Ugly — the obvious choices

A sartorial review of the Ugly.

While complicated the plot may be, the costumes of Ugly are simplistic and stereotypical. Shalini (Tejaswini Kolhapure) uses a red dress for seduction. Rakhi (Surveen Chawla) on the prowl wears a leopard print top. Rahul Varshney/ Kapoor (Rahul Bhat), the struggler, pins his hopes on a Salman Khan-esq turquoise bracelet. Little girl Kali (Anshika Shrivastava) wears all pink to go out with her father.

The costumes pose questions that the script cannot answer. We know Shalini does not have financial independence and Kali is a neglected child. Then who gives Kali clothes, dolls, a pink purse and accessories for her iPhone? We know the iPhone came from mama Sidhant (Sidhant Kapoor) but the script does not hint towards a special bond between them. And while many girls may prefer pink (the younger Kali also wears a dusty shade of the colour), they just as easily wear green, brown, purple and yellow. Often together.

Similarly, Shalini is neglected, isolated and imprisoned. As Mrs Varshney, she still felt attractive. There was a home-chopped fringe, jeans and shirt on her; and a red dress and lipstick in the closet. But as Mrs Bose, she’s in a maxi or drab block-printed salwar kameezes. Then why is she depilating and bleaching her upper lip while talking to Rakhee on the phone? We assume that she is a victim of domestic violence, but there is no evidence through bruises or cuts. Her abuse is psychological and unless she is flirting with danger, again something there is no evidence of in the plot, she would not be motivated to de-hair herself. Hell, most of non-confined women aren’t.

In the same manner, Rakhee’s ennui is emphasised repeatedly by her multiple clothes changes through the day and experiments with blue and black lipstick. However, what are her true motivations? She doesn’t dress like an incognito celebrity, though she have a piece of fame. Is sex her only skill? Does she use it with Chaitanya Mishra (Vineet Singh) also? Does she influence Shalini? How does she feel about her Shalini?

Chaitanya, we know, also lives a hand-to-mouth existence. His copper and brass accessories come from vendors who sit outside train stations and beside bus stops. He has only two shirts — one of which he has worn in the movie poster in this office. This is the only glimpse we have of his attempt at forging a movie career. His bell-bottom pants and Western shirt with it’s Cowboy yolk say that sartorially he lives in the 70s, where most of small town India could reside. But it remains mum on his aspirations, roots and experience.

Similarly, Shoumik Bose (Ronit Roy) crisp, razor sharp uniform does not give away anything about the naive, romantic youth from college who bought over-sized Valentine Day cards. Does any inkling of him remained under the hard, resentful and violent cop? Does he have affection for Shalini?

In the background, her neat bun, striped shirt and nondescript trousers give away the only person who is working on the case. The cyber crime officer is a punctilious woman, ticking off all the boxes, double-checking all the evidence while wearing her ‘American’ diamond nose-pin. She is probably a first-bencher who has used knowledge and grit to rise up the ranks, and not adornment or sexuality.

The kindest thing to say would be that costume designer Nidhi Gambhir makes sure the clothes are dark and authentic. The realistic analysis is that they were the obvious choice.

The 15-year-old Sanyasi

This blog also hosts my rejected work. This story was originally written for a Pune-based daily.

Lokesh Gulgulia, 15, renounces the world to become a Jain sanyasi on 30 October 2014


When he decided on 15 March this year to follow his guruji into the mumukshu way of life, one of Lokesh Gulgulia’s uncles suggested he take a trip abroad to fulfil some of his desires. Lokesh replied, “Kaka, I have so many desires. How many can you fulfil? And when will they end?” A mumukshu is one who is treading the path to moksha.

At a ceremony held in his honour at Talera Gardens in Market Yard in Pune on Sunday, Lokesh was dressed as groom. Turban, bejewelled achkan and ropes of pearls around his neck. A patch of cloth over his mouth, marked with a swastik, stops him from involuntarily killing any organisms with his breath. Around him ensues the pageantry of any organised religion. An enthusiastic compere with a predilection for weak shairee brings on stage the women to sing melodies; sniffling children to sing educational rhymes to the tune of Bollywood hits. In Jain oral tradition, most speakers begin their talk with parable. Two rows of chief guests bear two-and-a-half hours of this with seasoned smiles.

