A Tale Of Two Cities: My Proverbial Krishnadom

Here’s a post from a long time ago. I’ve tidied it up but the memory remains (anyone get that reference?). Here’s to my discovery of myself, to my finding home.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

When people ask,

“Born and brought up here?”

I have to pause to think how to answer. I’ve tried various versions of ‘Born in the Capital and grew up in Island City’. That’s so pretentious, isn’t it? But it doesn’t feel right, doesn’t feel fair to either city to say anything else. I could just nod my head. After all, who cares where you spent the first month of your life, if you’ve lived elsewhere after that? But it is the first month of my life (actually more, if you count the months my mother was pregnant with me). It’s the place on my birth certificate. It’s where my mother hails from. How can it not be important to the question of where I’m from?

It’s an odd feeling to belong to two different places simultaneously like this. Just like our relationships with people, there are invisible bonds that link us to places too…places that contain strong memories, places we’ve experienced life most in..

Each visit to the capital brings up parallel voices inside of me, conflicting, contradicting and highlighting the differences in the two places. If a city could be the motherland, I’m the proverbial Krishna, originating from one and flowering in another.

Mumbai has left an undeniable chappa on me, shaped my thinking and attitudes. Visiting Delhi however, invokes odd feelings that I’ve never quite been able to explain. I suppose it is a symbolic return to the womb, a reminder of how life could have been, still could be. Having a birth certificate from a city links you to that place for life. Mumbai is in my every waking moment and movement, in my brisk ‘lets-get-down-to-it’ attitude, my indifference to crowds and noise and precision-honed efficiency. Delhi however, whispers its hidden influences in my intellectualising, my love of the good life and long conversations.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

It’s cold. But not coooooooooooooold. That’s the first thought that hits me as I alight at Nizamuddin. I remember the dire warnings I’ve received over the past week about the winter in Delhi. Sure, everyone looks plumper (and that’s saying something….the average figure pays testimony to well-fed stomachs) and brighter draped in woolens and feathers (And I always thought these were the grey things that pigeons shed!).

As the day progresses, I can’t help reflecting that in Mumbai food takes longer to cool than to heat up. And oh, what an odd feeling to keep feeling hungry every hour! Mom is delighted and hints that my weight-gain plan might succeed if I shift here.

Shopping is always a great experience in Delhi, even for shop-a-phobics like me. I love the colour, the sheer feel of the ‘arty’ look, kurtas, jholas, mojris and trinkets. Idly I muse that I’ve never seen Delhiites wear any of this, though its considered the ‘Delhi look’. And oddly enough I’ve only seen all of this stuff on Mumbaikers who proudly say “I picked it up on my last visit to Delhi”.

The people look different; even their skin ailments look different. I can’t see any of the familiar pimples and acne that adorn Mumbai faces. There are instead, red splotches and little bumps which I assume must be a combination of colder weather and skins endowed with far less melanin.

Every single person I arrange to meet offers to pick me up or drop me back or both. Hmm, I think, I can’t imagine my Mumbaiker friends doing that any more than I can imagine my permitting them to. As always I hate not being able to travel around freely but I take note of the gentle solicitousness it seems to invoke in people here.

Books, books, BOOOOOKS!!!!! I’ll never be able to hate Delhi so long as it has its books. Mumbai’s workaholism drowns out any possibility of culture appreciation. If Mumbai is the place to make money, Delhi’s the place to spend it. I also see a band playing in one of the corners of Connaught Place. Intrigued I stand and listen to the music belting out of the makeshift speakers. How wonderful, the drummer’s a girl! I can’t imagine amateur musicians making music at street corners like this. Come to think of it, where would they play….Churchgate station?

I gape, all open-mouthed wonder at the neat manicured lawns, shining signboards and broad roads all through our jaunts. I make snide comments about how Mumbai pays at least 1/3rd of the country’s taxes and gets so few benefits in return while the Delhi lives off the rest of the country’s earnings in splendour. I remind my co-passengers of the meaning of the word ‘parasite’ and get muttered threats for reply.

