Tag Archives: Mumbai

In his shoes.

Read it on my TOI blog : Freeze Frame


I know now how he felt, all those years ago, when he looked up at the brick and mortar carcass that was slowly, day by day, taking the shape of his dreams. Now I know, because I find myself in his shoes.

Those were the days when he had less gray hair and generally more hair, toured the North Eastern parts of the country extensively on work, smoked cigarettes virtually non-stop and blew rings of smoke lazily into the air, much to the glee of my sister and me; those were the days when he had only one good reason to visit a by lane tucked away behind a labyrinth of lanes off the boi para of College Street – an old, dilapidated house that had been razed to the ground and a new house was slowly raising its head from the rubble much like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes of the past. This was our house. The house he was building.

I used to accompany him on many of his weekend trips to what would one day become our house, clutching on to his big finger as I hopped and ran to match my seven year old steps with his leonine strides. As we got closer to the house his steps would quicken. Finally, he would pick me up and cover the last two or three turns of the alleys that lay between us and the house, at a pace that I could not keep up with. Once there, he would turn into a very different person – almost like an impatient child who would overflowing with questions about his new toy. I remember him tugging at the iron rods clumped together to form the core of the pillars of the foundation (to check their strength, perhaps?); watched him as he ran his fingers through the cracks that had emerged on the freshly plastered walls with a look of disappointment writ large on his face; remember him peering closely at the veneer on the freshly polished doors and windows; and always remember asking myself why he chose to do so. Our visits were filled with many technical questions that I knew nothing about: slopes, inclines, thickness of the walls and strength; but behind all of these questions, the one question that I could sense was uppermost in his mind was the one I rarely heard him ask: “When will all this chaos be over and when will we get to move in?”

Our house stands tall today, with its balconies on the south face overlooking a park; the broad bay windows that let in the first rays of the morning sun standing tall and proud; and a big terrace and a narrow strip of land at the back dotted with his favourite plants and flowers. Today, my father lives with my mother in that house still, long after his two daughters, my sister and I, moved out in pursuit of our own lives.

And as our apartment is under renovation, I find myself in his shoes today. In the last four months not a day has gone by without me poking around the rubble amongst the broken walls, pile of bricks, bags of cement and stacks of plyboard. I stand there and gaze at the gaping holes that were once walls and see doors that I had so far dreamt about, look up at the cavern which used to sport a false ceiling that has been replaced with rafters, and Italian marble floors, which I believe would be better suited in hardwood. On one occasion, not so long ago, I remember the Bee and I didn’t talk to each other for three days because we could not agree on the colour of the walls in the study, he wanted a brooding midnight blue and I wanted a rusty red. On the fourth day we decided we both preferred Olive Green…

Now a lot of ground has been covered and the walls are getting their first coat of paint. I was there even today and passing by a mirror thought I caught a glimpse of my father even as I ran my hand over the fresh coat of paint, pointed out a few cracks to the masons, irritated the life out of the carpenter by asking far too many questions about the louvers I wanted and added some ‘innovative’ improvements to the bookcase they had already finished. I came away happy that my dream is slowly turning into reality.


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Controversy’s children

From my TOI blog : Freeze Frame

She has done it again; she has adopted a child again. Who? Who else, but Controversy. This time it is  the reclusive author Rohinton Mistry and his Booker nominated novel, ‘Such a Long Journey’ and Controversy has taken them under her wings , thereby adding them to her already burgeoning brood. And there sits her impish little sister, Curiosity, in a dark corner of the human heart, craftily stoking the fire of inquiry. Once again the sisters, Controversy and Curiosity, are back to their crafty conspiracies.

source :

Thanks to them, the book that had perhaps done brisk business in its hey-day, in 1991, is back into circulation again.  Those who had already read the book long ago are re-reading it; some who had given it a pass then, are picking it up to read the relevant passages ; and a few who have woken up to the book now, thanks to Controversy and Curiosity, want to read the book to get ahead of others ; while others covet it with the sole intent of adding ‘value’ to their bookshelves or their social conversations.Thus, by the end of the week that just went by, the bookstore in my suburban neighbourhood had run out of their stock of the book, as had most bookshops across Maximum City, and now they have a long list of book-lovers to keep informed as they wait patiently for their copies.

Others in the urge to know more about Mistry and to quieten Curiosity’s voice, have bookmarked relevant pages of news , ‘Google’-ed him and are lapping up all that is new about him and Controversy. From here on, it will be difficult for Mr. Mistry to remain a recluse  anymore. In other words, we have him under the scanner and  are keeping a close watch on each of his moves and counter moves.  Why? Because Curiosity softly whispers in our ears, ‘What do you think will happen next?’

