Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Benaras

“Isn’t it amazing that while we have visited the Vatican we haven’t bothered to go to Benares?” my precocious daughter asked me 4 years ago. I went red in the face and ashamedly admitted that while we were only 776 kms away, we had ignored a destination revered by millions.

It however took me the next 3 years to convince Ma and my daughter to actually make the trip. Ma said we had stayed in Benares for one month when I was 6 months old and the daughter kept pleading that teenagers were allowed to make bratty comments to rile parents which should not be taken seriously. But my Bengali nationalistic conscience had been stirred and there was no stopping me.

We were greeted at the Babatpur airport by a smart driver named Sanjay who spoke a lilting Maithili infused Hindi. He offered us cold towels and mineral water and told us the basic facts of the heartland of Uttar Pradesh. The Palace that was now the Taj hotel perked us up further. We ignored the pleas of the hotel staff to rest in the afternoon and instead set out in the hot afternoon at 2 pm. After a few temples, the surprise of the afternoon was a remarkably well maintained National museum and art gallery at the Benares Hindu University which also has a vault full of precious artefacts, coins and jewellery. Every room of the museum had a knowledgeable ancient custodian with an interesting lineage and a long story to tell us. We managed to buy some good water colours from the Art department of the University. BHU was formed in 1915 and has around 10,000 students in 140 departments over 1300 acres!

A cruise on a motorized nauka or boat was organised to get a view of the ghats. Sanjay, the driver had asked the boatman to organize lassi and paan for us. The boatman was an eccentric hyper enthusiastic person who had 4 betel leaves in his mouth at any point of time with the residues trailing down to his chin. As the boat moved he took out three mitti ka kullars and poured the lassi. He then took out a plastic packet, gave us a toothy grin and dipped his fingers in to scoop out the malai which he plonked into the lassi with flourish. We chewed on the paan and sat on the boat holding the kullars politely. The ghats of Benares are rather spectacular and gives one an idea of how opulent the city must have once been. It also brings to life every story one read in an Amar Chitra Katha in one’s childhood.

We disembarked at a lesser known ghat much to Ma’s disgust and mediated our way over various animal droppings to be taken to the Kashi Vishwanath temple. The small gullies leading to the temple are amazing. Priest training schools in which students who looked like they had stepped out of a Chanakya movie were chanting Sanskrit sholkas. Cows rambled among people. Tourists from across the world were wearing saffron clothes, rudraksh malas and behaving like they had attained spirituality. And of course there were three of us who were tripping on our saries. One has to take off one’s shoes much before the temple and the path is often slippery since the milk offered to the Shiva linga is spilt by devotees. The Panda or pundit cum guide accompanies one to lots of temples, the darshan of which is sadly not very religious. It is a quick transaction - donation to temple, parshad, tika and blessings. Women are blessed in Benares in two ways. I was blessed to procreate and produce healthy sons and my daughter was blessed to find a good husband. Even the “world famous” palmist and astrologer at the Taj hotel who read my palm said a woman has no destiny of her own and is a mere reflection of her husband. Therefore a woman’s right hand is not worthy of being read. My mother retaliated like Ma Durga and gave him a piece of her mind.

The evening Aarti was something the Taj hotel started 15 years ago to give the tourists some night life. The entire tourist population sits on boats facing the main ghat. Personable young Pujaries perform a synchronized Aarti to loud music played on speakers. It is tedious for the locals but it is entertaining to watch the profound effect it has on the tourist.

Our boatman would not leave us until we had visited the famous Zarda or flavoured edible tobacco shops of Benares. It did not matter if we did not partake of this substance- we must buy it. Much to my Ma’s irritation I buy Zarda for every friend, teacher and acquaintance who may consume the substance. She is amazed at what a sought after gift this later turns out to be.

The next day was spent in Sarnath which is where Gautam Buddha gave his first discourse after attaining enlightenment in Boddha Gaya. The atmosphere is diametrically opposite to the old city- serene and quiet with beautifully manicured lawns. The guide is a young Buddhist man with strict principles who would not accept a fee since it is his privilege to introduce Sarnath. The museum at Sarnath was the highlight of our trip. We finally saw the real Ashoka Chakra which adorns our flag. We also saw the huge Lion Capital of the Mauryan Pillar which is our National Emblem and which we see daily on our currency. The museum is extremely well maintained and the pride of the Archaeological society of India.

We completed our trip with two other must does in Benares. Firstly money well spent buying Benarasi saries and secondly listening to a concert from the lyrical and melodious Benares gharana.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Let them be

I was watching the grand finale of Dance with the stars tonight and as I watched the youngsters perform unbelievable and beautiful feats I felt old and sorry for myself. I would never be able to dance like that. Why didn't I try to learn earlier ? I was financially independent form the age of 22 , I lived in Mumbai , Delhi and Chennai and yet I chose to learn dance only at the age of 36 .

I realised that what we desire at one age differs from another. It is determined largely by what we perceive that we will lose the soonest. At my teens I only wanted to be surrounded by cool friends, be desired and enjoy my youth. I was scared of turning into all the sourpuss oldies around me who never laughed. In my twenties I wanted to win , make money , have all the trappings of success and savour all the pleasures that money could bring for one had worked hard to get there. There wasn't much thought for the soul or self improvement. One was obsessed with looking good, being thin , being invited everywhere. The thirties awoke the soul because there was a precocious little angel next to me who was growing up. I admit shamefacedly that my daughter taught me to love , learn and care because her soul was purer than mine. She had no shades of grey in her life. She trusted me , believed in me and made me a better human being. I once again looked at myself beyond the obvious and wanted to learn.

