Tag Archives: mumbai in 70’s

Daddy Dear …

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Most have stories for their mommies, I do too, but today its about my Pappa, thoughts of him dancing all over me..

He is a person that pushed me always a little more, a little harder…

“No i cannot do it,” i yelled and papa stood below replying “ what rubbish chal chal, you can!”

I stood there all shivering in the Panchgani summer cold in front of the newly discovered crater on the extreme edge of Tableland, the famous plateau. Here I was trembling in fear in the cool breeze but papa never gave up. He made sure that i climbed down that plateau through that half burrow , suspended- in- air -hole. And finally when i did, i saw him smiling, that rare dimpled smile.

My bonding time with him were the Panchgani summer vacations; we had his full attention then. He always took the treacherous and difficult route to climb a hill, always a self made path and never the clean motorway or even, the horse trodden path. My invariable complaints were, “why can’t we go the correct way? The way which everyone takes, why take this dangerous route and i get all bruised?”

Shelu, my elder sister loved these adventures along with all my rough and tough cousins but it was me that shivered in my pants, always. I part grumbled and part moaned that we discovered a new route and as I always trailed behind, it was pappa that kept a close eye on me, and did he keep pushing me..

First time when I was learning how to drive he took me out on a spin and asked me to drive. I began gingerly, at a measly pace of  10km an hour. I inched more than I drove. He whacked me on my hand and said when will you use the fourth gear? Well did that exist in my directory? I said ” how can one use that on Bombay’s narrow roads?”

He replied, unsurprisingly, what rubbish, put on the fourth gear. I did and promptly and drove straight on to a lamp post. He yelled – brakes! brakes! and my heels only found the accelerator. It was a misadventure , mildly put – head lights broken and doors jammed. But papa did not lose his cool. He took over the wheel and drove us back home. Till this day i have not learned the ABC of driving and i prefer to be driven than drive.

Pappa is a self made man – all hardworking and feisty. Short tempered, arrogant and generous. A true Leo who would go to any extremes for his comfort, food and family. A handsome man (think the younger Gene Hackmen) who had won many hearts with many a woman wanted to marry him. I do still come across a few who complain that he never agreed to their proposals and this the same time that I see my mummy feeling proud. A farmers son, he did his mechanical engineering and came to Bombay on the pretext for an interview for a government organization. He told himself that if he worked for somebody he would never grow in this city. So he never turned up for that or any interview and used the conveyance money to fund his (small) stay and began work for himself. First as a mechanic, then a driver and soon collected enough to start his small workshop. In spite of setbacks, he was to never look back and and today is quite a successful businessman. He made sure he gave us the best that he could. Once i called him to inform that i had sought my daughter’s admission into a well reputed (and an expensive school). He asked dryly ” why are you spending so much?” . I said that he taught me to spend more on education that anything else and now it’s my turn to further that tradition. That day, I could see him smiling on the other side of the phone, that rare dimpled smile.

That day after many years he shared one of his secrets with me. He told me that every time he visited my school he felt a shade smaller when he saw the rich dad’s dropping their kids in fancy cars. He told me that he ached inside to be able to drop his girls in a car someday. In time, he made sure that he did. Soon enough, he drove me and my friends around Bombay,

I have always seen him working hard and pushing the boundaries with a never-say-die attitude. He is growing old and still going strong. Yesterday he called me to say that he had sold his factory and will be retiring. I am happy for him – the money and the self achievement is truly his but deep within me , I feel hollow. While he was working, I saw in him as a strong, pushy, confident man, but today I feel saddened. Something , somewhere has changed in me and am deciphering the feeling..

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Govinda Ala re!

sketchpad12Anyone who lived in Bombay in the 80’s would know what festivals were and how important they were. Deafening loudspeakers yelled at each other from different colonies. All those Bollywood numbers on festivals started from dawn till late in the night until all the neighbour’s started complaining about the volume or till Ballu (the local drunkard) was completely sloshed and out after dancing on those numbers!

Those were the times when lovers dedicated songs on loudspeakers and new love blossomed under the name of festivals.