And, this is how Controversy and Curiosity, the two crafty sisters, make us behave in times like this. Let’s accept it, we all love a healthy dose of Controvesy in our lives. How else do you expect to us to react to Controversy’s brood?  How else does one justify the urge to look up every detail of Sunanda Pushkar’s life the first time her name came up alongside the dapper Mr Tharoor? And did we stop after Mr Tharoor relinquished his position thanks to the ‘sweaty’ IPL encounter or chase them all the way to the proverbial alter? Didn’t our very own Controversy’s child, Rahul Mahajan, become the nation’s Ladla, as he appeared on national television, week after week, to select a bride for himself? And when he beat up his newly-wedded wife, only to apologize in front of a live media audience, didn’t he make it to the front page of national dailies, day after day?

There is a pattern that we need to notice here: Why are we, as social animals, so interested in Lalit Modi and want to know every minute detail about his private life, his assets, the wild IPL parties (that most of us couldn’t attend, but may have liked to!) and his private jet?  Why otherwise would Controversy’s ‘wilder children’ the world over hog the limelight thus? Why would we find the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Kate Moss, George Michael, Amy Winehouse, Charlie Sheen crowding the pages of our national dailies day after day? Why is it that Tiger Woods, Wayne Rooney and Jeffery Archer have their private life open to scrutiny? Or closer to our very own shores M F Hussein, Taslima Nasreen or Salman Rushdie or for that matter Adnan Sami, Vijay Mallya or Salmaan Dabaang Khan?  Because Controversy has adopted them and follows them around. Also because Curiosity keeps Controversy alive. And because we are by nature slaves to Curiosity, we love to love them, hate them, follow every story about them, all those who become Controversy’s children, wild or otherwise.

(Tiger Woods  (MF Hussain  (Paris Hilton

Which brings me back to Controversy’s latest child, Rohinton Mistry,  a recluse is far from his siblings, Controversy’s  other wild children. But with Rohinton Mistry’s statement today, it seems Controversy has clearly picked her favourite well and is not going to give up so soon. Curiosity smiles, draws us closer and whispers in our ears, ‘I want to know more’. So, we are not giving up on him either, not so soon. We are going to keep a close watch, Curiosity & us, on Controversy and her new child.

(Rohinton Mistry

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Posted by on October 22, 2010 in Books, Calcutta, humor, Mumbai


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Just a random rambling on rain

I had started writing this post right in the middle of a miserable Mumbai monsoon morning, with a silent prayer on my lips for a ray of sunlight. And, as if in answer to my prayer, the sky looked less gray and more blue with moody white clouds floating carelessly in from the horizon in no rush to rain and I promptly abandoned the post. But, as it is with the misleading Mumbai monsoon, by evening the sky was back to being completely gray and clouds pregnant with their carriage waited patiently for a cue to begin their downpour.

After my camera had captured this view outside my window,  I thought I should pen this late monsoon post; about the torrid love-hate relationship between the rain and me. Three monsoons ago, an early monsoon day in Maximum City saw us alight from a flight that had flown us in from an arid, desert city. My Facebook status for the occasion had read, “Finally in the city that is rainy and green”. Why did I go so ‘over the top’ with my Facebook update? Well, read on…

My earliest impressions of the monsoon date back to the city of Job Charnock, where rubber boats are often deployed to rescue people stranded on rooftops in the lower lying parts of the city; and where I spent many a rainy afternoon setting sail paper boats in the alley outside our house that remained perpetually water-logged during the monsoons. I remember in carefree days there was no greater joy than dancing in the first monsoon showers or wading through the abundant rivulets and streams to and from my way to school – which returned to being roads only after the monsoons were over. Being such a creature of habit, I had accepted rain as an integral part of life, that there would be the occasional thunder-showers that would clean up the grime and the dust and set the earth aglow; that a random maze of pot-holes would soon dot the face of the streets soon after the showers came leading to incessant traffic jams; that houses and walls would soon take on a fresh greenish hue with the onset of the rains; and that our clothes and books would start to smell musty; and that children would snivel, sneeze and complain and yet not give up the slightest chance of playing or getting wet in the rain.

I had spent the decade prior to this in a somewhat rainless exile between the arid city at the foothills of the Aravalli and a desert city in the outer fringes of the Rub al Khali ( The Empty Quarter ). In the Rajdhani, at the foothills of the Aravalli, the monsoon or the Varsha rhitu is not a prominent season on the seasonal calendar and a whimsical rain fall soon gives way to autumn. The desert city, where we nested for the later half of the decade, has only one prominent season on the calendar, Al Sa’if (summer).

