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“Mumbai rains” bring alive the spirit of Mumbai

It was hot in Delhi yesterday, so hot, that you can only bear to wear white. And while planning the day, you make sure it involves being in an air-conditioned environment unless you want to sweat so hard that you soak through your clothes. Since I knew I am traveling back to rainy Mumbai, I knew I couldn’t wear white, but I made sure that air-conditioning was included. Everything seemed to be going well, until I boarded my flight and was well on the way to Mumbai. Surprisingly, I managed to finish my meeting on time, reached the airport well in time and boarded my flight without any running involved.

Once the plane was in the air, I managed to complete my sleep and woke up to a nice hot snack served by the air hostess. While I didn’t particularly liked the snacks, I enjoyed the hot cup of coffee looking out at the clouds beneath. Almost always when I look at the clouds below, I feel that I am floating in a fairy tale world. It allows me to dream more. And as I slipped into a dreamy world full of imagination, the seatbelt sign on the aircraft switched on, bringing me back to reality. The plane was shaking and not flying. Just then the pilot’s warning alerted me to an upright position. “We are experiencing turbulence so please fasten your seatbelt and remain seated.” Once the turbulence cleared, there was another announcement, that there is heavy congestion at the airport so a delay should be expected.

And then it was a long wait in the sky, with the clouds below. Finally, we landed. As I collected my damp suitcase, I knew that the weather was not good. Finally I reached the taxi counter and naturally there were no cabs available. I sat waiting patiently like the many others. Surprisingly, people remained calm. Everyone waiting patiently for taxis to arrive at the airport. After a long wait I finally managed to get a cab.

The skies were calmer now and surprisingly the roads were empty. The cab driver informed me that it has been raining non-stop since a day before and the rains have stopped just 5 min before. I was glad that the worst was over and I can finally go home and rest. It has been a hectic trip to Delhi.

As we reached the area near my home, I could see long lines of cars. What is causing the traffic to halt? The entire road in front of me was flooded. I have recently moved in this area so had no clue what is the way to reach home. The taxi driver was also clueless. We asked people around. Everyone knew the way the road was flooded and my anxieties high. How will I reach home? We saw a guy directing the traffic. He told us you can go ahead but make note that it is flooded. The taxi driver decided to move ahead.

We were moving at a slow pace as the tires were fully submerged in the water by now. Just then a car whizzed past us at a very high speed. And then it just stopped a little ahead, there was smoke coming out of the front. As we passed by we saw a part had come out and fallen and the occupants leaving the car. I was scared that at any moment, the taxi driver will refuse to take me further. By now we were so far ahead on the waterlogged road that you couldn’t see a dry stretch of road on either side and we moved ahead the water was increasing.

As soon as we reached a familiar distance from home, I told the taxi driver that now I can guide you. You have to take a u-turn from here but perhaps you can just turn as it is raining and the road is not visible. But he said, no, he couldn’t take a wrong turn. I was surprised, as everyday I witness people breaking the law on Mumbai roads and yet here was a taxi driver who refused to take a wrong turn despite the fact that we were flooded.

Finally, the taxi driver said, “Madam, how far is your home from here? I don’t think I can go any further. Do you think you can walk from here?” My fears were real now. As I looked at the road ahead, I was not sure how I would walk the short distance to my home. I didn’t even want to think about the amount of garbage and germs floating in that water. Nearby two men were trying to clean the gutters, perhaps making way for the water to flow out.

I replied back. “Are you sure you can’t go any further? My building is just round the corner.” He said, ” I can’t go any further because the car would stop.” I had no choice, I had to get out. I asked him, if he could carry my suitcase until my building. He immediately agreed and I volunteered to pay him extra for his effort.

Finally, we began the trek through the muddy waters reaching beyond my knees. It took about 15 min but we made it home in one piece without falling. There was nothing to hold on to and no where to make stops.

At the entrance of my building as I paid the cabbie and rolled my suitcase, I wondered about the whole situation. While Mumbai’s infrastructure is easily defeated by rains, it’s spirit is not. Mumbaikars take it in their stride as if it is a normal situation that can occur any time.

