Sunday, August 21, 2005

Speak up, Mumbai – II

When I wrote this post a few weeks ago, a few had commented that nothing would ever change in Mumbai. Once the hubbub had settled down, all the issues that it raised about disaster management, responsibility etc. would also recede.

But there are some who are not going to stand by and wait for the next cloudburst, to swing into action. Citizens who aren’t waiting for the government to get their act together, but who’ve decided to be part of the solution.

One of them is my pal, Zigzackly. And he needs YOUR help for his project.

Tell us your cloudburst stories
Here's a chance to tell your story, and make a difference. Do help him out.

Friday, August 19, 2005


I still remember the colour of your cheeks on the day you were born. Not translucent white, not baby pink - but a spectacular crimson. Two bright red blotches on either side of your tiny, twitching nose. It almost seemed painted on; like some nurse in the back room had decided to prettify you before presenting you to the public. Will her cheeks always be like this, I asked my mum softly. You’d save a packet on make-up if that were the case. No, my mum shushed, some newborns have that colour; it will fade in a couple of days. I was relieved, but I must add, those cherry-red cheeks were so inviting...

Your first birthday called for a big celebration. Your mother told me, “You’ve got to be the ‘Mistress of Ceremonies’ and conduct the games.” Didn’t she know how uncomfortable I was in crowds? But it was you, and her… how could I refuse? I was awkward, and affected; but I got through the afternoon. You looked adorable in your frilly dress. Your hair had finally begun to grow and there were soft tendrils around your ears. One memory stands out: your mother was trying to maneuver you, and the cake knife, with the same hand. For a few anxious moments, I thought she would slice the wrong goodie. But you escaped unscathed and went on to…

… your second birthday. I had just returned from a trip abroad, and you were so excited about the booty I’d got you, although it would be a while before you could actually use some of it. Pencils with your name inscribed on them, magnets, a magenta dinosaur which I insisted you call ‘Capuccino’, just so I’d enjoy your efforts to pronounce it. (Remember the doll, 'Enchilada'.) You were so excited, you kept repeating my name over and over again because you didn't know too many other words to express your delight. We dressed you in a ghagra-choli that your mother and I got you after much searching. I even got a fancy matching bindi. How you preened! You clearly were in control, even though the four other children were much older than you. What a clamor we made with the ‘Simple Simon’ game. The children didn’t want to leave.

It was a struggle to hold up three fingers the next year. It took a few moments of intense concentration, and with the fingers of one hand helping the other, you succeeded in telling us how old you were. It was a low-key birthday; just close family. I remember allowing you to take pictures with my camera, because I’d come across an article in the papers of a 3-year old who’d just held his first photo exhibition. For some reason, I thought I might discover a similar spark of talent in you. I was proved wrong when I developed the roll: you’d cut off our heads. But then, when it came to you, we’d lost our heads long ago.

I promised you four gifts on your fourth birthday. My mother wanted to know if I would keep up the gifts-corresponding-to-age for life. I knew about your notorious attention span, so I was insured against any magnanimous promises I made. Among the books and colours was the ‘magu-fine glass’. You’d been so fascinated by the one we had at home – the way the world suddenly seemed larger through it. When my mother asked what you were doing with a magnifying glass, you knowledgably corrected her, ‘It’s a magu-fine glass.’ And that was that. From then on, we only knew it as the magu-fine glass.

The much-wanted Barbie, along with her wardrobe, is on the way this year. I had fun shopping for it at the toy store. The array that passes for ‘kidstuff’ is quite simply amazing. A feather boa? An 8-foot doll? Barbie string bikinis? For a few minutes, your tickled aunt and grand-aunt could have passed off as your classmates. But that’s it. There will be no first-hand memories of the party this year. I know I will hear all the details, and will piece them together to imagine your day. It’s been a hard year for you, and I know everyone will pull all the stops to make it a memorable day. I’m only sorry that I cannot be there. Sorry for myself, that I won’t be a part of the memories. But enough about me, this is your day to celebrate. So without any more ado…

Happy Birthday to the sweetest niece and, of course, ‘bess friend’.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A few bloggers more

Rhyncus's post on Dubai in his new blog, reminded me of a half-finished post buried under a steadily growing heap of posts, patiently waiting to be written. This one’s an continuation of the ‘Bloggers I’ve Met’ series.