At 36 I started learning dance and picking up the threads of my singing. I taught her to write poetry, prose and stories and discovered that I too had a flair for the written word. I laughed and rediscovered art when I painted her posters and made charts for school. I blended her eyeshadow and painted her eyelids with the flair of a parisian artist.

Yet in my forties I am uptight with her for not being focussed about her dance , music , studies and career. I ask her repeatedly why she can't decide the subject she wants to study and why she won't consider ivy league colleges. I want her to do it all without any consideration for the number of hours in a day.

Because I know at 44 that life doesn't stand still. And while I dance with grace and emotion, I will never pirouette and twirl in the air like her. Our children should not bear the brunt of our unfulfilled dreams. They too like us should be allowed to make choices however trivial based on their age and times. they too will have perceptions of immortality of youth and what will slip away from their fingers.

It is beautiful to love and painful to watch your loved ones fly in the hope that they will return. We can only hope that their wings are strong while we blow the air in the right direction.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Julia visiting

SRK had promised to question the next major Hollywood actress when she entered the country. How did Julia Roberts miss the encounter when she landed in Delhi in her private jet?

Julia is filming for “Eat, Pray, Love” in a village close to where I live. This is very exciting for all of us for we have never stayed close to an Oscar winning Hollywood star. To quote Sanjeev Verma of The Latest News “On the first day’s shooting, Roberts wore ruddraksh (seeds of the tree Eleocarpus ganitrus) mala (rosary), black salvar (a kind of trousers), purple kurta (loose-fitting upper garment) and ate matar-panir (peas-cheese), aloo-gobhi (potato-cauliflower), rice and chapati (Indian thin bread) with her bare hands and found Gulab-Jamun (an Indian sweetmeat) her favorite”.

Eat, Pray, Love is the memoirs of Elizabeth Gilmore who divorces her husband in New York because she is discontent. She thereafter gets very depressed. To solve the problem she travels to Rome and EATS; comes to India to stay in an Ashram and PRAYS; goes to Bali where she meets a medicine man and falls in LOVE with a Brazilian man. The combination of these knocks out the need for a psychiatrist in her life and gives her all that she desires.

One is truly amazed at the money that is pumped into maintaining celebrities in America. Priyanka Dasgupta of TOI informs us that the actress has arrived with 8 cooks and special milk has been brought with her for her 3 children, New York Post says she has 350 security guards and travels in a bullet proof car. Just as our politicians are going on an austerity drive, this display is extremely disheartening. A person who was a contender for the UN General Secretary is being questioned why he wants to spend his own money in a five star hotel and use a gym.

However this has proved to be a bonanza for some of the locals. Tiger Pataudi and his actor trio family will forever be able to regale us with stories of the days that Julia stayed in their palace. The 500 ashram inmates are now living in central air-conditioning with no power cuts. All the Bouncers from the clubs of Gurgaon have found temporary employment as additional body guards during the lean Navratri season. Above all, this press coverage will give an amazing blip to “Hindu Tourism”. I am off to explore opportunities to invest in Rishikesh!

Delhi Makeover

I don’t know why everyone is critical about my city nowadays. Mr.Chidambaram has instructed Sheilaji that we must clean up, be taught manners, reduce noise, jaywalking, eve teasing, littering etc. Apparently we need to improve before the Commonwealth games and we are embarking on a training program to do an “attitude makeover."

Sheilaji wants to make people “more caring”. Our police have been instructed to call all women “Madam” regardless of whether you wear a skirt, trouser, sari or salwar. The police are so caring in this city. When I went to drop Ma at the New Delhi station I was stopped by Police bhaiya for assuming a free left turn at Connaught Place. Promptly 10 people gathered to show their solidarity. The Police bhaiya so kindly told me that I may catch a chill since my pinned up sari had shifted over my blouse. Such a nice man. The crowd also agreed loudly. In another incident a Police Bhaiya insisted he did not want to fine me, he just kept talking to me for 10 minutes until I started crying. He then told me that he wanted to see how long it took to crack me up.I could leave if I gave him a happy smile. He kept making me smile until he was satisfied. Such a generous person.

I was walking from my doctor’s clinic to my office one afternoon at 1.30 pm. That’s the time my brethren have their lunch and thereafter chew a betel leaf while strolling in the sun. Like a Memsaab I went tic tok tic tok and overtook a guy. Splash...some red betel juice landed on my white shirt. I screamed at the bewildered culprit who was wondering why I was walking on the road. But is this a unique Indian phenomenon? Recently I saw a movie called Gran Torino. Clint bauji was shooting his sputum at a vociferous rate at all opportunities. He would look angrily at Asian neighbor on porch and swoosh, he would swagger up to a bunch of toughies harassing his friend and splat. It’s just that in a Mid Western American town there aren’t enough people passing by to get affected.

Athens hosted the Olympics. I visited the city a few years after the occasion. If you think our taxi drivers are weird, try them. Even a seasoned Dilliwali like me was flabbergasted. And noise levels with honking? Suggest you book a soundproof room when you visit Greece.

