Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And I saw Him Standing There

Him and his acoustic guitar and Blackbird. Twentyfive thousand hearts beat noiselessly lest they intrude on the mesmeric voice soaring over the sweet twang of his guitar. He joked later that he may have missed a few chords.
He played the Ukulele in a moving tribute to George Harrison. He had played Something in George's house fifty years ago and he played it for us last night. It was moving, magical and humbling.
He sang for George, he sang for John, he sang for Linda, he even sang for Jimi Hendrix. The strong resonant voice is still there, so are the boyish good looks. I went to see Paul McCartney perform songs that my parents grew up with. It is a night I will never forget. I came away happy and inadequate.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Snow, rain and two cities

The first flakes of snow dropped on my shoulder today. And before I could say winter is here it had turned into a full-fledged cotton woolly Yash Chopra song.
The smiles on people's faces reminded me of the first hesitant showers that announced the arrival of the Mumbai monsoons. If you were near Nariman Point or any other point with a view of the bay, you could see the clouds assemble in the yonder like unruly boy scouts.
London has many charms but the English rain lacks conviction. It is a polite, semi-educated rain that is almost apologetic about its existence. It lacks the gorgeous primal fury of the Mumbai monsoon in full ballast. Now, that's a real force of nature, thrilling and wrecking at will.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Comma tose

The importance of punctuation, according to Stanley.
"If you don't put one stupid comma nobody will read your story or what man," he asks.
I bow my head to a superior force.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Random rubberish

When I was six years old, give or take a couple, someone stole my white, scented eraser. It was white with a green crown, smelt divine and didn't taste too bad either. It has been bothering me ever since. So, if you have it, please return it, all is forgiven.

PS: While you are it, please return my half-eaten Parle G too.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

So long Hamara Bajaj

It's the most distinct sound of my childhood, the gentle, even slightly sissy rev of the Bajaj Chetak. It didn't have the alpha male roar of the pompous Royal Enfield or the rakish charm of the Yezdi but it was aspirational and it was everywhere. It was Hamara Bajaj.
In the Indian food order, it stood betweeen the amoebic Hero cycle and the king of the road, the Royal Enfield Bullet. Safari-suited uncles rode it at 30kmph, their kids wrecked it trying to touch 40. It was the great Indian middle class dream till the Maruti 800 chugged in.
The Bajaj scooter has been laid to rest now. It's taking a piece of my childhood to its grave.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

An ashtray-sized urn

"I ask for an ashtray and he brings me an urn," says he to Sudhir.

The delicious irony of that statement, me to my Marlboro.

PS: Yes Dipta, I have heard of Twitter.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bad chicken karma

Nameless monsters have taken over my sleep leaving their heavy bags under my eyes. I wonder if it's the soul of the chicken I had for lunch. Bad chicken karma, not good.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Starry starry nights

The sparkling glow of the trees warm the chilly nights. There is music in the air and smiles on faces. It will be Christmas soon and London is glowing in anticipation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Painter from Paris

I could tell he was a painter from the smears he wore proudly on his rags. He recommended the house brew to me before launching into a delightfully one-sided conversation. He was surpsingly garrulous for an artiste.
He said he learned to paint in France because he couldn't speak French. They tied his tongue but freed his hands. As he rambled on like a lumbering locomotive, I couldn't possibly comprehend how Paris kept him quiet. But then it didn't.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


The weary old man in the cafe reminded me of my grandfather. He always smelled of books, tobacco and defeat.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fire and Ice

The burning jealousy in the room set off the fire alarm. But is there a compressed chemical that can douse a green-eyed monster?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Sharif as Gabbar?

I am in a mood for some reverse colonisation. Suspend reality and let's get some Hollywood heroes to snarl "kuttey kaminey". Who would you pick to play some of Bollywood's most iconic roles. And by that I don't mean picking Anil Kapoor to play Amitabh Bachchan like Boyle did. That's just lame.

Gabbar Singh: Take one part menace, one part lunatic, garnish generously with maniacal laughter. Is there a phirang good enough to play Hindi cinema's most iconic character? The closest I can think of is Omar Sharif in Mackenna's Gold. Sharif's Colarado is not really Gabbar, but close.

Rahoool of DDLJ (or any Chopra-Johar torture device): Only two people in the world who can outham SRK, Tom Cruise and Hugh Grant. My vote is for Grant, he can flutter his lashes and has dimples.

Bhiku Mhatre: RGV got everything right in Satya, except the title, should have called it Bhiku really. Manoj Bajpai has never been able to better Bhiku, can someone in Hollywood outdo Bajpai. Tough call. For my money no one can combine quiet menance with combustible anger like Sean Penn can. Penn for Bhiku then?

Don: Try this in English for size ... "it's not just difficult to capture Don, it is impossible." There is only one man who can deliver that with you not reaching for the barf bag. Who filleth size Big B boots?
Pacino is too short and Brando is dead, so my vote is for the young Clint Eastwood. Rewind to Dirty Harry if you want to take a second dekko.

Langda Tyagi: Tough act to beat Saif's inspired cowbelt Iago. The evil in his eyes, the physicality, the naked ambition, the twisted humour. Saif's brooding, limping presence lifted Omkara to a whole new orbit. Bob Hoskins as Iago in the BBC adaptation pales in Saif's evil glow and Hoskins is no spring chicken. Who then? Only one actor I know who can be anything he wants. Johnny Depp. Can't think of a better man to play Langda Tyagi.

Anand: Couldn't have been written for anyone but Rajesh Khanna. No one can play the lovable tragic like Kaka, see Kal Ho Na Ho and barf into your tears if you don't believe me. Who in Hollywood can sell misery like Rajesh Khanna can. Tom Hanks?

