Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rocket Singh

It's refreshing to see a Bollywood film that breaks the stereotype and goes for something new. And if that something is not a love story but instead a slice and dice of real life, what more can you expect? Enter Rocket Singh, my second most favourite movie of 2009 after the eternal masterpiece Dev.D. (I haven't yet seen 3 Idiots yet....)

This is a simple story about a young graduate who enters the cutthroat sales and marketing industry of personal computers. He soon finds out that it's not a perfect life out there where you go in the morning, do your job honestly, get your paycheck, come home, watch TV, have dinner and go to sleep. Clearly, honesty has little prominence here where sales means more about pushing the product and less about service. Forget after-sales service. A chance encounter with a corrupt customer who insists on a cut for procuring a large computer order for his company forces our young Rocket (Ranbir Kapoor) to look inwards and embark on a tough, yet spirited journey to lay his ground rules and play the game his way. Go and watch if he succeeds in his mission.

Rocket Singh is a terrific film that tells us a practical story. In a country like India, where the sales person- and never the customer- is the King, you'll identify with Rocket if you're a customer, you'll also identify with him if you're into marketing or sales of a corporate. Extra smart (and mighty arrogant SOBs) bosses that shower their staff with the choicest of abuses- not just in private but shamelessly in front of the entire department- and push them to the wall, unachievable sales targets, crook managers that demand a cut of the cheque of which he is responsible to procure the best quality products for the firm that pays him salary (legally) to struggles and sometimes humiliation that honest people have to face in a competitive dog-eat-dog world, Rocket Singh has it all.

The film is not preachy. It's fast paced and crisp and there are no songs to interrupt the narrative. The background score is ideal and the story unfolds in a way its believable. I didn't quite like the climax; I kinda felt it was stretched and a little too idealistic, but it never ceases to be an inspiration, so these are minor quirks in an otherwise good script. Supporting performances, especially from D. Santosh- the porn-surfing, computer maintenance guy- to Gauhar Khan- the fiery receptionist- are great. Ranbir Kapoor has clearly emerged as one of Indian commercial cinema's finest actors. He plays his part sincerely and turns in one of 2009's finest, yet subdued, performance. From showing his angst to his grandfather who breaks his own provident fund to buy him a scooter he detests, to being shocked and awed when his boss turns the tables on him despite having done nothing wrong, to going about his own business, Kapoor brings dollops of dignity and lends a soul to make Harpreet Singh Bedi (the character he portrays) a likable sardar and never ones makes it a caricature like some of his industry counterparts have done over the years. You could say this performance is a slap on the face of all those sardar jokes that have been internet favourites.

You should go and watch Rocket Singh.

K-Rate: * * * * * 

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Jingle Bells at NCPA

It's supposed to be an annual event, but somehow I was blissfully unaware. I will now mark my calender every December for this Christmas carol singing extravaganza that I went to yesterday. The venue was NCPA, Nariman Point, Mumbai. Some five-odd choirs sang beautiful Christmas carols over two hours and enthralled the audience. There are few sounds in the world that are more soothing than carols. The music comes from the heart, has a lot of faith and touches your chords. And when professionally trained carol singers take the stage, expect magic, expect entertainment and expect a lot of happiness.

The carols were sung mostly in English but had an occasional Hindi and Malayalam carol in it. Some choirs even had tablas also in them, especially the Hindi and Malayalam. I do not understand head or tail of Malayalam; it's Greek and Latin for me. But I have always believed; it doesn't matter which language the song is sung, if you can touch you, if you feel music in your heart, the job's done.

One of the best places to listen to carols is in a church early morning when it's almost empty and this choir group is practicing near the alter. The church is empty with an occasional soul moving here or there, it's serene and peaceful and you take your place quietly, close your eyes and listen to kids, boys and girls humming beautiful somethings that may not make much sense if you aren't musically- or rather carol musically- inclined, but they sound soulful. You sit, spend time, don't talk, be quiet, say your prayers and then leave.

But a church is far off for me; NCPA is fine if i get to hear something like yesterday's.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Going to a Sarkaari PC

As a journalist, I get to go to many press conferences (PC). But I find the sarkari ones the most amusing. I went to one such PC the past week. Here's what happened.

As against in a typical 5-star hotel banquet room, this one was held in an auditorium. There were many visitors, but hardly any journalists. Or so it seemed. So many guests There was a large stage where the dais was there and as typical as a government way of working, the dais was quite large; around 6 odd people were slated to address the PC. In a private-company organised PC- much like their lean style of working- you'd find only about 2-3 people on the dais.

The guests arrive, most do with their entourage. But they don't go to the dais straightaway. The emcee takes the stage, welcomes the guests and then one by one starts calling out the names of the people who are slated to sit on the dais. People applaud as if catching a glimpse of Sachin Tendulkar. The room is full with people; sarkaari PCs seldom run empty. I am told that's probably because most of the seats are occupied by company employees. Ah well, that could explain why so many people were in suits and boots.

The game starts. The emcee begins by thanking (so profusely you'd think the world goes around thanks only to the people on the dais) one and all that 'matters'. No sooner that the people get settled on the dais than they are unsettled once again. The lighting of the lamp. Very Indian governorship. A big stand with many lamps is placed either at the edge of the dais or just below it. The chief guest lights the lamp amidst traditional Indian classical music being played in the background. Massive photo opportunity. I remember my childhood days when newspapers used to carry pictures of such lamp lighting moments of many events, every second day. The chief guest takes time to smile at the camera at the same time he lights all the lamps; and there are plenty lamps to be lighted, so more photo opportunities. Cameramen scramble to get a glimpse of this historic event.

The game continues. 'Respected and honourable members of the dais' are back in their seats, adjusting their suits, buttoning or unbuttoning (as the case may be) in a very dignified way after an accomplished task, as they settle down. Now, comes the token of appreciation. Flower bouquets are presented. One by one, pretty ladies come and present the bouquets to the 'respected and honourable members of the dais'. Mind you, this is a sarkaari PC- grounded with traditions- so the ladies are clad in sarees. This is not a Kingfisher Airlines PC or anything! More applause. As each 'respected and honourable member of the dais' gets presented with a flower bouquet, there's a huge round of applause.

The PC now starts and one by one, each member gets to come on the podium and gets about 5 minutes to speak. They speak, thank people before they begin their speech, thank people after ending their speech, talk to journalists, answer their queries, give one-on-one interviews to TV channels and then they go away. We return back to our offices with quotes and start writing our stories for next day's edition.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Save Britannia

Mamu was saying earlier today he wished to go to Britannia- the single-most famous Irani / Parsi restaurant in Mumbai that serves the world-famous Berry Pulav- with me sometime soon. I couldn't agree more. As it is, there are many murmous going around that the place might serve it's last meal soon.

Of course, Berry Pulav or for that matter even Dhansakh, is not something you can eat amost everyday, you know. These are heavy delicacies and I don't know about others, but I can't work much after devouring a plate of either of those. I need my afternoon siesta after that. But the place is worth visiting I tell you.

I prefer to sit on the upper deck. This used to be a special thing with almost all Irani restaurants. There is a ground level seating as you enter and then there is the upper deck. This is either for large groups of for love birds who want to enjoy their meals in privacy. But I feel it's a great place to get a bird's eye view of the whole restaurant, watch who's coming in, who's going out, who's eating what and so on. Ofcourse if the food is great- which in most of these place it is- then you'd soon turn your focus on your plate, but oh well what's the use of being a Parsi if you don't do a little pozuli?

Britannia has an upper deck too. I usually prefer sitting up there, though the last time I went, the  area was fully occupied. Notice, when you sit on Britannia's upper deck, you could actually feel the ceiling fan  under you revolving. It gives you that funny tingy feeling. That's the thing at Britannia. For whatever reason, the place needs some serious sprucing up. Don't expect any fancy interiors in here; you'll see the paints peeling off the walls. None of which matters much though, because once the food is on the table, you forget everything else. Though how you secretly wish the place is better maintained. But the food's quite exquisite. Everybody knows that their Berry Pulav is awesome and so is their Dhansakh and Sali Boti and Sali Chicken. The red-coloured berrys that are generously sprinkled all over the berry pulav are specially imported from Iran. Try their boi fish and round up the meal with the world's best caramel custard. I am a sucker for desserts, so I almost always bring back home an extra caramel custard.

Do remember, if you are going in large numbers or you feel you might land up there a little after, say, 2 then make sure you call them up (2261 5264) and book your Berry Pulav in advance. The food here tends to get over fast and they don't make many extra servings. 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Babu Narude

Today is a very special day for Babu Narude (Sir). He is my Yoga teacher at the institute where I go to learn and practice yoga. Babu Narude's elder daughter got married today. I am sure he must be a very relieved man; he was planning for it since time immemorial. I just came back from the wedding and the reception, the venue was in the Ram temple at Matunga, very near to the legendary Mysore Cafe where I just recently had the world's best dosas. And I am not even a southie food fan, but still if I really loved the dosas, that must be something.

