A unique love affair..


That gujjus have a sweet tooth is a well known fact. But then that fondness for all things sweet transcends boundaries on Dusshera. The chief source of weakness – the humble jalebi! Aah..light golden yellow, crispy,twisting its way around delightfully in concentric circles. Ably supported by its perfect partner in crime – besan na lamba papdi ghatiya and the sweet spicy papaya chutney with hari mirch… what a way to start the day!


“What!!!!”  My non-Gujju friends exclaim in unison. Jalebi and ghatiya as breakfast!! No wonder we always have gas problems, they joke. But I just smile. They cannot appreciate the magical fusion that happens when a delectable jalebi and a fried ghatiya is popped in the mouth. And washed down with adrak and elaichi ki chai. Its akin to reaching gastronomical heaven.

And on Dusshera, this love assumes epic proportions. Every gujju bows down before the jalebi on Dusshera. I don’t know how this tradition started. But my grandfather had it on Dusshera, my father had it as well. I remember my love for Jalebis blossomed during Diwali vacations at my nani’s house in Calcutta when she used to order Jalebi and ghatiya every Sunday. It’s a legacy, you see. Cherished and preserved from generation to generation. Dusshera should be christened as World Jalebi Ghatiya day, we should make a petition to those greeting card companies! Brand Ambassador – who else but Jalebi B(h)ai!

There are three main temples in Ghatkopar, a bastion of Gujjus in Mumbai, where they make a beeline for to buy their Jalebis. Haribhai kandoi, Morbiwala and Tip Top. Preparations at all these shops begin at least a week in advance. Massive amounts of oil, besan, sugar etc are ordered and stocked. A day before, huge pandals are put up to cope with the throbbing crowd. A makeshift kitchen is created to deal with the demand. Temporary staff are hired. The air is abuzz with excitement. The atmosphere at these halwai shops is electrifying. In Gujarat you can multiply the shops, excitement and buzz by a million times.

The Dusshera day dawns. I wake up at 7.45 am and curse myself, fearing a huge queue. These shops open sharp at 6 am. By 6.05 am, 5 people must already have reached there standing and waiting. I get ready quickly and by 8.30 am I reach Morbiwala. The scenes there are just as I expected. There are atleast 70 people in queue. Which keeps getting longer by the minute. But no one seems to mind the wait. The good things in life always need patience and are worth waiting for. A few uncles have come prepared for the long wait, carrying newspapers and books to while away the time. Most have come in groups. A couple of uncles and aunts behind me are in a jovial mood as they crack jokes and laugh merrily. I join in the fun.

Just then, one uncle comes out of Morbiwala, holding two bags and looks as pleased as punch. As he goes past us, the aroma of jalebis reaches my nose. I wonder how they would be. The shape, the texture, the crispness, the sweetness. And I tell myself that sometimes the pleasure undoubtedly lies in the wait, the anticipation. I look around. The onlookers faces reveal whether they are gujju or not. Gujjus just shrug and move on as if the long queue is nothing new. Non-gujjus stare curiously and wonder.  On being told this was a line for jalebis, they open their eyes wide in disbelief. They have to taste it to believe it, I tell myself.

The line behind me snakes its way around the corner now. At least 50 more people are behind me now, eager to get their hands on the jalebis. Foreigners would be forgiven for thinking that the iPhoneX was about to be launched. Finally at about 9.45 am, I enter the shade of the pandal. The makeshift payment counter contains neat stacks of ten, fifty and hundred rupee notes and one, two and five rupee coins. I collect the coupon and present it to the serving counter. Finally I can see the jalebis. It’s love at first sight. Golden yellow. Sprinkled with kesar and rose petals. I take my parcel with glee and reach home.

At 10.15 am, I have my first bite of jalebi and ghatiya. They taste exactly as I had imagined. I relish the moment for some seconds. It felt as if I had been transported back to the dining room at my Nani’s house in Heysham Road, Calcutta all those years ago. The wait had been well worth it. And then some more.

Attention Deficit Disorder

Oh, our poor little rich mind. Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Emails, Phone calls, Hashtags, Likes, trending..How much can it possibly handle?