In the morning, I woke up to the dry streets. From my 10th floor apartment, I could see that the world below had gone back to its normal self. My maid called me to check if I am back in Mumbai. When she came she informed me that her ground floor one-room apartment, in which she lives with her three daughters had flooded up to their knees. She is still in the middle of cleaning it. However, she wanted to complete her work in my apartment before she could clean hers. I said you didn’t have to come, you could have just informed me. But she said, she has already had so many holidays while I was away so she didn’t want to add another. The rains will continue for a while and it is perhaps important to deal with it rather than be defeated.

It is interesting living in Mumbai. Each day, each season brings with it a new adventure.

June 20, 2015   No Comments

Grateful Wednesdays

Today, as my trainer was pushing me in the gym and I had almost reached my limit, I suddenly felt a burst of energy which propelled me into a different state of being. This made me realize how important it is to compete with yourself. While we know this, we almost always forget it and look for benchmarks outside. Not realizing that the seeds of growth lie within us, they just need a bit of sprinkling and love.

How often we forget to straighten out our own relationship with self? If not self, then who will make us achieve what we want in life. But instead of focusing on self and making our relationship strong, we focus on others. And I guess, this is my learning for today.

So as I was walking back from the gym, I felt grateful for all those who have entered my life at various times and have pushed me to believe in myself and dig deeper within me to find the energy to deal with challenges.


May 27, 2015   No Comments

Breaking stereotypes: Dum Laga ke Haisha

dum laga ke haisha

Dum Laga ke Haisha, is an usual tale of love creeping its way in the hearts of a couple bound by arranged marriage.

Set in the religious city of Haridwar, the film depicts how Bollywood films impact the ideas and dreams about life of young people living in small towns. In brief, the story is about Prem Prakash Tiwari (Ayushmann Khurrana) who runs a cassette shop in Haridwar. Despite his protests, his father gets him married to Sandhya. Sandhya is educated and smart, she can talk in English but is overweight. While Prem’s father thinks she is a good match for Prem, who is good for nothing, Prem is unhappy about marrying an overweight girl. His  is not ready to accept the marriage, despite his father’s insistence that Sandhya with her education can get a good job and earn regular income, unlike him who failed in 10th standard. Eventually, over the course of the film, the two fall in love and the movie ends on a happy note.

While the film is a typical love story, what is unusual about this film is the portrayal of woman. The film makes a clear departure from traditional Bollywood films, which show women with svelte bodies in skimpy clothes. In this film, Sandhya’s character is not only fat but always covered in traditional dresses. The story although set in 1995, makes a powerful comment about the differential impact of globalization on males and females especially in small town India.

Men, who were favored by the traditional social system, are increasingly feeling the pressure of coping with an education-based society. Rooted in patriarchy, their socialization at home, favors them so much so that as children they learn to live a life of leisure and are unable to cope with the rigorous demands of education-based employment. Whereas women, who are expected to help in household chores and whose demands are not given priority at home, tend to work hard in their studies and get good grades. They view education as a way out from the life of drudgery.

Interestingly, the film also comments on how patriarchy has adjusted to the changing woman. A woman’s merit is judged by what she can do for the family in a tangible sense. The boy’s father wants her to marry his son, because she is a cash cow, she can earn a regular income unlike his son. But his daft son, easily succumbing to his impulses and emotions is unable to carry on the relationship like everything else in his life.

Another aspect in which the film is a departure from regular Bollywood fare is realistic depiction of life in a small town. The sets and the costumes, all have a small town feel and truly show what day-to-day life of young people living in a small town can be, while keeping the entertainment value intact. There are no fantasy sequences to show a glamorous world, to provide an escape to the audience. One song, which is shot in a typical Bollywood style, comes towards the end, thus not breaking the rhythm of the movie.

I feel that Dum Laga ke Haisha has succeeded in depicting a different kind of woman, who relies on her talents and innate abilities to solve situations in her life, rather than relying on her parents to help her out. Similarly, it also shows that men are ready to accept their shortcomings and realize that in today’s world, increasingly men and women are becoming an equal partner in marriage. And marriages are not made in heaven but the day-to-day efforts of a couple make it a success.

