Sunday, December 28, 2008

goa.... goa..... goa.....gone

I shall be in Goa to open my arms to 2009. Open my heart, as well. It will be a simple diner a deux with my husband, at our all time favourite restaurant near Baga Beach - Fiesta, run by that adorable couple , Manek and Yellow - surely, they rate as the hottest chef-owner couple in Goa, if not Asia.... if not the world!!! Okay. I am getting carried away. This is just to say I love them both, love their impeccable style, delicious cuisine.... and the sand between my toes as we dine al fresco... and recall many magical nights at their wondweerful restaurant. What better way to bring in a brand new year, with hope and a prayer for a more peaceful tomorrow, and some solace for the souls we lost in Mumbai. I shall drink pink champagne to a new dawn.... and wish the world lots of shanti. As i do all of you, my darling blogdosts. Till then.... adieu. See you next year.... same spot. Stay well, my friends.... life is too short.... but brutally beautiful too!

Stayin' Alive.... Stayin' Alive....

Stayin’ Alive…. Stayin’ Alive….

Call it ‘Friday Night Fever….” I’m writing this exactly a month after Mumbai was slaughtered – its famous spirit shattered, and its people ravaged by terror on an unprecedented scale. All I can think of is that I’m alive…. and staying alive. Not with John Travolta’s jauntiness, perhaps. But with the same resoluteness that kept his screen character dancing, even when the chips were down. In Mumbai, the chips really can’t fall any further. Forget the anger, forget the tears…. forget the horrific memories …. if you can. I know I can’t…. don’t want to. For the very first time in my life, I am popping pills – you know which ones. Those ones. Tiny pink that are supposed to take care of my jangled nerves…. calm me down…. prevent anxiety attacks. But they aren’t really working. Perhaps I need something stronger. Or perhaps, the pills are not meant to ‘work’. Maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe total recall is more important than numbing the senses artificially and pretending everything is okay – it is not.And nothing is over….. there is no closure in this case. Mumbai (and other targets in India) remain as vulnerable today as on that awful night when cold- blooded killers effortlessly floated into my city and took it over for close to sixty hours. Sixty agonizingly long hours of mayhem, confusion, bungling, ineptness …. and a complete absence of meaningful leadership.
Thirty days later, do we have credible answers as to what really happened – forget why it did? Who did it? No. Has anything at all changed to make Mumbaikars feel more secure? Ditto. I kid you not when I say, an identical attack, or even one on a bigger scale, can take place right this minute, and Mumbai will still be taken off- guard. We have been called ‘sitting ducks’ by the international press. That’s exactly what we are. If life does go on ‘normally’ in this devastated city, it is because we the people have no choice but to keep going, and figure out ways to protect ourselves the best we can. Visitors driving past Marine Drive look on with amusement at the garish weddings being celebrated along the Queen’s Necklace and wonder what’s going on – are people so completely desensitized? Does nobody give a damn? Or is this that much-discussed ‘Spirit of Mumbai’ that is on blatant display? The ‘spirit’ that has become such a bloody cliché that one feels like socking the first stranger who asks about it. But why sock that innocent stranger who is only trying to be ‘nice’ ? The stranger is not the enemy. The real enemy is far better disguised, better protected, better armed. The real enemy has a name – it starts with a ‘c’. Perplexed? Try ‘Corruption’.
The reason those pink pills are not doing their job in my case is because the enemy is brazenly staring me in the eye and saying, “ Destroy me if you can…” In my heart of hearts, I know (like millions of fellow Indians also know), this is one enemy that needs more than NSG commandos, or even the entire military might of the nation to eliminate, because most of the time, the foe is faceless. How do you fight a phantom? You know the phantom exists. Chances are you have shaken hands…. posed for pictures, wined and dined with the phantom, without knowing it. It is exactly this corrosive, all-pervading corruption that has done Mumbai in… that may do Mumbai in…. again and again. As it will other cities, other symbols. Why? Because we refuse to identify the enemy for who or what it is. Mumbai was sold down the tube by corrupt officialdom – that’s the tragic truth. The ongoing investigation is nothing but ‘time pass’ – an eye wash to convince gullible people that ‘something is being done’. But what is that ‘something’? No answers.
I’m thinking of throwing away those tiny pills since they are as bogus as the ‘solutions’ being sought by assorted bodies. Too many questions remain unanswered and nothing will convince me that this attack was the work of eight brainwashed and heavily armed young men on a kill-everyone-in-sight mission. We may never know who their real bosses are, nor who sent them. Nothing makes sense, least of all the numbers.
“But… were you directly affected?” I am asked by well-meaning idiots. Which Mumbaikar, which Indian, was not???Inshallah… we shall be safe.
2009 – The Year of Shanti. Let’s make it happen.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Why us.....?

Why us???

The answer to that question is obvious…. and has been responded to by countless others. We know ‘why us’…. Mumbai makes an attractive target…. that’s why. But so many days later, we are still reeling... unable to come to terms with what we have been through. At least, I am not. Perhaps it is a ‘woman thing’. The female response to terror is very different from the stereotypical male one. The night Mumbai was blasted, we were at a small sitdown dinner. The men present were far slower in their reactions – which surprised me. They wanted ‘official’ confirmations that the city was under attack, when we could clearly hear the damn blasts and grenade attacks!! Most of the women sensibly followed their gut instinct, summoned chauffeurs and rushed to the safety of their homes…. to be with their loved ones, often young children, who needed them during this unprecedented crisis. The men continued to work those infernal cell phones ,checking with other men what they were doing…. staying put?? Having another drink?Or waiting for a divine signal instructing them on the next plan of action? I can tell you it was frustrating in the extreme.So, what did the women do eventually? Most of us were shouted down – the argument being, men always know best, especially under such unambiguously macho circumstances. I asked, “ But are you guys from the NSG? Have you received specialized training in guerilla warfare? Would you know what to do incase those terrorists walked in and chucked a grenade or two at our group, as we stood around in the foyer of a five star hotel, debating on the seriousness of the problem?” No answer. But several scowls.
This was a story I heard repeated by several women I spoke to in the aftermath of the attacks. Their men totally ignored the far more practical suggestions made by the ladies of the house, and spent most of the time net -working with other guys, as if they were the commandos directly in charge of rescue operations. Oh yes….. just as it happens during cricket\football\baseball matches, men watching the chilling television coverage, had all the answers and were busy giving instructions to people who couldn’t hear them in the first place!! “ What are you doing, you idiot??? Turn left…. turn left…. arrey baba, the terrorist is on the sixth floor, not the fifth. Tch tch tch…. attack from the back…. crouch, crouch… oh ho…. I knew you would miss… aim properly, yaar.” The side show was worth filming. Meanwhile, women were mobilizing support, comforting children and thinking of ways to help the wounded in hospitals. Initiating blood donation drives, collecting food and medicines, clothes, bandages and other useful articles required during emergencies. They were doing their bit, quietly and efficiently, leaving the house- bound heroes to remote control the operations from the comfort of their bedrooms! It is not my intention to ridicule male reponse to war-like situations in an urban setting…. but I can’t help noting how radically varied women’s reactions are under pressure.The big difference I believe, is that men tend to personalize crisis – it is always about them and their immediate priorities (“Oh shooooot….. there goes my meeting tomorrow…. I’ll have to reschedule my flight…. what about that conference call?”). Women rarely think of their own safety – it is their last priority. If they have children, their first concern is saving them, everything else comes next. Terror attacks have a strange way of polarizing society once the worst is over. When lady Mumbaikars go into reflective mode (now!), they tend to get mushy …. over sentimental (“ Imagine….my little Chintu was right there at the Gateway just two days earlier! My nephew’s colleague’s son-in-law escaped by God’s grace when he took an earlier train from CST that night!”). That is when our men come to the fore by allowing their rational selves to take precedence over such meaningless talk. They soberly discuss action plans and accountability. They don’t stop at lighting candles and holding hands…. they trawl cyber space, to look for stuff that shows where our intelligence failures let us down and how we can plug these loop holes in future. A distraught girlfriend called a day after she and her family were rescued by firemen nine hours into the seige from a suite at the Taj, right next to the one occupied by the terrorists. “ Had it not been for the two men with us, we’d be dead…” she said through tears. Well…. she was fortunate to be married to an ex-Naval commander who knew the military drill and insisted on his wife adhering to it.He has always been her hero – and after this experience, she has fallen in love with him all over again. Terror has its uses….. ???? You tell me!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Memory Plus - 'Ghajini'

''Like Aamir Khan in 'Ghajini', I am suffering from a short term memory loss. But I do not plan to get my body tattooed or pumped up to help me deal with the syndrome. I don't possess a polaroid camera , either. So, I guess I am going to have a pretty rough\tough time handling my life, without going on a killing spree..... like his character in the movie that aamir's friends have already declared a superhit because of its impressive advance booking over X'Mas break. I happened to watch the film at a private screening..... and fell asleep. Twice. Not because it was that boring.... but because it was that predictable. My memory - the little I still retain, nudged me strongly and said, "Memento. Memento, Memento." The original cult film on which this one is based..... though Aamir's memory (in most interviews) has no such recollection. Forget originality ( then again - with an Aamir Khan film, why should one forget something as basic?), but any revenge \action movie running for over three grisly hours, needs a lot of pruning. Guess the director forgot!! The editor also forgot. And generally everyone connected with the project also forgot. So forgetful is the entire team that 'Ghajini' seems like one of those Combo offers - buy one, get one for free. There are at least three separate movies wrapped loosely into one package, and it gets most confusing, to keep shifting ones focus from a dotty love story about a billionaire ( soooooo rich and sooooooo famous ---- that nobody knows what he looks like, not even the cops or his pretend girl friend!!). The tycoon dresses rather oddly - like a flare bar tender or a bouncer outside a trendy club downtown. And this is when he attends trans- Atlantic meetings, flying over in his own corporate jet with firang execs holding his files!! The girl friend is cute, wacky, lively.... and non descript (like a vintage version of Sridevi). Their story is charmingly narrated, but the stagey songs are utterly boring and unimaginatively picturised.
It is when Mr. Eight Pack gets into his killer groove that the yawns stretch and stretch. Give me a break, man. The tattooes should have been in hindi so that the REAL audience would get it.
The climax must have been amazing - by then I had lost interest. And yes - it takes guts to call the film 'Ghajini' - based on a minor character who is straight out of an 80's Ramsay Brothers film. Such a ham.... even a pig would feel insulted. Aamir is always excellent - no matter what the role. One expects nothing less from the guy. I bet the movie will be declared a mega hit. But a copy is a copy is a copy. Now.... let me go swallow a fistful of Memory-Plus capsules....