No trip to Delhi is complete without the mandatory visit to the chaatwala. Yum, yum I drool as I watch potatoes and unidentified stuff being mauled in as unhygenic conditions as possible. Oh, to hell with hygeiene I tell that nagging voice and tuck into the ‘halka masala mixed fruit chaat’. My mouth was on fire for an hour afterward. Grr, Delhiites must have cast-iron cauldrons for stomachs.

Somewhere in the back of my consciousness floats pictures of homeless people, victims of the tsunami. I wonder, if a natural disaster had struck up north, would Delhi have been so complacent and matter-of-fact? Out of sight, out of mind is a phrase that springs to mind.

Not that there aren’t conversations. Politics, politics, does every single Delhiite from age 7 upward own a degree in Political Science??? I feel woefully ignorant in all this chatter. That’s until someone mentions a movie and the talk turns to Bollywood. Then I inform them that I’ve stayed within a kilometer from the Big B’s residence and that Vivek Oberoi was my senior in college. HAH! I love the grudging admiration that shines in their eyes as I throw out these facts with an air of disdainful nonchalance.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Saturday and its time to leave. As the capital gears up for a weekend (what’s a weekend to a city that seems to be either lazing or partying during the week?), I pack my bags. I’m so relieved, so relieved, so utterly delirious to be coming back to Mumbai. On my train I’m glad that the other family in the cubicle is from Mumbai and I won’t have to endure declarations of ‘Dilli sabse number one city‘. I spend the journey reclaiming my Mumbainess. I take an almost devilish delight in graphic details of Mumbai trains to a group of youngsters on their first trip. I see one gulp and I smirk. I chase every stereotypical notion of Mumbai and wear it almost desperately to prove my origins. As the train whizzes into Borivili, I sigh, home sweet home. Nothing reminds me more about how much I belong here, than a visit to Delhi. Yeah, Delhi does that. It’s never very far away and I’m afraid it’ll claim me someday. But for now, my Island City holds me safe.

#AndheriGirl: How To Watch A Movie In Andheri

Movie in Andheri

Tyler Durden Weekends

I am a people-watcher, only not on weekends. Starting Friday evening, people aren’t people. They’re hungry animals fighting for the last movie ticket, restaurant seat, parking spot and minute on anyone else’s schedule. Tantrums, me-firsts, ‘jaanta nahin main kaun hoon‘ and law-breaking are pretty predictable. Nothing to watch.

I am finding that my sanest, most refreshed weeks are the ones right after weekends where I’ve stayed home or done very little that gets listed in ‘things to do’ lists. Our relaxation times have been hijacked by consumerism. I fear the Tyler Durden in me will come loose, if I don’t protect my world from the reasons that he appears.

Food Encounters Of The Third Kind

Mum has left town this week so it’s time to play house-house again. I know what you’re thinking – how hard is it for a grown woman to manage a house? It’s not. What is difficult for a grown woman to manage, is another woman’s kitchen. Yes. We may share a living space. But when it comes to the culinary castle, my mother treats it like her personal kingdom and guards it jealously.

It is wonderfully convenient for me that she is such a good cook. So it really doesn’t hurt me too much to throw up my hands and concede the throne of Kitchendom to her. The trouble comes, when she has to travel for a few days. Unlike cupboards, study tables and bookshelves that can be locked away (What, you’re laughing at locking away a bookshelf? You must have never been a booklover then.), the food supply chain has to keep running. What to do?

In the early years, I shouldered the mantle of Temporary Kitchen Monarch. Naivete never had a better victim. All hell broke loose when I attempted to make a dum aloo, as a welcome-home, the day mother was to return. This being before the advent of Wikipedia and Google, I used a more primitive form of information gathering. I called my best friend’s mother. The recipe she gave me sounded simple enough. I was really quite proud with what turned out a few hours later.

Mother walked into the house. Stopped. Sniffed. Eyes bored into me accusing.

“HAVE YOU BEEN COOKING NON-VEGETARIAN FOOD IN MY KITCHEN???!!”