I entered office, settled down on my desk, started my PC and opened my mail box. There was an important mail lying there, screaming for my attention. Urgent! Queries to be responded to. I started typing out my answer in earnest. Dear Sir…

…Oh Shit! Kya hogaya Infy ko aaj!” screamed my colleague sitting behind me. I looked at his screen. Infy was down 10%. “What the hell happened?”, I asked him. “Revenue guidance lowered for the next year”. “Kharidna chaiye kya?” “Pata nai, thoda research karna chaiye”. I opened moneycontrol.com and started scrolling through the ‘expert opinions’. Seemed that the reaction was exaggerated. The consensus was that you need to….

“Arre yaar! Phir se wohi rising short delivery aur out!” groaned my colleague on the right. “What! Match started kya?” “Haan, Raina out” I quickly opened a new tab cricinfo.com and checked out the Gujarat Lions batting lineup and the latest score. I sincerely hoped that they could pull this one off after a string of disappointments in this edition of the IPL. If only the batting lineup could fire…

A couple of interesting pictures on my colleagues computer on the left suddenly caught my eye. I was intrigued. “Kya dekh rahe ho aap?”, I asked him. “It’s a very fascinating article, trivia on India.” “Arre, send it to me as well, please?” A new tab was quickly opened that basically contained four little known facts about India. Iltutmish saying no to Genghis Khan, Hemu hit by an arrow and the third one was….

Beep! Beep! Whatsapp. I checked my phone. One of my friends had messaged asking if today was Seema’s birthday. Shit! How could I forget her birthday! A new tab was opened and I quickly logged onto Facebook to check if her birthday was indeed today. There were three notifications. Someone had made a smart alec comment on one of my status messages and I felt compelled to reply. I was thinking of a smart comeback and was about to post it….

“Shit! Gone Mccullum!” “Abbe! Infy 15% down!” I was momentarily confused whether I should open Cricinfo or moneycontrol. I opened Cricinfo. Caught at gully chasing a wide one outside off. Reactions were already pouring in on the site. It was timepass seeing those…

Whatsapp was buzzing again. Did you check about Seema’s birthday? Oh! I checked my Facebook homepage. It indeed was her birthday. She is going to kill me, I thought. I checked her status on Whatsapp on my phone to to see when was she last seen. Safe to wish her online first and then call her later, I thought. She wasn’t. I started scrolling through the list to check if anyone else had recently updated their status or profile picture. Vikas! My friend from school. It looked as if he was about to get married. It had been months since I had spoken to him. I pinged him and started chatting up with him for a while. Felt good catching up. Vikas then asked about Seema, who was a common friend…

Oh God! I forgot! I quickly dialled her number. No response. I dialled again. “What?” was the curt one word reply. She was furious. I apologized and wished her. She started talking about some problem she was facing. I started giving advice, my favourite pastime. I was telling her, “You need to focus. Pay Attention!”, sounding as if I was the most attentive, focussed guy that ever lived. “You should not let your mind waver….”

Just then, I saw a pretty girl walk across the door. I had never seen her before in office. Was she a new joinee? Hopefully, she had joined our department. I should go and introduce myself…

“Are you there? Hello!!”, Seema was screaming on the other line. “Haan, sorry, Boss was here”, I replied sheepishly. “ As I was saying, you need to focus, pay attention….”

Just then, my boss tapped me from behind.” Have you sent that mail yet?”….

Halfway between the fireflies and the stars..

A story about a few boys lost in a forest and their journey back, guided by fireflies and stars…

The October heat was stifling. Even at 10  in the night, the atmosphere was claustrophobic and clammy. The wind was completely listless, seemingly defeated by the sweltering temperatures. And just then, to make matters worse, the electricity decided to play truant. The building plunged into darkness and a collective moan could be heard. I could not bear the heat and climbed the flight of stairs to the relatively cooler confines of the terrace. The entire block was awashed in black. It looked like a major fault. I glanced up at the sky. Even though there was not a speck of cloud on the horizon, not a single star could be seen shining on the residents of the city. They were probably hidden behind a blanket of smog. I sighed. It was pitch black all around. Quite similar to that unforgettable night in Coorg all those years ago…

