Monday, September 05, 2005

That's all folks! But not quite...

What a time I've had. The last several months have been a blast! Never did I imagine that my online ramblings could be such a source of pleasure. And that too not just mine!

The purpose of my blog was to celebrate life in Bombay, and I think we did a pretty neat job of it, eh? It has been most gratifying to receive all the (mostly) kind and encouraging comments and emails. Thank you very much. I could never have imagined that so many people were willing to spend their time browsing through my ramblings! I didn't quite manage to vent my spleen as often as I would liked to have, but I enjoyed every moment nonetheless.

OK let me get to the point, much as I hate to say this: after giving you all a taste of what life is like in contemporary Bombay, I'm jumping ship.

Yes, I decided to shake things up a little. And so I packed all my worldly possessions into two bags and moved to the UK!

Why? Well, why not! My life was seeming a bit too well-settled in Bombay, and so I thought maybe it's time for some adventure. So here I am, to make my fortune - and to unleash mayhem - on this little isle.

Do wish me well.

Unfortunately since I am no longer in Bombay, at least not for the present, this means that I will now have to indefinitely suspend Until the Cops Arrive. I know, I know! Sorry!

However, all is not lost! I have no intentions of giving up penning the odd blog now and then. It's just too addictive! So I hope you will all dutifully switch loyalties to my new blog:

Mind the Gap - The travails of a Bombay Boy set loose on the streets of London.

Bookmark it right away!

Let's hope you like it.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Oh Coolaba!

I have happened to have worked in Colaba for a little over the last one year, and I must say I have fallen in love! Despite having been in Bombay all my life, I had never quite discovered this Insula Minora within the island we all know and love as Urbs Prima in Indis.

The streets of Colaba teem with the most colourful of characters. You won't find them anywhere else in Bombay. Baba, the Afghan carpet seller, panders to the whims of those who consider themselves tasteful enough to know how to treat delicate persian weaves. Rauf the albino plies his trade near the Nike store, and can provide you with an "antique" of your choice within a week.

Then there are the less honourable tradespeople - that range from Francine the one-legged drug peddler, to the fat guy who offers...er...massages by experienced professionals of any nationality you could possibly imagine.

Speaking of nationalities, there surely isn't any shortage of races on the streets of Colaba. In addition to the ubiquitous backpacker crowd who look pretty much alike no matter where they come from, there are Jews with the long black coats and ringlets and there are the aunties from Sri Lanka who seem pretty much dazzled by any shop they encounter. There are some very tall ladies in colourful african costumes, who are so large that it is in one's best interests to make way on the sidewalk as they sweep out of a 'hotel building'. These buildings are again something unique to Colaba - where each floor of the building is a whole new hotel!

My friend Shankar the cobbler can identify people's nationalities from 50 yards away. "Japanese?" I ask him, indicating the guy with the green spiked hair and his girlfriend in baby pink hotpants. "Nyaah, Korean," he says and goes on to ask a passing Somali (in Arabic) if he would like his shoes shined. A cop steps out of his Baywatch style yellow "Tourist Police" pickup, nods a hello to a long haired Australian guy astride an immense motorbike, scratches his belly and asks the Malayali shopkeeper, "Kaifa haluka?"

"Kullu tamaam. Alhamdulillah," he responds. While the beggars and pimps of Apollo Bunder might be experts in hustling tourists in German, Dutch, French and Spanish, the lingua franca along Arthur Bunder is clearly Arabic! Even mobile SIM cards are sold in Arabic. I can show you an ad for "BBL Mobile" - as the Arabic script lacks a 'p' sound.

And so then of course, there are the Arabs. Come the rainy season, and they're all over the place. They simply cannot come to terms with the idea of so much water going to waste. So they make a beeline for Bombay, the city of forbidden delights. Portly men in their trademark nightsuits seem to find their little oasis of contentment whilst plodding up and down along the sea front in 'Victoria' carriages that blast the latest Bollywood and Arabic hits. The song "Kaho na kaho" was a particular hit last year, due to the Arabic refrain it contains. Horses, rain, music and a good smoke seem to be their idea of paradise. But I'm not going to comment on what they get up to soon thereafter under the cover of darkness! Their veiled women on the other hand, try to play hard while the big cats are boogeying the evening away, and pass their time flirting with just about any man on the street, albeit from the safety of their hotel balconies.

Colaba is not without its surprises. Suddenly squalid mohallas turn into leafy lanes with beautiful stone buildings reminiscent of Victorian boroughs of London. Such islands of verdant peace seem out of place in bustling Bombay, but according to me this is simply because unlike the rest of the metropolis, Colaba is the end! There are no commuters rushing through here to get to another part of Bombay, and this is what makes for the relaxed lifestyle which is Colaba's little secret. Colaba's cafes, ranging from nouvelle Basilico to finger-lickin' Churchill are really cafes. People come in to these tiny joints to have good food and a relaxed time, and not to prove a point. Mondegar is an institution in itself, and at the other end of the Causeway spectrum is Kailash Parbat, the chaat house.

That doesn't mean that Colaba doesn't know how to party. There are as many nightclubs per square mile here as in Bandra, but partying in Town has its own je na sais quoi. It takes some effort to blend in with the crowd at Indigo, Insomnia and of course Athena. Don't head to any of these if you haven't paid attention to what you're wearing. Among the more relaxed places, Polly Esther's is now what Tavern perhaps once was, with its mix of 'danceable' retro. There's someplace for every taste in Colaba, and so there are less respectable venues for nighttime enjoyment as well - although The Blue Nile has closed down, Voodoo has transformed itself from a gay bar to a dance bar! Everything of course, has to be topped off with some yummy kebabs at Bade Miyan's behind the Taj.

Indulgence is Colaba's chief promise. There is no shortage of places to blow your cash during the day either, even without wandering into the designer-infested Courtyard or the corridors of the Taj. The hundreds of shops, ranging from trinket stalls to jazzy 'brand name' showrooms mean that you can buy just about anything within walking distance, except maybe a car. I'm sure even that could be arranged, if you know where to lurk in the alleys behind the Taj and aren't too particular about retaining the original number plate.

Hedonism, however, isn't Colaba's only claim to fame. Heritage puts up a fair fight. Colaba is home to some of the most beautiful architecture that Town has to offer. Let's give the Gateway of India and the lavish but 'ulta' Taj Mahal Hotel a miss though, and head to the magnificient Afghan Church. As a child, I used to look at BEST buses headed to this place and wonder how a church could be Afghan. It's not. It's the church of St. John the Evangelist, but was built in the memory of British soldiers who were killed in the war in Afghanistan sometime in the 1800's. Visiting the church is like going into a time warp. The pews have holes for resting rifle barrels, presumably because it came up in the midst of the 1857 struggle and the soldiers needed to be ready. The walls bear scores of inscriptions, of which I remember one in particular which was in the memory of someone who was "murdered by a treacherous Arab". I'm sure the Arab in question had similar adjectives to apply to the 'gentleman' that he had done away with!

The height of my little trip back into history was brought on by my 65 year old client from the UK who was more keen to find out whether or not the bells that had been donated by his great grandfather in 1903 were still around, than he was about the meetings we had lined up for him! That is how I came to scramble upto into the belfry of Afghan Church behind the Chairman, along with two other Englishmen viz. his CEO, who had his fractured arm in a sling, and my boss! Well I'm pleased to report that the bells are still there, and after shooing away the pigeons and waving away the cobwebs it was evident that they still bear the name of the great grandfather. Seeing the smile on the Chairman's face made the subsequent dry cleaning of my suit well worth it!

---

It makes me sad that I now can't spend my lunchbreaks discovering yet another of Colaba's delights. There is no other place that has so much to offer in so little an area. Most of all, I'll miss sulking by the sea.

