An Illusion Of Taste

On Tuesday, I had lunch with Annapoorna. She ran late but the meal was sumptuous & between us, slightly overspiced. She is known for dramatic excesses, after all. I told her I wanted out. She nodded & picked out a ber. We both know what grows in this city stays here.

I looked eastward. Last month I was in 1898, listening to sound of stones falling & walls rising. And minutes later, in 1973, the rusty clang of gates shutting, of fabric ripping and the wails of the dying. “So?” she said, looking a young woman tottering by in a rayon jumpsuit. Prawn curry & hot khichdi jostle uneasily on the plate.

The sea carried out my despondency & returned with new/old hope. The crunch of fresh coconut married to garlic always grounds me, no matter what we call the bread.

I know this is why she picks this particular part of the rocky coastline for our meetings. Island magic floats on the paradoxes of time. Fortunes rise & fall but the blessing stays the same.

Wear a mask next time, she tells me & I can feel her salty warmth. It makes me sweat, I say. As I return to my time, I feel the layer of dust, smoke, faded dreams, dirty waves and a slightly acidic smile on my face. The goddess of plenty never leaves me without gifts.

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Fiction after a long time. I love meeting who I have already been. Tell me what you think. This is part of a collaboration with someone I’ve known only from afar from their stories that feel so close – Philip of Labyrinths. The series is called Literary Fast Food.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Happy Journeys

What we don’t understand is that happiness looks different for every person.

For some, it may be positive affirmation from everyone around even at the cost of authenticity. For another, it may be having other people take responsibility for one’s life choices & decisions. For this person here, it’s freedom because everything feels like a shackle. For that one, it’s tangible possession because all space feels empty & disorienting. For someone it may even be about carrying rage & the sense of power that runs through you when you get to be angry.

When someone hurts us, we say they’ll never be happy being this way. But all that means is, being this way won’t make us happy. They are already on their path to what makes them happy, one way or another and so are we.

Hurt, disappointment & even betrayal are such powerful lessons in what we truly seek as happiness. We really know nothing of ourselves when we’re born. And we’re so sensitive to what others tell us about who we are, where we are going & what we should want.

Maybe all life is, is a quest to understand how we define happiness. Why waste it thinking about what someone else’s quest is? We fly alone, our journeys are our own.

So, what does happiness mean to you?

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Rebirth

I’ve been taking tentative steps towards normal life (or whatever that looks like) in 2021. I went to Bandra to meet a friend for a meal & a walk. Two days later, I went out to lunch with my family. It feels like therapy after a surgery, using muscles, thoughts, feelings that used to be familiar but which have lain dormant for months.

The theme of #BussKyaBambai coincided with my re-discovery of my city. I’ve thought about the streets, pedestrian culture & other ‘down-to-earth’ aspects of my city story. But today, I want to give thanks for the luxuries, the privileges that go with living my life.



Young urban Indian adulthood in the 2000s meant the cutting edge metropolitan lifestyle offered up on a platter. Swish MNC offices, fashionable clothes, novel cuisine & swanky hangout places to spend our new incomes on. It was very different from the world we’d been prepared for, a consolation prize for recessions, (over) correction for the homogeneity that capitalism would eventually bring to our cities. Because we’d grown up with single channel TV, landline phones & home-cooked meals rife with emotional politics, this all felt unforgettably liberating.

I liked this restaurant a lot more than its more popular, similarly themed neighbour because I felt like the latter tried too hard for a white people/white-adjacent clientele. My privileged hipster activist tastes were shaped as I navigated luxury temptations & class realities. I ate here at one of the earliest Twitter meetups (OG Twitter, not old Twitter that was already gunning for virality). I dined with my family after they watched me feature in an Independence Day event close by.

At the family lunch, we were the only people dining there. The food was spectacular. The staff was nice. The weather was unseasonably mild. It was perfect. Returning to these places after the past year makes me realise I’m done letting guilt, discontent or worry mar my love of places, people, experiences, things & even memories. I’m just purely grateful to have had the experiences I did and for the life I’m going on to live, whatever that may be.

#IWear: Chanderi saree+jacquard top

This is part of my series titled #BussKyaBambai exploring what makes a city uniquely itself & culminating in a Live conversation.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

What Makes The Culture Of A City?

