A Mumbai For Women

It was a Saturday. It was a lazy afternoon. And to top it all, it required for me to travel an hour on the Mumbai local train to reach the venue. But still I went for the 'Mumbai For Women' blogger's meet, organized by The Times of India and IndiBlogger. This wasn't to be the first time I'd be part of something that would rather require the involvement of women.

Like the entire nation, I too, was awakened by the sheer effrontery of the Nirbhaya gang-rape case in the capital. The unprovoked and dastardly attack brought me to a face-off with how uncivilized our society has ultimately turned out to be. That how every essence of safety that we've carefully put up for ourselves, has been rendered senseless. Why is the progressive Indian society passively accepting this situation, for the last decade?

Like a fellow blogger pointed out, unfortunately we're all only here at this point of confrontation because of the use of a rusted, L-shaped, metallic wheel jack handle - the infamous rod. Before this case, it was the 'chalta hai' and 'mango baatein' attitude that easily held us separated from the horrific truth. What a shame!

The meet brought out the various outlooks of the people of Mumbai, men and women alike, on the issue of how safe Mumbai is for women and what can be the responsibilities of it's citizens to make it even better. Now I'm not a Mumbaikar. I have just arrived a few months ago from Vellore (say Chennai, for a better societal perspective), where I studied and Kolkata, which is my home. And as I see, things are lot better in the financial capital of India. Being not from Bombay, I tried to associate on a much larger palette, with an otherwise city-centric issue.

Statistics show that Mumbai is safe for women, over many other major cities in the country. And yet as the experiences speak, it has a crazy molester at Powai, stalking girls late in the night. Women being eve-teased by unknown men at Antop Hill. For a woman, travelling on the common compartment of a local train still means daring a stare, or a lewd remark, a suggestive smirk or even a physical brush of mildly offensive intent.

So natural conclusion from all this comes to the point where the women begin to accept that men, except their fathers maybe, are generally bad. But is it really?

A woman is being beaten by her alcoholic husband every night. The beatings are enough to develop visible wounds and scars. Those, she can apply ointments on. But why continue hiding her emotional scars by claiming that 'her husband otherwise loves her, and it's only when he drinks..'? Why does a young, independent modern woman keeps the number of her hair dresser in her cellphone while avoiding to store an emergency helpline number? Why did the group of young women I met at the silent candlelight vigil at Kolkata (to show our solidarity with the Delhi gang-rape victim) insisted rather on taking innumerable photos of themselves, and tweet about it simultaneously?

The problem is of a higher level, not answered in the way a society divides itself on the ground of gender and sex. It is ultimately a culmination of social, political and mental failures in this country. We desperately need education, awareness, information and an understanding of mutual respect among people to bring back that forgotten sense of security.

And if I'm allowed to take potshots and point a finger at, in this connection, I'd like to point at the ways modern women are portrayed in the TV serials and Bollywood movies. They're not always some expensive saree-clad gossipy figure who has no sense of what goes on in the world beyond the zone about her palace-of-a-house and the neighbouring aunty's sex-life! And show me one woman at a wedding, who would be dancing to songs like Fevicol se and Munni badnaam hui in such suggestive choreography! In my personal opinion, people like Malaika Arora Khan and Ekta Kapoor need to undergo rehabilitation, with the former one needing it ASAP.

For all I know, the modern Indian woman is an entrepreneur, a CEO, a journalist, a social worker, an author, a fashion designer, an artist. Then again, she also is a fashion blogger, a happy homemaker, a gamer, a technology buff, a food blogger, a travel blogger, a poet, a daunting yet dashing host and what not! What more can you expect from our friends, daughters, mothers, wives, and sisters? Can they not expect a little respect? A little care? That little feeling of being loved?

Change begins at home.


Thank you Indiblogger for the wonderful blogger's meet, which was also my first Indimeet. Hope I get to attend more of these in the future. Thanks much for the opportunity to be meeting some of the most amazing contemporary Indian bloggers, to be talking to few very tenacious journalists of the ToI, and for the much-needed sandwich in the end!

Some Memories In Scarlet

It is that time of year, when the national dress code for guys is a skin-tight shorts, borrowed from the rickshaw-puller's son who lives nearby. On top, you display your manly shaven/unshaven chest out to the world. If unshaven, the chest-hair should be of contrasting bright colours - such as magenta, yellow or sea green - if shaven, then this chain of thought is rendered pointless. The vest that used to be, better known as baniyan (no Noelle, not banyan. That's a tree!), is so deformed that you use it as a belt instead. Your flip-flops are torn but you're unwilling to let them go..

