Monday, 31 October 2011

A Diwali Par Excellence

[The beautiful pearly Queen's Necklace.]
Marine Drive - one of Bombay's best places, or maybe I should acquiesce with the wily government who changed all colonial names to more local and pleasing names, and call it Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Road; wait, is there a road by the same name in Mulund? Despite the dirty politics and the dirt strewn by the public, it is still my favourite spot in the whole of the city, especially the southern end of it, towards Nariman Point, where there is a path extending into the sea, with the sea surrounding you. The peace and calm that it provides! I could sit there all day long, without getting bored, watching the frothy waters rise and fall and splash and drench the massive tetrapods they shatter against. Did you know that after South Beach Miami, Marine Drive has the largest stretch of Art Deco buildings in the world? Thankfully, over the past few years, it has been kept spotlessly clean, renovated well, restrooms built along the path and great sitting walls provided, all adding to its charm (though I am still waiting for them to instal some dustbins  along the path). And its beauty is augmented as soon as the sun recedes, for the street lights and hoardings light up the road, not to mention the zooming cars, and the Queen's Necklace, as it is colloquially called, strung with street lights replacing pearls and jewels, gleams under the night sky.

However, on Diwali night, the area become even more magical. I am born and and have been raised in Bombay, but had never before gone to see the most dazzling spectacle on Diwali night at my favourite spot in the whole city. What a fool I was! You always tend to ignore things so close to you. Just like the Hindi saying, 'घर की मुर्गी दाल बराबर', romanized as 'ghar ki murgi daal baraabar', literally meaning that home cooked chicken tastes like daal, i.e. lentils; though what it actually means is that we tend to not lend the people that are close to us or things that are close to us or easily available, the importance that they deserve and take them for granted. Whenever I've gone abroad, I've never missed the fireworks or an astonishing display, whether it was the Symphony of Lights in Hong Kong, or the Fourth of July fireworks in New York, or the Canada Day fireworks at the Niagara Falls or the countless shows and displays at all Disney Parks, but I had never before seen the grandest spectacle of my favourite festival. Maybe that added to the excitement and expectations, and I was not to be disappointed. But before leaving my house, I had decided that in the coming years, I will watch the following extravaganzas in India - Durga Puja in Calcutta, Dussehra in Mysore, Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, Rath Yatra in Puri, Ganesh immersions on Anant Chaturdashi at Chowpatty Beach in Bombay and Republic Day in New Delhi.

[Clockwise from top: A glittering fountain; The wonderfully lit Saifee Hospital; A funny picture taken at the right moment?; A cracker blowing up.]

I reached Marine Drive pretty early, at 6.30 in the evening, for I wanted a nice spot to watch the proceedings, but that was unnecessary, for despite the huge turnout, there was plenty of space for everyone, as the road extends for what seems like miles and getting a spot along the wide wall was easy. I was accompanied by my cousin, and the two of us sat for a while until it was dark. That's when the fun starts. When the watch read 7, it was dark enough, and soon the gloomy skies were lit up as the sounds that had been going off all around us were now supported by lights. And within an hour there were very few spots on the wall and in the skies too, firecrackers were vying for an empty spot and for our attention. No matter where you looked, you could see a burst of colour, but the golden and purple ones, stole the show. The reflection of these in the seas added to their charm. And there was plenty of my favourite kind, the kind of fireworks that burst like a drizzle of rain, what I like to call shotgun-bullt-burst firecrackers!  The numerous clubs and gymkhanas all along the Queen's Necklace had their annual Diwali parties and of course, these end in a glittering display, which further decorated the night sky.

[Cop out?]
All along the promenade by the sea, people were finishing boxes after boxes of firecrackers. There were rockets and burst-in-the-sky fireworks, though some rockets darted off to the residential apartments nearby and some bounded for the sea, bouncing off the waters, which was sooooo cool, and fountains and chakkars and ladis and bombs so loud, they could deafen you, and sparklers and all kinds of fireworks that one can think of. Though the scariest were the 'butterflies', which create a huge buzzing din and change colours as they fly all over the place. Thankfully due to a vigilant police, these were few and far between. However, not all of them were as alert. Some miscreant burst a bomb right next to my foot, and then when someone wrongly pointed towards my cousin, the police ran, caught him by the collar and started questioning him. Luckily, we explained what had happened, and got away, which we should have, but the culprit was never caught! It was a scary-then-funny-later kind of moment, and I still burst out laughing thinking about it in retrospect.