That incident has stayed a sore point with us since then and will probably go down in family lore. I deduced that she was smelling the garam masala (made from scratch using *I promise* vegetarian ingredients only). But maybe my Goan auntie’s recipe smelt like our Goan neighbor’s fish fry. Mother refused to touch a bite of the dum aloo. I protested, telling her that I had used ingredients from that very kitchen. I think she has never forgiven me for managing to turn out ‘non-vegetarian’ food from her very vegetarian ingredients.

Well, time to go. It’s been over 24 hours since mum left and the leftovers are nearly over. Weekend promises food encounters of the third kind. I better get my armour and shields ready. TO BATTLE, WOMAN!

 

One Day Past Thirty-Five

I wanted to write a post today but I’ve only gotten to it now and it’s past 2 a.m. which means it’s technically tomorrow but I’m still awake so I call it today. It’s Day 1 of being 35. I’m just past the mid-way mark of The Thirty Diaries. And 35 is the next landmark age after 30, so it feels like I should make a big deal out of it.

Celebrations. I’ve decided I’m going to have them as often and as self-indulgently as possible. Really. I now see the self-defeatingness of waiting around for other people to do something nice for me. And to hell with modesty. In fact, fuck modesty, I say. Modesty doesn’t wait around to cheer you up when you’re moping indoors, watching the grey rain outside your window (it’s always depressing weather on the birthday of a July person) and reading the one gift you got. This happened to me one year and I spent it reading a book that predicted my mood accurately – Misery. Modesty doesn’t rescue you from a broken heart and the pain of knowing that they were so petty, they couldn’t even bother to wish you a happy birthday. Two different years, neither man worth it (which petty person ever is?). Modesty doesn’t act as a shield from an insecure enemy hitting out unprovoked at you, stealing your work, cheating with your boyfriend and turning your friends on you. One year only and that was enough. I went underground all these times. I hid, I cried then I wiped my tears and went out like nothing happened. Like the fact that it was my birthday didn’t matter. Like the one ritual I was allowed to have to celebrate myself was taken away and it was okay. Never again. So, I say, fuck modesty.

This year I announced it to all and sundry. This year I threw myself a party. Actually, last year as well. And this year was a different one. Now, let’s see I’ve had a different thing every one of my Thirty Diary years.

30 was Pune, a love affair with a new city, dating for the fun of it and drinking beer like it might be worth drinking it.
31 was a home get-together with two friends and one interesting stranger. We began dating three days later.
32 was the confused cocktail of marriage talks, a trip to Kolkata and a surprise party thrown by him, a guy who hated parties.
33 was lying on the sofa, unwashed, hungry, tired, depressed, watching reruns of reality TV the whole day, with the phone switched off.
34 was dancing and drinking and cake and laughter with a new circle of friends and lovers.

And this weekend, 35 was a home get-together with good friends, brunch with the family, an evening out with my writers. All of them, my people, my world. My world revolves around me and I lead how people behave towards me in here. I must celebrate me and then the world will celebrate too – me and itself.

Adi grabbed me into a bear hug the minute it struck 12. Unfortunately I was wearing a spiked headband and it cut him on the chin, just as he hugged me. But he laughed and held up a bloodied finger and said, “Now I can say, I’ve truly shed blood for you!”

I also got birthday bumped for the very first time in my life. Hmph. I knew 35 would bring a lot of new experiences. I didn’t expect the first to be quite so, umm, undignified.

Netra gifted me a pretty dress. It’s lovely, I told her, but I don’t wear backless. You should, she said, when I saw this dress, I said it’s so you! I held it up, soft fabric caressing my face and I let myself sink into my NO. Many, many years ago an insecure man told me that I was ugly, that the heat rash on my back made me unattractive. And I never wore backless after that day. I had forgotten about that memory; it had lain in a corner, missed when I swept away all the other evil nonsense that he fed me, which had limited my life. And with that, I decided to let it go.

I wore the dress on my birthday, my back open to the world, literally and metaphorically. The only thing close to bad that happened, was when I was waiting for a friend at the National College crossing in Bandra. A strange man drove up, parked next to the pavement, rolled down his window and stared at me. I stared back at him till he stopped. But a few minutes later he resumed staring. I took a picture of him (with his license plate) and tweeted it. And then I forgot about it. Later, when I checked Twitter, I found RTs and someone offering to take legal recourse against the offender. So I took that action and then it passed out of my conscious thinking, without spoiling my evening.