Raju: The joker not the gentleman. Raj Kapoor's Chaplinesque loser requires some affectation and a whole lot of hamming. And a slightly comical screen presence. Jim Carrey in My Name is Joker, for my ticket money.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I've got a ticket to ride

Newspaper taxis appear on the shore,
Waiting to take you away.
Climb in the back with your head in the clouds,
And you're gone ...

I have got a ticket to the Paul McCartney show on Dec 22. That is one big box ticked in the "100 things to do before the white coats get me" list. Tangerine trees and marmalade skies did you say?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Is there an H in Tuesday

There is no 'H' in Tuesday, I tell Leo who is drawing alphabets with a chalk on the menu board. "Thuesday Special" reads his work.
And so I help Leo write his Italian menu on his cafe's blackboard ... crab cakes and seafood spaghetti, sundried tomatoes and sundries. Was great fun I tell you. The last time I put chalk to blackboard was in Algebra class and that wasn't pleasant. They didn't give me a free Capuccino either.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Just call him Al

Let's just call him Al, shall we. Al tunes his weathered guitar with a pitch pipe and a smile. It's tough to smile with a pitch pipe claiming your lips but then Al has smiling eyes. So Al's stage is the subway and his box office collections are open to audit or theft, scattered in his guitar case. It's cold out there on the streets but Al's music warms the subway. His fingers dance on the strings, his blind eyes smile.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wired for sound

I think convenience obscures passion.
I know what you are thinking but this is not about that really. It's about a time before MTV and Compact Discs (how weird that sounds) and iTunes came calling. I remember trawling through used issues of the Rolling Stone and being glued to late night radio seeking songs from beyond. I would make a wish list, buy a bunch of blank tapes, and head to a little hole in the wall recording shop that would source and record these songs for me. Shankar, or was it Raju, rarely failed me. If he couldn't get me the song, the only option was to pester friends or relatives who lived abroad. They usually forgot the music in suitcases crammed with cheap chocolates and perfumes.
If the LP records at home laid the foundation of my love for music, piracy cemented it.
Now, I am a stone's throw or a few Tube stops away from some of the biggest music stores in the world and I haven't done more than a cursory walkthrough. It's a shame because it is so easy.

Just a number really

"How old are you again?," asks the voice behind the counter.

Old enough to be legally stupid, me to voice.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Programmed for chaos

I am conditioned for chaos. All my life, crossing a busy road has been a cosmic experience. Get set, pray, push and run. Try finding a pedestrian crossing in Mumbai and you might get to Pune. Serious.
Now, after all these years of liberated crossovers, I live in a country where most people bow to coloured lights. It's making me soft. This morning I tried to do a yes, no, maybe dash for it and almost got run over. They can't think on their seats in this country I tell you. But I shall conquer the light one day.

Monday, October 12, 2009

He's got Pacino eyes

The next time you watch Al Pacino do the Tango in Scent of A Woman, don't watch his feet, watch his eyes.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What's the good word

If you remember What's the Good Word on good old Farsight, nod furiously. If you are too cool to have watched Doordarshan, tell me what Lynyrd means? Or Skynrd?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Google Earth

This is for real. I began typing in "I am ext ...." and voila Google prompts, "I am extremely terrified of Chinese people". My Sweet and Sour Lord!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My favourite people - 1

You will run into them at any self-respecting queue. And if you are as lucky as I am, they are usually right in front of you. So you have waited for the better part of the day watching the queue inch along like your bank balance. You are almost there, just the bloke in front of you to conquer now. And there he goes, rummaging in his pockets for change, dropping an assortment of rubbish and then picking them up, then mining for change or his ID card or whatever. Minutes seem like hours and you can't find that chainsaw when you need it the most. I love these queue poopers. And it's worse if it is a queue pooping blokess, they have bigger bags with bigger rubbish.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The dark side of the Monk

Old Monk equals happy times. Mostly. My earliest memory of the dark side of the Monk is not entirely clear. It vaguely involved heaving violently on the shutters of a sleeping footwear shop on Brigade Road in Bangalore. I remember being grounded with a purple eye and a head that thumped like a rickety sub woofer.
But Old Monk takes me back to a better place. Of friends and styrofoam cups, of burnt and abandoned cigarettes rescued from ashtray prisons, of boyhood dreams and boyish crushes, of Robert Plant and David Gilmour.
How many milestones have I marked with that rum called Old Monk. La Chaim!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Che to a Tee

Does Che Guevara sell more Tees than David Beckham then?
I have always been fascinated by how much influence Che, who has been better marketed than a Japanese car, has had on pirated Tees in faraway democracies like India. I remember asking a friend in college about his Che Tee. He thought Che was some Latin American Robin Hood. Yeah, the Cubans reckon he was a Commie thug who slaughtered thousands so what. Many years later I find myself sitting next to a teenager in a Che Tee on a London bus. "Why do you like him," I ask. "Just so cool man, i think he was some old Latino singer or sumthin."

