Tuesday, September 30, 2008

think twice ... another day for you and me in Paradise

Two days in Goa, but I didn’t get to the beach at all till afternoon on the second day. If only my friends would believe I was running around for meetings all that first day. Airport to hotel, one hour. Check-in, hate room, change room, unpack, wash – 45 minutes. Drive back to Panjim for meetings – an hour and a bit. Meetings – three hours. Check on retail outlets – an hour. Drive back to hotel – one more hour. So all I had time for was a sambucca lime – mixed to perfection by Gladwell – and a very mediocre dinner. And it rained buckets the next morning. So much for jogging on the beach to a mental soundtrack of “Eye of the Tiger”.

But …
Back of Calangute beach there’s a little neighbourhood with little roads and little houses and little sleepy Sunday afternoon noises. Thing is, they have these Sunday noises all week long. And trees. They have trees like Delhi has Marutis. One of these little houses – half hidden by trees, of course – has a name on the gate. “Mrs. Villa”. Now I haven’t quite figured out whether the house is married, hence the “Mrs.”, or whether the lady of the house is … well, as big as a house.
But this isn’t about Mrs. Villa. Right across from that interesting address … No, let me tell this the Goan way, which is nice and easy. And often backwards. So this little house is down a little lane. And if you’re travelling in from town, you have to go down past the Newton Arcade. Only you take the turn before you reach the Newton Arcade, OK? Go figure. A hundred metres down the turn-off, there’s another turn-off to your left. You park your car under the nearest tree and walk through the open space in the wall (across from “Mrs. Villa”), and you’re at Literati.
Which is where I’d love to be, any given Saturday. (It’s closed on Sundays, alas.)

It’s a bookshop. In an old house in Goa. Near the beach. Under the palms. You walk up the tiny garden path (which is also a tiny-garden path), step across the verandah (first taking off your shoes if it’s muddy outside. It was. I did. Once the Lady asked me to) and you’re in Divya Kapoor’s dining room, which may be her living room as well. Large but cozy, you get the idea? And inside, there are three more rooms lined with books. The big hall has all the swank stuff, the new releases, the books awaiting signing, all in neat stacks. The other rooms don’t do neat. They have books in glass-fronted cupboards, books on any available furniture, books on window-sills, on top of the computer. Everywhere. No discernible order. Weird Scandinavian names on books about Buddhism, a couple of Harold Robbins, travel books, an Aurelio Zen (Cosi fan Tutti, which I am liking muchly, thank you), Julian Barnes, Drucker on management (people still read him?), you name it. A most pleasing disorder. Made more pleasant by the fact that these books are all second-hand, hence cheap. I browsed. I pondered. And decided that it was well worth investing in an even cheaper bag for checked luggage. (Oh, not entirely full of books – I planned to buy two large packs of Goan “port”. I have friends who say my balcony is made for cheap plonk and cigarillos on late autumn evenings.)

In between browsing, I made a trip down to the beach before Souza Lobo stopped serving lunch. A barely competent sorpotel, but superb chorize and lovely soft poi bread. It was hard to decide whether the bread was better plain, for mopping up the nice fat gravy of the sorpotel, or juicy and dripping in a garlic bread avtaar that complemented the chorize-with-onions. I debated the dessert, then decided against it. There is such a thing as too much bebinca.

Back to Literati for another hour of browsing, but now the house was quiet in siesta. I sat in an armchair in the inner room ad listened to the punctuated silence of a holiday afternoon (Anjan Dutta describes it best – mone aan chaan kora shei dupur bela), smelled the smell of old walls and old books co-existing happily, browsed and mused a while before I slipped out to the verandah for a cold coffee and a smoke. When I was about to leave, the Lady of the House appeared, quite obviously arisen from a Good Siesta. I asked for the wash-room and was directed to an outhouse. Which was very interesting, because although it looks like any other shed from the outside, inside it has rough-plastered walls set with a zillion glass bangles, mauve fittings and even a potty-shower. And it was so cool inside. I felt sorry that I did not have reason to enthrone myself there with a book, it would have been so peaceful.