The best way to know a place is to explore it on foot. Otherwise you’re at the mercy of other people’s preferences, driven by commercial agenda or limited personal narratives. But to go off the beaten path & discover the treasures that every city has, its rich neighborhoods, its deep histories, its delightful surprises, you must seek it out in your own.



My favourite thing about cycling is that it lets you do this with speed, without sacrificing the ability to go where you want. This photo is from a bicycling tour through South Bombay, a place I’d only ever known for its tourist landmarks & office buildings. That day, I discovered influences even before the British, unraveled histories of a religion I thought I’d known since childhood. On a bicycle, I went to places that trains, autos & even cabs don’t go.

I began learning about my city as I mapped out routes to college, then hangout places. One day I began alighting the train at stations I’d only seen from train windows to explore what lay beyond. I discovered spice bazaars, old mills, bargain markets, a Shinto shrine, discarded buildings, fading cultures from over a century ago and once, an old book shop whose owner gave me a collectors’ set of vintage bookmarks.

A city is just a set of buildings, tasks & money unless you acquaint yourself with these. I’ve visited other cities, Indian, South-Asian, European. A mall looks the same in every language. Money trades the same way in every geography. Office spaces always look like people turned into machines. But the things that give a place its own flavour are how life is lived.

What the people value, what drives them, what makes them laugh, what comforts them. You find these answers in their architecture, language, food, even the way they move. Every city draws in people of different kinds from around itself. And the complex dance that the people in that city do around each other & the space is what shapes the story of their city.

This is part of my series titled #BussKyaBambai exploring what makes a city uniquely itself & culminating in a Live conversation.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Island Cruising

I live on an island. Well, seven islands. Tropical islands. It’s a fact most Mumbaikers forget. Just like we miss the daily magic of sea & sun that makes this equitable climate, the zen of changing/predictable tides, the bustle of being a port possible.

Curiously I find the water grounding. Sea & sun make for sweat & rust and they make one have to let go of all airy pretentions like unsuitable footwear. It reminds me of who I am & where I belong & the fact that I do belong. This is the Mumbai ethos, to define ourselves not by what we carry but what we seek & where we are going. I’m not saying this isn’t a different kind of materialism, I just like to think it has a curiously sea zen flavour about it.

This picture was taken on a city tour when I bicycled from Versova to Madh Island, riding three ferries along the way. Passing hipster coffeeshops, modest fishing shanties, pedestrian commuters & wide-eyed tourists, it was a journey through the varied tapestry that makes my island city. There’s an odd serenity about moving fluidly from road to sand to plank to ferry on water & back. Fluid, the loving daily life lesson for an island dweller.

I’m typing this while overlooking one of the many panoramic Mumbai sunsets over the sea, the evening breeze washing over me lovingly. All I can feel is gratitude for calling this beautiful island, home.

This is part of my series titled #BussKyaBambai exploring what makes a city uniquely itself & culminating in a Live conversation.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Social Ladder

‘d always find it funny when people said “Bombay gaye the” about visiting South Bombay. And I’d ask, “Where are you now?”


Over a century ago, the ‘city’ was concentrated where the affluent (colonial British & the British-adjacent) lived. As happens with ports all across history, commerce flourished & people flocked in looking for fortune in a way that continues even today. This is the Mayanagari after all.

I’ve lived my whole life in what used to be called ‘the suburbs’. A funny term since in the US, that means more affluence & importance. But in Mumbai, the social ladder goes Southward (and yes, Westward).

Never mind the jokey class divide between SoBo-ites and the ‘burbies’. Most people walking around South Bombay on any given day, live much further away in these lower echelons. And since Mumbai is a city of workers, the ‘Mumbai spirit’ haunting the most employment-frantic of us, it means that at least 90% of Mumbaikers come from the suburbs.

Marol, where I grew up, wasn’t known in the 80s. Even Andheri was described as ‘far-flung’ by a famous architect in a talk I attended. These places epitomise the buzziest of buzzing metropolitan hotspots in this city today. All of 10 years.

Cities are thriving organisms, constantly outgrowing their limits like overeager kids. As behaviours & traits get taken on by personalities that didn’t have them before, so also more groups, cultural artefacts & attitudes become part of a city’s identity.

I identify as Mumbaiker. Where I reside, my life, my identity is Mumbai, not some far-flung secondary appendage of someone more important. Haven’t you heard? You can’t balance a ladder on water. This is Island City.