Friday, September 25, 2009

When Imran rolled us over

Circa 1982. I was still a good Hindu, hadn't converted to cricket yet. But I vividly remember Imran Khan cleaning out India in under four days. It was mesmerising to watch him operate -- all pace, hostility and flying locks. We were tethered goats at the feast but you couldn't help but admire the butcher.
I remember listening in on the elders gloomily dissect the game after we had been buried in the Karachi turf. Predictably, they moaned the spineless Indian batting and the toothless Indian bowling and how we made Imran look better than he was. But you could tell if they had a chance they would claim him to be their own. Damn that partition.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On a leg and a prayer

I watch him negotiate the stairs on one leg and a prayer. He is too drunk to realise he has two. It's 9 am and he gleefully raises a middle finger salute to civilization.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Faces on a carousel

Today, I surface for fresh air and perspective. Faces pause for a moment before speeding past on a carousel. And more faces. So many. Flickering memories ride a flashing carousel.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Four eat, four pay

Scene at Chinese restaurant. A family of four fairly abundant Eastern Europeans descend on the next table, three make their way to the lousy buffet. One holds fort and scowls menancingly at the Wine list and us. Three come back with plates laden with greasy meat and assorted Chinese arsenal. Four eat. Smart Chinese waiter glides in. "Four people eat, four people pay ... yeah."
I turn my seat for a better view of some good old kung fu fighting. Scowl dismisses waiter .."I am not eating, can you count four plates here?" Waiter is confused for about 7 minutes and then does an agile recovery, "no no no no ... four eat three plate, four pay." I can slice the tension with a chop stick. Scowlie scratches his beard, "get me another plate then." Waiter breaks into smile, "you try Chinese beer? Is a very good."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

So long Patrick

A dead movie star is everybody's favourite movie star no Patrick?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Scene from the street

He looks at the snotty, wailing kid tugging at his jacket. I can't tell if it's pity or disgust. I can't even tell if they are related. He shrugs and holds out the sandwich. The soot breaks on the kid's face as he smiles that happy smile. Little hands reach for the sandwich and drop it. Meat and potatoes on the sidewalk. They walk away in hunger, hand in little hand. It's another day in the city.

Friday, September 11, 2009

I listened to the radio

Have you known what it feels like when the crackle of the radio interferes with your hearbeat? And Sunil Gavaskar is gone ...
I discovered cricket on the radio. And to date I haven't found anything more evocative in cricket than the fever pitch of the radio commentator.
And there was more ... Ameen Sayani and the Binaca (or was it Cibaca) Geet Mala .. Vivid Bharti on sleepy Sunday afternoons .... the joy of escaping into a world created by sonorous voices on the tinny transy.

Us and them

We buy fairness creams to be like them, they buy UV tans to look like us .... never the tan shall meet.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Blood Diamond

"He who owns this diamond will own the world but will know all its misfortunes. Only God or a woman can wear it, with impunity."

Only something so beautiful could have been so cursed. As I stand before this rather intimidating sparkling stone I can only imagine how many worthy men must have killed, betrayed or died for the Kohinoor. And in the end it is nothing but a treacherous allotrope of Carbon.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

In Rome do as Indians do

Gujarati film crew has descended in the neighborhood adding dollops of colour to a forlon English autumn. They have been spreading the love and the samosas freely. Walk by for sweet tea or a bit part. They welcome anything including rude stares. And they always smile back. The leading man with highlights in his hair and the finest Dharavi leather, the leading lady freezes in her sequined Ghagra. It's been a total and bloodless conquest of the suburb. Priceless.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A mango shade of summer

I am reminded of raw mangoes. Summers spent under granny's tutelage honing mango-picking into the rarest of fruit art. You needed to establish their credentials -- age, colour and potential -- pick them and gently coax them into canvas bags for a tryst with their destiny. The ordained weren't to hit the earth, if they did they would be guillotined at once. The good ones were always hiding in the harshest nooks and the juices stung. They had to be wooed and conquered. The brightest were set aside for ripening, the rogues were pickled and the corrupt donated. We would alight from our perch like warriors surveying the spoils in canvas baskets.

Bastard with a T

Movie Alert: Inglorious Basterds

Tarantino messes with history, your head, makes you curse the ticket price and yet leaves you smiling. It's a huge exercise in self indulgence but it is still Tarantino. Basterds has all the not-so-secret Tarantino ingredients -- dark humour, dark banter, dramatic stand-offs and bright ketchupy violence. And it has Christopher Waltz doing a star turn as the self-annointed Jew Hunter.
Tarantino has done better but Basterds is still worth a look. A little thin around the script and gloriously infuriating.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bee my guest

There is a buzz in my ear ... I need to find that bee in my brain.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Riddler on the roof

Do you always have to write within the fence of form and structure to make sense? I doubt so.

Absolute power doesn't absolutely corrupt? Big bad mafia chief is a family man. Never take sides against his family. There is always a prodigal son. And he always returns. If you live by the sword, you will die in a patch of tomatoes. There will be blood. Blood is thicker than water, especially if it's Sicilian vintage. Child is the father of man. All hail the new king. There is enough white space for a sequel and a remake in a faraway land.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Passwords and PINs

I am a professional password forgetter. I also have tendency to blank out in front of cash machines. What was that damn PIN number anyway? It's technology's greatest revenge on man, the password and PIN curse. To be fair to people like me, how many of these damn things can a man or woman remember really. I once thought I would be really smart and had one common password to all ills but kind of ended up being locked out of life. Maybe, all computers, cash machines should have retina readers. Yeah, that would be nice. One eye opens all.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How did they get to Woodstock?

How did they all get to Woodstock without mobile phones? Imagine thousands of unwashed, stoned flower children finding some obscure farm without Google maps and text messages. And the organizers never advertised. Brilliant.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Trans-Atlantic cricket

More from cabland. Moin drove me to Heathrow last week and threw in a discourse on the virtues of Test match cricket for free. Moin's parents came from Pakistan and decided to bring the extended family in trip by trip. He has no links with Pakistan other than the cricket. UK is home and Pakistan is his team. He has no interest in discovering his roots or kebabs in Peshawar. But cricket he loves. I have an invitation to play with his team next weekend.
Seven hours later, across the pond, Manjit Singh picks me up from JFK and drives me to downtown Manhattan. Manjit's never been to India and has never been to a cricket game. It's a bit like baseball isn't it, he asks.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Re-return of the dragon

