Saturday, July 25, 2009


There is a small temple near our apartment, within the compound walls. Till a few months back, it was a non-descript semi-circular structure under the shade of a tree, which provided a convenient canopy to many parents who would sit at that spot and wait for their children’s school-buses to come.

Apart from this philanthropic subsidiary activity, the temple is frequented by many devotees (who come to pray) and by many children (who come to play) and who usually love to ring the bells and put a bit of vermilion tikka on their foreheads.

One such moneyed devotee, living in the building next to the temple, decided this year to repay God’s bounty by giving the mandir a makeover. Masons and marble came, and soon the courtyard was paved with white marble, and the semicircular structure was plated with yellow granite. The tree next to the mandir, from which the bells hung, was surrounded by a raised marble platform.

Mothers were very happy, because now they had a place to sit while waiting for the school-bus. Sometimes, the wait is rather long, and a place to rest seemed a lovely idea.

But not for long. The watchmen shooed away anybody resting under the tree, saying that “Sahib would not approve.” (“Sahib” obviously referring to the businessman who jazzed up the mandir). Soon, they put up a number of heavy potted plants on the platform around the tree trunk, making it impossible for anyone to sit there. When I asked why, they said it was to discourage dogs who apparently rested on the cool marble.

Long ago, I had been much impressed by Swami Vivekananda’s teaching that to serve man is to serve God. Our godly neighbourhood businessman has apparently decided that this is not so. By splurging on marble and granite and fancy lights, he has extended his proprietorial claim over the temple, trying to earn bonus credit points with God. But can we buy a ticket to heaven? Does piety overrule meanness? Can the divine truly be served at the cost of neglecting and inconveniencing our fellow humans and other beings?

Monday, July 20, 2009


You are sitting-sweating in a BEST bus, caught in a traffic jam on the Western Express Highway. You fidget, wiggling your toes encased in ‘rainy-season sandals’, grimacing at the feel of dirty wetness and street slime. The ‘synthetic-material’ kurta (another monsoon-must) is damp and uncomfortable against your back and your lap is clammy with the wet umbrella. Squinting against the drizzle you look out of the window, looking at the sad scattered mounds of plastic and debris - the dirty suburban underbelly of the city exposed by the rains. Nothing new.

And then, you raise your eyes beyond the bedraggled bulidings, and you are suddenly transported. The grey clouds have descended low, partly hiding the green peaks of the small hills of the Western Ghats in the distance. The grey softly drifts across the green, merging, separating, creating misty patterns like a child’s watercolour. You never noticed that dull grey and drab green could offer such luminous variety. And even as you look, the hazy-breathtakingly-lovely horizon is obliterated as the rain fastracks from drizzle to downpour. Nothing new.

But, your feet sliding in the Mumbai muck, shrugging your shoulders into your already-dripping raincoat, you feel blessed by this sudden surprise gift of monsoon beauty.

Friday, July 17, 2009


As an ‘aided’ college teacher in Maharashtra (‘aided’ means we get our salary from the state government coffers), I am ON STRIKE at the moment, along with the majority of my colleagues across the state, for the selfish-selfless cause of implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission pay-scales for teachers. To coin a slogan:


This has been a striking week for Mumbai. The overworked and underpaid government doctors went on an eight day strike, demanding better pay (but of course), and resumed work only after ministerial promises and some unfortunate deaths.

School and Junior College teachers went on a one-day strike demanding (guess what) implementation of revised pay-scales.

The bus-drivers and helpers and Group-D staff of my daughter’s school were on strike for a day, followed by the teachers the next day, in protest against the private management’s high-handedness.

All in all, a week of disruption, deviation and demands.

What ‘strikes’ me most, however, is the difference between Mumbai and Kolkata in the approach to strikes .

In Kolkata, we take strikes in our stride. In fact, the right to strike is regarded as the second most important fundamental right by most Bengalis (the first being the right to speakwherever, whenever, on whatever topic whether we know about it or not, and preferably in a public platform like an adda). Whenever strikes are announced (and they are usually thoughtfully scheduled on Mondays or Fridays to give us the benefit of a long weekend) we cheerfully start making plans for the ‘forced vacation’. Everybody is happy, and a festive mood prevails, with boys playing cricket on empty streets and only the businessmen-types and newspaper-wallahs and TV channel people getting hyper about the erosion of work culture. Don’t they know that the term itself is contradictoryif you work, when will you have time for culture? Bengalis have ‘THE BEST CULTURE’ (you know Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, and, er, Bappi Lahiri?), so, obviously, dada, we don’t need to work.

In fact, protest is second nature to us (we will always remind the rest of you how we protested against British imperialism long ago). Protest is ‘in the Bengali blood’, much more than work is.

