Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Will Uncle Paulson save America ???

Check out the uncanny resemblance US Treasury Secy Paulson ( minus the goatee and toupee ) has to the true blue Uncle Sam and he also strikes the same pose !!! 

Paulson is on a sticky wicket though ... with the US senate yesterday refusing him the $700 Billion he'd asked for to save the US and by domino effect Global financial system. While the sanity of injecting billions of dollars to buy out mortgage based junk assets from US Banks is debateable ... it does seem like the only way to quickly stop an immediate meltdown - So much for capitalism, Milton Friedman and free market economics !!!

If he fails he'll be "Sach"ed unceremoniouly else he'll surely become an iconic Uncle Paulson !!! 

Photos courtesy : Rediff.com & Wikipedia ... stitched together on MS Paint

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Zardari Palin Sin(gh)drome


To be recited in the tune of the nursery rhyme "Pussy cat, Pussy cat where have you been ?"

Zardari and Singh
Where have you been ?
"We've been to Washington"
To chat with the queen Palin

Zardari, Zardari tremendously tharki
What did you do there ?
"I went all Mushy, forgot protocols, flirted shamelessly"
And desperately tried to hug her !!!

Singh, Singh wanna be King
What did you do there ?
"I coached Palin on Economics 101 and Nuke 123"
Till I was assured she had her concepts clear !!!

In chorus by Indo-Pak diplomatic aides

Zardari and Singh
What did they do together ?
Zardari sucked up to Singh, called him King
And named him father of modern India !!!
Then they opened bottles of whiskey, got drunk ...
And decided to postpone the Kashmir discussions to next year !!!

Two years of parenting ...


The picture on the left was taken the first night Deep came home from hospital, 6 days old, at about 2 am in the night when he finally decided to take a short nap. The one on the right from his second birthday all excited after cutting his birthday cake !!! How time flies ...

Its been an amazing journey ... intensely hectic but at the same time supremely rewarding. Two years of hands-on / on the job learning ... parenting is like diving into the deep end of a pool from a 10m board without having a clue about swimming ... there is no way to learn unless you take the plunge. Here are a few insights from experiences till date :

Maid in Mumbai : For a working couple in Mumbai ( where reliable day-care is a distant dream ) ... if both of you want to retain your jobs ( and sanity ) the first thing you need to finalize is a full time maid. We postponed this to the fag end of Piya's maternity leave which resulted in last minute fire-fighting to get just about anyone on the job without adequate screening. 

Our travails with maids could be the subject of another post ... suffice to say here that we had to change about six before we got one who's with us for the past nine months. In between maids we somehow scraped through by taking alternate days off or sending an SOS to our moms and flying them down from Kolkata !!!

Work Life Balance : You start to realise what's all the hoopla about work-life balance. For years I'd worked insane hours rarely leaving office before 9pm ... and this continued after marriage coz Piya herself worked late. Half the weekends were spent drafting reports and clearing piles of emails ... Well, all that quickly changed.

I needed to be back home by 7pm to see what the latest maid was upto ( Piya had to continue working late - compulsions of Software industry / US client etc ). Bringing work home was futile as Deep took to my laptops ( plural as he managed to spill tea on one and plucked out a couple of keys from the replacement ) as those proverbial ducks take to water ... and the weekends were packed with more to-do items than my outlook calendar had meetings on weekdays.

Net, I had to change my work ethic to fit in everything between 8.30am - 6.30pm ... gone were those coffee breaks and pleasant chit-chat with colleagues ... focus on work is the mantra at office ... and everything else other than work ie. "life" away from office !!!

Diapers cost shitloads of money : Do the math ... 15 bucks a diaper*10 diapers a day for two years ... And its not just diapers, all stuff to do with babies ie. baby food, clothes, toys, accessories are all strangely priced ... all exponential-inversely proportional to size & utility ... 

No wonder my current financial status is looking similar to the i-banks ( those few which are still in business ) ... almost bankrupt and in need of some urgent capital injection !!!

Dramatic lifestyle transformation : Gone are the days when we would decide to eat out on a whim, catch a late-night movie after office or just pick up the car keys and drive out on a weekend morning without any definite agenda. 

Watching movies now is strictly at home so an investment in a DVD player and home theatre is mandatory. Eating out and babies dont really gel ... no wonder so many restaurants have a no-kids policy. So, eating at home is in and eating out is out literally !!! 

Going out with a baby even to buy groceries is such a logistical nightmare ... more pre-work probably than I would need for a week long trekking expedition ... Diapers, bottles, infant formula, tissues etc etc. Not to forget the pram ... lugging it down to the car, folding and shoving it in, repeating the whole process at the destination and then again once back home. Net, take a "Baby's day out" should happen only when absolutely necessary !!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Two Indias : A visible divide

I wonder if in any other nation there is such a stark urban-rural divide as there is in India. The visible chasm between the top 500 cities in India and the rest of the towns and villages is enormous.

In an earlier post I'd touched on the repurcussions of such a gap and the influx this causes into our big metros ... but till recently this gap was only a perception in my mind. It was only during a recent visit to a village ( and this was not even deep rural ... only about 50 km from Pune and an hour's drive ) that I got to see this divide first hand.