Hollywood is making a new movie on the life and kung fu of Bruce Lee. I think that's pretty cool. Bruce Lee oozed cool. He was the lean mean fighting machine who introduced America to kung fu and Hakka noodle bowls. I grew up watching the man take down all manner of fighters including a very hairy Chuck Norris. My beef with Hong Kong is they haven't been able to produce a good enough Bruce Lee clone. Jackie Chan decided to be a bufoon and Jet Li decided to be Clint Eastwood. Can't wait to see who is going to play the original dragon.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Colonial cousins

Ali is French Algerian. Drives a Black Cab in London and wants to go to Mumbai some day to see the Taj Mahal. After breaking his heart by moving the Taj to Agra I settle in to a random conversation with him.
He thinks we are colonial cousins. His great grandparents were ruled by the French and mine by the British. They conquered and plundered half the world, says Ali, and now they want to make up for it.
"They want to make good now eh for all the bad things they did," spews Ali, "they call othe countries barbaric. Guess who were the orginal human rights violators my brother".
He drops me off with a smile and a salaam. Go well, Ali.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Slaves and berries

In the old days the masters gave their slaves iron collars so they could yank the chain when it suited them. They would yank it to get the menials to work or just yank it for fun. Now, they give us a Blackberry. And they can still yank us for fun.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Elementary my dear fat Watson

Trying to get the touristy stuff out of the way before I become a proper local with my own cloud at the pub around the corner. So, I went to Madame Tussauds where I ran into a queue bigger than many countries I have been to.
Slinked away quietly to explore less popular shrines like the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street. At £6 a peep, whole lot more friendlier than the Wax palace and a whole lot shittier. It's a great idea to have a Sherlock Holmes museum on B Street but for God's sake don't take stupid tourists for a ride. There is nothing in there really other than a fat old poor sod who dresses up as Dr.Watson and poses for pictures. And there is Sherlock's old potty if you are interested but you aren't allowed to use it. Not for six quid.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A life less ordinary

Robert de Niro as the psycho fan of baseball superstar Wesley Snipes in The Fan is an interesting slice of life theme. It's a crap movie but I like the heart of the theme ... a fan's relationship with the hero. It's an intangible, unfulfilling, illusionary relationship but a very strong and real one.
I feel sad that Michael Jackson is gone. He was an integral and invisible part of my growing up. He was by no means my favourite musician but he was a big part of my music upbringing. MJ was genius in the sense of the word -- brilliant and flawed and freakish.
As I sit through the circus that is the Michael Jackson memorial service, I feel a sense of loss, like I knew him. I was looking forward to seeing him perform in London. I can cross that off the list now. Hope he finds peace in death. It's been a life less ordinary.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Legal alien

Annonymity is liberating. It's been two days since I have moved home and hearth to the Big Smoke. Unfamiliar is scary, unfamiliar is good. It's been two days of pounding the pavements of London, trying to familiarise myself with the mundane that I never bothered to notice on numerous visits as an outsider. Now, this is going to be home for a while and I see things differently. Being a stranger in a strange land is more layered than I thought it would be.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The way the cookie crumbles

No bus rides through the heart of Mumbai with the country salivating in the aisles. No garlands and no fireworks, just the crackle of Dhoni's effigy burning on the streets. Not to worry Mahi, even effigy burners have to go back home some time. You knew the price when we gave you the job, some of us are encashing the cheque now. Now that you have lost your crown, you can go back to where you started -- was tough to wear your hair long with that damn crown wasn't it?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It had to happen in Paris

Roger Federer won at Paris because he wasn't playing Rafael Nadal. Entirely possible. And entirely academic.
There is a reason why sport is above its players because much like life it rewards and it levels and it betrays.
I think what we saw at Roland Garros was the triumph of the human spirit. Here is a great champion who was made to look ordinary on its unforgiving clay for years. Nadal had opened the doors -- Roger was human and fallible -- the others stepped in. But Federer never gave up. Unlike another great champion Pete Sampras, he didn't belittle the surface or ingore it just because he couldn't win on it. He slaved like a mere human and he won. He may never beat Nadal in a Grand Slam but he will never give up. That's champion stuff and it would be a great quality for his younger rival to emulate in a Federer-less future.
And how romantic it had to happen in Paris.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Uncle George's house and other stories

Uncle George's house during Christmas. The bejewelled Christmas tree, the sparkling star, carols, Carol, red red wine and the smell of freshly baked cake.
When I was six, I wanted to be a good Christian. Good was optional.
Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar. Smouldering anger and super cool all at once.
How I wanted to be Amitabh Bachchan. How I wanted to dangle a beedi from the corner of my lips when I grew up.
Stanley Motor Service from Panambur to Hampankatta in the heart of Mangalore in 20 minutes flat. The fastest, meanest, unsafest bus in town.
Oh how I wanted to be a bus driver ... sigh.
There is grey in my goatee now ... miles to go before I sleep.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Go Aussie

In a land far far away big brave sons of the soil are defending their turf by beating up visiting Indian students senseless. Brave no?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Learning to ride

Summer holidays. I am learning to ride a bicycle. It's been raining, the earth is squishy under the wheels. I can smell the Eucalyptus trees as they wave in choreographed unison. I can feel the wind in my hair as the bike rattles along unsurely. It's one of the great lessons of boyhood ... learning to fall and learning to get up and go again.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

We invented impatience

A telecom company is peddling impatience as a virtue. Like we needed it. Ha. Impatience is our birthright. We jump up and yank our baggage before the aircraft lands, neighbour's luggage and head be damned. We honk the life out of vehicles that have had the audacity to stop at traffic signals. We effortlessly step on toes, shoes and even heads to get ahead in a queue. We can't be bothered sticking to the straight and long road, we bribe our way through short cuts. No sir, don't sell us impatience, we invented it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Child of a lesser God