Anyways, the wedding and the reception was quite good. And very well-attended. Practically every face that i can recognise at my Yoga institute was there. To be honest, I did not expect many of my colleagues to be there. After all, people have jobs on weekdays, you'd think they might want to spend the Sunday with their families. It took me just seconds after I entered to be proved absolutely wrong. I saw many familiar faces; Pravinbhai- our institutes resident stock broker who seems to eat, breathe, drink, live and sleep stock markets (or bajaar as he says) was there since the morning. And Patilsaheb was also there, on the stage manning the presents and gifts, Sir and his daughter got. They were looking like extended family.

I think somewhere today I saw the love and respect that we all have for Sir. I joined Yoga in February 2003 amidst a lot of skepticism. But I was quickly hooked onto it. I think- in a way- yoga grew in me. Thanks to Sir- who took me into his fold (I must have been extremely blessed to be assigned to his tutelage)- I soon took to Yoga as a habit. One without which I felt my day was incomplete if I couldn't go to my classes. The good part of the place where I go to is that there aren't any fixed classes or fixed times. Men are supposed to go anytime between 4 and 8.30 pm. Instructors lurk around, take rounds, keep tabs on students and supervise all of us. Sir is the most senior of all. I find him to be very dedicated. And he is the best part. I have always felt that no matter what the subject is, it can always be made the most interesting if the instructor is good.

At 56, his memory can put any of ours to shame. He must be having atleast 30 people- at any given point in time apart from the occassional dropouts here and there- but he would remember all of us by our first and last names. Since there are no fixed classes, each of us has our own cusotmised itenery. One that escalates with every passing month as we graduate to the next level. Sir would know each of our iteneries at the back of his palm. This, despite staring his day at 4.00 early morning when he wakes up, does his morning ablutions and catches the 6.15 am morning local to Churchgate. He stays at Virar, Mumbai's farthest suburban station the western railway. It's not easy to travel by second class from Churchgate to Virar, at this age. But he's got such will power and stamina thanks to his many years of disciplined living and yogic lifestyle, that at this age he sleeps for only about 5 hours every day and still is fresh at all times.

Today, on this happy occasion, his loved ones and students- such as I- were there to bless him. In a way, to thank him too for the all his wonderful teachings, to wish him luck and join in his happiness. People who bring happiness in other people's lives get happiness in return. Babu Narude is an exemplary instance of this thought.

Kurbaan

I don't remember when I watched a movie the last time around, but thanks to my cousin who got us complimentary passes to the premier show, I caught up with Kurbaan. A decent effort from producer Karan Johar who is always known to make candy floss movies, but I found it to be a very simplistic take on America v/s Islam terror war. A young Delhi college professor Kareena Kapoor meets co-professor suave and charming Saif Ali Khan and falls in love after being briefly pursued. They fall in love and migrate to the US as Kapoor gets a job opening there. Saif Ali Khan too gets a job there and they move into a new house in an Indian neighborhood and life seems to go on Happily every after. Till the time that Kareena Kapoor accidentally stumbles upon a terror plot unraveling- and also a dead woman's body-  in a neighbour's house. The story kickstarts from there as she unwillingly falls into a well of deceit and terror.

The movie, though a taut thriller compared to Bollywood standards- takes a very potboiler, cliche Bollywood route to reach its goals. For instance, I cannot fanthom that a girl who has lived in the US (only to briefly migrate to India to look after her ailing father) does not dial the US emergency number 911 when she stumbles upon the terror plot. Saif Ali Khan gets a job at the university so easily. He also passes through the airport security checks so easily despite being on the US watchlist. Anyone who has been to the US post 9-11 would know that US is a totally different country and how seriously it takes its own security. Vivek Oberoi plays the supporting cast as the boyfriend who loses his girlfriend to terrorism. He decides to not to inform the police even after he gets a credible lead, but instead- and this sounds very Bollywoodish- decides to join the gang to get to the crooks himself. You'd probably expect a home grown character to behave like this, but this sort of approach is a little hard to digest for someone who is shown to have lived in the US and worked within the parameters of the US machinery. He also gets admission in the terror cell without so much as a background check done on him by the members. Also, the plot line of Kareena Kapoor seducing her husband in bed to get hold of the terror plot details sounds- if not exactly far-fetched- very amateurish. And do we really need such close-ups of how a person removes a bullet and also stitches up the skin?

Despite being in the same genre of New York (also produced by Karan Johar) and his upcoming My Name is Khan, Kurbaan is an edge-of-the-seat thriller and keeps you hooked on. The movie scores on good cinematography and screenplay. Unfortunately, there is no chemistry between the lead pair despite good performances.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Black Day for Indian Democracy

It was a black day for Indian democracy, yet once again. Armed with sticks, lathis, and such weapons, the goons of Shiv Sena- one of Maharashtra's political parties- barged into the offices of TV channel IBN Lokmat and not only destroyed office property but also physically and brutally assaulted journalists. Read the reports here and here and see the pictures here. My sympathies to the IBN team and Nikhil Wagle, IBN Lokmat's editor-in-chief and kudos to the staff for nabbing some of the goons and handing them over to the police. This is not the first time that Shiv Sena goons have targeted journalists or innocent civilians. One wonders whether it'll be the last time especially considering the fact that the State Government has so far been unable to tame them and bring them to book. Though I have hope from the present chief minister. I could be wrong but I saw sincerity in his eyes yesterday when the editor-in-chief of IBN Rajdeep Sardesai interviewed him on national TV and the minister reassured that the culprits- not just the foot soldiers, but also the ringleaders- would be brought to book. Let's hope that the Chief Minister stands by his promise.

For a moment though I would like to ponder on the irony as to why such trouble-makers have always thought that such violence would get them to the top. The worst part is that they have been right and proved right time and again. Massive communal riots in1992-93 in Bombay and later in Gujarat in 2002 (both targeted Muslims) catapulted right-wing leaders to the pinnacle of the state machineries. The Gujarat riots were documented as probably one of the worst genocide the history of Indian democracy. Lives were  uprooted, innocent civilians lost their lives, and the fabric of society changed forever. Still, people who openly and brazenly encouraged such violence, got voted and came to power.

Which begs the question: Why does the electorate vote for such people who encourage violence? Why does anyone think that these very people who perpetuate violence, are the ones who can offer a better life, a bettre government? Isn't violence the opposite of governance? Hatred is the core of any riot; it smacks of violence and complete break-down of law and order. Aren't there enough members of the civilised or the thinking society to get up and vote to keep the thugs and goons out of the Parliament? Or it's just that there are enough voters who have the power in the fingers but that they just do not care.

Why is it that in developed countries, any political party that perpetuates violence to gain publicity and power, gets shooed away, does not get elected at all, and infact goes behind bars? Why does it happen in India that the notorious political parties think that such massive tod-phod and strong-arm street tactics would get the voters to vote for them? Why is there such a belief? Is there something wrong with them or with us who vote for them? Perhaps the low voter turnout could throw some light. The anger and agitation that came out in Mumbai post 26-11- largely seen amongst the thinking citizens- fizzled out soon; poor turnouts during the Assembly elections and central government elections.

I wish I could say the cliche:  the time has come to stop them and bring the culprits to book, time has come to disown them and time has come to act. Unfortunately, that time came and went away long ago. What do we do now?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mumbai Traffic

Am I the only one who thinks it's is happening or do I see traffic indiscipline rising in Mumbai with every passing day? Motorists (including 2-wheelers) rarely had any respect for zebra crossings, but then that is old news. Even starting to honk incessantly a good 10-20 seconds before the signal would turn green, as if repeated honking and creating a nuisance would make the signal go green any faster. But I now see many motorists, especially 2-wheelers, jumping signals. It's a little spooky to cross roads these days on buy junctions. You'd feel sorry for the traffic havaldar who has to stand at the signals manning men and cars in such pollution, of both noise and air. But you'd then think it's absolutely necessary for some kind of policing to be around, otherwise traffic discipline goes for a toss.

A little bit of law and order would go a long way and also a bit of common sense. Large poles with new traffic signals- much like those that can be on the Eastern and Western Express highways and also developed countries- have been installed at busy junctions. However, additional signals have been installed on the other side of the road junction. This means that if a motorists "accidentally" crosses the first signal (before which s/he is supposed to stop), s/he can still comfortably stand right on top of the zebra crossing and still keep an eye on his road's signal that has also been installed, as I said, on the other side. The latter is absolutely unnecessary.

Actually signals should be installed before the zebra crossing. There should not be any signal on the opposite side of the road. This would ensure that motorists- if they want to keep an eye on the signal- would need to stop before the zebra crossing itself. Should they cross the zebra crossing, they would not get any cues on when the signal goes green.

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My apologies for not blogging in a long, long time. Some change happened in my daily schedule last month because of which spare time is a rarity these days. Atleast during the weekdays. But I'll try to blog more often from now on.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thank God!

