Monthly Archives: January 2008

Rapunzel has a long wait ahead

 

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Sunrise over the Mumbai skyline

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It seems almost pathetic to call the sight of satellite dish antennae, scaffolding rods and TV aerials beautiful. But that’s what the skyline in Mumbai looks like. And even for a jaded, gritty city-zen, the freshness of that undefinable colour of light creeping up behind the buildings before the sun is mesmerizing.

And down below, in the heart of the darkness is that which distinguishes this from any other skyline. A small fire glowing, warming a faceless entity. Watchman? Slum-dweller? Milk shopkeeper? Just another one of those people who’re up and awake and keep the city bustling while some of us slumber in the city that never sleeps.

Going To Hell

The thing about telling something to go to hell is that they want to take you along as a tourist guide. My last offer reads:

Free! One-way single ticket to hell!

Guide not included due to popular demand indicating that we stay back to arrange more such trips for others.

ENJOY!

A Bibliophile’s Guide To Mumbai

It’s January and time for all of Mumbai’s iconic events. After the Mumbai Marathon and the Mumbai Festival comes the Strand Book sale. Book-lovers across the city have looked forward to this annual event far before the gleaming interiors of the other bookstores came into being.

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While on this, here’s something that was written sometime back but will still be of interest to anyone who’s kicked about the Strand Book sale.

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Much as I love this city, the one thing I have to admit it doesn’t satisfy is my raging craving for books. Mumbai isn’t a booklover’s city. There aren’t nearly as many people in this place that love books.

Still I can see the winds of change blowing over the Island. J.K.Rowling may not have added to fine literature but she did bring an entire generation of children back to books. And some adults as well, judging by the number of Harry Potters I’ve seen being toted around to bus-stops, on train journeys, coffee shops and what-nots.

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Over these years of nosing around for good reads, I think I’ve developed a kind of sense for bookshops across the city. So here’s a list of the places I love because they cater to the one vice I admit to.

THE GIANTS:

Landmark: Heading my list is this huuuuuggggge bookshop in the heart of Andheri West. You may wonder what a bookshop of this magnitude is doing, bang in the middle of “I’m so duuuuhhhh, but I’m beautiful, yeah” land. They must have known what they were doing since Landmark is getting a lot of recognition. It was probably set up to cater to the burgeoning suburbs taste for books but now it has become the new hotspot for readers from across the city.

Landmark has two things going for it: A great collection and staff that really do know books. They’re friendly without being intrusive and always willing to assist, no matter how ludicrous the query. I was super-impressed to see that their categories included Humour, Classics, Science Fiction and Modern Fiction….all of which are usually clubbed together in certain other wannabe bookshops.

Oxford: I discovered this place rather late, inconveniently located as it is, at the other end of town. My few visits tell me that this is probably the second-best place for books in the city. I won’t wax eloquent on its interiors, the coffee shop and the multitudnous collection of books. Suffice to say, this is one other place that has a good collection and friendly staff that actually know their books. What more does a good bookshop need?

Nalanda: This is the bookshop in the Taj hotel lobby. It is small (not in size but in terms of how many books they could have stuffed in there) but it has a reasonable collection. In the absence of Landmark and Oxford, this is where I used to buy my original, ‘good’ books.

Grand Maratha Sheraton: I haven’t visited their bookshop myself but Filmiholic tipped me off to this place, adding that,

People may roll their eyes at this, but I was quite surprised to find that the Grand Maratha, waaaaaaaaaay out by the airport (but so comfy to stay at), has a compact but well stocked bookshop, especially for anyone looking for books about India, be they fiction or non-fiction.

For example, two surprises were that they carried Sooni Taraporevala’s reissued coffeetable book on Parsis, and a massive road map/atlas of Bombay that I had called several large Crossword’s for, to no avail.

Seeing how long it takes to get there from downtown, I wouldn’t go just for the bookstore, but if one is out there for some other reason (afternoon quickie?), it’s worth popping in.