Yeah…the Delhi guys can’t handle no from a woman. Kya kare, it’s the Northern die hard culture that makes them so successful at business. But the same guys can ooze charm when they see the dollar. After all we charm millions of tourists into India, don’t we? We must enlighten the foreigners that “Kya cheez hai” actually translates to “Bellisimo” in Italian.

We welcome all of you, dear athletes of the Commonwealth countries to our abode next year. We are a very forward thinking country. Just today I learnt that our Cricket board has given our cricketers a document which I quote ad verbatim “If you want to have sex but do not have someone to share it with, one option is to go solo while imagining you have a partner.”

Kya baat hai……where else in the world would sportsmen get such an official handbook?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Durga Puja

One can never recapture the enthusiasm of the Durga Puja of one’s youth. One tries every year but fails miserably.

The reasons for this are manifold. During my childhood my parents were part of the “Puja organizing committee”. This meant Ma would actually be sitting close to the deity discussing procedures with the pujari. We had vantage seats for everything. Nowadays my place of residence and work are so far apart that I sponsor one Puja and visit another. I see the idol, head for the food stalls and depart. I attempt to buy the latest music but it’s quite embarrassing to ask Ma to read everything to me because while I have been singing Bengali songs forever, I can’t read the language. When will our regional music industry accept the world is larger than the state? I find it equally impossible to buy carnatic or odissi music for the same reason!

An important part of Durga Puja is the cultural program that is organized every evening. This is largely meant to satisfy any hidden aspirations of stardom of many a Bengali adult and also to showcase the talent of the children. During my childhood one downside of Durga Puja was that I was dragged to sing on stage. I prayed no one from school was present for learning Indian music in those days was very not very di rigueur. This year my doctor in Gurgaon asked my daughter if she would like to take part in a Bengali Dance Drama. Let me not elaborate the outcome of my discussion with her. Nowadays most elaborate Pujas with fancy cultural programs have “passes”. Security guards do not permit aam junta to enter. The more humble establishments have Magic shows, folk dances and music, some of which I have seen with my Bengali maids as part of their retention strategy.

In the past most of my new clothes or Natun Jama arrived at Durga Puja. I would be dying to wear my flared jean pant with the sleeveless jacket, the orange maxi or the nylon Bobby inspired top with a bow near the midriff but it had to wait till D-day. My bro would get white trousers which competed with Nazneen auntie’s sharara with matching polyester shirts. Now my wardrobe is replenished during the bi-annual sales in the stores. My family suffers short term amnesia to the extent that this year I have decided to buy them their Natun Jama during Puja. Those were the days that I wore a school uniform during the day and desperately wanted to change my avatar in the evening. Today it’s the reverse; I keep trying to convince myself that Kolhapuri chappals and jeans are acceptable Puja clothes after a hard day’s work.

We used to largely stayed at our sponsored Puja but on one evening the entire colony streamed into a bus and went Puja hopping in Mumbai. This would start at 7 pm and end the next morning at 6 am. The best notun jama was kept aside for the occasion. We were very excited when we spotted Mithunda, Mousumidi, Rakhee, Sharmila Thakur…etc at the Juhu or Bandra festivities. Ma bought the Puja edition of every Bengali magazine which featured short stories written especially for the occasion. She would save these editions for years for the sheer nostalgia. Now she says she prefers Grisham and watches Zee Bangla for the latest fix!!

Yet all Bengalis feel excited when the day approaches. We try to transfer this to our children even if they are half “non Bengali” because we feel it is part of our identity. After all what distinguishes this festival is its sheer joy as it is more a community mela than a religious affair. Last evening I even got convinced by a large crop of new found Bengali friends in Gurgaon that I should become a “life member” of the Bengali Association. Maybe history will start repeating itself....?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Celebrity email

The newspapers today proudly proclaimed that a businessman from Thane has been arrested for allegedly trying to blackmail our model, actress, socialite and also sitarist Anoushka Shankar. He apparently hacked her email and got his hands on photographs for which he demanded USD 100,000/-. Panditji informed a cabinet minister and our police zoomed in to crack the crime.

Last year a girl returning home from work at 3 am was murdered in her car at Vasant Kunj, Delhi. The first reaction of the chief minister Sheila Dixit was to ask what she was doing alone in her car at that unearthly hour. Last month a married couple in Noida were arrested by the police for kissing each other at a bus stop. The Ram Sena stormed into a pub earlier this year in Mangalore and actually beat up the women present who had the audacity to drink in a pub.

But the dailies, the police and no one is asking the question that haunts me – What kind of photographs were circulating in her email drop which was worth that kind of money and effort ?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Movies over the Eid weekend

Two major movies have been released over the Eid weekend. “Wanted” is a Hindi conversion of a Telegu & Tamil hit from the Boney Kapoor camp directed by our desi MJ Prabhu Deva which stars Salman Khan. The other film is “Dil Bole Hadappa” from Yashraj films where a 45 kilos and 5 ft 2” tall Rani Mukherjee dresses as a Sikh boy, plays cricket like Sachin Tendulkar and manages to camouflage her identity from 22 strapping Jat men to play in the team.

I opened the two national dailies to decide on the course of action. The first critic who wrote rather well rated “Wanted” at one and half star and DBH at one star. The second daily’s critic rated the same movies at 4 stars and 3 and half star. I was very confused. Last week I had listened to the same critics and watched the movie “9”. I am a great fan of animated films and have watched Shrek and Lion King so often that I can sing and dance to all its tracks. I always cry when I watch Finding Nemo. But while watching “9” I had to focus very hard on those funny hypnotic eyes of the central characters to stay awake. The dark setting of the film had just made it a convenient venue for most of the couples in the hall who were not watching the film, if you know what I mean.

