Monday, November 30, 2009

Sanil on Bombay and beyond

On a rare occasion I made my way to “town” (South Bombay from for the non-Mumaikars). I am a Juhu gal, and would gladly never leave Juhu, or venture max to Bandra on one side (shopping) and 7 Bungalows to the other (Chandrus mithaiwala). But on that day I had to go to Mahalaxmi to attend my cousin brother’s sangeet ceremony.

My dad opted for the Bandra-Worli Sea Link route (gorgeous bridge! My second time on it, and loved it even more). My parents proudly introduced the bridge to Sanil. “It goes over the water” (yeah mom, all bridges do). It’s so big and tall (once again, most bridges are like that). “Its one of its kind in Bombay” (Ok that I have to give it to the Sea Link). Sanil was suitably impressed.

We crossed the bridge the reached the other side of Bombay and Sanil quips “When we were on the bridge it was like we were in Singapore. Once we crossed the bridge….its India again."

I LOVE Sanil’s perspectives on things. They have their own unique flavor and a distinct touch that simply cannot be replicated.

He wants to only travel by rickshaws. Gets rather disappointed if Nana offers to chauffeur him anywhere. “Nana is also coming? Oh no! Now we can’t go by rickshaw, we will have to go by car!”

His narrative on rickshaws: “It’s like an open car. I can look out and see everything and feel the breeze in my hair”. WOW! I have never heard such a poetic description of even a convertible.

And not to mention his ad recall in India! OMG! “Buy the bubblegum, and we shall get free tattoo”. “Lux cleans 8 times better” (Seriously!). And “Horlicks makes you smarter”. Really!!

On that note, I don’t like the fact that kids channel in India sell media space. In Singapore, very few brands are allowed to advertise on channels like Cartoon Network. In India, kids are bombarded with ads from breakfast cereals to “gel” pens and innumerable types and varieties of confectioneries. Only in India a toffee and pen command a TVC. Wish I could work with budgets like that when I plan my campaigns and did not hear client say: “We can’t afford TV spots, do a DM instead”. Me: “Sure, do you have a clean database”. Client “Database? What’s that?” Ok I so-digress (but some of my readers will share my pain about this)

Will end it on a Sanil exclusive quote on India and food- “Chapatis are the most importantest Indian food. So mama you can’t make chapatis, that means you don’t know how to cook” (Spoken like true MCP Indian man!). Sigh……

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Indian aunty art to giving compliments

Have you ever noticed how Indian aunties give compliments? They mean well (or I sure hope they do), but it does not really sound like a compliment even though its intended as one.

Here are my few favorites:

Situation: Lift Lobby
Attire: Jeans and singlet

Aunty: "OMG! Kitni patli ho gayi hain (OMG! You have become so thin!)
Me: Thank you auntyji (in my politest tone- and yes I do have one)
Aunty: Really....bahut jyada patli ho gayi hai (Really you have become very thin)
My Dad: Don't say so much, she will start eating a lot again (Thanks dad!)
Aunty: Nahin pehlein bahut bahut bahut moti thi na (No, earlier she was really very very very fat)
Me: Thank you auntyji (this time feigning my politeness)

Situation: Wedding
Attire: Awesome lehenga with hairdo and make-up

Aunty (looking at me lovingly): Kitni sundar ho gayi hai (You have become so pretty now)
Me: Toh pehlein nahin thi? (You mean I was not pretty before?)
Aunty (too stunned to reply)

Situation: Wedding
Attire: Gorgeous sari

Aunty (to my cousin): You were looking so beautiful at the Sangeet ceremony yesterday…..(after looking closely)…actually that was not you, it was your sister.


Here is a tip aunties, say something nice and then stop. Don’t explain or elaborate. And yes, being little more tactful would go down well too.

A story a minute…..

Since the day I arrived in India I had blogposts in my head (OK that sounds a tad bit crazy) but that’s what India does to me. At any given time there are minimum of 5 things vying for your attention.

Mom: “You want Chila for breakfast?” (No! I only eat cereals YUCK! for breakfast to keep my weight in check). Dad “What time do you need the driver?” MTV- Trailer of ‘Pa’ (Vidya and Abhi are looking fabulous together!). Bombay Times- Some Kareena-Kurban-backless controversy, generated by the Sena of course. And the phone ringing with my best friend asking about the plans for the evening (which in Bombay context means 8 pm). And yes, all this at the exact same time!

So naturally there is so much fodder for writing. Potential topics: “How it is impossible to maintain a diet when holidaying in India”. “The 10,000th controversy raised by Sena which involves women and clothes (or the lack thereof)”. “IST: Morning = 12 noon, Afternoon = 5 pm, Evening = 8 pm, Night = 11 pm; Late night = 2 am). There you go….

In India there is inspiration everywhere. In Singapore we lead very one-dimensional lives. You generally do one thing at a time- or maximum of 2 if you are Ms. Multitasking like me. In India, it’s a whole different ball game (actually in India it’s not a ball game at all, its cricket, and that too in the new 20-20 format).

