Tuesday 29 March 2016

Travelling Window




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Strasbourg,France -2015. (Click to enlarge)






Being four years old in Calcutta during the sultry summer and spraying water on matted windows to combat frequent power-cuts with the earthy scent of khas khas. Being twelve in Pune and sitting by the bay window every blistering thursday during scheduled load sheddings. Being nineteen in Delhi and replenishing the air cooler at the window with buckets of water in a tiny pg with three girls crammed in one room. Being twenty-three in Bombay and going through the eternal struggle every evening of whether to leave the window open for the moisture laden wind, and mosquitoes.

Windows are one of my favourite things to photograph, with their transparent, ephemeral quality of letting elements in, almost, but not quite. In rain with droplets dripping off or autumn with leaves patterned on the glass, winter with frost on it or summer with sunshine streaming through making shadowlines - 

Now at twenty-seven, sitting at the window flung wide open to let in strains of summer street music and the barest wisps of wind blowing through, windows again are the only respite in this oppressive heat where there is plenty of electricity but fans are a thing of mystery!
No matter how old you grow or how far you travel somethings never change!

Tuesday 12 February 2013

A Nations Collective Conscience vs. Afzal Guru?

The one thing that struck out in all the controversies surrounding Afzal Guru was that in all the cases of violence in our country be it terrorists attacks, state and civil violence in the ‘Red Corridor’, local political parties’ violent ‘activism’, religious and ethnic riots, fundamentalist violence or even the armies protecting our borders.. this is the one act of violence aimed directly at  India’s top political leaders - The true, corrupt, scourge of the nation, whose obliteration is nothing but a boon compared to the thousands of innocent civilians and soldiers that have been killed in the name of various ideologies and false patriotism over the decades instigated by politicians and perpetuated by an elitist media. This may be a simplistic, politically incorrect statement that could be offensive to some. But the populist media and Supreme Court have done no less in structuring the hanging as an appeasement to the ‘collective conscience’. Whose collective conscience? For all the intellectuals who thought India acted so mature in following the law and order process during Ajmal Kasab’s case, what sort of law and order maturity would you ascribe to Afzal Guru’s?

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Phoren...

…and then it strikes you strange sometimes when you are on facebook and the web feels the same as it did back home and you are listening to an item no. from Ishaqzaade , reading about Arun Gawali’s conviction and typing in Hindi to your friends and you forget for a moment where you are , till the cold creeps in and you look out to see the grass is a different green, the sky a different hue and the air smells different too. You realize it’s 10pm and turn down the volume of the distinctly Indian beats because there is pin drop silence around as people sleep early here and here is 12593.12 km away from home.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Masterchef Mania


You know there has been a paradigm shift in TV viewing habits when the Australian Open Men’s Finals struggles to beat a cooking show in viewership ratings ! Masterchef Australia is currently the 4th highest rating television program in Australia since 2001, behind the 2005 Australian Open final between Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin.  The first season finale was the most watched television program of 2009 and each episode averages more than 3 million viewers a night! Infact recently the Masterchef TV ratings overshadowed national politics in Australia by forcing a re-scheduling of the only debate between top contenders for Australia’s next PM, Tony Abbot and Julia Gillard. All for a cooking show! Except its not just a cooking show.
This hog interest is not an overnight phenomena. The writing was on the wall was clear when Travel and Living mercifully adopted a far more apt moniker- TLC for their  channel. Viewers demanded more of the Italian pasta and French cheeses rather than the Colosseum and Eiffel Tower. Food exported as culture through incredible photography is the new irresistible and lip-smacking pop phenomena. Masterchef has tapped well into that adding exotic locations and the competitive dimension. Pressure mounts over whether the ovens are hot enough or the cream peaks enough and if there is just the right amount of Vin in your Coq au Vin to make you the next culinary pop idol
I first watched Masterchef when all fb and twitter were abuzz about an upcoming episode on chocolate cake! There were people, masses of them, talking about a cooking show that made chocolate cake? Except when I watched the episode, this was no mere chocolate cake… it was a gooey, dripping 8 textured chocolate cake full of chocolate mousse and creamy ganache and caramel and everything to give you a blissful heart attack. And that I guess the USP of the show, its not merely food but the most decadent, sinful food decorated in the most extravagant style ever. Much like Extreme Makeover or America’s Top Model. Its not just a competition, it is a display of the most exotic, extravagant and larger than life houses,  cars, accessories,clothes and women  that grips the fantasies of our consumerist society. Especially in developing nations like ours where canned olives and any cheese other than Amul in your fridge means you’ve arrived. 
This obsession has leaked out of televisions into kitchens and suddenly people around me are buying tiny electric whippers to whip the cream on their coffee, pasta cutting machines to create scalloped edges and ramikens to ‘plate up’ their souffl├ęs! Aaahh the plate up… as pretty as the food looks eventually it is to be eaten as nourishment, was what I tried to point out at a friends place for dinner. The gorgeous main course arrived. It was individually plated with three glossy gravy covered strands of noodles, 2 succulent looking grapes and 1 bright green basil leaf.
This culinary culture obsession is not gender or age specific either. Masterchef is not Khanna Khazana with Sanjeev Kapoor watched only by grandmothers and housewives. I have a friend who has opened a cupcake boutique, another who will eat only sushi or phad thai for girls lunch out and a third who owns a blow torch to brown the top of his meringues, but then, he is openly gay. The firmest attestment of the Masterchef phenomena though came  this afternoon from a 6ft tall, footballer friend who emotionally said, ‘It’s more than just a cooking show Shayoni!’
Oh and the purpose of this post… My cooking over the rainy weekend.
Peach and Plum Cake
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Pouring in the Caramel and batter….
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Turn it upside down….. Voila!
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Bengali style Kichdi and Aloo Jhuri
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Friday 20 July 2012