Hasta la vista.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Waterworld!

By now I'm sure most of you know what I'm talking about. Going to take a break from the funny posts today.

On 26 July 2005 the city of Bombay recorded a mind-boggling 944 mm (37 inches) of rainfall, which is a new world record that surpasses the one set by Cherrapunji in 1910 when it received 833 mm (33 inches) in the same day. To put things in perspective, Bombay's historical average for the whole month of July is about 600 mm (24 inches), which is 20 times London's average but less than two-thirds of what Bombay received in a single day on 26 July!

What chaos it has been since then! On Tuesday afternoon, it poured like I have never seen it pour before (even in July) and the skies darkened like I never imagined possible during an afternoon in India. By 4:00 pm people had started to make their way home, and some had chosen to stay back in office.

Here is my eyewitness account of what happened next, and it is representative of what other Bombayites went through.

For once I wish I had listened to my mother, when she said I should stay put at office. But knowing my boss's propensity toward thinking of more work on unexpectedly finding people in office, I thought to myself, "How bad it could it possibly be!" and set out in my car along with a colleague at about 5:30 pm, expecting to reach home (22 km away) in three hours as opposed to the usual 75 minutes in evening traffic. Needless to say, all commuter trains had been cancelled due to flooded tracks. I thought my usual route through the docks would be better than going via Byculla, Dadar and Kings' Circle.

By 6:30 pm we had barely managed to clear Ballard Estate (3 km from where I started). The traffic was already gridlocked and progress was limited to a few yards every now and then, aided not by the traffic police but by good samaritans including the ones who bashed up the truck driver who refused to back up (and clear the junction he had blocked) when I asked him politely. Meanwhile both mobile and landline networks were jammed.

By 7:30 pm we had just about made it past Dockyard Road, and the progress was extremely painful. Local boys were busy clearing fallen trees and directing traffic. Thousands of people were trying to make their way home crammed into taxis, pickup trucks, lorries and buses; or simply on foot. I had picked up a Malayali businessman and his assistant, who had requested to be dropped near Everard Nagar. The only thought in my mind was to somehow get on to the flyover at Reay Road and then onto the Bombay Port Trust road towards Wadala, as it is wide, rarely crowded and well drained. I had never seen it flooded before Tuesday night.

By about 9:00 pm we had managed to get to the Port Trust road and to my horror it was gridlocked. Here I saw the first policemen I had set my eyes on since I left office and they were busy diverting traffic deeper into the docks. I had never been to these parts, and kept following the other cars. By now we were driving through upto a foot of water. Some of those roads were not part of the dock system and simply did not exist - they were meant only for the use of the fisherfolk who lived there and the odd factory based there, and hence were in a sorry state of repair. The water was now up to two feet deep in some places and it was a test of all the driving skill I could muster to avoid the potholes (or rather, craters) that I couldn't see! Already there were taxis stranded by the side of the road, because they are all aging Premier Padminis, not the best of vehicles for driving through water! At this moment, I noticed a great deal of smoke billowing out from under the bonnet of my car. I forget what logic he gave me, but the Malayali gentleman told me to put the A.C. back on, and to my surprise the smoke disappeared!

By 10:15 pm we rejoined the Port Trust road, near Sewri station. I dropped my colleague off, as he was headed to his brothers' house closeby. The cops were directing traffic past the railway crossing, back towards Dadar.

But when I told them I wanted to go to Chembur, I was 'allowed' to drive on straight. And by that I mean straight into a stream of other vehicles battling three to four feet of water. At this point it sunk in (please pardon the pun) that this was a water disaster of proportions I could not have imagined, despite having lived in Bombay all my life. I kept driving and praying, but the water just got deeper till it touched the sideview mirror, and even entered my car till the seats were wet. I kept accelerating so that I didn't get water into the tailpipe.

But someone suddenly leapt in front of my car and I was forced to brake. Suddenly all lights inside the car started flashing wildly and in a few moments the engine went dead. The kind businessman and his assistant pushed my car to the side of the road, but still in three feet of water. I managed to perch my bag in a dry corner (I was concerned about nothing else but the visa documents inside!) and waded out to the petrol pump across the road where about 50 cars and 200 people were taking shelter as it was on slightly higher ground. The pump was 2 km from anywhere, and I badly wanted to get to the Imax multiplex because I knew I could walk home from there like the Malayali gentleman invited me to do, but it was already midnight and better sense prevailed.

So that was how I came to spend the night perched on the counter in the office of a BPCL petrol pump in Sewri. A big thank you to the company staff who were extremely kind and accomodating to everyone and even let me stretch out and sleep for a couple of hours, using a debit card reader and the cashier's change-bag as a pillow. But by morning the waters seemed to have receded till they were only a foot deep. A lot of vehicles were still stranded, but many people had decided to start homeward again. Meanwhile my excitable mother had called her friend, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, to help me but all that he could say is that he himself was stranded at Matunga! I decided to wade across to my car to drain the water from inside. The water had managed to stream out by itself, so I thought I'd try starting the car instead.

To my surprise, it started easily and I spent some time pumping the accelerator to clear out the water from the silencer. Luckily the water hadn't reached the engine. By this time, my mother had managed to despatch one of her trusted peons from Byculla to get me some food and water (I hadn't had either since 6:00 pm!) and having him around gave me the confidence to venture toward home again. The plan of Dad hiring a Tata Sumo to come tow the car home was abandoned, and we drove through the water towards Imax Adlabs (3 km away). There onwards the traffic was gridlocked again, so I gleefully parked my car in the parking lot of my favourite multiplex (which was flooded too but only six inches deep) and decided to walk home.

The road from Imax to Suman Nagar was jammed hopelessly on both sides of the road in both directions. Not a single engine was on, and most of the vehicles were empty. Seemed like a scene from The War of the Worlds, especially given the crazy angles that most vehicles were at.

The fields between the road and the RCF plant were now one big lake, and drivers had tried to push their cars onto the divider before abandoning them so that they wouldn't get swept away. As we approached the Eastern Express Highway, the water was again waist deep or more and I was shaking my head at the slums that had been swept away. Then I looked to other side of the road and saw that the ground floor of an apartment complex was simply not visible, except for the roofs of the cars in the parking lot.

We climbed onto the flyover because the road under it was flooded too deep, and from here I saw why the traffic couldn't move. The entire six lane road from Sion to Chembur was under three to four feet of water, and no vehicles were visible because they had either not tried to venture within, or were already submerged. I saw more buildings whose ground floor flats and parked cars were completely under water. I was glad that I came through the docks and not via Sion. I was later told that everything from Sion to Dadar had also been similarly flooded.

There was a steady stream of black umbrellas moving towards Chembur in the middle of the road. Thousands of people were walking on the divider in waist deep water. The army had been called in and they were busy physically lifting small cars off the road so that larger vehicles could pass. We waded through the waist deep water and were passed by a police vehicle being pushed along. The cops themselves were anxious to get home, rather than helping the army jawans. While the commissioner of police A N "dial-a-quote" Roy was busy telling news crews how his crew was "in severe stress", there was a singular absence of policemen on the road. I counted a total of 15 in a stretch of 22 km, and only 4 of them were engaged in actually helping people.

And to think at any given point of time there are 1,000 of them engaged in protecting Bal Thackeray's life. At any nakabandi there are at least 20 of them leaning on their rifles and doing nothing. But this time, the cops didn't even bother to arrive.

Finally after walking 5 km after abandoning my car, most of it through waist deep water, I managed to meet my father at Diamond Garden in Chembur. Luckily the road was open from there to home and that's how I reached home, 18 hours after leaving office. The State Government declared Wednesday and Thursday as public holidays, presumably because they didn't know what else to do. The financial markets will reopen only on Friday. All communication and transport links were down, and I had to go one full day without Internet access! Some parts of Bombay didn't have power. Nature held the city under seige!