I tossed the reviews at the family. Ma said these critics always rate Hindi movies badly and dole out stars to Hollywood films! She informed me that she had already bought tickets for DBH and was dragging the daughter for the afternoon show. After all how can we Bengalis not watch our dear Rani - she is so wonderful, so talented. Look at how much weight she has lost. She must have not eaten any mach bhaat for a year! I agree that we must show solidarity. We know how difficult it is for 5 ft 2” types with stocky frames to compete with these ex-models who have taken over our lives. Gone are the years where Bengali women dominated the Mumbai movie kingdom. Now we only have a Bipasha and Rani at the top.

And the movie Wanted I ask her? Well Gajini was a great hit as this may also be, but it was too violent for her disposition. But one can never say during Durga Puja – the enthusiasm runs high!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Lost Cinema

Macher jhol and fingers, Lassi and kullars, Idlies and banana leaf, Batata Vada and newspaper wrappings – all these would be complementary nouns in Wren and Martin if they existed in the English Dictionary. Only a sentimental NRI would order a Ragda Patis in a five star coffee shop imagining that the ambience would make it sanitized. We all reminiscence of how good cutting chai tasted in the college canteen and how Darjeeling tea never gives us the same kick. Similarly the masala Hindi movie is complementary with the good old cinema hall, the grand affairs with 300 people, khatmal ridden seats and tickets sold in black.

Mind it – as RJKT would say, it’s not the affluence of the audience of the Multiplex that gets in the way to spontaneous behavior. I would imagine that it is the smallness of the numbers and the comfort zone that squelches our enthusiasm. I recollect watching Lion King in Priya Cinema Hall at a night show. When baby Simba turned into a handsome Lion during the song Hakuna Matata, the audience hoots and whistles were similar to those that I had heard when Dharmender jumped onto the train in the middle of the song Yaadon ki Baraat.

I was one of the few persons in India who was thrilled when Yash Raj films failed in their negotiations with the multiplex owners during the release of Dhoom 2. I saw Dhoom 1 in Novelty Cinema at Grant Road Mumbai at a Sunday matinee. It was like being in class nine and watching the seniors make a spoof on all the teachers in school. The finer nuances did not matter. It was total class participation and paisa vasool. In a particular scene the heroine who has her back to the audience and is facing the hero parts the towel swathing her to tantalize her husband. The crowds went crazy with what they could only imagine. On the other hand when Tata Young appeared at the end of the movie dressed in leather singing the title track whipping our heroes, the crowd walked out of the hall without a glance!

I took the family to watch Dhoom 2 at Sapna theatre in Delhi. Ma and daughter were dressed in an appropriate manner for a date with the gorgeous Hritik Roshan. When I arrived to meet them after work they were standing in front of the hall with expressions akin to Ms.Universe on her first humanitarian mission. When we entered the hall the movie had just begun. I waited patiently for the usher. After five minutes I let out a loud falsetto “Koi Hai? Please help me!” The audience disgustedly woke up the usher who belligerently wanted to know why I was disturbing everyone. I demanded to be shown my seats. He laughed and said “Madam seat number is in balcony only. Go to first row. Sit down on empty seat or floor.” I swallowed my pride and put on what I thought was my most husky desperate whisper in the darkness.” Bhaisaab. I am so sorry. I did not know this rule. Next time I will come on time. My mother is with me, she can’t sit on floor….please help.” He laughed and said that if I would finance his chai nashta we had a deal.

He took us to the best seats in stall – aisle in front,undeterred view and ample leg space. He pointed his torch at people occupying these seats and told them to move. No one protested – this was the king of the terrain. He even kept two empty seats on both sides for elbow room. How considerate. He was kind enough to focus the torch into my wallet and choose the correct currency note he desired to finance his tea time snack.

My family was getting quite irritated and also very proud of my people management skills. The audience was hooting away to Ash’s costumes and “funny guy” and “like that” dialogues. In ten minutes we settle down and we too are screaming “Kya body hain!” when Hritik appears in his pink sleeveless T shirt.

I read in the papers yesterday that Prof.Devashish Dasgupta had taken the students of IIM Lucknow to the local ”bazaar” to teach and demonstrate the consumer psychology of the average Indian. May I suggest sir, you include a visit to Gulab theatre or Basant theatre at Lucknow in their education?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Johnny Castle

Patrick Swayze passed away today at 57 with Pancreatic cancer. One realizes one has grown old when all the great men that ruled one's dreams during one’s youth are no more. Dirty Dancing is a movie that I have watched a zillion times – yeah the music is good, the choreography great but Mr.Swayze- that’s another story! Johnny Castle with his tight leather pants, heeled shoes, sexy dancing, golden heart and strength of conviction still remains the fantasy in every teenage girl’s heart.

However this hunk was called “sissy” in his school years because he was good at dance, ballet and gymnastics. His mother was a choreographer and his father was a Texan engineering draughtsman. He had to drop out of professional ballet in New York due to an old football injury of the knee. He turned to Hollywood and history was created.

Patrick epitomized what most women seek in a man – a great body, cute innocent face, soft sensitive disposition and twinkling eyes. Aamir Khan and Brad Pitt have it. That’s the reason why people don’t give up on Shahid Kapoor – he potentially has it. Women rush to take care of such men and protect them from the bad world outside.