Atheists (those who don't believe in God) should take a look at this. If this is not a miracle, what is? On the occasion of Diwali, let's join our hands together and thank God for all his blessings and wish that the year ahead is a peaceful one. (This footage has been taken from the website of Times Now news channel)


Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Mumbai Press Club

Despite being a journalist for many years, for reasons I have not yet been able to ascertain, I have stayed away from the press club. I never applied for a membership nor did I show the slightest inclination to pay it a visit. From whatever I have read in Busybee books (a compilation of the legendary 'Round and About' columns written by one of the best writers / journalists / editors in the world, Mr (late) Behram Contractor), I have always perceived the press club to be this dingy place where all people go there to do is drink, drink and drink. Though reading about it in the Contractor's columns has been fun. I finally broke my forced abstinence when a few days back I paid it a visit. My friend, Prashant from ET has been proudly speaking of his press club membership (with much pomposity if I may add, much like I guess any Bennett & Coleman group reporter since, you know, the club is like their second home due to proximity ;) ) and so we met up at the press club over lunch. I must say I was quite impressed with the press club.

But first things first. I boarded the double-decker bus from Nariman Point and went to VT station. There are many pleasures to be had in Mumbai but few that match the adrenalin pump we get by sitting on the top deck of the double decker bus. That too, when it is empty or almost empty. Empty spaces, either on roads or in public trasnport is a rarity these days in Mumbai so one savours every bit of it when one finds one. And even a 10-minute ride for as small a distance as Nariman Point to Mumbai makes it a joy ride. You pass by three sprawling grounds- of the very few open spaces left in Mumbai- marvel at the magnificent British architecture and heritage precincts of Fountain, pass by the Bhikha Behram well and the neighbouring Fashion Street and land up in the narrow bylane that leads up to VT station. They say double-decker buses are not as profitable as the single decker buses and that is mainly why the fleet of such double-decker buses have been reduced; that's quite sad. There was a time when one of the items on a Mumbai tourist's map was to take a ride on the top deck of a double-decker bus on route#123 from Tardeo to RC Church and back, enjoying the cool breeze and soothing ocean sights along Marine Drive and queen's necklace. I took this route for 3-4 years in high school as my school was on Marine Drive and the ride of pure joy. The double-decker buses are gone, except for a few token routes such as the shuttles between VT and Nariman Point and a few other routes in Mumbai. I wish these icons would be somehow brought back on Mumbai roads.

Anyways, I was soon at the press club. Before there wasn't a board of the press club outside the press club so for a person who had never been there- such as me- it was difficult to make out the entrance. Now there is a board, so it wasn't difficult for me to spot it. But Prashant had already joined me by then so I couldn't have missed it. There is a small press conference room for smaller firms and establishments to brief the media, as soon as we enter the facility. The main club area is quite impressive and very spacious and airy. The restaurant doesn't look like anything what I had imagined; it's quite clean, neat and plush. The bar is well laid out and looks very professional. Expectedly though, there were other ET / TOI journalists around. We chose to have the buffet. The food was well-cooked and I took two helpings. You get a good view of the Azad maidan from the restaurant, so I guess it looks very good in the evenings and also in winter or in rains. I am told you could also sit outside in the open arena and order your food and drinks and enjoy fresh air. Very nice!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Are Indian Sportpersons Second-Class Citizens?

The Times of India reports that veteran athlete P.T.Usha was reduced in tears. She was invited to Bhopal for an event but she claims that she was almost completely left to fend for herself in a city she claimed she did not know well. But look what she said.

“I never expected this kind of behaviour, but then things work like this only in our country and that is the reason we are far behind the rest of the world”, she said. 

This aptly describes the state of affairs in Indian sports. Read here if you need more proof of the apathy towards Indian sports and sportsmen. It is no surprise that while nations like China, US, Australia create world-class sportperson across various fields, we Indians get satisfied by a once-in-a-lifetime medal in international competitions or even the Commonwealth Games. But then of course, international athletes are given the infrastructure to hone their skills. As regards us, we seem to be content with being a nation obsessed with cricket. Chak De- a brilliant movie revolving around Hockey and one that ought to have woken up our authorities and sports ministry to the presence of sports other than cricket, could sadly do nothing. Instead, the theme title song Chak De (which literally means Go For It) was later used on several occasions as a victory tune for Indian cricket team! How ironic.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Miss The Monsoon

The month of October is upon us and the monsoon is about to get over. Sad! The dark monsoon clouds that made Mumbai thier home for the past four months or so, are finally on their way out, announcing their departure with full gusto, mostly in the evenings and nights. A lot of lightning to characteristically go along with it.



Alas, we humans are never satisfied. When its summer, we say enough of the heat; we want rains. When it rains, it's too wet we say. When will the rains go, we begin to wonder. We long for summer. Then, when summer is upon us, we get fed-up and wait for the winter to arrive. When winter comes, we shiver and long for the sun to come out. And when the sun finally comes out with gusto, we come back to square one and look up in the sky praying and hoping to get a sight of the monsoon clouds. Such are we. Such is life.

I like monsoon. I like rains. I like getting wet, though not drenched completely. But give me my balcony, a good monsoon shower and iPod and I am on board. Apart from the fact that a good rainfall in catchment areas around Mumbai is good for the city to save us from all those yearly dreaded water cuts, monsoon adds colour to Mumbai. It adds a lot of character and vibrancy to this city. It also inspires Bollywood to make either those underworld movies where dreaded gangsters chase one another through the narrow gullies of Mumbai underbelly under heavy showers or the mushy love stories where the boy mollycoddles with his girl dancing to a rain sequence. But most importantly, it gives a character to Mumbai. No wonder they say, come rain or shine, Mumbai never sleeps.

Here's what I will miss about Mumbai's monsoon...




  • That first shower in June to beat the cruel Mumbai heat. It is such a welcome sight. The temperatures almost instantly goes down a few notches and how we wish it remains there..
  • This used to be a major factor when I was in school and college when heavy rains in the morning lead to the closure of schools and colleges. Now that I am working, it doesn't matter much, but a day here or there off due to heavy rains can be a welcome sight. Especially if your boss sits in Delhi :)
  • If you want to see Mumbai, go to Marine Drive. If you want to see rains in Mumbai, go to Marine Drive. You think the sea is angry as it tosses and turns and throws water at us with gusto. But to the discerning observer, it sure sounds the sea is glad to have us on the other side and play some fun games with us. The waves splash on the promenade and glides all over the wide pavement, all the way to the main road, drenching everyone who dare come in the way. But no one is complaining. It's the ultimate pleasure and the best way to celebrate the Mumbai monsoon. It's very tempting to get off from your BEST bus or car or taxi if it's raining at Marine Drive and just to sit on the promenade and spend some time in solitude with only the sea and waves for company.  Other sea promenades such as Worli are also there for your pleasure, but none clicks like Marine Drive. 
  • Waiting at the railway station when it is pouring outside. As the train enters the station, you couldn't help but notice that the otherwise perennially open doors are closed- something of a rare sight in Indian Railways- and as you try to enter the compartment in a tearing hurry, can't help but get wet from the rain falling over us from the train's roof. 
  • Greenery and Mumbai apparently don't go well with each other, sadly. But whatever little greenery that's left, it sure gets lush and rampant.
  • There are few soothing sounds than than sound of rain falling. 
  • The sea of umbrellas on the streets. Especially near Churchgate station. Umbrellas of all colours, designs, shapes and sizes. 
  • That smell of earth just after a shower. We don't get this smell much in Mumbai, but at some places we still do. 

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Spitting fine = Rs 1,000

Great news, folks! The Times of India reports that if you are caught spitting in the city of Pune, India, you will now have to shell out a fine of Rs 1,000/-. This is a whopping hike from the earlier levels of Rs 25. It is sad that the authorities took this step to spread the awareness of swine flu when the nuisance of spitting has been around for decades and ages and is one of the most shameful acts seen on Indian roads, but whatever be the intent, the ultimate action counts. So it is a great move, in my books.

Now the only thing we have to see is how well it is implemented. I think if fines for such common nuisance such a spitting are increased manifold to justify the seriousness of its intent- the way they ought to- I think the government can easily find enough resources to fund their many welfare programs. All they need to do is position the cleaning squads on railway platforms. People keep spitting whilst waiting for the train, sometimes with such ridiculous regularity that it seems they are merely passing time by spitting.

We keep blaming the government for every little shortcoming but I think as responsible citizens we too should own it up. I mean just imagine how impossible a task it is to regulate a billion people and to inculcate basic civic sense. I have seen my own colleague from my MBA college days (an educated youth, therefore) peeing on the road when our college facility was merely a few feet away! If educated people behave like this, what can we expect from the BPL familes? For them atleast, we could say that the lack of adequate sanitation is one of the biggest problems. One block of, say, 6-7 toilets to be used by a whole colony of hutments and lack of public WCs elsewhere too builds up the problem. I think the cleaning squads though are doing a great job. I have seen them nabbing people and bringing them to book. So this latest rule shouldn't be very hard to implement. Next step: Increase the spitting fine to Rs 5,000.

Life At Marine Drive

There are few too many things that I feel have been a part of my life growing up. Marine Drive has been one such constant, yet memorable, companion. I stay a few kilometers away from Marine Drive and this is one place that I have seen virtually seen every day of my life growing up. Right from the time I remember boarding my school bus when it used to meander its way through the traffic through the crowded streets of Hughes Road, Babulnath before it turned left next to Wilson college and land on the expressway that is Marine Drive. There used to be a certain thrill of looking at the sea; Marine Drive in those days used to look majestic to me with the way it used to curve all along the way and offer a view of the queen's necklace. It is still majestic, but I guess at certain level I now take it for granted because, well, I know it's right there and I can go whenever I want to. Traffic was much less in those days, so the bus could gather much speed. Though my school was off Marine Drive, we could see the bay from the upper floors.