It was the summer of 2004. College vacations had just begun and 11 of us had decided to go to Coorg, which was to be the first of  what was to become our annual holiday ritual. After an eventful journey, we decided to knock off the list of the must-see items one by one. Abby falls, world famous in Coorg,  was the first on the list. It was at a distance of some 8-9 kms from where we were staying . We set off around 4 pm in 3 autos on a narrow road which carved through a forest lined with dense trees and coffee plantations on both sides. It was almost like a wallpaper. We stopped to lech at the scenery while one of the autos carried on. Initially, we had planned to just “see” the falls, take pics and come back since we had started quite late in the evening.

But when we reached the site, apart from other tourists who were standing on the bridge posing in front of the falls, our friends who reached there first were nowhere to be seen. “Yaahooo” we heard from somewhere up above! “Yeahhhhhhh” sounded another war cry. And we saw them. Four of them were climbing towards the falls. Testosterone and sense of adventure had prevailed over good sense. How could we stay behind? And so off we went as well! After an hour or so of reaching the top, bathing and frolicking under the falls like Liril soap models, we decided to come down. Not that we wanted to, but the fading light forced us to think rationally for a change. After lots of slips and slides and scratch marks, we finally reached the bridge. It was now pretty dark and we quickly walked out to the road. But there was just one auto standing! The other two autos had left since it had gotten quite dark and it was dangerous, we were told. Those were comforting words indeed. Three people decided to go in the one auto and said they would send autos if they could find any. The auto started and the lights from the auto, bobbing up and down, disappeared into the distance. It was now completely dark. Luckily we had a couple of torches but what could two torches do against an army of darkness! Our hearts sank. The thought of what lay ahead now hit us with full force.

9 kms. 8 guys. 2 torches. 1 narrow road amidst dense forests. Infinite darkness. Unknown dangers.

Most of us were terrified, I have to be honest. We had never experienced something like this before. We formed 2 groups of 4, each one with a torch and started walking, slowly. The night was absolutely still. We were walking in eerie silence. The thud – thud – thud of our heartbeats could be heard. Fear started manifesting itself in ways only fear can as it gradually took control of our senses. It numbed the ability to think rationally. Even the most harmless noises sounded scary. Every time the leaves rustled and the wind blew through the trees, we stood still and flashed our torches wildly. The road which just a few hours back seemed so serene now took on a sinister shape. The silhouettes of the tall trees seemed to hide something or someone, waiting and watching.

The first 20 odd minutes everyone walked in silence, alert to the slightest movement or sound. Gradually, the distance started whittling away. As no untoward incident happened, the confidence started returning. The mind freed itself a bit from the vice like grip of fear. We found our voices. A few lame jokes were cracked and we allowed ourselves to laugh a bit. It was at that moment we saw it. An illuminated tree. As if someone had hung 100 min light bulbs on it. As we inched closer, we realised it was full of fireflies. It was a breathtaking sight. We smiled and our fear seemed to melt away. We stood there for a few seconds marvelling at the sight, soaking it all in. Our pace now quickened and a few of us even started singing. The road inclined upwards and we looked up at the sky above for the first time. It was full of bright twinkling stars. Stretched out as far as the eye could see. Millions and millions of them. We city folk could never experience such simple delights. We looked behind. The tree of fireflies was still illuminated.  We saw the stars above which illuminated the sky. It was a glorious sight.


It felt as if we were almost halfway between the fireflies and the stars.

The next hour we were enjoying ourselves. We reckoned we could not be too far away now. Suddenly, we saw a light from a bend on the road.  Some 200 metres away. It seemed like a small shop.  That was it. We just ran. Usain Bolt would have been proud. We reached the shop and saw each other’s faces for the first time after close to 2 hours.  Relief was evident on each of our faces. We laughed, more out of relief than anything else. We knew we were never going to forget that night ever…

..I smiled and then I sighed. There were no fireflies to illuminate things around here. Only the the dim light of candles flickering and dancing through the windows..

The Usual..

On why the routine and the mundane is essential..