My friends and I ate leftover cake. We walked around Bandra in the rain, mock-debating the merits of raincoats over umbrellas. We had chai and played ‘Whose line is it anyway’. We had pizza. And nobody told me I was ugly or attacked me. Instead, I got an otherwise reticent friend telling me it was ‘delicious’. :-D After today, I can wear my back with pride and more newly – with freedom.

The wonderful thing about celebrations of this sort are that the hangover lasts a few days. It’s carrying me wonderfully over self-defeating messages about the supposed stability and sobriety and maturity that 35 is supposed to be. I’m 35, not dead!! I’m still twinkling and sparkling with all the jokes, the affection, the unexpected wishes, the messages that people sent my way. I feel loved and inspired. What better way to start a new year?

IMAG0212_20140715014317246

Thirty-five, welcome in! Who’s coming with me?

Raw

I don’t feel so raw anymore.
I don’t feel so raw.
I don’t feel so.
I don’t feel.
I don’t.
I.
.

Cruise Control And The New ‘Joy’stick

I live a charmed life.

I stumbled onto something I loved doing and that, coincidentally I was also good at. It happened late enough that I had had enough time to pick up an education and a world view so I wouldn’t grow up into a unidimensional adult. And it happened early enough that I hadn’t grown weary of mediocrity. I don’t have any real loans or bonds. I also don’t have a boyfriend or a house or a car. But all things considered, it seems to be a worthwhile trade-off.

Charmed indeed. Yet, most days I forget. I find myself tired, unhappy, unwell and sad. When I trace it back, I realise it’s because of bad eating and sleeping habits and a lack of exercise. There are external annoyances of course – an unprovoked personal attack (really now, I ask myself, you’re a digital citizen AND a woman, haven’t you gotten used to the idea that that is par for the course?) here, an unseasonal weather change there, Mumbai’s persistent pollution and traffic. But still, still, still, my ability to handle these is directly proportional to how well I manage my own well-being (food, sleep, exercise – the magic mantra).

I’ve figured out life comes down to these basics. It really isn’t about wonderful achievements, proven brilliance or unimaginable wealth. Happiness comes down to the ability to deal with daily realities of life, whatever those may be for you. And millions of human beings everywhere in every part of the world find their own unique ways to do it. It certainly can’t have to do with things more complex than food, sleep and exercise. These are what every human being has in common.

Yet, I don’t keep these on top priority and I frequently slip up. Why? I think we get used to being less than happy. We sabotage that feeling with excuses like ‘I forgot’ or ‘I got bored’.  I think I am starting to understand what the wise ones meant when they said it’s simple to be happy but it is very difficult to be simple. “I don’t know” is not a valid excuse anymore. The 20s were about experiences hitting like hailstorms, not being able to make sense, trying to get under cover and recover from the bruises of each. Post 30, I find I know myself, my body, my moods and my attitude a little better. Now to put that knowledge to good use – that is the challenge of the 30s.

By this time, one knows what one must do and how to approach it. New experiences bring up apprehension but even that is not unfamiliar. I know how to turn that into the drive for perfection. Unforseen setbacks, those are harder, but not completely new. The personal attacks, I’ve learnt to rationalise as other people’s insecurity and backhanded compliments. I’m learning compassion – this is new. And mostly it draws from the magic mantra of keeping myself clean from within – physically by not polluting my body with harmful substances but also mentally by not retaining anger, jealousy, grief or other harmful emotions.

I discover something new in the driving seat of my life – call it a ‘joy’stick . It’s so new I forget it’s there half the time. Then I discover it and grip it hard taking myself into excessive light-headedness. Then I pull back and let it drift. I’m learning a new control but I’m not a new driver. Happiness happens somewhere between delirium and stagnation. I’m not smooth but I’m learning.