Lokesh also sits through it with the patience of a saint. His parents, especially his mother Chanda, is repeatedly felicitated for her bravery. Since he announced his decision to renounce worldly life, his hours have been filled with invitations from members of his community for meals. His mother and aunt went shopping for the clothes of a bridegroom. There’s mehendi on his hands. It’s a race with time for the parents to fulfil their own desires for their son. Once he joins his Gurudev Ramlal Maharaj Sah in Bangalore, he will wear only white muslin. He will be given a new name, based on an inherent quality the acharya sees in him and he will become a muni. He will walk barefoot everywhere, live on food that he will beg daily for and be celibate. His only occupation will be the advancement of his consciousness.

When he speaks, it’s with the firmness of an old soul. “I used to always talk about becoming a sanyasi as a child,” says the former student of Pawar Public School. “After I finished my ninth standard, I decided I wanted to go this way. I didn’t see the point of completing my tenth if I didn’t intend to integrate into this world. After education, it’s a job, then salary — I don’t want all these things. I can learn much more useful things in one year with my guru. Even as child, I used to wish there could be a way I could live such that no living being would be scared of me.”

The Gulgulias — father Paras, Chanda and their three sons — moved to Pune five years ago from Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh. They run a construction business and are very devout. They had an inkling that their youngest son didn’t just play sadhu-sadhu; he seemed genuinely interested in renunciation and happier in the company of other sadhus and sants than most children.

In preparation for his future life, he no longer hangs out with friends and spends his days with munis and sadhus. From April until recently, he was in Mumbai with a group of sadhus stationed there. They do not travel in the rains as they believe organisms in rainwater will die upon contact with their skin. Over there, he has been learning how to think while eating, how to control the senses. “I liked sweets, so that was hard,” he says in a grave tone. “I had to give up maida, and other things the body does not need.” He reluctant to have pictures taken and doesn’t use a cell phone.

The word he, and others, use repeatedly is ‘sayyam’ or control. On October 30, he will join his guruji in Bangalore and then walk with him to the next destination if he wills. Will he miss his family? His attachment, he explains without affectation, is not only towards his blood relatives. He feels the same amount of attachment to other humans; and to plants and animals. He was never curious about amorous activities.

It could be the din of the ceremony; it could be the heat of the city; it could be the entangling nature of worldly desires. Lokesh looks like he is using all his resolve to not join his guru right this moment.


Professor Bipin Doshi, who teaches Jain Philosophy at the Mumbai University, says it’s not uncommon within the religion for boys and girls even younger than Lokesh to choose the path to renunciation. “Fifteen is not a young age,” says the professor. “Children as young as four and five do this. In some children, you can spot intelligence or talent at a young age. Similarly, some children are never interested in the world and worldly things.” 

It would be inaccurate to assume that the life of a muni or sadhu is hard, according to Doshi. “They don’t have the stresses of studies, exams, jobs,” he points out. “It’s simpler. They get their food and keep moving as much as they can. At 15, the attachment to parents is not too strong. He could have been going abroad for studies or to a boarding school.”

Child Intervention

At the height of the Gaza conflict earlier this year, I approached some of my favourite little human-rearers. They discussed the issue together and these are the solutions their wards offered. The story was originally commissioned by Mumbai Mirror.


Child intervention

First, a disclaimer: This article is not an attempt to simplify or be irreverent about the Gaza conflict. It is an attempt by the parents to inculcate the values of social justice in their children and to explain to them a complex international situation.

Gaza is under siege and the world is tying itself up in knots. Whether you are pro-Israel or Pro-Palestine, there is no mistaking that this conflict and the subsequent death toll. With peacemakers and peacemaking efforts failing, perhaps the answer lies at a more innocent source?

We asked the parents of children between the ages four to thirteen to explain the Israel-Gaza conflict to their children and report the solutions they come up with.