Holi and Govinda (Janamashtmi, Dahi Handi) were my favorites.

The year started with Holi. During Holi, a huge crater would be dug in the concrete of Amchiwadi and Kiran, the taxi driver, would perform Holika Puja! Kiran transformed into a Pujari (priest) on such occasions, after all he belonged to the Brahmin family and when would all the shloka’s (chants) payback, which he had earnestly learned from his Ajoba (grandpa).

I do not remember about the rituals though but I remember, we kids use to sit around the Holika (burning campfire) and watch all the mummies, aunties and Aajjies (grandmas) come with their thali’s (ceremonial plates) and perform their Puja (rituals). The interesting bit about the entire puja were the coins that were hurled into the Holika. We would sit around the circumference of the crater and watch those coins glowing in the flames.

Each one eyeing the loot!

Come morning and we would jump into that crater even before brushing our teeth. By morning all that was left in the crater would be ashes and dark burnt coins and some grey kids! People around us would be all red, pink and violet with the holi colours but we kids would be busy collecting the coins from crater all grey! Finally the big kids would come and pull us out and take their share from the loot …that was Holi for me all grey and smoky. It was only later in college days that it turned colorful and intoxicated!

Govinda (Krsihna’s Birthday) was my favorite and probably everyone’s favorite in Amchiwadi. A lot of days went into practicing, forming the human pyramid to break the Handi (earthen pot filled with buttermilk which is tied at height.)

Now every year the lightweight Raju was the top most boy in the pyramid and had mastered the art of breaking the handi. Each year the handi went higher and higher but the Amchiwadi’s govinda (the participant of the pyramid, they are called govindas after Lord Krishna’s gang of friend’s, who use to steal butter) also never gave up… they too climbed higher and higher… sometimes the height was as high as 30 feet… the Guinness record is 43 feet! The higher the handi the bigger the prize money… each colony had their own team of govindas and each colony had their handi with prize money. All the neighboring colonies would invite other colony govindas to come and accept the challenge to break their handi… who ever broke the handi would walk away with the prize money… now this was not very simple as it sounds… the govindas formed a human pyramid… sometimes going up to six tiers but the catch here is the colony residents… they would all try and stop the govindas to break the handi by hurling water. The small kids used coloured water balloons and their enthusiastic mothers would hurl buckets of water. All hanging from their windows and balconies. Hurling water, shouting and screaming, distracting the govindas.

Amidst the chaos and excitement we have the loud speakers blaring the famous govinda songs from Bollywood. In the late 80’s every Bollywood actor from Amitabh Bachchan to Jackie Shroff had one song to their name and they too have performed the govinda stunt in their movies. In Bollywood every actor has one such song be it a govinda song or ganesh song…. all of them have danced to these numbers….and during these festivals these songs go on a loop on the loud speakers. By the end of the day I am sure everyone knew the lyrics by heart.

Now coming back to Amchiwadi… Each year Raju our master govinda would be the top guy in the pyramid and would always make sure that their team broke at least four or five handis. They all use to look forward as the prize money would help them run their homes for months. Raju was the local barber’s son, the youngest and the smartest. It was only during govinda that the people in Amchiwadi made the barber and his family feel alive. Nobody knew how many days they slept hungry or how many nights their roof leaked but come govinda, the entire Amchiwadi made Raju and his family feel important.

As I lived on the topmost house with a terrace, every year the boys use to come home to tie the handi and made sure they stacked enough water in buckets, pots, mugs and balloons… to distract the other govinda team.

One such year, I remember we decided to tie the handi really high, almost 30 feet! … Why? We had collected more cash for the prize money and we thought we can’t give the money that easy. Result many govindas came, fell, re-tried and fell again… almost all the neighboring colonies came and tried but none of them could make it. Normally by lunch all the handis are broken but it was almost evening and still nobody could break the handi… finally Raju decided that we will break our own handi… they had practiced the pyramid till five tiers but this one needed at least seven… so without practicing they went for seven… result… they all fell… they all came tumbling down like a pack of cards … everyone took utmost care that Raju fell first and was taken good care of… each time they went up, there was pin drop silence… even the loud speakers were shut but they came tumbling down.