Durga Das works the tables at the plush Emirates transit lounge in Dubai airport. He mostly encounters human beings at their worst -- in between long hauls or waiting for delayed flights. He realises it's important for him to smile when being yelled at. It's an important weapon to have when you deal with jerks.
Durga left his village in Bihar many moons ago in pursuit of the petro dollar. He tells me he must be the richest man ever from his village. He wishes he could get a better life than to wait tables but for now the Dirhams keep the stove burning back home.
As he offers me another beer with a smile, he analyses transitional humanity to me. White people are largely polite, Arabs are indifferent and Indians are the worst classists, he declares. He is quick to point out that I am all right. Indians are the worst, he seethes, all sugar and honey with even white beggars but so rude to "lesser" Indians. I nod in empathy. Durga walks off to attend to fat white man who has spilt food all over his generous tummy. The smile is back on.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I hear the wind wail

I am not one for urban legends but it was hard to ignore this one. Over many rounds of Old Monk on a muggy Kerala night, they tell me the tale of this landed family. These regal gents who ruled the little town that I come from, bought an old Taravad (or great house) as part of a distress sale. The owners, once royalty themselves, had fallen on hard times. The house with a million memories was all they had left. They sold it for a square meal or three.
The new buyers acquired the mansion with it's sprawling teak verandahs, rosewood chests and the grief that had seeped into its pores. They say when you buy an ancient house, you buy its sorrows as well.
They tell me that an entire generation fell prey to mysterious ailments. Man after woman was laid to rest on the weeping verandah. It's been years now, the once regal mansion now rests like a fallen angel. As I poke around the sprawling grounds now unkempt and haggard, I spot the poison well they told me about. I swear I can hear the wind wail.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sick IPL Player

The amount of attention Fake IPL Player has been getting indicates how diseased we are. We are flocking to the blog in hordes to lap up all the cheap shots he is taking at his team-mates, team owner, opponents, TV crew and just about anyone who has anything to do with the IPL. Here is a man who is bitching out his mates to the world and we are clapping our hands in glee. How sick are we, really? Perhaps, sicker than him.
Indications are that he is a really clever fake. It's not very difficult to make up stories that can't be verified. The Knight Riders are an easy target. Buchanan is not terribly popular, Ganguly is visibly upset, a celeb like Shah Rukh is always a soft target and they don't seem capable of winning anything.
Worse, he could be what he claims he is -- a disgruntled KKR player. And that would make him sore loser and a very sick man. Because for one, he is not good enough to play and for another hiding in the dark and taking pot shots at his mates is not particularly brave or sportsman like. And cricket, despite its millions, is still a noble game.
PS: I have been guilty of reading the trash he posts as well but not anymore.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Oh, you beauty

I ran into my neighbour at the hairdresser's salon last evening. I use "ran in" carefully here because he was running blind with some ghoulish white substance on his face and wafers of cucumber glued to his eyes. He is a heavy man and I am not so it was pretty easy for him to run into me. My ribs hurt.
He didn't recognise my ribs of course and it didn't help that he couldn't see through cucumber. So, I apologised and I noticed that he had some colour in his hair or what was left of it. To be technically correct, he had colour in his scalp and on some wisps that were stubbornly clinging to it.
When the cucumber was peeled off and he saw light, he also saw me. I tried not to grin or show disrespect to his beautification procedure. But it was too late, he caught my smirk the moment it left my face. "Missus is getting facial done and I had to kill some time," he mumbled through his warpaint. I couldn't nod in appreciation as the scissors were snipping dangerously around my only ears.
He must have thought me rude but rather heartless than earless methinks. When the hairdresser's assistant settled at his feet with a pedicure kit, I swear I heard him curse me.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Waiting for Sun

Rummaging through an old box, I found a weathered yellow teen rag called Sun. I dusted it and shook it and pat fell out a poster of an artiste named Prince. He was still a man and not a symbol back then. Sun oh Sun, was my escape to the wonderful world outside before they started beaming Top of the Pops into living rooms and selling Nikes in malls. Boy, how were shortchanged back then. In a mutliplex-less, VH1-less, Maruti-800ed India, one of life's biggest moments was waiting for Sun on a Sunday.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Whistling in the wind

Eyes closed to the world, lips pursed in defiance, he whistles in the wind. The mongrels laze in rapt attention. Even the flies that buzz around his rags seem to be in a trance. He is sprawled on the pavement, head resting on his worldly possession, hands and feet scabbed by life. But he whistles a happy tune. I can hear it clean and shrill over the cacaphony of the urban night. There is music in the man.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A jar of happiness, please

I push the trolley down the supermaket aisle looking for a jar marked happiness.
I am sure it's there somewhere hidden behind the soul soups, comfort foods, iPods or even the 42-inch LCD TV. Could happiness be out of stock today or do they call it something else now. The old man in the corner, mopping the floor, whistling a tune seems a good one to ask. He is resigned to his fate, whistling in appreciation, carefully wiping clean a mighty fine electronic toy that will never be his. Or perhaps he just doesn't want it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Night flight to somewhere

Have I ever told you how much I love airports?
Ironically, I hate air travel but that's another story. I love the energy of airport terminals, it's like the world in a bite-sized helping. It's fascinating to watch people at the concourse ... you see hope, anxiety, happiness, despair, frustration and resignation. What you don't see is a pause or a full stop, you see many commas because life never stops at an airport. It's going somewhere and the seats, lights, capuccinos and bustle are just signposts on the journey.
You never feel alone at the airport because you are going somewhere like everyone else. When you are perched on that seat at the cafe, they look at you and smile because you are waiting for someone. No?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On days like today