[Clockwise from top: Throngs and fireworks; Two in a blow; Every possible spot is taken, even the flyover!; My favourite kind of firecracker, what I like to call shotgun-bullet-burst firecracker.]
A lot of people were laying down on the wall, to get a better view to the sky and the number of people with funky cameras; I never knew there were so many photography enthusiasts in Bombay! There was even this group of friends who had were having a candlelight dinner right there! And then of course the love birds, squatting on the tetrapods holding hands and trying to just merge into the crowd, without anyone noticing them. However, what I really loved about the celebrations was that they were not restricted to just Hindus, Diwali being a Hindu festival, but people of all cultures and religions were out there having a good time. There were a good number of Muslims too, many of them Bohris, easily discernible from their garb, bursting crackers. Wonder when the Hindus will also partake in Id celebrations? It is occasions like these that promote brotherhood and oneness and bind us into one fabric, that of being an Indian. There were a good number of foreigners too, probably from the multiple plush hotels lining the sea face, watching the show and enjoying themselves, although initially, they did seem a bit taken aback by the loud noise and smoke all around. Let's hope they take home a happy joyful picture of what India is like.

[The mesmerising chameleonic smoke.]
The colourful lights reflected the harmonious mood, for a wide palette of colours adorned the roads and skies. A dash of green was mingling with a sprinkle of red, which soon merged into purple and then turned to gold, as if Midas had touched it. Smoke bellowed from hollow tubes as sparks flew high up in the sky, and the undaunted smoke made colourful rings and engulfed trees. With each passing shot, the chameleonic smoke changed and amazed us. The smell tempted me, like the cheese on the mousetrap does a stereotypical mouse, and was calling out to me to burst a few; I have given up bursting fireworks for about seven years now; not that I regret it, for when I did burst them, me and my brother would finish a huge carton each for each of the four days of Diwali and the New Year Day as well. This year I did not relent; at least for then, maybe next year I shall.

[The Dance of Fire.]
From what I hear, the Diwali in the past few years had been a lot milder, as compared to when I was a kid. I can only imagine the fun one would have had then. However, on the bright side, it was a lot quieter, the loudest firecrackers being in the range of 85-90 Decibels, as against the stipulated of 125, above which firecrackers are banned. The air was a lot cleaner. I remember in the earlier years, when one used to get up early on New Year's, a horrendous smog would blanket the city, which was absent in most parts this time around. And the number of crackers going off after 11 o'clock, even on Diwali night, have reduced significantly in stark contrast to those days, when 3 in the morning was the new 11. Whether it is the awareness and the people warming up to the eco-friendly idea, or the high prices, inflation and the global recession, I do not know, but whatever it is, it has most definitely brightened everyone's Diwali. But then, no Diwali is complete without dozens of sweets, rich clothes (I was concerned that heavy nylon and silk saris and kurtas would be risky close to fire, but the people never learn), rangolis, diyas and most importantly fireworks. And like everything, they too are good only in moderation. So here's to another dazzling Diwali. I know where I shall be going next year. Hope to see you there.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Curious Countenance

It was unusually cold the night Mr. Ghosh alighted from the steam locomotive at the Birpur Railway Station, for the town had always been on the wrong side of the weather's mood. Even the moonlight that used to seem warm each night was today, alien and cold. Birpur was the closest railway station to his tiny village of Durganagore, which was an hour and a half's tonga-drive away, yet did not share the horrendous scorching Birpur weather.

The platform was as crowded as usual, not a single soul, save the senilady, the senile lady, in sight. He gathered his belongings, which were going to find themselves in different houses across the village the following morning; each visit to his hometown was accompanied by the city invading the local houses, in the form of generous gifts - radio sets, books, spectacles, the finest cotton from the big city and various knick-knacks, which had never set foot in the village. He was widely popular for his generosity of spirit and kindness and loved by all. It was a tiny village, not as small as an hamlet, but small nonetheless, and everyone knew everyone's business, for there was never much to do, but idle scuttlebutt. His visits and stories of the thriving metropolis provided them with enough fodder to last until his next, usually a year later; and if he skipped one, speculations would abound as to the reasons, which again lasted another year, until he finally landed there the next year. However, he still loved his village and its simpletons, after all it was where he grew up and it provided him an enchanting escape from the hustle-bustle of the sleepless giant, time to relax and get his thoughts in order, so the behemoth could again ruin them.