Over the years, I stopped using the school bus; students above eight standard weren't allowed to use the school bus anyway I think. So it was the BEST bus then and in those days we had the double-decker bus on Route No 123. The route is still there but eventually they phased out the iconic double-decker buses on this route. Now we only have single-decker buses. But if you wanted a ride on our historic double-decker buses, then route 123 was the one you had to take. The best place in the bus was the upper deck and the front rows. No use of the side windows; the front windows were more than enough. Girls were never found seated here because most of them care about their hair (or stroking it every 2 seconds) more than anything else. This was a guys-only place. A strong gush of wind would blow on your face that would make you squirm your eyes, it was the upper deck, the speed of the bus on Marine Drive and the sea wind. Absolute fun! The best part for waiting for the bus on the way back home was that although there were bus-stops, we never used to sit on the bus-stops. We used to sit on the parapets and watch the waves and count the countless crabs that crawl on the tetra pods.

Marine Drive is a stretch of around 4-5 kms that starts from Chowpatty at the north-end and goes all the way to Nariman Point / National Centre of Performing Arts (NCPA) / Oberoi Hotel. It's one of the widest roads, apart from the Eastern and Western Express Highways, in Mumbai. The beauty of this is that it was never widened in phases; it was this wide right from the time it was built. Or atleast since time immemorial. Taking a walk on Marine Drive is an absolute pleasure. The place was done up recently so the pavement looks all straightened up.  Unlike Worli sea face where pavement bricks are in complete disarray. But that place is also being done up I am told, so hopefully in a year's time it should become nicer.



The best part of taking a walk on Marine Drive are the dogs. You mostly see Labradors, but occasionally you could also spot pugs, pomeranians, German shepherd, and so on. Some dogs like each other's company and seem to be very eager to 'get a feel' of the other, but some dogs seem to erupt in anger on seeing one another. But it's fun to see the camaraderie amongst dogs; they seem to communicate with one another in some of the most intriguing ways, you don't know what you are saying but you know they're definitely saying something! There is a yearning to go there every weekend. Today is a Saturday. Let me see if I can make it today...

Restaurants To Serve Less Water

In times where water has become such a scarce resource, it is obscene to see citizens wasting water to the hilt. One place where wastage usually happens is in restaurants. The staff at many restaurants go on pouring water to ensure that our glasses are never empty, even if we do not need the water. I for one avoid restaurant water most of the times because a) I do not have much water during and immediately after meals and, b) I, usually, prefer mineral water. One of my ex-colleagues used to be particularly vigilant of his glass lest some unassuming waiter comes and fills it with water. And if the waiter did manage to fill the water when my friend would have momentarily looked away, he would get a very nasty look. I understand it's polite as per our Indian culture to offer water to the thirsty and it is ofcourse assumed that if we go to a restaurant we'd be hungry and / or thirsty. But it's also a crime I feel to waste a precious resource such as water.

Mid-day's story on the Brihanmumbai Municap Corporation's (BMC) plans to advise restaurants to curb on offering drinking water to guests comes as a huge relief. I wonder how much of this rule will be enforced, but it's a good start nevertheless.

One of the biggest crooks in water wastage is Bollywood. Endless sequences of rains call for a massive usage (wastage) of water. Although the script may demand it, I think considering the need of the hour to conserve water, some rules ought to be put in place here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Missing Doordarshan?

Another lazy weekend went by, but thankfully this one was a bit more active than some of the others. Not that the other ones were boring or anything, I mean I could do with lots of sleeping and catching up on TV. But when it comes to TV, somehow weekdays are more interesting than weekends. The deadly dose of reality shows and dance and song competitions have completely ruined Indian television. Every Indian TV channel you switch on these days have the same type of shows. And I am not even getting started on TV serials; first they were saas-bahu types, now they are on children. Or atleast they claim they are on children, child marriages, foetecide, etc but soon digress to village politics, rivalry and God knows what else. Indian television lacks creativity, period. The good ones attract unnecessary controversies, Look at western television. For all the profanity and nudity it may show here and there, there are tons of example of brilliant and original variety on offer. 24, Dexter, How I Met Your Mother, Two and Half Men, Seinfeld, you name the genre, they have it. As Doordarshan celebrates its 50th anniversary (has it been that long, really?), I can't help take my mind back to the good old days of Malgudi, Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Mr Yogi and the like. Ah, that moment at 9.00 pm every night.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Farah Khan show

Vivek Oberoi finally broke his silence and spoke his heart out on Farah Khan's chat show 'Tere Mere Beech Mein'. After years of being virtually boycotted by Bollywood over the infamous '41 phone calls' episode, Oberoi  finally got a chance to clarify things once and for all on Farah Khan's chat show. Atleast the gal gave the guy a decent platform to speak.

Looking back at the incident, I seriously have not yet been able to figure out why it was such a sacrilege to speak out. Why did Oberoi suddenly went on from being the fresh discovery and potential talent to a villian, overnight? I found him, atleast, honest and courageous enough to speak up and claim that many in the industry deserted him overnight and avoided him for the better part of his career because they didn't want to be seen with him. You could see from where he's coming from when he says there is more plastic in the industry than in a Tupperware factory. That cronysim and chamchagiri still rules Bollywood. So what the guy is a bit flamboyant and loud. You may have also found him a bit immature for taking a private matter to the press, but if the guy seriously got cornered / threatened as he claimed, why the hell did he get more brickbats than bouquets is something I'll never understand. This is a day and age where celebrities sell first pictures of their babies in million-dollar deals or see paparazzi climb walls of their private homes to click pictures; Oberoi's outburst was nothing. The kind of chamchagiri seen in Bollywood is nothing short of cheap tamasha. We're not impressed.

Not fo fweet

After weeks of missing it for one reason or another, I finally watched 'Kaminey'. But since it's been quite some time, no theatre in South Mumbai was running a show at a decent evening time, so I decided to do my first. I ordered the movie on my Tata Sky connection. I paid Rs 75/- and the order was taken completely on phone; amount deducted from the advance to Tata Sky I had already paid for my subscription. it was simple enough to place the order and for Rs 75/- I could watch the movie throughout the day, great quality, legal copy and all. Yes, multiple times during the day.  And after watching the movie, I am so glad I did not go to the theatres.

This is a story of two brothers who are living their own lives (one is a good guy, the other is a crooked one) and have no intention of crossing each other's paths. Until fate brings them face-to-face and their lives collide as one mess unravels before another, till it leads to a full-blown confrontation at the end.

I don't understand what the big deal of the movie is. I think it is quite hyped up and certainly did not receive all the gushing reviews it has received by our movie critics and on blogosphere. Okay I could make my peace with the story pace, the strong supporting roles that lend a character to the movie, the gangster / reality / Mumbai underbelly kinda treatment, but I think that is about it. One brother lisps, the other stammers, does it really matter?

I could also make my peace with the fact that the movie is as unconventional as it can get and as un-Bollywoody as a Bollywood movie can get; loved the way the director turns the quintessential Bollywood bhai-bhai movie ending on its head. Here particularly- and amongst other things- it questions the very definition of 'good' and 'bad'. But that's about it. The movie, otherwise, is a bit going here, there and everywhere and does not manage to hold your attention. As a viewer, I feel dark movies need to be handled not just artistically but the artisty should also translate into something meaningful. It should make a connection and here's where I felt disconnected. Dev D was also dark and sinister but you could feel the guy spiralling downwards. At a point it felt that we are going down with him too. You could feel the protaginist's agony and self-distructive nature to the point that you either hated him or felt very sorry for him. Dev D was not just cinematic excellence; it had a story. Kaminey may be cinematic excellence, but the darkness shown on screen was nothing more that just awesome acting. Watch-it-enjoy-it-forget-it-move-on types. Just by showing guys on a high followed by a heated exchange of histroinics is not great cinema; it's mere brilliant acting. I didn't find it an egde-of-the-seat thriller and I kinda found it very hard to keep up with the pace of the movie, dialogues initially sound mutterred that spoken and it  took an effort out of me to keep up with it all. The intent is good but perhaps it got to be too intelligent for its own good.

K-Rate: * * * 

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sach Ka Saamna

Reality shows may have gone over the board, but Sach Ka Saamna remains a unique experiment. Contestants come on board and undergo a lie detector test to answer 50 questions. Of these, they are asked 20 questions on the show. The more number of answers that they answer correctly, the more money they win. It's a classic, yet simple, act. Come on TV, speak the truth, get your lifetime's redemption, and take home pots of money. I think it's a fantastic concept. Our pretentious past gets a great chance to get some decent redemption in front of the world and our family. Husbands have confessed adultery, wives have confessed to secret affairs, children have confessed to being neglected in their childhood and what not. And let's face it. Don't we all like to watch other people's dirty linen? I guess people who do not like the program or those who have objections can simply change the channel. The moment of truth is here and kudos to those of us who have the courage to stand up and tell the truth. It's called giving life another chance.    