Now I was really tired and wanted this madness to end … I was hanging from my terrace waiting for the handi to break so that the loud speakers would stop and I could get back to my studies… the rope from where the handi was tied was right under my nose. I looked at the rope and then at tired Raju .. Raju caught my eye … I smiled and he winked … Raju pleaded to his team for one last try …

And yes they did it.

There was cheering and clapping, the entire Amchiwadi was dancing… the loud speakers were louder than before and there was no end to the rejoicing… it went on till dawn.

I really wanted this madness to stop, I wanted to sleep and wake up for my exams in the morning.Had I known that the party would never end I would have never lowered the rope.


The Good Girl

The Good Girl

“Let me try no… please I think I will fit …please mummy please”, I kept begging with mummy but she refused.

“Aare nai na babba, you take this ‘Naughty Rabbit Dress’…the other one is for Shelu… she will fit and she is my good girl!”, mummy said handing me the light blue dress (with a white bugs bunny embroidered on it with the words ‘Naughty Rabbit’ encircling it.)

I so wanted that ‘Good Girl’ dress. It was a beige and brown sleeveless dress. A happy looking girl embroidered on it with the words good girl printed across a colorful rainbow..

I loved the seven colors in the rainbow and I really really wanted it so bad but it did not fit me. It was loose and big and a perfect fit for my elder sister Shelu.

I kept sulking the entire way back in the taxi… mummy bought ‘The Good Girl’ dress for Shelu with that beautiful colorful rainbow and I got the silly ‘Naughty Rabbit’!

We went home and Shelu really loved the ‘The Good Girl’ dress .. she was beaming with joy (and she literally beams with her deep dimples when she smiles!). When she wore the dress I realized that yes mummy was right… this dress was actually for her Good Girl, Shelu. With her two long plaits, neatly oiled she so very much looked like the happy girl under the vibrant rainbow. It seemed as if it was made for her.

I feel ‘The Good Girl’ effect lasted forever with Shelu, very sincere and honest in whatever she did or said. I have never seen her do any mischief or any harm to anybody. She was always the well behaved and well mannered, it was the Naughty Rabbit who did all the wrong things and all the mischief.

I remember it was me all the time running and jumping but she was the one who use to fall and get stitches. She was the one who use to pray hard and study harder. She was the one to teach me dance moves and I use to win all competitions. She was better in drawing but I got more certificates. She was always better in everything … She indeed was mummy’s ‘The Good Girl’.

I now wonder what if ‘The Good Girl ‘ dress would have fit me?

p.s. My cousin burnt a hole in the ‘Naughty Rabbit’ dress while ironing, even before I put it on, I wore it nevertheless, secretly happy…


Why I don’t get lost more often!

sketchpad10Many stories are incomplete many dialogues are interrupted.

I wish I had said that,
I wish I had kissed him,
I wish I had stayed back a little more,
I wish I had gone a little further…

We often wonder what if … many such what if’s and why not’s!

I often wonder what if I had stayed back in Omaru (New Zealand) and got lost with the penguins. What if I sneaked out of the bed and took a flight to Amsterdam to meet Van Gogh. Often in the traffic on the way to office, I feel just go … go straight to the airport and take the next flight out to anywhere.

I always did whacky, all the time…

Suddenly took off to Lonavala (a nearby hill station) from Bombay rather than going to college to meet my love.

Landed up at a friends place midnight to say sorry and then drove back 50 miles.

Kept my friends waiting at home on my birthday and treated the street urchins to yummy chocolate cakes in a fancy Bistro.

Drove straight to Pushkar from Delhi 300 miles! It was better than standing in the long queue for those movie tickets.

Walked out of the hospital after a surgery and hours later I was in a meeting & next gorging at my favorite Kakori Kebaabs!

Went for a trip with office staff and then suddenly took off  to a nearby desert, calling my boss that I will not be turning up for work for the next few days!

