. The second lane has an over laden truck. The third a school bus. No one is giving you time of day.
No one is giving you way. So you wait for the diesel engine to accede. But not a chance.

The owner belongs to ‘I have a dream’ category, and today his dream is to go from 0 to 60 in 10 seconds flat. Give up dreaming, man, and let me go, you think, as you tailgate the diesel dawdler and pray for the heavens to part the highway lanes. Nothing like that is happening, of course. Divine intervention is probably busy with more important issues.

Your patience is wearing out. You flash your headlights. No effect. You now proceed to honk. Bad idea. The dreamer now has an ego issue. He will not go. Will not let others go. He will dawdle. After all, that comes naturally to him.

Now for all those who have diesel cars, I have a little advice to give you. It comes from really, really understanding the essence of diesel cars. Understanding, because I have spent countless frustrated moments behind one or the other.

Dear friend, just park your car on the side, pat it lovingly on its shiny bonnet and give it a nice name. Start with Plato. Move on to Aristotle. Want to get radical? Nietzsche? Camus? Just plain simple accept that your car is a philosophical car. When asked to accelerate: It thinks. Then moves. No leap- before-you-look in a generation brought up on speed. What more would you want out of a travel companion in this day and age?

So please go ahead and do this quickly. And when you are going to do this, please, please do let me know. Because that’s the exact moment that I would like to overtake. Me? I am still part of the rat race!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Traffic Offenders and other roadies (1)

I just read it in the afternoon daily. The headline boldly states that all traffic offenders have had it; their luck has run out. While they go on to elaborate about drunk driving and other offences there are other offenders that seem to be going unnoticed. I wish to draw the attention of the traffic police to these.
This one here is just the beginning…

Now let’s face it It’s a jungle out there. The breed (four-wheeled, four-legged, and even two-legged kinds) you meet on the road as you wend your way to your destination is quite something else. Here is an attempt to identify the real offenders on the road. Through this and other posts.
With a plea to the traffic police to do something about it.

The Holy Cow

Let’s start with non-vehicular intrusions. Chances are you are likely to say, “How now, brown cow” to the local temple inmate. The holy cow.
Don’t get me wrong. I am pro cows. Pro animals. I am just an anti cow-on-the-road-and-not-in-cow-shelter person. I just feel that every creature has its place in the universe and the third divider after the fourth signal on S.V. Road is not really what the great Creator planned for this divine animal.

There she is in all here glory. All brown and lean legged. She eyes you like a smart teenage girl chewing gum with complete disdain. You could earn your celestial brownie points by feeding her from the mound of grass (that is anyway within her reach) or you could simply be considerate and not honk even if she stands steadfastly in your way looking at you like you are quite another species.

In any case, wend your way without the swish of her tail cleaning your windshield and chances are you will meet her cousins further up the road. Unfortunately these are really likely to be up ON the road, sitting plonk in the centre of the busy street ruminating on various aspects of city life. I personally like to think, that they must be thinking over the sad state of traffic in today’s day and age.

Go north and you will meet some more country cousins. The friendly buffalo. You could manoeuvre around the hulk but I suggest you maintain your distance. You don’t want to blow your horn, because they are armed with more lethal ones. And you don’t want to get into an argument with them because they speak a louder language. All you can do is arm yourself and your car with loads of deo. (And please. Don’t even bother with Axe. You don’t want that effect here.)

What can the traffic police do?

In the first place, proceed with cowtion. Who is the real offender here? Anyone worth their two cowries knows that these fellow bovine roadies cannot be arrested, disrespected or otherwise maltreated. It’s their owners who are to blame for sheer neglect and callousness. Can’t temples have modern cowsheds with automatic feeding facilities? And cleaning facilities too? And can’t the ones who have parked themselves in the centre of the busy arterial road in peak hours be gently led away by their owners? Can’t those owners then be heavily fined? Can’t we ensure that the cow shelters actually shelter cows and not some undefined, dark activity?
Wouldn’t you agree that there are many parts of Mumbai where traffic will flow smoother if this one aspect was taken care of? And you never know, we may even get additional blessings from these divine animals.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

A reason, a season, a lifetime.

