Wednesday, November 28, 2007


It was a minute after midnight. The Cuban band took a break from the rousing samba numbers to play the familiar birthday melody. The crowd joined in singing and clapping, not knowing who was being wished. It seemed the perfect moment to whisper a wish for her too, and imagine her celebrating in some celestial hangout with newfound friends, and dancing uninhibitedly into the wee hours of the morning, the way she always loved to. She would have been 35 today.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tell me a story... - II

Continued from ‘Tell Me a Story’

The bus wasn’t expected for a couple of hours, we were told. P and I had just about exchanged dismayed looks when the errant bus rumbled into the terminus. We scrambled aboard, relieved, until we realized that we hadn’t a clue of how to reach our final destination from wherever the bus dropped us off.

“I have a map, if it helps,” a voice piped up from across the aisle.

It was the elderly man again. Helplessness trumped over mild irritation, and we decided to consult the proffered map.

‘Karnataka: One State. Many Worlds’ – read the text at the right hand corner of the map. P and I pored over it, getting our bearings. The elderly man helpfully pointed out our destination and remarked that we weren’t too far from the bus stop. We thanked him for his help, and I casually asked if he was a frequent traveler in these parts.

“This is my third visit,” he told us, “my crew’s already gone on ahead.”

What crew, we inquired.

“The camera crew,” he said. “I work as a producer with Discovery Channel, and we’re doing a segment on Karnataka.”

Appearances can be misleading, I thought. Here I had pegged him for a small town schoolteacher or even some religious sort, on account of the beads and longish hair. He certainly didn’t fit the image of an international TV producer.

Conversation flowed more freely after this revelation since both P and I work with media-related organizations. We exchanged notes about work and Discovery programmes and travel, when he told us offhand that he had a yearly routine of driving to Germany.

Drive, I exclaimed, a little too loudly!

He confirmed that my hearing was good, and that he did indeed drive to Germany taking a route via Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and so on, until he reached Germany.

”How many days does it take you?” I asked, fascinated.

“23 days, including rest days,” he replied.

But why Germany, I had to know.

Sensing that he had finally captured our attention, his diffidence receded and his manner became a bit oratorical.

"Germany has given me two things most valuable to me," he said, and then after a dramatic pause, continued, "Firstly, it's given me my doctorate - I did a PhD in Psychology at the Berlin University. And secondly, it's given me my boss."

What a workaholic, I thought. But once again I was in for a surprise.

He laughed at my stupefied expression and said, "Surely you know what I mean – I’m talking of the boss at home! I met my wife in Germany."

Apparently, they travelled to Germany for Christmas every year, she by air, and he, by road. His return route was equally convoluted and took almost 5 weeks, since he decided to spend time in remote islands along the way.

He seemed to be a devoted husband though, and couldn’t stop gushing about how he considered her words as commands from God, and of how he was perhaps the only Indian male to wake up each morning and touch his wife’s feet.

P had a giggling fit, which she quickly turned into a cough. I was amused too, but there were jaw-dropping revelations to follow.

He wasn’t in his 50s as we’d assumed. He was 73 and travelled ten months of the year, including the trip to Germany. He slept for 2 1/2 hours at night, and meditated another 2 1/2 hours. He spoke of papers he’d written and his theories of God. He painted a fascinating picture of places he’d visited. Truth and fiction seemed intertwined in parts, but that only added to the mystique of the story teller. He showed me notes he’d painstakingly handwritten – programme synopses, journal articles, and even an article on a Christian saint, ostensibly requested by the Vatican!

The bus was lurching violently on the unpaved road. It was almost two hours since we’d left the bus station in Hubli, but I hardly noticed. He insisted we keep in touch, but didn’t have a business card. I offered mine, and he said I’d be hearing from him soon.

I never did, but that didn’t matter anyway. I had my story after all.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The dog ate my post today...

... we'll be back with a new dog tomorrow.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tell me a story...