My favorite film with Swayze however remains City of Joy because I can breathe and smell the city of my birth when I watch the film.

So Many Options.........

An event of momentous dimension has just concluded in our country. We have hosted our first Men’s Fashion week sponsored by Van Heusen – the shirt that is normally worn by staid corporate men. As Deepti Jakhar of India Today writes “The boys in the concluding show flexed their perfect gym tones bodies oozing sexuality and the colors of the season were passion colors of rust, red, plum and flaming orange. There was also a use of gold”. I normally encourage the kid to read the newspapers every morning but I do not think seeing designer uncle licking cheek of drunken friend’s podgy cheek was a good idea before her Economics exam.

99 per cent of the women in India have the same conceptual notion of perfect six packs as men have about silicone but let that not deter us. We must pursue the golden visage and be discontent with our ordinary existence.

I am extremely happy for all the men in India. They have so many options of clothing – harem pants, indo western clothes, jodhpurs and “gown inspired” sherwanies. The men will step into such clothing, look in the mirror and realize it just doesn’t seem right. It looks so different in Maxim and GQ! And then they will perhaps stop smirking and comparing us to Scarlett and Penelope Cruz when we women try out the dresses in Mango.

Hospitals

I am at my psychological worst when I visit someone at a hospital. I always fear that if I bump into the wrong doctor in the lift I will be admitted into the psychiatric ward.

My first disgusting habit is that I salivate when I see the god awful food on the plastic tray in a hospital. It stems from the fact that when I was around 10 years old my brother and I had to visit my father for a month at Breach Candy nursing home directly after school. Those were the 1970s when children were small humans who were tolerated unlike the flowers that exist in the 21st century. The hungry brother sister duo watched their father tantrumatically throw away baked chicken and custard because he was not given a pain killer. At nine pm we were fed Frankies on the footpath of Warden Road which till date remains one of my favorite snacks.

My other problem when I visit someone at a hospital is that I have verbal diarrhea. My dad spent 3 months in a hospital in Kolkata where my maudlin relatives were all auditioning for the movie Rudali. Today I try to compensate by getting all jokey and funny whenever I visit someone. If permitted I even start singing to entertain. I am naturally the cynosure of all people who think this is inappropriate behavior. I mean are you not supposed to grimly talk about the number of stitches, the size of the kidney stone, the valves affected etc and not comment on the excellent view outside the window?

I have been operated once and did not want to meet any well wishers while on the bed. Unlike Angelina Jolie I looked awful and felt awful. I was being starved since apparently my intestines had gone to sleep and only producing gas would prove that they were working. I never awaited a fart so desperately! I had a wailing inconsiderate infant who I was just about getting used to. My boss turned up just as my first meal after 24 hours, a watery tomato soup which is a hospital specialty, had been delivered. I sobbed as it was taken away for my prospective bonus and drank it cold afterwards.

As age progresses I visit hospitals more than marriages and I am working at becoming the ideal visitor. I met a dear friend yesterday after a kidney stone operation. I even asked her with a straight face "which kidney was it – right or left?"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Chiggy Wiggy

The song “Chiggy Wiggy” has taken the nation by storm. For those uninitiated this is a song composed by A R Rehman for the movie “Blue” sung by Kylie Minougue and Sonu Nigam. In the video we have Kylie shaking her delectable derierre and cooing to Akshay Kumar that she wants to Chiggy Whiggy with him. Our hero breaks into a bhangra indicating that he is more than willing to do the same.

My initial assumption that Chiggy Wiggy was an aboriginal word that Kylie had imported from Australia proved to be wrong. I looked up Webster and Wikipedia and received no response. I finally decided to read the lyrics by Suzanne and Abbas Tyrewala. After going through the medley of English nursery rhymes and Urdu shayari none of which are recommended reading I conclude that Chiggy Wiggy is a verb that means “to do it” or “to groove”.

This is amazing branding by our songwriters who have taken our music international by incorporating what appears to be nonsensical words in their songs. The words are catchy and can be recollected easily. They are lot like the user names that we devise to protect our identity on the internet which change in accordance with the audience of a particular portal. When my daughter went to UK for an exchange program, the girls at Kent wanted to jive with the song where “the dude doesn’t know how to dance”. In a recent wedding the expatriates loved the song that went “dhan dhan tan”. We can imagine people in LA and London wanting to hit the floor to the Chiggy song.

Now that you know the meaning and the weekend’s knocking at the door, pick up your phones and send a sms to someone with whom you want to chiggy wiggy!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gold Soars

Ma asked me today morning if we had enough jewellery stashed away for my daughter’s wedding. I was very perturbed. She is 17. Does she have a boy friend? What does my Ma know? It appears that she is very concerned about the price of Gold.

Why is the price of gold so very high today? 74 per cent of the demand for gold is from the jewellery sector. People do not have jobs and if the glossies are to be believed men are trying to learn non materialistic ways of being romantic with their women. I admit the metro sexual man of today has started wearing bling but surely that cannot be a major component to an increase in demand. Are more people getting married?

My driver is very upset. He had asked me to accompany him to buy a mangal sutra for his wife and I had refused. Now it’s too expensive. When will men understand the cardinal rule that one should never take another woman to choose jewellery for one’s wife?