Monday, December 22, 2008

What have we learnt....?

What have we learnt…?

Picture this : A minor politician was arriving at Vishakapatnam airport during peak hours last week. He had just been appointed general secretary of a district in Chiranjeevi’s party, Andhra Pradesh. Cars were stuck for nearly half a kilometer from the airport, since the man’s (hired?) fans and supporters had blocked the road entirely. I thought I heard loud explosions close to the car we were in, and naturally got nervous, given what Mumbai has been through less than a month ago. Somehow, the car managed to get to the departure lounge area after a great deal of honking and aggressive driving. By then, the crowd had surged forward and completely blocked the path of passengers going in or coming out of the airport. Slogans were being raised as more and more people rushed towards the gates. I tried to push my way past those mobs, and nearly lost my balance (and bag!). Noticing a few cops standing around watching this mayhem, I asked them why they were not making any attempt to disperse these people and allow passengers into the building. By the way, there were several foreigners waiting to catch their flight to Hyderabad and there on ,to the countries they’d come from. The cops shrugged indifferently and said, “ What to do?? These people are not listening….” By that time, the local politico had arrived and was seen lofted on his followers’ shoulders, waving to the crowd that was showering rose petals on him and raising some more slogans. A lot of us were roughly shoved aside in the mini-stampede that followed. Two more explosions were heard in the adjoining car park. One of the cops grinned, seeing the alarmed expression on my face. “ Crackers, madam, only crackers,” he assured me cheekily. I noticed his colleagues standing around listlessly. There were two or three carbine wielding commandos as well, including a strapping Sikh. I asked him in Hindi (since few locals speak or understand the ‘national’ language in Andhra Pradesh), why he had not swung into action, and how come people were lighting bombs and other dangerous fire crackers so close to the airport – a supposedly high security zone and protected area. He stared at the departing fans clambering into waiting trucks and said, “ Nobody listens to us.” I was stumped, shocked and visibly upset. I asked to meet the airport manager, who offered to get a senior police officer to ‘explain’ the situation to me. “ Please do …” I said, after calming down a little . I could see the foreigners frantically working their cell phones …. perhaps calling relatives to say it wasn’t another terror attack …. just some over- enthusiastic desi political goons celebrating another goon’s appointment. Ten minutes later, a cop arrived and spluttered, “Oh…. if the airport people had phoned earlier and warned us, I would have sent my men. But by the time they called, it was all over. Anyway….. those rascals have all gone now….” I was speechless!
Were the men who lit those firecrackers, identified and arrested? Of course not! Was the local neta held responsible for his inability to control his supporters from virtually storming the airport? You know the answer. I asked the cops if they knew what had happened to Mumbai. They nodded laconically and said, “ Yes, yes…. we saw everything on tv.” Were they not aware that the same thing could happen in Vizag - this was a high security zone…. that anybody could have hurled a grenade into the crowd…. taken the foreigners hostage? They looked at me like I was mad!! “ It does not happen like that, madam….” they smirked. Oh yes , it does. This is exactly how it happens, I all but screamed. Vishakapatnam is an important naval base, one of India’s busiest ports. There is a new international airport coming up soon. And this is the level of preparedness?? Well…. guess what? When I finally got into Mumbai’s airport at its busiest hour, there was no difference. I saw two commandos in full combat gear relaxing on a bench near the baggage console. One was digging his nose with complete concentration. The other was lost in his own thoughts. There was no pretence at any sort of alertness. The so-called security checks were as casual as before. Anybody can (and does) walk in and out of Mumbai airport even today. Photo id’s are not asked for, and the screening procedure remains lax and comical. So…. have we learnt nothing from 26\11??? What’s your reading of the situation? You’ve just got mine….

The Zoo Story in Mumbai is equally hilarious, with our wonderful Mayor, Ms. Raut happily endorsing a pricey foreign junket for corporators to study zoo conditions in various European countries!! Can you believe the absurdity it all? And (boo hoo) a few of those very same corporators cannot make it since they are unable to get their passports cleared because they have criminal records!! The real Mumbai zoo is not the one called Jijamata, but the far more entertaining one within the BMC itself.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sachin for Sheriff....!!

Jai ho, Ratan Tata ki…. Jai ho!! While the rest of corporate India was suffering from collective laryngitis, post 26\11, it was only Ratan Tata who broke his customary silence and spoke out strongly against the abject failure of leadership in the state of Maharashtra. Two weeks later, he has spoken again… and this time he clearly means business. Business - in real and abstract terms. He has announced a bold initiative which involves hiring his own security force to protect his people and his properties. Which is great. The Tatas can afford it. But I fear by doing that he is actually letting the government off the hook very easily. Following Ratan’s pragmatic example, many more corporate honchos will do the same….. but sneakily….. chhupke chhupke se. In fact, several Big Boys do possess their own private armies (with crack foreign recruits) already. They just haven’t gone official with the news. The fact that our leading business leaders cannot rely on government agencies to safeguard their lives is a shameful indictment of the system. Our movie stars have followed suit and beefed up their security as well. Soon, every Mumbaikar will feel the need to acquire some kind of personal security systems – which can lead to a potentially dangerous situation, with unlicensed weapons, even country made pistols being put into use by frightened, panic- stricken citizens who are finally convinced about the shocking absence of any form of official protection in our vulnerable city. The police force is politicized, divided and corrupt. The less said about the bureaucrats, the better. Oh….our netas…. well, you already know that story.
As more and more facts of systemic failures surface, we the citizens of Mumbai reel and seethe at the official indifference shown – for example, Anita Wodeyar, a casual collector of waste material was at Machchimar Nagar, a half-kilometre from my residence, when she saw the dinghy with six terrorists in it, as it came towards the small jetty. Since she could tell it was no ordinary fisherman’s dinghy, she asked the young men who they were. They told her to mind her own business before setting out on their killing spree. But guess what? The police have not bothered to record her statements so far !! Twenty one days later, she is still to be thoroughly questioned.They are so busy with their in-fighting and back biting, that nothing else seems to matter but to hang on to their kursis…. and worse, ‘protect’ the local politicians at Nagpur, where they have congregated for the ‘winter session’. Over kandey pohey, bhajiyaas and much else, these duffers will ‘assess’ the situation. What a laugh. Meanwhile, Dilliwallas are airing their pashminas at assorted garden parties and worrying about the fog over the airport. In their heads , the Mumbai crisis is over ( if it was ever recognized as one). P. Chidambaram has swished his mundu a few times and made a couple of tough noises. But he gets my vote for voluntarily doing away with the Z –Category security provided to him. However, take a look at how absurd all this security business sounds – America could not protect its own President (invariably billed as ‘The most powerful man on earth’), from a couple of Size 10 jootas hurled at him in Baghdad - and we are asking Americans to protect us??? George Bush’s secret service outfit is resembling those caricatural Pink Panther cops, as they weakly talk about taking better positions the next time.So guys…. you KNOW there is going to be a next time?? Paradoxically, it is Bush who has emerged smelling of roses with his sense of humour intact, as he niftily ducked the joota attack and joked about it seconds later.
Back home, I am waiting for Pranab Babu’s reaction to this latest Amrikun embarrassment. The last time Pranab made India blush was when addressed Condi Rice as ‘Her Excellency’ (really now… we know you couldn’t stop pumping her hand…. but there is a limit to such chamchagiri). Pranab only compounded Manmohan Singh’s mushy gush when he’d emotionally declared India’s love for George Bush earlier in the year (speak for yourself, darling!). Bhaisaab, politics is not the place for pyaar-vyaar…. aaj ke dost kal ke dushman bhi ban saktey hai.
Which leaves Mumbai to Mumbaikars. As always. We sink or swim together, and keep our fingers crossed that Kalyjug has not chosen Mumbai as its destiny’s child to sacrifice at the altar of international terrorism. Just when despair, rage and frustration were giving way to hopelessness, along came the hero we were all waiting for – Mumbai chha Mulga Sachin Tendulkar. With that ton in Chennai, he not only clinched the match for India, but also lifted Mumbai’s flagging morale. He sagely found the right words at the right time to describe his historic century, which he appropriately dedicated to the victims of the Mumbai terror attacks – his defiant words were just the salve needed to soothe our tortured souls and send out a strong message to the world – not just the cricketing world, mind you. The RBS brand ambassador ( Sachin) proudly stating, “I play for India. Now more than ever….” in full page ads, suddenly acquired an inspiring context. The words, “ I play for India,” definitely have the power to become the anthem we have been searching for. But with RBS itself reeling from the latest Wall Street bloodbath, let’s keep our fingers crossed their ad budgets don’t get seriously down- sized after Chennai. Sachin’s own positioning is peaking at present as is evident from the press adulation he has been receiving. Of course, he richly deserves it, but puh- leeze guys – ‘Mother Teresa of Cricket’ is a bit much , even by Brit tabloid standards. It simply does not work as a simile or metaphor. But we aren’t complaining! India desperately needs a Superman\ Batman. We have more than enough jokers in the pack. If Sachin is the anointed one – why not??? Sachin for Sheriff, is what I say. Come on, Mumbaikars …. join the chorus : “ Sachin! Sachin! Sachin!”

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Why make Antulay the villain...??

