Monday, January 23, 2017

Clean socks

The past few years through winter in Mumbai, I’ve taken to wearing socks. Yes, what little we have of the cold in winter, is enough for us to make the most of some of our sweaters, scarves and other woolen garments!

This morning I remembered my weekend ritual of washing my canvas shoes and socks, when I was at school. It had to be done, or else, we would be shamed before the school for our muddy, dirty shoes and socks in Assembly.

We also had half an hour of parade for all the classes together. So the socks and shoes had to be clean also on Wednesdays for it. I would keep one pair clean for Wednesday. But lazy me faced many a Wednesday when I would wake up in panic, and remember I did not have a clean pair of socks or shoes. While the chalk from class came in handy for painting the shoes just before the parade, one couldn’t always fool the teachers with dirty socks. 

We had fantastic teachers at this school. Once, two or three of them, dressed in the school uniform, showed us all how badly we marched in the school parade! As most of us rolled in laughter, a little guiltily and a little embarrassed, they coolly enacted some of the girls who marched really badly. Needless to say, it had a strong effect on us and we marched most perfectly after that… for that day.

I remember wearing the canvas shoes and socks through school. Even the smell of my feet when I removed them on arriving home, especially after having played football, basketball or simply, after the school marching exercise. When I joined college, like thousands of others, I was glad there was no uniform and no wearing shoes every day. 

Later as a journalist, again, I did not have a uniform, or needed to wear formals at work. No one really cares if one wears shoes or doesn’t. But wearing socks thanks to the winter, brought back these memories. Of course, I am not so lazy now and do wash them much more regularly! But there’s a warm feeling that envelopes me when I look at my socks and remember the time from school, the day the teachers marched, and even the stinky feet.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Old chai in a new cup

Irani cafes. That celebrated, much talked about, written about and sadly, slowly disappearing integral part of Mumbai. Bun maska, chai, keema pav, khari - many a Mumbaikar has devoured these creations here, and lamented that some of these little time capsules are shutting down. The owners – most of them have owned these cafes for generations – are unable to sustain them in these times.

Kyani, Yazdani, Sassanian are some of these gems that have still managed to stay afloat. In 2015, as a tribute to these places, a restaurant that mimics their style and serves some of the cuisine they serve, was started. Today, SodaBottleOpenerWala has become ‘the place’ to be seen for the rich, who ironically, might not want to be seen visiting the real McCoys. This weekend I headed to it with friends.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. While the flattery seems to succeed at most places here, it falls flat with the food.

The interiors included a medley of items bought from Chor Bazaar, new furniture designed in the Irani café style, and tiffins or dabas to serve some of the dishes. The glasses were bigger versions of chai glasses.

The tables were covered in the uniform red chequered pattern fabric one sees in most Irani cafes. And they had made an effort in most of the place, to tell the customer about Irani cafes and Parsis and their food. Just in case a customer forgot.

What I really liked was the motif on the flooring. Really, really Irani café.

Old photographs from Irani/ Parsi families also adorned most walls. Wall clocks showed the time in Persia and London among other places.

As written, the place is a tribute to Irani cafes, so there shouldn’t be other expectations. This isn’t a review, but for the authentic experience, head to the real places, while they are still there.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Mug shot

Happy New Year! As we begin another year, I would like to draw your attention to the humble mug. More precisely, the ‘office mug’, as I would like to call all those ceramic drink holders we use at our desks.

It’s not just a mug. It’s also a life saver. I began to look at it differently after seeing the countless mugs gifted through Secret Santas at office recently. Each one of us has guiltily or without guilt (as me) gifted a mug to someone as their Secret Santa. Admit it. It’s the best unisex gift to give someone whose name came to you in a chit. You may not know the person, but he or she surely could do with another mug. A mug is something that can be recycled as a gift, and of course, you could always use another one in office. Like my colleague. She’s got two mugs, used alternately or even the same day for coffee. (She’s also got an electric kettle at office, but that’s another story)

The humble office mug is also more than just a tea or coffee holder. It serves as a Manchurian bowl (for one of my other colleagues). Or it can always be used for soup. And if you really didn’t like your Secret Santa gift, it’s a great pen holder.

There are other uses too. You could always land up with your mug at the coffee machine when the new or girl you want to know is there!