So it was a kind of a ‘culture shock’ for me to see the reluctance of my Mumbai collegues when the teachers' union decided to go on strike. Everybody was upset and worried that the students would face problems, that the syllabus would not be completed on time. Everybody willingly agreed to give up the Diwali vacation to teach extra classes should the need arise. They accept the strike as a measure to achieve certain ends, but are eager to resume work ASAP.

What a change from Kolkata, where we accept strikes as a pleasure to achieve an extra holiday or two till the next call for another strike? And with two obliging political parties trying to break each other's record for maximum strikes and bandhs called in an year, strikes are party time. Literally.

And me? I am caught between deep admiration for Mumbai’s work-ethics and a deeper genetic laziness which is making me enjoy a few days of unemployment. Blame my Bengali blood for that.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Do you belong to the PRE-DUDE or POST-DUDE generation? At 36, I firmly belong to the generation which used the Dude-word sparingly, using it to describe boys who had real, genuine, rebellious ATTITUDE.

But this century manufactures attitude along with Yankee baseball caps (worn wrong way around), low-slung jeans (worn with chaddi compulsorily showing), and cheeky-slogan T-shirts. And so, we have a serious case of DUDE-CLONING. Every male under the age of twenty-five is either a cool dude or trying to be one. And the funny thing is, these clones do not appear to have distinctive names of their own, they are all called, you guessed it, DUDE.

Sample this: standing at a slow-moving queue at an up-market garment store, I observed two such clones talking to each other. They were carrying shopping bags full of, presumably, even more slogan-tees, low-waist jeans and baseball caps.

“Hey, dude, didja get good stuff?”
“Not really, dude, these sales are a total rip-off.”
“Y’know, dude, you’re right, dude.”
And so on and so on …blah…blah…blah…Dude…blah…blah..Dude. Period. Dude.

Till they came to the payment counter. Then the smartly-dressed shop assistant suddenly became a clone as well, because these young dudes called out, “Lemme take my card out. Dude. Why’s the line so slow today? Dude? Can you pack that separately, Dude?”

The dictionary tells me that the earliest Dude was spotted in 1883 in New York. That limited-edition dude was a “man extremely fastidious in dress and manner.” Well, today’s dude has made fastidious sloppiness his fashion statement. And, he has two more added qualifications – an extremely limited vocabulary (consisting mainly of dude, and a dozen or so words like, cool, yeah, chill, and the like), and a tendency to forget first names (otherwise why will all the Raj-s and Rahuls call each other Dude?). In fact, so linguistically-challenged are they that I was almost convinced that the dude-species must have evolved from Dud. Or D-u-h?

P.S: Any Dude reading this post can dismiss it as the rant of a typical Aunty. Aunties and Dudes, divided by gender and generation, have always been on opposing sides, and never the twain shall meet. Hopefully.

Monday, July 6, 2009


Consider this: It was the longest fifth-set in Wimbledon history. Andy Roddick, who has saved 6 out of 6 breakpoints in this match is serving at Deuce at 14-15. He makes a mis-hit. It's Advantage Federer - the first Championship Point of the match. It has been over 4 hours of see-sawing and brilliant serving bothways and big returns and enough of classic moments. It is late, past 11 at night, and you WANT A RESULT. You move forward on the edge of your chair, biting your nails, praying, as conflicting thoughts scuttle around in your mind late. (NOTE: The kids have obligingly gone to sleep on their own. Story-reading session postponed in view of his-STORY-making session on TV).

"Roddick will hit another ace and get himself out of this 7th break point." "C'mon Federer, hit back, go into a rally, give it one of your amazing running forehands/ sliced backhands/cleverly-disguised dinky lobs, anything, man. Just get it back and in there."

And Federer does. He gets it back at Roddick and readies himself for the rally. You are with him totally, egging Federer on to hit a winner. And Roddick, brave and brilliant till this point, hits the MOST IMPORTANT SHOT OF THIS MATCH
w-i-d-e. It is the pressure of history, the weight of destiny, of the sheer expectations and importance of the moment that does it. Federer does not have to hit the anticipated winner. So with all the pent-up energy and the won't-give-up focus and give-it-my-best adrenalin, he leaps into the air. And screams. Echoing the screams of all us Federer-fanatics around the world. Primal, relieved, exultant.

As the spouse (sharing, among other things, a love for Federer) said, "When you are witnessing history being made, it sure feels good to support the winning side."

I still feel too overjoyed for originality, so I'll just mention these:

As SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE fatefully prophesied, "IT WAS WRITTEN."

And, as the SAMSUNG MOBILE advertisement wonderingly predicts, "NEXT IS WHAT?"