This weekend was spent in celebrating a birthday of a close friend.
And while the birthday surprise was quite another story, I got started thinking of friends and friendships.
And I thought that one has so many friends but with each one of our friends we have a different, a somewhat unique relationships. There are some friends who have come with you all the way from your childhood. Neighbours, acquaintances, school mates, college mates who then by sheer number of years you’ve known them have become your friends.
There are friends who have been your colleagues and then somewhere down the line through hurried office lunches and stressed deadlines, you’ve bonded as friends.
Then there are friends you don’t even remember how you got friendly with. And when you do sit down and remember, it’s rather uncanny.
There are friendships that seem to be doomed from the beginning. But you just don’t get the message. Till you drift apart and you know that that chapter is over.
There are friendships that could have been better if you only had the time.
There are those that just didn’t get started.
Some friendships don’t need time. They just need an sms.There are friends you just send messages to. No phone calls. No emails. Just smses. Forwards that you think they will like. It brings a smile on your face as you send it imagining the smile on their face. And you feel good.
Then there are friends you simply forward emails to. No phone calls. No smses. Just email forwards. A kind of sharing, a kind of wordless acknowledgement of what you think they will like.
And they send you similar stuff. And once again, there is a kinship in that smile of sharing.
Then there are facebook friends, msn friends so to speak, who you talk to through various update messages, or a live chat on the net. You’d probably not call or email them. And you probably don’t know how to call or email them if you needed to. You are so used to catching them on facebook.
And then there are these friends who come and go from your lives. Who you have been close to and they just disappear from your life as suddenly as they came in.
And suddenly you realize the truth in the statement: People come into your life for a reason, for a season, for a lifetime.
And the truth is, everyone has had their share of all these kinds of friends. Haven't you?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A green thumb?

My first attempt at trying to grow plants was when we stopped by at this large nursery on our way back from Karjat. It was close to December and poinsettias were in bloom. Poinsettias, as you know, are those pretty Christmassy plants that are green with red flowers on top. So I came home armed with two pretty poinsettias in their respective pots. Perfect for Christmas, I thought, pleased with my advance planning. The next morning however presented quite another picture.

My kittens, Caesar and Cleo had been busy through the night. Being methodical creatures, they had done extensive research on the new, different smelling entrants to the household. The pots were broken. The mud strewn around the large balcony. Clumps of brown mud had tiny little tell-tale paw prints on them. Every bit of the former poinsettias had been pulled apart. Each leaf had been separated from every other leaf and stem. And the whole floor had the much-wanted Christmassy feel of red and green, though two months too early. The kittens looked with sufficient satisfaction at the work they had done and my admonishing them did not seem to have much effect. My poinsettias gone, my red and green Christmas remained simply on paper, and I postponed my greening efforts till when the kittens were a little older.

Some time later, someone gifted us a bonsai plant. It was an adeneum beautifully planted in a flat blue ceramic pot. With it came care instructions. Perfect, I thought, the perfect way to develop my green thumb. In sheer enthusiasm I went out a bought a book on bonsai. And read whatever I could on it. I read and re-read the chapters which talked about snipping the roots from time to time. I read about putting wires around the branches to train them to grow in a particular direction. I read that a bonsai would be slow growing but I waited impatiently and checked anxiously every morning to see if the little tree had grown even just a little.
And every morning I itched to do something to the bonsai so that I could finally claim that I can grow plants. But the bonsai stubbornly refused to show any signs of growth. It remained little, stunted and disappointing.

Then one day I came home and found the pot cracked, the bonsai leaning dangerously out of it and mud strewn all around the table. Breathlessly my son came running to me with a cricket bat in his hand. “The ball hit it” he proclaimed, absolving himself of the blame immediately. (There did not seem much difference between him and my errant kittens in terms of remorse.)

Looking at this setback as an opportunity I decided to put my ‘rooting’ skills to test. A new pot, additional mud, some scissors and I clumsily started. Toiled. Finished. And failed. In a few days, the leaves fell off the tree (no, it was not autumn) and the bonsai bid us a sad farewell. This time I decided to wait even more. Till I learnt how to look after plants. For the time being, I decided to concentrate on the children and the cats.

Then last year during my stay in the US I helped my sister plant some bulbs. The ground was beginning to harden with the frost and we dug shallow little holes on a cold winter day and planted the bulbs. They would bloom in spring, she told me. Spring seemed a long time coming. But somehow I got no news about my bulbs. A bit disappointed, I let it be. I would have to admit to myself that no green thumb was happening. Till finally one day I mustered up the courage to ask my sister. And she said, yes, the tulips bloomed and looked gorgeous all through spring. And then she sent me a picture in the mail. Yes, I said, punching the air with a fist. I do have it in me. (At least, I have a sister who has a green thumb!)