Crept out of bed midnight and took the early morning flight in my pajamas to meet my love!

Sold my gold earrings and gave all the money to a boy singing in the train for medicine for his little sister and told my mom that I lost my earrings.

Resigned from my job one day and went to watch Vertical Limit with a friend and end up getting another job in the movie intermission.

Blew all my bank balance … got reduced to Rs 3/- and then called a friend with that from a pay phone and signed up a big deal!

Kicked a drunkard from a moving bus in dark hours in Ghaziabad! (Not very safe for girls in the night, rather anytime!)

Danced with a friend in a stranger’s wedding and ended up taking pictures and video’s … I am sure they will be wondering who the hell am I?

Go for a Christmas party and end up Proposing!

We all have stories and those whacky moments … I have endless

I never thought twice before saying or doing anything … then why now?

Have I lost my spark! that spunk or have I stopped living (at the edge)
Have I sobered, have I got domesticated?
Nope I don’t think so. I still fall in love everyday…

Now I just trip to see my little angel’s face everyday, to hug her all sweaty and smelly when she is back from school. All cuddled in bed with her, I don’t feel like creeping out. Now I like to dance with her rather than dancing in stranger’s wedding. Intoxicated with her smell and touch
…  She’s my Trip!

I know soon she will take off … and I will too!


Thoda aur sarko na – make some space!

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Thoda aur sarko na … (make some space)

Kya? (what?)

Aare thoda jagga karo … (make some space!)

This lady with a big tokri (basket of fresh, stinky mackerels) kept pushing me …

I was already sitting on top of four baskets of fish, fresh vegetables and probably soiled clothes. All dressed in my best with evening in paris, nina ricci. Now only the smell of dead blood (from those mackerels) ruled!

I was already sulking that theres no fun getting ready and traveling in Bombay local trains .. after all it’s going to be all sweat, dust and grime.. but then i had to meet Kinshuk at Hamla (naval base) …my date on a empty beach of Bombay, in the monsoons.

It was this thought that kept me going in the crowded local western railways … no I wasn’t sitting in the vendor compartment…it was very much the ladies dabba (compartment) but the wrong time… early mornings,when the fish from the docks had to reach the Bombay wallahs!

and I had to reach the beach.

Every week I took this train, to meet him. To walk on the sand and surf hand in hand, not to talk just to walk… on empty, quite shores of otherwise deafening, busting at the seams, dusty, raggy, stinky Bombay.

This was a private beach under the Defence land, no civilian had access to it and I felt privileged walking all alone in the early hours and late evening, who wouldn’t after all these are the small perks one gets to serve the nation!

Today, I was really getting irritated with the fisher folks in the train… they simply rule at this hour… they make you feel like you don’t belong, they curse you if you don’t make space for them and their stinky baggage. You can’t complain about the stink, the scattered fish scales all over or the stinky, slimy water on the floor. It’s okay if you just managed to save your self from slipping on that fish water, all you will get is toothy beetle nut juice laced grin. I always think they don’t belong here, they need to take the vendor compartment or take a tempo or anything but not the train, not a public transport at least! Each time I took the train I would sulk and complain but then finally when my station would arrive I would happily forget everything and head towards my privileged solitude. Today was no different, I jumped of the train (literally one has too if you have all the stinky obstacles and smelly hurdles)

I managed to reach my beach still smelling a bit of nina ricci and a lot of fish, but then the whole beach smells of fish.

There he was standing, waiting for me.

My whole week, I use to wait for this moment and now when I am here I don’t need to say or do anything, all I need is to be!

It was drizzling so we were told not to walk on the shore as the tide was high. I sat there on the edge of the Mess wall, overlooking the beach. I kept watching the waves leap high up and dash across the shores and sweep back sand and empty beer bottles. I could feel the salt in my hair and lips from the sea breeze. Kinshuk’s friends decided to play volley ball on the beach.Cadets usually did that in their free time. Now this was a dampener, I did not get my walk on the beach nor did I get my solitude. I wasn’t complaining as I still had my view.