Mobile Generation

The mobile phone generation has gone crazy. You, me, everyone. 10 years ago when I was just one year short of passing from my B-school, nobody in my school used to carry a mobile phone. In those days we hardly used to have any mobile phones. The ones that were popular were I think from Motorolla or I don't know remember exactly which handset manufacturer, but I do remember they were surely bulky and almost like cordless phones. It was an upmarket thing to have, but then who'd want to carry a cordless phone in their pockets and why, is what i always used to think. Today eveyone has to have a mobile phone. A collegue's son- a ninth standard student- recently cajoled his paretns to buy him a mobile phone. Why? Because all his friends have it and it's "demeaning" to not have one for himself. Shocking? Not really?

It's easy to blame others, but what about us? 10 years back we could easily stay away from home for hours or even days and still be completely relaxed without a mobile. Today, we can't stay away and out of touch from our loved ones for a few minutes, thanks to our mobile phones. We have to call up our home to check on our kids, we have to send an SMS, and if nothing else is happening, we have to check out our phone atleast once in 15 minutes to double-check if we missed any calls or SMSs or if nothing else, check the time. I forget my mobile phone on an outing and feel lost.

The worst is caller tunes. Now, what I do not understand is why do people spend as much as Rs 15 to Rs 20 on caller tunes. These are tunes that we do not get to hear, but if we keep them on our mobile, the caller gets to hear them. It is purely for their pleasure. We do not derive any benefit out of it. Then, why waste the money? Is the caller calling to listen to our song or to talk to us? I have never understood this.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Can Social Networking be Perilous?

Elizabeth Bernstein has written an interesting piece in Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on how Facebook can sometimes ruin relationships and friendships. Apart from quite a few parallels that we get to see on social networking ourselves, I think a bit of it is also extended to online chatting too, where people put up 'status' messages and update them on an hourly basis with a status of what s/he is doing, stopping only short of "going to the toilet". I have seen people write all sorts of gibberish on their Facebook profiles. I admit I don't mostly understand much of it, but I think I am proud of this lack of understanding, for a change. What can be more irritating, is that you have hordes of people actually responding to such gibberish and making it sound like as if it's the most absorbing conversation currently on.

Anyways, enough said by me. The link articulates it much better. Enjoy...

Beware of Mumbai airport taxis

The back and yellow taxis of Mumbai are at it again. Yesterday on my way back home from the domestic airport at Santa Cruz, I took a prepaid taxi (non A/C, black & yellow; B&Y).

The airport authorities, for some strange reason, have driven off the radio taxis (Meru, Mega, etc) away from their usual parking lots and into some far-off corner of the airport complex (near Sahara hotel), but have installed phone services inside the terminal. The phone service is a new facility. There are four phones available, one each for 4 services presently available in Mumbai (Mega, Meru, Forche and Priyadarshini). As soon you claim your baggage from the baggage carousels, and just before you come out of the terminal, you pick up a phone and place an order for a radio taxi. So, as against earlier when these radio taxis were given a parking space near terminals, now they are merely allowed to pick up passengers from there, not park their cars. Parking space is a bit far, near the Sahara Star Hotel.

Unfortunately, yesterday evening all radio taxis were booked, so I had no choice but to take a pre-paid B&Y cab. I opted for a non a/c one. These are rickety-rackety and usually very badly maintained; those old Fiat taxis. The fare was Rs 260 and since it was prepaid, I paid at the airport counter itself. My previous experiences with these B&Y taxis from the airport have always landed up in arguments with them because they always charge extra and their meters are more often than not, tampered. But yesterday since I took a prepaid, I thought it could be different. I was wrong.

After I alighted, the cabbie asked me for extra Rs 20-Rs 30. I asked him why, he muttered something like "insaniyat ke liye" or some such shit. He also said something like as if we customers are making a fool out of them by not paying them anything extra. What crap! I refused to pay him and had a minor argument with him. After which he grumbled and left off.

But this is what we have to put up with. Earlier, when the airport authorities had separate parking lots, just outside the airport terminal, for radio taxis, there was never a shortage of radio taxis. The parking lots always used to be full of these radio taxis; when one used to go, the other used to come upfront and solicit passengers. Radio taxis are transparent and also cheap! A ride in a Meru or Mega cab (fully air-conditioned and well-maintained car) from airport to my place would cost me around Rs 280. (this was before the fares for the B&Y taxis went up effective 1 August). A pre-paid B&Y non-AC taxi in a badly-maintained rickety-rackety taxi cost me Rs 260! I do not know on what basis these fares have been fixed, but its downright highway robbery. And why must these clowns always expect something extra from us even after paying a pre-paid fare at the airport? The airport authorities must allocate a permanent parking space to radio taxis for the convenience of passengers. And not in some remote area. It has to be just outside terminals, so that passengers with all their baggage can walk up straight to them.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

go-go-goa


I am just back after a much-needed relaxed break to India's favourite beach destination - Goa. I can be a bit of a contrarion when it comes to travelling, so while most of us rush to Goa during Christmas, I've always wanted to visit the place in monsoon. Goa is not much of a beach place in the monsoon, but I've never really been a beach person. Give me mountains anyday. That said, I find beaches extremely soothing and relaxing, as well. I can sit by the sea for hours and just bask in the breeze and loose track of time. Anyways, so after a bumpy and turbulent flight that gave me a few goosebumps here and there, we landed amidst heavy rain at Goa's Dabolim airport. The airport is still primitive....It was fun, though, getting wet when we got out of the airport coach and ran towards the airport terminal.

I was visiting Goa after a little more than 10 years. The place has changed a lot. Lots of development can be seen everywhere, but thankfully the place is still not as polluted and populated as say Mumbai or Pune. But then, you can't compare Mumbai and Pune with Goa. Lush green, though. Very, very green. It's just a very different Goa during monsoon. Everywhere and anywhere you could see acres of land covered with coconut trees. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but I think a coconut tree must be amongst the most pleasing sights in the world. I just feel extremely relaxed looking at it. And old Goan homes. They look grand, yet warm and inviting. Painted in vibrant colours. Like Mysore and Coorg folks, Goans know to take care of their homes. You'll see their homes in all sorts of bright colours, but violet, blue, green and yellow seem to be the in-thing these days...
Monsoon is also the best time to visit Goa if you want a good deal at a five-star resort. And as fed-up as I am of listening to requests to eat Goan curry whilst in Goa, the Goan curry still tastes good. There wasn't much variety of fish to be had, but then in monsoon, my mother says that fish should be avoided. Food at the Taj Holiday Village is absolutely great. Between six restaurants (three in Holiday Village and the other three in Taj Fort Aguada Resort), you can get to taste multiple cuisines, each prepared by lots of love and warmth by their well-trained and much-talented staff. And warmth is what is amply available at the Taj. They go to great lengths to make their customers happy. I watched the two chefs admirably at the breakfast restaurant. Atleast 10 people must have been standing on their heads demanding eggs, omelettes and what-not, and each of the two chefs, though completely drenched in requests and demands not to forget exhaustion, were at a time manning four stoves!!!

But you couldn't help but notice happiness in them. Like this guy from neaby Sawantwadi village who has been working here for the past 25 years proudly telling me so. Or this guy at the restaurant who started his work here, 20 years back, in house-keeping and proudly telling me that he, then, got promoted to the restaurant staff. But I guess if you're happy working at a place, it just shows, doesn't it? You can genuinely make your customers happy too. They call it passion, but whatever! Perhaps those samples who make it a point to look around for new "exciting opportunities" as soon as they complete a year, can learn something.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Elephant Lord Is Here

The festival season has officially kicked off in India, more so in Mumbai, with the onset of Ganesh Chaturthi. Ramzan has also begun. Man may create umpteen divisions but nature has its way of setting the balance right and so we have two festivals- that are as different as night and day as are those who celebrate them- coinciding their beginnings on the same day. It's a strange but very welcoming confluence of festivals across cultures. Me feels closer to Ganesh Chaturthi
though and it remains one of my favourite festivals of the year.

Mumbai looks the best during these 10 days. You can see colourful Ganapati pandals all across town with Ganpatis of all shapes and sizes; the taller they are the more awe-inspiring they appear to be. Almost every locality has a Ganapti pandal. There's hyper activity around each and every one of them and all very lit up. There are themes and motifs and lots of creativity that goes into setting up of some of them. They are awake 24/7. Infact I have noticed that some of these popular pandals in crowded residential areas come alive more after sunset. I suppose that is the time when people find to be convenient to pay their respects and offer darshan after a hard day's work. It looks as if the entire city has come out on streets.

When I was in college, a visit to Lalbaug, considered to be one of the busiest localities for Ganapati festivities, was a must-must on my list. Though I have never seen Lalbaugcha Raja (The King Of Lalbaug; one of the tallest Ganpatis in the city), I used to pay darshan to two other Ganpatis. One was in the lane, curiously named Ganesh Galli, and the other one nearby. It's a nightmare taking your car or hoping to catch the bus from Lalbaug in these days. Serpentine queues line up outside the Lalbaugcha Raja; it takes hours to get darshan. The kind of faith you see pouring out on streets is electrifying.

One of the beauty of this festival is despite being celebrated on a huge scale, peace prevails. Probably one of the reasons behind this is that it is one of the few festivals celebrated at such a grand scale that also has a large and significant presence of women involved in the festivities.
