He left the station, but not before giving the senilady a bag full of sweets that he had brought from the train-trolley. Whistling, he hailed a tonga. He loved them, light and quick horse-drawn carriages; they let the breeze hit you as they sped on and allowed you the pleasure of indulging in interesting conversations with the tongawallas. The only downside was the infectious ordure. He always found it funny that it sounded like hors d'œuvre, but couln't differ more from them! The tongawalla had acquiesced with the moon, and had a shawl wrapped around his tiny frame like a burqa, covering him completely, leaving only a minuscule hole so that his eyes could wander without let. He halted in front of his prospective customer and was about to alight to help the gentleman with his luggage, when Mr. Gosh dismissed his kind gesture with a wave of his hand and said, "Thank you, but I got this. To the Bodi Habeli of Durganagore please." The city of Calcutta had not robbed him of his manners, nor did it manage to rob him of the archetypal Bengali accent. In a jolly mood, he boarded the tonga, stowing his luggage safely and requested the tongawalla to proceed.

And off it went, running with the cool midnight breeze, running like the swift midnight breeze. Usually, he would have loved to indulge in a pleasant conversation, but today, he was just too tired from the train journey. He wanted nothing more than to reach home quickly and lay his head on the softest pillow ever, which his grandmother had stitched for him, but not before meeting and greeting every member of his family of 13. He never got sleep in the tongas, partly because of his conversational interests and partly because of the bumpy ride, but this time the city had left him devoid of any energy and sleep soon came over his sapped self. Tonight, everything was different from the usual.

A sudden jolt rudely woke up the sleepy passenger that was Mr. Ghosh. As he tore sleep away from his half-closed eyes, like an oyster shell half-open, he realised he was closer to home, for there was no thoroughfare for as long as the eyes could see, the road had turned narrow, seemingly familiar trees on either side of the road covered it, alienating it from the moonlight, and the temperature had dropped a couple of notches - all signs that he was indeed home. It became exceptionally scarily dark and all he could see were a couple of eyes betwixt where there would ideally be bushes, if only the fireflies could be more dazzling and light the path. They passed the local crematorium, which was reportedly haunted and a spirit was rumoured to follow those travelling after midnight; not that he belived it one bit, but it added to the mystery of the night and lent it a certain chill, completing the whole eerie package.

Soon the huge intimidating iron gates of his estate came into sight and he requested the tongawalla to halt the carriage. His house was a not so long uphill allée from the gate. He could discern the shape of the house in the distant. There was no one to welcome him, which was normal, for village folk usually slept early; they had not much to do after sundown. Electricity had not yet reached most parts of it. He gave the tongawalla a crisp tenner; even though he had not decided on the fare, it was usually just a couple of Rupees, but he being his munificent self, gave a little extra and thanked him for the ride. The tongawalla gladly accepted it, but did not utter a word, he was surprisingly quiet. Mr. Ghosh, being tired, gathered his luggage and pushed the gates open, who greeted him with a creak. As he was making his way up the winding, he saw the silhouette of a figure making its way towards him at a brisk pace. He stopped, thinking it was the tongawalla with something that he may have accidentally left behind, not that he thought he had, but could be very much possible; signs of age catching up with him, he thought. The figure was nearing him, but it was too dark to see anything. All he could notice was that it looked like the tongawalla, with his wrapped shawl forming a hood and a lantern in his hand, whose light flickered in the midnight breeze and due to his quick pace. As the figure approached him, Mr. Ghosh questioned it, "Did I leave something behind?" The figure did not speak for what seemed like ages, and then spoke in a voice unlike anything our friend had ever heard. It was hoarse and alien.

All he said was "Yes, sir. Me." and then saying so it raised the lantern to its face in the hood, except that it did not have one, just a skull for a face and bones for fingers, and then its jaws trembled as it blew hot air and put the light out.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

As Patient as Job, as Ingenious as Jobs

[Steve and his Apple.]
The first figure of speech one learns in schools is the good old simile and in that, 'as patient as Job', though most of us could not fathom what that meant, for religion is hardly ever taught at school; but lucky for me, my first school was a convent and we were told that Job was a character in the Bible. Pretty soon, that simile will be complemented by another one, 'as ingenious as Jobs.'