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THE SHOPS AROUND THE CORNER: That description is supposed to be reminscent of Meg Ryan’s place in ‘You’ve Got Mail’. Yes, Mumbai has it’s own answer to her store. Several, in fact. You just have to look carefully. Here are my favorite friendly neighborhood bookshops.

The new & second-hand bookshop: The jewel of my collection of book-troves in this city, I actually have a nice little story to tell about this one. I discovered this place, entirely by mistake. One rainy, depressing afternoon, I was wandering about town, close to St.Xaviers’ college. I trundled down the filthy little lane that’s across the signal from the college’s road (that is the lane on the right of Furtado & sons, who are the place to visit if you want to pick up a musical instrument). I don’t know quite why I was there and alone of all things, getting soaked in the rain but I know I was looking for a bookshop. Ahem…so I’m slightly mad sometimes….to go looking for a bookshop in a random corner of the city. But you know what…I actually found it! A few mucky steps down that road, on the left, hidden away so you almost miss it is a little doorway with a dusty magazine rack (you know the kind that swirls around and is used to stack tourist guides in hotels and airports?). When you see that, you’ll be standing at the entrance to the New and Second-hand bookstore. Can I be corny and sing a line?

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave….

That’s how I felt when I left the shop that day. Incidently this first visit there, I spent over 2 hours in the shop. Imagine a dusty, high-ceiling room stacked ceiling to floor with books, pillars too…except they aren’t pillars, they’re more stacks of books. Turn the corner and try to keep from screaming if you see a little old man at the desk. That’s the person who’ll make your bill and he’s very nice. I usually pick up a bookmark at the shop that I buy a book in and in this place I picked two of the nondescript paper strips stamped with the shop’s name. This man looked at me for a minute and then suddenly spread out a whole lot of bookmarks on the table. I’ve never seen bookmarks like these…there was one in leather, one with a hand-painted Krishna and several other masterpieces. I looked at him ruefully and said,

They’re lovely. But I’ve spent all my money. I’ll come back next time for them, will you save them for me?

He smiled and said,

They’re for you. I can recognize a book-lover when I see one and I know these will be appreciated.

Yes, sir, I have. I’ve actually never used a single one of them, they’re just too precious a gift. And a lovely memory of a stranger who reached out to a fellow booklover, even if she was a muddy-toed, vagrant-like teenager.

Horizon: Now this isn’t a dusty, musty old shop, its just a tiny (and I mean REALLY tiny) nook that stores books. Horizon’s charm comes from the fact that it is a book-oasis bang in the middle of a busy, bustling vegetable market and stone’s throw away from the noise & bustle of the railway line.

Get off Vileparle station (Western line) and come out of on the west side. This spills you out onto a madly busy road and straight ahead, the sights and smells of the sabzi-mandi will greet you. Take a sharp turn to your left and look for a roadside magazine stall across the road (next to the corner restaurant and veggie-seller). If you have sharp eyes, you’ll spot a nicely paved path leading in from next to the mag-seller. Go down there and on your left you’ll spot Horizon. Step up and step into the wonderful world of book-browsing. The owners are wonderfully emphatic of penniless students and generally broke people who love books. If you like looking, they won’t mind your being there…there’s even a comfortable little stool for you to perch on…tiny, in keeping with the size of the place. If you know me in person, do tell the owner….some of our conversations date back 10 years.

Book Lovers: Another one in the same genre as Horizon except this one is right at the start of Lokhandwala market (closest to Andheri station, Western line. Also very close to Infinity mall, Fame Ad labs and Lakshmi Industrial Estate). I don’t find the owner of this place as friendly as Horizon but well, maybe he just is a quiet type and after all he and I don’t go back 10 years. However, the people who run this place are well-informed about books and will be able to procure a copy of whatever you want if you don’t have it. Incidently they’re probably losing business to Landmark these days so they might have some good offers available. The last I heard there was a 25% off on all books….which is great, I say.