Me thinks Antulay's critics protest too much!! Definitely something black in the lentils this time. I saw several worthies frothing at the mouth on television tonight, and some of them were hyper ventilating to such an extent, I thought they deserved Filmfare Awards as drama queens. Antulay is no political novice. He is also a barrister and does not make rash or reckless statements without realising the repercussions\implications. If he is asking some pointed questions about Hemant Karkare's death, he is entirely entitled to do so. But instead of responding to his queries, his political opponents have gone into overdrive, attacking Antulay and accusing him of being a Pakistani sympathiser\apologist\agent. What rubbish!! Antulay has raised pertinent points - others have raised them, too. Jawab do!! Howcome three top cops were gunned down so easily by two terrorists who were apparently hiding behind some trees near my old college , St. Xavier's?? Why would Karkare and Salaskar get into the same police van , that too near Cama Hospital?? These are basic professional no-nos in an emergency of the kind Mumbai faced on that ghastly night. Antulay is demanding plausible explanations - who ordered those two guys to try and speed away together? Where were they headed?Who fired those bullets that killed both within seconds?? The public has the right to know. To suggest that the 78-year-old Antulay is doing it for political gain sounds like a cheap distractionary tactic from the main issue.
By painting Antulay as a Paki stooge playing a dangerous game back home is actually a smart ploy to stop anybody from getting to the horrible truth. Agreed Antulay is no angel and has a pretty dodgy record himself. But would he at this late stage in his political twilight years make such a strong statement without any basis? Assuming he is playing dirty politics - that still does not answer the question of why Karkare and Salaskar were where they were that night, and why they had to die. Frankly, it is a question that has haunted me as well. It just seems like such a dumb ass thing to do for cops of their seniority. Karkare was facing several death threats and was under tremendous pressure while doing his job. Salaskar knew too much and had his own share of enemies. It just seems like one hell of a coincidence that two Pakistani strangers arrived on an inflatable dinghy and effortlessly shot Mumbai's ace cops like they were sitting ducks with zero experience, when in fact, both were first rate officers and crack shots themselves. Strange.... very strange. But stranger still that it was Antulay who threw the first stone.... and look what it has led to. Howls of outrage and protest may succeed in silencing Antulay for now. But he has certainly managed to shake up a lot of netas.... I wonder why??? Because there is more to the story than meets the eye?? Go figure....

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Branded Patriotism

Believe it or not, but the horrific terror attacks that devastated India’s psyche, have become money spinners in Mumbai. I nearly fell off my chair when I received an email from a respectable book shop inviting me to attend a “Terror Attacks Event.” I thought there was some ghastly mistake – maybe a typo. But no. The graphics on the ecard were perfect – an artistically designed blob of blood at the top, that left a trail which ended with the name of the p.r. agency hired to handle the canapés and celeb list. This is but one example. Over the past week, I have received at least fifteen invitations via smses, phone calls, printed cards, letters, flyers and personal visits, to participate in various ‘events’. Amazingly enough, most of these are ‘branded’. If there was a so -called citizens’ drive asking Mumbaikars to turn up and put their signatures on a mile long scroll on Marine Drive that was meant to represent collective anger, every few metres of that laminated strip featured logos of well known brands. I felt really sorry for the poor suckers who’d taken trains, buses, taxis or walked all the way to Marine Drive, imagining their signatures would count. These are the innocents who are consistently used by self-serving publicity hounds in order to pump up their own constituencies. The shrewd organisers are the ones preening for the cameras while the aam janata writes heartfelt messages of peace and solidarity that nobody reads. Does anybody ever ask what happens to these petitions once the tv cameras move on to the next story?
My guess is the sponsors look for the biggest garbage bin and throw the scroll away, having got their mileage from the – you’ve guessed it – event!!Right now there are enough p.r. professionals who have gone into a huddle trying to figure out ‘discreet’ and ‘tasteful’ ways to capitalize on the somber mood. Media savvy artists are busy painting their ‘anguish’ (for a fat fee, of course), and fashion designers are working on their next ‘terror-themed’ collection. If this is sounding cynical, that’s too bad. But what is happening is far worse. With elections round the corner, national security is going to be the top issue for politicians of every hue. Realising that, most political parties are rethinking their strategies and redoing their posters. Within hours of Mumbai losing three top cops, there were gigantic hoardings put up all over the city ‘Saluting the Martyrs.” It goes without saying, the hoardings also carried mug shots of politicians seeking mileage from the tragedy. No wonder, the biggest villains in Mumbai at present are our netas, who have never had it this bad – from the prime minister to the sacked chief minister, people are openly expressing their frustration and contempt for our leaders - the first time ever. In fact, when I met a cabinet minister last week, I told him he should wear a burqa in public, even though he was not directly involved in handling the calamity that devasted our city. Mumbai’s anger against politicos this time is on an unprecedented scale.No wonder most Dilliwallas are sensibly staying away – their minders must have advised them to avoid direct contact with Mumbaikars, who are livid enough to give vent to their contempt in unambiguous terms.
And yet, lessons have still not been learnt. Just yesterday I , along with several other motorists, had to pull over during peak hour traffic, and wait for over twenty minutes for a VIP cavalcade to pass. Perhaps people in Delhi are accustomed to this. But in Mumbai, nobody is a VIP in quite this way… and it annoys the average person that on one of the busiest stretches, with two main hospitals, three colleges, four schools, several offices and hundreds of residential buildings, people are denied access even if they themselves are facing an emergency. Why? Because some minor mantriji gets priority over us – the tax payers who shell out the lolly for those ten police cars, an ambulance and god knows what else to protect these non-entities. The time has come to review these antiquated, feudalistic and worthless rituals. Politicians are public servants – not ‘rulers’. Let them set the example themselves by voluntarily giving up these absurd and expensive perks. Now that’s what I’d call a top class ‘event’ that doesn’t need any management. The first person to do so, gets my vote!

Monday, December 15, 2008

We are the world.......

We are the world….

The strangest thing has happened post 26\11 – not only has Mumbai united in some weird way, but so has India. Stranger still…. we have rudely woken up to the tragic fact that the whole world is under attack and we are all sailing in the same damn boat. Name one big international city that can claim to be safe from terrorist attacks. The only two countries I can think of which have been miraculously saved so far are Australia and Singapore – both with exceedingly stringent anti-terrorist laws in place. In that sense, everyone on earth is under threat at any given point. Small consolation, but there it is. So, what does one do – stop living? No. One gets smarter. Tougher. Stronger. I received countless calls from distraught Mumbaikars wondering how we could possibly protect ourselves since clearly there was no government machinery in place to that for us. At the most critical period, when the city desperately required direction, the state government was headless! While the battle for the c.m.’s post was being fought in distant Delhi, there was no state home minister around either. The top cops were being hounded, and the mayor had done the disappearing act. Technically, Maharashtra…. and Mumbai in particular, was on auto pilot, pretty much running itself!! And nobody noticed!!
But one thing did change – and it is a huge change. Citizens discovered their own strength. They also discovered people power – the most potent power in the world. When students called to naively suggest I should ‘do something’ ( meaning - lead a morcha, raise slogans, light candles, hold hands, sign petitions etc. etc), my response was just one. I told them to google the 1968 student revolt in Paris, which brought down the French government and led to radical reforms. Most of my callers were not born in ’68, and entirely unaware of that historic occasion. I do hope they took the trouble to check out just how effective the voices of those impassioned students were. It can be the same scenario right here in Mumbai, if students themselves join forces and challenge the system. To do so , they must keep politicians out. The entire exercise will go down the tube if they allow the slightest interference from political parties looking to capitalize on the current situation. Student unions in Delhi and elsewhere are snakepits controlled by political mafias. They are flush with funds and fight college elections with more ferociousness than national elections. The people who win are no better than goondas, who bully and browbeat any opposition. Fortunately, Mumbai colleges are free of such hooliganism. The youth in the city can be accused of many things, but not of dirty politics. There are some exceptionally bright , motivated students with pragmatic solutions to offer, starting with better awareness of security issues\lapses. In one way or the other, each one of us has been directly affected by the blasts – whether it was the victims at CST or those trapped in the two hotels. The internet is on fire at present with first person accounts of foreigners who were rescued by the commandos. Every story heaps generous praise on the impeccably trained hotel personnel who did not forget their training or calling for even a second and saved countless lives. There can be no greater example of that than Mr. Karambir Kang , General Manager of the Taj Mahal Hotel, who continued to determinedly fight on, knowing all along that his wife and two children had been taken away from him in the fire that swept the sixth floor where they were stuck. I hope and pray, Mr. Kang’s superhuman service to duty gets due recognition from the government, along with the recognition we owe to every single martyr who died in the carnage, and every single cop, fireman, commando and citizen who risked it all….. for us.Yes. Mumbai is a great city. Which is precisely why our enemies want to destroy us. But you know what? They are wasting their time. Mumbai was and remains indestructible….. as do the magnificent Mumbaikars. We shall overcome….. and live to fight another day. Because we are worth it!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Raba Raba jee karta.....

Okay guys, here's the good news - I've just come home after watching SRK's 'Rub -a- dub-dub..." and..... and ....and - I LOVED IT!! Well..... most of it. Which is saying a lot. It was a sunday evening - tickets were easily available, and as usual ADLABS (Metro), started the film 20 mins late. This has become something of a routine here, and is completely not on. A late start also means the theatre is not cleaned. I stepped over tubs of spilled popcorn to get to my seat. The ushers grinned instead of apologising and cheerfully said the previous show had also started late!! Wow! What an amazing consolation!
Srk claims he likes me (thanks, darling!). Well.... I like him ,too. But as an actor . I expect nothing less than excellence from the man, since he is capable of delivering superb performances, when he chooses to - or more accurately, when an intelligent script , combined with a good director, extract the best out of him. I still don't care what the critics say about OMO, or even that it grossed indecent amounts of money world wide. I didn't like it . It was a mediocre film. Period. 'Rab...' is a far better product, mainly because it has a better written role and a superior script for SRK to interpret - which he has. The two biggest flaws in an otherwise charming movie were the forced item songs featuring the same tired bunch of heroines doing some badly choreographed retro tribute. And there was also that utterly pointless, boring sumo wrestler sequence.Though that bit looks suspiciously like some serious 'setting' has taken place between Japan Tourism Board and the producers. It could also be SRK's brainwave to move into Rajnikant's monopolistic territory. Whatever. But the second half dragged on and on..... and I did the unthinkable - reached for my mobile phone to text away rather than watch the movie collapsing into itself after that brilliant beginning.
Why does 'Rab...' work in the first place? Because it touches ones 'cynical' heart - I even shed a few tears. Simpleton Shah Rukh was adorable and credible, minus his predictable SRK mannerisms. As Raj the rocker, he was good , too, without becoming a broad caricature. The new lassie (what's-her-face?) has a great bod, and a butt as finely sculpted as John's, but the face is far from attractive. Which makes the casting perfect - she looks like any pretty Amritsari kuddi. And frankly, I'd much rather watch a fresh face over all those over-made up creatures in the top bracket. The movie's premise is appealing if not terribly original (Simple Simon gets the girl), but the trick lies in its telling. The dialogues were wonderfully apt, and since SRK WAS MEANT TO RELY HEAVILY ON HIS EMOTIVE EYES rather than his six pack, his fans once again got to swoon over 'those' moments that made him such a huge star in the first place.After 'Chak De', this is his most accomplished recent performance yet.
And awwwww..... all you guys reacting like kids to our silly pot shots - it's okay. Really.Most movie stars can't tell the difference between informed criticism and unadulterated chamchagiri. They ,of course, prefer the latter - no dearth of that in Bollywood. So.... calm down . I do my job honestly.... and would like to believe he does his in the same spirit. He is free to call me a joke, just as I am free to call him a ham - when he hams. In 'Rab...' he was wonderful, and I'm the first person to say so - no issues.At 43, SRK is still a petulant bachcha, unable and unwilling to handle a line of criticism.Theek hai..... I liked the movie.... and him in it. End of the story.
P.S. the saree offer still stands!!