Born on the 24th day of February, 1955 to parents with varied foreign backgrounds, and placed for adoption right after birth, one could predict not too bright a future for such a kid. But as it always happens, surprises come from the most unexpected of all sources; that's the reason why they are called surprises in the first place! The adoptive family was what he called his real family. But, his life was a struggle from the get go. He had humble schooling and juggled many jobs to make ends meet. He used to return Coke bottles for some additional money for food and would eat the weekly free meals at the Hare Krishna temple close to his home. There's no shame in that, it's a temple, and the food is scrumptious!

In 1976, at the age of 21, he co-founded Apple Inc. with his friend Steve Wozniack, an electronics hacker and Ronald Wayne, who later sold his share in it to the former duo. From then on, began an extraordinary roller coaster ride of creativity, slump, ingenuity, betrayal, fame and fortune.

[The novel 1984 Macintoshes.]
Steve revolutionised multiple industries - computing, animated movies, music players, mobile phones and electronics as a whole. It started with computers made in the 70s and early 80s and culminated in the Macintosh in 1984, the first computer that had a mouse and the most important feature that make computers fun, graphical user interface (GUI), as compared to the earlier cumbersome and horribly dull command-line interface (CLI). Though just within a year, his annus horribilis, he was removed from the company that he had so painstakingly nurtured, though he later said that was the best thing that could have happened to him and nothing in his life would have been where it was, had he not been fired from Apple. After that he founded NeXT Computers in 1985 and continued making computers, but also ventured into the animated film world by purchasing The Graphics Group, which we all know now as Pixar Animation Studios. Their very first film Toy Story was a smash-hit and a harbinger of the goodies in store. With greats like the Toy Story series, Cars, Finding Nemo series, A Bug's Life, Up and one of my favourite films of all times, Ratatouille, Pixar won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature a whopping 6 times since it was introduced in 2001!

[Only Time will tell: From Jobs' first cover on the Time magazine, dated 15th February 1982 to the latest, definitely not the last, dated 17th October 2011.]
But the one deal that changed not only his life, but our world as we know it, was when Apple announced that it was going to buy NeXT Computers and Jobs was back on job, heading the company he had created. Then there was no looking back. Whatever he touched, turned to gold. He truly had the Midas Touch. Whether it was the new Mac OS X, the iMac, the iPod that accomplished what Sony would have dreamed of achieving for years, the iPhone that transformed how one used a phone, the iPad that was cherry on his pie of creativity or all the cool technology that goes into making each of these products what they are, he always came up with smart answers to satiate the needs of this tech-savvy generation. I absolutely love the trackpad of the MacBooks! Once you start using a MacBook or an iMac, there's definitely no way you'd like to work on Windows again! And the Apple products also satisfied the chic quotient with products coming in bright eye-pleasing colours, which all started with the vibrant candy-coloured iMacs, or unique shapes and thinner sizes. Every product, except the iPod, gave this generation even more reason to be cooped up at home (the iPod does coax you to go running). And no one's complaining!

[The stunning picture metamorphosing the Apple logo with a Jobs silhouette, created by a Hong Kong design student.]
Jobs was always admired for his ingenuity, skills as a salesman, his convincing power and the ability to inspire a whole generation, and his famous speeches, which came to be known as 'Stevenotes', are brilliant. It came as a shock to most when on the 24th of August 2011 he resigned as the CEO of Apple, and within hours, their stock prices dropped by 5%. But it hit his fans and Apple users harder than the iceberg that struck the Titanic. He had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, but in August of 2011, he felt that 'he could no longer meet duties and expectations as the Apple CEO' and so he had to resign. And within months came the shocking news of his sad demise. It was the morning of 6th October and I was getting ready to go to work, when my brother questioned me, "Did you check your BlackBerry updates? Steve Jobs died." At first I couldn't believe it and thought he was just kidding, but the news channels generally don't lie. He had passed away on the 5th when he succumbed to his illness and could not fight the respiratory arrest. I stayed back to catch all the details. That day I went late to work.

