Thursday, May 21, 2009

Vodafone ZooZoo

As with pretty much everyone else, Vodafone's Zoozoo commercials have captured my imagination. Although I love most of them, following two are my favourites. The videos have been embedded from YouTube.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Changing Face of Parel

Parel, both Upper Parel and Lower Parel, together with the neighbouring Elphinston, Lalbaug, Mahalaxmi was once upon a time an area full of Mills. Scores of cotton and textile mills used to be in these areas, as well as numerous chawls that housed their workers. Those industries and their mills are now a thing of the past. The real-estate landscape in these areas- in Central Mumbai to be precise- has changed. No longer are these areas considered to be down-market. They have been transformed into one of the costliest areas outside South Mumbai. 

No longer will you be able to see acres and acres of land that housed Mills. One of the last Mills' bastion, Dawn Mills, has also gone under the bulldozer and is paving way for a commercial complex, i think. Or is it residential complex? Or a bit of both? I do not know for sure, but much land in and around this area now houses pricey residences and plush offices. These pictures that I clicked were also taken from one of such plush, new-age glass office buildings called India Bulls Centre. 

But instead of mindless development, I would like to see some of the following things. 

If not all, then perhaps save a few of these Mills. These are heritage structures and a reminder of the old Bombay. These Mills were once upon a time one of Bombay's most thriving industries. The city may have moved ahead, but we should never forget the foundation on which this great city was built. The sight of large chimneys inside the Mill compounds built with stones, instead of bricks, are somewhat of a heritage structure.  I would like to see few of these remaining mills (I am not particularly sure if there are any, to begin with, but just in case...) convert into textile museums and sight-seeing tours be organised, for both Indians and foreigners, to showcase Bombay's rich heritage and ancient culture. Beautifully landscaped gardens must be built in the compound areas to welcome visitors. 

Then, I would like to see a top-class hospital, but not a pricey, 5-star one like Lilavati, though Lilavati is a great hospital and one of Mumbai's finest but that's not my point. I would like to see a hospital that caters to the lower and middle income class. I would not mind at all if there is a separate facility or complex for the upper class population, but essentially a hospital for the poor, something like the King Edward Memorial (KEM) hospital, would be a great addition to the city's landscape. Medical facilities are always welcome in Mumbai- a place that is bursting at its seams, with an ever-increasing population.

I would also like a world-class education institution in this area. What better place in central Mumbai- that is so accessible to the rest of the city- than Parel to have Mumbai's very own Indian Institute of Management (IIM). Mumbai already has its own Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), and one of the many things I would like to see is Mumbai being a rare place to have an IIM as well as IIT here. But if we cannot have an IIM here, then we may as well have another class educational institution in these areas. 

I would like to see a huge garden or a park here, somewhere on the lines of New York's Central Park. Though we don't have a large area here at our disposal like Central Parks', a green patch in Mumbai is much required. We could even call it Central Park, since Parel is often referred to as Central Mumbai.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Centre Court Celebration

I am just coming to terms after watching the spectacle on Star Sports, live from Wimbledon. The official Championship is still a month away, but earlier today the Centre Court was thrown open to public for the first time under the newly built retractable roof. For a tournament that has been increasingly plagued by endless rain delays and much discomfort and inconvenience caused to players, fans and officials, alike, a retractable roof (an overhead roof over an outdoor tennis tournament that closes if it starts to rain) was much wanted for years. Our prayers were finally answered when a few years back the nod was given to what many believe is the world's most traditional sporting tournament and thereby the reluctance to change the way the game has been played here since generations. 

And what a swanky roof it was complete with all the glitzy lighting. For a tournament that has long refused to come out of its time-warped history, for a tournament that is so historical and considered to be so traditional, nothing can more more modern with such a futuristic roof over its head, literally. Four great tennis champions, Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi, Tim Henman and Kim Clijsters, were invited to play the inaugural matches under the closed roof and to test the Court under the new playing conditions; Agassi and Graf to team for a mixed doubles against Henman and Clijsters. I was thrilled to watch all the players being so warmly welcomed onto the Centre Court, but my heart skipped a bit when I saw Steffi step up. It's been 10 years since she played her last Wimbledon- in 1999; she was the losing finalist to eventual champion Lindsay Davenport, but she still looks as radiant, beautiful, glowing and young. And as the day would progress, I'd say she hasn't lost much of her agility, grace and power and court, and man, her forehand is still lethal!!! 