India Rural :


At the Paud village I took a few snaps of the village center and a shop where I tried to buy a bottle of mineral water ( without luck ) ... 

India Urban :


The Big Bazaar in Pune on the other hand stocks 8 different brands of mineral water ( including Evian if you have the moolah !!! ).

Friday, September 19, 2008

Deep in China Valley

Yesterday, with a bit of apprehension we took Deep to "China Valley" ... as our first eating-out experience with him had been a bit of a disaster. A few months ago we'd gone to Oh! Calcutta and the first thing he'd done was to pull the table cloth with the result that all the bone china dishes and glasses fell on the floor and were smashed. 

My own first memories of eating out at a Chinese restaurant is from Lagos '81 when I was six years old. We had Sweet and Sour Chicken and Chicken Sweet Corn soup. But more than the food a couple of unrelated memories remain vividly etched in my mind : 

1) We were seated on a circular table and there was this disc at the center which one could rotate to pass the dishes and sauces round the table ... I'd found the concept very interesting and for years I assumed that authentic Chinese restaurants would always have this kind of table. 

2) The restaurant had a collection of magazines and one of them had the entire story of "Rocky" in a series of snapshots from the movie ... Stallone gulping down 7 raw eggs at a go, running across the streets of Philadelphia, battling with Apollo Creed and losing the match in the end with a split decision. I became a life-time fan and rooted for Stallone through the sequels of Rocky and then Rambo ... even watched the 2006 sequel - Rocky Balboa for old times sake !!!

Deep will not remember much about his first visit to a Chinese restaurant ( unless he peeks into this blog in the future ) but for Piya and me this was a defining moment ... Deep behaved admirably and was focused on a plate of noodles from which he neatly ate one noodle at a time ... and allowed us to enjoy our food in peace ... a sign of good times to come !!!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Adieu Haji Ali !!!

The Haji Ali shrine, known as "Pearl of the Arabian Sea" ... you can see why thanks to Tyrone's photographic skills !!!

Many a times we've dutifully taken our elderly relatives visiting Mumbai for what we call our day long religious "Mumbai Darshan", covering ISKON temple, Siddhivinayak, Haji Ali, Mahalaxmi temple and Ram Krishna Ashram roughly in that sequence.

So powerful has been the word of mouth that our extended retinue of mamas & mamis, kakus & kakimas etc from Kolkata & beyond now land in Mumbai only after confirming our availability to play tour guide !!! 

Lunch break is invariably at Oh! Calcutta in Tardeo, a stone's throw from Haji Ali.  Tucking into delicacies like Shorsho Ilish, Mochar Ghonto, Prawn Malai Curry etc is always the high point of the trip for me ... then we walk down to the Haji Ali Juice Center to wash it all down with a Ganga-Jamuna-Saraswati.

Just learnt couple of weeks back that the 14th century dargah is finally being reconstructed after years of back 'n forth between the BMC and the Dargah trustees. I've myself noticed the steady deterioration over the last 8 years since I first visited Haji Ali and its only a miracle which has kept the shrine from crumbling down.

Looks like there will be a temporary stop to our Haji Ali sojourns but we'll watch out for the reconstruction progress every time we drive by the Tardeo / Heera-Panna junction and hope that the new dargah will be a worthy replacement ...

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Those quirky Iranis and their Bakeries !!!

The Iranis I know are not particularly disciplinarian, mostly easy going i'd say ... but when it comes to running their Cafes and Bakeries in Mumbai they do an about turn. You cant miss a list of No-Nos which they invariably put up at the entrance ( often on slate written with chalk ... makes you wonder if they flicked it from a neighbourhood primary school ) and they abide by these written rules to the letter ... 

Nissim Ezekiel, the dark and somber poet ( remember "Night of the Scorpion" anyone ??? ), immortalised this strange Irani phenomenon in a quirky compilation of Irani No-No's : 

“No talking to cashier / No smoking / No fighting / No credit / No outside food/ No sitting long/ No talking loud / No spitting / No bargaining / No water to outsiders/ No change / No telephone/ No match sticks / No discussing gambling / No newspaper/ No combing / No beef / No leg on chair / No hard liquor allowed / No address enquiry ... by Order"

There is this tiny bakery down the road where I live, named impressively "Choice - The Irani Bakery" ... the Irani owner clearly influenced by recent Bollywood naming conventions eg. Daag - The Fire. Ok not a great example but top of mind right now ... by the way anyone on why the suffixed tagline is almost always in english ???

Yesterday on the way back from work I decided to stop by and pick up some "Shrewsbury" and "Cashew Walnut" cookies. Piya loves them ... "No Plastic bags / No Credit" was the abridged version of the No-No list, on a computer printout, which greeted me at the entrance.

This was clearly a Bollywood loving, Environmentally conscious, Tech savvy, Fiscally prudent Irani owner !!!

Purchases made, parcelled in paper bags and paid for with hard cash, I decided to take some snaps of the bakery, fished out my mobile phone and started clicking. Yes I upgraded to a mobile camera phone couple months back ... thanks to repeated snide remarks from friends ... specially one who works in Nokia and complained that I was clearly not the target audience for the Nokia 1100 with a B&W display ... I took the feedback but instead of a Nokia N series upgraded to a windows mobile Dopod ...