[The homepage on the Apple website following Steve's untimely demise.]
Probably the greatest inventors since Thomas Edison, Jobs died a premature death. He was only 56. He had chosen Tim Cook to replace him and lead Apple, but it will never be the same, not for his hordes. Let's hope that Steve is not forgotten and the half-bitten apple is not left rotten. May his soul rest in peace, and if not that, reach out from the beyond with some amazing new gizmo via iGrave, but till then I (shall be) grave!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Vagina Monologues - The funny fanny dialogues

[Clockwise - Jayati Bhatia, Dolly Thankore, Dr. Sonali Sachdev, Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal and Avantika Akerkar.]
The Vagina Monologues have been tickling people's fanny bone (mind the pun) the world over longer than I can remember and have been running in India itself for the past 9 years. I always wanted to go for it, but never really found the time to do so, until this weekend, when I was fortunate enough to finally go for it, with my brother's girlfriend, at The Comedy Store at Phoenix, which I must say is a great place, though with really meagre seating. I don't know how they can afford to host shows there, but hope it is economical and it doesn't have to down its shutters.

I had a lot of expectations from the play, which were built from hearsay and rave reviews and the fact that they had managed to rile up the obnoxious politicians, not just by its apparent obscene name, but by its strong creative content, so much so that when in 2004 Academy Award winning actresses Jane Fonda and Marissa Tomei made a visit to India to gather funds for the noble cause of protection of women, and were part of the show, their entry was banned in the city of Chennai! Mahabano cracked a great one saying, "If Chennai doesn't have vaginas, then it is full of arseholes". I have to say it delivered. I love the modern and witty script. Kudos to Eve Ensler and whoever reworked on it so that it was applicable in the Indian context, and yet equally funny.

There has been a paradigm shift in the Indian mindset over the past decade or so and a lot of it is due to the fact that how liberal the various forms of media, especially newspapers, television and films have gotten. They have opened the Indian minds' closed parachutes at the right moment, with enough time, so that they do not plummet to their sordid deaths. The diaspora now accepts things as they come and do not feel as awkward talking openly about issues that were only mentioned in hushed whispers, even though these issues surrounded them. Though we are a long way from our goals of a liberal open-minded society, a good start goes a long way. Oh the irony!

The play was contemporary, smart and tongue-in-cheek, just the kind of thing you need to unwind on a weekend, after the way the city treats you during the week. Being a big fan of FRIENDS and having watched it so many times that I could mime the dialogues, I kept thinking of episode 20 of season 9, 'The One with the Soap Opera Party', where everyone's at Joey's rooftop celebrity party and poor Chandler's stuck at some dumb play, and I was half-expecting one of the actors to suddenly go "Why don't you like me. Chapter One: My first period." However, nothing of the sort happened. The actors were simply superb, though of the aforementioned 5, Jayati Bhatia wasn't there on the day I went. Mahabano was amazing, like she was expected to be, and her rendition of "The Flood" as a Parsi woman's monologue was hilarious. I guess her own roots helped. However, she did fumble on a couple of occasions that day, but it was still a great performance. From Dolly, I expected a lot more, given her great past, but the script fell short there, for her part was very less and the last one titled "I was there" was too boring and a horrible end to an otherwise amazingly spent hour and a quarter. Now I probably understand why the original script did not have that part. Looks like they are indeed going grey, and paving way for the new breed, but not losing their regality. There were two surprises on that day, and that doesn't include the thick odious bimbo who arrived late and threw tantrums to get a good seat, I mean you expect people with a certain level of income to have a certain manner, rather manners, and class about them, but anyway, the surprises were Avantika and Sonali. Boy, did they do a good job! Sonali was exceptional with her part, especially the Marathi lady's part with the requisite accent and the 'Simi Garewal moan' were to die for! The audience couldn't stop laughing for a long time post that, which also received the loudest claps and hoots. But the star of the night, for me, was Avantika. She had the greatest expressions, an accent as good as any ruddy foreigner, and the voices and sounds that left her throat, were they good! She had great command over her speech, with amazing voice modulation and was dressed to kill.  That being said, the 4 of them worked in perfect tandem as a team, with exceptional co-ordination and looked all too good together. Move aside 'teen deviyaan', it's 'fab four' now.