That was my story, and it wasn't very different in any part of Bombay. Stories are now emerging of people who walked up to 20 km through waist deep water, of residents in flooded areas who sheltered and fed the stranded masses and of private luxury bus operators who ferried people over distances that weren't flooded at subsidised fares, and of the social workers who ensured that senior citizens and women with small children boarded first. Bombay behaves itself in times of distress!

-----

It is now Thursday afternoon and by now the roads have been more or less cleared, although in many places they have been all but destroyed by the rain and there still are some cars lying around. I managed to retrieve my car and it's running better than it ever did before. People are back at work (Bombayites will never learn!) and local transport is being restored. Phone and other communication lines are slowly coming back to normal and the first flight from Delhi to Bombay has taken off. The availability of essential supplies is coming back to normal too.

Having said all that, vast amounts of water wasn't the only thing Bombay on 26 July had in common with the movie Waterworld. There were huge losses as well, which I'm sure will run into a few hundred million dollars in monetary terms.

- Over 100 people died in landslides in Kurla and Sakinaka as entire hillsides collapsed onto their hutments. Other casualties are still being assessed but hopefully loss of life on the roads has been minimal.

- Other parts of Maharashtra along the Konkan coast right up to Goa faced the wrath of the monsoon too and several landslides have killed over a hundred people.

- A BEST bus supposedly fell off the Dadar flyover, but none of the news channels have reported it, so I can't be certain.

- One major accident due to the rains was the collapse of one of the platforms of ONGC's oil rig at Bombay High, 160 km off the coast. It caught fire when an ONGC vessel lost control and hit the rig. About 400 ONGC employees who were on the rig and on the ship, jumped into the sea with lifeboats and without. The Navy and the Coast Guard have put out the fire since and rescued most of the people, but ten have died and 14 are missing. The good news, if you can call it that, is that most of the missing are trained divers. The loss of the rig is pretty serious because it produced four per cent of India's daily requirement of crude, at 80,000 barrels a day out of Bombay High's 260,000. However, it had been insured for $195 mn.

- Humans weren't the only beings affected. Over 23,000 heads of livestock - mainly goats and a few sheep - were drowned at the Deonar abattoir. Over 1,000 heads of cattle were drowned in the stables at Goregaon and Jogeshwari. I'm sure hundreds of stray dogs and cats have had a horrible time as well.

I shudder to think what happened to people with medical emergencies, because I saw am ambulance submerged too. Hope they got someplace safe soon.

But if you have loved ones in Bombay, and haven't managed to contact them yet - don't panic. Everything is very safe in most areas and has been so right through the chaos. It's only a matter of time before Bombay's back in business!

The sun is shining today, albeit rather half-heartedly, after weeks of grey skies! Feels very strange.

Addendum:

The loss of life has been much more than previously reported. Apparently over 300 people have died in Bombay and over 500 in the rest of Maharashtra and Goa. Those are big numbers even for this country of a billion people so desensitised that the loss of life is scarcely noticed unless the death toll runs into three figures.

In addition to those killed in landslides, people in Bombay mainly died due to drowning and short circuits. Some were schoolchildren who died when a school wall collapsed, while others were found dead in their cars because they weren't able to get out in time.

The seamier side of human nature was seen when people (likely to be burglars or landgrabbers or both) started a series of rumours about a tsunami / earthquake having struck and about the floodgates of a dam having been opened. The rumour spread, most probably over sms, over much of north eastern Bombay and in fact led to the death of 22 people due to a stampede in a slum in Nehru Nagar. Some of the guys who started the rumour were caught by residents, and the cops arrived just in time to save them from being lynched.

This, however, was the only incident in which traits like avarice and panic manifested themselves. In general the people of Bombay have demonstrated remarkable calm, and just trudged on as if it was all in a day's work to battle their way home through a deluge. Those that were safe went out of their way to make the stranded ones comfortable. Not one vendor hiked up his prices, even when the shelves were all but empty. Today life is almost back to normal, banks are open (although not all ATMs are) and the BSE Sensex is up another 90 points!

But hey, isn't it time we stopped patting ourselves on the back for having such an amazing "Spirit of Bombay" and demanded better infrastructure?! In any other country, by now crews would have been out rebuilding the roads that have been destroyed.

I hope Bombayites don't always continue to suffer fo their "Oh well, life goes on" attitude.

Email me for pictures of the chaos...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Money for Nothing

Until recently, I had only heard of the Nigerian bank scam.

I hope you know what I'm talking about. The scam comes in various flavours but in all cases you receive an email from some Government official or lawyer in Africa who "craves your indulgence" in helping him transfer several million dollars out of the country. You can receive upto $10 mn just for the use of your bank account.

Then it happened to the son of one of my Dad's friends. The son in question was adamant upon finding more about getting his hands on the money and kept corresponding with his mysterious contacts. Finally he received an email with the name and telepone number of a shady hotel in Juhu where he could meet his "contact" and handover the rupee equivalent of $7,000 in cash in return for more instructions on getting the $7 mn into his bank account. That's when my Dad managed to talk him out of it.

But last night they got closer home! My Dad received an email from an official supposedly from Lome, Togo who craved a similar indulgence from him. I have reproduced it below for your amusement.

Seriously, this is a worldwide scam that people must be falling for every now and then because it's been on for several years! Usually they have a contact right in your city to collect his "out of pocket" expenses in cash. If they are willing to meet in person, it probably means they're probably armed and dangerous!

Imagine. This is what is actually happening under the very noses of Bombay's cops who instead are keeping busy trying to figure out whether or not a drunken Salman Khan meant it when he told Aishwarya that he was a bhai four years ago.

Watch out for this scam, and I especially mean all you desperate housewives who crave some adventure...

--------------The following is the text of the email my Dad received--------------

From Andrew Chidi
Auditing And Accounting Unit
FOREIGN REMITTANCE DEPT.
Organization Union
du Banque Lome-Togo.
TEL:228- 9366709.

Dear,

I am Andrew Chidi, the director in charge of auditing and accounting section of Union Togolaise du Banque Lome-Togo in West Africa with due respect and regard.I have decided to contact you on a business transaction that will be very beneficial to both of us at the end of the transaction .

During our investigation and auditing in this bank,my department came across a very huge sum of money belonging to a deceased person who died on november 1997 in a plane crash and the fund has been dormant in his account with this Bank without any claim of the fund in our custody either from his family or relation before our discovery to this development. Although personally,I keep this information secret within myself to enable the whole plans and idea be profitable and successful during the time of execution. The said amount was us$14M (fourteen million united states dollars).

As it may interest you to know, I got your impressive information through the business directory at chamber of commerce and Industry here in Lome- Togo where I was searching for a good relaible contact to do the business with.I was elated the time I saw your address to propose the business to you.Meanwhile all the whole arrangement to put claim over this fund as the bonafide next of kin to the deceased,get the required approval and transfer this money to a foreign account has been put in place and directives and needed information will be relayed to you as soon as you indicate your interest and willingness to assist me and also benefit yourself to this great business opportunity.

In fact I could have done this deal alone but because of my position in this country as a civil servant,we are not allowed to operate a foreign account and would eventually raise an eye brow on my side during the time of transfer because I work in this bank.This is the actual reason why it will require a second party or fellow who will forward claims as the next of kin with affidavit of trust of oath to the Bank and also present a foreign account where he will need the money to be retransferred into on his request as it may be after due verification and clarification by the correspondent branch of the bank,where the whole money will be remitted from to your own designation bank account.