Zoë Smita Deshmukh, 4, New York City


Zoë is a precocious 4-year-old. She has conceptualised a country, Manizao, and detailed its districts, vegetation, wildlife, visa rules and borders. It’s located between India and China, if you are looking. Her soft-toys run a company called Bears At Work where they develop apps that help them make money for underprivileged bears.

“Zoë has recently been developing a sense of social justice,” says her mother Kate Deshmukh. “She recently learnt that some teddy bears live in hotels and they were upset because it cost USD 100 a night. They held meetings with the hotel owners and came to an agreement that one night at the hotel is free and multiple nights are a few dollars.”

Kate explained the conflict to Zoë without getting into graphic details and said that people aren’t sharing the land and sometimes hurt each other. She ended up relating the situations to her bears and projected it on them. “She said the bears were upset and throwing honey pots at each other. But then they sat down and ate honey together and stopped being upset,” says Kate.

Here’s Zoë’s solution: First, they should take a deep breath to make them calm down. Then, they should eat something together. They should eat fruit that’s juicy and sweet because that helps me relax. People are happy when they eat together.
They should think about how nice things will be when they start to share the land. It must be very loud there [because of the fighting], so they should think about how nice it would be if it would be more quiet.

Celeste and Hannah Meyn, 7 and 6 respectively, Bangalore


Celeste and Hannah are Irish twins with very different approaches to life. Celeste is a deep thinker, deeply observant and affected by life. Hannah is happy-go-lucky, with a lighter view of impediments and more focused on the solution.

To explain the conflict to the girls, their parents Benly and Neomi spread out a sheet on the floor to denote Palestine. Then folded in half another sheet to denote Israel. Celeste was Gaza, while Hannah was Israel. They reinforced their territories with increasing number of dolls. Benly personified the United Nations.

“We told both the girls to pretend they were going to have their own countries,” says Neomi. “Hannah didn’t have her own country because her parents were thrown out of their country and she was now living here and there. She then went crying to the UN asking for her own country. The UN takes Hannah to Celeste and gives her place in Celeste’s land. Celeste says it’s her country. Hannah insists that the UN gave it to her too. So they divide their countries. Celeste keeps demanding more and more land saying that the country is hers while Hannah fights back. They both get more ‘people’ to get stronger. They also get their weapons. Hannah had very little people. We told them the people die if they are shot at or bombed.”

Neomi and Benly also showed their daughters what was actually happening in Israel and Gaza through news footage and newspapers.

“They decided that Gaza would settle with a ‘little’ piece of land that they could call their own while Israel would get the larger pie since the land originally belonged to them,” says Neomi. “This they decided only after we told them that the war was really taking place and people were dying. Until then Gaza (Celeste) wanted to continue fighting for her land despite having Israel’s (Hannah’s) people killed. They don’t want any more deaths and said they’d just come to a mutual understanding. Celeste (Gaza) would be satisfied with whatever was given from Hannah (Israel) even if it meant lesser territory. Hannah was happy as long as Celeste didn’t argue or demand land anymore.”

Partho Gupte, 13, Mumbai


Partho’s mother, Deepa Bhatia, insists that Partho scan the newspapers each morning, if not read them in detail. So Partho is clued into what is happening in the world and has an opinion about it.

“Use the experience of the old and the ideas of the new and make the land prosperous. The fight is over ownership of land and that itself is getting destroyed. Soon, no one will have anything,” says Partho. “Sometimes sitting with someone neutral helps…someone who is not emotional about it all. Like when we have big fights in school, then a common friend intervenes and calms the matter down. Then the friends can sit down and talk it out but in the heat of a fight, its difficult to be reasonable. Of course the common friend should have no selfish interest. Sometimes one of the parties must compromise more than the other. Someone needs to have a bigger heart and say fighting has to stop. Ego is a big problem.
Sometimes I wonder whether history is a good thing. Even today Hindus and Muslims in India keep picking fights over small issues, mainly old ones. Resentment breeds hatred and makes you vulnerable to manipulation.