Apparently people and banks are investing in gold because they feel it’s the safest investment in these troubled times. It’s like one day we wake up and the Governor of the world’s treasury is our neighborhood lalaji.

I explain to Ma that we are not sure if the daughter has a propensity towards gold. After all she is the genetic combination of a mother who had to be weaned from Barbie dolls and a father who loves calculus. She may even marry a person from a country where they prefer pearls or the claws of a leopard to decorate oneself. By the time she makes her choices the nature of adornment may change because demand alters supply.

If only I had ignored all my Finance training and invested my money in gold instead of tax free bonds – I would have been both richer and prettier by far!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mangalore Memoirs

Even Google was surprised. Every time I did a search on “Mangalore” it asked me if I meant Bangalore. I naturally assumed that I was going to attend a rustic South Indian marriage near the sea. “Are you sure I should bring my diamonds?” I asked my friend. She screamed saying that the average gold that each person wears at a Mangalorean wedding is close to 5 kilograms. How true…..

I nearly missed my connecting flight at Mumbai. While dashing to what I assumed would be a small Dakota plane, I asked people if they too were going to attend “the wedding”. They looked at me as if I was crazy. I entered a 200 seat Boeing which was crammed with people. The young girls next to me said that the flight was overbooked. They were a family of 30 that were going to holiday at Coorg to escape and I suspect carry with them the swine flu virus which was spreading at Mumbai. My arrival was rather dramatic. I skidded down the steps from the plane to the tarmac. A nice chap rescued my suitcase while I hung on to the railing with my dress flapping in the breeze.

I was whisked off to the Mehendi ceremony where I was introduced to an impressive international entourage courtesy the groom and all the NRI relatives. My next role was that of a stylist since the groom had terrorized the ladies into believing that Ram Sena would attack the venue if they were not swathed in Indian clothes. Its amazing how no one needs an introduction to eating Tandoori chicken but needs to be told how to tie a salwar kameez!

The evening affair was a cocktail hosted by my friend for her brother. It was sheer adrenalin and enthusiasm that converted the carpeted banquet hall of the Taj with an air temperature of 25 degrees into a night club. The sleepy DJ had come prepared with romantic old school numbers. He was sternly advised a facelift. The stubborn chap refused to attempt any mixing, once a number started you had to “finish it”. The groom’s parents were rather enjoying this hybrid Rajnikant meets Karan Johar culture. They started jiving to the numbers but aunty kept hiding the vino glass whenever a photograph was being clicked.

The Baraat met at 5 pm the next day. The band that was assembled consisted of 4 drummers. They usually played for Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja and Garba and so we danced to three beats at 38 degrees Celsius. We were the pride of Mangalore. They had never seen white women in Indian garments doing the Bhangra. We even had our own Martin Hendersons in the Pugdi that would have had Guninder Chadha and Mira Nair eat their hearts out. The Ram Sena called their head quarters for instructions. The young Punjabi boys did a combination of MJ meets Mika which was very impressive. The south Indians threw themselves in with a Jai Ranikant cry. The bride’s family even handed out wet tissues to the dancers and muttered that glucose water and Gatorade should have been organised.

Suddenly the drums stopped and a saxophone player emerged playing Carnatic classical music. The bride’s mother was welcoming the groom by washing his feet! We are an amazing country. Ram Sena was again happy.

After a few per functionary activities and the hero-heroine changing their costumes and jewellery (apparently a “must” several times a day for 3 days), 1500 people sat down to watch the “entertainment” program for the evening. We watched the PYTs of Mangalore doing sweet dances with their doe eyes focused on the rows of the eligible LBS bachelors. We also watched a young passionate lad perform heroic dance sequences with detachable costumes and swords which ended with him breaking a mud pot on his 14year old skull. The compere of the evening spoke the Queen’s English and gave “spot prizes” to the audience for feats that would put any reality TV to shame.
The next morning was the actual wedding. They got married on the stage of an auditorium while we all sat in comfortable plush velvet seats. This was extremely considerate and sensible. The guests totaled to over 2000 people.

I dashed around and said my fond farewells. Located my camera and took a few shots of my new friends whose exotic names I had still not managed to remember. With assistance from recession and face book everyone is again communicando. Since I am one of the few self employed persons I chose to write the "Mangalore Memoirs".

Monday, September 7, 2009

Against all odds

I was very sad to learn that Carla Bruni had usurped the position of Muse in Woody Allen’s heart from our own desi Freida Pinto. We were all so pleased when Freida moved to New York and the golden goddess Scarlett Johansson had, at Woody’s behest taken Freida under her wing. How can our Bandra porgi compete with a lady like Ms.Bruni? Model, singer, heiress, spouse to one of the world leaders and now an actress. Even Josephine could not get podgy little Napolean to accomplish what Carla has done - make a man faint with his efforts to please her with exercise and diet! Never before has world politics seen a woman so disarmingly confident and yet such an asset to her husband’s political career.

Across the globe we are witnessing another woman who shows as much gumption. Miyuki Hatoyama is the wife of the new Prime Minister of Japan. She was a dancer, writes cookbooks and makes her own clothes. In her book entitled "Very Strange Things I've Encountered", Miyuki has claimed that she was abducted by aliens as she slept one night 20 years ago. In a TV interview earlier this year,she claimed she had met Tom Cruise in a previous life. She apparently eats the sun every morning to augment her energy and states that her husband does the same! During the election campaign she regaled the masses with a very good version of the moonwalk.