We, in India, really need some quality shows. A Broadway or West End style district is a distant dream, but some amazing popular shows like The Lion King or The Phantom of the Opera should at least have one season in huge Indian cities. Maybe people will not pay as high prices, even though they would pay the same abroad. I guess it's like the old Gujarati saying 'તીર્થ જઈને મુંડન', romanized as 'teerath jainay mundan', literally meaning you shave your head when you go on a pilgrimage; though what it actually means is that you do things and are ready to pay high prices for something when away from home, which you would not have even considered at home, for you never know if you'll make it to that place again or get the opportunity to do something like that again. But still, these shows would work just fine, thanks to a burgeoning and educated middle class that wants to live a decent lifestyle with certain indulgences and aping the upper classes. All we need is some good auditoriums and theatres. The Nautanki Mahal at Delhi's Kingdom of Dreams is a good start. Hope the government does something in this area and makes it more viable to run such shows and also bring an opera or a ballet to India. India's only standing Opera House, the Royal Opera House in Mumbai is in shambles and a serious state of disrepair. This dearth of decent venues to stage such shows should be filled and soon we'll have great shows making a beeline for India.

Back to The Vagina Monologues, you should definitely go for it. Though it ended prematurely and I could have easily sat for an hour more listening women chatter about a body part I didn't possess, it still is an hour and quarter well spent and will leave you feeling fresh and lively, and will get all that bottled up laughter out of you. I can't wait to watch the Hindi version of it, titled 'Kissa yoni ka'. Anyone up for it?

Friday, 7 October 2011

Hazardous Anna Hazare

For long I had zipped my mouth, but no more. I did not want to kick up a storm, which I often tend do, and was waiting for the dust to settle on the battlefield, for the populace is horribly fickle-minded, blessed with memory as good as a glittering goldfish; it takes only a few seconds for them to overwrite their tiny hard disks in their sad robotic lives.

Winston Churchill had once famously said, "If India ever gets freedom, it would be run by goons". Notwithstanding the fact that his men were no saints, but what he said has come to haunt us from beyond his grave. His prophetic statement has been as much a part of our independence as the huge burden of poverty and over-population. India has for centuries been riddled by political scams and controversies, that have provided for interesting teatime conversations, but it seems like they have all surfaced in the past few years. Every morning's news is the harbinger of another rotten sordid scandal. And we question as to the multiplicity of these scams and scandals and whether the money we pay to the government kitty, of course after every sort of manipulation possible to reduce it, is actually worth it. And we often feel the urge to get off our lazy arses and fight this pestilence, like an ivy taking over a structure, spreading its tentacles, quickly, yet firmly, never letting go of its hold.

[An animated Anna.]
But one man did fight this menace, Anna Hazare. For that I do respect him, but that does by no means signify my predilection for him. I am all for the cause he is fighting for, but I still do not like him one bit. For the past couple of months, Anna was all anyone ever talked about. His tastes, his likes, his dislikes, his dressing, ... blah  blah blah... can we give it a rest, please? There would be not less than than 2 pages on him in the newspapers each day. He dominated the political scene, hogging the limelight with his antics and dramatics and shifting focus from the chief issue at hand. I just think of him as a man desperate for some attention and a last shot at fame, to shoot him from the shadows of anonymity to right under the spotlight. Who, apart from a handful of villagers, really knew who he was before he stirred up the hornet's nest? A man with one foot in his grave and the other in darkness, sought to seek that one fickle friend that eluded him - fame. And now he has taken to Twitter and blogging to connect with Gen Y, or more like Gen E, for they are so dependent on the computer for everything! He's now bumped up on the Google predicted text list, right to the second spot, behind Anna Pacquin, whom he can't dethrone, not until he sheds his clothes, just like her.

And staging a fast to death, a class act! Nothing else would have catapulted him to where he reached after that. There were updates every few seconds on his health conditions and how many nanograms of weight he lost. What kind of a demand is it? If you don't listen to me, I'll kill myself? This is as ridiculous as that dude who before a couple of years said on the eve of Aishwarya Rai's marriage to Abhishek Bachchan that if she marries anyone but him, he would kill himself. I'd say good riddance to crazy rubbish! What nonsense is it? Not so long ago we had the Telangana Rashtra Samithi chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao's fast unto death. If the government accedes to every such deranged demand, we would have a 100 different states, as small as the European Union countries, in India. And isn't fasting unto death illegal? I thought attempted suicide was a punishable offense under the Indian Penal Code. But then, Jains do the same when they think they're nearing the end of their lives; anything flies in India under the religious banner! And calling bandhs every now and then, is just horrible. Holding the country to ransom, in an age when time is of the utmost importance and a day's efforts lost costs India a loss of Rupees 13,000 crore (130 billion).

