All smoke and all fire

It has been some time since I have had a dramatic fit. Today, I am in the throes of one.

On the ride back home today, I felt like I was a smouldering cigarette. Between the fingers of an international woman of mystery. The kind who is wrapped in the richness of life in all its shades. Who blows a cloud of smoke and watches it with quiet confidence stemming from the person she has grown to be. Sure, that even as the smoke rises into a cloud in front of her, it is obscuring nothing. The good, the bad, or the ugly. She has been there, seen that and on chilly Bangalore evenings such as today’s she could ruminate in silent contentment on the paths that she has traveled because she now has a sure footedness about her next step even if the ground beneath were to shift.

All this, while I was perched on my darling Scooty that had also dramatically transformed into an Enfield that I was solo riding in Ladakh. Oh Bangalore traffic, you scarcely know who rode alongside you today and how your potholes were so coolly superimposed with the Ladakhi terrain.

As far as life experiences go, I don’t know what smoking a cigarette really feels like. But, the one quick look that I snuck of Bulleya before leaving work today made me feel like I am both one and smoking one. Worldly wise. Like a tip glowing bright. Cloaked in secrets of love and heartbreak that sink into your skin and leave it burnished with the sheen of adulthood.

When the title song of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil released, I wasn’t too sure what I felt of the song. It had a very Aashiqui 2 vibe to it. The melody, Arijit Singh, and Ranbir the singer too. And a quintessential filmy sign off on ek tarfa pyaar with Ranbir in slo mo. All put together, it spelled doom Aashiqui 2 style. Not sure if this is what KJo was aiming for or if he would have preferred the Rockstar legacy vibe over Aashiqui 2. I wasn’t the most impressed with the song though it is a decent hummable tune and manages to infiltrate your initial mehness and stain you with its pathos. But, that is again largely because of the visuals of people who look like the types that love passionately because they know no other way and keep getting their heart broken. How vulnerably lovely Ansuhka looks with her kohl lined eyes. It makes me want to toss away my glasses and don contacts again.

Also, it looks like the dramatic Mr. KJo is restepping into the mantle of adulthood that he last donned in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna and setting out to explore matters of the heart beyond candyfloss colors. I don’t remember much of the film since it has been years since I watched it, but I do remember liking whatever I saw very very much.

Bulleya, too today, I scarcely listened to. I was so taken in by the visuals of Aishwarya and Ranbir licking whipped cream of each other, that my eyes popped out. WHAT IS GOING ON HERE PEOPLE? REALLY? Whatever happened to Aishwarya and how on earth did KJo get her to agree to this? So is the conjecture around Big B Sr. and Jr. being maha miffed with her because of these scenes true? So mind blown. And so good on Aishwarya for taking this up because this is a huge leap in the way a mother in real life is being portrayed in a mainstream Bollywood flick. I suspect that these might be Ranbir’s fantasies because ek tarfaness is the flavor of the film, but even then. SO MUCH ADULTING IN ALL FORMS. MY BOLLYWOOD IS GROWING UP  <3  Though I still think she is going to ham it up and shriek it out loud in her talking parts. And then to throw in a heart stopping glimpse of the deliciously scruffy Fawad Khan. COME ON NOW. How tantalizingly fleeting was that! And SRK is STILL to make an appearance. OMG.

So the spoilers about the film that have been leaked appear to slot the actors into the following pairs Ranbir – Aishwarya, Aishwarya – SRK, Anushka –  Ranbir, Anushka – Fawad, and Ranbir as the tragedy king.

Rockstar meet Aashiqui 2?

P.S. – Ranbir in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil also reminds me of what a friend had to say after watching Barfi, “Kissne bola tha chilla chilla ke gaane ko Rockstar main. Ab gayi na awaaz Barfi main?” Looks like the man has found his voice back for ADHM. And one hopes his mojo too.

CANNOT WAIT.

And with this, Anushka becomes a part of two Bulleya songs in one year. And Ranbir has tragically romanced two of Salman Khan real life flames in style. And to tie things together Rishi Kapoor romanced Dimple Kapadia in scenes that were as explicit in Saagar in 1984, that was also her comeback film post childbirth. So there is precedence and it is all in the family. Bollywood, you rock and I love you so so so much❤

Ek chutki like

Thumbs up waala like, heart waala like, the I stalked her to see if you regularly like her posts after reading her article on you that hinted at something more than friendship between you two waala like. And then my heart was shown its place waala dislike. So you are likely not single waala dislike. But, I still can’t help loving salt and pepper waala like.

The accidental stalking of the exhole waala like, his response to the stalking waala like – this one separates the gentleman from the asshole (hence exhole), but you already knew that of him already. Toh isske liye bhi ek like.