In my exile in the Rajdhani, I suddenly found that a lot of the known and the ordinary had gone missing from my life, rain being one of them. Like all fellow creatures of habit, the loss became a misery over time. Thus in rememberance of the rain that had left my life, I fondly named my daughter Rimjhim, the music of the rains, while I waited for the scorching Dilli summer months to peter into rain. In the desert city, things were extreme, it barely rained a few days in the year. Thus any form of rain was celebrated by going ‘Wadi bashing’ – driving through rivulets that trickled along dry river beds. I secretly wished for some divine intervention to lift this ban from my life and return me to some place where it rained.

So it was natural that when I did arrive at Maximum city, the craving for rain had been at an extreme. That year’s monsoon went unnoticed as I had other inconsequential things like finding a house, getting school admission for the 8-going-on-9, settling in etc. to keep me distracted. I did admire the gray Arabian Sea and the stormy sky gushing and pouring in a gusto from the Worli Seaface house that we spent that monsoon in. And the following year, in spite of the meteorological department going berserk and issuing warning after warning of a repeat of a deluge similar to 2006, rain played truant.  Soon I had joined the rest in tweeting about the missing Mumbai monsoon.

Which brings me to the year that is. And that is where lies the misery of a different kind. For the rain-starved me the decade long rationing of rain had brought in a craving for the rain, true, but it had altered something in me as well. I had, somewhere down the line, grown less benevolent and the romantic was hard hit by reality. This year’s monsoon has been surplus. The rains have filled up the lakes, the incessant streams have eroded the hills, the drumming droplets have eaten into the asphalt and have left behind, to quote a friend, ‘moon-craters’ on the Mumbai streets, the damp air has left a trail of musty smell in clothes and an abundant growth of fungus on all things cane, wood, fabric, and paper.The joy ride into town or anywhere else within or without the city boundaries reminds one of the joys of riding the metaphorical ‘bail gaadi‘.

Does that mean that I don’t love the rains any more? Of course, I do. From my perch, my lofty window on the 32nd floor, or through the high glass windows of the cafe down the road with a book in hand sipping a cup of espresso, or even from the car window as it whooshes through puddles while dodging ‘moon-craters’ of all shapes and sizes – nestled in dry comfort.

Read it on my TOI blog : Freeze Frame

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Posted by on September 24, 2010 in Uncategorized


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On cloud 32 in Maximum City

It was a late afternoon in June. The white Honda Civic was waiting for us at the lobby. R and I were supposed to take the car and reach Bandra West . At “4:30, sharp!” – was what the Bee (the British punctuality bug personified) had left us with in the morning.

It had been 7-days since we had arrived in Mumbai. The Bee’s new company had put us up at a lavish apartment, with the bedrooms and the drawing-room opening into balconies overlooking the Worli Seaface. Monsoon had just set in, so while the Bee was away, the sky, the Arabian Sea and its lashing waves kept R and me busy. I also tried to effectively engage the brat in some writing and arithmetic to cork her young greys cells from rusting with excessive televiewing.

This particular day was the first day of our house hunting in Mumbai (and no, we hadn’t fussed at all about shubh muhurat, tithi, nakhshtra – but coming to think of it now, may be we should have!).

The Bee, who had better knowledge about Mumbai (having been in and out of the city on countless occasions) ruled out the possibility of living in town (hold on!) if we didn’t like anything decent between Napeansea Road and Mahalaxmi or stretching it a little more, in Worli. Also out was living in a suburb like Chembur, which “is literally closer to Pune than Mumbai”. So we pinned our hopes on Bandra West and Pali Hill.

That afternoon, riding through the happy by lanes of Bandra, I felt more and more at home – like I had on my earlier visits. The bustling restaurants, rocking pubs, neat rows of haute couture outlets and designer galleries with a healthy sprinkling of art galleries and theatres – all  amply hinted at a  “hep & happening” suburban life and promised a robust social life. The sights, smells, sounds of Bandra had me spiralling downwards in love already, now I fell in love with the windows, balconies, doorways of Bandra as well. I made mental notes of names of apartment stories –  to urge the real estate broker to fetch us one.

The car halted bringing my daze back to consciousness. Our first stop for the evening was ‘Sunflower building’, the wiry broker in a much worn shirt and trouser and a worldly-wise smile told us. I had already started to walk into the large-ish wrought iron gate with a uniformed gate man whose hand was also in mid-air in a salute to greet me.