That was, more or less, the high point of my two days in Goa. Oh, I got back to the hotel before dark, even went barefoot on the beach, splashed through a little creek and wandered a mile across wet sand with the tide going out, walked until the holiday crowd were specks behind me and the hotel’s lifeguard tower had faded in the horizon haze. By the time I turned back, dark fat clouds had gathered and I had to duck under a beach shack for vestigial shelter. When the rain slackened I ran back across the beach. The raindrops blurred my glasses, the wind whipped in my face, I was running blind across a suddenly alien landscape while the pain in my lungs and legs grew to a roar. But I couldn’t stop. Very liberating, somehow.

Later, after a swim in the huge irregular pool, the loneliness of the hotel dinner and the routine of packing for an early morning start, I went out on the balcony and listened for the sea. Couldn’t hear it, not at all. All I could hear – faintly, thank the fates – was a couple singing old Hindi duets very badly in one of the banquets. So I went back in and curled up under the comforter and read myself to sleep. This trip was like that only.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Say na something JAP Uncle

My morning coffee-break and Bloglines. And I find this on Belle de Jour -
(BdJ’s’ blog is not link-friendly, so here’s the passage that caught my attention)

“in the category of Man to me - no, it's not simply about having the appropriate equipment. A Man does the right thing and has the right attitude and buys you a beer after a shite day and does not expect a fucking medal for emptying the rubbish. Sure they cry, but never for attention. They were my history teacher at school and my housemate at uni. They are not perfect and make no apologies for that. They are the ones played in films by Clive Owen and Shah Rukh Khan"

Belle de Jour watches SRK films? That proves something. I’ll get back to you when I figure out what. Meanwhile, does she know Hindi? If not, who does the sub-titles?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wednesday night and Thursday morning

Some things are as inevitable as death and taxes. Like the announcement from the cockpit once the lights of Bombay are in sight. Traffic congestion, holding pattern, “40 minutes to land”. Get on with it already. We KNOW we can’t land on time in Bombay, the odds are like hitting six sixes and getting a double hat-trick. In the same match. Why don’t you just shut up and let us sleep?

Sleep PAST the landing, if possible. Because it takes them a quarter of an hour to open the doors. While fat men stand in the aisle, like they have to be the first ones out that door, like it’s the start of a triathlon and not a disembarkation. And no matter whether it’s the morning flight or the late-night one, they’ll stink. This flight, they’ve boarded after a long day. Without showering. It’s only marginally better than the morning flight, when you can make out that some of them have left home without pooping and the prospect of the airport loos has stirred their stomachs.

Haven’t they heard of aerobridges? The bus to the terminal takes forever. They must have parked the plane a LONG way away. Like not just a different postal zone, a different TIME zone. While yet another fat man, oozing over the waistband of his jeans, reaches up to steady himself with the straps. Thus bringing his fragrant underarm to the same level as my face. All the perfumes of Araby etc. The situation is further spiced by the driver taking evasive action. To avoid an AIRLINER. I knew Bombay traffic is weird, but this is taking it a little too far.

This city never sleeps. Traffic – only cars this time – still snarls up the turn-off from the flyover. Which has a pocked surface, the kind caused by water retention. Excuse me? On a sloping surface? What did they use for topping, bread crumbs? And the piety. Prabha Devi, Mahim Church, Haji Ali – all crowded at a quarter past ten. Finally, the turn on to the road by the sea. And hel-looo, what have they DONE on this new building? A huge glass prism that changes colour? If I were in the next building and that monster blinked in my bedroom window, I’d get some RDX!

Fortunately, the buffet is still open when I check in. Who cares about good tenderloin turning into beef jerky, I’m starving. And the cafĂ© Viennoise (YOU tell ‘em, Amit) afterwards is good. Sleep is slow to come, but I can look out of the window at the winking lights across the water.

The morning smoothes away all the little mind-wrinkles of the journey in. I wake up on the 28th floor, looking out on the bay. Tiny boats, wave patterns, cloud shadows, lines of surf, and the new towering Bombay skyline. And for the cream swirl and cherry to top off the morning, my first meeting is cancelled. Carpe diem!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


One week of absolutely mindless work doing stuff that I am not the least interested in but have to do anyway because it pays the bills. One week of getting Ideas that fade out before I can open another window (other than one spreadsheet, two bloody awful memoranda of agreement and one weekly report that reads like it was written in that ­dhaba near Karnal). One week of wishing I were somewhere else. And someone else.