I will not fail to inform you that this transaction is 100% risk free.On smooth conclusion of this transaction, you will be entitled to 30% of the total sum as gratification,while 10% will be set aside to take care of expenses that may arise during the time of transfer and also telephone bills,while 60% will be for me. Please,you have been adviced to keep top secret as I am still in service and intend to retire from service after I conclude this deal with you.

I will be monitoring the whole situation here in this bank until you confirm the money in your account and I will come down to your country for subsequent sharing of the fund according to percentages previously indicated and further investment,either in your country or any country you advice us to invest in.All other necessary information will be sent to you when I hear from you.I suggest you get back to me as soon as possible stating your wish in this deal.My telephone number is:00228-9366709.

Best Regard,

Mr. Andrew Chidi.

--------------------------------------------------------

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Retail Therapy

What an odd thing this is!

I remember thinking so to myself when first introduced to the concept of a mall in the US, ten years ago. I couldn't come to terms with the idea of a huge big windowless building which you drive to in order to shop, or worse, just hang out. For me, the market meant the sprawl around Chembur station, or else the footpath from VT station to Flora Fountain.

Well not anymore. Shopping habits in the good ol' suburbs have changed forever! A pal of mine was in town for a couple of weeks between jobs, and after an 'FMCG year' living in places ranging from Ambala to Aurangabad, he was keen to relive the 'urban' life. Having filled the previous weekend with multiplex movies, coffee and desserts at Cafe Mocha, English theatre, the Joe Satriani concert and partying at H2O - last weekend we decided to check out the mall scene.

And like good suburbies on weekends, we decided to stick closer home and headed to Centre One at Vashi. OH MY GOD. You will not believe how many people it is possible to pack into one building. New Bombay was out in full force, riding up and down the escalators, devouring the foreign maal at the dollar store, grabbing hip threads off the shelves at Indian Terrain and Provogue, and generally unleashing the contents of their wallets on the world with the gay abandon otherwise expected of the patrons of a dance bar. Amidst all this, I spy foreigners clad in hawaii chappals busy elbowing portly maamis in the check out lane at Food Bazaar. Well, if vegetables stacked in neat aisles instead of on carts at Matunga and paid for by credit card instead of being haggled for are good enough for Maami, they ought to be good for anybody.

Avoiding body contact with the other shoppers was too stressful an activity for us, so we ended the shopping trip with a lovely meal at Noodle Bar.

The next day we decided to hit Nirmal Lifestyles and R-Mall, the two malls in Mulund that everyone has been talking about. I hadn't realised that Mulund is now an easy 20 minute drive from Vashi thanks to the Airoli bridge over the creek, and hence the catchment area of these malls stretches from Sion to Thane and from Powai to New Bombay. Not to mention places like Kalyan and Ulhasnagar, from where people will happily hop on to a local train to go to the mall.

As it happened, we never ended up going to R-Mall. Because we spent six hours blowing up some serious cash at Nirmal Lifestyles itself! That place is huge! And I couldn't see how it was any different from malls abroad. Well not in terms of brands, but at least in terms of cleanliness and glitz. Actually, the large cobblestoned courtyards reminded me a little of Disneyland.

All the usual suspects amongst major brands and store chains popular in India are present, from Fab India to Arrow to Cottonworld to Wills Lifestyles. I quite enjoyed shopping at Fashion Juntion which is a bit like going to an airconditioned version of Fashion Street, with a train station vibe thrown in e.g. the guards are dressed like ticket checkers. Except that the clothes (no major brands of course) are of much better quality than Fashion Street, and instead of the stress of haggling you have the stress of elbowing your way through the vast store and waiting in line outside the changing rooms.

There is also a huge hyper-market full of atta-dal at kam-bhav. I'd never thought I'd see the day when Gujarati housewives will be seen pushing large trolley carts full of groceries to the parking lot. But they do it, right past the teens streaming out of McD clutching their Cokes. I'm not very sure, but I think there is a multiplex at this mall too. In any case there's always lots of hip music playing at every mall on weekends, next to jeans-clad "booth-babes" who stay busy helping shoppers publicly humiliate themselves by making them participate in some or the other inane contest. Pretty festive.

What struck me again was that this was a crowd of true Suburbia - not some scattered yuppies who happen to live in Mulund, but the real Aam Junta. Hardy middle class folk, who somehow weren't intimidated by the glass and steel. Just goes to show how wrong the Piramals have gone by opening malls in Town and attempting to stock European designer stuff. That sort of market is limited, because the Malabar Hill variety know where to get what they want - and they'd rather it be London than Haji Ali.

The average Indian consumer, however, who can't afford Rs. 20,000 Ermenegildo Zegna shirts got tired of window shopping at Crossroad quite fast. But I don't see them getting tired of the suburban malls. And I especially mean the shoppers in saris and burqas, if not those wearing jeans and sneakers with kurtis along with dark lipstick and bindis. By the way Kutchi traders have already started opening their sari stores at these malls.

All this tells me that unlike what most new marketers in India believe - that you have to either sell very premium products to the super rich, or sell low priced trash to the masses - Indians will go any distance to get value for money. Unlike Europeans who will pay huge premiums just to be assured of consistent quality, "price-concious" Indians demand paisa wasool and are willing to take the time to hunt down good deals. They don't mind paying a little extra in the bargain, but a bargain it must be. Give this to them, and then stand back! Keep those aisles wide and those shelves stacked deep.

You will know why I'm making such a big deal about this if you have seen the malls in Gurgaon. Road signs in Gurgaon include directions to the "Malls", because instead of being scattered along with the population, the malls in Gurgaon are mostly concentrated within a kilometre of each other. Go figure. There are far too many 'designer' stores and (what I call) scented-candles-and-photoframes stores. Very premium and full of show-shaan I'm sure, but not the stuff consumer booms are made of. I'm not quite sure how many of the people who come from far and wide to be seen at the Gurgaon malls in their Sunday best actually shop there.

Therefore I'm far more bullish about the malls in Goregaon than I am about those in Gurgaon.

Malls have come to stay in Bombay - and I'm sure it's good news for the job market and also for product marketers, given the efficiencies of scale. Allowing FDI in retail will undoubtedly make the boom bigger. Sorry, being in my profession its difficult to resist mentioning FDI every now and then!

Even if you don't think of a mall as retail heaven, I think getting a little space (lots of it at Nirmal Lifestyles) to walk or hang around in overcrowded Bombay is reason enough to welcome the phenomenon.

Just don't expect elbow room on a Sunday evening.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Lights camera action, mate!

A friend in Oz tells me that the people of Melbourne (and the government of Victoria too) are pretty excited these days about the first Bollywood movie to be filmed entirely in Australia.

Dil Chahta Hai set a trend, I guess. But Salaam Namaste, directed by 26 year-old debutante Siddharth Anand, comes complete with emotional scenes, crowds of extras and mass PT on the beach!

Now this is something that Europeans, especially the Swiss, have gotten used to. Many a European has commented on how bizarre they first found it to see dancers in skimpy outfits bump and grind in the snow, during the coldest days of the winter when even the locals found it too chily to venture outdoors (except of course, to stand and stare at the brightly coloured costumes of the lip-syncing dancers).

I wonder what Aussies think of naach-gaana on their streets, and how long it takes for them to learn what Bollywood is all about. I was amused to see that the writer of the article had referred to Preity Zinta and Saif Ali Khan as the Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt of India! He has evidently already imbibed the hyperbole of Hindi cinema, because he reports that Bollywood movies reach an audience of 3.2 billion people each year. That's 50% of the world's population and three times India's population! Hmmm.

Knowing their fun loving and adventurous nature, I think I expect the Aussies to join in the dancing soon enough and demand bit parts in the movies a la Bob Christo. Already, 40% of the crew of Salaam Namaste is local.