The other Ganapati pandal I used to compulsorily visit was at my college-friend Ashish's at Peddar Road. A very devout Ganapati-worshipping family, the Jhambs have unflinchingly hosted the Elephant Lord at their home for many years. Every day at around 7 pm, they have a small pooja, as they do during a few other times during the day as well. The Jhambs have a fascinating collection of small Ganpati idols that are exclusively and systematically placed on top of a sideboard in their dining room. Every year we could see an addition. It is almost as if you step into Satguru's. When in college, my friends and I used to go together after finishing off our lectures. These days, we are all dispersed busy with our respective lives, families and commitments; it's a pity we do not even ask one another now, we make our own arrangements and go as we please. I do not think I have missed one year, since I think 1995, to go to the Jhambs. I shall miss this year though; I am off to a much-needed holiday this week.

The one place I'd like to get a feel of though, during Ganapati, is Pune. This, many say, is the hub of Ganapati celebrations, though if you go to Parel, Lalbaug and central Mumbai areas, you'd disagree. Maybe next year I might take out some time to visit Pune during Ganapati. That's one more reason for me to visit one of my favourite weekend gateways.

(in pictures: Ganpati temple in Wai, Maharashtra)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gullible Investors or Gullible Agents?

That Indian mutual funds (MF) are not supposed to ask for a no-objection certificate (NOC) from us if and when we change our broker and transfer our existing MF investments to a new broker, is a fact that is not well known. Although I have written on this in the magazine that I work for, more than once, (read here and here), many of us aren't aware of it. And MFs and agents are only too happy to exploit this.

A couple of days back, I had called for my stock broker, who is also an MF distributor. Since they offer online MF buying and selling, I wish to open an online MF account with them and thereafter transfer all my existing MF investments to them. I already have a direct equity account with them; an offline mode though presently, wherein a broker executes trades on my behalf. To this, now I want my MFs. This will enable me to get a consolidated statement, one that will give me a summary (as well as details) of all my equity and MF holdings.

Much to my surprise, my relationship manager told me that I would need an NOC from my old agents. He obviously did not know who I was (I don't mean to say this in the immature VIP-culture fashion amply seen these days at airports;) ) and which publication I write for and the stand that our publication holds in this regard. I reminded him that I am quite aware of my rights as a MF investor and that an NOC is not really required, but falsely demanded to make agent-changing a time-consuming affair. I do not know whether I have convinced him or not, but I intend to go pursue this matter to its logical end. I shall keep you posted on how smooth or otherwise my transfer is going to be.

The problem, as I often highlighted, is that when the Association of Mutual Funds of India (Amfi) says anything, it is not legally binding on MFs. Amfi is a trade body. It is not a regulator. For it to become a law, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) needs to pass the order. And with Sebi recently asking MFs whether or not they are demanding NOCs in this regard and reasons if they are, shows that the market regulator is serious. Probably for the first time in my nine years of journalism career am I observing Sebi monitoring the Indian mutual funds (MF) industry this closely. It's been pretty quick in passing orders to ensure that the end-investor gets serviced adequately.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Do I Smell A Rat?

No doubt that SRK is a big star. But for him to paint the town red with his celebrity status after he was detained at the Newark Liberty international airport was going a bit too far. He was all over the media saying the US immigration authorities treated him "shabbily" just because his last name happens to "Khan". Hey guys, guess what is the name of his upcoming movie!!! It's called 'My Name is Khan' (directed by Karan Johar) and it is all about racial profiling in the US, post 9-11, and how minorities (read Muslims) are looked at. And speaking of Karan Johar, he seems to be feeling upset and terrible. Oh, how touchy!

It is true that you get profiled in the US if you either happen to be from one of the so-called watch list nations or have a 'funny' name or anything that may arouse their suspicion. Last year when I went to the US, of the six times that I was at their airports, my mother and I were profiled twice. Of course we were not taken inside any room and confined for one / two hours but we were asked to step aside and our handbags were checked and each and every item was checked. A few random questions with some small talk were thrown at me, though I must admit, all their officials were extremely polite. I think I was profiled because I am an Indian. But I could be wrong. Though after those two incidents, I was at their airports four more times and the check-ins were a breeze. So I am not at all surprised that SRK was also detained and asked questions.

But for the so-called, media-painted albeit so shamelessly, Bollywood Badshah, to be grilled at a foreign airport, by immigration officials who were merely following their country's rules irrespective of whosoever the detainee is or how high up his connections go, was merely routine. if anything, it just goes to show that their duty of their country is top-most priority irrespective of who you are. SRK should have realised this and respected it. My cousin sister, born and brought up it the US and with therefore all her American style, accent, etc., and also a mother of two was once similarly detained and questioned for two hours when she went back home to Detroit because, amongst other things I do not remember clearly, she was carrying baby food which was white powder (ferex / cerelac). She was made to eat some of that in front of the immigration officials to prove that the food was indeed baby food and not anything suspicious.

We may crib and cry endlessly shouting injustice to the insane security measures that we get to see these days at international airports, especially the US airports. We curse them for their ways and systems and call it names. All accepted and very much true, in most cases. I am not a US fan and we all know that some of their wars have gone horribly wrong. Their administration can be awefully inhumane. But we can't deny one thing. Post 9-11, there has not been one terrorist attack on US soil. One of the reasons is because they take their security so seriously. You may be a huge star globally, but to their immigration officials, if your name pops up on their screen, you better have answers to their questions. And you better also have all the time that they need to answer their questions. If only such stringent security measures were adopted in India, we wouldn't have had all these repeated terrorist attacks, one after the other, all over our country. I am sure some pompous guests would be cribbing to be subjected to the security checks at the Taj and Oberoi, but who could blame these poor hotel authorities for all the ordeal they want through on 26-11. Desperate situations call for desperate measures. You can't please everyone; if you're pushed to the wall, you have got to wake up and learn to take care of yourself. For all the pains that we have to go to every time we pass through the metal detectors of Taj and Oberoi and have our luggage screened, I am placing my bet that these two hotels would not go through 26-11 ever again. That is, if they continue with their security checks and not come under pressure to compromise.

I think we can learn two lessons in this:

1) Adopt similar strict measures for all travellers coming from abroad, as well as those travelling within India. Ask questions and start profiling if the officials suspect something. Retain our humanity, but ask questions. And do not get swayed by whosoever is there on the opposite side. They may be politicians or movie stars or sportsperson or even rock stars. We have to subject them to stringent security checks even if we have to run our hands all over them. This is no time to buckle under pressure, wave diplomatic flags and lay down red carpets to every tom, dick and harry.

2) Unless they are downright rude or brutal, we should co-operate with foreign airport officials and be ready to subject to their security checks and systems, irrespective of who we are. I am not saying we have to lick them, but if they ask questions politely and do not disrespect us, we should co-operate. They can be very intimidating, but SRK is a grown-up man and a seasoned traveller; he ought to have handled this in a more dignified manner.

Having said that, for SRK to crib endlessly, especially in the wake of his upcoming movie 'My Name is Khan' and to make such a big issue of this, puts a big dent on his credibility. Aamir Khan is known for his publicity nonsense like cutting somebody's hair or having ushers get haircuts similar to his, from his upcoming release; they're all brilliantly documented and well-known. That these stunts work, is by itself preposterous. Did SRK get carried away by something similar? Who knows!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Come Clean

Open recently carried a well-written story on the recent controversy surrounding Indian cricketers' refusal to accept the whereabouts clause of Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency). Various others sports like Tennis, football, cycling and so on have confirmed to Wada rules. The International Cricket Council (ICC) too has subscribed to its norms, but the Board of Cricket Council of India (BCCI) and Indian cricketers are resisting. That they claim to abide by the Wada rules, except the whereabouts clause- which states that every cricketer, at the start of every quarter must inform their whereabouts of one hour every day for the next three months so that they are available for ant-dope test- is hardly giving away much. Some cricketers have also gone to the extent to claim that cricket has to be treated differently than other sports because cricketers have to travel much and are hardly at home for a few days here or there. Hence their privacy must be respected.

Privacy of celebrities is always a concern and an issue. It's quite right on the part of celebrities to claim that even they have a right to privacy and the cameras- or in this case, a doping control officer with an empty bottle to collect the urine sample- should be limited to the hours they are on duty. But once on family time, no intruders should be allowed. After all, if current world no 3 tennis player Andy Murray claims that he had to pee with his pants down literally in front of the DCO to ensure the genuineness of the sample deposited at 7 am in a morning in his home where the DCO turned up unexpected, then what are we talking about? Have they no lives of their own or any dignity?

Much as we like to sympathise with our sporting idols, the answer is a resounding No. Well, dignity, yes, but privacy, no. When drug abuse is so rampant across the world and where numerous examples have come up in sports that performance-enhancing drugs are available and can be consumed, it is the duty of every sportsperson to declare himself / herself clean. And if this means peeing with your pants down in front of someone to prove yourself, then so be it. In times when sportsperson having to stand to earn millions of dollars every year, this is a small sacrifice. Sports is a discipline. It's not just about fun and games. Sportsmen are idols to millions and billions of people around the globe. It not only teaches you how to play, but also inspires discipline, grit and courage. When Steffi Graf wins the French Open beating the then-world no 1 player half her age to win the French Open, in her early 30s or when Roger Federer wins the the one grand slam that has painfully eluded him for years, despite going through the worse 12 months of his career prior to this and when almost everyone had written him off inspire people to never give up. But when these stars resort to doping and are caught, it tarnishes the name of sport. We somehow begin to ponder of others' successes too; doubts start to creep our mind. It is this larger picture that our cricketers seem to miss.