What happened to Preeti with the braces and the lisp from junior school? Did she grow up to be heart-breaker, I wonder.
And whatever happened to Mr.Muralidhar who flunked me in math more than once. Did he turn blind and grow an extra nose like I wished him to.
Would I recognise Nirmal if I saw him cross the street? After all, we walked to school every single day when were were five. He still owes me the candies he stole from my bag.
I wonder if the little white bungalow with its sloping tiles and mango trees in the backyard still stands? I learned to walk there.
There is a piece of earth where Sunil and I buried a clutch of marbles, a top and bus ticket stubs for a rainy day. I worry that many rains may have washed them away.
There are little pieces of me that have been lost on the way. But they come back to me in flashes on days like today.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sunshine of my life

I have a friend named sunshine.
Sunshine has no gender, it's not even real. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, Sunshine tells me I am going to have a beautiful day. Often, when I am grappling with darkness, it tells me things will be okay. Sunshine has seen me through testing times, broken relationships, foolish decisions, indecision and excessive happiness. I have tried to rename it instinct, kung fu, destiny, superstition and even insanity. But Sunshine describes it best because I am still alive and hopeful.
I have a friend named sunshine, it's like BB King's guitar Lucille, sometimes when I am blue Sunshine calls my name.

God's child

What if you woke up one day and realised you are God's child. That you could make your toothbrush fly and turn your neighbour into an owl. What would you do?
Would you attempt to part the sea? Or if you are in a place like Bangalore that doesn't have water even in its taps, would you try something cooler like flying to work arms wildly flapping and all. Come to think of it, why work at all. Come on now, what would you do child of God?

PS: Yeah, no comments on serving the poor and the homeless etc. Leave that for the Miss Universe finalist.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The fountain pen

I am going to buy myself a fountain pen today.
There is nothing to be worried about really, these things happen to me. I have had this craving to own a fountain pen all weekend. Call it a mid-life crisis or worse but I am getting one and no arguments please.
For those of you born in the unfortunate and ignorant 80s, the fountain pen is a magical and messy instrument of the Doordarshan age. Owning a fountain pen is like owning a Zippo lighter, you don't throw it away when it runs out of gas. Instead, you keep a bottle of ink handy and fill it carefully till you see dribbles of ink leaking. Then you clean the nib and you are good to go again.
The fountain pen has an ink reservoir, a nib (usually made of stainless steel or gold) and a mind of its own. You have to be nice to it or it can mess up your freshly washed shirt or examination paper. It's a moody instrument, it can shut shop without warning. Then you give it a good old fashioned shake and if you are lucky it will squirt a stream of indigo at anybody prowling in a 1-km radius.
Back in the day, the fountain pen was a symbol of success. There were Indian brands like Camlin for the masses, Waterman or Sheaffer for the privileged and Hero (from Red China) for ones with uncles in Dubai. I have to buy one.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sean Penn and the heart of art

What has remained with me years after I watched Mystic River is Sean Penn's eerie menace. Penn as Jimmy the ex-con gone straight has this repressed intensity that threatens to uncoil and burn when prodded. His brooding physicality looms large over the movie.
And then I watched Milk. Penn is incandescent again. In the hands of director Gus Van Sant, Sean Penn turns gay with such control and conviction that you almost forgive him for kissing James Franco every five minutes. Penn and Sant stay clear of all the gay cliches, the campiness and fluttering eyelashes.
Milk is a powerful film, iconic even. How often do you find a film that deals with that most primordial of human rights ... the right to be yourself.

PS: Yeah, fairy tale would have been a sick headline:)

70mm of the eighties

I miss the old fashioned movie hall or cinema theatre as we used to call it. The drama unfolded much before the lights faded and the burgundy curtain rose to lusty cheering. It began at the gate with hustling queues, eager touts and an occasional angry abuse or punch. The cinema social order was differentiated by colour ... yellow tickets for the front stalls, pink for the middle class, green for the upwardly mobile and blue for the dress circle. The colours were interchangeable but not the seats.
Cinema theatres had balconies and dress circles. You could stand at the balcony and hurl pop corn at the working class or you could sit with the front benchers and whistle your lungs blue.
You sat through black and white Films Division documentaries, usually about polio or birth control or similar fun stuff. You sat through "trailors" and then you waited with bated breath as the flickering film came alive in Eastman colour. You perched precariously on the rickety seat with the ripped out foam and tried to keep your mouth closed as Amitabh Bachchan took a bullet in his gut.
And the lights would go off. The darkness would be rented by whistles, boos and an occasional yelp. You swore under your breath and fought for oxygen. And then you would hear it ... the unmistakable whirr of the movie projector coming alive again ...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A dog called cat

How do you name a pet animal?
By religion: Tommy, Jimmy, Sammy, Daisy ... all good Hindu dogs.
By colour: Snowy, Blackie, Dark Brownie and sometimes Whitey?
By heroes: Kaiser, Caesar, Diana, Ramalingam Raju
By your tipple: Whiskey, Brandy, Cognac and if you are in denial, Coffee.
I feel for these animals. Not only are they cruelly locked up and not allowed to pee and crap at will, they have to live with the most everyday names ever. Like me.
So, I break into hysterical laughter when I read that Naseeruddin Shah has named his cat Buddhu. If I ever own a dog, I will call him a cat.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Night 1.0

It's a garbled sky tonight. The moon is shrouded in angry cloud. The air breathes heavy and hot. There is a promise of rain but it will be broken I can tell. The leaves sway restlessly, the moths buzz aimlessly. There is anticipation all around. And a dew drop ambles down. Have you ever watched the night?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tell me a story