As I was watching the sea rise and fall, suddenly I saw two hands jutting out of the waves in the middle of sea… first I thought it was a tree, then as I concentrated and realized it was a boy with hands waving… probably he was drowning or was asking for help… I yelled at the boys playing volley ball… I asked them to go save that boy in the sea… Kinshuk and is friend Hari, immediately jumped into the waves… they swam as fast as they could to reach the boy… all i could hear was the roar of waves … did not know what was happening… and then I see that they managed to get hold of the boy… but then I did not understand much… it was only when they reached the shore I realized that what they saved was a corpse already floating in the sea!

He was probably 12 year and his hands were stuck up ( rigor mortis) as if asking for help. That boy was all stiff and curled up! Like a log. They dragged the corpse to the shores and alerted the coast guard… and started playing volley ball again.!!

Hello is nobody going to check his pulse, is nobody going to call the doctor or the police!!! I stood there dumb! watching the routine… I did not know how to react..feel sad? that we could not save the boy, hoping had we seen him early probably we could have saved him, nobody seemed bothered… I was further shocked, disturbed. Nobody!!

(It was routine for them…and yes it was … often in monsoon during high tide dead bodies came floating towards the shores and these Cadets usually ended up fishing them out… It was routine for them to fish these bodies out and then alert the coast guard )

But I am sure it meant something to somebody…someone’s kid, someone’s brother… Who was this boy? … How and when did he drown? There were so many questions… I just stood there watching and the boys got back to their game?

I requested that lets put a sheet over the boy to cover his body … and one of the Cadets said we don’t get a ration of sheets… we are running out of them!

I was speechless as I did not know how to react or say anything!

The Cadet informed me that these are normally fishermen and their families who go fishing and they get drowned in the high tides! These bodies come floating every second day during monsoon and its routine job of fishing them out.

I just stood there watching the corpse all bare, with waves roaring behind me and boys cheering the game.

Kinshuk immediately walked up to me, he took me aside and said ” This is your first time! ” … ” We all had ours! “

That evening on my way back home… the trains were rattling empty… it was just the cool breeze and my faint nina ricci .


Granny’s Smell

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“ No granny No! You are coming to Bangalore…”

Mane Java de! (Let me go!) … I don’t want go to Bangalore”

“ Come Granny, Natak mat kar (stop creating a scene)… you have to come with us!”

“ You can’t force me I want to stay at Grant Road with Naomi.”

A teenager kept pushing, dragging her old fragile, grey eyed wrinkled Granny in front of me while boarding a flight!

At first I thought the Granny was senile, had gone cuckoo and the young girl was trying to get her into the flight back home, but after listening to their argument I realized that the Granny was quite sane and she did not want to go to Bangalore with her granddaughter but wanted to stay back in Mumbai with her daughter Naomi, living at Grant Road.

It was really difficult for the young girl to get her cotton frock, red scarf Granny to buckle up in the seat!

Granny kept saying “ You cannot force me… you cheated me!”

Everyone on flight thought the granny had gone cuckoo and was giving a tough time to the granddaughter.

I was feeling angry with the young girl, as she was a bit rough with Granny! I was no one to judge but what ever I saw and heard I did not approve of it!

Just because she was old, just because someone else cannot take care of her, because she is weak and does not have enough money to take care of herself? Why did she not want to stay with her son? And why with her daughter? Was she ill-treated?

A million stereotyped questions came to my mind. I wanted to walk up to Granny sitting four rows in front, buckled up! I wanted to know why she was troubled… I wondered.

I saw Granny at the conveyor belt… she kept saying “Mane Java de! (Let me go!)” I brushed against her twice but did not have the courage to help her, but her smell still lingers, that old age smell that comes from old creased, weathered eye people. The smell of age, the smell of stories, the smell of years … I cannot forget this smell, my granny smelled the same.

Moist, warm and earthy!

My Crazy, Loony Granny!