Cricketers find all the time to squeeze numerous advertisements and commercials into their busy schedule; one that has made a millionaire virtually out of everyone of them who are the most active. They may be idols in India, but to the world of sport, they are as common as any other sportsperson. And as far as their exhaustive schedule is concerned, if tennis starts in the first week of January and goes up well till November-end (add to that the Davis Cup final in December for the two nations that have to fight it out), then other sports are no less hectic than Cricket. Why should Cricket therefore get special treatment? If they want their sport to be squeaky clean, then cricketers should be prepared to unzip whenever the DCO comes knocking on their doors.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

MUKTAD

As the Parsi-Zoroastrian calender draws to it's year-end, leading to the Parsi New Year (somewhere around 21 August), the final days of remembering of our departed loved ones, popularly called as Muktad, have started. I am going to give you a very layman description of what this is all about. Neither am I am priest nor do I possess any exceptional knowledge of my religion that almost every second Parsi these days claims s/he has. I cannot give you an ultimate guide to what the Muktad prayers are all about. But nonetheless, all this is my observation.

The final 10 days of the Parsi calender year are the most colourful days, literally if not metamorphically, of the year. Muktad is a tradition in our community where prayers are held over a period of 10 days (the last five days are called the Gathas) in prayers and jashan prayer ceremonies in the memory of our dead and the departed. Why do I say it is colourful? Because each departed loved one has to be dedicated a vaz made of silver or German silver. These vases are to be filled up with flowers.

Every day these flowers are to be changed. The Agiary (Fire-Temple) puts some flowers in them every day and we too can buy more flowers available in plenty outside the Agiaries and have them deposited in the vase. It's a very colourful sight inside our Agiaries. Flowers of various types and colours can be seen in abundance everywhere neatly arranged in their respective vases all across in the Agiary. Vases is kept on tables with a marble top. Each table has the name of the departed written underneath it. There is also a map hung somewhere in the corner of the Muktad hall; a large room in every Agiary dedicated to the Muktad tables and prayers.

On the first day that we go, the priests (dasturs) or the helper boys help us locate our loved one's table. We are not supposed to touch the table or the vases or the flowers that are already kept inside other people's vases. The flowers that we buy from outside are to be given to either of them, who then dip them in water and then put them inside our vases. Simultaneously, a priest is assigned to us and we handover our sukhad (sandalwood stick). An individual's prayer can last to anything between half an hour to one hour, but the overall Muktad prayers start as early as 6 am in the morning at the dawn of the day and lasts through the evenings, with a small break in the afternoon.

In a Parsi priest's life, these are one of the toughest days. They have to start very early and get into the prayer ceremonies. As soon as they finish one person's prayers, they move onto to the other departed. This goes on almost non-stop till about 10 or 11 when they break. Then, in the evening, the other set of rituals and prayers start and go on for about 2-3 hours. It's a tough life for them, as well as the helper boys who go about with their tasks of helping the priests and Agiary authorities jostling the continuously pouring crowds throughout the day and performing chores. In reality the day starts very early for all Agiaries though. Action starts from as early as 3 am in the morning when the Agiary and/or prayer hall has to be cleaned, flowers need to be shopped and picked up from the flower market and brought to the Agiary and kept in the vases and the place need to be in tip-top shape, ready for prayers, all by the time it's 6 in the morning.

The best flower arrangement I have ever seen in any Agiary is the one at Delhi Parsi Anjuman Agiary, Delhi. The caretaker family of this Agiary led by a dynamic- but (now) very old lady- Mrs Dhun Bugli, her son (the priest) and his wife, take great care of this Agiary. We are not allowed to bring our own flowers; a rule that I have seen only in this Agiary. But not without good reason. Mrs Bugli is a champion at flower arrangements and all vases have uniform flower arrangement, on any given day, with the same colour combination. Every day, she changes the flower arrangements. It's absolutely beautiful. Neither the flowers nor the colours are loud, but they make a magnificent impact. This is what I call a Kodak moment.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Things I Want To Do

All my free time is consumed by the ever-increasing office work load. But I guess in these days, so long as you have work, small or big, is a boon. But my point is, I am not getting enough time to blog, except on weekends. But I am trying to get a few things done. First and foremost, I want to digitalise all my photo albums. I must be having dozens of photo albums (in physical form) but I've been wanting to digitalise them forever. I finally started the process today. But Rs 10/- per picture is a bit too much. In just 2 albums that I gave today and a few loose pictures to add, I would be burning a decent-sized hole in my pocket. But what the heck! These are life-long memories. And pictures...clicking, storing, you name it, I love. I really don't know if Rs 10/- is good enough, but if you come to know of a cheaper rate, please enlighten me. I have a scanner in my office, but obviously I do not have time to do all that myself. Outsourcing is the way to go for me, atleast in this case.

Secondly, I am trying to get back to my Yoga. God knows how much I have ignored this aspect of my life in the last three months or so. I have been most irregular in the past year. Fund managers are open to talk to me only in the evenings, so if I need to catch their perspective, I have to wait all the way till evening time. But I feel Yoga is one of the best ways to detoxify. These days, I am trying to include Saturdays too to my Yoga schedule. I have had a terrible pain in the neck for the past fortnight and I am trying out some new asanas to eradicate the pain. And it's working brilliantly. I do my yoga at Kaivalyadhama yoga institute at Marine Drive, next to Tarapore Aquarium. I haven't tried any other institute, but I am extremely satisfied by Kaivalyadhama.

The setting is perfect, it's dang opposite the sea front, so it is very breezy. The place is absolutely serene and carries a lot of positive energy. And they've done up the place (the last phase of renovation is remaining), so that place looks better than before. Gone are the surly walls and peeling paint; the modern day Kaivalyadhama is all set for its umpteenth innings. Not that the earlier phase was bad at all. They have separate wings for ladies and gents and separate sets of teachers for both sexes. Lady teachers for ladies and gents teachers for men. I am no agent of Kaivalyadhama, but if you want to practice or learn Yoga, this is as good a place as you can get. And I am sick of skeptics. I am not sure what irritates me more: when people tell me that I will become thinner if I go to Yoga or when they as me the net asset value (NAV) of a mutual fund scheme to ascertain whether it's suitably "high" or "low" a value that they can invest in. Ignorance, I tell you, is available at every nook and corner. It's absolutely free, in lots of abundance and one commodity that will always be the cheapest even if inflation soars to a 100%.

New Rules of the Mutual Funds Game

These are interesting time in the Indian mutual funds (MF) industry. The market regulator, the securities and exchange board of India (Sebi) has been acting in a most proactive manner, quite unlike anything we've observed in the past. I've seen the regulator acting in the past too, but the way it has responded, post October-2008 crisis that delivered a giant blow to the MF industry, is a bit, you may say, admirable. As you must be knowing, after 1 August, entry loads are abolished. These were upfront charges- usually 2.25%- that were levied on you at the time of investing. So if you had invested Rs 100 in a MF, Rs 2.25 (2.25% of Rs 100) was deducted as entry load and the remaining Rs 97.75 was invested in the market. The entry load was eventually passed onto the the distributor as his commission.

Now Sebi has said that you- the investor- will have to sit with your agent and jointly decide the amount you'd like to pay him. You will need to account the quality of your distributor's advice and the service he provides and figure out an amount you'd like to pay him.

While we wait for various distributors to think it through and devise new costing strategies, the first ques are coming from online distributors. ICICI Direct (www.icicidirect.com) has decided to charge Rs 100 per annum for a total investment amount of Rs 8 lakh. Kotak Securities has decided to offer MFs on its website for free. No charge. But in case if advisory services are wanted to get to know recommendations of which funds to buy, then Kotak securities will charge. It said that it will disclose such charges on its website in a month's time. Of course a free service is great, but even the charges imposed by ICICI Direct are most reasonable. For someone who wishes to buy and sell MFs on the net through one common window, these online brokerages offer a great service.

However, if you still wish to avail of your broker, you can continue to do so. Many brokers I know are offering to sell MFs free of charge. They aim to make money in trail fees. These are fees they earn on your investments till such time that you stay invested. It's also called loyalty bonus. But their total income that they used to earn from selling MFs will definitely take a hit, as most of them, in order to tackle competition, is charging NO LOAD. Customers too want free service.

I feel as customers, we must be considerate. Guy please understand, even if these agents do not give out much advice, even if they come to your house to pick up forms and deliver them to the registrar or the MF's offices, they are still doing some service. So what if it is just a courier service, but it is still a service. And for a service they need to be paid. Try going to the MF's offices yourself or even to your registrar's offices. You will need copies of PAN card, original PAN card and also Know-Your-Client (KYC) documents. It is a pain. It's easy, but a pain. If your agent is atleast doing all this for you, don't demand free service just because your agent's competitor is doing all this for you, for free.