One Stormy Night….

“Push….pushhhhh…… “

“Aaaarrghhh…”

“Come on… harder … Push! ”

“ Its hurting! “

“Yeah, just keep pushing!

“Dude my arm is killing me. I. cannot. push. anymore.” I said,  resting the bike on the side stand.

“Yeah neither can I” said Shailee, flopping on the side of the road as the rain and cold wind whipped around us.

Stormy night. 2 girls, 111kgs of punctured metal and a deserted 3km stretch of road. Uphill.

Just our luck that the tyre burst in the Cantonment area where one side of the road gives way to acres of open land and gently rolling hillocks while the other to acres of densely forested terrain.

'”You are the science geek… by how much does the work increase when pushing 111kgs up 3km instead of across flat land?” I asked, stretching my arms out in readiness for our Sisyphean task.

‘A lot.’ Shailee grunted as we began pushing.

Cars splashed and worked their way around us. Amongst the countless amused glances at 2 bedraggled girls heaving a bike in a dark, stormy night were several sympathetic ones.

1. ‘You need fuel?”

'”Nope, tyre puncture”

2 .“Pakad  hai?”

”Nahi.”

3. “Asa footrest karu chala”

“Kela, tyre gudhda aahe”

And so option after option exhausted we kept pushing until….. a crash of thunder and crackle of lightening split the sky, cascading a fresh deluge of water.  Through the icy curtain came a rickety old tempo from which alighted a not so rickety young man.

   

He walked slowly and unhinged the door. His stubbled face glowed red as tail lights flashed by as did his dark hair shining with rain  like drops of blood. The water seeped black lines down the collar of his cheap blue shirt rivuleting down to the threadbare jeans. In one jerking motion he heaved the inert mass of metal into the back of his tempo and the ropes lashed around his muscular arms as he fastened the bike. We watched this Hulk Hoganesque feat in stunned silence.

'Kahan?' he let slip the guttural syllable.

'Agla chowk.' we squeaked.

He turned to the drivers wheel while we gathered our wits and scrambled into the back smiling gleefully as we sped through the street lit night.

Home and dry.

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Monday 4 June 2012

The Legend of Shaheed Bhagat Singh (Colony)

 

This is a guest post from a friend going through similar epiphanies as a rookie journalist in Bombay. Coincidentally he even stayed where I did initially - J.B Nagar. Located in the cultural anomaly that is the  Sikh colony in the heart of Chakala in Andheri East, J.B Nagar is populated by old refugee families since the partition. This was a different slice of Bombay life more reminiscent of my days in Delhi. The pace of life is much like that of a 'Kalkaji' or 'C.R.Park' with leafy lanes, Gurudwaras and Tony Da Dhabas. Most families owned two storey houses with extra  rooms piled on in typical Lajpat Nagar fashion and the quintessential 'barsatis' converted into PGs for students, working girls and small towns boys on a budget.

