Sunday, February 14, 2010

Symphony at Kala Ghoda festival

Never attended the Kala Ghoda festival before, so today was my first time. I attended a recital of the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI) at Horniman Circle, on the foot of the Asiatic Library. The stage was on the Ballard Pier - Regal Cinema road and we were supposed to sit on the steps of the Asiatic Library. Traffic was diverted, obviously. The performance was supposed to start at 6.30 pm but started about 10 odd minutes later.

It started on a high note with the orchestric rendition of our national anthem. I say, the Indian national anthem is probably one of the best in the world. The tune is marvelous and it's a completely different experience when you hear it in western classical music. I noticed quite a few Indians in the orchestra which was a delight because we'd certainly like see a lot more Zubin Mehtas out there. It was supposed an hour's extravaganza but it got over in just under half an hour. They played the Palladio; a popular item on the western classical charts and also part of the De-beers commercials. Vande Mataram and Saare Jahaan se Acha were the other Indian recitations played by the orchestra. Before Vande Mataram started, the conductor said it would need no introduction and then the group started. It took me some while to recognise it. I guess the beauty of it all is not to just do new things; it's also how well you could reinvent something that's so old and already a classic and make it look like something so new that you've just invented. 


But one of the highlights of the performance was this typewriter sequence. In an attempt to thank Mumbai, its people and the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival for letting it perform at the festival, the orchestra delivered a masterful performance with a guy sitting right under the nose of the conductor, writing out a thank-you note on  a typewriter; the typewriter sounds (the keys, hitting the space bar, the sound of the carriage moving forward, the bell at the line of a line, carriage return, and all of that) blending in with the orchestra. At the end, the piece was over and so was letter "complete, with no spelling mistakes, ready to be handed over to the organizers", said the conductor. Very unique, you have to see this to believe it. 

Overall, 30 minutes for an orchestra evening is not enough, especially if they do an encore, twice. But it was a good glimpse of what SOI is made of. An evening well-spent. 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Do You Have A Dark Spot?

Quick question: If you are going for a job interview, what is more important? Flawless complexion or talent? When I was a kid, my TV told me it is the latter. Hence, the many commercials of Complan (I'm a Complan boy / I am a Complan girl), Boost (the secret of Kapil Dev's energy), Bournvita and even Dabur's Chavanrash. I watch TV these days and I get the impression that it is the perhaps not talent, but our looks that really matter the most. Nutrition commercials can still be seen, but they get dwarfed and lost amidst countless of those that are hell bent in removing every little dark spot, dullness, grey hair, white hair, split ends or whatever little thing you have on you, to ensure you are set for a good life ahead. This is today's irony.

The reality of Indian television is not just the garish TV serials. It's also the beauty / fairness / hair commercials. 10 signs of ageing, 100 signs of hair loss, 1,000 ways to beautify yourself, fairness creams, for not just women, but also men, woman lunging for creams to get ahead in the rat race, dark spots, dullness, split ends, dark circles, and that age-old classic girl-mocked-at-in-an-interview-because-she-is-dark selling line. Housewives lounging on their sofas in their living rooms telling tales to us- with as much interest as doting mothers do when they tell fairy tales to their children- about how they did not know that they were growing old and how one wrinkle here and one dark spot there actually means they are ageing. And how they suddenly felt so blessed and uplifted now that they knew! Orgasm gets a whole new meaning. I never knew what a dark spot meant till I saw these advertisements. I think I can learn more about my skin and hair on TV than any dermatologist expert can tell me.

As if the housewife tales are not enough, we are led into a swanky laboratory whose doors automatically open, robotic types people- seemingly those who do not have even one single dark spot on their pretty faces, like almost genetically manufactured- show us their diligent and painstaking process to make products that they make it sound are so good that all those who are shunned by the society because of colour, will now soon be openly accepted. They remind me of my chemistry laboratory of my school. "Keep the bell jar tightly shut or quit the lab", said Mrs Raghavan, my chemistry teacher, sternly.

I remember years back when I was a kid, my maid servant used to apply 'Fair&Lovely' almost everyday. And she was not even dark skinned, I thought she was fair.