“The land is big enough to feed everyone, house everyone, to keep everyone happy. A plant would not grow if the leaf and stem kept fighting over who’s more important. The greatest of films wouldn’t be not be made if the unit members fought amongst themselves. I know it sounds like a cliche but think about this: ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present (by Oogway, Kung Fu Panda)”

I want to live in Beaver Grandeur

Since this blog is now official on life support, I am routing some professional work here. Work that has failed to find a publisher. This story was originally written for Caravan magazine, but they realised that had published something similar about Noida a few issues ago. Here it is.

Home is an inappropriate name

Pune’s booming real estate market is Dr Frankenstein’s workshop for names

Pune is dense with real estate activity. Steel skeletons rise kilometres before that wholesome town aproaches. The aspirations of these projects scream: Amanora, a world of WOW; Westernhills, 40 acres of old new way of community living; Signature Life, Life Republic, Belleza, Bella Casa, Athena, Valencia. All painting serene images of the Mediterranean, rolling meadows or at least swaying flora.

There are pastoral images in Elysian, the abode of Greek gods where humans are allowed after death. Slowly, the billboards acquire a tone of desperation. Projects get a compulsive Latin/Italian lilt. You could live in Oystera, invest in Royal Entrada, rent at Linera, be one of the Excluzee, live it up at Liviano, be serene in Senero… Ambition mounts higher — why not be one of those who lives at 24k Gliterrati whispers a voice in your ear.

Above this din, rises a tower of adjectives —Nargis Fakhri invites you to join her at Castel Royale Excellente.

This affliction is not Pune’s alone. My mediocre hometown of Navi Mumbai has an Olive and Shallots housing society. None of these premium ingredients went into the making of the building. Hopefully. But in Pune’s it’s an epidemic. Why is a city, mapped with lyrical and historical names like Prabhat Road, Junglee Maharaj Road, Budhwar Peth and Aundh, perpetuating this ludicrouness?

Advertising and media professional Sopan Sharma tells me its investor apathy. “Most of these properties will be bought by investors in Mumbai or Bangalore. It’s not going to be their permanent address, so they don’t care if the name is ridiculous. It’s just a place to park their money. They will refer to it as XX’s (insert builder’s name here) project in Baner or Hinjewadi,” he says.

Budget homes aimed as residential for the middle class are still named traditionally, using Sanskrit or Marathi names. Then you have a Vaastu Shodhan (finding Vaastu) and Aapla Ghar (our home).

As a consultant, he tries to steer developers towards meaningful names that encapsulate the salient points of the property, but in the end, client is king. “There are developers with rational sensibilities, but they mostly come with a pre-decided name,” he says. Mont Vert’s Vesta, for instance, takes its name from the Roman goddess of house and hearth. “It could even be the result of rivalry,” continues Sharma. “If another developer’s Italian-sounding project as done well, they name their similarly. Sometimes, there’s also astrological compulsion to start the project with a certain letter or include a number in it. Then we absolutely can’t do anything.”

That would explain 43 Privet Drive. 4 Privet Drive, visitors to author JK Rowling’s Harry Potter universe will place, is the Dursleys’s ordinary, unimaginative muggle residence. It’s an anti-thesis to Harry’s magical world. Privet Drive is a place where he is miserable and trapped. Some words are forced together in an Indian marriage, like Aman (peace) and Aura to form Amanora. The internet cannot explain to me the etymology of Bravuria.

A driving force is that the new inhabitants of developing Pune are IT professionals rising up the corporate ladder. Those who want to leave behind the Madhubans and Sadafoolis (forever in bloom) of their childhood and live in antiseptic Florentinas and Florenzas. Keyur Godse, another advertising professional, says Greeko-Roman names are associated with luxury. “No matter if there is not a tree in sight on the property of Florentina. Small-scale developers [who are often the ones with misdirected names] are not interested in making a brand,” he adds. These clients come with a prepared name, with little or no research. And though these names exude luxury, they are most often not plush properties. “Luxury housing would imply a premium location or facilities,” says Godse. “Mostly these projects are located on the developing outskirts of Pune.” That would explain why the Westernhills Townhouse project, for instance, is located in the dusty plains of Baner.