Jaideep comes up with a more relevant article though, elaborating on the past and the future of this Sikh settlement in the ever changing Mumbai.

The Legend of Shaheed Bhagat Singh (Colony) - by Jaideep Vaidya

The Shaheed Bhagat Singh Colony, located in the Chakala, Andheri (East), completed 50 years since its inception this year. Founded in 1962, the colony is home to around 1500 members of the Sikh community, along with one of the “most spacious and ambient” Gurudwaras in Mumbai. But if soaring land prices have their way, especially since the inauguration of the Mumbai Metro project—the first phase of which will run by the colony—the iconic colony might well disappear from the map of Andheri (East) in a few years time.

“We have received tenders already from a few builders,” says Daljeet Singh Sodhi (64), General Secretary of the colony’s Gurudwara and member of the colony’s trust. “The offers run up to the tune of Rs 1800 crores, but we are looking for more,” he informs, adding that the members of the colony would be all too ready to shift elsewhere if they received a satisfactory offer. “We could move to the nearby J.B. Nagar, or even Juhu,” says 69-year-old Jaspal Singh Bhasin, a resident of the colony, rather matter-of-factly.

The entrance to the South WIng of the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Colony, Andheri (E).

Sodhi’s and Bhasin’s nonchalant attitude towards the matter is rather surprising given the history of the colony and its residents.

“Most of the Sikhs that live here are descendants of those who migrated to Bombay (now Mumbai) from Pakistan post partition,” says Gurinder Singh Kohli (57), another resident of the colony. He adds, “They (the migrated Sikhs) used to stay in Matunga and Koliwada earlier, after which they shifted to Andheri (East) around 1960.”

The Sikh community has marked its presence in this part of the suburb, especially Chakala, with numerous shops dealing in automobile spare parts and accessories—you will find them in various shapes and sizes run by pot-bellied, loud-mouthed and jovial Sardarjis wearing colourful shirts and turbans.

Kohli goes on to confirm this, “It was the profession of their ancestors and one which they were most comfortable in,” he says, reasoning the popular choice of profession. “Finally, all the automobile guys decided to come and live together in one area,” he adds.

A man who played a monumental part in the relocation of the automobile Sardarjis to Andheri (East) is a certain Dalip Singh Bali. While his family was also in the automobile business, Bali was a builder by profession. “Bali is the man who constructed the Sher-E-Punjab, Guru Nagar and Shaheed Bhagat Singh colonies in Andheri (East),” says Kohli. He adds that Bali currently resides in the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Colony with his family and is aged 85.

“After sanctioning a 9-acre plot from the Maharashtra government in Chakala, Bali began construction of the colony in 1962,” informs Amarjeet Singh a.k.a. Tony, of the famous Tony Punjab Caterers, adding that the construction was completed in a couple of years. Today, the colony has two wings—North and South—spread over 37,784 square metres. “There are 96 plots housing almost 300 families, mostly Sikhs,” says Tony, adding that almost 90 percent of the original residents are still living here today. The residents also lease out rooms and guest houses to students on a Paying Guest (PG) basis. “Nearly 20 percent of the families host students,” says Sodhi.

As the residents of the colony settled into life in Andheri (East) through the sixties, they set up a school in its premises where their kids could go to in 1970. The Shri Kalgidhar School conducts classes from Junior KG to Class 10 and is affiliated to the Maharashtra Secondary School Certificate (SSC) board. Today, the English-medium school caters to 2000 students annually, most of which are from economically backward families. “The colony’s trust gives scholarships, which are donated by the members, to the needy,” says Bhasin, who also informs with pride that the school has maintained a 100 percent record for all grades ever since its inception.

The Satnam Waheguru Gurudwara located in the colony

The crowning jewel of the colony for the residents is the Gurudwara—a towering structure in the midst of the one-two-storey bungalows and houses. Sanctioned by the trust in 1995, the Gurudwara was constructed in flat 14 months. “This is one of the most spacious and ambient Gurudwaras in Mumbai,” says Sodhi. “Members of the colony donated money as well as materials such wood, cement, etc. for its construction.”

