Monday, September 19, 2011

The few minutes of hating Delhi

 are usually at 2 am in the morning wondering how the hell one must get back home. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

chatting with people from other jobs

 Sachida:  that's alright
so you come (home, sic) this evening with Miss Chauhan?
 Sent at 15:16 on Wednesday
 me:  I am unaware of the circumstances that will lead to dusk
But if they are favourable, yes
in terms of bomb blasts and journalism I mean
Mere anarchy may be loosed upon the world by then,
by dawn
 Sachida:  aren't blasts a journalist's thali?
 me:  You mean sensous scrumptous
 Sachida:  yep
scams and some mistreated woman are his/her bread and butter
but a bomb blast? My god it's a feast

Thursday, September 01, 2011

You may say I am a dreamer

We are the romantics. We put up pictures on our tumblr blogs of pretty wooden swings that fly above wet green grass in a village in Italy. We snatch beautiful words and place them for posterity. We gang up together in our little parties making the best drinks we can with the little money we have and get overwhelmed at the intensities that life throws at us. We make sudden travel plans that are hopelessly impractical and utterly exhausting because we like the practical people have jobs. When reality is gray and so so, we turn up the volume in our heads and our eyes and live in our imagination. We waste money on buying pretty clothes.
We fall bang into the dangerous space of love and do it again and again and again till it seems like we can endure better than the others but we can't. Not really. It's still Delhi here, and tepid fart like weather and a nice-ish day has ended. It's still Delhi and I am in a quiet restrained room, all alone, listening to music. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Of thorns, selling and Shahrukh Khan

A book launch was simultaneously satire of the consumer world and star studded with Shahrukh's presence


The impression I got was that if I had to get your attention, I should start with speaking about Shahrukh Khan and his explanation for having said "I am the best." He said that only because he had an inferiority complex, apparently  -- he didn't feel that he was good enough. People clawed at him for autographing the book, followed him till they reached the hemlines of the backstage curtains through which he disappeared leaving a vacuum of disappointed children, ladies and gentleman. A small girl dressed in a ghaghra choli for the special occasion jumped up and down, smiling.


 Since very few book launches these days are complete without the Bollywood presence, IIPM dean Arindam Chaudhuri and his wife Rajita Chaudhuri invited Shahrukh Khan for the launch of their book Thorns to Competition about marketing strategies.

The lights were dimmed and a cardboard cactus (with one of the cactus stems deliberately revealing a middle finger) was surrounded by flickering blue lights. Shahrukh Khan arrived two hours late and pressed the remote control and out of this garish set up, the book burst forth along with jhink jhack music (that was played before the arrival of every important speaker).


Thorns is an acronym (Khan called it a pseudonym) but we come to that later. We knew that the modern marketplace is a war zone but we pretty much had to keep our satirical glasses on throughout the show.

Arindam Chaudhuri enters stage after the music aided anticipation. "This book is one of the best books, I believe," he says. Chaudhuri talked about how he kept gifting his father expensive watches, but his father insisted on wearing his old watch from high school, much to his son's exasperation. It was a problem with his father's generation. They didn't warm up to the consumer economy as well as we do. "They judged people by what they knew and what they learnt. Marketing teaches you to forget a person's worth. He appreciated things like music, art, literature etc," he said. Apparently, the more you read, the more you want to read, the more you listen to music, the more you want to listen. Now, that's increasing marginal utility. Before you switch off, an explanation will be offered.


Usually it is the generation that is in its teens and twenties that is criticized for its 140 character arguments, its Facebook status relationship breakups, the works. Arindam Chaudhuri superimposes a neat economic theory on all these varied life experiences. The law of diminishing marginal utility. The more you have something the less you want it. But at the same time, you don't want the old watch anymore, but you want the new one.

Just as you buy phone 4560, a radio host tells you phone 4560 is out and 4670 is in. "A satisfied customer is the marketing man's worst nightmare," said Chaudhuri.


Meanwhile, in the room with blue lights, cameramen were fidgety. When was Shahrukh Khan, sitting in the front row going to step on stage and do camera worthy things?

When he finally did, they screamed to the organizers. "Lights, lights, lights"


Shahrukh gave thorns to competition we were told. He endorsed women's products, he was the first star to accept a negative role in Darr (1993) and by the way, he has been "chatting with Lady Gaga and is doing a song with her." It's a marketing thing, he says. "We want to exchange audiences."


Khan was impeccable in his role for the night as the humble, saying Namaste to the old ladies and gentlemen invited to stage super star. He came across at least as humble and a little unsure.



He could be a dilliwalla, he insisted, even though he kept on his best theatre accent in Mumbai. "When I was struggling in Bollywood I wanted to hit many people hard. I can be a dilliwallah  and talk like (insert Haryanvi accented expletives). Loud cheers erupt from the audience that had till then held on to every word he spoke in a quiet, contained rapture.




Monday, August 29, 2011

The thousands at Ramlila Maidan

Here were people who had come with anger, with hope and with expectation. They were angry because they had taken the daily frustrations of living in this country as a given. That you have to pay a bribe to get a ration card, that state subsidized food is sold at high prices, that you have to pay to get into medical college, that people who worked less hard could pay their way into medical college. They had laughed it away. It happens only in India.
Suddenly, here was a man who assured them that it was alright to be angry. A man who allowed them to be angry. A quote I read recently makes sense in this context :

“If you don’t have self-esteem, you will hesitate to do anything in your life. You will hesitate to report a rape. You will hesitate to defend yourself when you are discriminated against because of your race, your sexuality, your size, your gender. You will hesitate to vote; you will hesitate to dream. For us to have self-esteem is truly an act of revolution, and our revolution is long overdue.”— Margaret Cho

Anna Hazare gave them this self-esteem. The people were angry and they were hopeful. “What makes you think the Jan Lokpal bill, just another piece of legislation, just like the others we have, will change this country?,” I asked all the 80 odd people I spoke to. The answers were varied and colourful but in essence – there were two types.

Type one: “This is Anna’s bill, not the government bill.”
Type two: “No problem can disappear completely. At least 70% corruption will go.”
Anna is the icon, the go-to God, the sacrosanct Krishna they have waited for. Santosh Chaudhury, a farmer from Darbhanga in his thirties, believes Anna has returned as an incarnation of Krishna. A follower of Baba Ramdev, he has been coming since April. “Yada yada hi dharmasya… glanirbhavati bharata…,” he quotes with great flourish. (Roughly, when there is too much sin in the world, Krishna will return to save it.)

Faith and religion were magnetic words that drew people by the thousands, and it buoyed the other important word—patriotism. Inquilab Zindabad (Glory to the revolution) was at best a quaint phrase reserved for Hindi movies or smaller, less televised revolutions. But at Ground Zero, Hazare, farmers, college students, middle class, lower middle class, wealthy designer wear clad men ,women and school children were chanting it together.
People were thirsty for a revolution.
People like myself – people from the middle and lower middle class had studied Gandhi in History class. They had seen Bollywood films in which heroes fall down and surrender to the police/to a higher power for the country. Where people die for the country to be glorified forever. They cheered to songs from Lagaan, Swades and Rang De Basanti.

People had expectations too. They expected to be heard. They had seen it all play out on TV. TV was finally talking about them. Their day to day problems – not being issued a ration card, etc were getting a sounding board in the national media. All you had to do was walk around with a notebook. (There is also the subtle class marker which identifies you as a journalist.) People came to you and said, this is me, I am from here, I came from there and I am angry with the government, they haven’t done a damn thing right. Shaheen waited three years to enter medical school because of corruption. An 85-year old man from Punjab had seen the British go, the world around him transform and he was deeply disappointed. Twenty two year old Suraj from Allahbad didn’t want to pay to get a government job.
Arvind Kejriwal, meanwhile, is the young hero and hero for the young. He tells the audience how the Government was trying to deny them their rights, how it played games and was trying to force Team Hazare to surrender. The scenes from those inspiring movies replayed in audiences’ minds when Kejriwal spoke.
“Doston, yeh sarkaar hamse kehti hai ki…(Friends, this government tells us that)…,” is the way he starts every line while telling the crowd about the discussions with the government. “Kya ham yeh maan lein…? (Can we accept this?),” he asks like a seasoned political campaigner and a collective ‘nahi’ is followed by another round of “Inquilab Zindabad.”
He then tells them how the government mistreated the Anna’s representatives. The fuse had been lit. Ministers Pranab Mukherjee and Salman Khursheed know the rest. The media rounded them up on behalf of the crowd at Ramlila Maidan.

