Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Everything's Going to Be Alright

Soprano voices rising together in harmony, echoing across the railway tracks, far enough to sound other-worldly, close enough to warm this chill.

Hot baths, clean water, freshly washed hair.

Music sharing, the old fashioned way. As old-fashioned as syncing an iPod can be.

Movies to watch. So many movies to watch.

Endorphins from running a little extra everyday.

Telling stories-real, made-up, written, oral, imagined and lived.

Dreaming. Tomorrow will be bigger, better and alright.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wow this Kolaveri...

No, it's not just because I am a known Dhanush fan. Or maybe it is. Been a fan ever since I met him almost 8 years ago at Landmark where he was serenely browsing for music and I went all, oohh I know you. He signed my first (and so far only) autograph ("Be Yourself!"). I think this was just after his second or third film had released and he was becoming this quiet sensation, with this huge Metro Plus article out about him.

He's a brilliant actor (I want to write a movie for him!) Among all his films, the madcap 'Mappillai' included, loved 'Aadukalam' (more so for the first half of it though). 'Pudhupettai' too. But what makes me a fan and so Dhanush-wannabeish are also the facts that he's so Chennai-ly charismatic and charming and funny and watchable and how his face wears perfectly all those songs and emotions and expressions that one rarely gets to display out loud. Like those rage-filled looks he gives people onscreen (probably not the best idea- all those broken bottles in 'Mayakkam Enna'). Like those dreamy, blissful, gleeful smiles he gives himself in 'Yathe Yathe' as he cycles ever so slowly behind the heroine. Like that totally absurd Chinese costume and dance in 'Theriyaama Parthu'. Like dancing with abandon to 'Otha Solaala'. I want to do that on Mount Road.

Anyway, this song or rather anthem (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR12Z8f1Dh8), seems to define our day and age. It feels so Madras-Chennai-Madras, the Tanglish confusion of words describing our state of mind. When I listen to the song, I think beyond love failure. I dedicate this song to Chetpet bridge traffic, N.H. Road potholes (approx 7 at last count), Mylapore's beautiful chaos, Valluvar Kottam road's crests and troughs-more troughs than crests, the weird sounds that my car's been making and yet braving through it all, to that sewage water that's almost reaching my doorstep and mixing with my bath water so I have to take baths in my gym, to my friends' bad romances, bad blood and bad judgement, to my desperation to see movies after long crazy days, to seeing a friend's ex and genuinely wishing her well but wondering what to tell him, to my best friend's disco fever which has been wet blanketed by the new 11 pm curfew and thus driving us to perform impromptu 'Kilimanjaro' dances, to fiscal issues, to hours at the pavement shop 'taking xerox', to my troubles, my peoples' troubles, to the big heavy issues and the little tiny scratches . These tholas might not induce kolaveri but they make me want to laconically sing along to these supposedly 'misogynistic', self-deprecating, peter-making fun of lyrics that are often so nonsensical in places that they make absolute, perfect, technicolour sense. So that is why I, a girl, a half-peter and not exactly lovestruck soul can relate. That nadaswaram whine, the slow beat and the lackadaisacal vocals are making me do one comedy dance in my head.

No wonder there's an actual street sign flashing: "Why this Kolaveri? Drive safely". Our kolaveri may be expressed, unexpressed, subdued or impulsive but it's there. And we deal with it. We laugh at it.

Now didn't someone say "Comedy is tragedy deferred"?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Bonjour, Bonsoir, and Seriously Starstruck on the Promenade

SwatKat and I headed for a half day to Pondicherry. It was purely official, much in contrast to my usual Pondy sojourns-she was receiving her carte de sejour (I don't even know if it's the correct one but I just had to use that phrase somewhere). At this moment she is in the process of fulfilling her most heartfelt dream: Paris.

So, we set forth enveloped in a sort of afternoon calmness. The AC temperature was just right. Someone else was driving. Her mum was chaperoning us. The drive was smooth, the snacks just adequate enough, and Pondy was before us even before we knew it.

Ahhh Pondy in August, Pondy in the evening, Pondy in the breeze and amidst clouds and amidst a sense of bliss both around and within. There was just something in the air. Something I had experienced only once before here, during my first (conscious) visit to the town-the relaxed vibe, the living history in the colonial facades, and the sea, oh the glorious sea. And since SwatKat was looking at these things properly for the first time, I saw them all anew as well.

Passepartout (heh!) in her hand, her gorgeously addictive DSLR in mine, we prepared ourselves to wander. After drooling over three cuddling puppies on the pavement, I was determined to show her the famed cafe, the one with the impeccable service (Refer previous post 'December '10-January '11 Part One: Funny').

A bunch of tourists popped out of a cab in front of us. The group included one tall friendly looking young man whom I exchanged a vague smile with. After walking ten steps, SwatKat squeals and informs me that that was Kunal Kapoor.