All said and done, I must admit one thing though. I had a lot of dandruff in my hair. I tried many shampoos but it just did not go away. Then, I tried Garnier Fructis. And would you believe, my dandruff is gone. I have zero dandruff now. Ah, well. Such is it. What can I say!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Going To Poona

Last week I went to Poona; one of my favourite weekend gateways. I have been going to Poona since about 1996 and the journey is as much fun as the destination itself. I'd rather take the train; the expressway may be quicker, depending on where you start in Mumbai and where you go to Poona, and a quantum leap in the state's infrastructure but for me it has completely ruined the adventure.

We normally prefer leaving for Poona early in the morning. Over the years, our schedule has pretty much been the same. No, it has become a little easier. Instead of the very early Indrayani Express that leaves Mumbai CST station at 5.45 am, we now take the Intercity at 6.45 am. I get an hour of extra sleep. I am not much of a morning person. Even getting up at 5 am makes me feel as if I have done something great and deserve an award; it is that much of an achievement. Mother India wakes up at 4 am.

Earlier, i used to go down, fetch the cab, bring it up the hill to my home, load the bags and then leave for the station. Now I call Meru or Mega cabs. These radiocabs are one of the best things to have happened to Mumbai's infrastructure, that seems to have otherwise crumbled already in most other areas. Though if you actually go to other cities, like Poona, you'll slowly appreciate what we have here.

Our Meru cab arrives right on time. We get an SMS 15 minutes earlier informing us of our driver's name, number and the car number. Then, the driver calls asking for precise directions. Over time, these drivers have now become accustomed to Mumbai's bylanes, alleys and gullies. Earlier I had to break my head explaining to them precise directions. Go straight-look for a petrol pump-shop on the right-lane next to it-leave that and take the next-get in-come in straight. Now, some prompts here and there and they get the way. The cab arrives, bags are settled in and we are on our way, speeding past Marine Drive, taking in the cool and misty morning breeze, admiring the early morning walkers and joggers and wondering how the hell these spirited people can be up and about that early.

One specialty of Mumbai Poona trains is that more often than not, they leave on time and reach their destination on time. Especially the trains that leave in the morning, from both Mumbai as well as Poona. By the time the sun gets busy finding its place up above, we are on the outskirts of Mumbai, passing by concrete jungles, actual jungles that you hope would remain that way and not turn into concrete jungles and a sea of people answering nature's calls right next to the tracks, all along the way. The train enters Karjat station; the last station of the Mumbai suburban section on the Mumbai - Poona route.

There are few things I must do on the way to Poona. One of them is to definitely get down at Karjat station and take in the aromas of the vada-pav. If you have traveled to Poona by train and have yet not heard of the Karjat vada-pav, you're not a traveler. Freshly made vada-pavs are bought and savoured. You get around five minutes to stretch here as the two engines get attached to your train behind, to help push the train up the Khandala Ghat that begins soon after Karjat station. I could spend hours and hours on the balcony of my Fariyas hotel room that overlooks the Mumbai - Poona railway whenever I go to Lonavala. I specifically ask for a room that faces the railway lines. The train slowly emerges from the tunnels, huffing and puffing, pushed by the two engines at the rear, the sound of which echoes in the entire area. You're lying in the bed in complete pin drop silence that envelops Lonavala in the night but you can clearly hear the sounds of these two engines, every half hour. They leave the trains and then return back to Karjat to bring another one. You may call this sound or noise, I call it bliss.

Anyways, back to Karjat. The train honks, ready to leave, by which time we'd have finished our vada-pavs and we are back in our seats. If you want to travel the Khandala ghats, I suggest you take the train. Especially if you're going up there in monsoon. Cascades of waterfalls can be seen all throughout the ghat section as you pass through a number of tunnels, the largest one just before you enter Khandala, then pass the beautiful Khandala station that looks more like a garden than a typical Indian railway station, past the Marzban Parsi sanataurium, then through the last tunnel and you enter Lonavala. Poona is only an hour's ride from here and before you know it, you're there. To the city that first greets you with its line of automobile factories just as you are entering it, then Shivajinagar station where almost 90% of the train gets off (Intercity doesn't halt here though, but I remember my Indrayani and Deccan Queen days) then the horrible stench emanating from Mula river- or is it Mutha river- then the familiar sight of Poona station. I can't wait till I meet Ritz hotel, Vaswani Chambers, Dorabjee's, SG Mall, East Street, MG Road, Marz-o-rin, Camp, Pundole watches, Golibar Maidan, Serene Estate, Kubera Park, Kondhwa and NIBM Road.

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...