“Madam, this way please.” The hand in mid-air dropped back to its earlier position of guarding the gates from intruders as I gazed past the gate into an innocuous alley. The apology to a sunflower, Sunflower (building) stood hidden from sunlight (permanently) in a dark alley between two large condominiums. Have you heard the sound of your hopes crashing around you like broken glass? Well, I’m sure everybody standing around me that day did! The three of us looked in utter disbelief at each other and then in unison at the broker.

The Channel V “brought to you Bai”, oops, the  wiry, worldly-wise broker couldn’t have hurled the reality back at us any better than “Itna paise me itnaich milega!”

Suddenly the multinational HRA seemed a pittance and we rode  on the fastest slide down from feeling  “upper middle class NRIs” to “lower middle class Mumbaikars” in the shortest span of time.

Yeh pahela wala haiNaya TDR building, niche char mala bangla tha, upar se pillar dal ke bara mal banaya pichhlasaal”

“Are rest of the buildings you are showing us today the same?’ I dared to ask.

Itna paise me aisaich milega.”

“Pali Hill?’

Itna paise me aisaich milega.”

By the time evening came to an end we had wizened with the ways of the Maximum City:

We could, with the HRA we were proud of only a day ago, live in a 850 sq. ft flat in Bandra, or a TDR building, or in rundown apartments assigned to MPs in Worli!

Living in South Mumbai, that is between Cuff Parade and Malabar Hills meant paying a rent of anything between 3 lakhs and 5 lakhs. “CEO log bahut raheta udhar?”

The rentals seemed to dip slightly between Mahalaxmi and Prabhadevi – a “reasonable hai” amount between 2.5 lakhs and 3.5 lakhs. That takes one to Bandra, and Bandra being Bandra was hopeful to fetch anything between 1.5 lakhs and 3 lakhs depending on the super built up area, not the carpet area!

By the time we reached the outer perimeter of Khar and almost crossed into Santacruz, the rentals seemed to have come within the outer fringes of the HRA. So why not Khar?

Khar had wonderful houses with an old worldly charm, renowned neighbourhood schools, a brimming Sindhi population and … erm … and thus vegetarian housing societies (!) where a whiff of anything that moved before it got cooked called for an eviction notice.

And we didn’t want to chase the goose down the Western Express highway from Santacruz past JVPD all the way to Andheri, Goregaon, Kandivili. So we switched expressways and started looking in Chembur, along the Eastern express highway. Between Worli and Chembur? No!

Chembur – the heartland of Tamilians in Mumbai. Green, quiet, some predominant Sindhi societies but also some good old Bangali societies (so we could have continued being carnivores), it promised fish markets selling Bangali fish and “true blue” Bangali vegetables like “Mocha” and “Thor” – so why did we move away from Chembur? The neighbourhood boasted of a fine educational institution which shut its window on my face (literally!) after bawling out a tirade of “no admissions available now!”.

And ever since that seemed to predominate our search. Looking for a school before we found a house. “But what will happen if we do secure the admission in a decent school and do not get a decent accommodation in the vicinity?”, we wondered aloud – the egg and chicken game was in play already.

I admit that we were also difficult to please. We wanted a 3 BHK of 1700 sq. ft, preferably on a higher floor, balconies, good view outside the window and not shanties, preferably in a new building, a big lift for the packers to deliver our belongings (which lay sealed in a container on the other shore of the Arabian Sea, waiting for an address) with ease and least damage.

And we made unreasonable demands – walking into a house fitted with wardrobes, we wanted them removed to fit in ours, in a house that had purple and yellow “designer” walls we demanded pearly white walls, a house that came complete with bare CFLs jutting out from sockets in ceilings and walls we wanted them to be covered with shades, we wanted our paintings up on bare walls, in short “sonar pathorbati” – loosely meaning a marble bowl of gold. Baffling!

A little over a month into this quest for the Holy Grail, we came to a new turn, the 2000 sq. ft guesthouse on the 12th floor facing the Arabian Sea, very politely pointed out that our stay was nearing its expiry, the company only stipulated for a month. In most cases, they also pointed out, the employees find a house, car and school in this one month. We were sure that this held true for simpler folks with simpler demands…

On one of those days, riding through a busy street in town, the nomadic life seemed unbearable. I wanted to be there, in the midst of life, where there was so much happening – Kala Ghoda, Fort, Colaba, Leopold, Sterling, Tea Centre,  – I wanted it all. We were approaching the Mahalaxmi Race Course by then, a steel and glass tower showered fire from a welder and I looked skyward in an earnest prayer, wishing for the impossible to happen in Maximum City. I desired for a home nestled in the clouds, overlooking a wide expanse of water, with enough space to hold us along with our tables, chairs, sofas, beds, pots, pans, books and greens. To this absurd wish list I added the wishes of a decent neighbourhood, a good school for R, a park, a promise of ‘life worth living’  with enough shopping and dining (hmmm…) a corner bookshop and of course a respectable gentry, phooof!