Now this lady my Granny, was a tough cookie… I don’t think anybody could force her into anything, even at the age of ninety she would simply catch hold of me (I was eight!) and walk the busy streets of Bombay, often landing up on the footpath with the cyclists, all bruised! I still remember crimson blood dripping down her creased arms. Ahh! That texture would be really amazing for some of my graphic design work!

Now they say that my Granny was so feisty and courageous that she dug up her brother’s grave, to kiss him one last time. At an earlier time she did deliver her baby at the steps of the village temple, all alone using a sickle to chop the umbilical cord!

Granny always stacked some Hashish with her; village folks always had it in their metal trunks! Each time she baby-sat me, I would sleep soundly! The effect of Hashish, which Granny use to make me lick!

Granny loved me the most, but till the day she passed she didn’t know my name, she was hard of hearing and she always called me by a homophone “Ranju Baby!” I kept correcting her each time but in vein. I remember telling her its not “Ranju” it’s “Anju!” But she never got it!

Granny loved blessing as well as cursing!

She cursed her eldest son that he would go crazy like her and take the same medicines she took! It happened!

She blessed her youngest son, that may he get all the riches and lovely mansion! Bingo!

Now she blessed me “Ranju” to all riches, beauty and intelligence! It never happened?

Because it not “ Ranju” but it’s “Anju”!


Bombay Talkies!

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Bombay Talkies!

Recently Indian cinema celebrated its centenary! A lot of people said and did many things … some gyrated to the old and new item numbers, some created documentaries and some noted director’s made short stories.

So here’s my item number!

All this came back to me when I saw “ Bombay Talkies” a recent tryst by four great storytellers. I simply enjoyed the short stories presented by Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar …raison d’être … I simply related to each and every story…anyone who lived and celebrated Bombay in the 70’s could not help but relate to them!

We all have seen the street urchins singing in the local trains … and now when I think back even I had my favorite … I use to call him Jr. Altaf Raja! He nasaled the famous pardesi song each time I entered my 8.45am Andheri fast from Dockyard Road. I often use to chat with him and I also once lost my gold earning on purpose so that he can find it and sell it to pay his little sister’s medical bills.

 Today with facebook and twitter being a hangout zone even we had ours … at the community tap in Amchiwadi… all neighbor’s chatted and checked on each other while washing and cleaning at the taps… precisely at 6.30pm when the taps hissed and whistled, the municipal corporation decided to grace us with our daily supply of water.

 My favorite story was Zoya Akhtar’s were the little boy Vicky dances all dressed as Sheila! on the item number by Katrina Kaif! Well a lot of critiques have flaked and ridiculed Zoya… for her story that talks about gender and sexuality but for me it was simply a blast from the past! All I can say is that it did not matter whether Vicky was a cross dresser, gay … anything ! It just meant that he simply enjoyed dancing on female item numbers like my childhood neighbor Bandu!

I had completely no memory of Bandu until I saw this one!

Bandu my neighbor was frail thin normal twin boy of 10 years … he did not walk like a girl, he did not have any animated hand gestures but yes he had a great smile and grace. One day Bandu took the whole Amchwadi with surprise when he stepped on stage (the annual six day long Shiv Jayanti celebration). Bandu all dressed in an Amrapali (hired from Maganlal Dresswala) with along fake plate danced on the Dafliwale song from Sargam (1979). We are all spellbound when we saw Bandu. From that day Bandu was our item girl! Bandu would always be there with his dance moves! He was so gracefully and awesome that I once took training from him when I had to perform a solo dance.

I remember going up to him and asking him to teach me the dance steps of the song Nach Mayuri from the famous Sudha Chandran Starrer. Bandu readily agreed and would come everyday for the evening practice sessions where he would dance and I would simply sit and enjoy his moves… how I felt jealous at times that I could not move like him. I won the first prize but still could not match up to Bandu’s grace!

Today when I called up home to ask mom about our neighbor Bandu she was surprised that how on earth did I remember him after 26years! And guess what Bandu still lives with his family in that small 10×10 room in Amchwadi.

He is an Interior Designer but not married as yet! (Must be 36 years now) …

I wonder why?


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