[Fasting Anna - a damn good actor. Applause please.]
And what kind of a person is as rigid as him? In every argument and disagreement, both parties never win. Someone has got to make a compromise. But before that comes, discussion and dialogue. They need to sit down together, talk things over, see each other's points of view and then come to an agreement, which is obviously going to be a bit different from their individual demands. Someone has to acquiesce and settle for something else. However, Anna just did not want to talk. He was adamant and did not budge. Even when the government was ready to lend a patient ear to his side of the argument, he refused to sit down to talks. How then does he expect his demands to be met? Man, are old men just like cranky kids, not pacified until they get their hands on the toy they had their eyes on. And he kept making unreasonable demands whether it was demanding the sprawling Ramlila Ground in New Delhi or lifting restrictions on the people who would attend his discourse or certain unreasonable inclusions and exclusion from the Jan Lokpal Bill. And just recently he has stated, that is the government doesn't table and clear the Bill in the Winter Session of the Parliament, he will raise a stir, more like a stink, again.

The Bill, if implemented, would definitely put a clamp on the rampant corruption, but then it could be equally misused, just like the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 is. Women misuse it to get what they want from their innocent harmless spouses and their family. Not to mention that the additional posts created under the Lokpal, would also increase avenues for corruption. And what was funny was the fact that huge crowds supported Anna, just for the sake of it. A large proportion of them were those who did not know head or toe about the details of the Bill, about Anna and hell, they were the ones who had at least on one occasion bribed a government official or police officer; not because their innocence was getting in the way of getting their work done, but because they were on the wrong side of the law. That is what irks me. Clearly, half knowledge is dangerous.

What I am against is not the cause he is fighting for, but the method he has employed. It takes away the sheen from a noble cause, tarnishing it instead and causing him to lose some valuable support across all sections of the society. Had he not employed such cheap tactics, I would have definitely supported him. Also, it would have helped had he not adopted Gandhian practices. I for some reason am not particularly fond of the 'Half Naked Fakir' for a host of reasons that I do not want to go into at this point of time, and most certainly do not endorse any of his policies or practices, which I feel are as effective as wearing sunglasses when contracted with conjunctivitis. He could have gone about it in a different constitutional way, just the way Arvind Khejriwal was instrumental in bringing about the Right to Information Act, 2005; that would have glorified the cause. Anna Hazare is truly hazardous to society.

The destination, I support, but not the path.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

पुढील स्टेशन दादर... अगला स्टेशन दादर... Next Station Dadar...

[Dadar, easily the craziest railway station.]
"पुढील स्टेशन दादर... अगला स्टेशन दादर... Next Station Dadar..." This line is what every commuter travelling in the Bombay 'local' trains dreads. For no sooner does the 'announcing lady' say this, announcing in Marathi, Hindi and English, than some crazy frenzy grips every person in the train, which is already bursting beyond to thrice its peak hour capacity; and they start moving around, only there is no space to move, except of course if you are a like rodent, capable of squeezing itself from the tiniest of crevices that would prima facie not accommodate even its whiskers; and all the moving about results in some sly pushing and shoving and some sneaky punching and kicking and the occasional trash talk. The brouhaha escalates and reaches boiling point even before the train has come to a screeching halt, and you have daredevils jumping and running out of the moving trains, some out of choice, the rest as a result of the push and kick they get, and crashing into the multitude on the crowded platform, all vying for a spot on the train. So a good number of people have already alighted before the train has halted, and once it does, all one needs to do is either move with the flow, for you will be pushed out of the train, or steer clear of the rowdy crowd. It is like an angry swift flowing river, eager to meet the hungry tide. It always seems as if the entire train alights at Dadar, and an equal number of passengers board the train. What do all these people do there? The people trickle out of the train compartments like there's no tomorrow and they just do not seem to stop. Within seconds, a thousand people from each car have rushed out and another lot ushered in. It is utter chaos!