The crowd at Ramlila Maidan came to you and asked you to write down its story. In front of the Prime Minister’s house, when the all party meeting was happening, a meeting in which talks would fail, a few protestors managed to sneak in. Roads had been blocked for atleast 4 kilometres around the residence. Only the media was allowed. The media had set up camp, with a row of black obedient tripods focussed on the white house. Nothing happened for a while. Vilasrao Deshmukh zipped by the car and the journalists awoke like birds fluttering at a stone.
Finally, a group of women and one or two men came in sloganeering. An alert camera man said to one of the women, “Madam, idhar hi kar lejiye,” Madam, please protest right here – where I have set up.
The women, the men they performed for the camera. The politicians were inside talking politics. Some of them slipped away. One man fell on the ground and said Vande Mataram many times even as the police dragged him away in the police van, to drop him off at Ramlila Maidan, the legal site for protest.

Images from Tehelka.
Some of this material has been used in my stories in Tehelka.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

We are making heavenly smelling basil pesto. I actually want to grow
up into someone who can pluck basil and coriander from the garden and
dunk into food.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Of Butter Chicken and Co

I have noticed a rather worrying trend in the South and especially in Tamil Nadu. Dravidian Movement, Tamil pride apart, everyone on the street in Chennai seemed to be ready to demonstrate their knowledge of Hindi. The best indication of the North Indianization of the South- (apart from the extra glittered Kanjeevaram sarees) is food. To me, food is a metaphor for many things. When we went to Pondicherry (this was more than seven months ago), we stayed in a mid range business hotel. I am a fan of hotels like this - the clean bathrooms and the anonymous decor that brings us - the guests into central focus. 
However, their menu had only one South Indian dish on the menu - Chicken Chettinad, which in any case is a mainstream Lajpat Nagar dish. But since, I had to make use of being in the south, I was always keeping a look out for authentic food.The dosa in the Chennai bus stop can for instance put Sagar Ratna out of business in one day. Anyhow, so I wanted to try real Chettinad food. When I was growing up, I had a cook from Chettinad. My brother would (in his endless cruelty) point out to her birds from books like Birding in North Carolina  and she, who has never left South India, claim to have eaten all of them. She was in general, an interesting character. For example, when she was a child she said she had been scared that crows would steal her breasts away....but I digress. 

Chettinad food, like most well intention-ed cuisines of the world offers little to the vegetarian and yet I, the lover of Korean Bimbimbap and the braverer of Naga restarants persevere. The typical dishes include Roast Rabbit, the spicy Egg Curry, Kothu Paratha- mashed up Paratha seasoned with onion, tomatoes and spices with the option of meat, etc. 

So, we went to Anjappar, a chain of Chettinad restaurants that I have been familiar with since college in Chennai. 
Deeply excited, I settled into the musty smelling room. I went through the menu and with great difficulty settled on a few dishes I could try, prepared to over order because it would be months before I was back in the south. 
"What is available?," I asked the waiter. " Naan, Fried Rice, Paneer," he said. 

Now, you don't spend FIVE hours (despite my penchant for exaggeration, I don't plead guilty) convincing a European to try spicy South Indian "water dal" and then go to Anjappar and order Paneer Butter Masala. That would be loss of self respect.I walked out. 

Only to be faced with another buffet for which I paid the whole price to ignore the naan and the biryani to eat Rasam Sadam and Chilly Egg. And so, in any case this North Indianization of the South is something I fear. Homogenization of cultures to adhere to the idea of India which is artificial. Just like in most Bollywood movies, the characters are Punjabi or they have no specific culture but in some odd generic way, are mildly relatable to everyone. In any case, perhaps it's just easier to pack a kathi roll than rasam sadam and convenient packaging makes life simpler.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A woman in Louisiana can pee in peace.

I was reading this and remembered in retrospect how a conversation 
I had in 2008 was so surreal. It was with a woman who had sold her kidneys for 
Rs.40,000 to a middle man who would then make sure it was implanted in an American woman.
Yes, true. The details evade me now but it was in a slum on the outskirts of Chennai. It was hot and dusty and we were under pressure to put out a piece for the college Television bulletin that no one watched. The women fussed over my North eastern companion because she is light skinned. We were pointed to the house of the woman who sold her kidneys. There was a DVD Player, a TV and my horrified journalism student mind was thinking, "Damn, the kidneys paid for this." The family was not exceptionally poor by the standards of their community. The woman, lets call her Revati sold the fish that her husband, lets call him Gopal caught. The tsunami had changed their fortunes because they were shifted to apartment buildings far away from the sea. They still got by but the offer of money for kidneys just seemed too lucrative to ignore. And now a woman somewhere in (say) Louisiana can pee in peace. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The fanatic who eats like a rabbit.

Being a vegetarian is like having to live in a cauldron full of defences - that you need to squirt frequently in order to eat your spinach cannelloni in peace or hold on to your love for Thayir Sadam.  You need to constantly reassure people that the reason you hate shrimp undertones in your Vegetables in Hot and Sweet Sauce is not because your are a Brahminical - ( and also, muslim hating, purity obsessed, superior thinking-simultaneously uncool, non-macho) piece of shit. Or *admit* that you are hypocritical because even as you type this the bacteria on your keyboard are being butchered to be mass produced on my fingers. Or explain that it's possible to *dislike* meat. 
For the record, I am not even bramhin to be brahminical. See, I am not even sure how it's spelt.  
Anyhow, this was merely context for my visit to Nagaland Kitchen recently in Green Park, Delhi. A, B and C had thier plates full with pig and fermented rajma, fish and smoked fish chutney. I had to order the only vegetarian thing on the Naga food menu (I don't want to go to a Naga restaurant and order American Chopseuy no). Mustard leaves and beans in boiled water without salt. I had it with Akhuni chutney- spicy and fermented-y. I am usually a fan of light dishes like this where you can actually taste the vegetables but this meal is best had if you are running a temperature. 

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The deadline to kill a river.

My hair still has knots from the sea breeze. And my shoes have sand in them. How can the pile of rubble that claims to be my life in Delhi compare.
Drama aside, I have just returned from Goa. I love Delhi, don't get me wrong. But everytime, you leave Delhi and Bombay, and especially when you go to a place like Goa, there is a palpable softness - to life and to people. This time I experienced a vastly different Goa than before. My previous trips, to contextualise this consisted of general alcoholic debauchery and consequently I have very hazy memories of them. To digress and indulge a realisation I just had, the older I grow the more sensible and staid my trips become. From absolute debauched to quiet and romantic and finally more reflective. 

This time, we were away from the beaches in Fontanhas, a quiet and colourful ex Portugese colony in Goa. It was filled with lovely yellow and blue houses, white chapels, converted art galleries, the works. The thing is none of these were overly commoditized unlike in Pondicherry were the one small (mostly) street is over Frenched. The Alliance Francaise has a menu only in French. This made me a bit nauseous especially when teamed with all the emotionally exhausting memories, spaces of life I'd rather not go back to. 

In the case of Goa, the blessed green land where laissez faire is legitimate however, my memories (or the gaps in memories)  are always sparkling. I love the intense red (yummy red earth) of the laterite, the grey splash of the sea, and the green that spreads like a disease in the monsoon. Like my friend Ablong says, you can't leave anything out of the fridge in Goa for more than five minutes- it would catch moss/fungus. 