That person who likes your social media being waala like. Unke expectations from you based on that waala dislike. And when you repeat the same thing with others toh *facepalm* waala dislike.

Jaise ki, the person whose social media being you used to love waala like. Unka nazron se gir jaane waala dislike. Facebook reactions ka sad emotion for  I am finding it difficult to feel anything for you after this waala dislike. Your posts are no more full of magic anymore waala sad sad waala dislike.

Students stalking you and following you on Instagram waala like. Wtf, how did they crack that waala dislike. Maybe they gone checking up the Gmail id to check if that is linked to your Instagram waala exasperated like. Well at least they are invested enough to go look for you waala like. Still early days, but maybe the class is going well waala like.

You are teaching  them about social media so what else do you expect waala like. I hope they don’t track me to this blog waala dislike. Nothing can ever truly be anonymous on the Internet waala both like and dislike.

Truly, ek chutki like ki keemat tum kya jaano Ramesh babu waala like. Woh Bollywood aur usske lines ke liye sabse bada like.

Eternal dreams of an interrupted song

The nature of muddling along is not without its moments of clarity. That this clarity comes with the asterix of *conditions apply and those conditions happen to be times when you are dreaming,  only add to the suspended nature of your waking up hours.

Since you don’t sleep very well, you don’t know if the things you imagined were those of your conscious brain building castles in the air or if you did actually dream a little dream. The detailing is very real though so is the happiness that you feel. So, in your waking hours, you muddle along the best you can all the same, a little confused, a little hopeful, a little dejected, a little hopeful, a little discouraged, a little hopeful, a little frightened, a little hopeful..

When you sit down to think about it, you are certain of the reality of that night. Of an interrupted song that now begs for a continuity. The walk down a road, the floating of a song from one of the stores. Were you holding hands?  You don’t remember, but you do recall wanting to linger until it ended. Songs did not float out so easily from stores in that country and the cold night was suddenly made so beautiful. But, you were refused. You can still taste the disappointment and frustration over that incomplete moment. That was another city, another country, another age, even.

This time when you are drifting to sleep, you dream of a different city, in a different country. And a walk down one of its roads. Not unlike that night some years ago. In this dream though, you are holding hands. Different hands. Hands that envelop you with the warmth of closeness, you dream a sense of being cherished, different ways of seeing, of precious gifts of freedom, of a hug and a kiss, of a line that suddenly floats your way as if picking up from where you were made to leave it that night in real life.

Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance
Silver moon’s sparkling

So, of course you wake up. Resetting reality or dreams is a futile task you realize. An incomplete song will forever haunt and declare itself the leit motif of your discontinuity. You continue muddling along the best you can all the same, a little confused, a little hopeful, a little dejected, a little hopeful, a little discouraged, a little hopeful, a little frightened, a little hopeful…

Writing makes everything real so you release all of it in words and let it blaze a trail for you to move on. The reality of that night and the dreams of this night recede.

Swing, swing, swing the spinning step
You wear those shoes and I will wear that dress.

 

Kindnesswallah

It is night and I am playing music. Am on my way to getting into the zone. The point where mind, heart, work, and music are melded into a seamless link. The one where I don’t know what higher being channels my work. The things I do during this time are many. I have so many tabs open. I read a little, tweet a little, instagram a little, whatsapp a little, dream a little, and while it may seem too much for those who can work without the need to multitask, they all fuel my productivity immensely. All of it is helped by music. Only music makes it all possible.

Tonight, I began by listening to ‘Tu kissi rail si guzarti hain’. It happened cos of R. She sent a quote on WhatsApp. I responded to it with my favourite desi equivalent which is Dushyant Kumar’s line on ‘Kaun kehta hai aasmaan main suraakh ho nahin sakta, ek patthar toh tabiyyat se ucchalo yaaron.” She then googled Dushyant Kumar and sent me a postal stamp with his picture and said it was awesome how many different facets of the world our friendship was helping her discover. R is a heavy metal fan and I tentatively ventured into listening some of it since she was so sporting about Hindi music throughout our Ladakh trip and agreed that Amit Trivedi is awesome.

So that is how my work night began. By the time ‘Moh moh ke dhaage’ in Papon’s magnificent voice came on, I was checking Instagram and saw this pic by M. It astounded me once again how his interpretations send my heart and brain into sweeping each other into a sweet spot. I had to let him know because this was brilliant.