But then all that don't matter, because you're coloured entirely in black, filthy green and silver and it won't be making any difference to an unassuming onlooker, even if you go naked right now.

The festival of colours, ladies and gentlemen, is an official license for people to launch a colourful assault on each other. And it always brings back sweet, and some bitter-sweet memories with it.

Take my earliest memories of Holi for example. I remember parts of it in flashes and gasps of unhealthy memories: Grime, grease, mud, faeces, filth, revolting shades of green, black, brown, silver, grey. Yes you got it right, it was Holi in the state of UP! There isn't a single account of the festival, where I wasn't crying. The day before Holi, however, was pleasant and worth remembering time and again - Helping mum prepare 'Gujiyas', cleaning the entire household, cooking delicacies for the next day, watching Holika dahan and of course, buying the same colours I'm destined to be assaulted with, the very next day.

I missed Holika dahan the most, as we shifted to Kolkata. One of the prime reasons Holi lost it's charm to me eventually. Holika dahan was every kid's dream - a reason to stay up late on a non-festival date! It was campfire, where the uncles from the neighbourhood would gather and bawl local songs having coarse lyrics (that absolutely made no sense to us, but bestowed pure entertainment all the same)!

Holi made a comeback as I came to my teens, and this time it was in a better avatar. I got involved among the baccha party in the residential complex I lived in, in what was a daunting task of strategizing and planning for an exclusive celebration of the festival. Divided would be the teams, plotting against each other.

Oh, there would always be the teams! And their aerial units, to hurl water-balloons from the terrace on the 12th floor at unassuming kids, lurking in the courtyard among elders. Like that'll save them! The sources of tap-water would either become a no-man's-land (if a patronizing adult was present) or bunkers (if left entirely at our discretion)! There would also be the challenge of who would be the first to put colours on The Girl. And it would be an added advantage if The Girl would voluntarily want to be painted by you first. Been there, done that! HA! Nailed it, didn't I?

Then there was a Holi-related episode in school involving Potassium permanganate, that I'd rather not recall!

This year's Holi is over, and I must say I had fun! I took the convincing plunge of celebrating it with strangers, after a long time from celebrating it at all. Without friends or family, whom I no longer associate with this festival, playing Holi with strangers turned out to be fun! There was no prejudice, no last time ka hisaab chukta, no reservations involved. Only the pure feeling of belonging to a common community. I may not believe in the divinity and religion, but I fit right in on a social front.

So, have a very happy festivity my dear readers! I'm aware that we have some new readers, who joined my blog recently. I love you all so very much. Keep reading my posts, commenting on em and spreading the love. Until next time, Ciao!

My Tryst with a Crazy Cabby

Oh Bombay!

As I otherwise immerse myself completely for the cause of foul-smelling genetically modified organisms in the lab, there are only the sudden, last minute get-away plans that have been my saving grace for quite sometime now. And my saviour is one of my junior-school friends, who is now working for Fractal Analytics. Posted in Mumbai, he resides just a few kilometers further on the JVLR, making it easy for me to make quick escapes from the lab.

This Saturday, with the plausible excuse being meeting a third friend, I skip my preconceived afternoon catnap to gear up for another night out with the guys. After lazily browsing for the bus routes for half an hour on Google Navigation, I called a cab-service, only to take an auto-rickshaw finally. The auto-man, for some very odd reason, immediately asked me if I had a girlfriend. (I can't possibly be that handsome now, can I?!) Sensing weirdness, I cut my route short and forcefully asked him to drop me at the IIT  main gate itself. After he vanished by the horizon in the traffic, I whistled down another yellow/black taxi and got in.

'Kidhar jaane ka he?' Where to monsieur? (Not in that way exactly..)
'Majas mein kidhar ko?' Where in Majas?
'Majas Depot..'
'Toh bahar kaiko khada hai bhau, abhi andar baithne ka na!'
After being stung by an immediate charm from within the taxi, I barged in. He sped up almost immediately, with half of me yet to step into his cab.

'Majas pahuchne mein time lagega. Toh timepass karna toh banta hai.. kyun bhau?' It'll take about 20-30 minutes to reach my destination. So the driver's rights of availing some means to kill time stood vindicated. Yes, even if we were speeding our way in heavy traffic on the JVLR.

'Totally, bhau!' I was game.