March 16, 2015   2 Comments

Mumbai Diaries: Roshni kii Sadaa

Yesterday was one of those lucky days, because I still can’t believe that I got the tickets for a premiere of a play at Prithvi Theatre despite buying at the last moment. Usually the plays are all sold out, unless you book in advance. So despite being a theatre lover, this was actually my first instance of watching a play at Prithvi, because somehow I have never been able to book a show in advance. But that’s how Mumbai is. Long queues everywhere, everything is overcrowded. While initially it bothered me, I have now learned to enjoy the chaos and the madness that defines Mumbai.

Now on to the play…

Roshni kii Sadaa is a play written and directed by Nadia Zaheer Babbar along with her daughter Juhi Babbar Soni. The mother-daughter duo have also acted in the play along with another young actress, whose name I can’t quite recall at the moment.

The play is a series of three stories about Muslim women from different walks of life. It highlights the challenges faced by women due to the intersection of religion, class and gender.

The first story is about Samman, a young college girl from a small town from a low class poor family. Samman is academically bright and her family encourages her to study in Mumbai when she gets a scholarship. However, despite the fact that there are no barriers from home, Samman suffers the consequences of the demands placed on her by her religion. Wearing a burqa in college, makes her an easy prey and she has to face severe harassment at the hands of her college mates. However, once she learns to deal with the criticism, she finds her self-confidence and makes her mark in society and world.

The second story is about Saayra. Born and brought up in Mumbai, Saayra belongs to the world of Mumbai’s elite. And despite the progressive upbringing, Saayra has to deal with the orthodox ways which define a woman’s place in society. She has to deal with the expectations that society places on a woman by default. Her hard work, talents and achievements have no value until she fulfills the expectations she is required to by being born as a woman.

The third story is about a middle-aged woman, Salima, who works in the local school. Salima is originally from Bihar but has been living and working in Mumbai with her husband for many years. A low-class working woman, Salima is not highly intellectual but speaks up for herself and her community when a situation presents itself.

The play celebrates how Muslim women achieve success by breaking the barriers posed by religion and gender in their growth. And despite the religious context, it is a relevant plot for all women, who face barriers in their growth. Because ultimately, the way to deal with the barriers is to find the strength within and give voice to those emotions that simmer beneath in a positive manner.

I loved the script and the way the play is enacted by the three women. There is a right amount of balance between the seriousness of the issues depicted and the humor lacing the stories. The dialogue delivery and the body language make the play come out alive.

November 16, 2014   No Comments

Rang Rasiya… a great subject… but an average film

It has been quite a few years since I visited the decrepit printing press in Lonavla, established by the 19th century Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma. Ever since then, I have been curious about the painter, his life and works but never got the time to learn more. So I was naturally excited to watch Rang Rasiya.

Rang Rasiya is made by the national award winning film director Ketan Mehta. The film essays the life of the 19th century Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma.

The film begins with Raja Ravi Varma fighting a court case against him by the Hindu priests, who think his paintings are tarnishing the religion by portraying common women as Goddesses. Also his semi-nude paintings depicting mythological tales are maligning the reputation of Hinduism. Further, by printing copies of his paintings he is commercializing religion and allowing the masses especially scheduled classes to have access to religion and Gods, which until they didn’t have.

Throughout the court case, the film goes in flashback, chronicling Varma’s life in Kerala where he was born and married into a royal family. After he is thrown out of Kerala, he goes to Madras, where the King appreciates his paintings. Upon the death of the King, he arrives in Mumbai and then later paints for the royal court of Baroda. Through this journey, Varma hones his talents and discovers his passion for portraying Indian mythological tales through his paintings. He falls in love twice once with a scheduled caste woman in Kerala, who becomes his muse and then with a prostitute in Mumbai, who he uses as a muse to paint Goddesses.

The film thus brings to light the issue of the censorship of freedom of expression in 19th century India. How the religious authorities didn’t want an artist to make religion accessible to the masses? How commercial interests take priority over artists’ expression? It also talks about the role and status of women. How a woman is reprimanded and shamed for being an artists’ muse and modeling nude for his paintings? The shame leads her to commit suicide.

The film is a good biographical piece on a great artist. The colors and the sets used create the mood and makes the film look authentic. I really liked Randeep Hooda’s performance as Raja Ravi Varma. The nude scenes are shot with taste and class and the film doesn’t appear vulgar. However, despite a great subject, the film appears average. The scenes where Ravi Varma tours India, don’t evoke much emotions and look like you have seen them before.