[The eager crowd waiting for the train.]
And of course, there's always those surprises when you have people coming from unimaginable places in the train - in between two compartment, riding on the connecting rods and chains, or the rooftop romeos, or the occasional sleeping-on-luggage-racks-wedged-between-a-laptop-bag-and-a-dog (yes I have even seen this, I mean it) commuter. It's always a delight and a great source of amusement. The moment you find yourself on the platform, you notice that not an inch of the platform is unoccupied and there is a huge queue at the base of the foot overbridge (an Indian word combining a footbridge and an overbridge)!

[People making a beeline for the foot overbridge.]
Dadar is probably one of the most busiest railway stations in the world, and given the number of low platforms that it has, it handles an unbelievable amount of passenger traffic. Almost every rail commuter must have passed through the station. There are about 1.4 crore (14 million) souls in Bombay proper, and over 2 crore (20 million) in the Bombay metropolitan region, that's a population density of about 21000 people per square kilometre! And about 63 lakhs (6.3 million) of them use the Suburban Railways, the oldest in Asia. That is a whopping load for the meagre 303 kilometre of tracks, the highest density in the whole world.

The Suburban Railways in Bombay are divided into two zones, the Western and Central, the latter running two lines - Central Line and the relatively emptier and lighter Harbour Line. The Central and Western Lines converge at only one station, no prizes for guessing which one! Yes, it is Dadar. That is also one of the chief attributors to the pandæmonium, for you have lakhs of commuters switching lines, trying to get to different corners of the island city.

And connecting the platforms of the two lines, are a number of bridges, but the main one is unlike anything one's ever seen. The east-west bridge, as it's often referred to as colloquially, has huge crowds at any point in time, whether it is 6 in the morning or midnight. They just do not seem to stop. It is like an army of ants emerging from teeming colonies, never relenting. Even Times Square does not have so many people!

[The Central Railway side of the east-west bridge.]
Walking from one end of the bridge to the other without being trampled upon or starting a stampede is an achievement. You cannot for a moment linger in the middle or even take more than a few seconds to read the indicators and deciding which platform to go to, unless of course if you have a death wish, and it is to be bludgeoned by mobs. And walking sideways from the left to the right or vice versa is impossible, for you will most definitely crash into hordes, who are moving only up and down.

[The Western Railway side of the same crazy bridge.]
However, whenever I do have to take the bridge, I am always amused, for you see all kinds of funny sights. You see people ferrying huge loads on their heads, some so big that it impairs even their line of sight and some smellier than stinky rotten fish, a lot of outstation travellers carrying heavy bags, one strap shouldered by one and the other by his kin, beggars seated on the edges doing their daily jobs and even hawkers selling all kinds of things from pens costing just a Rupee to 3 mobile screen guards for Rupees 10 to pirated novels for one-tenth the price, which by the way can be returned back to him in return for a certain sum! It never ceases to amaze me. You have food stalls and magazine stands and nice chaatwallas, selling yummy bhel and masala chanaa and then those whom I like the most and find the most useful, the boot-polishwallas, people who do a thorough job to make your shoes shine in a matter of a few seconds for as low as 5 bucks and double up as cobblers. There are a real blessing, especially during the rains, when no matter how clean you leave from home, by the time you alight from the train, your shoes are filled with muck from the streets and from the numerous feet that have stamped yours. And of course there are those crazy lunatics, rumbling all day long and those homeless families that dwell at the station and what I like to call, station-dogs; they are unlike any other stray dogs, for they are not affected or agitated by the close proximity to humans, even if they brush their tails, or for that matter even stamp it. They are so used to the crowds that they do not budge even one bit. They sleep peacefully right amidst all the hoola-boola. And better still are their cousins, the train-dogs, dogs who roam and rule trains, the kind that are not afflicted or sickened by motion-sickness. They are an absolute delight, and they seem to know what station to board from and where to alight!

[The market and eateries outside the station, eating away huge chunks of the road.]
Dadar is a vital link between the city proper and the suburbs and is used by people going to the commercial hubs of Worli and Parel. This is also why it is always crowded. Also, it has a HUGE market for anything and everything, and especially famous are its shops selling clothes, specifically sarees, and its flower and fruit and vegetable market. And then there are huge crowds wanting to go to Shivaji Park or the Siddhivinayak Temple or the Swaminarayan Temple. And finally, commuters wanting to catch outstation trains or arriving in Bombay from other parts of India.

Phew, when will the lord, thy god, come and deliver us from these crazy cacophonous crowing crowds?