Now everyone who's seen Rang De Basanti has crushed on (guilty as charged) the handsome and talented actor who plays a sensitive, sweet artist. Some straight boys I know too. But there's more to Kunal Kapoor in my perspective. From what I've seen and read, he seems to me the Real Thing-humble and genuine. I also heard he flies planes. So, he's cool. But not just for that. My serious obsession has been with the song 'Chinnamma Chilkamma'. As you know, I'm half-Telugu and fully uninitiated with Andhra music save a few ancient songs my father makes me seek out and of course the power-packed, masaledaar 'Ringa Ringa' (NOT the Hindi version). But 'Chinnamma Chilkamma' introduced me to the coolness of (half my) roots. It has verve. It has attitude. It has SWAG. And thus embodies the very essence of my ideal item number in my head. The kind I want to dance to on my birthday in my drawing room to scores of imaginary screaming fans. And my Mum.

So naturally the performer in said song is one to be saluted, fake badness and all.

Anyway, back to Pondicherry. SwatKat and I are walking about near the rocky beach, on the pavement, she trying to convince me that that was Kunal Kapoor and I, without my glasses, insisting on sure proof. When one wanders without glasses, one routinely waves at the wrong people or ignores the right ones. (Bipasha Basu shares this syndrome-the non-glasses wearing. She believes in imagining people to be more beautiful than they actually are. So, I'm in good company). Hence, I was for a moment doubtful that we would have gone and said "Hi, Kunal" to Ishant Sharma or something. (Not that they really look alike, but you know what I mean).

After a lot of pacing and debating (and some intermittent photo taking. The boardwalk looked BREATHTAKING-all golden hued and glorious) we found our feet shifting towards where Kunal Kapoor was. He was finally standing alone and not surrounded by the gang of all hep, cool, totally intimidating people. Mumbling a few hellos, me going "We're fans", we got our picture taken (by his considerate friend). We had a conversation, er, okay, four deep meaningful lines, about the weather, Pondy, his reason for being there, his hair, etc. Whew.

The picture has turned out pretty sad. He's not smiling, my eyes are closed, SwatKat could look better. But it's not about that.

When your heart wants to do something and your mind goes "Umm...Ah...Well..You see...", just go do it. Stop thinking sometimes. You could lose a moment.

The service was great at the cafe. Amazing. SwatKat took a million brilliant pictures of me and I was in photo heaven too-her, the yellow walls, the sea, snap, snap, snap. The ride back was one of high-ness, heartfelt conversation, lots of music-fueled discussions and bittersweet feelings of saying goodbye to someone you've grown addicted to because they jump into your reclusive life and fill it with noise, nonsense, beauty and love, love, simple love.

The height of achievement would be to look over your shoulder at the end of each day and simply say, "I lived". You squeezed the honey or the lemon juice out of the big mixed up fruit that is life. You maximised it. Your hair wasn't perfect but you danced. You made a big red balloon of your heart and set it free to fly across the blue skies. Now. Now. Only now matters. No regrets of the past and only hopes from future.

So I'll tell Kunal Kapoor about my fondness for 'Chinnamma Chilkamma' next time. Heehee.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Un Momento

There's a vaguely-coloured butterfly air-skipping out in the verendah in the sopoforic heat.
My Mum finds a pair of binoculars and peers at me from across the room. I love her when she's off-centre.
My father's TV's on and comments blare about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's body language at a recent press conference. My father watches blissfully, his own commentary running in his mind which he will soon disclose to me. I can always count on him to update me when am not in the mood for the newspaper.
There are friends on my phone, friends in my email, friends loving, liking, friends I don't need right away but who comfort by simply existing. Nusaa, hello :)
Right now, I'm checking out Jamie Woon on youtube. I say 'Night Air' is my song, dark and delicate but you know what? Daytime isn't so bad.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In Memoriam: The Girl with the Pearl Smile

There was this girl we all knew. Or at least we thought we did. She was sweetness and light, sugar and spice, all things nice. Really. She drove the boys crazy with her feminine charm and glam all the while seeming like she had no clue about it. Girls just loved her and wanted to protect and mother her. She had this big kind heart-rarely speaking an ill word about anyone. She had a depth and sensibility and a disapproval of shallowness that wasn't instantly obvious. She danced, she sang-the sweetest voice you would ever hear. She had these big innocent eyes, soft cascading long hair and dewy skin. She made you think of early spring - pastels, soft winds and summer on its way. She loved the sensitive heroes of new Hindi cinema, loved songs 'Stereo Love', 'Tera Hone Laga Hoon', and 'With You'. She loved love.