Many people dismiss these ladies as frivolous as they criticise the now subdued intelligent and educated Michelle Obama for wearing shorts during her vacation which are two inches above her knees. The formidable Hillary Clinton attempted to please the masses during her husband’s Presidency by down playing her immense potential.

I salute Carla and Miyuki for achieving what is so difficult. Having their own personality despite being the spouses of world leaders and also appreciate their husbands for having the confidence to let them be.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Economic Turnaround?

Nowadays I get a lot of phone calls from people who ask me if I can see the Economy picking up. I tend to judge the economy by the size of my entirely variable salary which has plummeted to dismal levels. Either I am not looking out of the right window or not breaking enough coconuts at the temple in front of Ganapati Pappa.

I ask my Ma over morning tea about her opinion. Ma consumes every page of two newspapers at 74 and is usually the person who informs us of international calamities on a real time. “I don’t know what Pranab is saying. The prices are so high. Tuvar dal is at Rs.100/- a kg. The basic rice that the maids buy is Rs.21/- a kg. Gobi is at Rs.80/- and mutton at Rs.200/-. This is one time I am glad we are all overweight and on a perennial diet. How does the common man live? We haven’t increased anyone’s salary. Did you know that even our Haryanvi driver has turned vegetarian?” I tell Ma that our driver has turned vegetarian because a Sadhu has told him that it will help him procreate. I leave her while she is ruminating on the effect of meat and fish on the sperm count of a man.

I reach a swank Delhi mall a little early to meet a college friend. I buy a cold coffee at our rendezvous spot at Rs.160/- and manage to find an empty seat amidst a bustling crowd. Three young girls whose metatarsals are obviously hurting with their spiky footwear ask me if they could join me until they get a table. I am delighted. After a while I decide to casually ask them if they think the market has picked up. They look blank. I remind them that we went through an economic downturn. “Oh yes. We heard. Our friends who have had done their MBAs can’t get good jobs. Also some of the guys who went abroad haven’t managed to get jobs in Australia, America or USA.” How else did they get affected by the recession? “Not very much. Our parents are concerned but our pocket money remains the same. We haven’t reduced our expenditure. But the shops have great deals.” No wonder Fortune listed Aramark as the most admired company in 2009. It caters to a largely to a recession proof market of students and healthcare.

My friend arrives and he has a strong view on the matter. Don’t I know that Drought augurs the Indian economy? 1.1 billion people depend on the agrarian produce although it accounts for only 17% of the economy. Farmers are dying in rural India while the Finance Ministry projects 6% industrial growth! Oh yes…now I remember, this dude was the Students Federation of India candidate during the college elections!

A few Human Resources heads are in the capital city giving a lecture on “Diversity” the new buzz word that is keeping their fraternity very busy. They judge the economy from the new jobs generated. Software programmers and outsourcing executives are trickling back. The banks need feet on the street to again hard sell their products. The durables industry is hoping the festive season will see some optimistic spending. New products are being launched since old stocks have been depleted. However happiness comes in small packages and it will take a few months before they start hiring senior people.

As I return to my desk my colleague is peering at the tiny print of the share prices in the financial paper. He sums up the day with his analysis - There is high liquidity in the market. Credit is easy, interest rates are down. This will fuel industry. The excess liquidity is also spurring the stock market which drives a lot of market sentiment.

So what’s my conclusion? Yeah…things are looking up. It’s just that my salary has a six month reaction time 

Friday, September 4, 2009

Teacher's Day

Do you remember the last time one went to school on a Teachers day? One spent so many years as a junior looking forward to the final year of school to get the opportunity to dress up and behave as a teacher. It was a hidden aspiration to try and emulate the people who made the greatest difference to our lives after our parents - our teachers.

In my generation our teachers and parents played very different roles from what we see today. My parents did their schooling in pre-independence India in Bengali medium. My father's schooling was out of a Satyajit Ray movie - dhoti clad, walking 5 kms to the village school in today’s Bangladesh. The teachers in my school taught me as much about life as the subjects in the curriculum. Mrs.Mehta guided me through the literature that shaped my mind and had the patience to engage in discussions - a woman and a child's interpretation of the same book. My science teachers Mrs.Thomas, Mrs.Jayaram, Mrs.Venkatraman and Mr.Jani laid the principles which made me clear my Medical and Engineering entrance exams without coaching. Ms.Mathais went to the extent of loosening my wet pigtails and telling me that it was not necessary to wash my long hair everyday in the morning!

We however tend to undermine what we gained from our parents because like every generation before us, we take them for granted. Our parents gave us what seems to be a myth for our children - a secure family, mummy’s cooking, parents loving each other, huge families, simple holidays and loads of time.

I watched my daughter dress up for her last teacher’s celebration day at school this morning. As I draped a chiffon sari around her little did she know the blast that awaited her!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Casting Couch

It was marvelous to read about our Bollywood heroines coming out of the closet with their gory stories about the casting couch. One can imagine the paunchy masala chewing producers and directors squirming in their white pants.

I once acted in professional theatre. The only professional part of the theatre was the fact that we charged people to watch us. My erudite brother who actually wrote, directed and acted was aghast at how I landed a plum role with no experience or audition. I traveled to the rehearsals in a crowded local bus during peak traffic. My father believed that sitting on the pillion seat of the bike of a fellow actor would ruin my marriage prospects. I realised only after two weeks that the other lady acting with me had the director pick her up and drop her in a taxi!!