The territory of traditional names is guarded by Puneri developers such as the Paranjpes and the Kolte-Patils. These developers specialise in housing complexes in already established tony areas. However, they too understand the shift and will build a Madhukosh on Sinhagad Road, Yuthika in Baner, Pratham at Sadashiv Peth, Punarvasu at Prabhat Road, but a Xion at Hinjewadi, an IT suburb.

Sameer Desai, director of Seagull advertising, which handles about four real estate developers a year and their multiple projects, says “Earlier developers wanted to be aspirational, international. At that time the names preferred were anglicised. In recent times, developers have become more consumer-oriented. Projects cater to consumer needs — both at a rational and emotional level. These names are either Indian or anglicised.”

A canny developer understands these two different markets — the traditional Punekar and the aspirational outsider — and names the projects accordingly.

“Developers also come in two categories — the Marwari and Gujarati groups from Mumbai and the Punekars,” says Desai. “The former is most likely a partner of local the land-owners, enlisted to develop, build and market the project and deliver a pre-decided sum to the landowner. These prefer the anglicised or Mediterranean names.”

According to him, when a project is designed to meet a consumer’s emotional needs, the developer turns to the native language. “A blue-collar township in the industrial suburb of Chakan is called Aapla Ghar. The tagline is Sarve Sukh-Suvidha Sapan (every need for peace and utility is met),” he says. “Another township near Lonavla, which is famous for an Ayurveda centre, is called Naad Brahma (the first sound of creation). A project of weekend homes is simply called, the Weekenders. The name should reflect the properties of the project.” But he also admits to seeing the blueprint for Vistas without plans for a single tree. Nobody can explain Beaver Grandeur to me.

Pune is metamorphosing as towns must, but when I pass Privé Rio, I wonder how the residents feel about being “deprived of Rio”. Or is it just a concern of the over-thinking Arts graduates?

I am 34

I love birthdays. I really do. It used to be the presents. Then the thrill of a disposable income. Some years the wishes. But by and by, it’s just the concept. I love it.

I love squeezing as much as I can from the day. I like to wake early and have a small chat with myself. Preferably over something to eat (croissants from Oven Fresh yesterday for lunch. Define ‘Early’). Birthdays are mile-markers and I like the team to think about what we’d like to do with the rest of our time here.

Heart, is there some stuff you want to let go of? What’s filling you up? Stomach, rethink your lust. Spirit, stay awake. Intuition, thank you; we’ll put it on the memo to trust you more. Fear, we’ve got to boss you down. Lungs, we must be kinder to you and rely on you to slow us down in stress. I like to think of all the great stuff that happened and bully myself to stay on the path. Mostly, I like to take deep breaths and say, “It’s my birthday!” Feb 14 is, “It’s not my birthday anymore.”

34 is farther than I imagined. I didn’t have plans beyond 20 (Turn of the century! I’ll have a boyfriend!). 34 is no landmark year. 34 does not have a ring to it. 34 is neither here nor there. 34 is too many candles on the cake. 34 is just the year before 35.

But I am 34. Isn’t that fantastic?

Checking in

It’s been going well, I wanted to tell you. Freelancing is a ride. Since I changed gears in October 2012, I have travelled to Thailand twice, Cambodia, Laos, Lucknow, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Velas, Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Kashmir, Bangalore, Mahabaleshwar, Goa, Delhi and Jamshedpur. I just got back from New Zealand. I am writing from Pune.

The reason why I celebrate even a trip to Mahableshwar and Velas is because they felt eventful. I didn’t have this for a long time and I am grateful for every bus ride out of the city.

I feel most supported in this endeavour. Friends put me up in their homes, give me keys to their satellite homes, editors recommend me to competing publications, colleagues push assignments, PR people take a chance on me, work flows in thick and fast. It’s as if everyone wants me to succeed but me.

When I get an especially juicy assignment, I feel like I don’t deserve it. Because, doesn’t everyone want to be a travel writer? What makes me more deserving than them? Surely something is wrong. Someone is going to realise that and fix it.

