Tag Archives: Mumbai

Island Short

Why are we so obsessed with the size of people when we know it’s got nothing to do with how long they’ll stay in our lives? Mumbaikers know it best, I think, as we measure distance in terms of time and people by how often we see them.

“I live just ten minutes away.”

“You see me everyday.”

We fear missed schedules and lost spaces more than differing appearances and tiny creepy-crawlies. It’s a far-sighted view for a short island.

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A Story That Wrote Me

This has been a year of such drastic changes and shifts that my whole outlook has been the here and now – surviving these. But I am a creature of nostalgia and the past doesn’t impede me. It teaches me, it nurtures me and it gives me fodder for the future.

This Sunday, I attended a storytelling session organised by Spill Poetry. Bring personal stories only, they’d said. I approached the stage with no prior preparation for the first time in nearly three years. Poetry and Spoken word have become such polished, seasoned ventures and I’m nothing if not competitive. But oral storytelling? I had no references.

This has been a year of such drastic changes and shifts that my whole outlook has been the here and now – surviving these. But I am a creature of nostalgia and the past doesn't impede me. It teaches me, it nurtures me and it gives me fodder for the future. This Sunday, I attended a storytelling session organised by Spill Poetry. Bring personal stories only, they'd said. I approached the stage with no prior preparation for the first time in nearly three years. Poetry and Spoken word have become such polished, seasoned ventures and I'm nothing if not competitive. But oral storytelling? I had no references. I started to weave a tale from something that happened to me in 2005. At the time, it happened so quickly and in such an over way, I barely had a chance to notice how much it changed me. But it did – me, my relationship with the city and my sense of security, home and independence. I overshot my time limit but the organisers were kind enough to let me continue and the audience kind enough to listen and tell me they could relate. I am so grateful to have had a chance to stop and examine my past and share it with you. Thank you. #openmic #spokenword #liveperformance #performance #shayar #shaayari #sher #ghazal #mehfil #maqta #story #storytelling #stories #storyteller #personalstories #mumbaifloods #mumbai #mumbaiker #mumbaiwriters #mumbairains #26thjuly #spillpoetry

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I started to weave a tale from something that happened to me in 2005. At the time, it happened so quickly and in such an over way, I barely had a chance to notice how much it changed me. But it did – me, my relationship with the city and my sense of security, home and independence. I overshot my time limit but the organisers were kind enough to let me continue and the audience kind enough to listen and tell me they could relate. I am so grateful to have had a chance to stop and examine my past and share it with you. Thank you.

Here is the story that I told.

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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 Terraces of Mumbai 

The Terraces of Mumbai

The terraces of Mumbai
are dusty and tile-speckled,
rising above even the highest floors.

The terraces of Mumbai
are most often visible only
through an airplane window
or a satellite feed.

The world calls us cold
and unromantic but
the terraces of Mumbai
see surreptitious lovers
meet and exchange
closeted affections.
We carry our base instincts
above our heads.

But don’t judge us for that.
The terraces of Mumbai
also carry stolen satellite transmission
and a dead body or two.

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Point of View

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Stand At Ease 

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Why Are So Many Mumbaikers Desperate To Kill Time?

Around a fortnight ago, a Caferati feedback meet I was at, was disrupted by a newcomer who started shouting at all of us and attacking us for giving feedback. It was deeply unpleasant and ruined the evening for everyone else. I wrote it off as that person being the kind of anamoly that one sometimes has to encounter. Why else would someone attack a feedback group for giving feedback?
Today, I’ve just declined nearly 50 requests to join Alphabet Sambar because they don’t write. Over the past few months, we’ve been getting a lot of requests and true to our original premise, we try and welcome everyone. But we’ve been getting a lot of irrelevant messages like “Good morning, have a great day”, jokes and pictures of food that have nothing to do with writing. Do people not understand how interest groups work? This by the way, is despite the fact that Alphabet Sambar has a very clearly stated description including the sentence ‘Please consider joining only if you yourself write‘.
 
