Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lost in Mustafaland

The world is divided (OK Singapore, not the world)...between the people who love shopping in Mustafa...and the ones who wonder what the hell is wrong with the other group.

For all who know me will know I belong to the latter group. So yesterday when I decided to take trip to Mustafa, it came as a big surprise to my friendly neighbours. And to be honest I kinda surprised myself too. But all in the effort of doing things that are outside my comfort zone, and the electronic items on my list- I threw caution to wind, and ventured Mustafa bound.

Well...actually the main draw was the butter dosa and filter coffee at Murugnas, but it got me to Mustafa.

And now this is no exaggeration, but I cannot remember the last time I was there. At least a few years since my last visit... and no, not even the ‘new Cold Storage style 3rd floor grocery section’ could get me there. At this juncture I would like to point out 2 things:

1) I am eternally grateful for Mustafa’s existence. Cannot imagine what I would do without my chaat samaan and Indian Maggi masala. So a significant portion of my grocery budget is spent there, except Rose does the shopping and not me.

2) This is not a snobbish thing. I even detest Carrefour- which is French. Basically I don’t like hypermarkets. They are big, scary and make me immensely uncomfortable for reasons that can be attributed to my control freak nature. Hypermarket is a very diverse uncontrollable environment. I simply can’t enjoy my shopping there. And I adore grocery shopping!

Well coming back to Mustafa. I took a deep breath, try to ward off the look of intense fear in my eyes and entered into the ever so crowded level one perfume and make-up section. (Really?! Make-up from Mustafa?) Ok...ok...I digress...I went over to purchase a cordless phone for the home. And the sales staff was super efficient and I made my decision in all of 3 minutes. And then I had to head to B2 Computer section and to reach there I passed through every conceivable product section- toys, household appliances, clothes (again, really??), shoes and exercise equipments even. How Mustafa manages its stock inventory should be a retail management case study on its own- if it’s not one already.

I needed speakers for my laptop and a ‘wireless presenter’. I did not know it was called that, I explained to the salesperson that I wanted ‘the remote control to move PPT slides’. And to my utmost amazement he understood exactly what I wanted and showed me the ‘top of the line’ version. It’s super cool. Has a laser pointer too!

Next stop- household appliances, once again manoeuvring through aisles and aisles of assorted products and hordes and hordes of Indian tourists (and once again, WHY??).

And there I stood in front of 100s of electric kettles- clueless and confused. Another very attentive sales person- a Chinese one this time- came to me and offered his assistance. I was so grateful! It hardly ever happens in Singapore especially in super and hyper markets that someone comes over to you. At Carrefour I am usually chasing them half way down the store, and when I finally locate someone, they do not have the slimmest of idea where the product I need is located.

Not only did the salesperson educate me about electric kettles- well am not a tea drinkers so have never purchased or owned one till now, he also demonstrated the difference between a China made and a German made product. You have to sniff it! The China one smelled vile! But cost 3 times less. Now I am a complete sucker for ‘professional advice’, so I bought the 60$ German made kettle, knowing fully well that the reason for pushing it was more likely higher commission than professional attitude. But I was impressed with the salesperson’s helpful nature and the sniff test was the clincher.

As I started to read my list, the salesman asked me if he could help me further and offered to review my shopping list too. (He recoiled once he saw my handwriting though). In any case rest of my list was Indian groceries for which I made my way to level 2. Though got off at the wrong level and once again I had the lost in the big bad woods look in my eyes.

Finally I reached my destination only to find Amul butter out of stock! But then I discovered the fish and meat section. The signage of ‘Ostrich and Deer meat available’ made me nearly throw up though. I did buy fresh Pomfret (and cooked Bombay style fried Pomfret for dinner- heavenly!).

And then I got lost rows and rows of frozen goods, pickles, spices and got attacked my humungous shopping baskets and run over by trolleys. Bought back scary memories and then I remembered why I never come here. The shoppers are bloody insane! They travel in hordes and have no concern or caution for fellow shoppers- some of whom are not veterans at this game!

I also came across quite a few goras shopping. One woman was walking like she was exploring some spice bazaar in Agra. And one was there with her whole family- 3 boys and a husband- and they were discussing merits of cumin and chilli powder- right in the middle of all that craziness.

I had completed my shopping by then. And I must say I am SUPER IMPRESSED at the quality of service at Mustafa. They are courteous, know where products are stocked- even if it’s not on their floor, are informative and a complete joy to deal with! Think Mr. Mustafa must have enrolled them for some customer service classes. Wish there was one for the shoppers also!

After making payment, I had to go back to the counters to pick up my items and surprise-surprise- got lost again! Finally as I walked out through the doors, I looked back with a slight shudder. Knowing that though the experience was not altogether terrible, I would so not be making my way back there anytime soon.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

My tryst with Cricket World Cup

Let me start by saying that I am not a real cricket fan.

Definition of a real cricket fan:

1. Rattles off cricket statistics with the ease that would put Wikipedia to shame

2. Never misses ANY cricket matches or at least any International and IPL matches (Ranji ones can be given a miss)

3. Has no qualms about leaving office bang in the middle of working hours to go home to watch a match (I had a Business Director when I first started my career in advertising in Bombay who did just that)

4. Nothing can get his eyes off the telly unless it’s a life or death situation (sometimes not even then)

5. Talking, sneezing, laughing, commenting- any type of behaviour that distracts from the match is severely frowned upon

6. Not watching a match just because India is not playing tantamount to blasphemy

Well you get my drift...and I am sure you know many, many real cricket fans. Think it’s pretty much 90% of the Indian male population.