Krishnan was born after the great deluge. He can't remember the day, year or time. Shockingly, his parents don't either, mostly because they couldn't count days or tell time. Krishnan worked for my great grandfather, pulled his rickshaw to work and back. He carried my family on his shoulders, I guess.
Krishnan told me stories, mostly fabricated. He once raced a train, lugging the rickshaw with my grandfather holding firm, and won. He was the fastest, meanest and most decorated rickshaw puller of his time. Other times, he told me about how a town had to be built every few miles so that bullocks could be rested in the days before buses and trains.
Some say Krishnan was born old but unlike Benjamin Button, he remained old. He had no teeth but he had the gift of the gab. He was my shah of blah, a man from a time forgotten, steeped in a sea of stories.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Guns and goalposts

You can get used to anything, even violence. I remember friends of mine who lived in Kuwait post the Iraqi invasion talking about kids playing on the streets while rockets were being launched down the road. Soldiers would take a break from business to play on empty roads using guns as goal markers.
When violence becomes a way of life, it can numb you. I found myself unusually unperturbed when I heard about Sri Lankan cricketers being fired at in Pakistan. It was a deplorable act but it didn't shock me. I guess after sitting through 72-odd hours of live coverage of the Mumbai siege it will take a lot to shock me. It may take even more to shock the ten-year-old who survived the siege.
So, I just plug my ipod right back and let Bono take me to a place where the streets have no name.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Piranhas in a fishbowl

They are like piranhas in a fishbowl, my ego and me. There isn't enough space for the two in my head and therein lies my existential conflict. They say it's good to acknowledge your ego, to even massage it once a while. But when do you rein it in? And how do you spot your ego when it dresses up as pride?
I hope to find the answer one day under the Bodhi tree. Till then we will gnaw at each other like piranhas in that fishbowl.

PS: I heard the songbird today ... about 30 seconds before it shat on my head.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Why didn't Mickey win an Oscar

I was rooting for Mickey Rourke but Sean Penn won. What the hell, I love Sean. And his acceptance speech was 24-carat Penn, calling the cream of Hollywood (and some Bollywood in this year's case) "sons of guns and Homo lovers". He is a conformist, all right.
The world finally recognized the genius of A.R.Rahman. He has done much better than Jai Ho in his time but two Oscars are not something to be sneezed at. He was a picture of nervous dignity and we should be really proud of him. Loved Kate Winslet's acceptance speech too, just fell short of Halle Berry's glycerine-charged performance at the Awards a few years ago.
But the highlight of the morning for me was Zee News which had parked its OB van in the middle of a Mumbai slum. A hysterical anchor was whipping sleepy kids into an Oscar frenzy. She didn't even give them enough time to get into their tuxedos.
Mickey should have won though.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Any which way you lose

I watched Appaloosa, that's its real name no kidding, and I wept. Generous critics call it old fashioned, methinks it's a turd fossil. Appaloosa is a Western without Clint Eastwood, about nomadic gunslingers hired to clean up a cow town. Been there, seen that.
It has Viggo Mortensen which is about its only saving grace. But Ed Harris is director and top gun -- he gives himself the cheesiest lines and the girl. The girl being Rene Zellweger, a loose mattress-back, the kind Pramod Muthalik loves. Never been fascinated by Renee who somehow thinks being crinky-eyed puppy-fatish clown is cute for a thirty-something.
To cut a long Western short, Harris is no Eastwood and Appaloosa is no Unforgiven.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chicken tikka and other stories

I committed the cardinal sin of wandering into an Indian restaurant here in London. I could feel the chicken tikka masala turning hostile in the English kadai. “what’s he doing here,” the tikka asked the paneer. The Indian waiters with their spiky hair seemed equally unhappy. “He is going to complain about the kosherness of the food now,” they eyeballed each other and the tikka masala.
Some random white folks trying to crucify a naan with forks look up at me in surprise. “Jesus, these Indians are everywhere.” I nod appreciatively at every one and sit down purposefully. The food is not as bad as the tacky descriptions in the menu. The highlight of the meal was spiky hair describing poppadums to the fat lady who was choking on it. Good thing, he doesn’t cook … he surely wrote the menu though.
I could hear a collective sigh of relief when I grabbed my jacket to walk out. Spiky hair even managed a smile when he saw his tip. I am going back there for sure, it’s too much fun to miss.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Alfie male

Alfie Patten is 13 years old and looks eight. Good on Alfie but he shouldn't have had that baby. Alfie, all of 13, is the father of Masie Roxaane. Mercifully, his girlfriend Chantelle is older ... she is 15.
And that's not the most shocking thing. Alfie's father thinks there is money to be made here. Channel 4 and The Sun are reportedly negotiating exclusive deals with Alfie's father on the teenage pregnancy soap.
Ever since news of the media frenzy over the boy's baby has broken out, eight other teenagers have staked claim to the baby. They all certify to have rolled in the hay with Chantelle at some point in recent history. Alfie is ready to undergo a DNA test to prove he is the real father and his father is negotiating with Channel 4 to have the results aired live and exclusive on the channel. Which father would you spank? Stand by for more from London, I love this city.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bombay Meri Jaan

Mumbai doesn't roll of my tongue easily, so I shall stick with Bombay. And it's my favourite place on Earth. Bombay is immense -- a living, breathing fluid mass of hope and misery. It belongs to no one and no one can belong to it. It moves too fast and too frequently to cast a shadow long enough for you to rest in. It embraces, engulfs and often embalms its millions in one endless cycle of existence and death. You can love it or loathe it but you can't own it.
If you stand at land's end, you can see its immensity. If you listen carefully, you can hear its anguish. When it rains, you can feel its fury. When you board the suburban train, you feel its feverish pulse. When you wake up in the morning, you can feel its pregnant hope. There is no place like Bombay, so breathe in its air but don't spit in its wind.