Also, Melbourne can perhaps now expect larger crowds of Indian tourists in the coming months, as always happens whenever a new part of the world is invaded by Bollywood directors. Tourism departments the world over love Hindi movies.

But this time I guess it's just Bollywood's way of saying thank you to the Aussies for sending us Tanya Zaetta.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Gimme More

...is what all of Bombay has been screaming for the last three days. If only the Bombay Police would let the public get their hands on Constable Sunil More (pronounced Mo-ray), he'd doubtlessly be lynched, like the trouser thief of Malad.

For those who tuned in late, this is serious stuff. Last Thursday (21 Apr), Beat Marshall Sunil More (aged 30) physically assaulted and raped a 16 year old girl. He had apparently been told about a couple walking on the tetrapods (i.e. over the boundary wall by the sea) by a couple of private security guards. After shooing away the girl's male friend (the duo had strayed a bit from the rest of their group), More took the girl inside the police chowky for "questioning", and raped her three times.

Yes, right there on Marine Drive, in the middle of the day. To get in the mood he first downed some booze too, and repeatedly hit the girl to stop her screaming. It was only after passersby heard her screams and tore down the door that he came out of the booth and defiantly told the public to shut up because, well, he was the law.

If this isn't the most reprehensible thing to have happened in Bombay for a while, I don't know what is.

More was immediately arrested and charged with Sections 376 (rape) and 342 (wrongful confinement) of the Indian Penal Code and later sacked.

Since Thursday, Marine Drive has been the site of continuous protests and the police has had its hands full trying to calm the crowds down. The cops were so embarassed by the incident that the police chowky was quietly removed the next day to stop reminding people about the rapist in uniform.

Ironically, the girl had come downtown to enquire about a civil defence course. And instead happened to live out every woman (and parent's) worst nightmare, at the hands of one who was supposed to defend.

Constable More has had a colourful past, or so it seems. He had previously received official reprimands five times for his disorderly conduct. And we all know that it takes a lot before cops consider the conduct of one of their own to be disorderly. He must be a real gentleman.

Not unexpectedly, More denied raping the girl (although he admitted having drunk a little), and his friendly neighbours even suggested that he was being framed. In the midst of writing this post, I was told that I must include the word "alleged" before accusing an officer of the law of being a rapist. Sure enough someone or the other will soon come forth with a character assassination of the girl - cast aspersions on her behaviour at college, and insist that she made up the whole incident in order to cover something else up. But somehow I'm inclined to believe that it really happened, because I don't think people (including the government doctors who confirmed that rape had occurred and that More was drunk) would accuse a cop of a heinous crime just for kicks.

So why exactly has this incident outraged Bombay's notoriously apathetic populace enough to draw them out onto the streets in protest? A lot of crime takes place in Bombay everyday, just like any other large city. Cops as criminals is hardly news. Rapes of minors, horrible as they are, aren't new either. So why the Big Noise?

The message from the people is loud and clear:

We will tolerate badly-surfaced, woefully-inadequate roads and hopeless traffic. We will continue to pay 40% of this country's taxes, and let Delhi spend 80% of them. We will tolerate piles of rotting garbage even in the poshest of areas and we will tolerate the accompanying stink. We will ignore hookers, drug peddlers and beggars; and we will pretend that the slums do not exist. We will tolerate police high-handedness, especially when it comes to enforcing how much fun we are "allowed" to have.

But we will NOT, under any circumstances, tolerate a police officer who rapes a young girl. Not in Bombay, the only city in India where women feel safe using public transport alone at 2 AM. Not in liberal and cosmopolitan South Bombay, where a woman may walk with a man without having disapproving middle-aged ladies ask her how the two of them are related. And definitely not on the Queen's Necklace, which is one of the few places where the people of Bombay allow themselves to be relaxed and carefree. And not in a police chowky, for God's sake. We don't care what the crime-of-the-month is in Bihar, but this is Bombay. This particular atrocity is simply not on.


The Bombay Police takes its job as the Guardian of Public Morality pretty seriously, so it'll be very interesting to watch exactly how quickly and how maturely it's able to deal with this situation. Especially since there doesn't seem to be any money to be made from it.

In any case, it will be a long time before the average pandu regains enough credibility to be able to go up to a couple (or even groups of young people) enjoying a little privacy by one of Bombay's beaches or promenades, and threaten them with action against "public obscenity" (or a fine of Rs. 1,200 or a bribe of Rs. 300). Whether or not people should be allowed to get cosy by the sea is another debate altogether, and for the moment let's file it away (a little unfairly) with the debate on the ban on dance bars in Bombay, which by the way the police has been extremely efficient in implementing.

But even the strictest of St. Xaviers' professors will agree that brutal rape - which inflicts bruises that last a lifetime - is no way to punish a teenager, no matter what her offence.

My plea, in writing this post, is not one of expediency to the police and the courts; nor one of leniency and restraint to the protesting public. It's to the parents who are now even more worried about letting their girls step out of the house. Look at this way, please, if she's not safe with a group of friends in broad daylight in the heart of the most liberal quarter of this country, she's not even safe inside your home! So let them out anyway, and they'll learn to fend for themselves better. And beasts like More will learn to respect women more once they get used to seeing more of them around. And sexually frustrated security guards from UP will learn to mind their own business, instead of interfering with young people having fun.

My salute to those fellow citizens who chose not to look the other way. These are the same people who say "Chalta hai, bhai. Life goes on..." and need shoot-at-sight orders to be imposed before they let themselves stop going about their daily business. But stop they did, and stared the cops back in the face. Kudos. This is why Bombay is Bombay.

As for PC More, I hope they somehow get hold of him and hang him. At least for a little while, until the cops arrive...


Addendum:

Looks like I was right. Aapli Shiv Sena's in-house Marathi tabloid Saamna today published a front-page editorial piece which effectively said that girls in Bombay should expect such incidents to happen if they continue to wear "low-waist jeans" and indulge in "page 3 culture".

Jokers.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Stalkers delight!

Looky what I found!

I was trying to Google up some dope on the MD of a company that we're supposed to meet, and instead stumbled upon a Bollywood telephone directory!

Click here. You will be surprised at the name of the website that hosts the directory.

Just remember to add a "2" before every number (and of course Bombay is +91-22). I happen to actually know one or two of the numbers on that list, so I know that it's atleast partly accurate.

So hey, start planning those "sting" operations right away!

BTW, Shakti Kapoor is at 2620 5970 / 2620 4589. Aaooo!

Mine's blogger than yours

Inspired by a Mumbai vs. Chennai (!) debate that I indulged in on Sulekha.com I thought I'd put down a sampling of the different kinds of macho one-upmanship around the country i.e. how superiority is asserted across India, with more than a pinch of local flavour.

Feel free to add your own versions. Many thanks to Bika for contributing to this list!

Delhi: Mine's bigger than yours.
Punjab: I have an even bigger one in Canada.
South Delhi: Mine's better connected than yours.
Bombay: Mine's mine. Yours is yours.
Suburban Bombay: Mine's Western. Yours is Central.
South Bombay: Mine's in Town.
Faridabad / Ghaziabad / Rohtak: Mine's closer to Delhi than yours.
Kerala (Cities): Mine's been in the Gulf longer than yours.
Kerala (Villages): Mine's got a better Grandmother than yours.
Chennai: Mine's holier than yours.
Calcutta: Mine's more intellectual than yours.
Gujarat: Mine sells more than yours.
Pune: Mine's got a longer lunch break than yours.
UP: Mine's got more votes than yours.
North East: Mine gets up two hours before yours.
Pondicherry: Mine speaks better French than yours.
Marwar: Mine owns more companies than yours.
AP: Mine's got more initials than yours.
Hyderabad: Mine's tastier than yours.
Lucknow: No, no, yours is bigger than mine.
Goa: Mine got sozzled cheaper than yours.
Bangalore: Mine's more hi-tech than yours.
Gurgaon: Mine's got a better Texas accent than yours.