So while film narrates the story, it fails to evoke emotions…

November 9, 2014   No Comments

Dark but real. That is Haider.


C. H. U. T. Z. P. A. H – chutzpah. “hamare saath chutzpah ho raha hai…” says Haider in Haider, the recent Bollywood film by Vishal Bharadwaj. Made as an adaptation of Hamlet, the film becomes a part of the series of movies he has adapted from Shakespearean plays. Omkara (2006) was based on Othello and Maqbool (2003) on Macbeth.

It is no doubt that Vishal Bharadwaj is an ace film director. The story, the settings, the characters are all etched out beautifully. They stay with you long after you have watched the film, something that rarely happens with a Bollywood film.

Haider is a story of a young boy Haider, who is instructed to take revenge for his father’s death by killing his uncle. Set in Kashmir, the film uses the widespread terrorism in the region. While it touches upon the important political issues in the region, the story is mainly about personal revenge.

While one can talk about how well the movie was adapted or the political backdrop which the movie uses, in this post I only want to talk about my experience of watching the movie.

Some of the best scenes in the movie were between Haider (Shahid Kapoor) and Gazala (Tabu), Haider’s mom. I think the film is as much about Gazala as Haider.

I also really liked the settings, the white backdrop of icy snow. Unlike a traditional Bollywood film, which is highly colorful, this movie uses muted colors, mostly black and white. Instead of glamorizing, the film portrays the fear which permeates the everyday lives of people living in the valley.

The film shows beautifully how the characters dealt with the conflicts and tragic situations they faced. I could feel the insanity and angst that the characters were going through. Most of us escape from conflicting situations, instead focusing on the positive. But what about those, for whom there is no escape like the people living in the valley. Sometimes these situations are so suffocating that there is no escape and everyone gets walled in in their own graves.

Dark but real. That is Haider.


October 12, 2014   No Comments

It only happens in Mumbai

It was a usual day. After a busy day in office, I was heading home. Mumbai roads were plied with cars and every possible mode of transportation. Each vehicle trying to claim their space on the busy roads. The sweltering heat making my clothes stick to my back. I had rolled up the windows in the cab to prevent myself from inhaling the fumes. After watching the cacophony on the road, I started reading the billboards above. My favorite pastime, when I am on the highway. I try to read each and everyone of them, to scan for the latest TV show, films and ads. I know, I may perhaps not watch any of them, but it’s fun to read about them. It’s also interesting to read about the ads for various housing societies, promising every possible luxury and a world away from Mumbai in the heart of Mumbai. I am not sure how is that possible, but for someone like me, sitting in the car, sweating and inhaling fumes, those billboards offer a moment of respite and kick in the dreamer within. So while I was lost in my thoughts, I heard the phone ring. And the few minutes of conversation took me to the realities of life and soon I was home.

I checked the time on my phone, it was 7 p.m. I casually slipped my phone in my office bag, paid the fare to the taxiwallah and rushed upstairs to my apartment. I was famished. The next day was a holiday, so I knew I had enough time to cook something appetizing, rather than my staple dinner of omelette or noodles with veggies. By the time, I was finished with my dinner, it was 9 p.m. and as I settled down to think about what to do – perhaps I should read or watch TV. Then I realized, I need to call the furniture wallah to repair my new sofa-bed. Why is it that everything needs to be constantly repaired? I just bought it and within one day, it needs repair!!!

So I looked for my phone in my bag, it was not there. I emptied the contents of my bag, it was not there. I was positive, I had put it there. Then I searched my laptop bag and my lunch bag, nope… it was not there. Then I looked for it in my tiny apartment, perhaps I left it in the kitchen while cooking, nope… my iPhone was nowhere to be found. By now, the fear had started building up inside me – I have left it in the taxi.

I called on my friendly neighbor and asked him to call my phone and after ringing twice, the phone went dead. The only message that we could hear now was that “this phone is switched off, please try again later.” Now my fears were confirmed. I have lost my iPhone and someone has found it.

Now my anxieties were at their highest, I ran downstairs to talk to the watchman. Perhaps someone gave it to him or may come by to return it. I knew it was futile, but I wanted to alert him about the lost phone.