From time to time, I examine my thumb. It still remains depressingly brown, somehow reminding me of parched earth. But once in a way, I see a glimmer of a green vein under the skin and I feel happy… I am getting there.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

He’s a friend

At no time in the history of mankind have the words, Man is a social animal, been so true.

It’s one clear reason why the Web now is Web 2.0, a content-led interface that is driving the world and more importantly building, rekindling and empowering relationships across distances, literal and virtual. With a plethora of social networking sites that have cropped up on our screens there’s no way you cannot be connected. So one is Tagged, LinkedIn, Facebooked, Orkutted, Twittered and all this, if not in WAYN. If you are not on at least 4 or 5 out of these you are probably anti-social, asocial or just plain technology challenged.

Honestly I am not against this aggressive networking, this virtual, constant holding of hands across countries, with friends and family every minute of the day. It allows me to connect with a whole lot of people with just one ‘status’ message; it gets me answers from a vast network of professionals with just one well-directed question; why, it even lets me know what the rest of the people who matter to me are doing. I feel connected.

It’s just that the connections get a bit too much sometimes. And this is what hurts my conservative sensibilities.

Remember as children we each had our ‘best friend’? As we grew older, we got more discerning and discriminating. Not everybody was a friend. Grammar taught you that you could have only one ‘best’ friend. And as you went on into a cut-throat working environment you knew that there were no friends, there were either colleagues, and/or er, backstabbers! You left friends behind. And caught up with them over weekends.

Till now. Till social networking sites made everyone your friend.

So here’s, say Sameer. You and Sameer have worked in the same organization for a long period of three months. Your conversations with him were limited to a polite smile and an “Excuse me” when you needed passage. You acknowledged him as part of someone else's team but it ended there. Then Sameer disappeared. You did not notice his absence till about two to three weeks later when someone mentioned something about a summer trainee.

Now suddenly you see a ‘dude’ pic of Sameer on your favourite networking site. Sameer has ‘added’ you as a friend. Wow. You feel honoured. Can you refuse? No. Some sites even ask you to say Yes or else “Sameer will think you have said NO”. Oh the shock and horror of it all. That the summer trainee Sameer will think you have said NO, he is not my friend. So you add him as a friend. And you are linked just because of those three momentous months that Friend Sameer spent on the fringes of your consciousness at work.
So summer trainee Sameer is now a friend.

Here’s another gentleman, let’s call him, Kunal. Apparently he has been a colleague a decade ago. So he needs to be added. I peer into his thumbnail picture. Nope. Nada. I don’t recall this person. Don’t recognize him at all. Then vainly I decide that not everybody ages as well as I do (ahem!) and I figure that that bald head with jowls could have been different looking in his salad days. I add him to my list.
Later during a moment of leisure I realize that I honestly don’t remember him. And in frenzied, nail-biting moments I try to figure out what will really happen if I do happen to meet him. I am sure one of those moments is lurking around the corner for me. One dreaded day, Friend Kunal will come up to me and say “I am your friend” at which point, what will I do???
For the first time in the history of mankind, it’s getting difficult to recognize friends.
So here’s my humble (and you may think anti-social) request.
Could I ask all my ‘friends’ on all the various networking sites that I am present on to please, please carry that 1 cm by 1 cm thumbnail photo to identify themselves when we actually do meet?
Now tell me, have you ever done that with a ‘friend’ before???

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Safari Across the Mind


It started out with a simple itinerary across East Africa. It ended in an exploration of the deepest recesses of the mind.
Our journey took us to various national parks and game reserves of Kenya and Tanzania. We were in close, almost intimate, touch with nature. In close touch with the wild. Flora and fauna alike. We beheld sights that took our breath away. Sights that once were common to mankind. Flamingo pink sunrises. Sunsets that set the skies on fire. A bed of white and pink spreading its all-pervasive bouquet into the atmosphere. The fragrance of flowers blossoming quickly replaced our expensive urban perfumes.

We saw birds in plumage we had never imagined before. The sweet sounds of twittering birds roused us from our sleep at dawn. The sound of the winged creatures replaced shrill alarm clocks and other strident city noises: a hornbill lustily calling to its mate. Crested cranes in regal pairs chatting amiably with each other. Glossy blue starlings that flew across our faces whistling impudently much like the city Romeos. Even guinea fowl twittering in the face of imminent danger.