Another side effect is that I am extremely chatty. Deprived of colleagues, I make small talk with strangers. God help you if you sit near me in a restaurant I love. I will commend you for choosing nachos for breakfast. If you ask me about my order, I will insist you taste it. If you ask for a recommendation, I will explain the chef’s culinary ethos to you. Run. Come back later.

It’s all still scary and chaotic. When asked what my beat is, I have to think. Mainly, I follow my curiosity. I don’t know where my career is going and I still question this move every day (three times, after meals). I only have an intuition that a future is approaching. I do not know its shape, but I sense it will be deeply familiar and made in my image.

Where can I eat…

Very often, someone will ask me for a food recommendation and then they’ll regret it. A food conversation with me does not stop until I see you taking notes. One of my work beats is food — not fine dining, I’m afraid. I do the rasta food, and the nice little mom-and-pop shops, and the grotesque food and little food economies. So I talk about food a lot. 

Which got me thinking, that we’d never spoken about it much. Let’s do meetha. Here’s a list of must-eat Bombay treats depending on where you are in the city. Let’s start South.

Chocolate Eclairs from Theobroma, Colaba

When I walk into the Colaba branch of this patisserie, the server asks me, “One or two?” He means chocolate eclairs. Their hazelnut ganache filling is piped into the née firm choux, instead of sandwiched. The year before last, they made  a half-kilo birthday eclair for me and it wiped away my weariness. The lemon syrup cake, dense chocolate loaf and banana loaf are my reliable hostess gifts.

Theobroma was also the landscape against which I met my favourite philosophy. At one time, I used to work in the early morning shift for the afternoon edition — 3 am to 8 am. This meant we could end our shift with breakfast and we’d try a new place each time. At Theo’s, a mother was coaxing her daughter to eat a sandwich and bribed her with the promise of a sweet treat if she did. The girl insisted she wasn’t hungry and finally, her mother gave her permission to pick whatever she wanted from the display. The little girl chose the biggest and gaudiest birthday cake. “I thought you didn’t have place in your stomach,” challenged her mother. “It’s for my other stomach,” replied the girl.

RTI Lemon tarts, Fountain or Colaba Causeway

Bright yellow, synthetically strong and surprisingly crumbly pie. The routine at work was to call RTI and ask if they had them, and then book them all and go sprinting. Best Rs 35 fix.

Mawa jalebi from Bhendi Bazaar (Mohammed Ali Road)

This is by far the most obscene treat. The little stall behind Hara Masjid (Jama Masjid) opens after 5 pm. He squirts mawa (essentially the same thing that gulab jamuns are made of) into squiggles, deep fries them, dunks them into chashni and then BOOM! Widow-maker. They look like turds and I can’t eat more than one.

Taj Ice cream, Saifee Ambulance Lane, Masjid

Saturday was Taj Icecream day at the newspaper. It was also Badshah day. These guys hand-churn the full cream milk in 150-years-old copper containers. Mango or Strawberry is the flavour I suggest (fresh fruit chunks). You may not be able to stomach the environs (it looks like a mori), so order in.

Firni at Shalimar, Majid

There is a kheer they make in my marital household, which I can only describe as angel semen. The milk is reduced on a low flame for nearly three hours, then in go ghee-roasted vermicelli, slivered almonds and pistachios. After this it sits in the fridge overnight and makes its way to my welcoming gullet. The phirni at Shalimar is a near replacement. I suggest the glutton’s platter — rabdi (not overly sweet), kulfi and phirni all together. It’s not for amateurs. 

Pedhas from Gaurishankar Chitarmal Mithaiwala 

The best pedhas in the world come from this mithaiwala under the Parel bridge. I’ve eaten them all my life (Ajoba and maami come home with a white floral bundle under their arms. Glee ensues). The thumb-pressed squares are the right form factor, perfectly sweetened. I served them at my engagement and wedding, and one guest took a plateful and made a meal out of them. I also like squashing them into thickened milk and freezing the mass into kulfi.

