Saturday, July 30, 2005

When the streets had no name... Mumbai on July 26

It started like regular Tuesday mornings do. The Monday depression is past, the week looks promising and all's well with the world. I was supposed to do lunch with a contact/friend in Juhu and it had been getting endlessly postponed. I called to say I'd meet him at his office instead and carry on to work since Nariman Point is pretty far. But he didn't take the call and just messaged to fix the time and place. I sent a long-winded sms in return to cancel, and then on seeing no reply, proceeded to send an equally long-winded message to say I'd come. There was nothing urgent in office anyway and journalists get their leads from precisely such meetings. So, I made use of the husband's car and driver since he'd left for an off-site conference just out of Mumbai, and off I went to Juhu, stopping to shop if you please, on the way, for something for my sister. I met him for lunch at The Club, a nice quiet lunch, and we even discussed Budhism and why I was chanting, and I was explaining to him why it works for me, and just when we were leaving, it started to rain. Really rain. This was about 2 p.m.

2.15 p.m.
He suggested I skip the day and go home and sleep. Are you out of your mind, it's just Tuesday I said. But as the rain got worse, and my driver took nearly 20 minutes to come to the porch, something in me - hey Gladwell, I've just started to read your second book Blink, and yes, some snap decisions are fantastic - said 'don't go to work'. So I called work, told them I'd do suburb-related research instead, and asked the driver to take it to Bandra. When we neared home, almost 45 minutes later, I decided the rain was really bad so I told him to take it home and we'd step out later once the rain subsided.

The road outside my house (Santa Cruz West) was already a swimming pool. Just like that. In a matter of minutes tar disappeared and a brown muddy river it became. I couldn't think of anything else except my childhood in Assam and how the water resembled an angry Brahmputra. Cars were stuck, all shapes and sizes. We managed to barely get into the building by which time the car was literally swimming, but no water inside the car. The lobby was flooded, calf-high water, so I folded my pants and walked up the five floors.

Water was coming into my drawing room through the windows. I moved the furniture, did some quick pocha and put all the bathroom mats I could find on the floor under the windows, but it kept coming and coming. Kind of trying to stop blood from a wound with a hanky that's stained in seconds. I put the fans on full speed, and sent the driver home. Then I requested the caretaker to get in a tall stool to remove my silk curtains which were already a bit wet. When I was on the stool, I heard a loud noise, and realised I had hit my hand on the fan. It was on full speed. I could have lost a finger, the fan was wildly swaying. What happended? Nothing. Just a bruise under a nail and the volts resonating in my hand for a few minutes. And just then she was gone. No electricity.

Been trying desperately to call my husband and friends. Can't get through. I've had so many sms bounces, I'm practically used to that sound 'message sending failed'. He mentioned he may try to come home Tuesday evening if he's through. I want to tell him to stay put. I pull out all the old India Todays, and the Bollywood Special I haven't been able to read, and make myself a strong cup of coffee. It would almost be an ideal day if only... I peep out, by the way, and the water on the road is now waist high... A big yellow bus is stuck bang in the middle of the crossing below but cars continue to make their way.

Still haven't spoken to a soul and the restless fidgeting in my heart is increasing to a thump. The water is increasing alarmingly. I am without a torch but bless my candle collection. I don't have a portable radio (must get one) or a land line (must get one too), and I don't dare listen to the radio on my cell for fear of using the battery. Finally a friend, R, gets through to tell me it's bad everywhere and he's still at work in town.

I'm really alone now. The candles have been lit; I try all the permutations and combinations, keep the tallest ones burning first, leave the ornamental ones for last, and I've almost finished 96 pages of straight reading of the Bollywood Special. I still keep trying to call and sms people and manage to get through once in a while to R, and to his wife, who is at her place in Bandra, again with no light, and is practising her guitar. We manage to exchange some sms. More pocha, might I add.

The husband finally gets through to tell me he isn't coming in because all the entry points are jammed. I heave a sigh of relief and suddenly realise I really am alone. No light, and soon no phone. Not a word, complete silence, and just candles and the ravaging rain for company. I try to look out and the water is now neck-high. In the dead of the night, like ships passing by, I hear the distressed sounds of women trying to wade across the river and calling out to each other by name. I also hear whistles periodically. I begin to imagine how life must have been pre electricity, pre Tv, pre cell phones. And almost on cue, I am hungry and decide to be done with dinner. Unfortunately it's already cooked so I don't get a chance to kill time cooking it. My thoughts turn to my fridge and all the stocks which may have to be thrown. I detest wastage, it does something to me, and is probably a legacy from always being hungry in boarding. I also wonder for a second how I will heat dinner minus the micro when I remember there was the gas before the days of the micro.

random thoughts at this time:
> in the olden days, food must have been more a means to structure the day than to cater to the rumblings of the stomach. I don't always eat when I am hungry, but when it's meal time. Somehow, when the night falls, and there is nothing else to do, you begin to feel hungry, because it's night, it must be dinner time, and after all what else is there to do but eat and sleep?