My Irani friend realised what I was upto and shouted "No Photography", an unwritten rule which I'm sure will be an addition to the revised No-No list when I visit next !!!


I'd taken a couple of shots of my favourite cookies by then though  !!!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Mamatidi paints in Singur

She paints oblivious 
Like Emperor Nero played the fiddle 
While Rome burned
Is this her political death knell ???
Time will tell ...

Friday, September 05, 2008

Ganesha says ...

Its my 8th year in Mumbai, 8 years of Ganesh Chaturthi. The biggest festival for the Marathis but its surprisingly easy for non-mumbaikars to miss except of course for the visarjan on the 10th day ... when the all roads to the beaches / lakes are clogged with ganpati processions.

My first brush with Ganpati was in Sept 2000 ... Those days I used to live in an apartment complex on Juhu Versova link road and I remember walking down to the Juhu beach to witness what till then I'd only seen as scenes in Bollywood movies. The whole beach was jampacked with people jostling to catch a glimpse of the ganpati idols and screaming "Ganpati bappa moriya". We were crushed in the crowd and I remember feeling terribly claustrophobic even though we were on a beach. I was with a couple of friends and one of them suddenly realised that he'd been pickpocketed !!! Since then I've always kept a safe distance from Juhu beach during the Ganesh Chaturthi period ( the 10th day is the biggest but there are visarjans every other day ).

Other than the visarjan bit the whole festival is very subdued and celebrated mostly as a family affair in individual homes and housing societies ... ( like the picture here from a small ganpati pandal within a housing society ). Even the few sarvajanik or public ganpati celebrations are low-key affairs ( the pandals are more like makeshift tents with little decoration and poor lighting ). The few notable exceptions are the celebrations @ Lalbaug, Wadala, Matunga and a few others which are truly executed on a grand scale.

This is of course in contrast with and relative to the Kolkata Durga Pujas ... the 10 day carnival when the whole of Kolkata takes a break and gets fixated with pujo, pandal hopping, fun and frolic. Its a public celebration which takes place on the streets and parks of Kolkata ... people go home only to sleep and get recharged for the next days festivities !!! The sheer magnitude and the complete participation of an entire city cutting across communities is unparalleled at least in India ... If you are in Kolkata you are automatically sucked into the spirit of the occasion. I'd expected something similar with Ganpati in Mumbai ... but have been disappointed.

Mumbai of course has other priorities ... its a city always on the move, a city which does not sleep, the engine which drives India's economy ... taking a break for some serious celebration would be a trivial pursuit the city cannot and does not want to indulge in !!!

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Mumbai Mamus

Mumbai policemen are derisively termed "mamus" in bambaiyaa slang. The mamu ( mom's brother ) has often had an unholy connotation in our folklore ... just recall the infamous deeds of Shakuni ( mamu of Duryodhana ) and Kansa ( mamu of Krishna ).

Yesterday I had a brush with a Mumbai Mamu ...

Like Kansa he was waiting in ambush ... well hidden and out of sight ... he stopped my car just after I'd taken a left turn at an intersection claiming I'd taken the turn when the signal was red ( which by the way was not true but how could I prove it ? ). I'd followed a Honda Accord which took the turn just before me but maybe the mamu had a specific preference for Hyundai Santros . Probably the mamu was dissuaded by the chance that the Accord owner might have "connections" at the right places, expose him and screw his happiness if he tried his evil designs on him.

Like Shakuni he tried extracting as much moolah as possible from me ...

"Driving license dikhao", said mamu.
Dutifully I handed it over "Kya ho gaya ?"
"Signal toda hai, ab PUC, Car ownership aur Insurance papers dikhao"
Wondering why he needs to see my insurance papers etc I tell him that I'm not in the habit of lugging around all my paperwork ... also try to reason with him that the signal was green when I took the turn and I was just following the Accord which he should have stopped first.
"Bahut mach-mach karta hai, kal chowki se aake licence le jaana aur 700Rs fine bhar dena. Signal todne ka 200 aur papers ka 500". << mach-mach is the bambaiyaa slang for talking too mach oops much >>
"Theek hai", I said and was about to drive away when the mamu stopped me again.
"Saab, kya kal chowki aaoge, abhi kuch adjustment kar do naa", said mamu with a sudden change in tracks and tone. I'd clearly caught him off-guard.
"Life me No Adjust", I said tongue in cheek remembering the VIP chaddi ad. The humour was lost on the Mamu though. In any case paying a bribe was totally against my personal PVP ( Principles, Values, Policies ).
"Kya saab, 100 Rs fine bharo do, mai receit doonga". So that was the compromise angle.
" 50, receit ke saath", I reasoned that taking a reciept was the best I could do either here on the road or tomorrow at the police chowki. And then hope against hope that I was not abetting the corruption in the system.

The mamu took my 50 bucks, gave me a receipt and returned my driving license. As I drove away I marvelled how the Mumbai mamu was actually a living reincarnation of the distilled worst of our mythological mamus.