But above all -
Patna: Yours is now mine.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Thank God I don't live in New Zealand!

Recently I discovered that crows are of some use to the world after all. Now I wonder how the Kiwis manage without them.

The other day I was driving to work through the docks as usual. Yes I still use the Port Trust road, despite the newly widened road past Everard Nagar which has now really cut short the time that you take from Chembur to reach the 24x7x365 traffic jam at Sion.

Pardon me, for I digress already.

Anyway, I was driving along through the port area, and right where my secret shortcut joins the main road, something plopped from the heavens right on to the bonnet of my car.

It so happened that a kite (i.e. Pariah Kite bird; not what you fly on Makar Sankranti) had dropped a large half-eaten piece of fish on my hitherto vegetarian car. Now, kites are known for being extremely clumsy. I have once seen a kite steal an entire chicken from Crawford Market and then drop it in mid-air, much to the amusement of everybody around (except the basketful of chickens who had to cushion the fall of their fellow inmate).



For all I know, the fish must have been really impressive in its heyday; a champion swimmer, and the type to be highly sought-after at every school reunion. But in the state that it entered my life it was extremely yucky, and there was no way I was going to push it off using my hands, or for that matter in any manner that involved looking at the bloody thing.

Braking hard led to angry horns and muffled sounds of swearing drivers, but didn't help dislodge it. Then I had a brainwave.

I stopped near an early morning meeting of the Bombay Harbour Crows' Rotary Club, next to a large garbage bin. Soon enough, one of those eminent crows (who was visibly surprised to see breakfast arrive in such a fashion right in the middle of a boring meeting), sweetly hopped on to my bonnet, picked up the offending matter (half as large as itself) gingerly in its beak and hopped right back into his meeting. "Hey fellas! Look what I got!"

And my car was clean again.

So well, somewhere in the skies above Bombay there is a kite whose wife has lost faith in his fidelity. "You liar! You told me you were out fishing! Why can't you just admit you've found a younger bird!"

There is also a crow who has started to believe in God.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Lots in Translation

Ok I'm back! By popular demand! Heartening to note that I have so many loyal fans. I've just been going out a bit more than usual, that's all.

Last evening I set a new record: for the highest price ever paid (by me) for a movie ticket at a movie theatre in Bombay, beating even the Rs. 150 I had paid (and immediately regretted) once upon a time for a ticket 'in black' to see Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. I broke my loyalty to Imax Adlabs and chose to watch a movie at Inox (in the cr2 mall at Nariman Point). I'm not sure it was entirely worth the price (I refuse to tell you how much), but it is indeed a very grand threatre. Good ol' Imax is of course *far* more comfortable, but the decor at Inox is very 'and-the-Oscar-goes-to'. Nice.

Driving into cr2, however, is another story. If you're the type who's been missing the old Pune highway for the winding curves up the Ghats, you should head straight to the parking lot at cr2! It starts at the sixth floor and goes up another eight floors! To get up there from street level, you need to drive up in a tight spiral around a concrete column. It's rather scary because the outer boundary wall is only three feet high, and you can see Nariman Point spin around you as you drive up (and down).

But that's the easy part. The real test of your skill comes when you try to navigate the maze of elevators and escalators inside cr2, which come attached with a complete set of one-way's and no-entry's, just like the rest of Nariman Point. I think I'm going to go into business, selling a little instruction manual to first time visitors.

Ok, ok, I'll stop ranting. This post was meant to be about the movie. Lost in Translation. It took a while to get to Bombay for some absurd reason, but thankfully wasn't lost on me at all. I'd hate to have paid so much to see a bad movie.

I'll try to talk about the movie without giving out too much, because the most endearing quality of the movie itself is that it doesn't give out too much. You just have to figure the context out for yourself, rather than having someone spell out exactly what's happening.

The movie revolves around just two characters, one a once-famous American movie star called Bob Harris (played by Bill Murray) and the other a 25 year old girl known simply as Charlotte (played by Scarlett Johansson).

While the characters feel terribly cooped up within the confines of the nameless luxury, each time they step out of it they get lost in a maze of neon lights and garish colours that downtown Tokyo is supposed to be. The city (at least in the movie) lived up to just about every stereotype one hears about it - hopelessly crowded, breathlessly modern and uniquely comical with lots of sushi, sake and karaoke thrown in. Tokyo's contradictions seem to make it almost impossible for outsiders to adjust to it, as it seems to be at once impossibly posh yet inimitably Japanese. The resultant mix is tres bizzare, and just adds to Bob and Charlotte's loneliness.

Yet the camera keeps returning to the same bar at the hotel; and after a while gives you the same creepy feeling of being stuck in one place that The Terminal had managed to create. I found myself feeling quite grateful each time that familiar (American) music crept out of the background and made its presence felt.

The loneliness of the two characters is quite independent of the fact that Bob's wife is back in the US and not with him; and that Charlotte's photographer husband is never around enough. These two would manage to feel alone in the crowd anyway, and anywhere. Tokyo just happens to be the supreme setting for feeling alienated in, and Sofia Coppola has done a brilliant job of letting the atmosphere soak in.
It's beautiful how Bob and Charlotte seek each other out for company, while cloaking the need to do so behind sharp wit. I also loved the way they settle into cozy companionship, rather than just having an affair.

In sum: surreal, just like life...

PS: After the bright lights of Tokyo, the lights of Marine Drive seemed so dim that they were in fact quite relaxing! But imagine my shock when I stopped to make a phone call, and heard people talking in Japanese right outside my car!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Rock ain't dead yet

Somebody stop me; I’ve got another post about music already.

Saturday night was rock night at Not Just Jazz by the Bay, and I’m glad I was there to listen to Vayu’s repertoire of classic rock covers.

Lead singer 2 Blue (I know his real name but I won’t tell you) thankfully seems to have grown up to Hendrix, The Doors, Floyd, The Who, Led Zep – you know what I mean. The good stuff. They’re obviously doing something right, out in Tripura where 2 Blue claims to be from.

He’s quite a showman too, and can be as genuinely quirky as Jim Morrison, right down to disappearing off stage when the lead in Light My Fire is played. Speaking of lead, guitarist Ravi Iyer is a modest genius in his own right. He came up with some pretty sophisticated improvisations on well-known riffs, which weren’t at all wasted on the audience. Bassist-cum-keyboardist Sugar (I think) D’Souza is rock-solid and keeps the rhythm intact, while the 18-year old drummer (truly sorry to have forgotten his name) gets a bit aggressive sometimes but is otherwise pretty wholesome.

I found Vayu’s slightly-heavy rendition of Comfortably Numb way up there, right next to the one by Dream Theater. Hm, I’m too kind perhaps. I guess I’ve been deprived of good music for a while. But it takes a bit to play Time and not screw it up.

What I liked best was that the night was about good music. Period. A loyal bunch of listeners; and a band that knew how to return the favour. Neither a bunch of kids playing thrash and death metal to disguise the fact that they can’t sing, nor a band of wedding singers who think nothing of mixing Aqua with Cream. That’s what rock degenerates into in Bombay, isn’t it?

Quite a relief too from the crap you find in most nightclubs – jokers like DJ Nikhil Chinappa who talk (!) about how they’re going to “play” a mix of Asian Underground and Bollywood jhatka-matkas instead of only progressive trance; because Indian nightclub audiences aren’t “mature” enough to “understand” European “intellectual” electronic music. Whatever. I wonder who teaches DJs to talk like MBAs.

I don’t know whether or not the audience at Jazz was intellectual. Everyone just seemed to have had a good time! And Vayu fortunately didn’t want to perform any original numbers.