And then there are the mountains sold to DLF. Virgin mountains become the choicest brides to strip for open cast mines. And fields have been bookmarked to build malls. Yes, glass walled malls in Goa can only be conceived of by people with aesthetic cancer. Miners have stationed their private yachts on the Mandovi river. SESA Goa and DLF can have a big party but I truly had a heart sinky feeling. 

This was made worse by my brother's Goan friend A who while driving through Goa would casually point out to a whole range of hills and say 'Oh, these are sold to DLF' etc. But knowledgeable as he was, each green range became a vision of 
a Select City Walk future. That is my biggest fear about new India. It is spreading like a monster, buying off Environmental Impact Assessment Reports on the way and can take you by surprise. In places where no one  has heard off EIAs, the picture is even worse. On a recent trip to Anoopshahr, UP where I lived over a year ago, I used to take boat rides on the Ganges. The river there is a far cry from Varanasi's fecal possibilities. Was actually. In just over a year, construction projects have started on the bank. Ancient temples have new brick additions. (Aesthetic cancer reappears). 

And it takes only a year to destroy a river. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

To let a cat in.

When it comes to killing creatures that are inconvenient to us, our ethics melt as easily as the electric fly zappers melt flies.
My surreal problem of the week is that of bees. Four of them have been flying in my apartment all evening and I have been running. One was sinisterly perched under the cane table, another was standing guard on the door knob determined not to let its prisoner out. Another was writhing on the floor, prompting me to throw the book Chettinad Kitchen (of which not even one recipe has been tried) at it. PP however came and killed them all. PP is gay. I wish the landlords would realise he is not my boyfriend. But this brings me to the main purpose of men. 

I remember a scene in this movie that I saw 10 years ago. The woman is suddenly widowed. I remember a line " I don't want to want." And then I remember that a mother (rat) gives birth to babies in the woman's house. She is traumatised by this scene. She doesn't want to have anything to do with the killing and yet she is irked by their presence.She lets a cat in finally. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

pleasure is a thing, that also needs accomplishing

The Word
  Down near the bottom  of the crossed-out list  of things you have to do today,   between "green thread"  and "broccoli" you find  that you have penciled "sunlight."   Resting on the page, the word  is as beautiful, it touches you  as if you had a friend   and sunlight were a present  he had sent you from some place distant  as this morning -- to cheer you up,   and to remind you that,  among your duties, pleasure  is a thing,   that also needs accomplishing  Do you remember?  that time and light are kinds   of love, and love  is no less practical  than a coffee grinder   or a safe spare tire?  Tomorrow you may be utterly  without a clue   but today you get a telegram,  from the heart in exile  proclaiming that the kingdom   still exists,  the king and queen alive,  still speaking to their children,   - to any one among them  who can find the time,  to sit out in the sun and listen. 
-- Tony Hoagland

Friday, May 06, 2011

of the men who are corn flakes body builders

I cannot speak.

It's the dead of night and my insomniac self is typically awake. Sometimes, one rude gesture can cloud a whole evening. I think its worth the effort you need to make to be polite to people. 
The keyboard of my brand new laptop has failed me, the only way I can type is by holding the function key down all the time and this is major finger gymming.
My ATM card split into two and I spent a whole week using one half of it (it worked) till I cellotaped it back together.
Reliance keeps calling me with fictional bills from 4 months back that I've paid but they insist so I don't pick up unknown numbers anymore, to my loss.
Skype has passed away on my laptop.
My other laptop only works when I stretch the charging cord really tight. 
(All this sounds bizzare to you, you don't deserve this bad treatment, I know, I should have written about my theory on men and their google hypochondria and corn flakes body building habits) 

Technology has debilitated me into facing these surreal problems. 

I wish I was in the hills smelling pine cones and drinking chai, dressed in the cheap new clothes I bought today and staring at the mountains from the terrace. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What Maggi tells you about Stalkers!

Most of us grew up on Maggi Noodles. We have many fond memories associated with it. In childhood, it was cold, comforting and in tiffin boxes. In boarding school, it was floating in spicy chilli garlic paste and was made in an improvised hot water from the tap way, not to mention eaten slyly without the feared House parent noticing. Now it is dinner after a long day at work, when your brain has been omleteered by the nitty gritties of commas..

In the late nineties, something very frustrating happened. Maggi Noodles had what they thought was a bright idea and changed flavours. My beloved Maggi Masala Noodles didn't taste the same for the next few years and I wondered why they would commit such a marketing disaster.

I was, even by then, used to brands responding with eager quickness to customer tastes and problems.

I am reading a book called Niche by social forecaster James Harkin. Largely, it talks about how our appetite for broad concepts (Super market, a "family movie" ) has vanished. How in this world, we cannot be all things to all people.

So, coming back to the question of Maggi and how it didn't respond to consumer needs, it makes me realise how our habits are always under scrutiny by larger forces. Data companies now have systems that process complex data about how we eat, think, shop and behave . One such system in the UK is Mosaic which maps people street by street house by house twice a year. At the end , it takes 21 million bits of data and divides it into 155 kind  of people, 67 household types and 15 social categories.

This helps political parties and companies understand the way we think and the way we buy and in turn they respond with their marketing / election strategies to lubricate the course of consumerism.

Coming back to Maggi Noodles, in the early 2000s I think, the packet said 'Your favourite is back' and I jumped. Those long forgotten Maggi Masala tastes of my childhood were finally available again. I despised Maggi for having such a bad marketing department, one that took years to get rid of  a flavour  that no one likes. I expected them, in other words, at the age of 14 to have surveyed our private instant noodle eating habits.

And yet, it is disturbing this idea.  A store like Westside entered India in the early 2000s. They had an audience in mind- women looking for practical, generic clothes. They had the typical 'ethnic' prints on Kurtas with a neckline sized spot of originality. They had plain Tshirts that every girl who had too much self respect to wear bling would buy. But now, the practical generic idea is a Westside person.

The definition deletes all the nuances the idea originally began with. Tide, the detergent in the UK has many many versions that play on ideas of Freshness, April, Spring, Clean etc. They are all essentially the same product dealing with the "image" of what people want to be.

The image, one feels, dominates everything in a world where you can manufacture it, and you are also encouraged to by buying a product that is associated with an image.

It is really a world of smoke and mirrors where it is impossible to separate image from substance.


I wonder sometimes with great fear indeed if politicians too are just images. Obama wrote a speech . ...aaaah next time but they are nooo

PS: there are soooo many ways to make Maggi. Most recent twist is to dunk in fresh parsley, coriander, chilli flakers and crushed garlic in the end.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Of flirtatious parakeets and cockroaches

The best way to identify a "just arrived firang" in Paharganj is to look at their clothes. I saw a girl with grey jeans, and a tight grey sweatshirt, fresh from the funeral chic  camouflage of Europe presumably.When you arrive in Goa, Paharganj,Dharamshala the works, you have to loosen up, shed your jeans and let go. I love that. 

That's what we (Sou, PP, N and I) decided to this weekend, take our bags and go check into a hotel room at Paharganj to spend the weekend there. We are too broke and too busy to go on holiday but Paharganj is far enough from Delhi and the tranquil domesticity of CR Park. We arrived at 10 pm and checked into a dirty little hotel (Rs.500 for a four bed room) where there were about 15 cockroaches and the bathroom was for all practical purposes impossible to engage with. But the thing that I have finally realised as PP  has been advising me to is that Paharganj is very dirty and cluttered but you just accept it and let yourself loose in the rush of chaos and muddled geographies and idealistic hippies with delusions about India. 

Anyway, we went to My Bar, which is wonderful, really the Leopold's of Delhi and less racist too. It had a wonderful energy and cheap beer. Sometimes that's all you need in life. 
We managed to sing loudly and not be heard and mostly shut the crowd out. After a while, Sou and I suddenly realised we were the only women in a huge bar full of 
at least 60 customers so we thought it was best to leave. Then, we bought omlettes very matter of factly in the backdrop of a street fight. The night extended after we navigated the maze of streets romanticised in Dev D to reach our one night cheap hotel. 