Granth: This is another Horizon-like shop furthur north. The first Granth was set up in a mall in Malad. Granth is another of those shops that delighted the suburban bibliophile in the late 90s, insofar used to making the trip to TOWN to buy books. Granth’s collection, while compact is diverse enough to hold interest. They’ve expanded now and have another store in Juhu. I’ve been to this new place only once and while it doesn’t compare with Landmark and Oxford, its definitely worth a dekko. The sweeping view next to the couch also helps.

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Danai: Located in a quiet lane just off Linking Road (the one stretching from Bandra to Borivali), Danai is one of the earliest book-and-music shops in the suburbs. Their book collection is located in the basement (brightly lit though) while music is housed upstairs. Like many of the other small shops in Mumbai, small spaces make for a restricted collection. Still, they have a really good collection, catering well to certain niches like fantasy fiction, travel guides and occult/astrology.

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READING ON THE GO:

If you aren’t averse to reading books that have already been thumbed through by other people, you’re advised to check out the second-hand book-sellers across the city as well. Raddiwala is the local lingo for junkyard guy and some of these guys stock books that have been out of circulation for years. There’s a raddiwala at almost every corner of Mumbai and you’ll do well to discover your own personal recycler. Some places that I’ve noticed:

Irla bridge: I bet most people don’t even know where Irla is. Well, Irla is the narrow stretch connecting Andheri and Vileparle west. There’s a huge, smelly gutter and the road goes over it and hence….you guessed it, its called Irla bridge. Start walking down from Shoppers’ Stop, crossing a Barista on the way. Just before you reach the nulla, on the same side of the road, you’ll find a raddi-walla…..old newspaper bundles on the floor, back issues of Cosmopolitan, India Today, Business World and Debonair clipped neatly with clothes-clips. If you don’t already know, that’s the standard uniform of any second-hand bookshop.

This guy has a fantastic collection that’s constantly being replenished. Watch it with his attitude though. At the risk of sounding extremely bigoted, you might swing some great deals here if you speak Gujarati and end up paying more (with a few disdainful looks thrown your way) if you don’t. If you’re willing to live with that, check it out, his collection is good. And oh, throw an insult his way for me (I’ve had a few arguments with him…). Or if you speak Gujarati, please do me a return-favour for this tip and get me good bargains. 🙂

Andheri station: Come out of the second most maddening railway station in Mumbai (after Dadar) and catch your breath. Cross the road and look around for the telltale stacks of books. Did I miss something? Oh yes, I didn’t tell you east or west (Ain’t I soooo Bambaiyya?). Hmm, that’s because you’ll find a bookseller on either side of the track. The one on the east is a little way to the left of the station exit and across the road, right outside the bunch of shops. The one on the west sits on the pavement of S.V.Road, next to those two corridors full of shops.

Parel/Elphinstone Road railway bridge: Are we starting to sound familiar now? Ah, yes, the Mumbail Railway network seems to be running through my post with the same frequency as it does through the city. Well, I like most true Mumbaikers (so there, townies!) spend a fair bit of time on the train line so my addas are to be found on and around it. Coming back, some people know that the Western and Central railway lines cross at Dadar station. Well, did you know that this connection continues one station furthur south? Parel station on the Central line and Elphinstone station on the Western line are the siamese twins of the Mumbai rail network, connected as they are by one narrow bridge. You can even hear the announcements for one line, on the other platform. Well, what’s the significance of that bit of trivia? The fact that there’s a damn good bookseller perched on that bridge up there. There’re usually two of them, grown-up street kid-like with all the characteristic street-smartness and Mumbaiker warmth. They’re also surprisingly well informed where books are concerned and will be able to hand you just the right books if you ask for say…a Booker winner or perhaps, a volume on hypnosis. The ‘shop’ is just a sheet of cloth with books laid out neatly but the collection is big enough to merit a second glance. Please note here that some of the books are reprinted copies of the more expensive publications. Okay that spells PIRACY for a lot of people, so if you have an issue with that, you’ve been forewarned.