SRK in a Shobhaa De saree....... stunning!!!

I really , really think Shah Rukh Khan will look lovely in one of my designer sarees......I 'll give him bangles to match. Gratis, of course.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Hyderabad, here I come

Guys, This is a shorter than short post to say I shall be in Hyderabad till sunday attending a family function. Am feeling brain dead..... so forgive me for this non-post.
More..... much more on my return.
P.S. Protest with all your might if anybody tries to 'sell' Sanjay Dutt as a future politician to you. Given his dangerous antecedents, it will be akin to inducting Kasab into the government in India. Yes - that bad. His new 'wife' Manyaata's strenuous efforts to go legit and\or respectable are all very well. But watch that woman carefully. That's what the intelligence bureau is also doing - with reason. Nothing is as it appears. Why does she want Dutt to contest the next election, given his criminal record? On whose orders? Whose instructions is she taking? Why is the media giving her coverage as she tries her level best to mobilise support for Munnabhai? Why??? The answer may knock your socks off.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sheila Dixit ki jai ho!!!

I met a popular and powerful cabinet minister last night, who expressed his astonishment at the recent election results, especially the Dilli ones. According to him, it had nothing to do with Dixit's magic wand, and everything with Modi's faux pas ( coming to Mumbai after the attacks - not with a heart filled with solace but a bagful of money!! ).People were disgusted.... revolted by such naked opportunism and Modi's ill -conceived strategy completely back fired on him personally and the party. If Advani and gang are licking their wounds, it may be a bit too late to recover lost ground. I am no Congress fan - but as the old saying goes, " What is the alternative??" Indian voters are caught between the devil and the blue sea. Which means the same old rascals will be voted back into power, give or take a couple of new faces. The appetisers may vary but the main course remains the same!
Meanwhile the terrorist hunt continues with most Mumbaikars refusing to believe there were just 8 or 10 0f them in that dinghy. Kasab the Butcher is singing like a canary, missing mummy and asking for biryani!! He is such a small fry, we need not bother with him.... he probably knows one millioneth of the full plot. The leads he is providing are useful only upto a point. I'd say give him biryani, kebabs and murg massalam. Feed him well..... his stomach will talk!!

Monday, December 8, 2008

The 'T' Word

Unbelievable but true. It’s not even a week since some semblance of normalcy has returned to our battered city…. and the wretched ‘tu tu main main’ game is on in full swing. The worst offender is the side- lined politico Narayan Rane, who is showing his asli colours by frothing at the mouth and talking big about ‘toppling’ the government if he is further ‘provoked’. Himmat hai….. to karke dikhao.The fact that he was considered at all is nothing short of shocking. But we all know how these equations are made – in Bollywood parlance, it is referred to as ‘setting’. Which involves moral compromises galore, at all levels, and to hell with what is in the state’s interest. The fact that we had a headless government during our worst crisis, with no state home minister, a chief minister behaving more like a tourism minister, a sulking cabinet minister, Shivraj Patil, a puppet-like prime minister, and a reluctant finance minister who bluntly said he was ‘disinclined’ to take the job thrust on him (Home). In the midst of this mayhem, we were being made complete asses of by well briefed Pakistani ministers who brazenly appeared on our tv channels and blew the smug\agitated anchors away with their sharp retorts and factually correct responses. In other words, they, unlike our netas, had done their homework, did not suffer from a foot in the mouth disease, nor blab on incoherently about nothing of consequence. So much for that…
The Gateway Protest March got diluted completely when immature loudmouths took the mike and yapped away irresponsibly, making zero sense. Apart from silly teenspeak (“Let’s @#*@ the Paki b@$@&*#@!”), they could as well have been at a rock concert. Even though the rage was genuine, it lacked focus…. and there was an absence of any cogent thought - no agenda nor even a simple charter of demands defining what it is that citizens expect under these extraordinary circumstances. But, talking to regular people (not colour co-ordinated celebrities holding candles), one got the actual sense of how scarred the city is. And these are the people with basic common sense who are working on a plan of action within their immediate neighbourhood. Building societies are holding emergency meetings to tighten security and demand better identity proofs before hiring domestics. But the single most important shift has been in the way the aam janata has started to view politicians. For sixty years, the public thought of our netas as
‘Mai baap’ – or worse – our ‘rulers’. When in fact, the correct description is ‘public servants’. Meaning, we have voted them into power to serve our interests – not the other way around. This one thought has brought about a revolution in the common man’s thinking and freed him from some abstract fear about being targeted by politicians for voicing frustration\annoyance Today, for the first time in Independent India, it is the politicians who are running for cover, realizing that if they expose themselves to the public, they may be spat upon or beaten up.
Students, teachers and others who kept calling all of last week had just one question to ask, “What should we do…. we feel so helpless.” This is not the time to surrender to feelings of helplessness. Citizens have woken up to the fact that the most potent weapon each one of us possesses is a voice. There are 16 million voices in Mumbai – enough to form a mighty roar that can be heard loud and clear, not just in New Delhi, but around the world. Use that voice. And do not depend on others to solve the problem. It is ours. We have to find the answers – calmly and intelligently. Don’t kid yourself that the international press and world leaders are here because they’ve suddenly fallen in love with India…. They are there to protect their own people and interests. Had so many foreigners not been taken hostage, had the Jews in Nariman House not been killed, I doubt Condi Rice would have turned up in Delhi, or Obama used such strong language to condemn Pakistan. International news coverage focused almost exclusively on the foreigners who were killed\trapped. Why blame them?? How much coverage do we give to terrorist attacks in say, Tokyo \ Tel Aviv?
Our war in India has to be fought against corruption . Period.
Let us win that war first and almost everything else will then automatically be taken care of….
What a pathetic state of affairs - while Mumbai burned, all that our leaders did was plot each other’s downfall and worry about hanging on to their kursis! Thugs. And worse – desh drohis, who sell the country for a few pieces of gold…. and priceless real estate, of course.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Barkha Dutt on trial???

Come on, guys.... give Barkha a break. What is with this hate campaign raging against someone who was only doing her job?? Why pick on just her? Were the other anchors less strident? Less emotional? Less shrill? Can even the coolest tv commentator remain calm and composed under such extraordinary circumstances?? These guys are humans... not robots. They feel.... like you and me. They get emotional and carried away, like the rest of us. They were reporting from a site that could have endangered their own lives. It was a war zone - nothing less. We were watching them from the safety of our living rooms.The reportage was outstanding, give or take a few gaffes. The pressure they were subjected to can only be understood by people who have been exposed to it themselves. They were at it relentlessly for 40 long hours at one go, if not more. The field reporters were brilliant as well, particularly Rahul and Mahrukh, who remained in control and factually accurate throughout the crisis. The biggest accusation being hurled at Barkha is that she hogged the show. Excuse me - is that what the rants are all about?? Is this a 'show' someone 'hogs' in order to selfishly garner all the glory ? What a narrow minded, mean spirited and petty way of looking at it. Barkha has covered wars and other crises with an equal amount of competence. She does not have to 'prove' herself. She is a media star - like it or not. Our very own Christiane Amanpour. Viewers want to hear what she is saying.... what she is sensing. Because they have faith in her judgement.
This is not the time for professional rivalries - who got more air time, who was side- lined, who was 'better'?? This is not a film awards nite with actors vying for the top honours. Every single anchor, whether it was Arnab or Rajdeep ,was superb. If they did goof up on certain details, jumped the gun..... that's understandable. Can you even begin to figure out the tension levels at such a time, with fresh tragedies piling up by the minute, and contradictory reports flying back and forth ? It's a wonder these guys didn't crack under pressure. Barkha is being targeted by her own tribe.... which is unfortunate. But just try switching places with her.... try being on air 24x7, finding the right words, interviewing people, summing up situations, providing coherent perspectives, holding multiple shows together, without buckling. No food, water or loo facilities, either.Yes, several other media professionals did just that. And I, for one, am full of admiration for each of them. Bravo!! But I reserve an extra 'taali' for Barkha. In my book, she richly deserves it. So.... get off her back, guys. You do your job and leave her to do hers.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Lipstick on his collar