Without warning, he bellowed out with a song! A semi-popular song from the Bollywood of 80s, I guess. I didn't know the song, but it was kind of a social-song - you know, like one from a Raj Kapoor movie. Good one, too! One song after another, and the driver suddenly blows into a self-approved commentary. His commentary told me something about him. He wasn't meant to be a driver forever. A radio jockey of some talk show perhaps, having it's own unique niche. Also, he had a God complex about himself - in a funny way. His ride was an entertainment package in a whole and I wasn't regretting.

'Humara funda in life is simple, bhau' said he, 'Life jeene ke dui tareekke hote hain - kar bhala, ya mar saala!' (Applause please!) Please note that all I could say, was an intermittent 'Sahi hai, bhau!' (which is like Bang on, bro!) after each sentence statement.

'Haathi ke dikhane ke daant alag, chabane ke alag..'
'Sahi hai, bhau!'
'..par apun sabka bhala karta hai, consciously kabhi kisi ka bura nahi karna chaha. Logo ne, apno ne, duniya ne - sabne dhokha diya mere ko. Par apun nahi darra, chalta raha. With a shmyle (smile) in my phashe (face)!'
'Sahi hai, bhau!' with a pat on his back. Some genuine support.
'Ye-ich apun ka philosophy hai.. Right, na bhau?'
'Sahi hai, bhau!'

Wishing I could stay on the taxi forever, I assured him that I'm in no hurry and that he could go slower. Partly also because I was terrified he'll bump into something while delivering his sermons, with closed eyes. At 90kmph in heavy traffic, that is not something I'm looking forward to.

'Aap kidhar se ho, bhau?'
'Hum hindustan ke hain!'
Okay, must rephrase. 'Par aapka ghar kahan hai?'
'Yahi samjhiye ki aap jahan andar rehte hain, hum wahin bahar rehte hain..'
The unromantic, art-hater in me, asked him 'Achha, toh Powai mein?'
He passed a quick sorry-ish glimpse on the rear-view mirror, 'Aap logo ke dilon mein rehte hain. Aur hum usi ke theek bahar..'
Okay, that was touching. Still, my reply was 'Sahi hai, bhau!'

After his fifth song, which you will find a sample of - here - he asked my permission to deliver a shayari. I encouraged him, 'Irshaad!'

'Mandir mein jaata hu, toh puja kar leta hoon,
Masjid mein jaata hoon, toh thoda namaz padh leta hoon..

kaheen log mujhe bhagwan na samajh le,
Apun thoda sa paap bhi kar leta hoon!'
I was impressed, yes, but all I could utter was 'Sahi hai, bhau!' again.

Now wherever we got stuck in traffic, we were stared upon from other co-travelers. Families, autowallas, drivers, police - everyone. Reason being the super loud volume by which my Man Friday here, was bawling. At one such moment, he asked me 'Bhau, Majas aane ko hai.. Ab aapka ek gaana gaana banta hai! Peleej!'

Determined not to be a killjoy, I sing the first song that comes to my mind - Maa from Taare Zameen Par. My chance to keep the tomfoolery two-sided, and his time to end it up with 'Sahi hai, bhau!' Instead, he says nothing. Disappointed, I keep quiet too.


Few minutes later, he stops the cab few stops before we reach my destination. And to my horror, he sniffs!
'Dude! Are you crying? Bhau..?'
'Touch kiya aapka voice mere ko. Bahut dard hai aapke voice mein, bhau..'
Eyebrows raised, I asked 'Are you sure?' and he gave me a 'you'll never know' look. Okay, that's crazy! People around me totally thought I assaulted my cab driver.

'Bhau, chalo! Aur ek achha gaana sunata hoon..' Damage control!
Shit! Shit! Shit! As we started again, I sing a relatively happy song, 'Meethi Boliyan' from Kai Po Che. What the hell happened all of a sudden! I'm being driven by a child!!

He keeps mum. I feel guilty.

When we reached, I took out my wallet to pay him the fare. Maybe a tip.
'Aye zindagi, humein sohbaton ka nasha hai.. Sohbat ka meaning malum, bhau?' asked the sober cab driver, quoting the chorus line from the song I last sang.
'Nah, bhau..'
'Sohbat maane company. Carporation wala company nahi, friendship wala company.'
Umm, okay.. I reflected on him, very much impressed. Is he on twitter?
'Humein aapka sohbat achha laga.. thank you!' and he sped away as I stared after him.

Beautiful, interesting people, everywhere! One of the many reasons, I'm in love with Bombay, already! Until next time, Ciao.