> candle light means you can really extend your field of vision till as far as you want. A tube and a bulb are fixed to certain spots in the wall and can only reflect light thus far, but if I move the candle closer to the window, my world view expands, my room is larger, my world is larger. If I get the candle closer to me, sure I can try to read better, but the room looks and feels smaller. It's closing in on me. Also, in the dark, even small things assume large proportions. So a book cover flapping in the breeze reflcted against candle light looks menacing and scary on the wall.
Is this what solitary confinement feels like? Am I losing it?

I get through to colleagues, four of whom are together in a cab. They left Nariman at 5.30 and are now somewhere near Prabhadevi. (They ultimately reached Bandra at 2.30 in the morning). But at that point they were the ones who looked like they were having a party, eating brownies, braving the rain, stuck on the roads with a million others, and I was going nuts alone. But that's life. I start to now listen to the voices in my head in an attempt to have conversation and I don't like what I hear. R tells me he's started from Colaba about an hour ago and is hopeful of being home by 12. He's listening to floyd (he ust happened to take his car to work that day), is enjoying the light rain and the cool air, and again I feel miserably alone. (He finally got home at 3.30 a.m.) Anyway, I've managed to talk to parents and in laws and assured them I am safe, physically, that is. And now I decide to make no more calls and conserve whatever little battery the phone has left, if the 'no network coverage' sign ever leaves the monitor, that is.

I've been staring at the remains of the candle for over 45 minutes. It's an old habit. In camps, from school, it used to be the embers of the fire. Now I wait for it to die on me, because I don't have the heart to snuff out my only companion. But hey, after 45 minutes, I lose it and snuff it out in a huff. It's muggy but I toss and turn and finally roll off to sleep.

Wednesday, July 27
I'm awake at 8 a.m but there's still no light and now the phone is completely dead, and like an abandoned elderly person, with no mission for the day, I spend the next two hours falling in and out of sleep.

Loud banging on the door and it's R and his wife, who've actually come to rescue me. They've waded through waist-high water and parked their car three lanes away knowing I am alone at home, stuck. I am almost delirious and panicky and quickly throw my things in a bag, pull out some food from the fridge and leave with them. I hate the feeling, like I'm abandoning my house, but I can't possibly stay. This situation could go on for days...
We reach the lobby and I almost gag. It's puky, and smelly and filthy. And I have no choice but to step into it.
I close my eyes, take her hand and descend into the water. It almost feels like I'm attempting to absolve my sins by descending into the Ganga or something, but no romanticising the situation here. This is the kind of water I'd stared at yesterday from my window and thought 'thank God I don't have to get into that'. The car in the car park has water inside. The leather seats are submerged, the dashboard will soon be wet. I walk by, there is nothing I can do. We walk and walk and walk, about 10-15 minutes. The water seeps into my clothes and higher and higher and I am disgusted. We make it to the car and stock up on food and reach their house. They have light, the roads are dry and it's hard to imagine that 5 kms away, there is just hell. I have a shower, connect my phone and start to hear of the horrors others have gone through. I realise I am truly protected, for not going in to work that day, for coming back home at 3 and saving my house from a possible flood. I chant in gratitude and pray for all those who have lost everything. I manage to call and sms and re assure everyone that I am Ok. By morning everyone was in a panic since I was incommunicado. I also wonder if I would have done that for someone, get into that muck to go and pull them out. I don't know... I hope I would have. Thank you R and thank you N. You fear you wouldn't be able to stand up to the situation and be there to help someone when the situation demands. Well, you did. You stood up when you had to...

I watch TV the entire day, have more coffee, try to read The Motorcycle Diaries and play Uno. All across the city someone is either getting home or still at work, or wading somewhere and I keep getting to hear frightening tales.

Then the ONGC fire happens. It really is too much.
I don't even switch on the TV. A friend to whom I've narrated the tale says she's missing the action and that she would have have recounted it with far more masala had she been in my place. I tell her that when you see what's going on around, there is no scope for masala.
I try to call both my maids up in their cell phone, knowing they must be going through hell, and I wonder if they have houses left. Can't get through to either...