Anyways, performances followed by opera singers Katherine Jenkins and Faryl Smith and the boy band Blake. As Jenkins' performance got underway, the roof started to close. It was a spectacle much awaited. Soon, it was showtime. 

First off, the mixed doubles match between Agassi-Graf v/s Henman-Clijsters. It seems that a few months back after these players were invited to play a series of exhibition matches on the Centre Court to try out the court under the retractable roof, Clijsters- like the other three- started practising hard and started to train, etc. That is what changed her life and she got back her lost-love for tennis. That is when it is said she decided to make a comeback on the tour. I couldn't be more happy for her. Here is a champion who has all the lethal weapons in her armory to beat the best in the world. And with woman's tennis in such a fractured leadership at the top of the game, Clijsters' entry is most welcome. 

I rarely watch exhibition matches. Somehow they bore me, what with all the lacking of a typical competitive match. Exhibition matches are typically pots of money offered by sponsors to participating players and players have a lot of fun, giggling, smiling, laughing, talking and making merry whilst playing these so-called matches. I do not know about the money part, but pretty much the rest of it was there. But make no mistake. All three matches were as competitive as they could have got. The mixed doubles was the first off, and it was quite entertaining. Graf and Agassi complimenting each other with a kiss after many a successful point, Henman showing many glimpses of his beautiful serve and volley tennis and Clijsters doing the running around the court displaying her on-court fitness. The match couldn't have got any tighter as they reach the tie-break. Henman-Clijsters scrap through a tight victory.

After a brief break, the two men are back on court. But all the smiles and giggles and fun that characterised the mixed-doubles match disappeared fast; the men's singles was most competitive and for a moment I forgot that this was just an exhibition match. Though Henman was back with his serve-and-volley game and made Agassi run all over the court, the latter was the better of the two players and showed why he was the No 1 player and winner of eight single grand-slam titles during his career. Agassi won 6-4. 

The last of the three-match series was played between Steffi Graf and Kim Clijsters. Now if you remember, it was on this court 10 years ago when Graf played her last Grand Slam title and Clijsters played her first match on this Centre Court and they faced one another in the fourth round. Graf won that encounter, rather easily. Ten years later, fate brought them back together under different circumstances. And if the first two games were any indication, this was set to be a close match. After Graf raced to a 2-0 lead, Clijsters fought back and leveled things at 3-all. Eventually after a tightly fought contest- and thankfully didn't play out frivolously at all like typical exhibition matches- Clijsters won 6-4. Graf's forehand is still there. I am a HUGE fan of Steffi's and I was extremely delighted to see her play at this level even after so many years. And oh yes, she looks as young and beautiful as ever. Did I say that already? 

So how was the roof then? It was nice and much needed. Rain delays, atleast on the Centre Court, will now be a thing of the past. Though I would miss the sights of ball boys and girls systematically dragging the edges of the court cover from opposite sides of the Court, rushing towards the centre of the court to cover it as soon as it starts to rain, the cover then inflated to make it look like a tent, half-empty stands with its few occupants cozily nestled under umbrellas, bands playing music to keep the spectators entertained during numerous rain delays. Though in recent years, I have to admit these rain delays used to wash out days and days of plays. This was very agonizing. And though Star Sports showed re-runs of Classics, after a point in time, it gets to be boring. And as Roger Federer said in his televised message that though rain delays were part of the tradition, people would love to see some tennis after a few days; excruciating delays would now be a thing of the past. The roof looks great, it takes about two and half minutes for the roof to close and another 10 odd minutes for the gigantic air-conditioning systems to be up and about. And perhaps a few other handful of minutes for players to warm up before the interrupted match resumes. Infact during the singles exhibition matches today it was said to be pouring outside, but the action and excitement inside the arena went uninterrupted, so that's the whole point. Besides, it gives Wimbledon a never-seen-before indoor tennis tournament look. Notice the loud ball sounds that gets echoed within the closed arena. 