We experienced the joys of living in a natural world. Joys that we have sacrificed to civilization. Going for game drives we unlatched the top of our combis - the vehicle so common to the country - little knowing we'd be unlatching emotions deeply buried within us, getting answers to questions we had never asked before.

How close we were to the wild. And how close we got to our own selves! Our own real natural "wild" selves. How similar was man's nature in the uncivilized wilderness to that of the wild! It was all clear in that wild African light.

For instance, the two solitary lions we saw lazing in the sun - far away from their pride. Just like men who had taken off for the day from their families. In the distance lay the pride - several lionesses with two cubs - playful and irrepressible. The mothers half-dozing keeping a watchful eye on the intrepids. They say the lion family is patriarchal. He is the king of the jungle. But the only obvious function the male seemed to perform was a majestic role in expanding the pride. The female hunted and fed the pride (the male however, ate first after the kill: similar to the traditional Indian woman waiting on her husband!), she bore and looked after the cubs and even protected her entire pride from imminent danger. So much like the role of the human mother!
But the wild lived in constant danger. Of other wild animals. Of stampedes. Of floods. The list is endless. And yet when it came to maternal instinct each one reigned supreme in its own special way.

Like the mother cheetah leading her two cubs across the plains. Only to walk into a herd of elephants - some adult, some calves. There was a hush as we watched with bated breath. Huge ears flapped noiselessly. (Elephants are known to communicate at frequencies inaudible to the human ear). The herd slowly sidled in place. Each of the calves was flanked on either side by an adult for protection. And then one silent signal later, all hell broke loose. The very earth trembled as the leader of the herd trumpeted loudly and the entire herd stampeded in the direction of the mother and her two cubs. Pushing her cubs in a different direction to confuse the charging elephants, the cheetah swiftly disappeared amongst the tall dry grasses of the plains.

For us, the world had stopped turning for that moment. No longer were we ready to make any moral judgements on the wild. We had just learnt another lesson in life. It was maternal combat at its most primal. It was one mother against the other. It was the protective instinct that we all inherited and lost along the way. It was a whole family united against a common danger. It was a clear display of the survival instinct. Could we ever show such unison in the face of threat? It was a question that throbbed in our hearts long after the stampeding elephants dissolved into the sunset.

The hunters and the hunted. The herbivores and carnivores. The wild and the domesticated! Where have we gone wrong? Has civilization helped or hindered? As mothers do we even come this close to the protection offered by a savage cheetah or a defiant herd of pachyderms? Questions in the wild. Like feline claws that make deep gory lacerations on its kill, our minds were notched with predatory scars - indelible, irreconcilable.

Maybe we were all wrong to evolve. Maybe civilization was a big mistake. Maybe we need to be in the wild and come back to civilization for a break. Our African safari lasted for two weeks. The safari that we took across the realms of the mind was unending. This time we were seeking not glimpses of wild animals but just a fleeting flash of the truth.
But like the stealthy cheetah, who with amazing quickness disappears into the tall grasses of the savanna, the answers are still elusive.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dig that!


Every morning for the last few years I get into my car to go work with a sense of adventure. And it’s not just about work!

It begins as soon as I drive out of my gate. It’s thanks to the local municipal corporation, with a little help from the road authorities, the telephone and electricity departments. Sometimes I think they all work like a constellation on an astrological chart (my astrological chart, particularly) so that I have an eventful ride to work and an equally fun drive back home!
It goes like this. In the rainy season, the weather assists the powers-that-be to keep the roads in a fairly challenging condition. Anyone living in Mumbai in the rains will understand that I mean potholes. But the rains help the constellations for just about 4 months a year, give or take a week. What about the remaining 8 months?
This is my theory.
Every car in Mumbai is equipped with a satellite-equipped, highly sensitive, SRI(Smooth Ride Intervention) System. You are obviously not told about this but it is there. A central tower (at the SRI System Headquarters) is linked to this satellite system and someone there surveys your ride from one destination in the city to another.