When you were young

Shake your hair girl with your ponytail
Takes me right back (when you were young)

Brian Ferry, Roxy Music and an ode to the passage of time.

PS: I can see a new line on my face today

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Slumdog glare

If our newspapers and television channels are to be believed Slumdog Millionaire is an Indian movie. They are falling over each other in anticipation of an Indian Oscar. If Slumdog is an Indian movie, Schindler's List is German and Good Morning Vietnam is, well, Vietnamese. How we love to bask in reflected glory.
Well, A.R.Rahman has a genuine shot at the Oscar and we should be proud of it. A.R has been world class for a long time and we didn't need an Oscar-nomination to tell us that. Resul Pookutty's nomination for sound mixing is even more commendable since technical brilliance has never been our strong point. But sir Slumdog is no Indian movie just as Ben Kingsley is no Indian for having played Gandhi.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Changeling times

"I like Clint Eastwood because he has only two expressions: One with the hat and one without it."
It's hard to argue with this gem from Sergio Leone who directed Eastwood in the cult Dollar trilogy. So when exactly did Eastwood transform from cowboy moth into director butterfly. Hard to tell but he is destined to go down as one of the greatest directors of all time.
I watched Changeling with as much awe as I did Mystic River. Eastwood runs this hefty dramatic masterpiece with absolute control and conviction. In lesser hands it could have been a melodramatic weepy mess but not with Eastwood. He lends the period drama a quiet dignity and immense style. And he completely destroys the myth that beautiful women cannot act. Make space in that closet Angelina, the Oscar cometh.

An Obama-sized shoe

I have been reliably informed that I am the only idiot in the world who missed Obama's swearing-in ceremony on television. I forgot, I really did. I have this rare ability to miss important things ... including your point of view.
Obama has quickly settled into George Bush's shoes (no, not the ones they gifted him in Iraq). He has already indicated that he is not averse to bombing terror camps inside Pakistan. I am happy to see him continue the Grand American tradition: When in doubt, bomb. Meanwhile, somewhere in Rawalpindi, they are making an Obama-sized shoe.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Every dog has his Globe

Movie Alert: Slumdog Millionaire

Can't make up my mind about this one. Heart-warming and colourful and Golden Globe Awards and everything else but I still can't make up my mind. As a practising Indian, living in India, I have seen too much squalor, too many squatters and Harshawardhan Nawathe winning KBC to be impressed easily. I didn't flinch when I saw Salaam Bombay back in the day, so I didn't expect Boyle's tribute to the reality-television-dream shock me.
Having said all those mean things, I must say Slumdog is an enjoyable movie. It's like watching a Hindi movie with English subtitles. Dev Patel is terrific as the Mumbai slumdog with a slight British accent and Anil Kapoor hams in English. Good fun? sure. Great? don't know.

PS: I don't encourage watching movies on pirated DVDs.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Box Office greens

My friend Sudhir has an interesting take on Hollywood's marketing machinery. Despite the tech sophistry, inventive film-making and adventurous producers, Hollywood still hasn't figured out how to make money out of crap movies. Sudhir points to how Ghajini has been raking in the big bucks despite being a tame rip-off. Interesting eh but then there is Quantum of Solace.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Playing his life

I sit on the pavement by his side, listening to the boy play. A little piece of bamboo with evenly spaced apertures transforms into a wizard's wand. He plays effortlessly and beautifully, notes and smile in perfect harmony. He hands me the flute with the quiet confidence of a master ... encouraging but not quite condescending. My smoker's lungs splutter and cough in protest but cannot cajole a legitimate note, much less a tune. I offer to buy a flute, if he would teach me something. Anything. The boy smiles a boy's smile ... honest and damning. As I walk away with a piece of bamboo, he continues playing his flute.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The man that time forgot

He coaxes a hearbeat
Vision, a cataract blur
His memory flickers like a truant light blub
Scraps of joy in a rubble of woe
He coaxes a heartbeat
How did it come to this
When did life pass him by
When did they stop caring
He coughs a hearbeat
The man, that time forgot

Epilogue: You can't keep a good man down? Ha. Lay him to rest.

Hell dorado

There is a traffic jam on the road to paradise today. So don't die, you may be re-routed to hell.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Life has a ringtone

I don't wear a watch because I can tell time on my mobile phone. I occasionally use it to call people as well. Was there life before mobile phones, Blackberries (plural?) and email? Yes, there was.
There was a time when you could not turn up for work and be left alone, a time when you bought Christmas cards and posted it in red mailboxes, when you arrived on time for meetings, when you visited family and friends and not made excuses via text. There was such a time when you had a life and it didn't have a stupid ringtone.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Monsieur Ibrahim

Isosceles movie alert: Monsieur Ibrahim (French).
Delightful movie this about the unlikely friendship between a sulky teenage Jewish boy and a charming Turkish emigre set in a seedy neighbourhood in 60s Paris. Omar Sharif, the old Turk, is still a raging talent and Pierre Boulanger is precocious. Watch it and sorry no refunds.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Wish upon a year

Hola 2009. It's the year of hope for most of the world and the year of the Ox in China. They are different aren't they, those Chinese. I will stick with the year of hope for now ... and so I have a small wish list. Things I don't want to see include Shah Rukh Khan and burning hotels but for the moment, let's stick to my wish list.

Rajanikant in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Tamil kungfu would clash with Pop Americana and it would be chaos in slow motion. What a prospect.
Bono singing the Kishore Kumar songbook. The world would finally discover Irish chai.
Absolut Bappi. A tribute to the original king of bling, a special gold dust edition.
Johnny Depp as James Bond. Bring back some cool. Angry middle aged men with sculpted abs and million-dollar frowns beating people senseless went out in the 90s with Jean Claude Van Damme.

Have a super 2009.