And this last point: Will Clijsters be able to climb back to the top of professional tennis? Much as I want to root for her, I would take a step back here and wait and watch. She has the shots, she has the fire, she has her forehand. But she is still rusty. For a player to be coming back to professional tennis after a gap of around two years, she will need many more matches under her belt to really hone her skills. I think she needs to work more on her mental fitness and try and bring her errors down. She moves beautifully on the court, so her speed and physical fitness is almost there. Even after today's play, she is a top-10 player. With match practice, an ascent should not be difficult. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sights and Sounds of Panchgani

For pure holiday-makers, Panchgani is a paradise. The weather was beautiful, though afternoons used to be very hot, not the best of times for you to venture out. But early mornings, evenings and nights used to be very pleasant. It even poured for two evenings there that made the conditions there very windy. 

Every time we are there, we prefer to eat out once. So if it has been Hotel Ravine for many years and Mount View Hotel last year, this year we decided to go to Il-Pallazzo hotel, one of Panchgani's oldest and arguably amongst the best and finest hotels. The hotel is set amidst a beautifully-maintained garden amidst tall trees. Ably run, owned 
and managed by Kobad Davierwalla and family, right down from his ancestors, the hotel  also offers great food. It was Mamu's birthday, so he treated us all to a sumptuous and delicious dinner there. And what a dinner it was! Celery soup with toast and preservatives, chicken farcha, some baked vegetarian dish, prawn moily with rice, parathas, egg-on-tomato and chocolate mousse for dessert; for Rs 350/- per person, that was quite much! Great food, very tasty and served with lots of hospitality. We had a lovely time at Il-Pallazzo. 

To round up matters, we paid darshan to the Ganapati temple in Wai, a small temple town in the foothills of Panchgani. This is one of our must-dos in our trips to Panchgani. And Wai during sunset looks like a picture postcard of a village town we got to read about in our textbooks when we were in school.  

Going to Panchgani

There are several ways to go to Panchgani; my favourite has always been a train ride to Poona, past the beautiful Khandala ghats, and then take a cab (preferably no sharing and all to myself) all the way to Panchgani. 

The very thought excites me; get up really early to catch the 5.45 am Indrayani Express from Bombay VT, breeze past the central suburbs in high speed, arrive Karjat station whilst the morning is still crisp, take in the scent of freshly fried wadas though I never used to eat them despite being such a big hit with passengers that the Central Railway used to make all the vendors stand in a decent line doting all across the large Platform No 1 - enough number of them to cater to all the compartments of the train - get off at Karjat station momentarily, to watch the two engines get attached to the train at the end, that would push the train up the ghats, then enjoy the beautiful ghats of Khandala and the multiple waterfalls that you get to see from your window and as you enter Khandala, go past it and the Marzban Parsi sanatorium and enter Lonavala station. Then, as soon as the Indrayani Express reaches Poona, scramble to get out with all my luggage and rush for the Panchgani taxi stand; it was Rs 300 or so for a single seat and around Rs 1,100 for the entire taxi, in those days. I do not know how much it costs now. 

This time, I took TPH-Neeta Volvo bus from Plaza Cinema, Dadar at 6.30 am. I was in for a pleasant surprise. Instead of the Volvo bus that is also a great way to travel in, I got a minty-fresh Mercedes-Benz bus. The bus was fantastic and since it was a new bus, the interiors were very swanky and damm neat! No jerks and it was the best bus journey I have ever had. And since we bypassed Poona, we reached Panchgani at around 13.00 hrs. The bus staff told me that the company has recently procured five such buses and will soon procure a few more. I think that is great news for passengers. The service was great and the ride was the smoothest you can ever get. At Rs 500 (peak season rates), it could come across as a bit steep, but what the heck! 
If you're travelling, better to travel in comfort. TPH-Neeta has come a long way; good for them and good for their clients. 

Meher Mahino, Ava Mahino and Adar Mahino: The holy trinity of Zoroastrian calender

Zoroastrians- or better knows as Parsis and Iranis of India- have a separate calendar. We look at the English calendar of course, but we al...