Several questions were forming in my mind. Will I really get back my phone? I gave it a bleak 30% chance. Which phone should I buy now? After years of using iPhone, I wanted  to stick to iPhone, but was not sure if I really wanted to buy such an expensive phone, especially when the other phones offered similar services.  I called up the Vodafone customer care about the lost phone. Hoping they could track the SIM card, all the customer care guy offered was deactivating the SIM card, which I refused because that would have meant never finding my phone again.

I started airing my questions on my Facebook and Twitter page. Someone suggested I should file a police complaint, I should have IMEI number of my phone to file a complaint. I realized that I have the IMEI number and so decided to at least file a police complaint the next day. Social media rescues you from such unexpected situations, when you are struggling with hope and hopelessness. Someone sent a link to and track my phone through Find my iPhone.

So I tried that, I was happy that I could see my devices – iPad and iPhone – and could trace my iPad’s location to my apartment, but could not get the location for my iPhone. It was switched off and thus offline. However, I could put an emergency message, that this iPhone has been lost and please call on this number. Also I could lock my phone and put a beep sound when someone tried to operate it. It was already secured with a password, but I could further lock it. I spent a sleepless night and a restless morning, as the phone remained offline.

Finally, at 11 a.m. I decided to visit an I-store to see if there was another way to track it and then find a  police station to file a complaint. I have never been to a police station before, so was trying to picture, how it would all play out. A lone woman trying to file a complaint for a lost iPhone. Are they going to make fun of me? There are severe crimes reported every day. Is it really important to file a report for an iPhone?

I told my neighbor about my plan and asked him to keep a look out for any phones he may receive, because I had given his phone number as a number to call on for reporting the lost phone.

With heavy steps, I walked towards the lift. I boarded the lift and was just hitting the button for the ground floor, when my neighbor came running and said “STOP!!! I just received a call from your phone.” I was shocked, “What? Who called?” I came out of the lift and tried to talk to the person, who had called.

He said, that he is the owner of the taxi stand, from where the taxi wallah rents his taxi for the night. In the morning, he showed the phone to him, so he is calling me to pick up the phone. He told me that I should come at his taxi stand to get my phone back. I asked him for a phone number to call him, he was reluctant. He said, I will be there, you just collect the phone from me. You can call on your number.

So I took a taxi to the other part of the town to collect my phone. I was still skeptical. It took me almost an hour to reach there. Would he still be there?

I reached the taxi stand, it was almost deserted. There was a dance bar in front of me. The scene looked like from a Bollywood action flick. First, I counted all the money in my purse then decided how much money I should give them. I knew they were going to ask for some money.

I came out of the taxi, I was a bit scared because all I could see was taxis and trucks and a paan shop. I called up on my phone number and he said, he is reaching there shortly. I waited for 15 min and then saw another taxi arrive. Three men came out of the taxi, one youngish looking chap in khaki shirt and pant – he was the taxi driver, one middle-aged fat guy in white kurta pajama chewing paan – he was the taxi-stand owner and he had my phone. I don’t remember the other guy. They all walked towards me, the guy in white kurta-pajama told me, “I know no one could use this phone. It is locked.” I said, “yes, I have locked it.” Then, he said, “You should give some money to the taxi wallah. He is really scared, he thought police is tracking him. He couldn’t do his business properly last night.” I said, “sure, I will pay him.” He then handed me my phone and walked off.

The taxi wallah said, “Madam, I lost my phone because of this.” I looked at him, questioningly and took out some cash from my purse. I then handed it over to him, saying, that this is all the cash that is there in my purse at the moment. It was more than what he was asking for. So there were no more conversations. He went away.

I too went back to my taxi and headed home. I looked at my phone, it was still flashing – “This phone has been lost. Please call on ………, if you find this phone.” I entered the passcode and dialed a number. It was still intact, the way it was.



July 6, 2014   2 Comments

Queen – a refreshing story


Yesterday, I watched a Bollywood film after a long time. And I am glad I chose “Queen”. Because the movie is quite different from the Bollywood I have known and grown up with and in a positive way.