“You are awesome”, I said

“You are kind”, he responded

“Ke teri jhooti baatein main saari maan loon,” I smile at how easily I become a statistic, how easily I become one of many deewanis who are smitten❤

Blue Film, Censored #blue #wall

A photo posted by Mayank Austen Soofi (@thedelhiwalla) on

Introducing Delhi

I first visited Delhi in February 2014. Since my flight was to land at 8 pm, I remember asking the hotel to send me a pick up instead of taking a pre paid taxi from the airport though that cost me a pretty penny. I was quaking when I got off the plane. The hotel I was staying at was in Kalkaji and my work was to take me to IIT Delhi, which is in Hauz Khas and IIIT Delhi in Ohkla. The first day, I booked a Meru to take me to IIT. I was uneasy throughout the trip. I could not find a cab back to the hotel. The distance was too less for Meru to service me. I was very agitated and with a lot of apprehensions took an auto back to the hotel. I paid what the auto driver asked for. I was too frightened to bargain. The next day, my sister who coincidentally was in Delhi for a conference came to my hotel. She took me by my hand and showed me the Metro and escorted me to Okhla. She also took me to Lajpat Nagar and Khan Market. I think I held her hand throughout. She had been to Delhi before and loved the city and she tried telling me how cool the Metro was. After she left, I called Manu. He took me to Chandni Chowk and Old Delhi and we toured the Lal Quila. I made him escort me back to Kalkaji. I lost him briefly in the rush at Rajeev Chowk metro and panicked when he got into another compartment. I reached the hotel safely that day too.

The next time I visited Delhi was the same year in December. This was again for a conference at IIT. Since I was staying in the guest house on campus, I felt safe and did not care to venture out at all. I did not even bother letting Manu know I was visiting. So though I was dying to explore the city, I was very very scared. Nothing had ever gone wrong nor had Delhi ever mistreated me. I loved the idea and history of Delhi that I knew through books and films set in the city. Theoretically, I knew the city very well because I had read a lot about it, but it frightened me out of my wits because of the Delhi discourse in the news media and I would shiver at the thought of visiting it.

Something changed between then and now. I do not know what. It could be that I have traveled a lot. So much so that cities are now like well known templates to me even if it is the first time I am visiting them. It is like how I aced all driving tests immediately after my PhD defense. Driving was no longer something I was scared of. It was a very psychological change within me. Similarly, Delhi does not scare me any more. I traveled everywhere by myself. Used the Metro extensively. Bargained with auto drivers for last mile connectivity. Stopped and spoke to people. Dined out alone when I felt like it. In short, did what I wanted in the way that I usually live. The funny part was that I had plenty of friends around and had company almost everyday, but even if they weren’t there, Delhi had stopped being a bogey man.

Some part of it is technology. Google maps, the awesome awesome Delhi Metro, apps to order cabs if I so wished. But most of all it was about me. I had begun looking at Delhi differently both because of my own extensive travels around the country and because of the Delhiwallah’s amazing way of showcasing the city. I did not visit any of the parts he haunts or features on his blog, but his pictures and stories really took away most of the fear I had about the city. I am aware that this is also because I don’t crave night life. I don’t drink and don’t pub hop and am not a party animal and that these are ultimately what determine how safe a city is for its women. Also, I was a visitor and had a safe place to return to everyday since I was staying in the IIT campus so did not have to worry about trust and security issues the way I had to when that ass stole my trousers at Zostel a couple of months ago. But, for me, the fact that I have in some ways become comfortable with Delhi is a huge deal and a big psychological barrier broken. Someday maybe, I can say the same thing about firecrackers.

I want to say that I wouldn’t mind living or entertaining the possibility of living in Delhi. I had a ball of a time traveling through the city and I look forward to getting to know it more in the way I like to get to know cities. Visiting centres of power that govern the whole country was a heady feeling in itself and gave me a peek into why Delhiites are the way they are. I have fallen deeply in love with Wenger’s. If you have ever wondered how all of the creamy buns and cakes in Enid Blyton’s books really taste, then you have to visit Wenger’s.  These are the best pastries and buns I have ever tasted and I even carried two back home to Bangalore. I am very very sad that I can’t easily Metro my way to it anymore because I only sampled three of its items. I also had a deeply satisfying shopping trip to Delhi Haat and though everybody warned me that it could be expensive, I found that I could bargain and get reasonable prices for what I wanted. I carried home a truckload of some beautiful Madhubani stuff and though I have no place to put them, I am just so happy with their colourful art work and pretty presence.

Delhi, here is a Love❤ button from me to you. I want to get to know you in winter when you will be at your prettiest. I want to explore your ruins and your stories. I want to learn your histories and your secrets. I want to shop from your hidden corners and gorge on all of your food. I have many favorite Delhi films including Oye Lucky Lucky Oye and Dev D. I know the Delhi song anthems come from Rang de Basanti, Delhi 6, and No One Killed Jessica, but I feel like this song in the way I experienced Delhi this time.