This is part of my series titled #BussKyaBambai exploring what makes a city uniquely itself & culminating in a Live conversation.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

Cityzen

I’ve been told my love for Mumbai comes through in my words. It’s true that being of & from this city is a big part of my identity today. It wasn’t always the case.



Through my 20s, I saw my future move outward. As my identity expanded from the small neighbourhoods & attitudes I’d grown up in, my ambitions did too. I was influenced by my parents, neither one a native Mumbaiker so with no more ties to this city than practical considerations.

I fell in love with Bangalore but true to the pattern of my love life, it turned sour. There was a lot of pressure to go west chasing the software dream & I briefly considered it. It didn’t work.

But Mumbai always had a job for me, come recession or boom. While it bore witness to the violence I faced (always from non Mumbaikers), it also carried my healing. Through a life threatening natural calamity in 2005, I found support & help in strangers.

And as I got older, my sense of self began to sit easier in my body. And also in my city. I found lessons in the moving tides that are de riguer for a coastal dweller. There were the ebbs & highs of living through terrorism & communal tension as also the glitz of a big city & Bollywood glamour.

I heard stories of hard-won opportunities by the hungry clawing their way to a place I’d always been. They made me aware of what I already had, who I always was.

Mumbai. I’ve come a long way in my life journey, without moving more than a few kilometres. My whole world rests on a narrow strip of seven islands. I call it home, it call it my city.

This is part of my series titled #BussKyaBambai exploring what makes a city uniquely itself & culminating in a Live conversation.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

The Romance Show

‘Romance’ originally implied something extravagant & usually of a fantastical (so unrealistic) nature. To romanticise something does mean to make it seem better than it really is. An illusion but what’s wrong with an illusion when you know it’s one? It’s just a game, a movie, a party trick that entertains & enlivens.

Whatever creates for you that otherworldy feeling of pleasure, is romantic, I suppose. For some people that’s being waited on hand & foot. Maybe that means being pursued in absolute desperation because having that kind of power over another can feel good. What we want, does come from very deep parts of ourselves, after all.

For others, it’s the absolute freedom of flight but without its dangers (so a companion who encourages your wings). For me, it’s the spice of ideas & words tumbling over each other like playful cubs. Maybe I’ve just not been able to find it in intimate relationships because I’ve looked for it in people who think I’m spoiling for a fight. Mismatched expectations, that’s all.

Romance is always about dignity. The dignity you accord yourself as deserving of pleasure. And if this includes another person, the dignity they show you by acknowledging who you are, with respect. The trouble with ‘problematic’ stories is that they present romantic gestures without this basic dignity.

My friend Sonali once told me that it’s possible to experience romance even when one is alone. I’ve pondered that often. It certainly fits the original definition of romance when you rid it of the assumption that you need someone else to create that luxuriant, pleasant feeling for yourself. Romance is a taste for feeling good. And for some, it’s an acquired taste, a hero’s journey into seeking treasure & finding them finally in our own selves.

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This is part of a series called #ARomanticLife exploring our ideas of romance, its media depictions and how they impact our lives. There are also posts over at my other blog XX Factor and two Live conversations (Rajni Arunkumar, TJ Coulagi)

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

The Zen Of Change

We assume mountain lovers are all about the zen. But sea lovers know that the zen is also in the changing tides and the still sand.

Children of the water remember that happiness is not the same as cheer or even calm at all times. And that life is about the being, the high tides, the still centers, the whirlpools around and the sighing sand after a wave has washed.

We know that there’s no reprieve in escape because there is no such thing as running away. Not on a planet that is round & where most of it is water. All acceptance is, is remembering we’re the same.

The sea does not say goodbye or hello. It doesn’t recognise you because that means to say we are different. There’s only becoming one and this is in the roaring of each drop, the comforting blanket of each tide. We do not hear screams when there is harmony, only music.

The beach tells our stories. And just like words, electric impulses, chemical reactions & transmuting cells, the footprints wash away. We are canvas and we are paint and we are artists and we are art. To love the sea is to remember that we are.

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

One of the things I’m most thankful for, is that I live on a tropical island. That I inhabit that twilight space between water & land. And that the elements never wage war on me to make me need shields of clothing or intoxication in order to commune with the sea. I stand on the sand & the noise of the crowd settles into the natural music of my city. Waves, traffic, splashes, plastic crunches, thunder, car horns, rain, waves, water, me.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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