So look at the office mug differently. It’s more than a beverage holder. It comes in different colours, sizes and shapes, and has as many uses.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Big sisterly advice

A very senior author who is a neighbour, wanted to read books by Ruskin Bond. My mother told her he’s one of my favourite authors, and now one of his books from my collection is on the way to the neighbour’s house.

Books have always been a way to say ‘I love you,’ in our house. We’ve given each other books for various occasions and even for no reason, as long as I remember. One of my most prized birthday gifts was from my elder sister and her husband. It was Rs 1,000 that blew up on books. Today that sum does not have much value. But when I was a teenager then, quite some time back, it was a lot of money.

So I had found myself in a bookshop buying a treasure trove of words. I brought the books home and covered them with plastic, as is my habit, to protect them.
I also write my name and full address on the first page of the book.

It was on one such occasion, when I had bought new books, that tai (my sister) told me it wasn’t enough just to write my name and address on the book. She told me I should write my name somewhere on the inside pages too. “Why?” I asked her, wondering what quirky advice she was going to give me then. “It’s because someone who has borrowed your book and doesn’t want to return it, will tear off the first page with your name and address. But no one tears a page from between a book,” she said. Strange advice I thought, but believed it immediately and followed it.

While choosing a book to lend my neighbour, I saw I had written my name on one of the pages inside.

It’s certainly not a fool proof method to prevent a book from being stolen. A thief will take it if she or he intends to, despite the owner’s name or address on the first page or inside! But like many crazy things my sister told me and I listened to, I took this too, seriously.

After all these years, seeing my name in the middle of the book, brought a smile to my face. Evidence once again, of my mad kid-sisterly obedience.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Japanese box

My father gave me this box. He purchased it from Tokyo airport on a stopover while on an official trip almost 30 years back.

The Japanese box was a delightful gift for a school girl. I spent a lot of time with it. Opening and shutting it, putting things in it and taking them out. 

Then it became guardian to some things from my childhood. Tucked in it, away from adult eyes, were a toy teacup, rubber stamps from Canada with a plastic container of glitter, the woggle from my Girl Guide scarf, and for some strange reason, a plastic camera roll container. For years, I also kept a letter from my father in it.

My father had accompanied former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, as part of the press on a Tokyo-Vancouver-Boston-New York-Washington tour. The letter dated October 12, 1987, was written on board the Prime Minister’s special flight. Nana (my father) describes how luxurious the air plane was and the royal treatment they received on board the Maharaja. How they were frequently served salted almonds and cashews, how journalists were being spoilt with Black Label whisky and 555 cigarette packets. He wrote that he felt as if they were disconnected from our country, then poor, and caught up in a severe drought.

Seeing the box and its contents once again reminded me of the day Nana returned from the trip. When he gave me the box, it contained the cat and tortoise stamps and glitter. For a long time my penfriends received letters with the stamped images. 

Nana narrated anecdotes from the trip for hours. He had even brought newspapers from the US to show us. The big story then was the rescue of a girl called Jessica, who had fallen into a well. This was long before Prince’s similar story in India. Recently I read about Jessica McClure online. She is married and has kids of her own. She may never even imagine how someone in India was once taken up with her rescue and had read about it then.

In incidents like these is my interest in journalism and writing rooted. Seeing the box brought this and much more to mind

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

‘To be Londinium and not to be London’

Dear Mr Rajan,

I read about your decision to address my city with its colonial name in your newspaper, though our government reverted back to its earlier one some years back. As a Mumbaikar, I thought I could express my view, which you, an Indian-born British person, at least owe me, to read.

So firstly, the name of Bombay was changed back to Mumbai, not because of any Hindu nationalism, though the political party which did it is mostly known for this. It was done because Bombay was a colonial name. As is Calcutta, as is Madras and Trivandrum. All these names as you know, were changed back to Indian ones. I didn’t listen to the BBC interview, only read about your views in agency reports, which don’t mention your ‘cosmopolitan’ views about these other cities. If you want to side with ‘the tradition of India that’s been open to the world…’ are these cities an exception to that tradition? Or is it that only Mumbai bothers you?

Also, if the name ‘Bombay’ so epitomises this tradition or the ‘open, secular, pluralist and tolerant’ tradition, let me just reiterate the fact that it comes from the anglicised version of the Portuguese name Bom Bahia. Why not go for that? Why not go to an even older name? Heptanesia? Why insist on a name given by the British? Doesn’t this reek of a colonial attitude? Of the closed mind of someone who could be termed Macaulay’s child?