 

Brun, bread, and pav

Today, I am missing brun. The languid quietness of a holiday, demands brun. If I were in Pune, I would have taken my scooty and sped down the road to Noble Bakery in Wanowrie. They make the softest and yummiest white bread, the tastiest pav, and the crustiest brun. None of these three are available to me in Bangalore. I didn’t even try and look for it in Chennai knowing it would be a lost cause. Before Noble, there was Naaz on East Street , but time swallowed its taste and it has been decades since I crossed its threshold. Also, we don’t live in Camp anymore. Sometimes, there was Husseini Bakery on Taboot street. But, since Noble is more proximate, we don’t visit Husseini.

So, Noble it is for all bread stuff. The rest we get from Kayani. The cakes, the khaaris, the biscuits. Though we get the fancier stuff from Kayani, I don’t miss it as much as I miss Noble. In Bangalore I get expensive artisan brown bread from an independent bakery in my locality. I generally consume it while dreaming about Noble’s white bread because no artisanship is ever going to rival the way that white bread tastes. When I first moved to Bangalore, I tried the white bread from the local Iyengar bakery, but it was sweet and I didn’t like it one bit. Brun, they hadn’t even heard of. Pav is something they just don’t get right and sweeten it like they do white bread. I will stick to their apple cakes only, thank you very much.

My mother is friends with the folks at Noble. Just like she is friends with the peruwaala at Jagtap chowk a little away from Noble and all vegetable vendors at Bhopla chowk in Pulgate. She has actually shopped her whole life for groceries only at Bhopla chowk, right from the time she was a very young child who was put to hard work running all kinds of errands for her home. At Noble, the calendar that she gives them every year is the one they hang up in their shop to track time. The owners of Noble are Muslims from Uttar Pradesh. They came to Wanowrie some time back and seemed to very smoothly acquire the way Poona Camp likes its breads, pavs,and bruns that are a mixed legacy of influences from the local Goan and Iranian population. I remember Noble from the time we moved to Wanowrie 19 years ago. They prospered and live above the bakery with their huge joint family and are now opening a new branch just behind my home. This means that they will be closer to me than the two km distance they are now at. This is what local becoming hyperlocal means.

If I had gone to Noble today, I would have asked for ‘brown bread’. They would know that I want the brown paper wrapped white bread and not brown bread. I would have also picked up do laadi pav for omlette bhurji or pav bhaaji and chaar bada brun. The pav and the brun will be wrapped in newspapers and tied up with a white tread. This pav and bread has traveled with me to far off places like Austin. I am so glad I don’t have to make that journey anymore. They were pitiful attempts at quite literally carrying some slices of home back to foreign shores. My attempts at staving away the pain of parting was so pathetic. Mum still stuffs bread and pav when I return to Bangalore, but now I scold her when she does that because in my head I am almost home.

The brun that I would have bought today would have lain on the dining table while the milk for the coffee was heating on the gas. I would have sliced the brun and spread Amul butter on it. Mum would have made coffee for me to dip the slices in. The salty butter would mingle with the sugar from the coffee and I would have experienced heaven on my tongue. That would have been breakfast. At some point, the pav would have been consumed with masala omlette or chicken kheema or ghotala, or pav bhaaji. The bread depending on mood, would have been eaten with plain Amul butter, plain Amul butter with sugar sprinkled on it, Amul butter and Kisan mixed fruit jam, omlette, or chicken ghotala. The leftover brun from breakfast would keep getting moved here and there until mum and I would get fed up and eat it with chicken, fish, mutton, or prawn curry depending on what was made first. The brun would sop up the gravy and I would declare it a meal fit for kings.

I write this from Bangalore. This post is my breakfast.

At the Mahavishnu of Mount Road

Last night I felt the need to pull on a pair of socks and go to bed. I was so terrified that I was needing socks in Chennai that I quickly popped a paracetamol too. There is a nasty flu that is doing the rounds along with conjunctivitis. Now because this is also called ‘Madras eye’, I point to strangers I don’t know in the office and tell them “Hahaha, you got Madras eye. Hahaha.”  I can’t help it. Sorry. Okay, fine, it was only one person and I saw him turn around whenever people approached his colleague and butt into their conversations simply because he wanted to shock them into seeing his ghastly red eye and feel smug about it. So, when it was my turn, I decided to have a little fun with him too. He should have stayed at home anyway instead of being a public health menace. I only hope that the universe does not give me a flu AND a Madras eye in return for this.