I love listening to a good story. Especially if it’s a life story that’s filled with intrigue and achievement, agonies and triumphs, love and adventure, folly and madness, particularly madness. I can always sense when I’ve met a person with such a story. A few words exchanged, and I just know. I feel a bubble of curiosity building up, my focus sharpens and time becomes obsolete. A quiver full of questions appears by my side, and I’ve to restrain myself from shooting all of them impatiently. I can listen until the person has outtalked himself or herself, or until they seem uncomfortable to lay it all bare. I’m curious but not voyeuristic.

Listening to a good story thrills me beyond belief. I can recall and recount the details right down to the expressions long after the encounter. I feel privileged and humbled by the sharing, invigorated by the experience, which often enough is all too brief. Glancing back at this year, the moments which stand out, right next to special times with friends and family, are these encounters with ‘story tellers’.

The digeridoo player from Australia, the demolitions expert from the Canadian NATO force in Afghanistan, the photographer-philanthropist, the Moroccan flamenco guitarist and psychology enthusiast, the divorced parlour assistant separated from her 6-year-old daughter, the pilot-musician-entrepreneur, the environmental activist and organic farmer from a small town in Karnataka, the manicurist with aspirations of becoming a lawyer, the septuagenarian producer from Discovery Channel… I’ve been enriched by their stories.

As it usually happens, the introductions come about innocuously enough. You’d never suspect there was a story waiting to unravel. I was, in fact, studiously ignoring the short, bald old man in the white kurta and checked mustard yellow pants with some kind of beads around his neck at the bus stand in Hubli, Karnataka. We were in unfamiliar terrain, and a bit disoriented even. Our bus seemed to be late, and even the bus stand attendants were unsure about when the next bus would arrive. So, when the elderly man tried striking up a conversation with us twice, we were a bit terse…

To be continued

Friday, November 23, 2007

Friday Brunch Menu

1 Pajero
1 Jeep
1 UAE Off-Road Explorer
5 off-road enthusiasts who abhor wasting a Friday morning tucked under the covers
9 litres water
Miles and miles of empty roads
10 kms. of sand dunes
Half a dozen wild camels
A sprinkling of shrubs
1 destination - Fossil Rock
6-7 wrong turns
1 sweltering sun
5 lost but contented souls
1 dozen plans for the next weekend

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ten years on...

... the magic hasn't faded.

Michael Hutchence
22 Jan 1960 - 22 Nov 1997

10 years ago, a rockstar on the wane hung himself from the door of his hotel room, and became immortal. He was on tour in Sydney, promoting his album, uncannily titled, Elegantly Wasted. It was an ignominous end to a life which seemed so full of talent and promise, but in the annals of rock and roll, it was a scripted finale almost.

I admit I'm an unabashed INXS fan, and own all of their music, except for a couple of early albums. It's not the typical music I listen to, and friends are rather amused by my incongruous passion for INXS. But to me it's music that connects me to a time of growing up, and MTV, of 'seeing' music and not just listening to it on the radio. And then of course, there's Michael's voice - deep, seductive, glorious. Marry that with an in-your-face sensual stage persona and you have a perfect recipe for a schoolgirl crush.

I've lost count or probably never kept track of the number of times I've listened to the ballad, 'Never Tear Us Apart' from the 1987 Kick album. It continues to be one of my favourite songs of all time. Kick was the album that catapulted INXS onto the world stage, and won them the Grammys. But personally, I prefer an album which came later, and which received a lukewarm response - Full Moon, Dirty Hearts. It's unusually mellow in parts but runs deep, with songs like 'Please' (with Ray Charles), 'Full Moon Dirty Hearts', 'Freedom Deep' and 'Kill the Pain'.

By the mid-90s however Michael's much-publicised private life was catching up with him. His penchant for high profile girlfriends such as Kylie Minogue, Helena Christensen and Paula Yates meant that he was in the news, and not always for the right reasons. When the spiral of drugs and depression got too much, it seemed he decided to sing his swansong, leaving behind a rich legacy of music and several generations of fans who refuse to let go.

I was standing
You were there
Two worlds collided
And they could never tear us apart.

- from 'Never Tear Us Apart'

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An Encounter

He entered the hospital waiting room while the nurse was measuring my height and doing some other preliminaries.

“Have you grown taller?” he asked, smiling

I was taken aback by his friendliness as well as by the question.