We woke up to have the loveliest long (3 hours) breakfast - potato cheese omelette, fried mushrooms, hash brown potato rendered in a delicious sczhewan meets mild masala style, toast and the best chai in Delhi, I had off.  (At Diamond Cafe, you should go.) 

After breakfast, I entered a leather store lured by the kinkiness of the outfit the mannequin was wearing and there I met Mithu, the darling of this weekend. He was a self confident and flirtatious (hanging around in a kinky leather store!!) male Alexandarine parakeet who climbed on to my shoulder as soon as I met him even kissing me on my lips. We chatted a while in garbled Hindi and parrot talk(mossheee frumples froootlooooooooooooooopssssss fruit fry) . Believe it or not, this has made my entire week. I have an abnormal love for parrot family birds, they are so bright, and soooooooooooo cute. 

I also bought the beautiful huge white framed mirror of my dreams to assist my delusions of living in a villa near the Mediterranean somewhere.. I simply couldn't afford it but who cares, I can skip lunch for a while .. 

And now I am back and filled with love for all of us mad chimpanzees and for you too. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Move here.

It is the middle of the night. Mols is asleep. Sou has gone to get more food (even though we've eaten Somalia's share of global food produce tonight). And the three of us who have known each other for 15 years were talking about the same things, the people around us and in our lives have changed but its amazing how we are fundamentally so similar. And it's really something to have friendships like this, unchanged despite living in different cities, leading different lives for years now. Where you (at the risk of sounding cliched) pick up where you left off. I think that's a boarding school thing. We were young enough for midnight feasts in the bathroom - eating aloo bhujia with tomato ketchup. At other times, we squeezed ourselves into the already tiny lockers to bunk PT in the mornings. And lived through the seemingly small things that changed our lives - a theatre workshop in college, one farmhouse party as lost 18-year olds.. There's also Ablong in Goa now  but he reluctantly murmured sentimentalities on the phone. My current project is to get everyone to move to Delhi. 

(Please move to Delhi, thanks.) 

Speedy generalizations ahead

Since the Mumbai vs Delhi debate never goes out of fashion though we sometimes descend to excessive romanticization (I don't believe anything is excessive btw) I want to join in. 

Recently, I was on the metro with Tulip and there were no free seats. We wanted to ask all the women there where they were headed to so we could plan our future seating according to when they got off. This is normal behaviour in Mumbai where three women can be in line for a small seat to accommodate the edge of your bum. The corporate Gurgaon girl we asked had a bemused expression when we asked her but we reserved our place anyway. 

Bombay is a city where you constantly have to make reservations, you have to be prepared for life. And what is interesting is that this enterprising spirit colours everything about life in the city, prized lines are recycled for every customer. Two examples illustrate this best, one in dreamy Chor bazaar, where they sell Bollywood posters and beautiful (but inane) trinkets, framed coca cola ads from the 50s, kababs etc. The other in Bandra : altey, Bollywoody and nice boutiqued, also old Catholic housey. 

(Are you screaming Susan George aka gossip girl?) 

So, way back in 2008 when I was still young and fresh, I went to a little clothes store in Bandra. I picked up an eraser (grey)  uniform shrug that I practically live in. So I tried it on and the gold chained shopkeeper said with great earnestness , "You will look like the sweetest girl in college tomorrow." Naive (old) me was more flattered about the college part than the sweet part. He thought I was a student. I love people who think I am a student so I loved him. 
Now, I went back there in 2010 to buy another inane shirt. I tried it on and walked out of the trial room to get the discerning opinion of  beloved bombay fag and the same shopkeeper goes " You will look like the sweetest girl in college tomorrow." 

What's worse is that Susan George and Monu Singh Dhillon, my blackberry babes claimed to have gotten the same "compliment" in the same store! 

Lets move away from the yuppiness of Bandra to the bustle of Chor bazaar. Chor Bazaar is very bit like Paharganj but kinder, more authentic and  less aggressive and MUCH more charming. Show (my room mate)  and I rabidly sought exoticism away from our corporate (media) jobs and we would often spend lots of money buying obscure photographs taken in Poland, Coke ads from the fifties and depressing novels among other things. In an attempt to make our staid suburban apartment more elegant, we thought about buying antiques. Like everything else in Bombay, even antiques are manufactured and  brand new "1745 English Docks" plates are placed on them, as if some British John of the East India Company got it as part of his wife's dowry when it was actually manufactured in some Ghatkhopar sweatshop by Bihari migrant labourers. 

So, Muhammad, the henna haired store owner lures me into the shop by telling me he's got the perfect thing for me. I don't remember any details about this antique but I remember that it had a Robert Frost quote inscribed on it. " The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep." 

I went back to the same market a couple of months later and he lured me in the exact same manner. "I have something for you that I just get a sense you'll like, " and offered me the same Robert Frost antique. (new piece)

Either he throws this at every self absorbed lost looking person who walks by or just at every person who walks by but the uniformity of this amazes me. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Delhi Daredevils

On my way to an awesome new Nepali restaurant I saw an old Maruti Esteem parked at the corner of the road. 
Two big men had gotten off and when I saw them, there were BEATING up a paapa looking nubile North Eastern boy who had been driving a large lorry. He was wearing a grey vest and shorts. The men were standing on the road and punching him even as he just took it quietly. 

They were just continuously beating him up. Cars passed by uncaring. 

Can we just deconstruct this for a second? Why is this not the most abnormal thing in the world? To casually be beating up someone on a Sunday evening. Someone defenseless? Even if he had hit their car, they could take him to the police station, respond in a less savage way. 

I have surely seen more men beating up men in my one year in Delhi than in the other (more than two decades)  of my life. 

PS: I feel like the IPL team names have some sort of a marketing angle to it. This is pure speculation and half joke of course. But Delhi daredevils- because being macho seems to be the driving force of this city. Hmmm What else? Chennai super Kings. It's hard to explain but it's very Chennai, the whole Super King, Super Hero, Rajnikanth business. Bangaloreans want to be considered individualistic and be Royal Challengers. And Mumbai - we are all migrants and we are all Indian as long as we are united by the corporate world. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Quotes from here and there

A woman's trauma is much more than a launchpad for male machismo. 

How can I stifle the enormity of all that I feel into an airport sentence. I'd rather not say anything at all.

Poetry is against the interests of capitalism.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I am hungry.

I am the sort of person who eats only for pleasure, I have realized. Today, for instance, the average monstrous Monday. I have to do a checklist of all that I have eaten. 
3 cups of tea
1 cup of coffee (75 f****** Rupees)
1 bar of snickers (Three people have gifted me chocolate in the last week, exquisite lindt type also, a friend has a job there, that would really be my dream job.) 
3 biscuits
8 Gudang Garams.
But I am not hungry and feel no need to eat instant noodles at home. 

This is awfully unhealthy, I know and yes , I am sure I am not on a diet and never will be. Food is pretty much what matters to me most in the world though my fine dining life has been on a decline since December due to multiple reasons. 

However, while I wait at office for my pages to be cleared, I will fantasize about some of the best meals of my life. No, that is way too much digging into the past, best meals of recent times is better. 