Yes, Mr.Mukhtir Naqvi. I do wear lipstick. But no powder. And I do live in South Mumbai in what is considered an ‘elite’ locality ( though ‘elite slum’ is a more accurate description). I also frequent 5- Star hotels close by, notably the magnificent Taj Mahal. I unashamedly refer to it as my second home – for that it what it has always been. My lifestyle can be loosely described as a privileged one, by most standards. So bloody what?? I have worked long and hard for these perks. I have earned them through honest means. I did not inherit a fortune and was raised in a middle class home. Like every Indian, my parents dreamt of giving their children a better life by educating them. We fulfilled their dreams…. and a few of our own. Is that a crime??I proudly pay my taxes…. and my bills. Which is more than can be said for most of your tribe - the real ‘elite’ today - politicians with zero accountability and all the advantages they criticize in others. I refuse to be apologetic for the way I live. As they say, living well is still the best revenge! Unlike a lot of so-called netas, I do not have a criminal record. When I leave home, it is in a nice car, but not a mobile fortress with a cavalcade of state-paid gunmen to protect me. Traffic is not diverted along the routes I take, inconveniencing others. And I am frisked at airport, like everybody else. So…. Mr. Naqvi, how dare you put me (and other women) down by making such an impertinent and uncalled for remark ?We are professionals doing our jobs to the best of our abilities. Can you claim the same? Whether we apply lipstick, cake our faces with powder, wear wigs or fake eyelashes – that is our exclusive prerogative and business. It does not concern anyone else. This remark only displays your pathetically biased attitude towards women – particularly a class of urban careerists who defy the stereotype as determined by the likes of you.
The subtext of your remark ( and the remarks of other self-styled intellectuals who have discovered a new sport - ‘elite bashing’ ) comes at a time when our attention should be on more vital matters – survival under a siege. To target people who belong to a more affluent\educated segment of our society, is to display a perverse narrow mindedness. My voice is as valid as the voice of the anonymous vegetable vendor – we are both citizens of India. Are you trying to say tv anchors sans lipstick\powder are better at their jobs? Should women in politics shun cosmetics in order to be taken more ‘seriously’ (by men, of course!) ? Should female public figures dress down so they can add to their credibility factor and look the part assigned to them by society?? Does lipstick take away from their contribution\competence? Must ask Condileeza Rice (a woman who tops the world’s ‘Most Stylish’ lists year after year). Must also ask Sonia Gandhi, who is nothing if not impeccably turned out at all times, and definitely wears lipstick. Oh…. and how can I forget my new best friend , Jayanthi Natarajan??
It is a great pity Naqvi brought gender into the present crisis and trivialised the issue . George Fernandes lost the plot when he decided to wage war against a cola. Perhaps Naqvi’s battle is against poor lipstick??
A pity that the nightmare suffered by Mumbai has been reduced to some sort of a class war, in which the elite are supposed to ‘defend’ themselves and say, “ No, no, no…. we are really not like that…. we feel equally for the lives lost at CST.” Come on…. grow up. Tragedy IS like that – it is personalized and intense when it hits home as ferociously as these attacks did. Tragedy too, needs a ‘face’…. or an ‘image’ that encapsulates collective grief. It so happens, the Taj Mahal Hotel became that image…. that icon, symbolizing the horror of this incomprehensible tragedy that has left the nation reeling in its wake.Why bring class divides into it? Don’t our politicians insist on the best rooms (gratis), at 5-star hotels?At least, the rest of us pay the hefty tariffs ourselves. Don’t India’s unwashed, scruffy jholawala intellectuals quaff gallons of moofat Scotch, whenever and wherever?? First pay your own booze bills, guys, then save the world. It is believed Narayan Rane’s sons drive around in a Bentley with eight commandos to ‘protect’ them. Who pays?? Suckers like us . It is our Billionaires and Bollywood stars we flaunt internationally when we need to boost our country’s image. It is also the elite who donate generously towards rehabilitation efforts in a crisis. I am sick of being told off by the likes of Naqvi. I am sick of attempts to somehow make me feel ‘guilty’ for being who I am, looking the way I do.
Sorry, Mr. Naqvi. Read my lips : Much more lipstick! Darker and brighter! You are welcome to borrow some…

Friday, December 5, 2008

SRK's response

I read Shah Rukh Khan's on BBC Asia(reported in a local tabloid) with a great deal of disappointment. The report begins by quoting him stating, " I tried to keep away from commenting on all this..." He later goes on to say, "Youngsters need to understand Islam and respect the religion in the right way...." Yes, Shah Rukh. You are not telling your fans something they don't know! Also, " agenda should be attached to any kind of religion..'' Thank you Srk, for stating the obvious. And for being so very politically correct.... non-committal ....during the most violent attack on Mumbai - the very city that has made you. I wanted to hear some words of comfort for those who died. Some strong condemnation of those who committed this crime. This report made no mention of any such thing. And it was the only published comment from Srk to date. When I mentioned how let down his myriad fans must be , a media walla commented, " Srk obviously does not want to jeopardise his fan base in the Middle East. Or give up being treated like royalty when he goes to Dubai, where the biggest suite at the Atlantis was reserved for him recently." Is there a significant point being made there? Some truth to those allegations?
Srk is no ordinary Bollywood star. Others from his fraternity have spoken up boldly. Why such a wishy washy reponse from The King\Badshah etc etc?? This is the time for people like him, Sachin Tendulkar and others who preen away as 'National Icons' at other times, to stand up and be counted. Sachin was repeatedly shown on tv as his personl security guard had accidentaly shot himself in the hand! Just a few words of comfort from people like them are enough. No compromises involved. Fans happy. Politicians happy. Endorsements fully protected. Offering solace and expressing sorrow cost nothing. Sonia G was silent, too. Madam had nothing much to say in the after math - she was too busy doing her sums. At least Vilasrao had the decency to apologise. Look at RGV'S arrogant and offensive stance even today - boycott his lousy films and teach him a lesson. The Taj is not a potential movie set he needed to study for art direction! Narayan Rane's sons (who drive around in a Bentley) have eight bodyguards to 'protect' them (from underworld enemies??). Most of the filmwallas owe something to someone sitting in Dubai. No wonder they have been so cautious and guarded in their response. Cowards. All they can think of are overseas' box office returns (they make the most money in those markets). Dhanda has silenced their conscience.Amitabh sleeps with a gun under his pillow, then says it is a symbolic act! Aamir weighs his words with care. Salman stays chhhup (just as well). Akshay, Hritik, Saif...... lost your voices all of a sudden??

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sounds of silence

Last night at 4 .am. I awoke from a very restless, disturbed 'sleep' (if I can call it that), to an eerie silence..... and in pitch darkness. My heart froze.Another attack? Another crisis? It took me under a minute to figure out the electricity had tripped in our building..... the a\c's comforting hum was's nightly lullaby silenced. I drew the curtains and looked out at the placid bay stretched beyond my bedroom windows.... so chillingly close to Badhwar Park, where the terrorists had landed exactly a week earlier. The moon had set. The blackness of the night was broken by the twinkling lights of fishing trawlers in the distance. What haul would they be bringing in at dawn?? Abruptly,a familiar vista had turned threatening and ominous in seven short days.Everything and everybody looked 'suspicious'. I tried to go back to sleep..... but even the creaking bathroom door made me sit up with a start. For the first time since my childhood, I kept the lights on, waiting for daybreak.... and reassurance.... struggling unsuccessfully to battle the demons inside my head.
I am certain there are millions of Mumbaikars experiencing the same trauma.... it is a city that needs collective counselling. Adults, teenagers, senior citizens, kids..... we can't seem to get our troubled minds to reconnect with other realities..... talk about anything else. When we meet.....WORDS AREN'T NECESSARY. Complete strangers connect through glances that convey their state of mind.
When we hear stray scraps of conversation about the attacks...... we feed on every tiny scrap. It is morbid and macabre. People are ready to believe the wildest rumours. There is an attempt by one and all to 'understand' what happened to Mumbai. But as of now, we are dazed and despairing...does no one out there care???????

Monday, December 1, 2008

Stay Angry, Mumbai

It could have been you. It could have been me. We were fortunate. We are alive. But
hundreds of other victims – our people - who died last week, weren’t as lucky. They were at the wrong place at the wrong time…. and paid with their lives. Mumbai received a body blow from which it may take years and years to recover. Just as 9\11 changed the lives of millions of New Yorkers, 26\11 will remain etched on our consciousness – a tragic reminder of Mumbai’s exposed flanks and extreme vulnerability. The most incredible aspect of this ghastly tragedy is the startling statistic – in a teeming city of 16 million, all the people I have spoken to over the past five days, have a direct connection to the carnage, one way or the other. They know someone who was hit – either killed , trapped, or evacuated. South Mumbai resembled a ghastly graveyard over the black weekend, with people rushing from one funeral to the next, numb with sorrow but raging within.
Impotent anger, at such a time, is worthless. Anger must be mobilized and redirected towards serving a bigger objective. As of now, what we are experiencing is righteous indignation – ‘How dare they do this to us?” The point is – ‘they’ HAVE done it to ‘us’. Now what?? Do we beat our breasts, moan and groan, weep and wail ? Or do we think ahead… plan…. consolidate and ACT? For the first time since the multiple batterings Mumbai has been at the receiving end of, we are seeing a citizenry that has awakened to the fact that as long as there are terror camps flourishing in Pakistan, as long as Karachi’s proximity and easy access to our shores is being taken advantage of by terrorist organizations, Mumbai will remain a soft target. The devastation we witnessed over 56 gruelling hours does not represent the end game. It may well be a mere pause before the terrorists regroup and conduct another lethal strike. Should we be caught napping again, we will only have ourselves to blame.
Citizens the world over, get together to protect themselves when government machinery lets them down. It’s time to face the horrible truth that we don’t have any other choice but to depend on our own resources to fight back. This fight has to be a strategized one, relying more on intelligent planning and less on physical interventions. It must start in neighbourhoods, building societies, schools and colleges. It must focus on educating people on how best to handle emergencies of this kind. I strongly recommend a simple yet effective method that does not require rocket science to implement - sirens at key locations around the city that warn citizens of an impending disaster, natural or man made. We are finally seeking help from the Israelis and Americans who are experts in this area. If America could immediately put the Homeland Securities project into place in the wake of 9\11, what stops us from adapting a similar model ourselves?
Our abysmal failure to secure Mumbai does not need any further amplification. Questions that may remain unanswered revolve around the puzzling time lapses that cost precious lives. Why was the army not called in much earlier, why the delay in getting the Marcos and the NSG into action? Forget intelligence failure that could not intercept an attack of such a magnitude – for hours and hours after the first burst of gunfire, our cops and firemen appeared totally confused and ill prepared – as if they were waiting for a go ahead from some ‘higher authority’ (who? ). Bureaucratic tangles may have paralysed some of our dynamic and brilliant police officers, unable to move without those dratted ‘clearances’ , possibly from a sleepy Delhi. Why not more autonomy for our top cops?Viewers watched in horror, as the poor constables attempted to do their best, armed with lathis!! The terrorists on the other hand were armed to the teeth with the world’s most advanced weapons. How can a megapolis of this size, with its unique topography, hope to cope with a terror operation of this scale and sophistication? Despite the odds being stacked so heavily against our men, they bravely battled on and decimated our enemies to cries of , ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai.’ Mumbai itself shone through the tragedy, as average Mumbaikars rallied around brilliantly, expressing solidarity, compassion and a splendid display of maturity via emails, smes, phone calls and visits to affected families. Mumbai stood together as one entity. This in itself is nothing short of a feat…..a miracle.
The ordeal may be over…. but not the battle. Faces of all those who died, must be remembered. No forgetting, no forgiving this time. The time for that is over. Stay together. Stay angry. May the force be with us as we start to heal. Once again.

Please join me in saluting the principled widow of our great hero, Hemant Karkare, who snubbed Narendra Modi by refusing to accept his money. And please also join me in acknowledging the extraordinary sense of duty displayed by those magnificent Sardars in the foyers of the two hotels, who could so easily have run away at the sound of gunfire within, but chose to stay and risk their lives while saving other people’s.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bhagwad Gita

The Bhagwad Gita says, : The one who does wrong is a sinner.... but the one who puts up with the wrong is an even bigger sinner.....
Think about it.... and ACT.