Queen is a coming of age drama about a typical middle class girl from a neighborhood in Delhi. The girl poised to marry her boyfriend of many years with the blessings of her elders suddenly finds herself alone after her fiancé decides to call off the wedding, just two days prior to actual wedding date. Shocked, she cries her heart out but decides to go for her honeymoon all by herself to Paris and then to Amsterdam. I don’t want to reveal the entire film here, but the series of events which follow make her realize that there are different ways to live life and marriage is not the ultimate goal. That if she has confidence in herself, she can do almost anything and she doesn’t have to seek approval for every decision that she makes.

Queen, in my opinion, is a refreshing story which portrays a young woman standing up for herself and finding happiness despite being rejected on the eve of her marriage. This new narration of woman and her image in society seems more in line with the contemporary times where women are beginning to take charge of their own lives and happiness while still respecting the traditions. The film also conveys that while marriage may lead to happy times, it is not the only route to a life filled with happiness. On the other hand, film reaffirms faith in relationships which are based on mutual respect and understanding.

Besides this, I felt the comedy in the film was great and Kangana Ranaut has given a great performance – effortless and natural.

It’s a must watch film if you haven’t watched it yet.

March 17, 2014   4 Comments

Why ethnography matters to business?

I found these two posts on ethnography by Ken Anderson, really interesting. Ken Anderson, manages the Cultural Transformations Lab at Intel.

In his post on ethnography matters, Ken talks about the shifts in ethnography in business environment. According to Ken, the business environment is changing and becoming more complex and dynamic, therefore, the questions that ethnographers ask need to change. Ethnographers mainly provided understanding of people, cultures and systems to reduce the uncertainty associated with innovations. However, today, he says, ethnographers need to ask about how to format the world as corporations. Thus, the new question is about creating a temporary order, not about reducing uncertainty. Thus, innovations are likely to succeed when an orientation towards products and services is created. It is much easier for smaller companies to succeed because only a small segment of the market is needed to orient towards them. This is why he says Kickstarters projects are succeeding.

In another post in Harvard Business Review, he talks about how ethnography informs strategic decisions at Intel. People are not always able to articulate what they need. Hence, ethnographers uncover these needs using non-intrusive approaches and communicate these to creators. Thus, leading the path for innovation.

Thus, the role of ethnography to help businesses lead in new directions is immense, it not only provides ideas for innovation which germinate by understanding people in their contexts, it can also help provide clues to orient people towards new products and services.

March 16, 2014   No Comments

Indian politics raises more questions than providing answers

Now that the preparations for 16th Lok Sabha elections in April-May 2014 are underway, the online media is heating up with news about politics. My Facebook feed and twitter feed are abuzz with news and opinion on politics.

Clearly the stage is set but the sentiment that is echoed is that there really is “no choice”. Who are the players?

1. Narendra Modi – he has become the obvious choice for those who feel that a change is needed in the country and the Congress offers no solid alternative. Hence, it is better to go with a leader who has proven his worth with his governance as Chief Minister in Gujarat. However, his strong religious leanings, his role in Godhra riots (although he has been acquitted by the court) leads to concerns. Is he really the right leader?

2. Rahul Gandhi – although its not declared as yet, he is clearly being seen as Congress party’s choice to lead the elections. Although the Gandhi name, which provides him instant recognition and a prominent space in Indian politics, he has failed to exude his charm and carve his own identity. While his youth gives him an edge, he comes across as an adolescent who is confused about the political issues that face the country. And his infamous interview with Arnab Goswami on Times Now, killed any hope about his impending political career. He clearly doesn’t seem to be the right choice to lead a nation which requires hard decisions.

3. Arvind Kejriwal – an activist turned politician, who appears to be really concerned about the nation’s future. His is the story of giving up riches and adopting a life on the streets. His main concern is not to lead the nation but to right the wrongs. However, the concerns about him is that he is too new and not experienced enough to play politics. While he led his party to victory in the Delhi elections, his short tenure doesn’t give enough evidence of what he can do when in power. Although his strategy to relinquish the control that comes with power and be recognized as people’s leader, who acts in accordance with people’s wants shows his naivety. And obviously, just a couple of years old, his party doesn’t seem to have enough traction to form a national level party.

Who will be the next prime minister of India? The concerns will remain and hopefully one choice will emerge of the many choices that are in the fray. But what is really positive is that politics remains the center of public discourse as the nation finds its leader and there are questions for which we need answers.

March 16, 2014   1 Comment