Flora fountain: As a book-lover in Mumbai, it is probably vital for me to make a mention of this road close to Churchgate station. True, this used to be the Mecca for us a few years back. However with all the shops getting frequently cleared away and a lot of little ‘konas’ sprouting up in the other parts of the city, Flora just doesn’t do it anymore.

Ah…allow me to reminisce for a moment about the times when I was a penniless student and I’d spend 3 hours walking down this road and spending my hard-saved pocket money on books. I think the total I must have spent at a time on books would have been 800 bucks (top top absolute tops) but I’d go home with bulging bags of cookery books (for mum), a sci-fi (for dad), mystery, self-help, thrillers (for me) and bestsellers (for all of us). Those were the days….and somehow these days when I can walk into a brightly lit, snazzy store and snap up a load of brand-new books on my credit card….it just doesn’t feel the same. Okay, end of nostalgia trip. Sniff snifff.

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You will notice I haven’t made any mention of a certain other well-known chain that’s spread its tentacles across the city. They don’t have a particularly impressive collection unless you read only management books and the ‘faddy’ books. Their staff doesn’t appear to know anything about books and worse still, they’re openly rude and unhelpful. It is a sheer insult to a book-lovers’ intelligence to try and have a conversation with them. If I’m venomous its because I’m appalled by the lack of good service (or books) and what’s more, I now have several alternatives. So chuck the yellow-and-black guys and go out and find some real book-treasure-troves!

These then are the secrets of my bibliophile self, lovingly compiled from my lifelong love affair with books. Happy book-browsing!

 

Heartburn

No one hears the sound of heartbreak because hearts don’t break.

They melt away, little by little,heart.jpg
In the fires of

Passion
Anger
Envy
Desire
Longing
………
and love.

Same difference. No one knows, no one cares.
So long as there’s enough left to keep your blood running and the fires burning.

IM crazy

Last week, I was told,

You should really get used to distinguishing your online and offline life!

And I wondered if I was spending too much time online. Only 8 hours+ at work. Some blogging on weekends. Who’s counting email? And now anyone in the world can see my chosen apparel for the day with Yahoo! Avatars. Oh and there’s always Instant Messenger.

Instant Messenger is in constant use across timezones, plugging people in different countries into one office. On one hand I marvel at the wonder that I’m talking to people in three continents much more often than with friends and family in the same city. Out of sight, out of mind, they say. Well, these people are constantly in my line of view as long as the green dot is flashing next to their names! 

Today, I got an email from a colleague titled

* IM not working *

I had to read the email to discover that I was being asked to email for queries instead of assuming she was offline (and hence off-office for the day). I mailed back

For a minute, I thought you were saying “I’m not working!”

Haha! I wish!

Imagine if instead you had said: IM on strike!

Or: IM off for the rest of the day!

IM not taking any more messages!

IM not a servant!

IM going nuts!

The last message I received was:

IM gonna quit!

🙂 Presumably that refers to the application and not the person. Tomorrow I’ll know when I see the green (or grey) dot next to the name.

I Am Jill's Last Wish

An odd figure made its way laboriously up the dirt path. Julia always was an odd picture, especially these years. She smiled to herself when she thought of how easily she had shifted to ‘these years’. The use of unconventional verbal constructions had always amused her. As a youngster, she would often end a sentence with ‘these minutes’, pausing for effect afterward. Of course she would usually end up having to explain to her listener about the vagaries in her mood creating a whole new world ‘every few minutes’. Eventually people got used to it. And then she changed to some other amusing lyric by-play. Those really were the days.
Thse last few years she had not felt inclined to play rain-maker any more. Actually, Julia surmised, I suppose I never did like the discomfort it caused, these changes. But one does what one must. And the wheels had been rolling for ages now. How appropriate.

She sighed, a little out of breath. Almost near the top. The sight never failed to move her. An open sky spotted with pinpoint diamond-bright stars. And what was the colour of the sky? Orange? Brown? Black? Blue? An evening coloured sky with sepia undertones, she decided.