My husband is again very lucky. He manages to come to our friends' house by 11 p.m. in two hours flat. He and I have not even seen a tenth of what others have gone through. I don't know what it is, but it saved us all right. Yes the car is wet and refuses to start and the car papers are wet and now blow dried but we're ok.

It's really hit me what the word exile can mean. Especially when it ain't a smart pet name and it ain't self-imposed. You know what I mean?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

water water everywhere and not a drop to drink... devastation, destruction, it's not been a nice 24 hours.
more tomorrow... when i can collect my thoughts...

Monday, July 25, 2005

Boxes and cages. Cages and boxes.

Why do we need to define all relationships? To box them up. To place them in squares, triangles, circles. To cage them. To give them parameters and boundaries and limits. And then to want to think out of the box, to want to flee the very cage we set up, to want to escape the boundaries we create.
It’s easy to say go with the flow. A flow can be dangerous, damming it even more dangerous. Dams burst…
But vague, undefined, loose relationships… How many of us can deal with those in our lives? Should we? Should we learn to unlearn maps and routes and let relationships meander and walk and run and jog the way they want to? To not put landmarks and milestones and ‘show’ them the way? To not expect them to steer the ‘right’ course, but instead let them go as the wind takes them? And as a result bear the consequences of landing up lost? In a mirage, in a sand dune, in the ocean or simply at sea?
And then to stand back and think ‘let me retrace my steps and go back, back to where I came from, to the boxes and the cages’, or to think ‘let me go further where this takes me. If I’m in the sea, let me go scuba diving, if I’m in the dunes, let me get my feet wet with sand, and if I’m in a mirage, let me wait till it clears’.
Let me create a new map.
Or let me live my life based on maps already designed, already printed. Boxes and cages. Cages and boxes.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Pathetic Poetry

I determine today
That I will blog every day

Even if it's just a thought
Better to say something that naught

That way the journey will continue
Even if it's venom you want to spew

How painful it must be every day
To come to a site that literally says 'go away'

Everyone may not come back another day
After all why wait for tomorrow when you can say it today

Sheesh! If this is what I have to say
Better not determine to blog every day!

Another rock

This morning as I was leaning out of the train I saw a hoarding for Chiragh Din shirts and it said CD rocks. And the rocks was almost like a hand written scribble. Oh God, an overnight job!! Unlikely, but hey watch; this thing, it's rocking.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Rock on

OK, so I am getting some of my groove back. This is a blog I've been wanting to write for a while. Actually, ever since I finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. I loved the book, it really did expand my thought process, so much so that I've been quoting it to friends and trying to analyse a lot of everyday things based on the few simple principles laid out in the book. And one of the core things the book tries to analyse is how small trends, small habits in one remote part of the world mushroom into epidemics, how they reach a tipping point and then suddenly everyone is using it or sporting it or saying it etc.
And today I'm going to write about one such phenomenon and it is rock. Yes, everything and anything and everyone is rocking. I don't quite know how it started but it's everywhere. I just went on to an Illinois-based blog and a comment on the show Cheaters was 'the show rocks'. I read an interview of Samir Nair, COO of Star TV on KBC2 and he was talking about how Amitabh Bachchan rocks and how he is the ultimate rock star. I turn on Star World and I see the show Rockstar (choosing a new band member for INXS) . I watch Dus and when Sanjay Dutt has to motivate his team he doesn't just say, 'C'mon boys let's do it'. That would be too staid. He says 'C'mon boys let's rock'. Bu they don't pull out their guitars and drums, more like AKs and grenades. Ask anyone how they're doing and no one says, 'I'm good'. It's always 'I'm rocking' or 'you rock'. Now all any marketer needs to do is to realise how fast this word and what it conveys has caught on, and they need to launch something which either has the word or the import in it. It could be an ad campaign or it could be a product, like Reebok could launch a pair of sneakers and call them Rockstars and I'm sure they would fly off shelves. Or it could be more subtle, like a hoarding using the power of suggestion. This is how epidemics happen.
Sorry Mr Bachchan, your favourite phrase, mind blowing, just didn't spread this fast.

Spontaneity... killed?

I hate this. I hate the fact that I can't blog the way I did when I started out. I used to write freely, spontaneously, without re-reading, rewriting, mulling and readers, especially friends, had pointed out that it was this free-wheeling style that made the blog interesting. Except now, something has changed. I have enough thoughts mulling in my head, enough things I want to say, but I just don't. I mull and I mull and I mull and I want to add stuff to it and make it bigger and more comprehensive and conclusive and then write it, and ultimately I never do.
Because I don't want to sound like a confessor, because I don't want to sound like a raver and ranter (are those even words?) because I don't want to sound like a cute girl rambling.... but then does it matter? The blog I thought was created because of me, of what I wanted to say, not what I sounded like. Why is it that when there is an audience, however small, the way we speak, write, and maybe even think, changes?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

a random stat...