And one of those days, after the packers had left, the dust had settled and I had sent the Li’l R off to her school, I finally put my feet up and sipped my coffee. Then it struck me! We had landed ourselves a 32nd floor perch, an enviable address, with a wonderful view of the lakes in the hills (of course one has to crane the neck out at a 33 degrees angle from the extreme right hand corner of the drawing-room french window) and a handful of shopping and dining. But in my impossible list which was just made possible (by some universal conspiracy) I had forgotten to mention two essential elements of everyday life  – “a house in town” which was “near work”! Silly me! How I wish I  had wished with a little more foresight!


Posted by on August 26, 2009 in city, humor, Mumbai, Summer, window


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Of suburban dreams and a birthday…..

The road crosses the intersection and slopes down towards the sleepier part of the suburb, leaving behind the rushing traffic, the departmental store, the new apartments and the quaint restaurant at the corner with a breakfast menu. Yesterday we, the Bee and me, sat by the french window of the restaurant dreaming our usual dream of “higher aspirations” over tall cups of  “Long Americana” and breakfast, higher floors, higher purposes, higher goals et all.

It was shortly after the ‘rush to reach town’ had ebbed, so the intersection was quieter. The broad, empty stretches of the sidewalk, the sleepy suburb slowly waking up to the day, the rainwashed trees starting to glisten in the sun stealing in through the chinks of the sparse clouds…. I wanted that moment to stand still forever, wanted to go on sipping the fresh coffee forever, wanted to sit with the Bee and go on dreaming forever, wanted to just sit at that table by the window and stare  outside forever. It was the morning of my day and I wanted to soak in all that was around me and delay the day from ending quickly.

The reverie was halted abruptly, a call was buzzing silently for me on my phone. I could have ignored the phone, but not this call.

“Feels like yesterday, when you were looking at me with those new eyes as I held you for the first time and here I’m wishing you on your birthday again!” effused the most familiar voice of my life, my Ma. “Happy Birthday!”

The same day in the afternoon I walked down another road of the same suburb leading to another intersection. This intersection at this time of the day remained chaotic. As I waited among the milieu of mothers, fathers, grandparents, drivers, maids of all shapes and sizes waiting for the children to run out, a soft tug at my hand made me turn. She stood there  with an angelic smile lighting up her eyes. There lay on her little outstretched hand a birthday card, made with pages torn from her exercise book, with red and pink hearts, a tiny poem and “Dear Mumpa, happy birthday!” written in it.


The evening brought a drizzle, a cake with a single candle, a group of friends, a bundle of wishes and a much delayed ending to the day.


Posted by on July 29, 2009 in city, Life, Love


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the floor was coloured red

The other day I happened to walk into a conversation among strangers about something I must have  loved for a long time. I didn’t realize it till the mention of it brought back memories in rushes.

I remember spending countless days rolling on that red floor of  yore, my lazy summer afternoons with Satyjit, Sharadindu, Sunil, Shirshendu. On afternoons, when it would be dark and cloudy or even rainy, I’d curl up on the dark  mahogany four poster bed and watch the rain find it’s way through the chinks of the shutters on the window, roll down the ledge and make watery designs on the red floor. Or on a fast disappearing winter afternoon, the coloured glass pattern in the arch above the window would cast longer shadows on the floor and I would sit mesmerized by the changing hues of the red.

Then came the time when I was walking, running, lounging  on the mosaic of colours bordered with green in our new house. The house had window seats in  green mosaic and I would spend long afternoons pondering over Maugham or just stare out at the sky with  Joan Baez  and  ‘Hey Jesse, it’s lonely ….. come home’ or have the floor strewn with paper, paint, brushes while I  took flights of fantasy.

And one day  in my red Benarasi, I crossed over a threshold, on to a pristine white alabaster floor leaving behind a trail of footprints in red alta .  A new ‘I’ came into being, a new relationship dawned, relating me to many more and   breathed  life into a sprite.

Life moved on to  different cities, different mosaics and terrazzos, on to various shades of alabaster and granite, in barsatis, in shiggat (Arabic for ‘apartment’), in penthouses. But never again did I come across the red of that floor of yore. Not that I yearned for it, but somehow all my memories of my girlhood would have that touch of red.

Now in the eve of my life,  I  tread on my mosaic, a red mosaic , a red from my childhood, a seamless wonder that the adult seems to have clung on to all  this while.

mosaic Picture courtesy:


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