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The grass was coming up from the ground in little clumps. She sat down with an undignified ‘oof’. Anita would lecture her to doomsday about trampling on moths. What a thought! A moth would be there tomorrow and if not, another would be born. That was the way of life and the world would not end for the loss of one insignificant creature.

Anita was an environmental activist and may well be on her way to politics some day. Save the world, thought Julia, save it from Anita! She grinned to herself and added as an after-thought….they’ve done much to earn someone like her. Talk about a force of nature! Anita could run over a bulldozer. Good thing she had managed to channel that vitality into something that could only bode well. Julia was glad she had revised her original plans for Anita. There were enough of rats in the race, the capitalist world must not profit from yet another Anita. She was well placed caring for the real world.

There had been some trouble with Kenny initially. His keen mind and sensitivity would have been well applied in creating something tangible. He would have been a wonderful architect. Or an urban planner perhaps. A perfect complement to his green-minded sister. And Anita needed a safety-valve like her gentle brother.

But Julia had realised that she could no more teach her shy son to turn gregarious any more than she could turn Anita into a dignified lady. Even Anita’s fire could be tamed but it was hard to mould Kenny’s uncomplaining persistance. Kenny was born to make music and teach it to children. Which he did well, gently coaxing out melody from restless, impatient young lungs. It would have been nice to have him be the leader making sweeping changes to a difficult world.

But well, there was always Anita for that. Anita, her brash, opinionated, hard-headed first-born. Quiet, unobstrusive Kenny was adding beauty to a world that his big sister was busy scouring with her acid speeches and protests. They could take care of themselves and the world. Julia was done with changing people’s lives.

Feeling her breath relax back to normal, Julia sank back into the still-moist earth. A trickle of childhood memories seeped into her along with the delicious chill from the ground. Wandering off during games of hide-and-seek. It was fun to hide but she discovered shortly after how much more delightful it was to be the seeker. The trouble was people always wanted to tell you what and who to look for. And eventually they started dropping her from the games that her abrupt rambles would disrupt. Couldn’t have the seeker going off after butterflies instead of her friends. It was annoying and it took a great deal of effort but she learnt to play their games.

Ah, well, time to indulge again, she thought with a faint smile on her lips. And she closed her eyes.

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Jacques heaved out another box out of the tiny apartment. What a surprising load of stuff people kept in their houses! Potted plants – not the flowering variety but some sort of mini vegetables…what were they called? Sprouts? Herbs? All of them were being shipped off to that socialite-activist lady who was in the news recently. Something about aerosols and insects and the ozone layer. Whacko sort, he imagined, hoping to God that there was no bomb tucked away in any of the boxes. And then he smiled. Probably just a crazy old lady who collected strange plants the way some old ladies collected cats.

Plenty of books as well, Jacques noted. He’d know, he had packed 8 cartons full of them! And these were going to an university down south. A will beneficiary, he supposed, probably a cherished and much-suffering nephew.

He stepped into the kitchen for a drink of water. Nice view, he thought, though it might seem lonely to someone living alone. Outside on the ledge, he noticed a slim notebook and cursed under his breath. Why did people leave their stuff in such unlikely places? A notebook on the window-ledge indeed! Like he was a bloody maid to pick up after them. Normally there was any amount of sentimental rubbish that people thought they just could not live without but left in all sorts of places. The odd thing was this crazy plant-lady had been fairly immaculate with her possessions.

Jacques sighed and opened the book, wondering if he could just toss it into the trash. Who would notice one single missing notebook?

To go alone from a mountaintop on a twilight summer evening on an untended grassy patch…warm breeze turning just bearable, insects chirping and a distant stream flowing. Stars in a sky not black yet and the moon sliver-like. Incomplete. And then complete.

Suddenly he was interested. There was something about peeping into other people’s lives and watching their silly idiosyncrasies. That was probably why he stuck to this crummy job. Packing people’s stuff and lugging it around may not be the best job in the world but it did allow him to look into other people’s lives without them realising it. He shook himself and read the next page.