Sodhi adds that the Gurudwara is often leased out for weddings and funerals free of cost. “Other than this, we have doctors—homeopathic and allopathic—who provide free medical care on the spot. We organize free lunches and dinners on festivals such as Guru Nanak Jayanti, Baisakhi, Lohri, etc. Last year, on Guru Nanak Jayanti, we catered to a crowd of 15,000.”  Sodhi also informs that the Gurudwara’ trust is registered with the Charity Commissioner and its members are elected every three years. “Everything is fair and legal,” he quips.

Celebrating its golden jubilee this year, the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Colony has been a “close-knit family” according to its members. Says Bhasin, “We are like a big family; we may fight among ourselves, but that’s just how we are.” Validating the Sardarjis’ love for brash, expletive-ridden jargon, he laughs and says, pointing to Tony, “If I don’t abuse him, then it means I don’t love him!” Adds Kohli rather nostalgically, “But it’s a close-knit family and very smooth running for all these years.”

Whether Andheri (East) will indeed bid goodbye to this close-knit family of Sardarjis is a question that would be answered in the near future. Residents of Chakala are almost dreading the prospect. "It will be really weird if a 1000-odd Sardarjis shift away from the area!" says Prasad Kamath (36), who has lived alongside them in J.B. Nagar all his life.

I, for one, can only hope that Tony’s restaurant—located a stone’s throw away from the colony—and its delicious kebabs doesn’t disappear along with it.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Big City Life : The Walk Home

Kakamuchee , Galajunkja , Maha Amba , Mumba Devi, Mumba ,Mombayn , Bombain , Bombaym, Monbaym, Mombaim, Mombaym, Bambaye, Bombaiim, Bombeye, Boon Bay, Bombay and finally Mumbai. The city of many names and many more facets.

Archaeological evidence shows this city to have been inhabited since the Stone Age and to this day the rowdy crowds of Bombay display strong resemblance to their primate antecedents. One cannot blame them really. Bombay is the most populous city in India and the 6th most populous urban area in the world. If any other city tried squeezing 20.5 million people into two narrow strips of land totalling about 600sqkm, those people would be pretty mad from trying not to fall into the sea too.

Even at the Gaza Strip, despite the Molotov Cocktails and Tear Gas Shells and Civil War, the 1.6 million refugees are confined to a relatively spacious 360sqkm of land as compared to Bombay. Yet we make do the best with what we have and like the Palestinians try to find oases of peace and tranquillity in the noisy scramble for survival around us.

My first Oasis was the dead-end lane that classes were located in. An unusually leafy cobbled lane ending in an old bungalow surrounded by gulmohar and guava trees. There was also a Muslim slum, the kids of which became quite friendly. What you see below is the ‘campus’ - a ledge. It was legendary Open-mouthed smile, primarily for the endless lunches, pyro maniacal incidents, vociferous debates and camera sessions we had all on that one ledge that accommodated 3.

In different seasons the lane took on different aspects, like the presence of a LARGE goat during the month of Ramzan which disappeared on ID. The Indian flag over the slums during I- Day or swinging into the building on the gate when the lane flooded in the monsoons.

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The Walk from work was the second of the Oases. Nobody likes Bombay commute and I mean NOBODY. There was nothing I disliked more than being in a stationary rickshaw in the heavy humid evenings knowing Id be home faster walking. So I walked. The 45min walk from college to home was split into sections to add variety. In the first section were familiar people, our usual tapri, a miniscule 7ft passage called Bharat Cafe run by an old uncle, his wife and son, all migrated from Rajasthan. Further along the street was the Sandwich stall run on rotation by brothers from Bihar and a Sodalemonwater walla who once described to us how difficult it was to get ice and store it everyday.

At the end of the road I took a right and the dinginess gave way to a huge vista of the western express skyline with piles of purple and orange clouds framing the flyover and huge crossroad. Id pass the police chowky a questionable bar and a fisherwoman displaying fish by gaslight everyday. This was the second section stretching from the Cigarette factory till the Andheri flyover/station.

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I loved walking that flyover which was the third section. It was slightly cooler with the slight increase in altitude above sea level Smile with tongue out and it was fun looking below at the thundering trains, level crossings and slum patches where people played volleyball in the evenings.

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Also once the Andheri skywalk was built it added another dimension to the walk on the bridge.

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The last section was from the end of the flyover to home. There was a late night vegetable vendor and a dairy. These were saviours at 9pm when I had yet again forgotten the fresh veggies and milk for my roommate Monica Geller.