The director called me for his next production. As I was now a veteran actress I demanded the lead role. My director was from FTII , he furrowed his thick brows and squinted his eyes behind his horn rimmed spectacles and told me the only way to get the lead role would be to a) Get my father's company to sponsor the play b) Offer my house for rehearsals or c) sit in the cab . I have always been the "character artist".

In my first job I was nicknamed Ms.Frigidity. My clients were more charming. They sometimes mistook the millions they deposited in the bank as pocket money they had given me for shopping. The ones from Daryaganj, Paharganj and Chandni Chowk were adequately traumatised by my slit eyed diva look and worried that it they crossed the line they would be handed over to my hearty 50 year old Punjabi colleague from a nationalised bank. On one memorable occasion I was offered "Kahawa" the exotic Middle Eastern coffee at an Embassy. I refused it stating I needed to return to work. The person took umbrage and said "why...do you think I have drugged it? Heh heh...after all I have diplomatic immunity”! The next half an hour passed like a 1970s art film. We sat in silence and watched the coffee get cold. At one pm he decided that his lunch time shawarma was tastier than sour faced me and we parted.

Have you ever encountered the folks who start a sentence at one decibel level and lower it to a whisper as the sentence ends hoping your ear will come closer and closer and closer? The list goes on and on and has been practiced and perfected by both the sexes since times immemorable.

I try not to grin when I nowadays hear stories from teary eyed educated men who lament about how their women bosses make them pick up their children from school, fix the plumbing, do airport duty or even ask their wives to go over to baby sit or cook.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Delhi Downpour

It rained in Delhi yesterday. Yes we now that it rains all over India during the Monsoons but we Delhites are fed and pampered by the rest of the country's tax payers and so we do not believe in suffering the rain . The rains filled our hearts, the roads and the drains. It took me two and half hours to get from Delhi to Gurgaon. We whizzed in the rain hoping that we would not land in a caved in road. We gave evil grins to the bikewallahs who were suffering the pelting rain. We leered at the behenjies whose synthetic suits clung to their multiple tyres while they sat on the pillion seat.

In the good old days one ate pakoras during the rains. For some strange reason bengalies also ate khichdi when it rained. Not the regular north Indian pet kharaab khichdi but a much more refined version which was made with as much love as a biryani. However the combination of my back pain and the cycle tyres on my waistline made me instead put on a mindless vcd. My daughter elected for "Aloo Chaat”. The Punjabi phattas which were mumbled through the movie since they all had sexual innuendoes were lost on us. If I caught one, I would pause and explain it to everyone. Ma sat through the film because it was the debut film of some soap opera superstar called Aamna who puts Barbie to shame in her saccharine sweetness.

Daughter got up to insert disc 2 of the vcd and landed in a pool of water. This is karma, laugh at the bikewallahs and god will punish. The balcony adjoining my bedroom was flooded and after reaching the 4 inch marble "dam" that I had stoically put on the door. The water had gushed into the bedroom and was now flowing into the drawing room. This is no indication of how good a movie aloo chaat is as much as the laziness of the household.

My mom always approaches such household calamities like General Patton during a war. Of course I am the one person army who obeys orders. I promptly go into a yesteryears Hindi movie melodrama queen berating her "naseeb" and "yeh din bhi dekhna tha". The razaies are wet and the music system is close to a short circuit. Daughter and I are brave. We roll up night suits like slum dogs and go to the drain. No easy solution here. Drain is cap less and there are no dry leaves we can pick up and say presto job done. I get drain pump and give it to her. She has never seen drain pump and looks at it with amazement. I explain mechanics. Pump collapses into two during operation. Here both she and I think the movie has shifted streams and get into hysterics. Water around ankles is good fun. We get back to reality with Gen Patton. Daughter is brave girl, she first pokes drain with stick then actually puts her paw into it and encounters blockage. I tell her I have a good idea and we re-enter house.

In the meantime Ma has brought every bed sheet, towel and bedcover and is threatening to throw it over the water. I finally assert my individuality and firmly say no way! Ma resorts to kicking water into my loo with her feet and she is 74 years old!

I call my dear friend and put on my best helpless woman alone with bad back and water up to ankles act. He arrives in five minutes to the rescue. We start filling buckets with a mug. Ma goes to get extra mug and sloooooosh......"dhoom patash" as we say in bong. She fell straight on her right knee and right shoulder.

All attention is now diverted. Dear friend has brilliant idea and calls Nepali cook who is 45 years old with a paunch. Wise man takes a wire and clears the drain. All is well as now we now watch him do all the menial work. I love my country.

Ma is being attended to by daughter who is cracking up. Too much reality in one day for 17 years old. I call ortho doc who is a sweet Bengali man who likes me enough to pick up my call at 10.30 pm. He advises medicine which friend rushes to buy. He also gets foreign pain killing spray which he puts on Ma's knee and shoulder. Meanwhile friend's entire family decides that there is too much excitement to miss at my abode and comes over. We have to clean up Ma's room, change her clothes, brush her hair and prop her up. She thinks I should not wear M & S nightwear because I look ugly when guests drop in at 11 pm on flood days!!!

We offer everyone mithai, thank cook profusely and sneak under the wet razaies at midnight. Next day is another saga since Patton has shoulder tear, bad clots and bruises on knee and is now on antibiotics.

Now are you "out of towners" happy at how we suffer in the rajdhani ?