Evidently, she had a winter within her too. She kept to herself, storing thoughts and feelings in inner lockers for not even her closest friends to know. People would reach out but she was private. Her emotions and her thoughts were her own. She would spend time with her friends, hours over coffee, music, movies, jokes, celebrity gossip. She would listen and soak in those of others' but no one get any closer to her. She had intense romantic thoughts, posted messages and pondered over life-openly, yet solitarily. Each one of us has an inaccessible zone, right? An area cordoned off from public viewing. We shouldn't be intrusive. We stuck our heads around the corner, hollered offers of being right there in case she needed us and backed off. And suddenly, when we weren't looking, she just upped and left. Without a clue. Without a warning. Leaving us questioning our own values formed on privacy, friendship. Retracing our steps to before that fateful night. Hadn't we tried? How close was too close? Could we have 'saved' her?

Questions, hypothetical, rhetorical questions ring out. In the company of friends and also when we're alone. Thinking back to times when we've all felt helpless and sad in the bottom of the well. Times when we've wanted to hurt ourselves physically and hurt those around us emotionally, just because we have so much heavy sorrow that we cannot lift out of our hearts. Times when friends have consciously or inadvertently stuck out a hand and pulled us back into the blindingly beautiful life-this form that we're supposed to fill out, living through the boxes, filling in the blanks and maybe drawing in the margins, too.

Maybe we aren't supposed to leave our friends be. Maybe we're meant to grab them, shake them, make them believe that life is worth living for-that no matter what happens, however humiliating, frustrating, depressing, if they just lean on us a bit longer, it'll be okay. The clouds won't part and the fog won't lift immediately, but just wait it out and see. Fight those dark forces who don't deserve a nanosecond of your time and see. There's so much ache out there, but there's so much thrill too.

Our 'Golden Girl' has gone away. When she was here, she taught us about beauty and grace. With her passing, perhaps, we should learn to not hold back. To love and be loved, to hold hands, hold out and hold on.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Yercaud, with friends, was to me all about loungy days spent cuddled up under quilts in my friend Princess's getaway home. Watching hours and hours of my (former) classmates's closet addiction-Korean soaps and movies. I am now a veteran of the over the top drama and high school romance of 'Boys over Flowers'. Yercaud was also all about food-proper scheduled nourishing homecooked meals that I (who are utterly accustomed to eating dinner out a minimum of three days a week or no dinner at all) found extreme hard work. Yes, unwinding was the theme of this holiday. The treks, the late night girlie conversations, the drives up and down silver lanes that seemed to vanish into misty oblivion, the endless photographs taken-all these fringed around the central activity of a lot of eat, sleep and not-so-well-deserved R 'n' R time.

An initial group of 8 of us began the getaway-from-it-all at our friend's colonial age home nestled within a sprawling estate. The sloping roofs of her house, the lived-in and personalised rooms of her and her family all added to the irreplicable hillstation charm that I've always romanticised about. The group later waned to four of us in Princess's gorgeous place-dreamily pretty with delicate curtains, cosy beds, pampering with food, and endless time and space. That's when it began raining. And we left the modern world behind. No TV, no phone battery, no electricity. Slowly my camera battery died out too. We preserved the laptop charge for intermittent midnight doses of Gu Jun Pyo's badboy attractiveness in 'Boys over Flowers'.

You know about my cravings for rain, right? Yercaud was a scene out of 'Raavan', the mist engulfing the quiet quaint hilltop town into poetry and mystery. I just HAD to take a solitary walk with an umbrella. How you perceive a place varies dramatically based on the presence of company or not. Maybe by myself I'd have some poetic, brilliant flashes of original thought. I wanted to figure out what my real perceptions were of this dreamlike setting at a time in my life free from errands or activities. My thoughts should be profound, not racked by longing for anything more because this was exactly what I'd been dreaming of for the longest time.

Or maybe that wasn't the point. Silence was easy and it just became me, like the Starsailor song.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

In the Summertime

Sorry. My apologies to the residents of this spaced-out space. I mean it. I have missed you and I love you.

I have had a lot to say. Then again, sometimes nothing at all. (Isn't one supposed to say it best that way? Okay, well) Let me begin at the beginning.

It's summertime in Madras. And yes, wow, that isn't really something to be said since it's always summertime in Madras but honestly, when it comes to April-May (not June, NOT June, June is glorious-since it's my birth month) it becomes especially summertime in this annoyingly homely in comely way city that I call mine. We've been getting geared up to face the consequences because of what Al and Leo have been talking about (read:global warming) but it hasn't been so bad, actually. Oh yes, it did hit 40 and they have been doing some load shedding but hey, it's not murderous. If you stay home and sleep in a cool dark place without moving.

By the way, it did rain this night. The sound of thunder, the smell of wet earth, the flashes of lightning tricking you into almost daytime-ness, I tell you, there have never been more heady intoxication for Chennai since the Super Kings won the IPL last year.