So here I stand, head in hand. Or rather, here I sit, full of … you get the picture.

So I went and watched Rock On!! (complete with the exclamation marks) and was seriously underwhelmed. Only Arnab, blast his keen little eyes, has gone and reviewed it already and I agree with him. So no post on that film. At least not now. In any case, I was seriously disturbed and considered counselling because for a fleeting moment I found Koel Purie hot. Which is rather like lusting for T Rex. Or Mayavati. Whatever.

And I was supposed to Do Some Research over the weekend - on Chinese food in Calcutta – and now the Small Determined Person who commissioned it is nagging me on e-mail. Merely driving home the sad fact that I cannot even write on things I like. AND reminding me of my Douglas Adamsian attitude to deadlines. (This one was on the 7th)

And I had a day trip to Delhi yesterday and loved it. What’s with the traffic over there? Next time, I’ll take my sneakers and WALK everywhere. It could be faster. Seriously. From the corner of Malcha Marg till the Taj, we crawled along behind this woman in a TIGHT pink shirt and WHITE pants that looked ghastly because she was too fat to fit into them. She was on foot. In stilettos. My capital city, zipping towards the Commonwealth Games.

Then I beat my own record by falling asleep in the terminal. With short breaks for boarding, disembarking, reaching home and faling into bed face first.

I wish I were still there.

PLUS Blogger is acting cute. Gerfkkk.

On the up-side, I found this blog and I yem lurrving eet.

Monday, September 01, 2008

A matter of respect

Sister Maria of the Loreto Mission has spent her life changing lives. She teaches, nurtures, helps children who live on the sidewalks of Calcutta. Twenty of them came to the Academy of Fine Arts last Saturday to sing for her. Loud young voices raised in a hymn of thanks. They were singing about God.

As far as I’m concerned, Sister Maria is their God. She – and we – were there because Ashish Vidyarthi loved his father. And because he chose to show his respect for the late Govind Vidyarthi by instituting the Vidyarthi Samman. To acknowledge the people who don’t hit the headlines, the people who touch our lives but go unnoticed, the people we end up taking for granted. Four people were felicitated this year. Biswanath De from Malda, who for 65 years has worked in a form of folk satire called Gombhira. Hemendra Chandra Sen, who for 50 years has made the instruments that Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan play. Debi Haldar, make-up artiste in Bangla cinema for 53 years, and an invisible part of the work of Satyajit Ray. (This last is especially poignant now that make-up has been accepted as a category in the National Film Awards). And of course, Sister Maria.

Govind Vidyarthi, born TK Govindan, was one of those people who earn respect without demanding it. You can read about him here. I never met him, or his wife Reba, but I didn’t need the tributes from Nadira Babbar or Shyamanand Jalan to understand the kind of people they are. It’s evident from the son they raised.

The evening was a humbling experience. First, because of the four awardees and their silent achievements. Their humility. Their dignity. And again, because of the effort that Ashish puts into this every year. From making the arrangements for the awardees’ transport and accommodation to taking time out from his killing shooting schedules to go buy the angavastrams himself. To honour his father’s principles and his father’s memory. My father is special to me, but do I show it enough?

After the awards, Ekjute staged their play Dayashankar ki Diary. Nadira Babbar’s script is matter-of-fact, realistic, well-developed. Very relevant to the theme of the evening, because it deals with a man in the opposite situation to the four awardees, a man who sees no dignity in his situation, derives no satisfaction from his condition or his work. It doesn’t preach. A big plus point here, because I loathe preaching. It’s more than funny, it’s satire and an everyman tragedy. And it had Ashish.

You know how, when you have a friend who’s very good at something, you tend to take it for granted? How his special talent becomes invisible from close up, because it’s just what he does? Well, Ashish is this good friend who just happens to have a National Award. I tend to focus more on his camera (Nikon D200, thank you very much. I have impure thoughts about it, the kind that a younger man might have about Jessica Alba) and his text messages from weird places at weird hours. It took 90 minutes of Dayashankar ki Diary to wake me up. Ninety minutes, hell, I was kind of open-mouthed after 9 minutes. I forgot - this man is an ACTOR! Day-umm.

I won’t forget it again in a hurry. Thanks, mate.