That Monday began like any other day. The commute, the pushing, the rushing, the haggling, the usual. The boy was tired about the usual, the normal, the routine. He was tired of responding “the usual” when someone would ask him what was happening.  And he was tired of having nothing new to say when anyone asked him what’s new! But he was powerless  to do anything about it which, truth be told, frustrated him even more.

He sighed and braced himself for another routine monday. But then he received a call just as he reached office. On hearing, his expressions changed completely, as if all color had been drained from his face. His dad had collapsed and could not move, his mom told him. Considering the disease which afflicted him, he panicked and rushed back. On the way, terrible thoughts plagued his mind and he was unable to shut them out. He reached home and saw his dad lying sprawled on the floor. He was in obvious pain but still managed a smile. They rushed him to the hospital where the doctor informed them that he would have to be operated after two days.

The next two days were long and painful. His head was a minefield of emotions. All sorts of thoughts toyed with his vulnerable state of mind. Thoughts on fate, faith, karma.  Why put his dad through so much agony for close to ten years when he has not done anything to deserve that. And then he thought about all the things he always wanted to do with dad and if he would ever be able to do it.  Watch Wimbledon. At Wimbledon. Travel to Ladakh. Gardening…. he gravitated from pain to anger to helplessness in an endless loop. He tried to distract himself with reading, friends, TV. In vain.

But curiously, his dad, who was the protagonist, smiled through those days. He was jovial with everyone who visited him and never once did complain about the pain or his fate.

The day of the operation was nerve wracking. Time moved at a snail’s pace. After close to three hours of surgery, his dad came out. His face still showed a feeble smile. After the initial relief, the boy was gripped by worries of ” what next”.  His dad could see that his son was worried. Even angry. That was when he decided to tell his son words which left an indelible imprint on the his mind.

“I am facing this situation which you or me can’t reverse. Either I can face it with a smile or be sad and despondent about it. The choice really is very simple. And if you can’t reverse the situation, there is no point in thinking about the why and how of it. We tend to cling on to the past more than necessary and not move on. We have to face it positively and do the best we can. Leave the rest to God! He has plans for everyone. It’s important that you stop thinking about it and return to a normal routine.  That routine, however mundane is the best way to get over this and watch things fall in place, slowly but surely. That will make me happy as well”

It seemed as if someone had waved a magic wand and a heavy load had been lifted from his shoulders.

The following Monday arrived.  It began just like any other day. There was the pushing and rushing to catch the train, there was the haggling with the autowallah.  There were the hundreds of mails to be replied to.  It was the usual. But he smiled. Because that monday, he was grateful for the usual. His dad was right! It was a much needed diversion. The usual never felt better. Nothing new never felt so good…

When Love and Hate collide..

Mumbai is Maximum City because of the migrants, the several hundreds who pour into this city from all parts of India. And Mumbai in turns offers them a chance to make a decent livelihood, provided you are willing to work hard and smart for it. And yet, several share a typical love-hate relationship with this city. An open letter from Mumbai to its citizens regarding this relationship..


Whomsoever it may concern

You tell me that I am pathetic and terrible. You tell me that I am a big gutter that is full of shit!. You tell me that I am maddening and a pain. That I cause you to tear your hair out in frustration. How would you feel to be abused relentlessly? But that, my friends is the sad reality I have to grapple with almost everyday as you complain 24/7 about major aspects about my personality – the infrastructure, the traffic, the sanitation problems, the high cost of living, the overcrowding…But at the same time, defying logic, you love me as well. You love the buzz, the vibrancy, the culture, the people, the money and the magic, the spirit..you and I, we share this unique love-hate relationship.

I am not oblivious to the problems you state. But I ask all of you, is it my fault that I am seen as a land of opportunity, the commercial capital of the nation, a land which promises the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Is it my fault that so many of you come to me and take solace in my loving embrace that I have always provided for so many years? Is it my fault that there is no really viable alternative destination which can lend a shoulder to me and provide similar opportunities? Is it my fault about the apathy shown by your elected representatives who have neglected me?