1) Pasta tossed with shit from the kitchen : The best meals in life are really the simplest ones- an oily, spicy, red blood fest is not my idea of a culinary orgasm. SO, pasta with crushed garlic, olive oil and chilli flakes. So simple, and so flavourful and comforting. 
2)On days when your food philosophies and Sattvik ideals simply don't cut it for you,contradict yourself and head to the CR park market and indulge in cheap Indian chinese food - there is nothing more comforting to a dejected soul than MSG laden fried rice, and manchurian floating in come consistency sauce. (Forgive my reference, I am not this vulgar, it is copied.) Your stress is counterbalanced by the assault of flavours.
3)Rajasthani Thali at Dilli Haat - I believed till pretty recently that everything in DH tastes like wet cardboard but this home style thali was a pleasant surprise. Since Rajasthan is a desert and nothing fresh grows there, these dudes have had to be real innovative with just besan, onion, cauliflower and such desert substances. Yet, the soft gheefied roties, the subtle yellow dal, the besan ki sabji and the cauliflower pickle. Beauty.
4)Yesterday, I was as usual craving for cheap and exotic food. It's been a while since I went to a dirty place to eat because I am constantly under pressure to worry about other people's gastronomic fragilities. (wait, it's been one year.)However, we went to this rundown basement dhaba in Green Park. ("Hi, I am cholera, how are you." - from somewhere, don't remember.). Gross. Insects on the floor, OCD on overdrive. And yet, I decided as I have learnt now to suspend disgust, I did and the flavourful palak and undoubtedly the tandoori roti  baked with sweat and (godknowswhatelse) tasted exotic, and cheap. After these soulless food that South Delhi restaurants serve- (overpriced tex mex with,horrors, paneer, it's really divine to find character. 
5)Talking of malls, it's not always mediocre-globalized , a genre of food I have begin to despise. The Food Chowk at Select City walk offers some interesting street food and regional food possibilities. The Maharashtra stall offers light, peanuty crunchy, healthy sabudana khichdi and exciting Maharashtrian treats like Jhunka Bhakar and pithle which reminds me of lovely Bombay. 
6) What truly takes the cake though is an unlikely dish. Naresh Cafe in despicable Paharganj is a small bathroom sized shack that serves Japanese food. In fact, PP wrote about it for first city,a dish called Okura with egg. The editor snobbishly spilled red ink on 'okura' changing it to 'okra'. PP insisted it was an exotic Japanese dish. Anyhow, when I was actually there, and I ordered it I discovered it was good old bhindi after all. The point is, its just boiled bhindi with plain rice and fried egg over it. So simple and so good and such an unlikely combination. Plain rice offers so many possibilities, good with just fried egg, or blanched spinach and salt. 

Anyway, so I am at office, fantasizing, as mentioned before, thinking of all the food I want to eat and can't. IF after 12 hours of work, I can think about food with such elaborate desire, I 
should go to a therapist. 


Edit: I am home, and I ate instant noodles.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Yesterday, I saw the love of my life

Arundhati Roy. She is so beautiful, I simply couldn't take my eyes off her at the" Free Binayak Sen" cultural event at Alliance Francaise yest. 
I know it keeps going in and out of fashion to love her but I have consistently admired her.
Her poem at the end of the talk disappointed me, it didn't have her usual magical words and she sounded loose. (There is democracy in Greater Kailash but not at Dantewada.) 
And of course, she thinks the nuclear bomb is the heart of whiteness and one feels paaapa for all those neutral countries out there, yet. Love is pretty blind no. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Quotes from sleepovers past.

Every morning begins with an illogical superlative.

Vanity needs patience.

Some are pahadi phool's :
How can you be soft and sensitive when you say things like CHEERIO
Do I really talk about Madame Bovary when I am drunk? 

How is life? Is it elsewhere?

The whole world exploits you. You are the most exploitable person I know. 

(Thanks, works for my self esteem..) 


Real life is so difficult after Planet Romeo.

Saturday, April 02, 2011


History might be being made now, in pouring rain, India might lift the world cup after 28 years. All the hopes I had as a gawky teenager for that, before cricket left my life, might be fulfilled or so do 
the orgiastic screams from my neighbours' balconies suggests. But I don't know when the match began and as a storm brews outside, I sit here eating chips and salsa comforting a gay boy about an impending pimple. My domestic help's daughter is sleeping on the mattress below. If there are fireworks outside, I will know. heh.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


OMG this city just gets more an more ridiculous, the only way I found out India won the match is because there are firecrackers all over fucking town, leaking in to my living room through the balcony. The food delivery guy was shocked that we weren't watching the match and kindly told us the score. Even S's mom calls only after the match to find out how our Nepali dinner cooking worked. (Very well)

And pleeeease. Today was that wonderful rain holiday I have been waiting for, for years, spent all day at home. 

The last time I went to a toy store, before yesterday, was at Walden in Hyderabad in about 1995. To me, it was the most fascinating store, one that stored all the wonders of my childhood, pretty pencil cases, coffee table books on parrots, Enid Blytons, later Sweet Valley and Agatha Christie and the other shit I read then. (Although, I never read Mills & Boon, was Cynical From The Begining Girl). The section I liked best was the toys section, I loved the board games. Cluedo was my favourite then and a little earlier in my childhood, I loved those baby sized blonde haired, blue eyed dolls (for the lack of brown skinned, brown eyed dolls which, after all these years, are still not available, commercially. Why?). I remember my parents gifting me one of those dolls that costed Rs.700, then a HUGE amount. I remained eternally grateful till my older brother took a Reynold's ball point pen and wrote Count of Dracula and drew skulls all over her pretty peachy face. Every girl who grows up with an older brother is secretly traumatized for life. Now, a toy car, costs Rs.20,000 - one way trip to Europe, man!

The toy stores at the Select City (et al malls) scandalized me and the mall itself inspires a continuous cynical, satirical commentary in my head. My friends would say its bitterness at my inability to afford everything there. But they know that there is never a co-relation between what I can afford and what I buy.
I am the real consumerism's love child. I digress.

When I was a child, I was always disappointed that toys didn't mimic real life. A doctor's trolley was never pink in real life. I was lucky enough to have a white one with aluminium foil lined instruments- a choice I made over the pink one. That has changed. Now, there are toy food cans, toy hair dryers, toy barbecue sets, picnic-in-the-park sets, shopping trolleys and they are different degrees of realistic, and marketed that way. Everything I would have liked to have as a child, but never could have imagined seeing in a toy shop.

Except and I must bring in the pedantic feminism here, the barbies. Yes, there is the software engineer barbie with the pink laptop, the TV journalist barbie with skin like she has no stressful job, but then there are the homie barbies which make me sick. They sit daintily skirted at the edge of chairs. One even had a comic dialogue think popping out of her blonde head saying "Oh no, Ken is late again." (So, I'll wait here prettily till he comes back.)

There are dolls that sneeze and need looking after with fake tissues, they say mama and they cry and I recently learned that there are breastfeeding dolls.

I wonder if it is an inane question to ask: by why are there no father dolls? Let's try offering some bizzare explanations. Men's instincts tell them to spread their seed, not to nurture its consequences so there is no need to tap into "paternal instinct". Little boys like guns, little girls want to be just like their mamas. I don't know, really, if it's too basic a question to ask, or even a question to ask.

If you are politically correct, animal loving, technology retarded, mildly respectful of women, persongoing into a toy shop is like jumping bang into a future where you'll instantly be regarded as uncool. Sample this: a hunting game that you plug to your TV to shoot deer. The ad says "Catch the best that Mother Nature has to offer."
It also has a disclaimer: mild violence and crude humour.

Then there's the toy shaver, with real foam and fake blades that can make little Rahul feel macho. Rs.499.
Then there are the alien space ships, battery operated, to be assembled by (8+) children, the complexity of which made the waistcoated hag fag and I shudder. Was the world overtaking our ability to comprehend it?

On one hand, toys are mimicking the real world's complexity in subjectively ''healthy'' ways. There are toys that harness wind energy to work a robot, toys that you can perform medical surgery on.I went to visit my niece in England sometime back and she had one of those. Five years old, she lived in a room that was entirely pink- bed, wardrobe, linen, frocks, tennis clothes everything. (The mother care store in Delhi said above the "girls clothes section"- "colours of the season and of course, pink." On the other hand, it worried me, the passiveness that is passively encouraged in young girls. At 5, she was already so self conscious and positively obsessed with how she looked. She wanted to use make up. (I still don't know how to.) Going to tennis class was not about the tennis class but about the image of it, the pink pants, the huggie goodbyes, the prospect of getting sweets after. I wonder if I am being harsh but obviously this is more a comment on the society she is in.