Found this in Time Out... pretty interesting

> Rank of Mumbai and Bangalore as the sexiest cities according to all Indians (1, 2)
> Rank of Mumbai and Bangalore as the sexiest cities according to all Indians in the age group 16-20 (2, 1)
Online 2004 Durex Global Sex Survey that interviewed more than 3,50,000 people in 41 countries including India.


I wrote this yesterday as a comment, in response to the responses I got for the last post, but don't think they've been seen, so here they are:

OK, for starters, I don't usually respond to comments because comments are meant to be just that, comments, and I don't think they warrant full-fledged conversations. Secondly most are just points of view and rhetorical really, not requiring answers. But this time is different, and since I did ask for thoughts and have received some rather interesting ones, I do want to take this post a step further.
So, to Anonymous: your 'off-beat take' is not far-fetched but is I think a bit simplistic. What you are saying could be one of the reasons but not the only reason. Having lived in both cities, I do agree that daily life in Mumbai is a bit of a struggle even for the well-heeled but let me tell you they don't think of it that way one bit. If they did, they would not swear by the city and continue to live here and love it. Tiredness, at one level, is a state of mind. And I think outsiders like me face it more. They go through the same grind and yet they are out partying, eating out much more than any other city. In Delhi, the roads are cleaner but public transport is a pain. So unless you have your own car it's quite a struggle there too. Cabs are out to rook you, touts are omnipresent, setting up home, calling to set up a gas connection, getting a phone line, these are all nightmarish experiences in Delhi, but living in Mumbai is far easier and it is a relatively less corrupt city as well. And safer. Which is why I feel it draws many more single people to it, and people who have higher demands from life, higher aspirations and people who are not ready to compromise. They will brave the rain, the roads, but they will not compromise when it comes to their life. They guard their weekends zealously; Mumbaikars are more loathe to work on weekends that Delhiites. They don't even want to show you their house for renting on a weekend! The lines between colleagues and friends blur in Delhi much faster; in Mumbai people would rather mix with friends and let colleagues stay just that; plus they'd rather not take the pain of entertaining at home which allows someone a peek into your life and is therefore a warmer experience, instead they'll meet at a common place. So in some sense, yes all of this contributes to the radar, the scanner being on. In Delhi it's just not a nice vibe, it's a very 'I want to get into your pants vibe' (maybe the jaat heartlands surrounding Delhi lend their mentality to the capital as well), here it's more like 'let's get to know each other' vibe. Of course the ulterior motive in both cases may or may not be the same.
And hey Conman: Nice comment, well put. May your search yield results soon!

Friday, July 01, 2005

Looking for company?

I’m a very weird person. I’ve figured. Most people go to a pub or a nightclub or a disco to let their hair down, to destress, to drink, to smoke, to listen to good music, to dance, and to catch up with friends. I do too, but sometimes I observe. Last night I was at Hawaiian Shack, this little cozy shack-like pub in Bandra, where rock and soft rock rule. It’s packed most days of the week -- never go on a Saturday though, the joke is it’s worse than a Virar local -- with office going youngsters (yes it’s quite reasonable) downing beer and screaming their lungs singing Just another brick in the wall or Pour some sugar on me. So anyway I’m there with friends and I look around me and immediately I sense the same vibe. The same vibe that had come as a bit of a surprise, culture shock if you may, when I visited Mumbai last August (after a gap of nearly 20 years). After just a few minutes in the same pub, seated on one of the high stools, I mentioned to my husband that Mumbai is a pretty lonely city. I had no idea then that I’d be living her so soon after that trip and would have enough time to socially observe people at length and leisure. He wanted to know how and why I’d made that assumption sipping on beer at Hawaiian Shack. So I told him that everywhere I looked I could see people looking around, scanning, no not leching, not mentally undressing you (that is one of the differences between Delhi and Mumbai yes) but just scanning. Waiting to make eye contact. Some eyes were shifty, some were steadfast but a lot of eyes had a purpose, a mission, and loneliness. Looking for company, for a friend, probably more than a friend.
So last night I felt the same vibe, the same ‘checking out’ scanning vibe. So I gave my little gyan to my friend and of course he promptly asked me why I was scanning the room then. “By your analogy, you’re lonely,”. I told him I wasn’t, I was being scanned. That was a joke of course. But honestly I was really looking to see if my assumption was true. Was it? Is it? Any thoughts? Anyone?