Sounds (what non-Indians would refer to as “noise”) are also unique here. Door bells (every 10 minutes- no exaggeration). Phone rings (mobile and landline- really, how popular are my parents?! And why has no one in India discovered that you can have a “silent” ring tone. Yes! It’s actually an option! Your phone does not have to sing ‘Chiggy Wiggy’ in Kylie Minogue’s voice)”. Car honks (there should be a day a month where drivers should not be allowed to blare their card horns- it would be a Guinness record for self-restraint). Mom talking to the kaam waali bai, bargaining with the bhaji wala at the door step and giving her recipe for paneer makhni to her niece (yes at the same time). And finally, the TV at a volume level that NEEDS to be that high so it can be heard above the rest of the din. (or that’s what my dad tells my mom).

But life still happens amongst all this chaos. Things miraculously get done in this madness and people carry on with their everyday lives with remarkable ease. There is so much happening that every minute there is a new story unfolding. As I said there is inspiration 24x7 in India.

I think that’s the reason there is never dearth of movie scripts- India is the world's largest producer of films, producing close to a 1000 films annually.vs. Hollywood which release approximately 650). That’s why there is a thriving advertising industry here where TVCs are still a form of entertainment. India is also the 3rd largest country publishing English books after USA and UK.

There are stories everywhere you look. I am only trying to capture a handful of them in my short time here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

An Indian First!

Bal Thackeray recently made a statement about Sachin Tendulkar "You became run out in the pitch of Marathi minds" as Sachin had said that he was "an India first and a Marathi after".

Cut to many years ago at a Diwali party in Singapore (my very early years in the country), a British man was talking to a group of Indians about the festival and its significance. He also mentioned that Diwali was probably the biggest Indian festival. It was a rhetoric question- not a question at all- but it got a varied range of responses. “Actually it’s a Hindu festival, we Parsis don’t celebrate it”. “In East India where I come from, Durga Puja is much bigger”. SERIOUSLY!!!

Foreigners have difficulty grasping the concept of India and we choose to complicate it further by referring to ourselves as Gujuratis, Sindhis, Parsis, Christians, Bengalis…Who outside India gives a flying F%^$!

And frankly why should people in India care too? Your motherland rules and everything else come after. We are Indians FIRST! Why is that so difficult to comprehend?!

Secondly your origins should be attributed to your city- the city you grew up in, where you studied, which gave you your childhood school memories (and best friends for life), your “first time” teen years and perhaps even your career and life partner. It does not matter which religion you are, which caste you belong to, the city you grew you up in makes up a big part of who you are. You could be a Kashmiri who has been bought up in Gujarat or a Gujrati who has lived all his life in Chennai.

Then in the scheme of things enters your religion- practicing or not practicing- your religion is a key aspect of your values and beliefs system. I may go to the temple or gurudwara once a month and on special occasions (Diwali, birthdays), but that does not make me an less religious than a Muslim who prays 5 times a day and a Christian who goes for Sunday mass every week.

And FINALLY, LAST, ALL THE WAY DOWN, RIGHT AT THE BOTTOM (you get the drift) is your caste- Maloo, Bengali, Tulu, Sindhi, Punju, etc etc etc. It’s the least important part of who you are and should be.

We keep falling in the trap laid by the British Raj that was conceived to rule over us- “Divide and Rule”. It kept them in power for very many years.

Let’s break from those shackles. Isn’t it time enough?

So I am an Indian first, a Bombayite (or Mumbaikar with due respect to Balasaheb) next, a Hindu after and Sindhi last. What about you?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Life imitates Art? Art imitates Life?

It happens many times in life that you feel “This is straight out of a movie”. And while you are watching a movie you think to yourself (or mention to the person next to you if you are the “talkative” movie goer) “This would never happen in real life”.

Agree some scenarios from films are extremely unlikely to take place in real life (especially if the movie in question is a commercial Hindi blockbuster or an OTT Hollywood action movie). But we underestimate life. There are so many instances in our lives and lives of people around us that defy all conventions. They are never-before heard stories or never-before seen dramas. But they are true and real and they exist.

You meet a random stranger in a bus queue, ask an innocuous question like “What time’s the next bus” or make a random remark like “Boy, its hot today”, and before you know it you are having a chat with this stranger, start discovering common friends, shared hobbies or mutual dislikes and just like that, you make a connection. With someone who was a complete stranger only few minutes ago. You just hit it off, as simple as that.

You were never supposed to go out that night. It was movie night at home snuggled up on the couch in your PJs. A friend drags you out of the house, you go clubbing against your will, meet a cute guy, fall in love, marry and have his babies (stop being cynical, it happens!).

A one second spilt decision can change the course of your whole life. You can play “What if” scenarios in your head as much as you like. But no one can tell you what would have happened if you would have taken a different decision than the one you took. Is it destiny? Is it fate? Was it bound to happen?

I don’t know. But what I do know is bizarre, strange, unbelievable things happen in life all the time. We just need acknowledge and embrace them.

A little more faith, a little less sarcasm. A little more smile, a little less rolling of eyes. A little more trust, a little less scepticism. A little more encouraging nods, a little less nonchalant shoulder shrugs. A little more belief, a little less doubt. A little more dreamy, a little less real.

Be open to experiences that defy norm. Take decisions that raise eyebrows. Do things that make people a little uncomfortable. Let your life inspire Art. So when a movie is made on your life, it’s not a boring and dull one. But a movie that people watch and say “Hey, that does not happen in real life”.

A game I love playing, try it! Which actor would best portray you on screen? I am torn...Konkana Sen Sharma or Kajol? Meg Ryan or Michelle Pfeiffer?