Suttarfeni from Damodar on Dadar TT

Suttarfeni loyalists are divided into the Parsi Dairy Farm and Damodar camps. But through a purely scientific method, it has been concluded that Damodar is the best — light, fluffily and not too sweet. Parsi Dairy farm’s suttarfeni is too greasy with ghee for my taste. My heart was ruled by their mawa samosa for years until it was discontinued in 2008-2009. That was the worst kind of betrayal.

Strawberry Mille Feuille at Oven Fresh, Shivaji Park

I am a fan of this place’s ethos — mark a territory and serve it to the best of your ability. They turned 20 recently and my favourite thing on the menu has to be their Sour juice (blueberry, raspberry, banana). They hold sampling sessions often (during which I perform feats of pastry architecture on my paper plate) and there I met a strawberry mille feuille, which didn’t make it to their permanent menu, but is a strong contender for my birthday cake this year.

Jhamas at Chembur, Vashi, Nerul

You’ll need a list — pista katri (slivers of pistachio embedded in kaju katri); sev barfi (fragrant with rose water); and kalakand. For a easy fix, their warm gulab jamuns (also kept on a simmer) and the simple barfi are enough. Everythign about that barfi appeals to my senses — a nice even cube, moist but not liquid, not too sweet and fragrant not inherently, but by virtue of the sev barfi it sits next to. 

Malpuas at MM Mithai, Malad

This gift came to me via colleague Vikas Hotwani. I wasn’t into malpuas until I met these. Paper thin, crisp around the edges and about three inches in diameter. I like them cold when the sugar has crystallised a bit.

I hope you’ve got that down. I need to make a food map.







How I stuck it to Snellen

1989 was a tough summer for me. I got my specs when I was vacationing in Bombay, swerving my extended family’s attention towards me where it came to a screeching halt.

Till then I was only faudee. In 1989, I became fauddi-dhapni. 

It was a lesson in ‘Be Careful What you Wish for’. For years I had pointed out to my parents when I couldn’t read the addresses on shop signs. They said I was pretending to have weak eyes because I wanted to wear spectacles. They may or may not have been wrong.

So that year, we went to Gangar optician on Dadar TT circle and I walked out proudly with a prescription of -1.25 and -1.75. It was a lesson in ‘What happens if you read Agatha Christie in a moving car at night’. 

 I was so excited. I practised absent-mindedly wiping my glasses in conversation. I peered over their rim intently. I pushed down the tee over one shoulder, and bit one of the temple tips flirtatiously. All in the taxi after ordering my prescription.

 Then I reached home and announced the big news to my grandparents and mama-mami. I was the first in their bloodline to need glasses (my father is the short-sighted one).

 My family leapt at the opportunity with all the good intentions and enthusiasm of a coloniser. Every waking minute had to be utilised for the betterment of my fallen organs. 

 “Wake up early and walk barefoot on grass. The dew helps.” 

 “WAIT! Do your eye exercises the moment you wake up. Up-down, side-to-side, rotate clock-wise and anti-clockwise.”

 “Eat carrots.”

 “Drink milk.”

 “Pinka, PALAK KHA!”

 “Why are you doing nothing while the [train/bus/car] moves. Look faaaaaar into the distance. Then quickly look at something close-by.”

 “Look at the sky.”

 “Look at greenery.”

“Put your palms over your eyes and open them.” 

 My “condition” was discussed when we had visitors (twice a day).

“We know a homeopath in Dadar…”

“This boy in our building, he got rid of his specs by staring at a star every night after dinner…”

“Look at a candle flame placed at a distance.” 

“Wet your index finger with your morning spit and apply it like kajal.”

When I threw a tired tantrum, my grandmother sagely explained to me: “Rani, eyes are our most important organ. If you lose your hands, legs or hearing, you can still get other jobs. But if you lose your sight, you can only man a PCO booth.” 

I had LASIK last week and at my post-op check-up, I laughed at the chart. I wish I could see my grandparents’s faces.


Third thoughts

I have a lot of time to think about writing now. I also have a narrow window of emotional availability. Don’t be surprised if I call! Third thoughts is where the rich material is. I’m digging there.
Allow me to illustrate: When I learnt about the samaadhi system as a child, I was fascinated.