Anyway, summertime for ME (yes, we're back to being self-obsessed. How COULD we veer away from the central focus of this blog for so long?) has always been rejuvenating. Restorative. Therapeutic. Transformative. A singular moment for change (I'm not talking about the current political transition in my home state's government). A breath of fresh air. Summer has always been this collapsible box, this stretchy rubber band expanded into an eternal moment where newness bubbles under the surface of every searing layer, reinvention is palpable and possible, and where I basically get a mental and physical makeover. Oh yeah, the soul too.

However, summertime is also fraught with fear, panic, insecurity and the lifelong question - what am I doing with my life???

I thought I'd escaped it this transition-phase time. But it's back. It's okay. I've become more combative and less sheepish about answering the questions. Aeroplane's teasing me for being the high school dropout after winning gold medals. I'm okay with that. It's just that...I want summertime to make good on its promise for transformation.

I went on one spontaneous holiday. Yercaud-Salem-Trichy. 6 days. That's long for me. More about the actual holiday later. Then Pondicherry for a day. Besides that, it's been long hours at the gym (with no real change..yet!) and lots of Keeping up with the Kardashians. From Khruschev, Kissinger and Kennedy to Kourtney, Kim and Khloe. Wow. I can see a total career path developing here. Smooth.

Okay, more whining later. Next post will be about holidays, positive activities and completing all those inane little tasks that chirped at me during my exams and dissertation oh so long ago.

Seems like it was another life.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"The World's My Stage"

Perhaps the gravity of the situation has not hit me yet. Here I am, poised in front of this wide white screen with rows of words forming its centrepiece. Words of pressing importance, words that must be ingested and later regurgitated upon less white sheets of paper. This night is like any other night. But this night involves studying for possibly the last college-level, instutionalised exam I might ever write.

I was always inclined to place exams and academics as top priority. Whether it was because of the rigorous competitive education I had in school, or my parents' emphasis on excellence in whatever you do, especially studies. Or maybe it's just because I live in India and especially Madras. It's just that I've gotten used to studying for so long (12 school years + 5 years of college) that I can't imagine putting anything else on top of that list. Health and fitness takes a backseat during exams (as my recent rapid consumption of fiery, poky tapioca chips confirms). I've taken a break from my beloved gym for almost three weeks, provoking admonishing messages from my gym-mate and self-proclaimed trainer/health advisor. I've cut off from friends for the longest time, becoming invisible and unreachable to them even in moments of crisis. Bad friend, me, bad.

And now I'm on the brink of the literally unknown. I faced this moment before, before I commenced to study again. But now there's not much left I want to study in this city, in terms of college enrollment and hitting books, writing tests-that kind of study. I've experienced the best of Chennai academic life. And I'm pretty sure I want to break free for a while. Not be tied down by schedules (oh, but I do want to work), not have to quit extracurriculars or health priorities because I find something else more all-important and stress-inducing.

I have enjoyed studying. I would like to do it again. But I'd like to see what it's like to have new priorities and even let the older ones, pushed to the backburner, take centrestage again.

(Title courtesy: K)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This room's too small for me

I am thrashing, twisting, stretching but thoroughly immersing myself into North Africa. My research is about the conflict in Western Sahara, so it's mostly Morocco but I'm pretty much soaking up the region-text, music, pictures, videos are not enough.

My back aches as I sit, chained and glued to the computer, my eyes glazing over as I attempt to sift through thirty-six years of a dispute that involves so many people and so much politics. I attempt to make sense of the words that seem so simple on paper but translate to so much complexity when it comes to peoples and nations.

This is a region I am drawn to for reasons so many that I don't bother to enumerate them. People find it intriguing that being in India, I am so obsessed with Raï music and why I would choose a topic like this, so irrelevant in this part of the world and so much less contributive to South Asian International Relations, which desperately needs theorisation as it is. With the recent Jasmine Revolution, Tunisia, Egypt and now Libya, the relevance of North Africa cannot be overrated. Authoritarianism in the region that straddles the Middle East and Africa was a ticking bomb.

How can I explain what I feel when I see a black and white patterned wall motif that instantly transports me to some Moroccan monument? Or how even the names of controversial personalities and tortured places sound so lyrical- Houari Boumedienne, El Ouali Mustapha Sayed, Marrakech, Smara, Saguia el-Hamra, Rabat, and of course, Ma' al-'Aynayn, the almost mythical leader of the "Blue Men" (PLEASE read 'Desert by J.M.G. Clézio) And how can I even BEGIN to explain how I feel nestled within the notes of a Rachid Taha song, how I can surround myself with the dreamy notes of 'Valencia' and put myself to sleep, the language clashing with the city, state, subcontinent I am from and yet feeling so at home, nurtured and loved?