Rhyncus: Travels with a centipede

(First, a little background: Rhyncus, the milk-selling blogger from Nigeria, was returning to Mumbai, with a 2-day stopover in Dubai. A blogger meet was planned.)

The opening conversation went like this:

Leela: Welcome to Dubai, Rhyncus.
Rhyncus: Shukran.
Leela: A-ha! I see you know Arabic.
Rhyncus: Not really. I only know two words.
Leela: Really, which is the other word?
Rhyncus: Sharmoota. It means ‘bitch’.

Despite that early indication that here was a don’t-mess-with-me-I-know-two-Arabic-words guy, I went ahead and fixed a time and venue. There were some questions that were begging to be answered. For instance: what did ‘Rhyncus’ mean? Why was he selling milk in Nigeria? And why on earth was he traveling with a centipede?

Since it was a Saturday-night (not to be mistaken for the weekend; actually, first day of the week) I decided to take him to a pub not too far from where I lived – Beyond El Rancho’s at the Marco Polo Hotel. The same place where my friends used to conduct a quiz not so long ago.

“I’ve heard Dubai has a happening nightlife,” said Rhyncus.

Yes it does, I agreed heartily, as we walked into a near-empty pub. Rhyncus turned on the Russian accent in an attempt to impress the Russian waitress, and maybe it worked, because she came and placed a complimentary lemon tart with the words ‘You are special’ on it – in front of me. Over Bloody Mary’s and Screwdrivers, and among other topics discussed, I finally got the answers to the burning questions. a) Rhyncus means nose. b) Because the Nigerians bought the white stuff, duh. c) Because most two- and four-legged creatures were taken.

Ok, I made up the last one; I can’t remember Rhyncus’s answer.

Shantesh: Fikar Nako

When Shantesh introduces himself as a ‘shooting star’, you’ve got to take it literally. Each time we made plans to meet, he’d excuse himself, mumbling, “Got a shoot coming up tomorrow”, or “Shoot delayed, won’t be able to make it.”

Of course, I should know better than to expect copywriters to deliver to a deadline. I should also know that copywriters sometimes come up with scintillating stuff when least expected (erh-em). So, one evening without too much planning and co-ordinating of schedules, two copywriters met up at the Cricketer’s Pub at the Ramada Continental Hotel.

Shantesh has been in Dubai for a few months only. But he’s well informed about the nightlife in the city (unlike the other copywriter). He regaled me with stories about the seamy side of the city, until I noticed quite a bit of interesting action going on around the pub itself.

A trio of pretty Russian girls in pink minis, and their accompanist trooped in, and Shantesh groaned loudly. I couldn’t imagine why, until they started singing old country songs. ‘Done brek my aart, my ekky brekky aart’, had me in splits.

Wiping my tears, I said, “Now I’ve heard it all: Russians singing country western!”

“Hah!” he retorted promptly, “you haven’t heard Filipinos singing Bhangra yet.”

True, there’s no arguing that.

Pixel 8: Pixel 8
Neha: Dreams & Reality
Amit: Amit’s Musings
Manu: Georgie’s Jungle

Tearing oneself away from the cosy confines of home on a lazy Friday afternoon for a blogger meet requires a good deal of will power. I thumbed the Book of Excuses, but none sounded like they would cut any ice. As a last resort I tried sending a text message asking if the meet was on. Turned out everyone was waiting for me. There was no getting away and I plodded over to the Pizza Hut opposite the Bur Juman Mall.

It turned out to be an interesting afternoon, and I was glad I came along. I’d met Manu and Amit previously, but was meeting Pixel8 and Neha for the first time. I’d expected Pixel8 to be there with her camera, clicking at everything in sight. She maintains a neat photoblog, and has put her web designing skills to good use on her blog. She’s also the only one I know who has immutable faith in Rediffblogs, while I haven’t missed an opportunity to gripe about it.

While all of us placed our orders, Neha announced that she was fasting. My jaw plunged a bit when she said she’d been fasting for a couple of months, subsisting only on bananas and milk. The jaw’s downward slide continued when she mentioned she was doing a 3-year course in Gaming Technology from the US, which required her to attend virtual classes at 2.30 a.m. daily. I discovered she works quite close to my office, so one of these days when we meet for coffee I’m going to figure out the secret of her energy, and, possibly, bottle it. It’s hard enough keeping my eyes open until 11 p.m. on a regular day!