I think I’ll try and catch them the next time they’re on and try and persuade them to play some Neil Young.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Leave those kids alone!

The Incredibles are saving the world in Hindi it seems. And the dubbing done by child artiste Aryan Khan has been highly acclaimed by one and all. He has been rated much higher than his already over-rated father Shahrukh Khan, whose dubbing is supposedly even worse than his awful hamming that some people mistake for acting.

The point I was trying to make is that I simply can’t come to terms with cartoons in Hindi! Some things just cannot be translated. You only have to watch The Mask in Hindi to know what I mean. I don’t even want to know what they call “wedgie” in Hindi!

Thank God they can’t translate Tom & Jerry and Roadrunner! Falling anvils, toon revenge and furry animals that explode every few minutes are the same in every language.

But Gotham Comics has taken this translation nonsense even further. They are apparently in the process of localising Spiderman. Peter Parker is going to be an Indian lad called Pavitr Prabhakar, and the whole story is to be based in India! Can you beat that? Gautam Nagar instead of Gotham City, eh?

I’m posting below the horrific implications of Pavitr Prabhakar that I had imagined a few months ago.

---------------------------

Spiderman No. 1

I don't like the way these people are messing around with my childhood hero!

Pavitr Prabhakar is probably going to scream “Kkuttey!” as he catches crooks day and night.

His arch nemesis is Localbhai whose plans for world domination include cutting off the power supply to the 8:17 Virar fast to Churchgate while simultaneously terrorising commuters by having his team of eunuchs (henchpersons?) sing Loving in the Virar Local to the tune of Living La Vida Voca on all FM radio breakfast shows.

Pavitr works for the Dainik Bhaskar, whose editor is Jignesh Jasubhai Jariwala instead of J Jonah Jameson. His ladylove Jhanavi More, however, is still called Mary Jane because she works for a call centre in Goregaon.

His name will shortly be spelt as Ppavitrr Prrabhaakkar (as advised by a pop nnumerologist from Lokhandwala Complex) but this is being contested in a lawsuit by the manufacturers of Harley Davidson Motorcycles, as they say his name sounds too much like the patented sound of a Harley being kick started.

The new Spiderman movie in Hindi (as yet untitled, but to be named either Mein bhi Spiderman or Pappu ban gaya Spiderman) will also have dance sequences, as you might have noticed from a sneak preview released a few months ago as an email forward titled “Dancing Spiderman”.

The soundtrack of the movie is currently on hold though as the translation/dubbing crew hasn't stopped laughing since they realised if they included the song “Aa raha hoon mein”, it could only be translated back into the English dubbed version as “I'm coming!”. Shubha Mudgal is now teaming up with Jaaved Jaafri to record an appropriate Hinglish song.

Don't even get me started on the names of the other villains....

Monday, December 13, 2004

Raking it in

While Irish immigrants in Bombay still struggle to find new ways of making money, the locals have quietly been building vast empires and accumulating world-class moolah.

Forbes magazine's list of India's 40 richest has 16 billionaires who are either based in Bombay or started their businesses from here.

It's worth nothing that 19 out of these 40 are first generation entrepreneurs. I just mention this so that you can sit back with a warm and fuzzy feeling that you have a chance of making it to this list one day. Ha!

I just get thrilled whenever the International media shows pictures of India and Indians that aren't full of duststorms in villages full of starving kids. Show both realities to the world, please. Nice to see so many smiling desi businessmen in suits.

But on another note, considering that we have all these billionaires in our midst, I wonder how we could get them to do a little to restore the lost glory of this crazy-sexy-cool city. Care to give us better roads, Mr. Mistry?

Lizzie, is that you?

Oh, this is priceless. Straight out of Monday Night Comedy.

I had to take a break after point#2 below because it was already too funny.

1. Irish model comes to Bombay.
2. Starts acting in Bollywood movies!
3. Takes her family of eight (!) out to a Chinese restaurant in Bandra on her birthday.
4. Starts to shiver just as she's about to finish her meal.
5. Somehow she realises that the shivering is due to an entire lizard that's been in her food as she ate everything around it without
a) seeing the lizard, OR
b) eating the lizard and pretending to be an expert on Chinese delicacies.
6. Hubby screams at everone in restaurant to stop eating. "Gentlemen, drop your chopsticks!".
7. Hubby then complains to manager and admits wifey to Holy Family (but of course) Hospital.
8. Hubby and wifey file police complaint and simultaneously demand a million rupees as compensation from the restaurant owner.
9. Restaurant owner pays up Rs. 7,000 but sues the couple for extortion and libel.
10. Lawyer suggests using a cockroach the next time.

I swear I'm not making this up!

Read this:
Model alleges she found lizard in food

Now I'm waiting for SPCA to get involved. Tee hee hee.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Sufi, Surdy or Rabbi?

What so great about yet another Surdy on TV with a music video?

I'll tell you what: this guy is cool!

I'm talking about Rabbi Shergill, who despite his name is neither a Jewish priest nor a Sealion. He's all over the airwaves with the song Bulla ki Jana and from the looks of things, should remain there for a while.

Apparently his music has to do with the traditions of the Sufi poet Baba Bulle Shah. So don't be surprised if the song has a bit of a Pakistani feel to it. The very 'urban' rock strains however, are more Collective Soul than Amir Khusrau, and the resultant mix is therefore a fabulous contemporary yet soulful croon. The Sufiness doesn't hit you like Ustad Nusrat FAK's does, but stays with you nonetheless.

Can't wait to see what the rest of his songs are like. The album is supposed to be out next week.

Why is a Dilliwala on a Bombay blog? Because we have to encourage good, from-the-heart music no matter where it comes from! A Sardarji who knows how to wield his guitar must surely be admired. Besides, much of his video (that too without the customary nangu-pangu dancers) is shot with him sitting around with our dear city racing through the background, while he sings about a man in search of himself.

Perhaps the message he's trying to get across is that you really can't expect to find yourself during rush hour. Watch it.

More on Rabbi Shergill here.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Mila diya sab kuchh mitti mein!

Believe me, I tried very hard to not comment about this whole Ambani episode.

But how could I resist adding my two bits, when all of Bombay is abuzz with speculation about whether this is due to one of the bahus trying to assert her dominance OR simply a case of the boys playing a little game of my-shareholding-is-bigger-than-yours.

Anyone who's ever had any sort of business dealing with Reliance will tell you that the Ambanis are far too shrewd a breed of businessmen to be washing their dirty linen (or polyester if you please) in public. There surely is a much darker game afoot.

Are the Ambanis deliberately crashing the stock price with bad news so that they can secretly buy back shares of Reliance? A little healthy competition amongst brothers never hurt anybody. Just a little wager on who's the first to hit a 51% share of the family holding of the thousands of little companies that actually own Reliance. Hmm, no one really seems to knows who owns anything in Reliance.

Possibly they are just sorting out who gets what, in readiness for the rush that the drooling masses will make to oversubscribe the Reliance Infocomm IPO.

On the other hand, people who have dealt with Nita Ambani (Mrs. Mukesh Ambani, in case you don't know) will tell you that she's the one who likes to have things her way, and that this mess is obviously her doing. Well if it were truly so, Kokila Aunty wouldn't have taken Mukeshbhai's side, ne? Because otherwise it would mean that Saasumaa was encouraging Bahurani to get too big for her boots. Some people say she already is, but they're just plain rude. Ahem.

What I can't figure, is whether all this is really that big a deal for the Brothers Ambani! After all, how does it matter whether you have a few billions, or a few more? Maybe Anil Ambani has realised all this and now just wants to cash out and retire on some little island country that he's about to purchase. I guess he must be sick of having to jog on Marine Drive and not, say, Rodeo Drive.