But you continue to blame me and abuse me and yet you continue to live here. It may be because some of you have lived with me and loved me too long and going and settling anywhere else is no longer an option. Some of you have learned to adjust with me like sitting on the fourth seat on my local trains. And some of you are forced to stay with me because you know that the opportunities I provide are not available elsewhere. But your abusing and adjusting at the same time, alternating bouts of hatred and love have continued to confound me.

And then I ask myself – how did I become what I have become today? This thriving and yet decaying paradox? And the answer dawns on me – humbly and simply. I am just a collective noun, a representation of a unique people. An assimilation and a melting pot of all of you and the values you embody.You are the ones who have made me famous and have given me this vibrant, dynamic, cosmopolitan nature. You are the ones who have turned me into the city which never sleeps. But it is equally true that you also are the ones who have the power to elect your representatives responsible for governing me efficiently and protecting me. You are also the ones who have created the garbage and the traffic jams, the pollution and the greed…Most of you have good intentions. But most of you are too busy in your daily lives to do anything about it. It’s not that you have not tried – the victory in the battle to preserve my open spaces and your intense and continuing pressure on the govt. over the state of my potholed roads fills me with hope. But much more is needed. You know that as well.

I hope that you realise that I am only as helpless as you are. You have made me what I am today. And only you have the power to prevent me into turning what I am now becoming – decaying and crumbling.

Yours (hopefully),

A city of dreams/nightmares,


Walking in the rain…

An ode to the romance of the first rains..

I had a few meetings lined up in town today. After finishing the last one, which was quite close to Marine Drive, I decided to walk for sometime on the promenade and take a cab after a while to VT station. But no sooner had I passed the imposing NCPA apartments, was I already questioning my decision. It was past 6 pm but the sun was still blazing down mercilessly. The placid waters of the Arabian sea were reflecting the sun light with such intensity that one could not look at it without squinting. By the time I reached the Air India building, I was already sweating profusely.
I decided to take a cab from opposite Oberoi and just then in the backdrop, I saw dark clouds closing in from the east. They looked ominous. And something inside me said “Wait! Keep walking'”
I decided to take a detour and buy something for home and took a right into the leafy sleepy boulevard of CCI lane, home to the Brabourne stadium. I reached 210 degree centigrade just outside Samrat restaurant – a favorite hangout spot when we were in college and picked up freshly baked bread and biscuits. Steeping out, I realized that the clouds had mobilized their army in far greater numbers. But still the humidity was quite stifling.
Again, I decided to take a cab from outside Churchgate station as I passed the landmark Satyam gift shop on my right. But, as if angry with this decision of mine, the clouds started to rumble. And I found myself telling me – “Keep walking!”
I had hardly walked a 100 metres when I felt the first drops of rain. I looked up. The sky was completely dark grey now. Not a speck of blue on the horizon. I smiled. People around me quickened their pace. Why were they in a hurry?! I reached Flora fountain. The famous Vada pav wala on the corner and the Booksellers on the corner adjacent to Amex bank were quite well prepared as a nice blue canopy had already been put up unlike a half dug up road on the side.
I went past the Standard Chartered building and other colonial era structures on Fort and it was now drizzling steadily. I smiled even more broadly. A few umbrellas popped open around me. A few makeshift umbrellas were created out of office bags, books and handkerchiefs. Why were the people walking so quickly?! I looked up and felt the raindrops falling gently on my face. I found myself humming – ” Raindrops keep falling on my head…”
The clouds rumbled again. And finally opened up. A torrential downpour began just as I reached Mcdonalds. ‘Am loving it’ I told myself! It was a fantastic scene. The BMC building loomed straight ahead and the magnificent Victoria Terminus ahead on the right. People realized there was no point in running anymore. For a moment, they turned school kids again as they forgot their worries and soaked in the rain. For a moment, their troubles seemed to have been washed away by the rains. The beautiful smell of wet earth wafted through the air. Sounds of laughter and excited chatter could be heard all around. The temperature had dropped considerably. The sky began to turn on a hue of yellow and orange, a portrait that only the monsoon could paint. It was a magical sight. Pure unadulterated joy!
I reluctantly entered VT station dripping wet and caught a train. A guy sitting next to me was updating his status on Facebook – “First rains!! Am loving it..” I looked at him and smiled. He simply smiled back..