“Oh, I wish,”
I replied.

After the nurse had left, I asked him if he was there to see the same doctor. He said, yes, and that it was his third visit.

“You mean, he didn’t cure you on the first attempt?” I asked, attempting a bit of humour.

“I’m just here for follow ups. I had a brain tumour removed. And I’ve to follow up to ensure everything’s ok up here,”
he said, tapping his forehead.

I could have bitten my tongue. But he didn’t seem to mind my weak joke. I noticed there were faint dark crescents below his eyes. Old battle scars.

“That must have been something,” I murmured.

“Well, yeah,”
he said, “it was a benign one but it was causing pressure on the brain, so they had to take 80% of it out.”

“And what of the remaining 20%?”
I asked

“Well, that’s still there. They’re monitoring it. It’s been 2 ½ years now, and it’s behaving itself. Who knows what the future holds…” he trailed off, still smiling.

The doctor came out of his chamber and asked me to step in. He noticed the other person in the waiting room and waved at him, recognizing him. He waved back.

He looked up and smiled when I came out. I muttered a ‘Good Luck’ before leaving.

20%, I kept thinking. Imagine walking around knowing there’s a latent volcano inside you.

I just wish I’d asked him his name.

Monday, November 19, 2007


... to our 10,000th visitor, who stumbled here looking for 'DUBAI UNREAL ESTATE' (caps not mine).

Unreal, it is. Sigh.

Sunday, November 18, 2007


Philip Roth, Peter Carey, Tim Winton, Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Alan Holinghurst, Paul Auster, Naomi Wolf, Neil Gaiman...

... for just Dhs. 3 each! (Rs. 33 or thereabouts)

The Magrudy's Warehouse Sale over the past weekend, was the best sale I've ever attended. We're not talking second hand or soiled copies - they were brand new books most of them still cocooned in plastic. It was maddeningly thrilling to turn the book around and still find the yellow price tags listing (what now seemed) exorbitant prices.

Initially, when I entered, the hardbound books were going at Dhs. 10 and paperbacks at Dhs. 5. But, the prices were slashed in the last hour before the sale. It rankled a bit to find 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix' going for Dhs. 5.

"Take it, take it," pleaded the salesman. "

"I've already got a copy," I said.

"Gift it to somebody," he squeaked, thrusting two copies at me.

It wasn't just the salespeople who'd gone mental. Someone near me had picked up an empty carton, having dispensed with the Magrudy's blue net bag, and was stocking up for a very long winter. Another was wheeling around a supermarket trolley stacked with books. This was what 'Booktopia' would be like, I told myself.

An hour and a half later, fatigue and thirst got the better of me, but not before I carried 18 books to the cashier.

"50 dirhams," said the cashier. I happily paid.

As I was about to pick up the bulging bags and leave, the cashier asked me to wait. He picked 3 more books off the counter and put them in my bags. Diwali bonus, he said and winked.

I could do with a bigger apartment for Christmas.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Going, going...

Sleeping bag - check
Pullover - check
Red Devil - check
Phone - uncheck

...we're going camping.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Radio, some one still loves you...

There's nothing to beat the sheer popularity of radio in this country. In all the time I've been here, I've rarely heard anyone discussing a TV show or a news article with as much passion as radio shows. Phone lines of popular shows are constantly jammed with garrulous callers who breathlessly reveal personal details with unrestrained candour. I once heard a guy tell an RJ, "You're the best thing to have happened to me." This, to a disembodied voice on the airwaves. People are known to enter their cars and turn on the radio before the air-conditioning.

I'll admit it takes your mind off traffic and crazy drivers on occasion, but I'm not one to go 'Radio ga-ga'. If anything, I'm allergic to dial-in shows and inane, superfluous chatter. I'd rather listen to static than to some pseudo-chirpy RJ banter punctuated by forced, grating laughter. The only thing that's music to my ears, is music. And thankfully my iPod accomplishes that without any back chat.