Above all, one thing is clear. All is not well at Reliance.

Reliance Infocomm had a shaky start as we all know, and that's not something we expect from a Reliance company. We also hear that the franchisees of Reliance petrol pumps aren't a very happy lot. And now this bhailog-ka-locha. When did the rot set in? When they ventured beyond petrochemicals?

I'm convinced that Reliance's woes began when they took that ludicrous picture of the late Dhirubhai (may his soul RIP) with his fingers on his chin like Madhubala.

I happen to remember - when Reliance Infocomm was still based in Bandra-Kurla Complex, they had a huge poster of Dhirubhai (urging people to take the world in their hands) pasted all over the glass facade of their headquarters. One fine day, some poor suffocated employee happened to open a window (under the poster), without realising that by doing so (s)he had managed to poke out Dhirubhai's eye.

I shudder to think what they did to the career progress of that person since; but you can't possibly expect your company to have a secure future if you let your employees mess with Papa's vision.

In sum, if it's true that a division is indeed imminent, Bombayites should surely rejoice. If Mukeshbhai takes Reliance Infocomm, and Anilbhai takes Reliance Energy, you don't need to worry anymore about Reliance cutting off your electricity just because you forgot to pay your phone bill!

Friday, November 05, 2004

Driver! Humko Bollywood Jaane Ko Maangta Hai!

A couple of days ago I called the concierge desk of the Taj to book a car for a client of ours who was staying there. The DOD (dood-on-duty) put me on hold because an elderly English gentleman was demanding his attention. But he didn’t put on the hold music, so I could overhear their conversation.

“For tomorrow, I think we would like to go to Bollywood. Could you please arrange a car?” said the old man in a crisp, precise voice.

The poor concierge had a tough time explaining that Bollywood wasn’t exactly a place that you could drive around and take pictures! Well yes, there’s always Film City but it’s not really what Bollywood is all about, is it? I can imagine this picture of an old Brit couple being made to watch an ad film being shot in Bandra-Kurla Complex and being told they’re in Bollywood.

Maybe I should start a Bollywood tours company.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Poetic Justice!

Many a Bombayite has quietly suffered the indignity and injustice of having their car towed away despite their having parked in a ‘yes-parking’ zone. Even if you’d like to contest the validity of the towing, you will sweetly be told to go sue if you like. And here’s the upshot: even if you manage to win the case against the unholy nexus of greedy towing service operators and corrupt pandus, you’ll be refunded the fine but will still have to pay the towing charges! So needless to say, we suffer in silence.

Not Our Hero. He had recently had his car towed from the edge of a taxi stand in South Bombay (I can’t be more specific for reasons of anonymity). The signboard said the stand was meant for four taxis and there was clearly enough space for about 15 of them, especially since most cabs prefer to park in the exact centre of the road anyway. But seeing no point in arguing, Our Heartbbroken Hero quietly went to claim his car and paid up.

Cut to the present. Our Hero had now parked his car two spaces behind the previous spot. In the evening he walked out of his office and found that his car had been towed yet again! Our Sweating and Swearing Hero made his way once more to the car pound, determined to pick a fight.

However, he was pleasantly surprised to see that his car was standing free and unclamped! So Our Triumphant but Cautious Hero calmly strolled around his car to make sure that there indeed was no clamp affixed to his beloved. He then unlocked the car and got out the receipt from the last towing.

No angry whistles so far. He then walked almost up to the payment window and walked back with the old receipt to quell the suspicions of anyone who happened to be looking. He then quietly got back into his car and drove clean away!

Sweet.

Well Our Hero obviously runs the risk of having cops with wounded egos arrive at his door to demand an explanation (incidentally, I believe he actually has one); but this one evening of pleasure and contentment, not to mention the three hundred bucks saved makes it well worth it!

What makes you think this person was me? I didn’t say that! Stop it, I say!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Borivli to Worli in ten minutes!

Today I officially earned the title of "high-flier"! Just got back from a chopper ride from Vapi (an industrial town in Gujarat near Daman; 190 km from Bombay). Ok so it doesn't really fly as high or as fast as an airplane, but that's the fun of it, isn't it!

We drove to Vapi from Bombay early in the morning over a nice new highway which got us there in about three and a half hours (from town). After a day spent taking a client around to a couple of "investee" companies, we took off in true filmi style, running into a waiting chopper with seconds to spare before it got too late in the evening to take off.

The entire trip to South Bombay from Vapi took fifty minutes overall, compared to four and a half by car in evening traffic. Not bad if you're a global CEO with a flight to catch (like our client).

We flew quite close to the tops of the 30-40 story highrises in North Bombay, but I was surprised by how many vast green tracts of land there actually are within city limits!

I could show you the snaps that I didn't take but I hope you remember how airhostesses constantly remind everyone that it's illegal to take pictures over Indian territory. I wonder how anyone would ever know if you did it from a chopper without telling el capitan! Hmm you can see them if you ask me nicely, until the cops arrive...

But grand views apart, what I still can't get over is the fact that it took us just about ten minutes to get from Borivli to Worli!

After that of course I went to office for a bit, from where it took me one and a half hours to drive home. Wish I could (c)hop a ride to and from work every day.

The trip was courtesy the company we were visiting, so I wonder what it cost. I can think of some people who'd pay good money to save time getting in and out of Bombay.

I'm sure it's a nice, small but juicy business waiting to take off...

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Mumbai or Miami?

Security guard kills peon in Bandra
By: A Mid Day Correspondent
November 1, 2004
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
A peon working with a housing finance company was shot dead at point blank range by the on-duty security guard on Saturday, allegedly for not relieving him from duty early.

According to the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) police, Sitaram Shedge (48), was working as a peon for the last 12 years with Dewan Housing Finance Limited (DHFL) in BKC.

“On Saturday, Shedge waited after office hours because a plumber was expected and he was asked to monitor the man. At around 7 pm, the accused, Farooque Ghulam Mohammed (25), of KDS Security, asked Shedge if he could leave an hour earlier than the stipulated 8 pm.

When Shedge refused, Mohammed drew his gun and shot him on his temple,” said an official from BKC police station.

Shedge was taken to JJ Hospital where he was declared dead before admission. A post-mortem was conducted later. His wife and two teenaged sons survive him.

“What we gathered from other employees was that Shedge had frequent quarrels with the security guard over the fact that the guard had come to Maharashtra from Kashmir. He was at the receiving end of Shedge’s reproaches very often,” said the police officer.

“Since it was Saturday, most of the company staff had left early and only Shedge and the security guard were in office,” added the officer.

But Shedge’s family members refute the charges. “My brother was a quiet man and he would never rebuke anyone,” said R Jadhav, the deceased’s brother.

An angry mob of nearly a 100 people went to cremate Shedge on Sunday evening at the Khar cemetery. “The company should be made accountable. How can they gave the contract for armed security to an unregistered unit,” said Nandu Satam, a local resident.

However, S Chaudhary, head of human resources of DHFL said that the security agency was registered, but the owner of the company was late in furnishing the requisite documents for bearing arms.

“We shall take proper care of the family and see to it that they get some monetary benefit,” he noted.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Here I am!

My second attempt at blogging. I refuse to tell you where the first one lies!

This time I'll try to keep up the supply of juicy stuff from real life and also from the depths of my imagination.

Why the title?

Because sometimes I feel my views on most topics can easily get me beaten up. And I'm sure I'd be pretty helpess, until the cops arrive...

OK OK seriously, this really is a comment on life in Bombay.

Unlike in most of India, out here you can do whatever you feel like without anyone bothering you OR standing across the road gaping at you OR questioning your morality. Whether its having a wild party or shooting annoying neighbours, you can pretty much do precisely as you please (and most people do!) but only until the cops arrive...