Mumbai Meri Hai

Mumbai Meri Hai
Every Mumbaikar needs to make Usha Uthup’s unforgettable , jaunty number, “Mumbai Meri Hai…” into a personal anthem to reclaim the city we all love…. and which has been appropriated by people who clearly have zero stakes in it. People who call themselves our leaders, who now strut around ‘sanitised’ areas, with their security personnel, mouthing platitudes…. and worse insults, that wound the citizenry with the callousness of their content.
Shivraj Patil has finally been shamed into resigning. But what about the other local Patil, R.R., whose shockingly insensitive remark ( “ bade, bade shahron mein aise hadse hote rehte hai…”) incensed so many shell-shocked Mumbaikars, that tv channels were requested to kill that clip by his staffers, afraid of violent reactions to his ‘casual’ comment. Almost immediately mass smes started flying across the city, demanding Patil’s head and pointing out how he should have reserved the zeal expended on chasing the city’s bar girls out, for chasing terrorists who caused such unprecedented devastation that took so many lives. Going by the magnitude of the ‘aam janata’s’ response to the heartless handling of the crisis by our netas in New Delhi, why stop with Shivraj Patil? Why not hold Manmohan Singh equally responsible? After all, moral responsibility starts at the top. The chief must take the rap first before looking for scapegoats.
For the very first time, the people of Mumbai have united as one, and have woken up to the fact that together we stand, divided we fall. I was saddened by the attitude of various foreign journalists from across the world who called to ask, “ You mean there is no sectarian violence in Mumbai so far?? Communal riots have not broken out?” They sounded disappointed! Such is the perversity we are dealing with. And to all those Mumbaikars holding candle light marches, meeting at the Gateway of India, or urging people to wear black, I want to say these sweet and simple acts of solidarity, may bring some solace to our troubled minds, but they remain symbolic and somewhat hollow. What we need to safeguard ourselves and secure the city, must go beyond holding hands and lighting diyas. We must plan ahead, with specific ,achievable and enforceable targets coupled with accountability\ penalty clauses. Get the best brains on board – import them if necessary. Increase police-spend substantially. Train all those whose jobs involve protecting citizens ( firemen included), and have an aggressive attitude while dealing with terrorists. Revisit old, antiquated laws. Provide more autonomy to those on the job. Show no mercy. Show some teeth.
Some of the most influential, powerful and affluent people in India reside in Mumbai. Specifically, in South Mumbai. They must emerge from their cocoons and lead from the front without any political interventions whatsoever. But will they?? Can they afford to? Will personal business interests dominate all other considerations? Too many self-serving voices have been heard. The worst being those of P.R. agents peddling stories to the celeb-hungry media on behalf of their clients – unheard of tv starlets, botoxed socialites and other urban horrors we really don’t give a damn about. Ban them Blank out these cheap publicity-seekers. And do the same with politicians in search of soundbytes and photo ops.
So many vital questions remain unanswered. Who will respond to our legitimate queries, given that so many politicos are busy preening for the cameras themselves, instead of staying in the war room, planning how best to regroup and strategise, now that various clues are being pieced together. With all due respect to the dead – the heroes who laid down their lives in the line of duty – there was a singular lack of professionalism in the fact that three top cops (one in mufti) got into the Qualis together when they were aware terrorists were on the prowl. The cops became sitting ducks. I was at the Taj, a mere hour and a half before the blood bath began, and was surprised to notice that after months of very stringent security measures ( sniffer dogs, metal detectors, sensors,barricades, rerouting of cars, no access but the central one) being in place, almost all of them had been removed virtually overnight, with the side and back entrances left unmanned and open. Under whose instructions was this decision taken? Ditto for security at the CST, which had seen a formidable, fortress-like situation with sand bagged enclosures and heavily armed personnel …. till last week. Why were they withdrawn? Even to this day, nobody is sure exactly how many terrorists arrived in the city, or even how many may have been present earlier, master minding operations. The grand, old Taj could not provide the Marcos with a map of the premises – they were sent in cold – while the terrorists possessed a detailed floor plan all along. Nobody has assured Mumbaikars so far, that there are no escapees who may have slipped out as tourists\guests from the two hotels during the rescue operations. There was also a spectacular lack of co- ordination during the entire operation, especially during the first few crucial hours, when all the people involved seemed to be bumbling along without clear directions from one central body. We still don’t know whose orders were being followed, nor who was in command throughout. It became equally obvious that neither the city, nor the hotels have a crisis management programme in place that provides an immediate plan of action in an emergency. Look at how efficiently and swiftly the South African body guards swung into action at the Trident and saved so many lives. There was discipline and arduous training behind the drill they followed. Our brave men used their hearts, when minds were needed far more.
The scariest aspect of the assault on Mumbai, is the chilling question – is it really and truly over? The accurate response is – yes - for now. Perhaps another sleeper cell is hard at work right at this minute, planning the next attack – warnings of which we shall ignore once again, as we did this one, too. Those demons are ten steps ahead of us. They came from the sea. Next time, they may strike us from the air. Their targets could be the RBI building, the WTC, our docks and railway stations Will we be prepared? The Air Force base in Pune is but ten short minutes of flying time away. But those ten minutes are enough to flatten even the biggest city. To save ourselves, we the people of the city will have to find our own solutions. The horrific truth is, Mumbai remains naked and vulnerable even now. With evil political vultures circling it for pickings that fill their own stomachs. Shame on all of them!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Wake up, Mumbai....

My fingers are shaking as I key in this piece, minutes after watching visuals of panic stricken commuters at CST station, running helter skelter as fresh reports of terrorist attacks near the RBI and GT Hospital send a grievously wounded Mumbai reeling once again…. to save itself. If these horrific attacks that have struck every Mumbaikar’s heart do not act as a serious wake up call, nothing else can or will.The most important lesson to learn from the carnage is that the time has come for citizens to take control of their lives and their beloved city, for if they don’t, they will be dead.What the past 40 hours have demonstrated unambiguously is that our city fathers have learned nothing from past blows in our gut, or else innocents would not have lost their lives because there was no one in charge when the city most needed a figure, capable of leading from the front. The chief minister showed up outside the Trident, when the crisis was nearly over. Delhi politicians caused more of a nuisance than anything else when the prime minister, along with Sonia Gandhi made the mandatory hospital visits….. diverted traffic and police attention.
But it took a Narendra Modi to show us what political opportunism is all about when he arrogantly arrived here with bags of money to distribute to the families of Mumbai’s real heroes – the slain policemen, and wasted no time in capitalizing on the tragedy to cold bloodedly push his own agenda.
There were several shocking failures and lapses…. But what good is a post- mortem, after the damage is done? What good, delayed responses – we could have, we should have, why didn’t so-and-so do this or that? The truth is, we effed up. Each and every one of us. Let us not point fingers and play the blame game, for it is dangerous and unproductive. We were caught off guard – once again. This time there is no excuse. How many attacks is it going to take for Mumbai to act and save itself?And where should we begin?? I would say let us start from taking a few key lessons from America, post 9\11. The entire country acted as one. Political differences were set aside and a superbly strategized counter-terrorism plan put into place.There have been no further attacks since then. Next, we need to pay attention to the immediate requirements of our over- burdened police force – those poor constables armed with nothing more lethal than laathis can ‘t chase a rabid dog, forget about taking on hard core, armed terrorists.Give them equipment, training and autonomy to act in such an emergency without waiting for bureaucratic clearances, then see the difference. We need an action plan to deal with crises. Citizens need to be taken into confidence with a disaster management strategy, and regular drills to keep people alert.
What became evident( and cost countless lives) was the absence of leadership. With whom did the buck stop? Who was in charge of taking key and timely decisions? Was there anyone at all who was monitoring and co ordinating collective efforts to deal with each ghastly development? Individual stories of heroism are not enough in such situations – they create martyrs, nothing else. We lost outstanding officers, who misread the threat to their own lives and were not adequately protected. Our police lack basic gear – helmets, bullet proof jackets, riot shields. We expect them to protect us while they themselves are unprotected. Lack of funds is a poor excuse. Take a look at any minor politico moving around with a convoy of police cars, security personnel, ambulances. These privileges must be instantly withdrawn and reserved exclusively for top ranking politicians alone.
Help in the form of crack commando units, the Marcos, NSG and the Army, arrived several hours after Operation Mumbai was underway. Naval helicopters were deployed still later. Securing a city like Mumbai is not an easy job. But it is possible . Something simple like neighbourhood sirens to alert citizens of an impending attack, are not that difficult to install. This IS war – make no mistake about that. Mumbai is hemorraging….. bleeding a slow death Political tourniquets can’t save us. If we have to save ourselves, we need to perform radical surgery…. amputate a few gangrenous limbs. And rely on the mighty heart of this great metropolis – the extraordinary people of Mumbai. But this time I am not going to be a sentimental fool and say, ‘Salaam Mumbai’. It’s time to shout, to holler, “Wake up Mumbai. Fight back. Fight back. Fight back!”

Friday, November 28, 2008

Enough is enough

I went out into the broad and empty streets of this, one of the most crowded cities of the world, earlier this evening. It was an eerie experience - something vital had changed. It was almost as if fatigued, disheartened Mumbaikars had given up the fight..... fed up of watching the ghastly, macabre show of a city crumbling under the worst terrorist attack after 9\11. There wasn't a cop in sight all along Marine Drive, Mumbai's beautiful promenade, till my car reached the State Guest House on Malabar Hill. Two of my children, who were with me, commented it was scarey and strange that most areas of South Mumbai were unprotected , even as terror continued to reign a few kilometres away. Yes, it was indeed very strange ..... for we, the citizens, have the right to expect some level of security, given the extraordinary circumstances that had dominated our existence over the past 48 hours of non-stop violence. Of course, our police force is under tremendous pressure, and God knows the cops have done a commendable job, armed with nothing more lethal than lathis. Even so...
Elsewhere in Mumbai, life had resumed its 'normal' pace. People in the untouched suburbs were out shopping, drinking, partying, clubbing, even celebrating.... as if nothing had happened.It baffled me initially... till I realised how childishly I was judging my own people. Should they have stopped living? Stayed glumly at home mumbling , "Oh my God! Oh my God!" Should anyone? Does that make them insensitive pigs? No. Not really. It is called the cycle of life. And death. Less than ten kilometres away, the battle was still raging..... The Taj was still burning.... and funeral pyres of those who had died in the blood bath, were being lit by sons, fathers, brothers and uncles. With a start and a shock like no other, I discovered I knew at least ten of those people being cremated tonight, even as I drove along grimly, wondering - 'what next? what now? Is the worst over??' 'Enough is enough' is now more than my 'quotable quote', more than a mantra.... it needs to become a movement and take every right thinking citizen along...