At most offline events I go to (social media meets, board games events, standup comedy shows, poetry events, music events, bicycling trips), there is always a sizeable number of people who have no interest in what’s going on. What’s a person who doesn’t bicycle doing on a trip? Or someone who thinks board games are boring and stupid, spending an evening where everyone is at a board? 
We could crib about the general uselessness of people who only disrupt proceedings and don’t contribute. Enough has been said about desperate Indian men who only want ‘to make fransheep’. But I think there’s something larger at play.
 
A lot of urban Indians are desperate for companionship, a normal human need. But many of them also lack tangible hobbies, interests, ideas of their own or social skills. They mob places that other people go to, in some sort of dim hope of making connections. They don’t know what to say or what to do. Sometimes this comes through as gaucherie, sometimes it’s aggression. And it causes further animosity, politics and exclusivity with the original activity or hobby being completely lost.
Before you think I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, I’m basing this is on massive numbers of people who seem to have no reason to be at some of these events but are. Isn’t there a problem if, in a time-starved city, there are so many people just looking for ways to kill time? A hobby is a very important part of making a human being, a well-rounded one. Many of these people I encounter are well-educated and successful. But they appear to be nothing beyond their careers and their families. How is it that having an identity beyond one’s source of income is such a rare thing?
I don’t know other cities adequately but I’m told by friends and associates that it’s no different in Delhi or Bangalore. Are we making a country of people completely deficient in the vital skills of being human? Something feels terribly wrong.

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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.

A Playlist Of My Spoken Word Performances As A Feature At The Hive

A new milestone. The Hive asked me to be one of their feature poets at their Open Mic yesterday. I find this immensely gratifying since I only really started thinking about performance poetry/spoken word seriously in January this year.

I knew I would have enough material to cover the 10 minute slot they allocated to me. But I wanted to make sure there was enough variety to keep the listeners entertained and engaged. I’ve been exploring the medium and I’ve tried to not get too repetitive. Also, unlike with writing, I haven’t had or haven’t given myself the luxury of multiple versions of the same trick.

Here are my performances. I started (without preamble, as I’ve been training myself to do) with SUPERWOMAN, which is a ten year work-in-progress, starting with this blogpost.

From there, I moved to a brand new piece that I’ve been working on for a couple of months now. Spoken word is a mutable art form and how I feel about this idea has changed considerably in these months. I initially conceptualised it as a tale of regret, of a vital choice which I made every day and the rue I felt over not once trying the other side. Over time, it has moved from being a metaphor of my life to a picture of the city that defines me. I call this one FLAMINGOS.

And finally, I moved to the one classically ‘poetry/literary’ piece I wrote and performed a couple of months ago. Adi says it doesn’t sit as naturally with my style as others. But I wanted to try it anyway to see what I could do with it. I call it LOVE STORY SEASON 2 (or, in the page poetry version ‘Patchwork Relationship’).

The video moves on to my last piece as well. That’s the one I’m coming to think of as my signature piece. It was my first ever performance piece and its philosophy also gave me my newest tattoo. I give you again, PAPER PLANE.

Where I’m From – The Andheri Girl

I grew up feeling not very good about where I came from. For one, it was difficult for me to identify exactly where I was from. My ancestors were from Tamil Nadu and accordingly, the family would constantly refer to ‘our people’ and ‘our culture’ and ‘in our land’, meaning all things Tamil. My parents see linguistic identification as a big part of one’s identity. Where does that leave me?

Tamil is my fifth language and I can’t read or write it. I grew up being chided by the larger family for speaking ‘my’ language so badly. Hindi is my third language and I can read, write and speak it. But North Indians have always condescended to my ‘madraasiness’ and would laugh at me if I dared lay claim on it as my language. Marathi is my second language but I haven’t had a chance to read, write or speak it for 20 years now since my Maharashtrian tutor/ friend’s mother/ mother’s friend is no longer next door. English is my first language, the one I can claim to be fluent in, the one I think in and the one I practise my craft of writing in. I can also speak various kinds of English (maka-pav English, Queen’s English, digital native English, American/modern English) that may not be recognized as dialects but to me are as diverse and culturally rich as them. But English is not supposed to be an Indian language, is it? So I’m rudderless in the world of linguistic identity.