There is another friend of mine, Nathan, aged 4, who knew the Star Wars by heart and played fake gun games with a very bewildered me all summer, that year. I don't remember all those characters from the movies he constantly referred to but I remember he wouldn't let me be a leader because " I am a girl." :)

CQ's mother, being American feminist Wiccan and all this believed that boys should play with dolls and made sure her son did.
Will women fall in love with men who have played with dolls and are in touch with their feelings? Not women who have been conditioned to expect fake strength from a man,anyway, right?

So, it starts with toys, our first real playmates, who engineer this constructed conditioning of how we are supposed to be. MY parents mostly disapproved of Barbie dolls and my barbies came as gifts although they once agreed to buy me the "School Going Skipper", so I didn't die failing to look like one. But the point, is we need to seriously think about some basic things that go unquestioned about toys. Why is a toy guy,(Freudian slip..I meant toy gun), a toy?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rhododendron Wine

It's a sunday after a rhododendron wine night, Pahadi Phool is making fun of my too-loose-new dress. N is putting on make up in the bathroom and ish  is sleeping. Sou ditched, of course. PP and I watched The Hours the other day and have been throwing away lines from it since, even though he watched it for the 36th time. I apologize for my previous post, it was completely random. I should get up and make chai but then Sunday morning will begin and then end as consequence. 
Aiyoooo I went (too late) for a Japanese festival with M and we felt totally lost in a sea of Japanese.Before that she convinced my to go to TGIF where they raped my sensibilities by throwing chunks of raw unwashed carrot and half heartedly steamed Zucchini in my  pasta. I know I am vegetarian but there is really no need to do this to me. I had to make a fuss and order some generic tex-mex thing that they always do well. 
And then again I went with her to a Francophone festival at alliance where she quickly got entrapped in a speaking to some Congolese men, when we left out, unwanted and linguistically challenged went to fantasize about Swiss country bread in the corner- the only true highlight. There is a domestic dispute about who will make coffee going on..pp has made me breakfast. I must begin my Sunday.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Even as I hit a relative rock bottom, the world is violently  revealing a latent acaocalypse. I am so caught up with my own life that I can't even fathom the enormity of all that is happening in Libya and Egypt and Japan and I just want to actually sit and think and write but I must be rational and practical and try touching base with people I should interview today. In a way, as my roommate says, (the relative rockbottom, it's got to be relative when 18,000 people are dead in Japan) is a turning point in your life in a city. In a way it's true, you are comfortable enough in it to stop protecting yourself and just give in. 

I guess. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fashion Show, watched through a blackberry.

The blackberry zoomed in and out. Bosom/legs/bosom/legs. We were watching a prelude to the Wills Lifestye India Fashion (WIFW) Week standing behind tall men. Young designers showed their work in front of judges which included designers Namrata Joshipura and Rohit Gandhi. The clothes alternated between banal, fabulously futuristic and even burqa inspired. (Shashank Singh said he was saddened by burqa bans in cruel Europe and is kindly making the burqa glamorous, yet practical.) Rohit Gandhi tittered away after telling us that

Aishwarya Rai could do with more of his clothes. (Read: Diplomacy on her fashion sense.) Namrata Joshipura told us about her upcoming collection at WIFW making us promise it's a Tehelka secret (one that's kept apparently) She was more scathing than her counterpart judge and begged to redress India's fashion grievance : Rakhi Sawant.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Aap itni Bhakt ho"/ "Purse key neeche kya hain madam"

The weirdest thing happened to me today.I had to go to South Extension to pick up furniture from a friend who is moving out of Delhi. So I ordered a tempo - they reached my friend's place and waited till I got there by an auto.
. (It didn't even occur to me that an excursion like this could be unsafe.) When I reached, they had already loaded all the furniture. The light skinned, light eyed driver of the tempo offered me the front seat. I got on, and had planned to come back in the tempo anyway. He was very friendly initially and I made polite conversation. Although, his tone was much more respectful on the phone - as if he had thought I was an older woman. He  asked where I was from and if I was married. I didn't want him to think that I was an outsider so I just said that I have been living in Delhi for many years.He insisted on knowing where I was actually from so I told him

Everytime there was a traffic signal, his gaze was fixed on me in the most unnerving manner possible. I began to get very nervous and resorted to using my favourite security blanket - texting. I then became busy having an existential conversation (on sms) about being lost in life and scared and all this quarter life crisis kind of thing with a friend in Bombay,

He then looked at me and asked " Purse key neeche kya hain madam." He might as well have been asking "T shirt key peeche kya hai madam", seriously, that's how his tone was. (What is under your purse, madam?/What is under your Tshirt madam.) So, I usually carry a bag with me but today I just carried my wallet and trust me to be foolish (why is it foolish?), a pack of cigarettes.I quickly lied to him that it was my brother's. He insisted with a sly, flirtatious smile " Aap hi peethe ho" I remained firm that the cigarettes were my brother's.He was curious to know if my brother lived in Delhi. He initiated a long conversation trying to establish how this "cousin brother" was related to me. And then he told me about a girl from NIFT who smoked ganja in her Hauz Khas flat, and how he has seen girls smoke with his own eyes. I looked suitably shocked.

By then, I had already told him that I live with my sisters and that there was a joint family living below us who were also family friends. (I have people to protect me.)
And then, every time there was a traffic signal or we were stuck in a traffic jam (Bloody Nehru Place), he started masturbating. He didn't take his pants off or anything but he kept looking at me and masturbating. I freaked out. On one hand, I wanted to yell at him but on the other I was petrified because here I was, in his tempo, and there were two other men sitting behind so even though this is broad daylight Delhi, newspapers have led me to believe that anything can happen. And then I made a mental list of all the people I could call but I felt really chicken to call someone because was I just
overreacting? By the time someone reaches, he would have stopped and I'd have been home - I was thinking. 

So, I called another male friend, again in Bombay, and launched into a conversation pretending he was my brother who was waiting for me at my place. (Also the silly thought in my head was to tell him that I am a journalist and he can't mess with me. But as if being a journalist means anything..hahaha)He continued masturbating, but stopped after a while, hopefully in response to my new found aggressive voice. 

When I reached home, I wanted to ask my landlord to come up with me. The thought of him moving the bed into my bedroom made me feel extremely violated, however illogical this may sound to you. So, he came up to the third floor. My landlords have an elaborately done up pooja room next to my house. The moment he saw the pooja room, he said " Haaaw, Aap itni bhakt ho". And seriously, there was an expression of shame on his face. As if he in someway violated a good girl, not one who carried cigarettes under her purse. Like he performed a surgery on the wrong eye.He then graciously said, he was leaving. (He didn't enter my house and let the other men take the stuff in.)

So, what should I have done. Insisted the cigarettes are mine, yelled back at him and taken the risk? Or just tortured myself through the ride. And even if he hadn't done anything "major", was I over -reacting because I felt so violated. Well, I can't deny it - that I was but what bothers me the most is the fact that I am even questioning this. Especially after being so involved in this.

I can't stop wondering why this happens to me all the time. The last time my room mate and I shifted, it was totally fine. 
And just for the record, I was wearing blue jeans and a loose pink Tshirt. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Falling in love with the wrong man is ...

Swara Bhaskar ( google her, she did a bit in Tanu weds Manu) says in a little Tehelka interview that "acting in bollywood is like falling in love with the wrong might ruin your life but then " can't deal with the what if feeling..