I look away from the computer, step outside my swirling thoughts of rising desert sands, of midnight bonfires with flames swaying to the sound of Mariem Hassan's voice and accompanying guitar, of The Alchemist shrouded in black astride his horse as he gallops up to the seeking Santiago, mystery in his apperance and pure wisdom in his eyes, of Moroccan palaces with ornate details ceiling to floor, speaking of grace and beauty made by mortal humans with divine art in their hands, of Cheb Khaled singing the Maoual to 'Hada Raykoum' and enchanting with his soaring voice, of Rachid Taha's rampaging 'Barra Barra' beats and Cheb Mami's wistful 'Khalouni'. I look down at the tiny room, the papers strewn around, the books and feel my soul resize itself. But sometimes, I let it transcend the physical and let myself live the dream. I get up on my bed, grab my invisible mic and sing, to the minarets and to the desert, to the sea and to the palace, to crowds of adoring fans, in a language I cannot speak.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Moment of Discovery

Don't you ever wish you could recapture that first feeling of discovering a song, movie, book, image, word, person, place and falling in love?

The innocence, the complete unconsciousness of that moment is non-renewable. You step outside yourself and attempt to feel the you that you were. But it never comes back. That's what they say about time being a healer; you forget the pain. But it's got its downside when it comes to wanting to re-feel that one perfect moment where you discovered something new and it stuck with you.

Watching Chris Brown's 'Forever' a couple of minutes ago reminded me of the time, Winter 2008 (?), the place (K's and my attempts at dance class), the feeling (a crush on someone but I HONESTLY don't remember who). But I don't remember when and how this song grabbed me and touched my heart. Sure, I watched it on TV, not knowing who this guy was. The song's may not be a classic to connoisseurs of hip-hop/r&b/dance/pop and the video isn't the most artistic (though the girl is REALLY pretty and Chrib Brown's moves are quite nice). But it's a pretty, adorable, personal track that instantly transports me into where I want to be most nights: dancing under the stars with yellow lights all around, with a chance of Something Happening, of destiny taking over and magic seeping into reality.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's that time of the year again

Transition phase. That's what I've come to label it. Though it shouldn't be labelled. Itchy feet, wandering mind. Shouldn't be labelled.

The trees are shedding. Walking from the gym one night, I chanced upon my parked car to find it sprinkled in the fairy magic of showering lilac/white flowers. It was magical, beautiful. I felt chosen.

The sun's getting stronger, brighter, assertive, grabbing at me through windows, doors, whenever, wherever. Making its presence felt.

Most of all, the college. Any college. Or school. The place instinctively knows that times are a-changing. People are a-changing. Trees shedding their leaves, people shedding their skins. Their distracted gazes stare straight through the distracted gazes of others and at places beyond, people who they are going to be or not. They have things to do (dissertations in this case) but they Stop and Stare, as if momentarily frozen in the searing sun. Conversations slow down, the mind's whirrings slow down to a squeaky rotation and afternoon naps are the most prized possessions of the day.

For me, this is the season Enrique becomes prominent on my playlist, despite friends' (those jealous boys) shrieking protests of his "popness" (among other things). It's a summer ritual since I was 13 and a very important half, since I first fell in love with the Spanish singer and Spanish in general and those happy songs made me Escape (excluding 'Hero' which I never really liked) and have eased me into the path of transition. From middle school to high school and the hugest, most painful crush ever. From high school ending to joining my gym and then the most transformative of places, college where I learnt what it is like to fall in love with a place. And now, from my possibly finalmost time at college to life and for the first time, Free Fallin' into the unknown, for the first time unafraid.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Felicitations are in order

Happy birthday to the patron saint, benefactor and conspirator of this blog.

Happy birthday to the person who's a million miles away and whose presence is a few micrometres far.

Happy birthday to this boy who's my girl who's my kid who's my spoilt little brat brother and motherhen older sister rolled into one infuriatingly essential mix. Like Ayurvedic kashayams. Like Bio Wine. Good for health, president-award winning (scholarship winning in this case) but makes you nauseous, high, giddy yet convinced that you've been nutrient-injected at the same time.

Happy birthday to the prince whom the world is in love with, whose mind the world is curious to swipe the thoughts of and whose locked diary I am. (YES! Locked!)

Happy birthday to the best dressed, most groomed man I personally know. (I haven't met Shahid/Shah Rukh/Ranbir yet. And yes, I must confess, to the satisfaction of Drama Queen A and to the glee of His Highness, you do bear a slight resemblance to all three. Grrrr.)

Happy birthday to the cheriest, localest, shadiest character I am most my street self with. My personal clown and accomplice (especially in spying on fellow clowns. Cough, cough: Aeroplane)

Happy birthday to the person whose made me cry and made me laugh, made me happy and loved and hated and appreciated and venerated and never, ever, ever bored.

Happy birthday to the the friend in beads, the friend who heeds, the friend for whom I'm greed(y), the friend who I beat, the friend who used to eat, the friend in need, a friend truly truly indeed.