I have adequate proof of this central repository of data intervening the minute the information from my car’s SRI System beams on to their radar screens.
It works like this.
One morning I set out for work and the road is smooth, the traffic signals flow well-timed into one another and I reach office in about 20 minutes.
With my indomitable optimism and sense of gratitude I thank my stars for making this one of the better drives to office. Uh-oh. Mistake Number One. Big mistake. Beamed even bigger on to the SRI System central tower.
A being sees the screen and proclaims in a gruff voice.
“That was way too soon. Check the route quick.”
Red alerts flash all around the headquarters. My route to the office blinks in an unearthly bright green on the screen.
“There” the SRI Head points out. “That’s where the problem is. I want that taken care of right now”. If any of you doubt the efficiency of any of the local authorities, now’s the time to sit up and take notice. The work is carried out in minutes; while I unsuspectingly sit through strategic meetings in the office. On my way home in the evening, I will grimly realize that I have been ‘spotted’.
At the end of the day, I proclaim to a colleague once again how smooth the drive to work was. Mistake Number Two.

I sail the first few minutes in wild elation on the way home. So encouraging is the drive, that the mind has already started making plans. Gym? Local errands? A quick coffee with a friend? There’s time, I think happily. I’ll reach home in daylight. Famous last words. Be warned: the SRI System fitted in your car is also capable of picking up your trains of thought. Happy Thoughts was Mistake Number Three.

I come to the junction closest to home… destination barely 3 km away. And there it is: A 3-feet trench dug right across the road!

It’s boarded up with a small scrawl on a corrugated tin sheet which cryptically tells me: Road closed. (Actually they could have proclaimed, 'Road open' and I would have still had to agree. But right now is not the time to get caught up with words.)
There is no place to take a U turn. As I struggle and inch my car back and forth carefully to avoid the 3 feet trench I try and think.
Couldn’t they have put up a sign early up the road saying this is a dead end?
Did they think that technically it isn’t a dead end because someone like Bond, James Bond, could have flown over it?
I make a mental note to join MI6 just to get Bond’s car, but right now I have to deal with a slightly lesser, yet dearer vehicle.

Sweating, cursing, trying to save my humble four-wheeler from other turning and returning beings I back track almost half the way, find the alternative route home jam-packed with other drivers. The SRI System headquarters have it all covered with cold and calculating efficiency. There are two paunchy policemen casually chatting with each other at one point, systematically ignoring the traffic snarl. An errant auto rickshaw driver has created a gridlock at another. A full-fledged fight reigns between a cyclist and a car driver and two pedestrians. There is general mayhem. I switch off my car, switch on the music system and wait. This is going to be a long one.

When I reach home late in the night, I mentally make a note of taking another route to work tomorrow. But I stop myself immediately. After all the SRI System works almost every where. And right now at the headquarters they are trying to second-guess me. I can see the lurid green light blinking and that SRI System Head saying, “There. That’s the route for tomorrow. Dig that.”

My undying sense of adventure takes over as I leave for work the next morning.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Detail Therapy

(My women friends will relate more to this. But brave men can plod on.
And no, that up there is NOT a spelling mistake.)

The irresistible urge to splurge happens to the best of us from time to time. The fingers itch. The mind cannot concentrate. And credit cards keep jumping at you menacingly waving themselves in front of your face challenging you with their respective credit limits. Suddenly your wallet seems fat, the bank balance virtually overflowing and you know you have to do it. You need to spread some goodness around in the world of trade and commerce, you need to relieve yourself of some of the moolah and move on to a something close to a state of nirvana.
You have to indulge in retail therapy! And the quicker you do it, the better.

