Tuesday 28 August 2012
Tuesday 24 July 2012
Friday 20 July 2012
“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?”
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.
Monday 4 June 2012
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
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 , 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.
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.
I loved walking that flyover which was the third section. It was slightly cooler with the slight increase in altitude above sea level and it was fun looking below at the thundering trains, level crossings and slum patches where people played volleyball in the evenings.
Also once the Andheri skywalk was built it added another dimension to the walk on the bridge.
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.
Saturday 17 March 2012
This is NOT a sociological analysis. For that matter I don’t think the previous review was either. Last semester we managed to avoid the pitfalls of heard mentality and pick a decent films to review. This semester, no such luck. My entire Gender Studies class
voluntarily enthusiastically wanted to watch Hum Saath Saath Hai. Aaah the joys of togetherness! At this wonderful university, supposed Centre of Advanced Studies and learning, we dumb everyone down to the lowest common denominator instead of trying to raise the bar and learn more – Indian Socialism at its best.
As a result one had to sit and suffer through 3 hours of pure hell and end up with permanent cringe lines on the face resulting in the following err… ‘review’. Suffice to say- this semester.... Gender F.A.I.L.
HUM SAATH SAATH HAI:
Ramkishen & Mamata - Alok Nath and Reema Lagoo
Vivek & Sadhana - Mohnish Behl and Tabu
Prem & Preeti - Salman Khan and Sonali Bendre
Vinod & Sapna - Saif Ali Khan and Karisma Kapoor
Anand & Sangeeta - Mahesh Thakur and Neelam
If you have watched Hum Aapke Hai Kaun, then this film hardly needs an explanation. Introduce a few new characters, change the songs and you have Hum Saath Saath Hai (HSSH) with its all star cast but without the charm of Madhuri Dixit. The dialogues are a deluge of saccharine sweet clichés. The over-the-top sets - an anathema to Plaster of Paris, actors ham it to the point of parody while the unimaginative script and screenplay put one to... Zzzzz.......!
Typical of a Sooraj Barjatya and a Rajshri productions film, it deals with the joys and sorrows of a big, affluent, joint family in India. Ramkishen and Mamata have three sons and a married daughter- Sangeeta. All share a loving and sickeningly sweet relationship with each other and much is made of Ramkishen’s ideals of ‘a family that prays together, eats together; stays together,’ inspite of the pessimism of their many friends and relatives who think it impossible to live peacefully in a joint family in these degenerate times.
Vivek, the eldest son from Alok Nath’s first wife, was handicapped in a childhood accident trying to save his younger step-brothers and is revered by his siblings. As the story proceeds, or aims to, the three sons get married or engaged. This basically constitutes the first half of the film, replete with occasion after occasion and song after song and what looks like the entire family on a permanent vacation. The vacation ends eventually when they learn that Sangeeta and her husband are done out of their share of the joint family business and home and have to start life afresh.
Using the incident, scheming relatives and friends lead Mamata to throw her eldest son and his family out of the house to ensure the security of her two younger sons. At this time of crisis the brothers and daughter-in-laws stand united and refuse to support such an action, which comes as a slap in the face of every K- serial ever made. In the end Mamata sees the error of her ways, Ramkishen’s ideals prevail and the whole big fat Indian family lives happily ever after, adding a new grandson to their ranks.
THE EXTENDED PERSPECTIVE OR MORE OF THE SAME.
Like many of the films of the 90’s, HSSH highlights the North Indian brand of Hinduism that is synonymous with the image of India and more significantly its implications on gender roles in society. It is infused with religiosity right from the first scene beginning with the family praying together in their oversized indoor temple to the ‘bhajan’ like quality of the songs throughout the film and ending with Reema Lagoo asking Ram’s idol for forgiveness for being less than a perfect mother and wife. The rites and rituals, the wedding finery and food, which also is omnipresent in every scene, are all things preferred or practiced in North India, typically UP and Rajasthan. Although there is the overtly portrayed Hindu-Muslim unity that feel good family films tend to have, in the form of the Muslim secretary Rehana, Vivek’s Man Friday - Anwar (Shakti Kapoor) and a turbaned secretary, conspicuously placed to represent diversity, nowhere in this ideal representation of Indian society is there any mention of ‘Payasam’ amongst the ‘Motichoor Ke Ladoos’ or any character from the southern states. The representation of a typical Indian family in the film is much like the common perceived notion of Indian culture - symbolic only of the 6 states in the north, excluding J&K.