Happy birthday to you, K, always and forever.

"We always have today"

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dec'10- Jan '11- Part Two: LOVE

This post is long overdue (one month and 5 days to be exact). This post is owed to a lot of people, important people, including myself. (I can see K rolling his eyes at my narcissism).

It has not always been my dream to go to Bombay. It has been my dream to go there and celebrate in style, imbibe the Bollywood that I love. But it had been my dream for some time, owing to a long 9 year gap, to go on an aeroplane. Yes, I live in a metro. Yes to a lot of other questions. But I just hadn't been on a plane in 9 years since I flew to Delhi to see my cousins and a lot of Mughal history.
I had been ambivalent to the much-venerated spirit of Bombay, its comparisons to NYC, the horrors of 'Slumdog Millionaire' and the exotic quality of its neighbourhoods: Juhu, Bandra, Versova, Tardeo (learnt from an early exposure to MTV India and repeated filled in forms to Virgin Records in the hope of winning free Cheb Mami or Sting cassettes). I knew I would go there one day but not on what terms. My aunt and cousin invited me over but plans didn't materialise. Travelling had become scant and even my trip to Andhra in September had been a highlight of my year, a chance to celebrate Bunny's sister's engagement AND to explore my roots.
Last June, K forgot my birthday. But of course, in usual K style, he more than made up for it (even though I'd forgotten that he'd forgotten-his Mum reminded me) by firstly making my holiday extra-special by coming to his college hometown and then by giving me a gift so huge in more ways than one, in ways material and emotional. His birthday present to me was plane tickets to Bombay and a warm hospitable welcome from his London friends, the much-talked about but rarely-seen Soulgirl and Cupcake.

We set off on the early morning of the 29th, bleary and blurry-eyed, literally falling drunk due to an absolute lack of sleep. My fault, the previous night Mum, Kesh and I had stayed awake to witness my extremely haphazard and unusually disorganised packing. We met K's friend P, who also commented on my drunkenness as I stumbled through security (but I relished every minute of the intrusiveness). We got on the plane, me delighting in the movies and wide collection of music, eventually settling on guess what? Disney classics (Example: 'We Are Siamese')

I got the window seat, yay, thanks to P's thoughtfulness and barely 2 hours later, little Lego structures began to take shape before my now-alert eyes. This was a city of building blocks, much unlike the near-airport area of Chennai that's characterised by hillocks and green.

At the airport, we were greeted by these incredibly glamorous divas holding signs indicated at poking fun at K. I was all smiles, intruding upon their obviously personal bonds and memories. Aaargh what was I doing here : sleep-deprived, lumbering, unfamiliar, woozy. What soothed me was the girls' immediate warmth and effort at including me-and also their consistent pointing out of celebrity homes (Salman Khan, Farhan Akhtar, Rekha, Arjun Rampal..). My heart gave a huge smile when I spotted the word: MANNAT. Shah Rukh means something to every Indian and he means a dreamer who made his dreams come true to me. To see his home, Mannat was the physical representation of that.

We reached Soulgirl's cosy and exquisite apartment and were greeted with even more warmth and homelike affection from her mother, sister and household help. Plied with food, plumbing and soon a bed, I was soon recharged to an extent. All set to watch the culmination of the girls' four month long dance rehearsals as part of a dance troupe.

Now I love dance and watching dance too but I was not prepared for the show that I was to witness. Through a repertoire of 'Apologize', 'Behene De', 'Teri Deewani' and numerous other favourites, I sat spellbound, not wanting the show to end. Soulgirl and Cupcake are outstanding performers, each with their own unique, distinctive style and stage presence. I was completely blown away by Soulgirl's onstage electricity, not just her obvious talent and training but her sheer alive face. Her whirling like a dervish at the end of 'Teri Deewani' was nothing that I had ever seen and that too, live. To top it all, I was reduced to silent tears at a beautiful, breathtaking portrayal of the Sufi classic 'Chhaap Tilak...' by a Kathak dancer. I was touched, transported and moved beyond physicality at the utter divine love represented in that piece.

The days that followed were choc-a-bloc with activities and outings that our hosts had planned. While K and I struggled with the slow waning of tablets' after effects, we let ourselves go with the flow at the sights, sounds and very air of Bombay, this City of frenetic activity, of dreams of commercial life. What I had expected and what I experienced was very different. The air was the crisp, nostalgic air of winter sunshine and a year winding down. The place was quaint, charming, gorgeous Bandra, which to me is now synonymous with Soulgirl and Cupcake and their affection. They took us to the shopping streets of Colaba where our eyes took in the array of wares; to the most melting-in-mouth Mediterranean food (finally got rid of the taste of the inedible mezze I had here) at Moshe's, to the best Thai ever at Lemongrass, to Italian at Basilico. I want to eat that all over again.