At some point, I decided to let my home define me. Mumbai; me Mumbaiker. Every Mumbaiker knows that this city is socioculturally and economically diverse. I was a suburban kid. And I grew up in what at the time was no man’s land. It was in transition from being an industrial belt to a newly residential area. This means connectivity was not great, there weren’t that many people who could band together and say collectively, “I belong here”. We were still growing up, our parents generation defining what the identity of this area was going to be. That place was called Andheri East and I grew up in the remote outer reaches of a Catholic village called Marol. It was far from EVERYWHERE.

By the time I was a teenager, I was restless enough to want to break free of the tiny community/village atmosphere where everybody knew everybody else and everyone was in everyone’s business. All the kids went to the colleges that were deemed fitting for Marol people — Bhavan’s, MVLU, Chinnai and Tolani. I escaped into the big world and lost myself in the masses at Mithibai. Mithibai was in Juhu, considered a ‘posh’ area and known to Marol dwellers as that place where filmstars kids studied and exchanged drugs and cigarettes everyday.

I learnt a lot of things at Mithibai (mostly outside the classroom). One of the biggest things was that where I came from, had no social value at all. Nobody had heard of Marol, no one cared about Andheri East and none of the others had to take the same bus-bus/train-bus route that I had to. I hung around in Lokhandwala, Juhu, Bandra and occasionally town. I’d travel for at least an hour from home, before I could shop or watch a movie or meet a friend, and I’d have to budget for longer in the monsoons.

Shortly after graduating, I moved out of Andheri East. Moving to the West was both literally and symbolically moving to the other (better) side of the tracks. I forgot about Marol and Andheri East. In the past decade, I’ve watched this place grow from a  distance. I’ve been part of conversations that talk about it being the hellhole of Mumbai. And some part of me has felt grateful that I don’t live there anymore.

I’ve lived in Irla, Bandra and Mahim. To a lot of others like me, these places symbolise aspirations of the sort that lie deeply entrenched, aspirations that I have achieved. I have friends and acquaintances who live in Andheri East. A vapid way to describe it would be to say that they never made it out of there. Some of them relate to me the way I used to relate to my classmates in Mithibai — with a reluctant sense of awe. Only sometimes do I correct them and remind us all that I was a Marol kid.

Andheri Girl

Last week, I was drafting an essay for work, about Mumbai neighbourhoods. ‘Andheri East’ didn’t even stand out specifically to me. But it was on top of the alphabetically arranged list. So I began writing about it. And here is what I came up with, which was a revelation:

“Andheri East is one of the fastest growing suburban locations in Mumbai. It is one half of Mumbai’s biggest suburb. It is home to Mumbai’s international airport and many five star hotels in the vicinity. It also boasts several office complexes and residential areas.

Andheri East’s big advantage is its connectivity. Mumbai airport’s international terminal is situated in Sahar, at the heart of the area. The domestic terminal is along the highway, not too far away. The Mumbai metro line runs right through Andheri East, connecting it to Ghatkopar in the Central suburbs and Versova on the other side. Andheri railway station is a major suburban station. It is also the station that connects the Western and Harbour lines. And finally, there is an intricate BEST bus network with multiple bus depots in Andheri East.

Andheri East can be divided into clusters like Mahakali Caves, Chakala, JB Nagar, Marol and Saki Naka. Each of these clusters has its own shopping blocks, markets, restaurants and cafes. Industrial/corporate complexes rub shoulders with residential colonies and commercial blocks.

Residential complexes in Andheri East range from lost-cost housing (chawls) to mid-range flats to row houses and high rises. Working professionals find Andheri East a convenient choice for residence because of its connectedness and affordability vis-a-vis Andheri West. There are a lot of families in the area, given the proximity to schools, colleges and other residential amenities. Andheri East has at least two major hospitals (Holy Spirit, Seven Hills), three big colleges (MVLU, Chinnai, Tolani) and many good schools (Holy Family Boys School, Divine Child Girls School, Indian Education Society, Canossa Convent, St.John the Evangelist High School, St.Lawrence, Hasnat, Lady Vissanji Girls Academy, Our Lady of Health High School etc.).