Give me an evening
with the stars starting to shine
and an incomplete moon

Let me go with the vision of all that is perfect and complete
As well as the thought of all that still remains to be lived
Life and the universe will go on

I have done my share
May there always be water for every thirsty mouth
And a song for every melodious voice

No more lessons, no more games
No more fanfare, no more pomp

A celebration of one in a crowded world
Let that be my final bow.

Jacques shut the book gently. And then he did something he had never done before. He picked up the tiniest pot with a single baby basil plant in it and put the notebook into his pocket. As he walked out of the empty apartment, he tipped his hat to a lady he had never met.

Goodnight, Jill.

Toto, I don't think we are in Mumbai anymore!

As all my friends move into matrimony and kid-bearing and generally ‘settling down’, they acquire the other trappings of yuppies – investments! One of my friends thinks that real estate is the best option. So I accompanied her on a ‘window-shopping’ spree, scouting the city for the perfect place of land that she could call her own.

We ended up at Vasai Road. Yes, it has a station of its own on the Western line. What’s more, with the number of overhead bridges with twists and turns and forks, I thought we might have landed up in some future version of Mumbai without the crowds.

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With all the snobbery of a middle-class suburbanite I always thought Vasai Road was a part of the ‘outskirts of Mumbai area’, this idea being accompanied by a vague image of dirt roads, cows and fields. Here’s what I found:

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While the more fashionable addresses in Mumbai showcase their matchbox flats with parking for..oh, bicycles…we were taken around mini-townships with gardens, schools, walkways and even bungalows and penthouses. The roads were not all in great condition but well, can any part of Mumbai boast of these? At least there were trees! And broad roads!

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As the city is progressively gobbled up by commercial buildings, living spaces seem to be moving furthur north to keep up with affordability. Obviously these will probably go the same way as Powai and Malad, getting congested and over-infested with the mall-culture. But for the time being Vasai Road proves to be a lovely haven of refuge from a maddening city.

On the other hand, the commute just might kill you if you work furthur south (which you most probably do considering I haven’t heard of too many offices in the Vasai area). The train ride was sheer madness, even by my hardened train-traveller standards. We had a good 25-minute wait for the train taking us back into terra firma. And by the time the train pulled up, the crowd was 20-deep to the door. It was another half an hour before we wriggled out, swearing off the adventure and taking an auto-rickshaw instead. The Mumbai autos with meters, I mean. My dread of the train was matched only by my first shock at having to travel in a Vasai Road auto-rickshaw without a meter! That’s a crime by Mumbai standards but ah, well we aren’t in Mumbai anymore are we? Not with those lovely roads and open skies, we aren’t!

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I visited some friends at their fashionable south Mumbai address recently. Besides braving traffic snarls, congestions and pollution, we spent a good bit driving around looking for parking space. And then finally we had to get down and walk, party finery et al on a broken dog-path (not cow-path because there wasn’t room for any creature bigger than the solitary stray dog I almost fell over). When we finally got there, the house turned out to be a miniscule cubbyhole that seemed even tinier with the guests. And we had a great view of the peeling paint and cracked walls of the building opposite. Of note, the only reason my friends could afford to live in this ‘premium space’ was that their family had owned the flat for generations. Almost grotesque it is then that we continue to place a hellish value on…well, hell.

I guess if you don’t have to travel around too much, if you are a recluse who likes trees and open skies and broad roads, Vasai Road could be the place for you. The city’s madness is only about an hour away….by unmetered auto-rickshaws and crowded trains!

Or if you just need to get away from the madness every once in awhile and find some greenery and open skies, leave the metered madness of Mumbai behind and take a ride north-ward. My friends have invested there and it is to be hoped that their investment will pay off duly early enough for me to have my weekend getaway..before the rest of city discovers it and converges on it.

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And finally, this may not be Oz after all, considering that it has an entry on Wikipedia! .

State

Change may be great but some days I’m just glad to know that some things don’t change. Even if they aren’t exactly my favorite things.

Glory be!!! The planet turned another day, another year and I didn’t fall off!

Have a great weekend, everyone…

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