To my delight, Bombay is composed of a lot of long drives. And someone else doing the driving! Soulgirl is as music-obsessed and invited me to play some from my phone. So we listened to Rabbi while driving down the awe-inspiring Sea Link. I took in Bombay's skyline while listening to what always reminded me of Delhi music.

New Year's eve was at a friend's farmhouse (the Bombay version of Chennai beach houses? Oh wait, they have beaches there too. And somehow, much more sea). K and I were the usual clowns, traipsing around, doing push ups, ending up fully clothed with the rest in the pool and finally freezing to insanity. In the morning, we discussed careers and how I could no longer be a rockstar. Or so he thinks.

New Year's Day was supposed to be spent with my aunt and cousin but they were recovering from the previous night so in the night we went to K's dream destination: Aer where we took in 30+ storey views of the sparkling lights of a Bombay New Year's Night. We then went to someplace I liked more: Trilogy where I danced danced danced absolutely sober and absolutely high on music. I loved that DJ and would've told him so if my brand new heels weren't all twisted out of shape and I had to dance barefoot.

But Bombay to me wasn't clubs, food or the Ambanis' 800 million dollar bombproof, Domino's encased building. Bombay to me is the precious multi-hued Arabian Sea sunsets I witnessed from Soulgirl's gorgeous living room window, in absolute silence, with my best friend and also with people I had known for 2 days and yet felt like home. Bombay to me is me and K waving at Arjun Rampal's apartment building to tell people we waved at the actor himself. Bombay to me is getting the best blowdry ever-one that lasted-with new friends I felt I'd known forever and with an old friend who loves me so much that he took a million pictures of it from all angles. Bombay to me was the excitement me and K felt at the semi-cobblestoned roads of Bandra and Pali Hill.

Bombay is a million myriad moments, postcard worthy pictures (once Photoshopped of course), a zillion unstoppable K and me giggles triggered by single word memories, dozens and dozens of girl hugs from the most beautiful girls I've ever seen because they're stunning inside and out, the warmest welcome, care and maternal pampering from Soulgirl's parents, the total invasion of space and worktime that we did to Soulgirl's amazingly talented and instantly likeable writer sister (who gifted me a book that's automatically become one of my friends- 'The Shadow of the Wind' by Julian Carax, oops Carlos Ruiz Zafón) by occupying her and Soulgirl's heavenly room, the many phone calls I made to my cool aunt saying, yes I get what you meant about this city...

So, to me, Bombay was love. Is love.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

December '10: Part One - FUNNY

The Young Man and the Sea (ah, I am so clever)

It's been almost precisely two weeks since I was in the most magical city (Bombay) so far of my travels (okay, jostling with Delhi for the no.1 spot). Two weeks since I soaked in the pleasure of wandering around a beautiful airport all by myself (only my second flight in nine years and that too, my first solo one). Two weeks since I got back home, hungover on the love and excitement and friendship that characterised the last two weeks of my December 2010. The culmination of a year of not much external change, not much internal work but still a good year, nonetheless. A nice well-rounded year ending in a ten. A year like that's got to be utilised.

There's so much that needs to be said. I haven't written in ages. I've broken a self-made rule-to write in my travel journal. And that's a rule that was kept even when I went to Pondicherry three years ago with a bunch of raucous friends. That's a rule I broke when I went to Pondicherry at the end of last year with a bunch of even more raucous friends. Can I help not writing? We stayed at a fancy, luxurious hotel thanks to Aeroplane pulling strings yet we spent nearly 70% of our time wandering the streets of the French Quarter, begging for food. Really, there is no dearth of restaurants as anyone who has visited Pondicherry might know. There is authentic French food and wine, you can smell the croissants, the cheesecake, the brownies. But sacre bleu! (corny is my style) You cannot have them.

Sample this:

We go to a cafe. K and I catch a whiff of the brownies and decide that this is it. We have to have this now or we will not leave the place. And the place is delectable in itself, ocean spray hitting our face. We're ravenous, the others not so much but we tempt them into brownies, brownies and cheesecake and whatever else is on this long, scrumptiously described menu. We go to the counter which is empty. No, table service only. We saunter back, used to the French Loaf's and the Hot Breads of our world. Okay, this won't take time.


There is only one waiter (despite the presence of other staff members behind the counter). He serves only ONE table..in entirety. From menu-giving to table-clearing. And no other table. There are nine such tables. We wait. And wait. AND REALLY WAIT. Drama Queen A begins cursing and LOUDLY. We flee in fear of our future food being poisoned.

We search some more for lunch. It's dinner time. At one point, K and I, our senses shutting down due to lack of nourishment, gallop in one last burst of energy, screaming thanks, towards a brightly lit building. Drama Queen A cracks up in the background when we upon closer inspection discover that the mirage is a boutique. Necklaces we cannot eat.

