Monday, May 10, 2010

Devi needs a break

Having spent 20 years in Kolkata I had swore to never spend a single Durga Puja outside the city - ever. As a matter of fact I never thought that Puja could exist outside..

At home the excitement was always more about what we would wear, where would we go..and the daily plans of those four - five days. We would start planning as soon as school declared holidays, would shop two-three months in advance and go on silly diets which never worked. And every year we would have the same routine…meet up with friends, eat out and fall sick, go for bike rides, return home late and promise mom that next year onwards we would spend double the Puja time with family.. Which never happened actually since each year the circle of friends miraculously increased. Dussehra..or Dashami would bring with it gloom and sadness since the celebration was over. Lazily, people would start thinking about office again, some even taking that difficult step of going to their workplace. Others would just somehow extend their holidays or go on their annual trips with a huge family, lunch boxes in tow..

But here in Mumbai I realised work doesn’t just stop because one part of the country is rejoicing. As a matter of fact, other than the blaring sound of
make-shift pandals for Dandiya, nothing gives you a clue that it is Navratri. People go to work, students to school. they somehow always have the energy to return and go dance, or meet up with family, or go out to eat. Maybe that is what makes Mumbai so different. That is why people say it is “fast”. After all, the city of dreams - the city that never sleeps - can’t just stop functioning just cause the Devi has managed to kill another one of those demons, now, can it?

Killing time on the tracks

Never mind the smelly loos, the unhygienic food and the never-on-time schedules. If you were to ask me to choose between air and track, I’d go for the Indian Railways any day, and not just for romancing the countryside, or the fact that I can stretch my legs out even in AC-III, although I admit it was much more spacious a few years ago.

One thing that lends superiority to rail is the ease with which you can strike up conversations — and possibly friendships that won’t last beyond the journey, but who cares — with complete strangers (read fellow passengers–what were you thinking?). So unlike the stiff upper-lip environment in a plane.

Over the past few years, I’ve had a mix of quirky ones, budding geniuses and die-hard fans. I’m not going to be Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes and say I enjoyed them all and they taught me life-changing lessons (as if!).. but yes, some of them make for fun memories.

Just last year, I shared space with a saffron-robed Iskcon devotee on a Delhi-bound train I was taking after college vacations. The first few topics of our conversation ranged from clothes to Gita, from German conferences he had attended to the life in JNU. So far, so good. It was at dinner time that I was exposed to a completely different facet of his personality. All that finesse vanished the minute I ordered chicken, and what I got for the cardinal sin of being a non-vegetarian was a high-decibel oral treatise on the theory of karma and the knowledge that I would be reborn as a miserable little worm, waiting to be eaten up by the very bird I was about to consume, in order to pay for my sin. Lecture over, the man just went off to sleep peacefully, while it took me more than several minutes to shut my own eyes.

On another journey, there was this human supercomputer, all of seven years old, who could rattle off the names of all the stations from Kolkata to Mumbai — and then some — before you could complete the English alphabet. His dad explained parts of the Holy Quran and compared the similarities with Bible and Gita. I’ll bet if this kid and his dad were on some reality show, they would have walked away with top honours.

I’ve had my fare share of wannabe politicians and politically inclined as well. Take this energetic, prim-and-propah lady on a short-distance train for instance, who boasted she was travelling ticketless. Had she forgotten to buy one? Not enough money? Could she outfox the TC? None of the above. Hers wasn’t an excuse by any stretch of imagination, but a style statement, if there ever was one–”I don’t ever buy tickets…I belong to the ruling party!”

Would the response have gotten her off the hook had the TTE come her way? I can’t say. But it certainly would have warmed my heart to see such arrogance nipped in the bud. Not the kind of feeling I and other co-passengers had for this man who was travelling to Bangalore (a two-night journey from home), and who was booked for enjoying senior citizen’s reduced fare. We all felt bad since he was going to turn 60 on the third day of his journey, but the TTE obviously came in on day one itself. Luck is never on the side of these people.

And, oh yes, what is rail travel without a discussion on Lalu Prasad? On one occasion there were these die-hard fans of the former Railway Minister who waxed eloquent for a good three hours and more about the things the man had done to make our lives more, er, liveable. And others who complained every time the train halted in an unscheduled stop. This is a train, dearie, not a bus where the driver can hear you and act accordingly!

One of the funniest experiences I’ve had was with this 60-something man who kept complaining about me to his family over his cellphone. He was speaking in Bengali, not knowing it was my mother tongue as well, but smiled everytime I looked at him. After an hour of being scrutinised and criticised, I calmly wished him “Shubho Bijoya”. The look on his face at that point, needless to say, was worth a million dollars. And no, he didn’t speak to me after that, thank goodness.

With all the excitement around how can one just leave the great Indian train ride and take to the skies instead?

Mad ad world and reality

Many-a-times, reel life imitates real life and vice-versa. But what do you call it when the real life starts imitating the ad world?

It all started with the Lead India campaign. But the campaign and the work which followed was by and large organized, and watched over, by the campaign makers. The citizens were guided by them and to a good result. Though the initiative did not come from the people at first, they did take it up. Teach India was, and still is, a success story. Hundreds have registered for the campaign and go to government schools after college or work and do their bit. Those who couldn’t join on time, began tutoring underpriviledged children from the neighbourhoods in their own houses. The kids got taught. The elders got to take part in the movement without being directly involved.

Likewise, the Aircel tiger campaign has struck a chord with gen X, as can be seen in the facebook groups: ‘Stripey the cub’ and ‘Save tigers’. The fact that only 1,411 of these feline beauties have survived till 2008 is depressing. And that number is only of the 2008 census. So for all you know, there might be less than a thousand of them remaining.

You know, campaigns like these have come and gone. We have shaken our heads, we have clucked in disgrace, but have seldom taken action. This time around, however, the social networkers have decided to take it a step forward. Enthusiasts and concerned people from all across the country will be meeting on February 14 in their respective cities and make a plan to bring the issue to the government’s notice. It remains to be seen whether it would bring about any change. Yet, it cannot be ignored that an ad has sparked so much interest in a problem that was always there.

This morning I heard another. Remember the Idea Cellular ad where the neta wants to know if a particular bridge should be built? And the citizens send smses supporting it? The Maharashtra government has, likewise, asked people to send in their opinions on the Best-of-five subject selection for junior colleges. If concerned people support it then the government will introduce the Best-of-five system during admission for junior colleges, a move which is already being happily appreciated by school students and their parents.

So..What do you call it when the real life starts imitating the ad world?

For now lets just call it a good start.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

I have decided to fall in love.
With friends who create.Who paint.
Who dance, sing, make funny noises from their tummy.
Those who destroy.
And in their destruction make some more.

With friends who make my day by telling me jokes when i want none.
Friends who lie to save my butt. Or to save their own.

Friends who like ice-cream and hate coffee.
Or coffee but not chocolate. Or both.How does it matter anyway?

I have decided to fall in love with them. Cause it is just natural and meant to be.