Obviously, Bombay bothered many of us, and so the name was changed, as were the names of the other cities mentioned. But why are you bothered about the name of a city that many of us, Marathi and others, agree with? After all, it’s only the city you land in a few times, probably when you arrive to meet your cousins from this developing country. Too bad Pune escaped an anglicised name. Oh! May be you could revert to its British spelling: Poona.  

Better, why don’t you refer to London as Londinium? Apparently it was also a major commercial centre then. It must also have been cosmopolitan then. Isn’t your mind open enough to accept Roman names? But that’s a colonial name for your city. Think about it. 

These are my personal views, not of the newspaper that I work for.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Fifty years on, Sahitya Sahawas pens its first book

She first came to India to discover the land of her parents, who had moved to Sweden, where she was born and brought up. The heat and dust fascinated her too, and she stayed on. She moved to Mumbai and became a choreographer. In course of time, she met a guy, fell in love, and got married. They then moved into a special housing society, and this is where Shazia’s life took another interesting turn.

Having always been fond of reading, and having read literature in Swedish, English and French, she found herself staying in this housing society, which was meant for authors. Shazia Qureshi’s husband, noted photographer Avinash Gowariker, one of my neighbours, had grown up here, in Sahitya Sahawas.

Shazia Gowariker. Picture by Avinash Gowariker

Sahitya Sahawas was established after an idea put forth by well known Marathi authors, Acharya P K Atre and Anant Kanekar. They felt it was possible to have a housing society just for authors. It was registered in 1966 and many well known Marathi and few Hindi authors began to stay here. These include Dnyanpeeth award winner Vinda Karandikar, Anant Kanekar, Gangadhar Gadgil, Ra Bhi Joshi, M V Dhond, Ashok Ranade, Dharmaveer Bharati, Ramesh Tendulkar, Y D Phadke, K J Purohit, Vijaya Rajadhyaksha, MV Rajadhyaksha, Narayan Athawalay, M Kalelkar, Shanta Shelke, Deepa Gowariker, K J Purohit, Keshav Meshram and Arvind Gokhale.

Shazia, who is a lawyer, says, “I have stayed abroad and have never seen anything anywhere like this colony. There is nothing like this even in Sweden or in London.”

The atmosphere in our colony is such that most people are often reading, or writing something, or discussing words, books, authors or something related to writing. Having come from a family where reading was always encouraged, Shazia had married into another with a similar atmosphere, and gained a mother-in-law, Deepa Gowariker, who is an author. She also found herself surrounded by literature through her neighbours. Slowly an idea took shape in her mind and her husband and mother-in-law encouraged and supported her when they heard of it.

“Sometimes, it takes an outsider’s perspective to put things into focus,” she says of the idea. Every evening she says, Aai (her mother-in-law) and her friends meet in the colony and are engrossed in long chats. “I was curious as to what they might be discussing. I thought it would probably be daughters-in-law and TV serials. But I was impressed when she told me the subjects ranged from books to current affairs,” she says. “I wondered, why not have a book compiling articles by these women on such subjects?” she adds. 

Shazia and Avinash put forth this idea to the group of women who meet every day, and a few others who stay in the colony, and the book was born. This is the first time that authors staying in Sahitya Sahawas will be featured in one book.  Titled ‘Kattyavarchya Gappa,’ it is a compilation of articles in Marathi by 13 women authors who stay here. Some of them are already well known authors and translators.
Says Shazia, “I just felt as most of the group were authors, it would be silly not have a book where all of them could feature together.”

This Republic Day, which is also the annual Colony Day for Sahitya Sahawas, the book will be released by veteran theatre personality Vijaya Mehta. Well known classical singer Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande, who is the chief guest for the Colony Day, will also grace the occasion. Interestingly, it is 50 years since the registration of the society and it will be celebrated in a grand manner.

People have been making comments about Sahitya Sahawas, saying there are few authors here now and there is no sahitya coming from here. This book compiled by Shazia is proof that they are wrong. There are also many authors in the generations that followed the original residents.

Shazia proudly says, “I come from a country which gives the Nobel Prize for Literature.” Unfortunately, India has only won it in 1913 through Rabindranath Tagore. Let us hope this changes soon.

Kattyawarchya Gappa, the book, whose cover has been done by Raj Thackeray