But times, they are a-changing.
Television newscasters grimly talk about the economic meltdown. Sensex charts look depressingly like sad smileys. Bar charts seem to be placed upside down. And everyone, but everyone, is busy giving advice on how to hold on to the money one has. To lesser mortals like us, that is a big hindrance. It prevents us from going in for that vital bit of therapy that is much needed for our emotional, psychological and even (yes!) physical well being. (And if you do go for it, there’s that many shopping bags full of guilt!)But fear not. In times of an economic downturn I now have the perfect solution. It simply requires an investment of time, it actually saves you money AND, hear me well, AND, it satisfies those irresistible urges to shop.
It’s called Detail Therapy.
It goes somewhat like this.
Let’s presume you have to urge to buy a bag (could be a lip gloss, but for now, a bag is fine). Now the rest of the world (largely consisting of men) will turn around and tell you that you don’t need a bag, you simply want one. But confess your heart’s desire to a fellow woman friend and she empathises. Friend B offers to join in (without telling you that she herself is in a ‘craving’ mode). And you set off with Friends A & B in tow armed with a mission.
MISSION. That’s where the crux lies. The MISSION is very important (note the capital letters?!). Before you embark on this particular beating-the-Sensex shopping spree, you need to get your MISSION in place. This is where the fun begins.
Let’s face it. You really don’t have anything to go with the lilac shirt with a lemon trim, you tell Friend A. Of course you need a bag for that shirt, says Friend A. Friend B pipes in, it would complete the outfit. The cavity in your heart deepens. Imagine till now your outfit has not been complete. What a disaster!
Lilac with lemon trim is your MISSION for the day.
Three shop owners don’t know what lilac is. One enthu cutlet of a salesman shows you something that’s distinctly lime green. You turn him to ashes with one look. You perfunctorily check out violets, purple and even mauve. But then that’s not what you want right? Stay with the details, hon. You need to ‘complete’ that outfit. You toss your Burgundy highlights in disgust as you walk away. Friends A & B do the same with Plum and Blonde.
You walk into Store Four. There’s promise here. (You don’t know whether to be happy or sad. Remember you are on that MISSION?) The PYT there is more than helpful. (You eye her lilac lip gloss with something close to envy bordering on irritation but you contain yourself. That can come later). With arched eyebrows you ask for your desire. She seems reasonably impressed with your request. Of course she has something that’s lilac with lemon trim. Now your heart really sinks. That’s not really the idea, is it?
She sashays around and gets you something that’s lilac with a lemon trim.
O0o yes! Friends A & B gush.
Oh no! you say to yourself.
Never one to give up, you eye the bag and take it out to check in the daylight.
Oh my God! You shudder.
Friends A & B gasp. Look what happens in the daylight, you say. They agree.
Miss Lilac Lip Gloss tic-tocs gingerly into the daylight on her 6-inch stilettos to check out the problem. Her slim jeans are already bothering you more than the price tag.
The lemon trim looks white in the daylight!, you tell her. This will just not do. She looks a trifle disappointed but her face brightens up again as she turns around and points a well-manicured finger at you. I do believe I have the right thing for you, this time.
This time it’s a lemon one with a purple trim. B…B…but, you stammer, because it is heartbreakingly beautiful and you need this one. The credit cards are beginning their jig again in front of your eyes: Gold, Titanium, Signature!
No… You can’t give up MISSION so easily. There’s got to be something. (You are beginning to fall in love with this bag. Tonight you’ll dream of it… but right now there’s work to be done!)
You look pleased. (You are good at this, aren’t you?) You start checking out lemon with lilac. You open the zippers and close them. Check out the pockets, open the zippers again with a whoosh that seems to irritate Miss Slim Jeans, much to your delight. And then you see it. I mean, you hiss, how could they? Friends A & B, who have been so far busy checking out the blues and greens crowd around lemon with lilac. They too shudder with horror. Purple thread to stitch the lilac bits? How could they?!
Miss Lilac Lip Gloss pales. She agrees completely with you.
You launch into a tirade that would put national politicians to shame. (And in today’s context, reasonably impress President Barrack Obama). This, you say, is what keeps the country behind. This lack of attention to detail. Don’t they know? God lives in the details? Indignantly the three of you walk out, once again with that practiced turn of your highlighted heads. You punch a fist in the air. You’ve done it!
You’ve shopped. You’ve not spent a penny. You’ve ranted against the nation. And tomorrow when the urge hits again, you can still come back to look for the lilac bag with a lemon trim.
Or that Lilac Lip Gloss?
For today, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Thanks to Detail Therapy.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Changing Seasons