So yes I am not a real cricket fan, but I grew up with 3 brothers and in the age of single TV unit household and Doordarshan’s channel monopoly. So whenever there was a cricket match, I had 2 options- watch it or do something other than watching TV. (Option to go watch the TV in my room, came only much later in life). So whether I liked it or not, I ended up watching cricket. And hearing my brothers scream and yell and jump and curse and yes rattle of inane cricket stats that just made me wonder how they retain so much useless info in their little heads. (And this is coming from someone whose 80% of brain capacity is filled with Hindi movie trivia).

There is just something about cricket that you get caught up in the enthusiasm and start behaving like a maniac fan too. Problem with me is that I get immensely superstitious too. And nothing brings out that crazy behaviour than an India-Pakistan match. At the recent India-Pak match the other night, I was conscious on which seat I sit, how often I sip my wine and after every wicket I took a spoonful of the tiramisu prepared by my sister-in-law. And Sanil and I had to do the customary victory kiss. Not to mention I spent half an hour desperately trying to color code my outfit. My friends evilly pointed out that the churidaar was reddish and not orange, but I call it taking creative liberties. And we won! So all that worked.

Walking down the World Cup memory lane...

My first World Cup memories are of Kapil Dev’s lifting the trophy in 1983. I still remember the pathetic 183 all out score against West Indies. And the fabulous comeback from our bowlers (Kapil Dev of course, Mohindar Amarnath- also the Man of the Match and Madan Lal) completing of one the most stunning upsets in cricket history and defeating the previously invincible West Indies. I was 9 years old then. Side bar- my other early memory of Kapil is “Pamolive da jawab nahi”. Kapil Dev ji- aap ka jawab nahin!

Flash forward 9 years ahead...1992...and yes I know Pakistan won that year’s title.

Some trivia thanks to Wikipedia- The 1992 World Cup was the first to feature coloured player clothing, white cricket balls and black sightscreens with a number of matches being played under floodlight. Innovations that have been increasingly used in One Day Internationals since World Series Cricket introduced them in the late 1970s, but they were not a feature of the first four World Cup matches. And it was also the first World Cup to include the South Africa national cricket team, which had been allowed to re-join the International Cricket Council as a Test-playing nation after the end of apartheid.

Okie...back to my memory of the 1992 world cup. It was (as it usually is) related to the India-Pakistan match. India did not even make it to the semi-finals, but at group stage defeated Pakistan by 43 runs. Tendulkar was the top scorer with an unbeaten 54 runs. Chasing a victory target of 217, India bowled Pakistan out for 173 while still having 2 overs to go.

And boy were there fireworks! I was 18 years old then remember going out for a drive at midnight with my friend Unnati to absorb the celebrations on the streets. People dancing, bursting fire crackers and being on a Pak-defeat high.

Since then India has defeated Pakistan in every world Cup match- a statistic that is well known to every Indian no matter whether you are a real cricket fan or not. It happened in 1996 quarter finals in Bangalore where India scored 287 and beat Pakistan by 39 runs. Again in 1999- and I won’t bore you with more statistics.

And then came the 2003 World Cup. The most memorable one of all for me! I was pregnant then. And I recorded it in my baby diary that if India won the World Cup I would name my baby boy Sachin.


Come 1 March 2003, the day of THE match- and also the day I was flying from Singapore to Bombay as I wanted to deliver my baby in India so I could share the joy with my whole family.

My flight was at night, so I could only watch part of the match. We were chasing a target of 274, and I left home when India had started batting. There were not many (any?) smart phones then, so minute-by-minute updates were not possible, and I remember standing in the line waiting to board the plane 7 and half months pregnant and the aunty in front of me was on her phone and yelled “Sachin out ho gaya!”.

OMG! Everyone’s heart just sank and as we sat in the plane we had to switch off our phones. So for the next 4 hours and 45 minutes we did not know the fate of the match. As the plane landed in amchi mumbai the pilot made his ‘welcome to mumbai airport’ announcement, followed with “And for all Indian cricket fans flying with us today, India beat Pakistan in the match”. All passengers roared with excitement! The enthusiasm was simply fabulous! Sachin made 98 and was declared the Man of the Match. But sadly, India lost the finals to Australia on 24th March and my baby boy came into the world almost exactly one month later to be named Sanil and not Sachin.

It’s been 28 years and 6 World Cups since our one and only World Cup has been a long wait for us all. But the longest one has undoubtedly been for our hero Sachin Tendulkar. Despite being peerless for more than two decades, the sport’s most successful batsman with a record of 99 centuries has been eluded of a World Cup win.

As he seeks his 100th international century and his first ever World Cup victory, India prays. And India hopes. But most importantly, India believes (damn the UK bookies!).

Sachin simply can’t be denied this. Even the Gods have to realize this.

Today as we battle Sri Lanka in our home ground (Sachin and mine), I pray for resilience, courage and patience for Sachin and all our team players. We are sending our prayers, well wishes and all the positive energy we can possibly garner, your way.

Victory will follow. Just play the game you play boys. Just play the game you play.