True, for a courier service, he may not deserve 2.25% - the erstwhile norm for entry load that your all distributors used to get, irrespective for his service's quality. But he deserves something if he is giving you a service. A good regulation is one thing. But critics will always say that investors are not yet prepared. By demanding free services, we are giving fodder to critics and having eggs thrown at our faces. Let's own up some responsibility here too and start behaving in mature way.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009




Ok, I can't miss an opportunity to shoot a video of my flight either taking-off or landing. This is the first time I shot a video of landing and to my luck I landed on New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport's new runway; they say it's Asia's longest.

Delhi is hot and this time I had little time there. It was intended to be a quickie. But no matter the paucity of time or whatever it is, I think I seem to be a regular at Khan Market now, can't recollect the last time I was in Delhi and didn't land up there for dinner or lunch. I just can't enough of this place. Great shopping centre, but hardly anything that suits my budget, but what I am most interested here are its restaurants. I have already tried the Kitchen, Blanco (my favourite) and the Big Chill (absolutely must, if you like desserts) and Sidewok. This time too, Himalee and I went to Sidewok.

You should see how she drops requests to the Maitre D'; watching her do her stuff is funny now. "Excuse me, could you please change this music, it's very sad?", "Excuse me, exactly how much time would it take for you to serve us Dim Sums, and oh could you please ensure the Dim Sums arrive at our tables before the Curry rice?" "I hope my Coke is cold, how cold is it really though, do you think I'll need ice?" With such graciousness her Highness opens her mouth, I almost feel the gentleman at the next table would pop up and bend low and kiss her hands like as in chivalry.

Anyways, I didn't get much to do my touristy thing but office party was held the next evening at a nice and cool spot called QBA at Cannaught Place. This is a pub-cum-lounge bar in the heart of Delhi and a comfy place to hang out. By the time dinner was served, I was full with all the snacks served to us and i had an early morning flight out of Delhi to catch the next day, so I excused myself and retired at my guest house.

Weekend was reserved for one of my favourite weekend gateaways, Pune. Awesome weather and extremely windy with drizzles every now and then makes Pune a fantastic place to be during monsoons. I just can't get enough of this city. Shopping for Osho chappals and a visit to my favourite Kayani Bakery, spending some time inside Dorabjee's store even if I have precious little to nothing to buy and visit to all the three Agiaries (Parsi Fire-Temples) are a must-must on my list of things to do in Pune. Osho chappals are a steal; very comfortable, aesthetic looks and would you believe it, for just Rs 50/- a piece? This is one place where I wouldn't mind leading my retired life!!!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

See Your Money Work

A column that I recently wrote in the magazine where I work

Distributors will now, rightly, be paid for the service they give

FROM 1 August, when you go to buy a mutual fund (MF), you will not have to pay upfront commission, or entry loads, as they are called, typically, around 2.25 per cent. These loads are commissions that are presently coming from the amount that you invest with your fund and get passed to your agent. But market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has mandated that your agent and you will now have to mutually decide upon an amount that you would like to pay him and he will also have to disclose his commission.

A sweeping impact...Understandably, agents are finding this tough to swallow. A senior manager of one of India’s largest distributors said that if customers don’t ask what the retailer’s commission is when buying a washing machine, for instance, then why has Sebi asked distributors to disclose commissions to investors.

He may be right, but comparing a financial product with a consumer durable is a stretch. It is true that as customers we do not, and are not qualified to, ask white goods salesmen pertinent questions about the products and swallow whatever sales pitch they throw. This, however, doesn’t mean that we have to be similarly unquestioning about our financial products as well.

Moreover, there is no doubt that commissions play a big role in any kind of sale. I hear that one of India’s largest private sector banks does not pay any commission to its investment advisors who sell debt funds to customers. It’s quite evident that even when the interest rate scene is bullish, this bank’s investors would hardly be getting the right advice.

MF distributors also claim that their income will drop significantly. That is true. Small-time agents will find the going tough, but only initially. In the new scenario, your agent will have to justify the fees he charges. By writing out two separate cheques, one for investment and one for the agent, investors will be aware of what they are paying for and, more importantly, how much. Discount brokers—those who merely give out forms with insignificant advice, will, and should, be wiped out.

With entry loads curbed, agent commissions could have been shifted to and clubbed with exit loads. But, as a pre-emptive tactic, Sebi has put a cap of 1 per cent on exit loads. This will prevent distributors from arm-twisting MFs into raising exit loads to compensate for the entry load losses, if any.

Value additions. What most agents and distributors fail to realise is that it is not as easy for an investor to make do without agents as it sounds. Picking and choosing the right fund from out of over a thousand available, filling multiple forms all by yourself, going to a Registrar & Transfer agent’s office before the cut-off time with as many forms and copies of PAN card and all the paraphernalia documents, isn’t easy at all. Even if one knows which fund to invest in, the paperwork and physically delivering the forms and supporting documents is itself a task. This last process may not be worth 2.25 per cent, but it sure is worth some charge.

What a discussion between investors and agents over commissions will do is that price discovery for various types of services, rather than a fl at fee for all, will now begin.

Interestingly, India is not the only country where agent commissions are being made transparent. The same week that Sebi passed the order, big changes were also seen in the UK and Australian financial markets where upfront commissions are being banned and agents will be required to clearly communicate their commissions. Finally, fees is replacing commissions.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Week That Was...

After a long and tiring week, a small wrap of things that went by. Some movies apart from the dud Harry Potter I managed to catch. 'New York' (John Abraham, Niel Nitin Mukesh, Katrina Kaif and Irfan Khan) and 'The Hangover'. NY was good, better than I had expected. This is a story of three friends studying in NY and how their lives get into one big mess post 9-11 massacre. It is a story of how racial bias can play havoc with you if you are caught on the wrong side of the law. The story picks up pace after the movie's only song and what seemed to be as long as the movie itself! Nice watch, though it could have been better.

If only our film-makers go the extra mile to make a good film, a great one. Whenever we show movies that place a lot of importance on locations or caste/creed/race, a little of research is required. Authenticity in this regard can elevate the movie by leaps and bounds. 'A Wednesday' could have come across as a much-better researched movie had the director not made the police van take a U-Turn at Chowpatty to go towards Nariman Point and made us believe, at the same time, that the van was proceeding towards Juhu. Remember the Nandita das starrar, 'Ek Din 24 Ghante' (copy of 'Run Lola Run') where Nandita runs from one end of Mumbai to another? Though it was a flop, this is an example I can never forget. I only hope that film-makers could get the road names right, and not pass off Peddar Road, for instance, as Linking Road.

Thankfully, NY didn't have such a problem (to the best of my knowledge, atleast), but it got the the thing wrong. The accents of its actors. Though John Abraham's character has been shown to be out and out Americanish in lifestyle and mannerisms, his accent was of quite the Indian college yuppie. Where was the American accent? Katrina fitted the role to a 'T', but that's largely because her real-life accent, I think, is quite American/British. The little kid too has an American accent, so to this extent it wasn't bad. But even Irfan Khan,a NY native and a police officer (presumably then, that's he's been living in NY for many,many years) has a totally Indian accent, in other words, his original. This is why I feel makers like Mira Nair are a cut above the rest. Take Irfan Khan's example again. He had a perfect Bengali accent in 'The Namesake'. So did Tabu. But I found Khan's accent more original and flawless than Tabus' though the latter is one of the finest actors of this generation. Who could tell, after watching that movie, that Irfan Khan is not a Bengali. This is what I call, paying attention to the finer details. The quest for perfection....

But I would still New York. Watch it once.

The other movie I quite liked was 'The Hangover'. Awesome movie, well-made, good performances and a great comedy. Four friends go to Las Vegas for one of the chap's bachelor party. The fun goes majorly awry when after the 'night', the groom disappears and the remaining three friends are left with a baby and a complete memory loss of what happened the night before. If you want a proof of why Hollywood movies are way ahead of desi ones in terms of originality of ideas, here's one more.... I don't think I'll ever figure out why our desi film-makers can't get their heads out of making love stories or partition stories and think of something original like this.


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Two natural events were a no-show this week. I did not catch the Solar eclipse at the Nehru Planetarium, but I think I'm glad I didn't go. It was way too cloudy that morning and I thought we won't get a clear view. I don't know whether Mumbaikars got to see it, but newspapers reported that day that Mumbai views weren't all that great at all.

The high tide spectacle was also a whimper. I went to the Gateway of India (Apollo Bunder) on 24 July (Friday) and today, 25 July (Saturday) at around 2 pm. Yesterday though, the authorities had put up barricades so that we could not get to the parapets. The show was a flop as even though the sea had swelled up a lot, the tides were nothing great. I have seen tides much higher than the ones I saw yesterday and today. But it was good to be at the sea shore and to see the sea all swelled up and angry, tossing and turning. Monsoon by the sea side in Mumbai is always a pleasant sight.

Canadian Rockies: Day 11-13 (Vancouver highlights)

On day #11, I took the ferry and came to Vancouver. Much of Vancouver is filled with Asians. The whole 36 km distance between Tsawwassen Fe...