The season is changing.
There’s a distinct nip in the air in the mornings these days. Mumbai is beginning to get cooler. While the days are still hot, one can actually feel the relief of a cooler night. Everyone is talking about the changing season. And like all change of seasons this will bring with it the good and the bad.
It’s funny how in Mumbai we herald each season with all its demerits. The rainy season brings out the best in “pot-hole” conversations. The summer makes humidity a hero. But now comes, to my mind the best part of the year: the cooler season (people from New Delhi laugh when we call it winter!) Still… Mumbaikars will go on relentlessly against it.
You’ll hear a colleague cough, point painfully at her throat, shake her head mournfully and say, “Bad cough… this season!”
You’ll see someone who’s been AWOL in office after a few days and he will roll his eyes upwards and say, “Was down with a viral… this season!”
You’ll suggest an ice-cream after a movie and there’ll be a shocked voice saying, “Ice cream? This season?!!”
But demerits aside, it's fun to watch the change.
Slowly Mumbai begins to dress warmer, long sleeves, jackets, caps, socks, shawls (however flimsy) and the occasional pullover. The air is full of the musty smell of winter clothing stacked away through the last eight months. Moth ball perfume reigns. By December Mumbai has pulled together a fairly decent winter wardrobe and people walk with bent backs and arms folded across, laughably, like those in Moscow do when the temperatures are sub-zero.
Welcome to a new season.
While we don’t experience Fall or Autumn out here, in the US, Autumn is slowly giving way to Winter. I was there last year around this time to witness this glorious change. In October all the trees were a riot of golden yellow, flaming orange, gorgeous red, burnt sienna, and brilliant brown. Toy houses flanked by red, yellow and orange trees looked straight out of picture postcards. Come Halloween and the leaves began to fall and below every bare tree the falling leaves patterned themselves to look like reflections of the tree itself. While most homeowners complained about the leaves they had to rake, I found the riot of autumnal colours almost a fitting welcome to a winter that would just be somber shades of grey and white. The season was changing and so were the colours.
And now, today we witness another historic change in the US – this autumn turning to winter season – with Barrack Obama leading in what will be a historical Presidential election in the US.
For the entire world witnessing this, it’s not just a change of season; it’s the season of change.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Déjà vu Nights

Dedicated to some of my favourite new parents (in chronological order!) Roopal & Dinesh, Burzin, Kamal, Madhavi, Zeth & Shahrukh.

Some of my dearest colleagues and young friends have just become new parents. As one who is an old hand at this (literally and figuratively) from time to time they turn to tell me or ask me about their ongoing trials and tribulations with a tiny little thing that is suddenly ruling their lives (for most of the guys, it was earlier their cellphone or PS2!).

The other day an anxious colleague harrowed by sleepless nights asked me, “When does it end?” I tried being diplomatic and reassured him but I was myself not convinced with my answer.
That night, I tossed and turned and realized that it never does end.
Becoming a parent changes your life. It changes your days. But more importantly it changes your nights! But then, in my mind, it’s all worth it.

So here’s my advice to my young friends and new parents.
Remember the time you excitedly partied the night away and crept home only to be discovered by the milkman?
Remember the time you stayed over at a friend’s place and chatted in the darkness and didn’t realize it till the first rays of the sun peeped through the window?
Remember the time early in your career you worked all night with an adrenaline high for an important assignment and viewed with bleary-eyed satisfaction your handiwork in the early hours of the morning?
The time you went out of town with friends on a night train and sang through the pitch darkness much to the irritation of the neighbouring gentleman?
Those moonlit walks on the beach as you strolled hand in hand with your beloved not wanting to lose out on even a moment of togetherness?

Now’s the time you can really proclaim yourselves as creatures of the night, night birds, owls… Now’s the time to live that nightlife all over again.
Now’s the time to think of all those happy times as you jump out of bed at the first sound of an urgent wail.
Now’s the time to party at 3:30 am when your little one gives you one of her most gorgeous smiles.
Now’s the time to chat, even though the response may be just a incomprehensible gurgle.
Now’s the time to work, whether it’s warming the milk to the right temperature (test it on the back of your hand, dear) or changing that (smelly) diaper
Now’s the time to sing (of course, lullabies) and be heard with admiration, for once!
Now is the time to walk… pace up and down… for seemingly long hours… till the tiny little bundle you are holding gently drops off to sleep.
And then in the quiet of the night you look at that angelic face and you feel of all the nights that you spent awake, wasn’t this the one night that was worth staying up for?

Déjà vu, anyone?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Understanding metal

Strange isn’t it? Here I am talking about quakes and there I am on Saturday at a rock concert! Great Indian Rock. Is it called a concert? (I have to keep up with new terminology!) Gig? Yes, it’s a gig. (I may be wrong in which case one of the die-hard death metal fans will correct me.)
So getting back to the show. I had a reason to be there. But didn’t want to stand out like a sore thumb. I upped the average age of the audience manifold simply by entering that place!