A Saturday fish market is part of the local colour. There are two popular multiplexes and several single outlet and chain restaurants, close to Andheri-Kurla road. But it stops short of being a culture hub. You won’t find a lot of bookshops, theatres, museums or cultural events here. Andheri East doesn’t have many gardens and parks but it does abut Aarey Milk Colony which is one of the city’s biggest green belts.

Andheri East’s dense population makes it one of the most feared areas in the city, to get stuck in traffic. If you are looking for a quiet place to retire to or a serene getaway within the city, steer clear of Andheri East. Given its predominantly middle-class family demographic, it is also not the best place to look for popular nightclubs or pubs (unless you visit the ones in the five star hotels near the airport). Andheri East citizens tend to go out of the area for these.

Andheri East is self-contained township that is well connected to every other part of the city. It’s a great place to begin a real urban life in Mumbai.”

That last is just what my parents did. Andheri East is where a small child, a sheltered housewife from Delhi and an ambitious professional from a small town, found home. It gave us access to everything we needed to build a better life — just what newcomers to Mumbai come seeking. What more could one ask for? I grew up in most bustling part of the busiest city in this country. That is who I am — a urban citizen, an Andheri girl.

And just like that, I found pride in where I come from.

Why The Mumbai Metro Is NOT A Great Service

I saw a glowing account of the Mumbai metro and felt the need to say something. I take the metro everyday and it has made my journey easier. But this is because I have no other options (broken roads, arterial junctions that are choked one-ways, badly timed signal systems). This does not mean that the Mumbai metro offers a great experience. Here are some things I’ve noticed that are alarming and really should be their responsibility:

  • Signage is terrible. Not a single station I’ve been to, makes it clear which stairway leads down to where.
  • Platform safety: When the metro was launched, there would be ONE staff member for the entire platform, ordering people to stand away from the track. This stopped after a month. Commuters are still new to metro travel. Daily, I see people fumble with elevators, card systems and finding spots to stand on the platform. Track crossing is STILL a danger. Of note, I took the Delhi metro a couple of years ago and there was a staff member manning every entrance into the coach, even though this was years after that station was opened.
  • Security: The bag check machine was out of order for days. The security check people still don’t know how to use the metal detector machines they wield. Every day I subject myself to a boob-pat or a butt-grab that somehow passes for security. When I tweeted about it, the Mumbai metro handle said it was their security policy and asked me to cooperate.

  • ‘Ladies compartment’: I’ve seen multiple instances of men getting into the ladies side — the commuters made them get down, not the staff. I’ve seen a boy who looks old enough to travel on his own, accompanying his mother on the ladies side. What age does the metro define a boy as not being allowed into the ladies? Given that the metro just has a detachable plastic strip dividing the sections, not a separate compartment, should a boy of any age be allowed into the ladies side of the line? If the boy is too small (baby), should the mother not travel on the general side? The metro’s ladies section is limited to putting one thin strip in a corner and two pink stickers on the platform. (Here are my thoughts on why they totally missed the point.1*Owj1Yi4E3NHI705COvClIQ
  • Andheri station: I frequent the lesser stations, not the terminuses. But Andheri station that has to be the busiest point, is terribly designed. It handles several times more commuter traffic than other stations. Yet, its platforms are much narrower, increasing chances of someone falling onto the tracks.
  • W.E.H. station has an extra floor (which I hear, is because they forgot to account for the flyover on the highway and had to go higher to build over it). For the first month, there was a security guard posted there. Not anymore. It’s a dingy, deserted, open access floor (security is on the floor above) and full of blind corners where anything could happen.

We are lulled into a sense of superior service and safety/security by pretty colours and airconditioned spaces. But a spate of incidents in the last few years should remind us of how illusive these things are. Mumbaikars, keep your wits about you — travelling by the metro is no less difficult or dangerous than any other mode of public transport in this city.

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

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