Thanks all of you, it’s been a pleasure.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Priceless Pictures # 1: Spotted at Spinneys

I’m starting an occasional photo series called ‘Priceless Pictures’ to document the interesting (read, quirky) sights I’ve come across. The quality might be a bit iffy because it’s my phone camera.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

In a similar vein...

A blog post in reply to an email?!

I enjoy the way you experiment with your writing. Here I am, following your lead.

You’ll find this funny, but I didn’t realize I was pining for the city when I wrote that post. I was not unhappy to get away when I did, because I longed for a change. I couldn’t imagine why I stayed in the same city for so many years when I enjoy, no, crave new experiences. I actually envied your trajectory of life in so many cities. And it turns out, you long for an obsession with a single place. The grass is never green enough in our garden, is it?

Yes, my Suffering has finally come to an End. 10 pages in a day is all that I could average in a speeding car, with the radio turned up max. I detest the car pool, but it seems like the only time I can get any reading done is on the way to work. 1 month and 11 days for 1 book! (Yes, I’ve been keeping track.) All my co-passengers, including the driver, noticed when I started a new book.

But I have to say, An End to Suffering is amazing. It filled in many gaps in my understanding of The Enlightened One after I was properly introduced to him last year. I think you mentioned it briefly sometime ago, didn’t you? I must go back and check it out.

I’m halfway through a quick-read now, after which I will begin on the book I mentioned before. Thanks for that brief glimpse into the author’s other work. I’m intrigued enough.

On another note, I’ve been trying to persuade the girl from Chicago to pass through here on her way to India in November. Is there a chance you can do a trip as well? An International Meet would be cool, wouldn’t it?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Speak up, Mumbai!

Everyone has a story about the Great Deluge. My mum wrote a long missive about the two narrow escapes she had – once when an electricity pole crashed in front of her, and another, when a tree slammed the earth a few feet away from her. My usually taciturn brother wrote a detailed account of being accommodated in the Hyatt by his office – 20 to a room – and of sheepishly traveling by the ladies first class in order to get home. A hyper busy ex-boss wrote a long email updating me on her escape from Tedious Tuesday and Wet Wednesday - ‘It’s not a normal working day,’ she wrote on a usually furious Friday.

Mumbai can’t stop talking about the rains. Stories, like the damp laundry, are refusing to dry up. Stories of survival and courage; of indignation and outrage; of silent Samaritans and quick-thinking messiahs. Bloggers have, figuratively speaking, taken to the streets. Collablogs like Cloudburst and MumbaiHelp have sprung up. has gritty, unedited testimonies from scores of stranded travelers (which make for more interesting reading than dry articles with two-line sound-bites.) People have become very vocal, indeed.

Which is really the best thing to happen to Mumbai.

For far too long, people have either bitten their lip and suffered, or else whined helplessly, knowing fully well that they were only shouting in the wind. Now, there’s an ominous mood building up. People who’ve spent days in darkness and damp rooms aren’t willing to swallow excuses. The huge loss of life cannot be explained away as the hand of God. What’s the government doing, people are asking hands on hips, looking belligerent. A schoolboy on a debate on NDTV yesterday asked the same question. People are looking up from their daily struggles to demand accountability from a sluggish administration. Nobody is buying it just because the Chief Minister grandly claims, “We are working on it; we are a responsible government.”

It appears that Mumbai has reached the end of its tether and its denizens are ready to holler, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.’

Sitting miles and miles away, I feel for Mumbai like never before. I want to believe that Mumbai will come out stronger from this near-death by drowning. I want to believe that all the questions that this calamity has raised about lack of infrastructure, non-existent disaster management and sheer negligence will be answered comprehensively. I want to believe that the voices raised in protest will not run out of steam once the sun comes out.

We don’t need any more proof of Mumbai’s indomitable spirit. What we need is change, visible change. If, without prompting, direction or even expectation of material gain, Mumbai’s citizens turned up in full force to save the city from going under, what’s stopping us from rallying together and demanding a better way of living, for all? If residents can stay awake all night watching over the marooned passengers in a sunken double-decker bus, why can’t they also give their local representative sleepless nights by demanding accountability?

So speak up, Mumbai. Tell your story, get mad as hell and don’t take it anymore.