1. How admirable that someone could have that kind of determination and dedication.
2. What if (s)he changed her/his mind? What if (s)he started banging on the rock/door (?) and shouting in panic and nobody heard?
3. What if they did hear and didn’t let him/her out to protect the image? What if the invested powers stood guard at the samaadhi for a pre-calculated number of days to make sure the saint did not escape?

From what I know about the world now, the last is more likely to happen. Epiphany about religion. It’s one of the best things I like about my upbringing. We were not brought up in religion. We were aware of a higher power but it’s representative on earth and chosen vessel of manifestation was my mother’s right palm. For an omnipresent god, in charge of all known and unknown creation, he seemed overly concerned with whether I obeyed my mother or kicked my brother.

Some author, I think it was Neil Gaiman, said somewhere that when you have the courage to write out what makes you uncomfortable in your head, that’s when you are close to good material. I paraphrase, but I hope you get what I mean. It’s one of the things I worry about — what will my parents, family and friends say if they know how my mind actually works. How unsentimental it is. How poor in romance. It’s what I ask my writer friends: How do you camouflage the characters?

2013, I’m coming to getcha

So. We’re surrounded by babies and it’s troubling me. In the back of my mind (in my mother’s voice), I always thought I would feel differently about procreating when I reached the other side of 30. Now I’m nearly 33, surrounded by charming children whom I love being mimmie, maushi, aunty and aatyaa to but I don’t feel like having any. I’m starting to panic. And then I realise that I am starting to panic because I didn’t believe I could be right. I am not by biggest supporter.

The only way I can rationalise this is as much as I love food, I never cook. Why fuck up a dish you love and enjoy? Again, I am not winning any brownie points with myself. If I have to be a pleaser, you’d think I could start with myself.

So anyway, 2013. A month in. Just in time for my jayanti. I actually ticked off a lot off my last year’s list without intending to. Turns out if you write something down, you mentally push into the conscious part of your brain. I wonder if anyone else has noticed this. Maybe I should write a book.

So this year, I’m making another set

1. Don’t worry about money
When I intended to become Financially Secure, it’s was not the inflow of money I need to worry about. That is plentiful, as evidenced by the shoe collection. I need to stop worrying about when it’s all going to go away. Or where the next cheque is coming from, in the current circumstances. Deeper still, I have to address my feelings about stuff.
Stuff does not make me happy. When I get stuff, I feel a stab of guilt coupled with a slap of self-loathing. I don’t get the ‘I deserve it’ high, nor the ‘I am worth it’ feeling ; just a little ‘Look what I found’ strut.
I’m not in debt, nor do I shop at the cost of savings. I am actually very good with planning finances. I should allow myself to feel happy about the pretty. And love self flagellation a little less. Which brings us to…

2. Give yourself a break
I have a terribly good memory in a personal context. So I remember every tiny mistake and the smallest of humiliations, and have long scathing talks with myself all day. It’s got to stop. This year, I say sorry, shrug and move on. Unless your child fell on its head on my watch. May I push a human being out of my vagina so that you could drop it on its head? No matter how remorseful I am, no one takes me up on this offer.

3. Let her have a massage
I am sensing a theme here. I think massages are a waste of money. I’m not a salon regular goer. It bores me so much that I even procrastinate depilation. It’s part of my charm. I won’t spend 600 bucks on a massage (which I need because I run and I sit at a desk for long hours; and I like the gentle but firm touch of East Indian girls on my ankles and the conspiratory ambience) but I have no problem springing that amount four tees. No more.

4. Talk to me
A lot of this would go away if I had conversations with myself. Sometimes, I think if I tell someone about my intent (“That’s it, no more sugar for today”), I think it is done. I don’t need to tell others, I need to tell myself. Nicely. I’m going to pretend I am Golden Retriever. I’d never be able to say no to a massage if a Goldie asked.

5. Write for fun
Though I love writing for fun, it is still “content” with an intention. Write when there is no pay per word. You know what that means.