Saturday, March 05, 2011

A date with myself

I have a date with myself, as in I am on it right now looking out through glass walls at scyscrapers on Barakhamba road bathed in benevolent Spring sunshine. Ever since I stopped being a carefree college student , which is way back in 2007, I have accumulated a toxic collection of fantasies of things I want to do on weekends. Invariably, these fantasies only involve myself - as self obsessed as I am. One of these was to spend a whole day in a book store with no agenda at all. It would be a quaint book store with a cafe attached with me alternating between reading parts of random books and sitting on my laptop and drinking coffee. The funny thing is, in all these years I haven't done it even once so here I am at the Oxford Book Store at CP. (I am the sort of crazy person who will make such a long journey to do this.) Unfortunately, and predictable my photon isn't working so I don't anymore see the point my indulging my luxurious attempt with having two internet connections- one wifi and one photon given that I do such things once in four years.

There are more things like this such as going for picnics, having wine nights at home etc etc.

So yes, I am in the crowded midst of a book store that has an ongoing 80% off sale. The people behind me are covering that nowadays dreaded topic of who is getting married. I am sort of still in denial of the fact that people my age are old enough to get married It can't be, really.

Yesterday CQ tried calling me a feminist so I told him I am not. I found myself performing laproscopy on a light bulb recently. So, to put it more simply, I fixed a light bulb and felt proud about it. And then, I felt so ashamed that a twenty something woman should feel proud about achieving a normal thing such as fixing a light bulb. To be fair to me, the socket was reaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally high up so, yes, I was sort of performing laproscopy- I couldn't see what I was doing, only guess. The point is I wrote a long introspective mail that started with the light bulb and went to all sorts of topics. So there, that, according to CQ is what defines a feminist. Feeling proud of fixing a light bulb, then feeling ashamed and then writing an introspective piece about it.



Friday, March 04, 2011

The perils of the PR person

The perils of having PR people sitting around to intimidate and channel conversations is something anyone who has vaguely worked in media will know. So, yesterday, I went and the executive chef of a very well known international hotel chain. 
It was three pm and I found myself in a largely empty expanse of space called the main restaurant. 

The chef was seated, opposite to two pr professionals, one in a suit, and the other in makeshift work clothes, jeans, an over sized top and chunky silver watch. I sat next to the chef who was ready with his leather planner, with notes jotted down with ball point pen. In this extremely hostile environment, I tried my best to break the ice, speak about the world cup - clearly, for me to do that is an act of desperation. I hinted to the two PR women that it wasn't necessary for them to take notes on our meeting. 

They didn't take the hint and i continued to ask questions to the chef but he was so nervous that he repeated the same three points throughout the interview, no matter what question I asked. Yes, so people are looking to eat something new, Avant garde Indian cuisine is the next best thing and people want their food to be well presented.

I asked him generic questions like what his favourite restaurants were and I sensed it was taboo for him to utter the names of the competition. He would evade my very basic asked out of fascination rather than any form of advertorial obligation to their competition (I mean clearly, I wans't going to write a PR piece on the hotel, what did they think.) 

So this poor, little man was at the mercy of stares from the two women staring directly at him and the other mercilessly throwing questions, the answers for some of which he read out. He fumbled throughout. w

The point is that I got nothing out of this interview, he probably is thinking now about the hundreds of things he could have said. After the conversation, I asked if I could see the kitchen. They agreed and asked me to give them five minutes. I waited and after ten odd minutes they told me they had gotten the open kitchen ready for me. The open kitchen is well, an open  kitchen that all guests can see anyway. I asked them why I can't see the kitchen but they had no real answer except that apparently it was off limits to outsiders. The funny thing is that just ten minutes ago they had agreed, probably too zapped and not ready with a PR strategy to refuse my offer. It's not like I have illusions about how clean or non clean fancy kitchens are but that is a different story. 

What exasperates me is that as it is , it was hard to get this guy to be comfortable and it is completely impossible to do an interview with someone who doesn't in some sense become your friend by the end of it. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The chapters of procrastination

I will listen to one song, drink one cup of tea, light one candle, clean up my room, wash my dishes,
read one magazine article, brood about some autumnal song, try on one top, check facebook once,
say hi to C, install antivirus and then I promise, I'll get to doing what I must. Maybe I can wake up in the morning to do it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sees,Shoots and Leaves

A narrow road by Delhi’s Mehrauli jungle will lead you up the stairs into Raghu Rai’s haphazard office. Haphazard, till you enter the serenity of his room where white window panes frame an endless expanse of green. Uninterrupted by billboards, artificiality and performance. Much like his photographs, you think. Rai ,69, is dressed in a black t-shirt over which he wears a red woollen kaftan. Behind his desk hang some of the old portraits he has included in his new book The Indians- Portraits From My Album that explores the history of portraiture in India and includes iconic portraits by Rai and photographers like Raja Deen Dayal.
Rai had been a full time photo journalist for 12 years in the sixties and seventies. He documented the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, photographed Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa among other people. There is no residue of the mad rush of journalism about him today. There is a gentleness and stillness to him which is perhaps what allows for his frame to be real and his subject free.

Talking to Rai will convince you that portraiture is half internal process, the photographer’s attitude and half the sharpening of intuition. (“You allow the supreme and the supernatural to enter you.” The digital revolution or the romantic magic of film are a mere backdrop to this relationship.
“Intutive moments come and disappear like a nudge People don’t notice,” he says, nudging the air gently, suddenly and beaming. To Rai, the portrait should capture the physical , mental and spiritual entirety of the person.“You have to be patient, you have to be sensitive, quick and yet gentle enough for the person to reveal.”
His image of Faiz Ahmed Faiz has that hazy poetic quality to it; his image of MS Subbulakshmi is infused with an other worldly intensity having caught her at an opportune musical crescendo. The photograph of former Pakistani president Zia Ul Haq is almost caricature like in its portrayal of tyranny. Now Zia was a man who intensely believed in himself and could enrapture anyone with his speeches. “Unlike a writer, As a photographer, you don’t listen at all; you just connect to the person’s energy.”
And sometimes even Raghu Rai uses tricks. Notice the stern look on Satyajit Ray’s face. It was taken when Rai told Ray he was leaving. As soon as the film maker turned around with that strong expression in his eyes, Rai was ready with camera to capture that moment.
Rai allows the subject to have a direct relationship with the camera, to be in his element. Photographer Dayanita Singh once said “photography is not the truth.” Suggest this to Rai and he bursts out laughing, dismissing it, insisting that it is too dramatic a statement for him. “I am nobody to make a truthful statement about somebody let them make their own statement,” he offers.
By now, the green outside glimmers in the cool February rain that will soon end winter. Peacocks and parakeets compete for stage space in the sky. Rai insists we stop talking about him and shifts attention to the first half of the book- portraits from 1855 to 1965.
“People say these old portraits or like other old portraits but that is not true”, he says, marvelling at the technical brilliance despite the pre digital age
This section , with a preface by Rai reveal the coloniser’s gaze on the early portraits that gradually transforming into subject’s revealing a self confidence and an aspiration for grandiosity over the years. The cold gaze of the men and women in Bourne and Sheperd’s pictures melts steadily into a warm presence in front of an Indian photographer.
The studio tricks- Raja Sawai Man Singh being blessed by gods, smoke denoting a family tree, individual portraits of the Maharajas of various Indian states superimposed against a palace in Jaipur with a digital precision, the works. One can also trace the strong influence of painting in the early works.

The long exposure time required at the time determined the mood of those photographs. “Everybody is like this (demonstrating an uptight look) with riveted eyes you know. You can hold your breath but all those emotions coming and going in your eyes intensifies your look,” says Rai. Rai’s new work picks up from there, to play with the past and expand it into the present, quite literally. The new series he is working on (the two colour pictures that are included are a “teaser”) plays with backdrops placed in the centre of the frame and “life” occupying its sides. He walks over to the window and picks up a print where women are posing in front of a scenic backdrop and outside it , there are various energies floating around, women at a handpump for example. It’s his way of including contemporary India into the template of the past.
Rai who uses digital as well as film is not one to be nostalgic about the past but to him the modern portrait is “fluent, quick but not so deep”. A fraction of a second is too little time to accommodate intensity and truth.
Photography has imbued a silence into Rai, an alertness and a seeking, not an intrusive seeking but a subtle, even playful one that will catch you unawares till you realise a picture is taken and a moment captured. His daughter calls and he says to her “baby, bacchu please don’t go out, you are still weak, but he is convinced by the end of the conversation to let her.