For those dinos who’ve not been to a metal show before, hang on. Clear instructions follow.
Try and look young.
Wear a black T shirt and blue jeans. That’s the non-conformist way to dress. The beauty is everyone, but everyone, dresses like that. (Must be a sign of teenage rebellion, but I’m not complaining)
As soon as you get there start jerking your head. It’s called head banging… (Against an imaginary wall, I suppose, but no one told me that).
And don’t, for heaven’s sake, display your ignorance by going close to the mosh pit. (What’s that? I’ll come to that later!)
The show was good. The part of it that I watched (Bhayanak Maut) was very good. It was good for two clear reasons. Maybe three. One, I knew all those up on stage. Second, I could even go backstage and see them up close and personal without my distance glasses. Brownie points there. And third, these guys ‘commanded’ a huge audience. There was some kind of palpable elation from the time they went on stage. That’s even before they said their first four-letter word or banged out the first note. That’s some standing!

The ‘rock-on’ sign held high, the band went on to belt out ‘metal’ to a high quality ‘moshing’ audience.
Now about the mosh pit. Once again, for the Neanderthals, it’s that area near the stage where the most avid fans hang out. Only here they don’t hang out… they really hang by a thread. I can’t refer to them as anything but ‘beings’.

Heads jerk back and forth in a frenzy. Sometimes a head spins… whipping long locks of hair in a circle. Then the head-banging, hair-spinning being begins to move in a somewhat random fashion. Backwards. Forwards. Sideways. The attitude is the same as what Brooke Shields had proclaimed about her Calvin Klein jeans way back in the eighties, “Nothing comes between me and my Calvin Kleins”. Here is the metal being. Nothing, he believes, nothing can come between him and his enjoyment of this genre of music. But to my logical mind there lies the problem. Because there are several other beings there thinking the same thing. And they clash. These black-metal-band-T-shirt-blue-jean-clad beings with long hair and necks that risk whiplash injury any moment, clash-crash-bang into each other. As soon as their favourite band goes upstage, the mosh pit comes alive. Hands rise up in the air with the rock on sign. And the activity if it can legitimately be called that begins.

That evening, the mosh pit was somewhat subdued when we entered. Almost not there. And then, as the band went on stage, all hell broke loose. The mosh pit came alive. Grew in size and stature. Threw up a huge cloud of dust. Conscientious moshers saw to it that they grimly fed the cloud right through the entire thirty minutes that the band played. “Don’t let the dust settle on this” our parents often advise. These guys were not giving up now. Wow, I think watching from a safe distance, who said the youth was rebellious and didn’t listen to the older generation.

But back to the show. I stood there wondering what kept these guys going. My maternal instinct worried about bodily harm coming to the moshers. Somewhere the self-proclaimed psychologist in me told me that it was good they were working out their pent-up aggression. What’s a fractured arm or two in the pursuit of mental stability through death metal?

But what, really, what about the music brought these guys here, time after time. I looked at my feet and they were tapping. Wrong move, I realized. It wasn’t quite the thing to do. Several decibels later and well after both my ears were ringing (is that why it’s called metal?) the band bowed off stage against requests for more. We left too. And as I drove back home in silence I realized what I had missed. This was not music you danced to, or music you tapped your feet to. This was music you listened to in your head, with your head. I shuddered with the realization. Quake time folks!

Tectonic Shifts?! What?

Not that I am a geologist.
But plate tectonics is a fascinating theory. In layman's language, the earth has various layers, which don't quite seem to stay still. Subtle pressure build up and they begin to (one guess) shift! These are layers above one another. And layers next to one another. The shifting therefore though is sometimes unseen and unfelt. Sometimes as dramatic as an earthquake.

Much like me. Like us.
We function on different levels (read layers) woman, boss, subordinate, mother, daughter, stranger, friend. And these layers overlap, rub against each other (sometimes grate), blend with each other and sometimes clash. There you go... quaking away with anger, shaking with fury, shuddering with fear, swaying with joy, moved to tears.... get the (er... Continental) drift? It's all there in us... we are a microcosm of the earth itself and all we do is manage ourselves, through our daily rotation and revolution to stay afloat in this cosmic whirl, carefully managing layer with a complementary layer, piecing life together like a jigsaw so that work dovetails neatly into career, business brings pleasure, home life is balanced with work life, and round and round we go in, what we think is perfect harmony. Till... the plates shift. Grate. Clash. The pieces don't match. The balance tilts. The pressure increases. And you skitter around trying to pull the ends together but... boom... crash... bang. There's an explosion and you are left dumbfounded, in a whirl of smoke and frenzy, on quite a different layer from where you began.
You just experienced a tectonic shift.
Life, however, goes on...