Still, once in a while I venture out among the airwaves, to listen for new music, or radio commercials (part of the job) or sale announcements (part of life, heh). Last weekend, I was listening to my one-time favourite radio station called The Coast. It used to be the only radio station in the country that played great music without any commercial breaks or RJs. Naturally, an aberration like that couldn't continue for long, and now, it's just like every other radio station, commercials, RJs and all.

The Coast RJ was reading out a letter from an ardent listener, "Dear RJ, I've a problem of sorts. I'm 8 months pregnant, and my doctor says I'm due on December 6th. Now, I've just bought my tickets for the Justin Timberlake show on the same day. What should I do - give away the tickets or take the chance and go for the show?"

Now this is one question that's seldom found in the Training Syllabus for Aspiring RJs. But that didn't stop Mr. RJ from venturing an answer, first pausing to employ the classic 'Miss Universe Question Round Trick' i.e. paraphrase the question to gain time to formulate a winning answer,

"Dear X, I'm not 8 months pregnant, but if I were you and I had bought tickets to the Timberlake show on the same day that the doctor said I was due... I would definitely go for the Timberlake show."

For everyone's sake, I hope Justin's entourage has a midwife or two.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

what would you like?

i'd like
live in
a place
and red
fall in

i'd like
a room
view of

i'd like
lots of

i'd like
to do
or ringing
of tomorrow

i'd like
mint tea
the window
golden light
peeking in
a bird
stopping by
a chat

i'd like
pore over
old photographs
or read
old letters
which i
i'd read

I'd like

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Mozart turns mallrat

It's possible to find just about anything in a mall in Dubai. A ski slope, an elephant water clock, and, as I discovered last week, a Philharmonic Orchestra.

It was incredible enough to find that Dubai had a Philharmonic Orchestra, but to have them perform with an Australian Jazz Quartet an ambitious concert titled, 'Jazz meets Mozart' - well, that was almost like finding parking at the mall on a Friday night. Almost.

The lobby of the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (DUCTAC), just above the ski slope, started filing up by 7.30 p.m. but the concert only began at around 8.30. One easily excused the delay when the musicians began playing. Spellbinding just doesn't begin to describe it. A rousing samba rendition of Mozart's haunting Symphony No. 40 made it impossible to keep ones feet from tapping. But my favourite was the overture from 'The Marriage of Figaro', Unlike the energetic piece originally written by Mozart, the jazzed up version had a slow plaintive beginning with just the lead violinist and the saxophonist which progressed at a steady pace with a few piano solos, and then built up to the familiar crescendo with the entire Orchestra furiously working their instruments.

The conductor, Philip Maier, seemed very self-assured, and the Orchestra never struck a wrong chord. Two hours later, as I was driving back home still humming snatches of melodies played, it struck me that for once being a mall rat wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I'll have a six-pack, thank you...

Sign at the Dubai Metro construction site,


Saturday, November 03, 2007

Discovering Dibba

Dibba is probably the antithesis of Dubai. Craggy brown peaks every where you turn, blue green waters which sound like a thunderclap at night, a horizon interrupted only by palm trees and unpretentious buildings, and a pace of life that regards hurrying as entirely unworthy of effort. An apt example of unpretentious would be a shop sign along the way – Food Selling Grocery. As basic as that. It’s almost a matter-of-fact announcement - you want fancy, head south to Dubai.

There wasn’t enough time to soak in Dibba on a weekend packed with team games, wild revelry and other assorted madness. But one of these weekends a return trip is due…

Friday, November 02, 2007

Going with the office gang

... to a beach resort in Dibba, the north-eastern most town in the UAE. Flanked by mountains and the sea, Dibba promises some spectacular views. More, when we get back.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

October checklist

Return from Bombay without excess baggage - check
Get upgraded to Business Class on the flight - check
Smuggle common cold viruses into Dubai which torment for weeks - check
Mark blog anniversary - check
Start the gym - check
Get back in touch with a friend I'd always want to get in touch with - check
Go on a somewhat interesting date - check
Fix and service car - check
Get lost when dropping and picking up car from service station - check
Try out two new recipes - check
Neglect blog - check
Write out goals and plans - check

There, always helps to make a checklist. Haven't given up on the diary, Parmanu, it was just taking a while and encouraging procrastination. One of these days...