Rai is a follower of Guruji Maharaj but doesn’t call himself a spiritual person. It is like this, he tells you.
“Satyajit Ray’s early films had everything in them. When he started working out of his intellect, his films were better than ten others in Bombay but it didn’t have that extra spiritual magic, it had become planned. Unless the supernatural comes and plays a part and reveals itself, it is good and nice and informative. It is like the difference between making love and an intellectual orgasm.”

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


The police arrested a 25-year-old man on Tuesday for allegedly raping a 19-year-old woman. The police said that the accused barged into the house of the victim while she was asleep and raped her. The incident took place in south Delhi's Dhaula Kuan area on February 19. This is the third such case i 
n the area in the last four months.

According to the police, the victim - who works as a caretaker at a house in the area - was sleeping alone when the accused, Sanjay Kumar, barged into her room. The accused is the victim's neighbour.

In November 2010, a 30-year-old call centre employee from Mizoram was allegedly abducted by five men, when she alighted at Dhaula Kuan. The woman was raped in a pick-up truck and then dumped in Mangolpuri. The police have arrested all five accused.

In February this year, a drunkard in the Dhaula Kuan area allegedly molested a 25-year-old woman who works at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in the wee hours.

Meanwhile, the police said that in the present case, the woman had been living with her elder sister for the last few years. "The accused accosted the woman and then tried to be friends with her. When she refused, he wanted to take revenge," said a police officer on condition of anonymity.

The police said that on the night of November 19, the accused sneaked into the house of the victim and allegedly first threatened her and then raped her. On hearing the commotion, the victim's elder sister came out of her room. After that, the accused tried to flee the spot.

The police said they have nabbed the accused.

In a similar incident, a jilted lover has been found harassing a woman in the Satya Niketan area. The accused Rahul, 22, went to the office of the 20-year-old woman who works as a receptionist and threatened her.

"On February 17, the accused went to her office and tried to forcibly take her along with him," said a police officer. "A police constable nearby saw the whole incident and came to the rescue of the woman."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


The census came home today really early in the morning, had to groggily scream answers from my room as my room mate took over the proceedings.
We had to call ourselves Hindu because she said there is no section for 'Not practicing'. Also, she asked who is the head of the family. I don't  know how to measure that. When the milk runs out whoever is more desperate for morning tea replaces it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Where ever you go , an analysis follows

I interviewed Raghu Rai the other day in his gorgeous office that has the view of the endless Mehrauli jungle.We talked about how photography is about capturing a moment. 
It is about being intuitive, aware in a way that situations reveal themselves to you. In a way, it is to suspend the intellect, suspend conditioning and to be still. 
I walked out of my house today and a monkey was sitting down with its trainer holding a plate in his hand. He looked so much like a naughty little child. And behind, one of the Nepali domestic helps (there are many on this road) was walking a black pug. The leashed pug was trying to get close to the monkey. This was the first sight I saw in the morning and it seemed like such a photograph. That was my first thought, the desire to capture it. Later, I questioned myself. Was it a gora impulse? Was I seeking drama?
Then I thought it was so bizarre, the need to analyze this perfectly innocuous and yet dramatic (!) sight.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

No Sanctuary for Good Men

Forest official Sanjiv Chaturvedi has been transferred 12 times in the last five years. He has been threatened, booked under false cases, illegally suspended and charge sheeted by the Congress government in Haryana. His personal life has been destroyed. Chaturvedi lives all alone in a house with bare shelves and walls. The next transfer is always imminent.

In April 2007, Chaturvedi was the Divisional Forest Officer in Kurukshetra. He exposed officials who without required permissions from the Supreme Court violated the Forest Conservation Act and The Wildlife Protection Act in constructing the Hisar Kurukshetra Canal through the Saraswati Wildlife Sanctuary. At the time, the warden RD Jakati overruled him. Jakati is now the Director of the National Forest Academy. Chaturvedi however was warned by the Haryana government and subsequently transferred.

By the time the Wildlife Trust of India filed a writ petition before the Supreme Court's Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC), the court had no grounds of charging the accused because the forest had been denotified by then. The Haryana Government was let off with a Rs.4.5 crore fine that included private litigation fees.

In one of his postings at Fatehabad, the forest department was spending crores buying rare trees for a herbal park owned by the relatives of MLA Prahlad Singh Gillakhera, a powerful independent candidate close to Haryana's then forest minister Kiran Chaudhary. Chaturvedi halted the work only to receive a letter from the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest JK Rawat that stated Chaudhary's objections.

Someone from Gillakhera's office called Chaturvedi and threatened to "eliminate" him. Chaturvedi was suspended for indiscipline. He filed an RTI seeking reasons for suspension. The department refused stating that it will hamper investigation. The chief job description and the ticket to success in Haryana's forest department is to be blind to the gross environmental violations and to collectively cash in on the spoils. Chaturvedi consistently failed on both counts.

Chaturvedi appealed to the central government and finally his suspension was revoked. However, a fake FIR had been registered against him accusing him of criminal intimidation and stealing a Kachnar plant. Since then, to cover the illegality of the herbal park, it has been declared a protected forest. No one was punished except the man who exposed the crime.

Chaturvedi was kept without a posting for six months. In January 2008, he was finally posted as DFO at Jhajjar where he exposed a five crore rupees scam for fake plantations. He suspended nine forest officials and fired 40. Transfers and harassment followed.


Chaturvedi is an unassuming jovial man with no airs about him. His family says that he refused protection because it sends a signal out to the world that he is scared. He is matter of fact when he tells you that he cannot talk to the media because of his position in the government. He is today the Divisional Forest Officer for production in Haryana.

"What can I say on the phone, madam, I believe in karma. Whatever I have done, I have to pay the price for it and so does everyone else. My fight is an issue based one and it is futile if the process is not initiated against the guilty. Conviction is of course far away," he ends unwilling to continue the conversation.

The most important thing to him is "self accountability". He understands that external motivations are short lived. Yet, it is this awareness of self that drives him to fulfil his external obligation, to live up to what his role in the world expects of him.

To preserve the sanctity of Haryana's power corridors, its leaders decided to destroy Chaturvedi's personal life. His wife was convinced by unknown persons that he constantly sought transfers because he didn't want her staying with him. His in-laws were paid to slap a dowry

Since it is a non bailable offence, they thought they had hit a jackpot – one that could silence their only enemy.

In the next three years till the case reached closure and Chaturvedi won, his aged parents were traumatized by the legal battle. Simultaneously their son was moving from one obscure posting to another. For him, personally and professionally life was proving to be a nightmare. He divorced his wife and appealed to the central government.

 Initially the central government wanted the state to respond on its own. Officials in the Haryana Forest Department would tell you that Haryana and Delhi are close especially when it comes to their shared vested interests. There is no explicit rule as to how the centre can intervene in this situation. As of January this year, President Pratibha Patil has called for the charge sheet against him to be quashed. This is the first such intervention by a president in independent India.

A two member probe panel investigated his case and recommended a CBI investigation. The Committee found strong evidence again former forest minister Kiran Chaudhary who recommended Chaturvedi's suspension.

The world we are living in is satisfied celebrating the quashing of the charge street. We triumph in having successfully protected the whistle blower even as the criminals he exposed are rapidly extracting more power and wealth from very crimes they committed.

Kiran Chaudhury has since been given the plush posting as the Cabinet Secretary of taxing and excise. Prahalad Singh Gillakhera has become the Chief Parliamentary Secretary. Chaturvedi plans to file a petition in the high court and Supreme Court. The battle isn't over anytime soon. The price is still being paid. 

Part of this appeared in Tehelka magazine.