The weather the past couple of days have been Bangalore level. It is nice and breezy and you are not sweating like a pig at all times. It is not nice enough to leave the windows open and switch off the AC, but it is nice all the same. But, having to pull on socks in Chennai is definitely a cause for alarm and today morning when Bikash, our housekeeping chap came in, I told him to not do my room because I was going back to bed and Bikash went and told M and M came over and we talked and talked and talked, so essentially I never went back to bed or to office after all and so M and I have decided that we both will leave early for office tomorrow to make up for this.

I like the life I have in Chennai and I love working where I am. My perks include a nice apartment with housekeeping support, no responsibilities other than my own work, congenial staff at the office especially the two office admins whom I call Tom and Jerry because it is so boring when even one of them is on leave. My colleagues like M with whom I have the best conversations ever, especially when he tells me stories about his native Haryana. I heart M a lot. Also, the best lunches ever. Seriously, I think I am going to begin buying two copies of the Hindu everyday instead of one only because they take such awesome care of their employees. I pay Rs 10 everyday for some fantastic lunch. They hiked the price to Rs 15 from this month after many years, but seriously for the healthy and homely food on offer, this is practically free. I have mother level sambhar rice everyday with appalam and buttermilk as the staple and then the rest of the items on the menu varies according to the days of the week. On top of this, they offer free, totally free healthcare to all their employees. Is this like the best news org ever to work for or what?

At the Indian Express in Pune, we had to fight for a decent toilet and this paper seems practically 5 star luxurious in comparison. It is an accepted truth in Indian journalism that if you want to earn your spurs as a reporter, IE is the place to be. Not for nothing is the paper known as a reporter’s paper. And when I asked Pratim da too which newspaper he thought was the best, he did not hesitate even for a moment before he said IE even though Calcutta has never had an IE edition and he has never worked there. But, I think once your spurs are earned, the Hindu is where you should consider retiring. Unless the IE has pulled its socks and is offering employees a better deal these days.

When I look back at the two articles I published since 2013, I wonder if it was coincidence that it was the Hindu that took both my stories. Once in the Business Line and once in the Sunday magazine. It is as if I was beginning an association with them as a precursor to this current gig. Of course, the media landscape in India is vastly different today and it is a nasty fight for the top because there are so many more worthy contenders for the throne, but the name of this newspaper is such that though a mainstay of southern India, it was recognized even in Arain, Rajasthan.

One of my main reasons for even applying for the fellowship was to meet N. Ram because I knew he was going to be part of the interview panel. When I walked out of there, I really did not care if I would get it or not because I had a blast watching him and his brother together. Their family squabbles are legendary because they are so public and it was fun getting to talk to both the brothers at the same time. Not that everything about the centre where I work is perfect and I have feedback plenty, but I am scarcely going to bitch about that in public. Not when it has been a wonderful experience in every way. When I look at it critically, I am aware that the organization is paternalistic in how it treats its employees because in return for all of the taking care of that they do, I suspect that it expects employees to know their place and not upset the apple cart, but since I haven’t worked there as a full timer, I wouldn’t really know and it is not my place to comment on this. That said, this is perhaps the last news organizations in India that has a a pretty influential union in place. And that is quite telling about the newspaper’s beliefs, I think.

Something that I enjoy doing every morning is to casually tell the cab driver every day when he asks me where my drop is, “Mount Road, Hindu office”. It is my thrill for the morning hour and I am not going to pretend that I don’t enjoy doing this especially because it is a landmark that nobody in Madras would ever say they didn’t know. This newspaper is not the one I grew up with. I had only known of its prestige and quality through hearsay. It is never a place I aspired to work for as a reporter, but I am glad that I have walked its premises and participated in its daily life. As someone with some links to Madras, however tenuous, I am happy that the Mahavishnu of Mount Road as it is nicknamed took me into its fold and allowed me many wonderful experiences.

I am aware as I type this that all of this is rushing to an end. Soon, very soon. I will savor it while it lasts. As of now, I am using this time to recover from all my travels. I sleep well , go to office. and I think by the time I transition to Bangalore, I will be in running condition. I am even toying with the idea of going to Kerala because I am feeling less tired now. Let’s see.

I don’t think I can bear writing farewell notes when it is time, so I am doing it a full whole month before this is due and also preparing myself for the goodbyes.

P.S. I have also begun calling Madras, Chennai because the name Chennai is everywhere so my brain is not fighting to hold on to the old name anymore. I now use both names depending on which naturally pops first in my head. This makes me feel that if I live long enough in Bombay or Calcutta and if I explicitly see their new names written everywhere, I will transition there too.