I start to tie off this thought. When I end this post, I will shut down my computer. Outside the window, I can see it has begun raining. I won’t dip into sullenness, thinking of the muddy roads. I also won’t let myself whine about working on a Monday instead of going to the beach. I’ll pull on the brand new Crocs I picked up last week and ready myself for my next meeting – an exciting project with people I like and respect. And then, as I step out, I’ll remind myself to be happy. That’s my only real task for the day. Everything else is on cruise control.

The Anti-Love Fundamentalists

The people who espouse hookups are just as fundamentalist in their beliefs as the people they scoff at (the shaadi.com, till-death-do-us-part type).

The Marriage Fundamentalists impose tradition and religious rituals on every aspect of the male-female interaction. The Hookup Loyalists draw rigid boundaries on what may be said, done, thought and felt. Both of them measure ‘deliverables’, assess you for your result-worthiness and are ruthless in cutting you down if you don’t match up.

I don’t believe in the entire-family-dictates-the-relationship system that is so honoured by the great Indian value system. Astrological matches, bank accounts and family pedigree have everything to do with that system. It strikes me as brutally businesslike. So cold.

I also don’t understand the sex-no-strings concept as it’s getting pushed about. What is sex without sensation? How can you have a sensory experience when you dull your senses? To me, that’s like eating a gourmet meal with your eyes and nose shut and your taste buds dulled. And this feels transactional as well. Cold, again.

I think, I’d like to get to know people. I need to have an agenda-free conversation with a person to figure out (in conjunction with them) how we relate to each other and where we would like to see that conversation going. Isn’t this a fundamental human need? But neither system allows for this.

But more to the point, why does believing this make me uncool, boring or (yes, one person said this), not fit to be on the social circuit? The rabidity with which I’m hounded for my no-hookup belief, is rivalled only by the unbelievable pressure to get married, that I experienced in my mid-20s.

I’m afraid we’re a generation of people who’re chasing a strange notion of love, so we can pound it to pulp and burn its remains.

I Wear: Indian Wedding

*This is a sponsored post.

Two of my friends got married this week. I attended a ceremony that lasted over 6 hours, included a pheras-around-fire ritual, several small in-family practices, a wedding dinner and reception. And this was actually an Indian Wedding Lite. I didn’t have much time to dress or even plan what I’d wear, considering it was a speed tracked wedding (7 days to organise, invite and conduct!). Also, it was in the middle of a  weekday in oppressive, pre-monsoon June in Mumbai.

I went to my saree cupboard, of course. Sarees are my staple wedding wear. And the past year of saree experimentation have given me a mean confidence about a quick drape. I picked out an old favourite, my first ever Kanjeevaram saree, actually. I chose this one because its blue/green colour would be different from the traditional red/pink/purple hues that dominate Indian wedding guest attire. Also, with its stripy design and brown-gold border, it defies the kanjeevaram tradition of plain hues with gold buttis and  border.

I’ve been struggling to find good blouse alternatives for sarees and the last year has been full of experimenting with tee-shirts, croptops and even a blazer once. But for a wedding, I wanted to go a little more traditional (convention having being defied adequately in choice of saree). I wore a chilli green readymade silk blouse that I found available under a brand called Ethnicity. The fit is good, the colours vibrant and the design, just the right blend of saucy and conventional.

And finally (or rather, primarily), the accessories. The jewellery would have to be gold or close (I went with minakari) to match the saree border. My regular steel strapped watch would clash with the gold/yellow/brown tones. My latest timepiece came in handy. I have a new Jord Woodwatch in an unusual Cherry wood shade. It went beautifully with my attire. The watch is entirely made of wood, including its strap so it didn’t conflict with the material/fabric ensemble either. Here’s how I looked:

collage_20140625181046811

I Wear:

  • Blue-green striped kanjeevaram saree: Nalli, Chennai
  • Chilli green silk readymade blouse: Ethinicity (available in InOrbit mall)
  • Minakari jewellery: Central Cottage Emporium, New Delhi
  • Woodwatch: Ely Series (Cherry), JORD

*JORD wood watches can be ordered at their online store. The one I’m wearing in the photograph is here.ely-11-front-angled

 

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