Cry, my beloved city

Please don’t utter another word about the ‘Spirit of Mumbai’. Or how it is ‘Business as usual’, because the time to be philosophical/stoical about our shattered lives is over. Initial numbness has been replaced by rage and sorrow. Those policemen did not have to die. Those innocents need not have been killed. Mumbai’s abject humiliation at the hands of a few misguided youth, is complete. And there are no answers – how? Why? Gabbar Singh’s menacing question, “Kitney aadmi the?” may never get the correct response from a cowardly and evasive administration that has once again let down the people of this megapolis .It is not about a numbers game. It is about the powerlessness that has paralysed what is considered one of the most dynamic cities in the world.Mumbai today is a city in a coma…. One it may never recover from. Dazed and desperate. As I write this, a mere half a kilometre away from both the hotels targeted by the terrorists, my heart aches, my eyes are heavy, and my throat painfully constricted. Strange how a monumental tragedy affects individuals. Our first thoughts are about the safety of our own – are those we love okay? Yes??? Thank God! Selfish emotions dominate our actions – as they did mine…. I’m ashamed to admit.
My husband and I were at a sitdown dinner in another 5-Star hotel, a few miles from the Taj and Trident. This was unusual in itself…. The newly-opened Four Season’s is outside the ambit of hard -core South Mumbaiwallas like ourselves. But this was no ordinary occasion. The French Ambassador was hosting an evening for Nadir Godrej who had recently received a French civilian honour. Yashodhara, a beautiful chanteuse from Delhi, had just started to croon throatily, when Amrita, Simi Garewal’s sister, came to our table to whisper they’d received a call about a terrorist attack at the Oberoi and Taj hotels. Five minutes later, while all of us were desperately calling our contacts for grim confirmations, we heard two loud blasts –terror came directly at us…. the sound hit me in the solar plexus…. and there was no place to run. Top cops advised us to stay put. But our children were at home!!!! Stay put. Stay put. They repeated. The streets are unsafe, roads blockaded, police vans hijacked…. there are armed maniacs on the loose hurling hand grenades and firing randomely into the crowd with lethal automatic weapons. Now they are attacking hospitals!! Oh no…. they’ve blown up a petrol pump!! Yes. The one close to our home. Look….. the Taj is on fire! CST …. OH MY GOD…. They are moving rapidly …. the airport is next, and the Marriott. It was like being cast in a macabre, surrealistic horror film . But one without a director to call, “Cut’’.
The sight of the Taj burning, is the one that will remain forever etched on my mind – a ghastly and tragic reminder of this city’s vulnerability…. and also it’s grandeur. That is where I was courted, got married.The place I consider my second home. Taj is family. That is where my daughter is getting married ten days from now… or that was the dream…. the plan.Till last night.Today, that beloved heritage building – Mumbai’s pride and joy - is a monument to death and destruction. The Taj has always been an inspiring emblem of India’s defiance and glory when it was built in 1903 by a great son of Mumbai, Sir Jamshedji Tata, to let the British know that there can be a magnificent hotel built by Indians, for Indians. As I watched the flames engulfing the top floor, my tears flowed for those incredibly brave men and women from the hospitality industry who performed such a stupendous job, along with the others, in saving as many lives as possible. The terrorists picked their targets well – by hitting Mumbai’s most-loved symbols of wealth and prosperity, cosmopolitanism and progress, they succeeded in their mission of demonstrating to the world just how simple it is to attack iconic institutions and hold a teeming metropolis to ransom.Yes. My daughter will get married. And yes,the ceremony will be at the Taj - burnt…. but not bowed. We will always love it. Terrorists may destroy a structure. But our souls are our own.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sufi ecstasy... and Kolkata musings

Ooooof! I have been MIA for far too long!! Sorry about that, guys. Kolkata was amusing, frustrating and exhilerating as only Kolkata can be - a once-great city, stuck in a tragic time warp. I love Kolkata with all my heart, but there are aspects of it that drive me insane. The people are wonderful.... and argumentative in the Amartya Sen mould. It's great to interact with as opinionated a bunch as the average Kolkatan. The famous 'addas' have not stopped, and Mamata's antics are avidly discussed over singhadas (samosas, to you and me), mishti and chai (round the clock!). The mighty Clubs of Kolkata continue to dominate social life, with their strange, antiquated club rules (So Brit. So dated). But life is lived most graciously, especially by old moneywallas, like the Sarkars. Lunch at their mansion was just wonderful - winter blooms in the well -tended garden, exquisitely served authentic Bong cuisine on the magnificent mahogany table ( prawn chops to die for, an apricot chutney dripping richness, a delicately flavoured fish pullao, an array of traditional desserts like a pistachio flavoured payesh). Rakhi Sarkar is a remarkably relaxed hostess, while husband Aveek provides the spiciest food for thought!
The debate on, "Is the media misleading the masses?" was a real phataka. I spoke for the proposition since I strongly believe the media is playing a dangerous game and manipulating public opinion, especially irresonsible tv channels that reinforce divisiveness in an already polarised society. Since I was the first speaker, that too on an all male panel (so , what else is new?), I felt slightly weighed down by the additional reponsiblity of opening up the debate on a provocative note. I think I did well (and I am no veteran debater), for the house carried the motion with a show of hands that made my team the winners by a generous margin. Moderated by the British High Commissioner, Simon Wilson, the stuffy old club came alive for an evening of high quality debating skills, thanks to terrific panellists who held their own brilliantly. Rajdeep Sardesai was so emotionally charged up, he almost broke into tears at one point. Too bad his team lost!!
This was my third exposure to the Sufi Music Festival (in its eighth year) at the Horniman Circle garden. It started off a little shakily, with a diffident singer from the Siddhi tribe in Saurashtra, followed by a Turkish performer, a loud and boisterous group from Punjab, an Egyptian group with a melancholic lead singer and ending with the Qawwals, the Ajmeri brothers . There were two crowd pleasers that night, Young Jassu from Rajasthan who plays the desi castanents (Kachra Singh was missing this year) with the Langas, and the troupe from Ajmer, with a flamboyantly dressed leader, who was clearly hoping to be spotted by a talent scout from Bollywood, and why not? Without government recognition or patronage, how does one keep these centuries old traditions alive? But the real treat was reserved for the next night with a mehfil at our friend Javed Gaya's wonderful home. The legendary Warsi Brothers from Hyderabad performed for a select audience of fifty music lovers - and what a performance it was!! My hair stands on end revisiting the evening when Amir Khushro's evocative couplets came alive and for four hours we were transported to a mystical world - another reality, far richer than the one we live. And I thought to myself : this was the Mumbai I grew up in - all-encompassing, generous, tolerant, culturally wealthy, open to influences from far and wide. The mehfil gave me hope. Our host Javed Gaya, is an elegant gourmet and much more. His table was groaning under velvety khichda, kababs, mirchi ka salan and much more (including the famous pineapple halwa). Watching Javed's many friends enjoying his hospitality I felt re- energised and renewed my dream about the old Mumbai - thank God it is not dead and buried yet. It exists . In shrinking pockets that continue to value such ideals in the face of daunting discouragement. Once again, I was back in a refined, rarefied, gracious environment, where a grande dame dressed in antique silk, wearing rare basra pearls,anointed me the ' Shama-e-mefil'. I shall always cherish the compliment!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Kolkata calling

Guys. I am off for the weekend. Kolkata it is. Another wretched flight at a wretched hour. You might have guessed I am not exactly a morning person. Here I am sitting at my dining table blogging away at midnight when I ought to be asleep. I'll be in Kolkata to participate in a national debate organised by The Telegraph newspaper, on media responsibility. Had the topic not been this volatile, I would have gladly passed. But this is the time to speak up. And say it like it is. For whatever that's worth . Most of the other participants are heavy duty 'intellectuals' - Kolkata loves their intellectuals. And every body in Kolkata fancies himself\herself as one. I shall do my very best to be as forthright and honest as possible. I' ll be rushing right back to attend the magical Sufi music festival at the Horniman Circle garden. Just what the soul ordered. Till then.... ciao ciao. Read my lips : No more Rahul. Keep guessing which one I'm referring to!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Big Losss

I had a one point agenda last night. I was determined to watch Bigg Boss and find out for myself what this rubbish was about. I was seriously concerned when a friend whose mind is worth respecting, told me she was hooked! I said, "I don't believe it..." Here was a card holding member of the Power Ladies Club, her Blackberry had become a body part, fused to her being. She checked every ping.... and moved a lot of global money around (all in a day's work) with a click. Why would she watch a dumb show featuring some toad-like men (all the women have been voted out)? Well.... guess what? Come hell or high water, she was hooked to the telly at 10pm every night. I was curious as hell, and surfed channels like mad till I found it. Eeeeeks!! There was a green faced monster on the small screen. It turned out to be Rahul Mahajan with a beauty mask! I wanted to tell him to save himself the trouble..... he doesn't need a mere mask, he requires a head transplant. And this moron is supposed to win one crore at the end of the show?? But that's before I saw the rest. Zulfie is a cutie. He should win - for being cute. The other two are plain ugh - don't know and don't care who they are. Five minutes into the show and I was ready to weep at the clumsy manipulation taking place so blatantly. All that hocus pocus about Rahul quitting because he refused to apologise to the Bigg Boss!! Those grown men (ghodas) weeping and wailing after his exist, yelling out, " I love you, Rahul!" Gawd!!! YUCKKKK!
So, why do people watch the show if it is this bad(I swear it is)? I think it is because they see a little of themselves in those inmates, and wonder how they would behave in an identical scenario.The production values are beyond shabby, and it is so obviously 'staged'. I guess suckers are born everyday. What's the bet that the creepy Mahajan will be back.... and go on to win??? Oh... I met his sensible sister Poonam (she is standing for elections from South Mumbai on a BJP ticket), who wants to come and meet me at home. She must cringe watching her brother on this grotesque show.Must ask her when she comes a-calling....

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Francophile - who me??