At ten in the night after a hearty meal at a good restaurant (me, the sole vegetarian did not exactly enjoy it. The canneloni was an explosion of spinach and tomato sauce and little else. But I'll applaud it for not being the dosa covered, YES DOSA-COVERED, attempt that it once was in a new Chennai restaurant. But still, the best canneloni I've had was in Little Italy, Nungambakkam, Chennai.). In a display of steadfast resolve, K dismays the gang by announcing his renewed commitment to The Place. We find an auto driver-and Pondy auto drivers are nice, especially if you compare them to waiters, actually then anyone's nice-and drive him nuts by making him drive in circles till we find the place again.

We march in, triumphant. We have outwitted the crowds, by appearing at an opportune time for dessert. There is a plethora of staff milling about, actually smiling, hey are our eyes deceiving us, smiling. We plonk down, expecting royal treatment for the persistence we have displayed. Yes, we are from Madras. The capital of this state. You'd better treat us good. Oh sheesh, you're a Union Territory. Anyway, we wait. We don't want to get up and give up the hard-won table.

Butterfly finally has the bright idea to go check where our waiter is. She is duly informed (at 10.30) that there is no service till 11.15 because the staff is eating. Then WHO are these guys standing around? They're staff. But they gotta eat. Then why aren't they eating? Apparently, they are. Only we can't see it.

Butterfly: We'll just give you the money. Please can you just open this glass case, right here, yes the one in front of my nose and hand me a brownie, I'm not even asking for a plate..or a spoon. Just a brownie.
Staff: Table service only.
We hesitate to inform Drama Queen A of this latest development.

Finally, a couple of the staff members look at us (and Butterfly's steely glint) with laughing eyes and hand over a couple of brownies and a cheesecake. I beg for chocolate sauce. We get plates. But we have to go pick up the cutlery ourselves from the wash.

We go back to the table, disbelieving of our eventual success. We dig into the cheesecake, salvation is near...

Let's just say the brownie was alright.

The food story continued (in less dramatic and more dismal form) across the town. There was a well-known restaurant where the best food was a heap of French that I doused in my requisite lashing of pepper and a minuscle serving of cheese Garlic bread. Perhaps the most fruitful food discovery was at the bus station on the way back (after a dramatic bus searching escapade where :

1) the first bus home that we found smelled of someone's lost battle with motion sickness and it was indeed the reason why it smelled. The fact that it had been drowned with numerous buckets of water did nothing to eradicate the smell.

2) Aeroplane and Drama Queen A had a showdown in usual fashion, almost reminiscent of their old college fight where Drama Queen A mocked Aeroplane for not being able to see without his glasses while driving and he furiously took them off (while driving with K, me and a terrified classmate) to prove her wrong. Later, he revealed he saw only blinking lights. This time, they patched up rapidly, in usual fashion,

3) at a local eatery (AC! Deluxe!) which could've been Aminjikarai. I guess if you count the waitress making eyes at K and Aeroplane and ignoring the three women as good service, this was tops.

But the find was this: a chocolate bar. That's what this post is named after, FUNNY-the not so popular twin of Munch, the chocolate bar. The same purple and yellow colour scheme, a similar only a slightly, er, more mature taste, as compared to Munch. This was right before the long ride back where in a quest to counter the AC's faulty airconditioning, we engaged in a series of activities that resulted in

1) Aeroplane freezing and wrapping himself with my stole and ending up looking like a renegade Jordanian prince
2) Butterfly stuffing the vent with a stolen paper place mat from the deluxe Aminjikarai-esque restaurant
3) Drama Queen A stuffing her ears with the latest dirty Simbhu movie song, alternating with my all time favourite 'Ring Ringa' (oh my ethnicity!)
4) K dosed up on "Hypernacs" and collapsed on my shoulder

5) Me choking in the heat jumped out when the bus driver took a break and bought the first cool drink I could see. The Limca was a close relative of phenyl and cheapskate that I am, I tried to make Butterfly and myself finish it off. I think it's still in my fridge if it hasn't been used to swab the house.

The rest of the trip was certainly memorable : I finally got to cycle around the cobbled streets of the French Quarter (don't ask about finding the cycles and also about my cycle. Its lack of a bell was compensated by the telltale grind of its chains that warned passersby of a hurtling, tiny vehicle with a yellowclad individual clasping on for dear life). The hotel was lovely (I wish I'd eaten more of the breakfast), there was this elderly family on a bench opposite the Promenade that warmed my heart, the Casablanca I do want to visit again, with more time on my hands, the friends were funny, funny, FUN!

Clearly, age has not diminished our propensity for stupid, repetitive jokes, sleepless high endless giggles and lowly, often slapstick humour in general. It seemed like the universe gave us quite some fodder for that one day and a half.