The overarching theme of the film is blatantly picked up from the Ramayan. Ram, Laxman and Bharat are reflected in Vivek, Vinod and Prem respectively- all three are men of flawless character and integrity (Though in mythology, from a feminist perspective Ram is much criticized as being far from perfect and bordering on cruel and petty). In the search for their brides we see that the identity of a woman is completely overpowered by her role as a daughter-in-law. Sadhana may have been born and raised in the West but is an embodiment of demure Indian household values. Preeti may be a doctor; a degree we all know takes guts and character to pursue. But Preeti is painfully shy and timid, lacking in confidence and ultimately deriving it from the ‘gajar ka halwa’ she cooks to satisfaction for her fiancé. Sapna is supposed to be a popular college topper who is praised for being efficient in housework as well. She is married off quickly without even a hint to the audience as to what she was studying or a glimpse into her college life.
The whole emphasize on modern yet traditional woman has the superwoman construct built into it. Yet any aspect of all the women’s identities before or outside their roles as wives, mothers and daughters is quite forgotten. It is widely understood that for most women in Indian society a standalone identity does not exist but the women in the film do not even have a strong enough identity as wives and mothers. It is the ideal daughter-in-law or ‘bahu’ role that cuts through the various stages of life that the women in HSSH portray. Be it college going Sapna, the professional Preeti, cultured Sadhana or even in the end Mamata -the matriarch of the whole family - all are viewed through the lens of the perfect ‘Bahu’ – one responsible for keeping the family and its honour together.
Correspondingly, dishonour then is an unmarried woman. This is garishly brought across through Mamata’s three unmarried friends whose portrayal is rife with vamp-ish make –up, cigarette toting fingers, loose morals and late nights. They are the rummy playing, rum drinking schemers and manipulators, trying to wreck the happiness of the perfect Indian home since they themselves do not have the ‘ideal’ family life, so to speak.
Under their influence, Reema Lagoo does a Kaykei and demands her that her husband banish Vivek from his industrial empire. It should be noted that this does not necessarily mean women have that much participation in any decision making process. Mamata derives her power from being the mother of three sons and moreover the mother-in-law of the two brides to be. Her unhappy husband can do little to stop her and therefore Vivek leaves for the fringes of the family business at Rampur with Tabu as Sita in tow and even more symbolically the younger brother Vinod, emulating Laxman and tagging along. Mamata thinks all is taken care of till Prem the middle child comes home and like Bharat refuses to take Vivek’s place as Managing Director or the young head of the household or even get married to Preeti, who willingly goes along with his honourable sentiment of ditching his fiancé and long-time sweetheart. Symbolically he will not sit in Vivek’s chair at work or occupy his bedroom. He merely awaits his elder brother’s return at the end of this industrial age ‘vanvas’.
Thus the whole Ramayan is played out, reinforcing not just society’s notions of family values and female stereotypes but also the internalization of these roles by the women themselves who are giddily happy in every scene, decked from top to toe and willingly sacrificing their own dreams and aspirations to follow their husbands into oblivion. It all seems natural. Except in mainstream cinema this is a dangerous trend, one that we can see has been taken to even greater heights by the Karan Joharization of Indian Cinema where the role of the typical Indian woman with her endless fasting and sacrificing as a mother or wife is so wrapped up in the glitz and glamour of Bollywood that many fail to see the gender subtext which is being not only glorified but preached to the masses and instilled and institutionalized ever Friday at the Box Office. Why is this accepted? Because unlike life, Hindi films have a happy ending, where Ram comes back and Dashrath doesn’t even die.