I have a strange love-hate relationship with the French. Most times, I love them. But somehow, I can't trust them. No special reason. Just an irrational feeling. Like their sudden rediscovery of India. Of course, the connection goes back centuries, and the French liked our 'ambi' motif so much, they promptly renamed it 'paisley' and made it their own. Saroj, my lovely shawl lady from Gujarat, showed me an antique Paisley shawl from France. I told her it was Indian in origin. She knew. And said sweetly, " But we have shared it with the world." I liked her perspective. So generous and honest. Here is a woman whose vast knowledge of pichwais, for example , would impress a serious collector. But looking at her close-to-bedraggled appearance, who'd guess it? She is a complete professional. I respect her mind and expertise.She is also a canny businesswoman..... but in a tough business. Her margins are low. To acquire those exquisite pieces, she has to rough it out and travel extensively from village to village. But she loves what she does. It is a passion. We share that sentiment (and many other), in common.
The same night, I went to a soiree at the French Consul General's beautiful home on the edge of the bay. Francois has movie star looks. His Japanese wife, Mayumi, is porcelain perfect. The two of them are rapidly rising up the social ladder in Mumbai, with their grace and charm. The soiree was primarily for the city's power ladies - eighty of them. Scarey!! Mumbai's attractive Sheriff, and the principal of H.R. College, Dr. Indu Shahani ,and moi, were to share our experiences at the Global Women's Forum , Deauville, with these invitees. One look at them and I decided to keep it short, and keep it simple. They were far more interested in guzzling the decent French wine, nibbling on shrimp...and net -working, than in listening to speeches.It was a good decision on my part ( and Indu's ) to wrap it up in under fifteen minutes. One could almost see the relief on the faces of the women , who promptly went back for refills at the bar. I rushed home for my daily fix of daal chavaal with the family.
The French have their ways. Right now, they want India to buy heavy water from them.Why do you think Sarkozy made it as chief guest to the Republic Day parade early this year?Well, the French are known for their courtship rituals, and right now, India is being wooed big time by them. I am fine with it. I like good strategists. So long as we all know the deal, ki phark penda? C'est la vie. Chin Chin!!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Weekend - what's that??

Sad but true. We urban monsters can no longer differentiate between weekdays and weekends.... the days blend smoothly and meld into a 7 day, non-stop week with zero time off for self.... leisure... chilling. When we are not on our laptops ( I refuse to get a Blackberry), we our frantically texting. It is a disease - I recognise the symptoms.... but realise I am a terminal case. Like millions of others. I rushed to Alibag this morning, and charged back. I was willing to 'save' time and skip lunch. But my daughter Arundhati sensibly decided enough was enough. I compromised and settled for a multigrain chicken salad sandwich (lots of mustard), a mushroom salad , and a wonderful cappuccino at our favourite neighbourhood snackbar, 'Sugar 'n' Spice at the President Hotel down the road. Am I glad I took that break. We bonded, as only mothers and daughters do, or can. Then.... she left to converse in French with Dominique ( Arundhati goes back to Paris in December.... and needs to brush up her Mumbai Francaise), and I drove off to run errands. By the time I got home, Saroj, the Antique lady was waiting for moi. Saroj deserves a book devoted to her . She happens to be one of the most knowledgeable women on textiles. There is little Saroj does not know - from French Paisley shawls to Saurashtra aabhas - both going back a century or so. Oh.... I forgot to mention.... Saroj is illiterate, hard working and underprivileged (money wise). But what riches she possesses, in terms of sheer expertise! She could teach the mighty members of the textile board of India, a thing or two. There is much I have learned from Saroj over the years. I am grateful for her friendship.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Billionaires' Row

Even though we don't have a physical destination like a Billionaires' Row in India, it is interesting as to how many of the top dogs on the Forbes' List, actually live cheek-by-jowl, in fairly close proximity to one another, right here in South Mumbai. The Ambanis, Godrejs and Birlas, for example. The senior biz journo who compiles the Forbes' list happens to be good friend. I know the amount of painstaking research that goes into the creation of this list. Since the latest one is just out, and everybody is talking about how many billions less these guys are worth, thanks to the economic meltdown, it is amusing to monitor the figures in the context of the aam janata's perception of the billionaire phenomenon in India. Wealthy people in the past were called Crorepatis,and before that, Lakhpatis. Raj Kapoor's version of how the rich live in India was the version the common man bought into. Those mansions with hideous stairways in the middle of the drawing room.... the heavy drapes and gigantic arm chairs.... Pran in a velvet smoking jacket chomping on a pipe, women in elaborate sarees perpetually yelling at a Ramu Kaka or a Bahadur, teenagers in pig tails off to play badminton at the club in Cadillac Impalas, breakfast tables laden with plump fruit.... aaaah.... all of this was so very naive appealing and innocent.
Today's aamirlog (Mukesh Ambani has dethroned L.N. Mittal as the richest desi), are poorer by a mere $200 billion!!! So saaaadddd! And the Billionaire Club has shrunk to just 27 from 54 last year. Try telling that to the maali in the garden. Or even the kiraana walla down the road. Why.... try telling that to virtually anyone. Who cares?? Nobody. The mood is different. We are happy the super rich in India have pots of lucre. And may they make much more. But in real terms, whether Mukesh cuts back by not buying the next private jet or yacht, does not directly impact anybody's life. But we sure miss Raj Kapoor's version of indecent wealth in a poor country.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fire and Ice

Many moons ago, there existed a popular nightclub called Fire 'n' Ice in Mumbai. It met a sad end. Well.... I underwent a traumatic trial by fire late last night, when an airconditioner in the health club downstairs caused a short circuit and started an electrical fire that created acrid, thick smoke which engulfed the entire complex.I awoke with a start at 03.30 am, certain that my own a\c was about to explode ( I live in mortal dread of that happening ). I rushed out of the bedroom to check where the sharp, searing smell of burning wires was from coming from, only to be met by toxic fumes creeping in from a narrow slit under the front door of the living room. I woke up the rest of the family ( and Kiara, our adorable female dog), and worked on an instant plan of action. The stairs were not an option, the elevators are never an option in such circumstances. That left - what?? By then there were three fire brigade tankers, police cars and other security agency personnel hard at work. The smoke was getting thicker and blacker. My eyes were watering and my throat was on fire. My daughter Arundhati was about to faint. I recalled the old fire drill - wet towels under the door, soaked towels covering the face, blankets over the body, and as quick an exit as possible.
That's exactly what we did, gagging all the way. But once downstairs, we were able to better assess the seriousness of the situation (the state- of -the-art health club has been reduced to cinders) and wake up to the reality of how poorly manned most building societies are in Mumbai. No fire alarm was sounded, no intercom alerted residents, no call was made to evacuate the building. Nothing. I find that scarey and disgraceful. In any other big city, residents would sue and claim damages if this was the attitude of irresponsible committee members. Lives could have been lost, property destroyed. What is the outcome here?? Nobody bothers to initiate action. Everybody is thankful, even grateful, about being safe..... being alive. No real investigation is ever done as to the cause of the short circuit. It is business as usual, with neighbours laughing stupidly about how they slept through it!! We call ourselves a megapolis. This building society represents one of the most expensive real estate properties in India. And this is the level of safety, awareness and accountability!
With barely a couple of hours of sleep (no electricity), I had to rush to inaugurate a plants and trees exhibition, now in its 10th year, thanks to the initiative taken by the citizens' association spearheaded by Nana Chudasama - 'I love Mumbai.' My lungs were still burning, as I spoke about global warming and other environmental issues . Sweet irony! But the plants were gorgeous.... and I have fallen in love with a full grown ficus. Determined to go back and buy it, along with a graceful, delicate black bamboo from Kolkata. These are my true friends... they respond to love, ask for nothing, but give everything - like Kiara, and .... and.... oh dear.... how sad.... can't think of a single name!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The real 'Queens' of Bollywood..

It is official. After 'Dostana', nobody will be talking about the Kings and Badshahs of Bollywood. It is the time of the Queens. Ranis to rule from this friday. No, Not Kareena, Ash or Priyanka, sillies. I'm talking about Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham. Gay is 'in' and how!! I watched the movie at a private screening, with several really young children (all boys) who weren't supposed to be there. Anxious guests were reassured by my off - hand statement : "Relax.... they won't get it," I stated airily. But guess what? They did! How could they not when every second person in the movie is gay ( real or fake), and every joke is a gay joke? Why there is an entire song devoted to being gay.Every conceivable gay stereotype is featured in the movie, including a limp- wristed, foppish Boman Irani in really bizarre clothes. 'Dostana' is a mish mash of several Hollywood films, including 'Three is Company,' but that is not its only sin. Watch it and discover your own list and favourite moments.
I shall refrain from commenting further since it is unethical to reveal more before the film's commercial release. Is John's butt all that it is cracked up to be? To find out, get to the movie theatre on time.... the butt is right up there as an amuse bouche.... not even an appetiser. Blink and you miss the bulge. Which one?? Awww... come on.... go figure. Jo dikhta hai, woh bikta hai, said Rakhi Sawant. John's butt has crores riding on it.... let's see if the butt delivers impressive returns at the box office.
Just finished nibbling on a delicately flavoured, rose petal sandesh from Sweet Bengal. I use it like a creamy cheese spread over a kadak, jeera seasoned khakra, while enjoying my evening cup of Darjeeling leaf tea. Blissssss!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quantum of Boredom. Bond with the Worst!

Okay, all you Craig\Bond freakos and fans.... throw me out of a burning plane, riddle my body with dem bullets, make me drink oil..... but don't force me to say I liked this dumb film. For starters, I must be the only woman on earth who does not find Daniel Craig hot\sexy\devastating\irresistible. He is a chunky piece of meat.... but no heat. Am I mad? Do I need therapy? Glasses? Several martinis?? Maybe. But this guy leaves me cold. Thanda matlab Daniel Craig. As for the plotless \senseless mayhem that is trying to pass for a Bond classic, even Dame Judi looks bored - who wouldn't in her place? The new Bond babe - sure, she sizzles - literally so. She is half-cooked through most of the film. The Bond era is over. Sorry. Kill me for stating the obvious. I know the figures at the box office are staggering. But if you ask me why, I'd say Bond has become a bad habit. You have to watch the latest Bond, no matter how terrible it is. You know Bond will never die or get seriously injured even if he is nuked. So why watch a movie when you know the ending? And you also know it is always going to be the same ending??Senseless action in Bolivia, a trite plot, banal dialogue and the worst crime of all - no sex. In a James Bond film, for Chrissake!! No glamour either. No romance. Illey. Even the much looked forward to title track and the graphics were forgettable, devoid of the expected oomph. What does that leave? Oh, popcorn at Inox, and the promise of great 'Swati' snacks at the newly opened food court. BTW, the hall was half empty.And because I was so bored, I had the choice of taking a much needed nap or eating. Guess what I picked???