Monday, November 9, 2009

Mr. Rao

I hate driving within the city so I very often end up using the paid cab service to go to my office which is on the other end of the city and that is how I met Mr. Rao, almost eighteen months ago.

With his medium build, side parted hair and a well trimmed moustache, Mr. Rao, in his mid thirties, looked more like an employee of some government undertaking than a cab driver.

Always dressed impeccably in a sky blue shirt and warm grey trousers complete with properly polished black shoes Rao was often the better dressed one between the both of us.

It worked like this- whenever I needed a cab, I used to call the helpline of ‘Dot on time’ city taxi service and depending on where I was, they would arrange for a cab that was closest to my location of my pick up.

On that particular day, they had sent Mr. Rao to pick me up. He slid open the door of his Maruti van branded with ‘Dot on time’ city taxi stickers for me and greeted with a big smile and a courteous “Good morning Sir”. While I smiled back, I was pleasantly surprised by his behavior.

I was dozing off comfortably in the cab when I heard his “Hello”. Sleepish-ly I asked “What happened?” not realizing that he was talking over the phone. He immediately cut the call and apologized “Sorry sir, did I disturb you?” Impressed by his etiquette, I said “No, no, that’s perfectly fine. This is the first time that I could actually sleep in the cab, other wise they keep that wireless radio on which blurts out information about passengers and pick up details. It is so annoying, it hardly lets you sleep”. In proper English, he replied “I know Sir, that’s why I turned it off, so that you don’t have any disturbance”

Thoroughly impressed, now I was intrigued too. I asked him “you don’t look anything like a cab driver. How did you get into this business?” Sensing my interest, he started “I was in my PUC sir when my father passed away. I had to leave my studies and start working to support my family. I did a lot of small jobs before I finally got into a logistics company where I performed well and I was promoted to the supervisor level. Then an MNC bought over the company and changed all the policies. According to their policy, you had to be a graduate to be a supervisor and should also know computers. I was not a graduate but was willing to learn computers, however they didn’t give me a chance and I had to leave the company”

He was not finished yet, negotiating with the traffic, he continued “Around that time IT industry was growing in Bangalore, many software companies and call centers were being set up and there was lot of demand for cabs. So I thought why not start up on my own and since then I have been driving”

As he was anticipating my response, I said “great. See… you lost job because you didn’t know computers and now you are making a living because of the people who work on computers whole day. What goes around comes around”

As we reached my office, he said “Sir I stay very close to your place and in the mornings I am generally at home. You can take my cell number and directly call me from next time” I noted his number thinking how convenient that would make my life and that is how our relationship started.

Every time I, my wife or my friends needed a cab, we used to call him directly and he would always oblige. In case he couldn’t come personally he would at least arrange a cab for us and it always took lesser time than what ‘Dot on time’ taxi service would have taken.

One day, on my way to office I was trying hard to keep myself awake as I hadn’t slept the last night, so I asked him stop by a Pan shop to pick up cigarettes. As I lit my cigarette, he curiously commented “Sir, I have never seen you smoke before?” I smiled as I explained him “I usually don’t smoke unless I am too stressed…and please don’t tell this to my wife, she will kill me and you will be responsible” Shyly he complied- “No, no sir what are you saying, never”

A month after this, I was coming from Mumbai and I called him to pick me up from the airport. There was some political rally that day and we were stuck in traffic for hours. I was desperately searching for a cigarette shop but couldn’t see one. Sensing my frustration he offered me help- “Sir would you like to smoke?” I confessed “Ya, I would feel better with one, but I can’t see a shop here”.

What he said next was music to my ears “You can take from this” he said as he offered me a pack of Wills Navy Cut that he just pulled out from his dash board. Plucking a cigarette I asked him “But you don’t smoke. How come you stock them?” Now it was his turn to confess “Sir I also don’t smoke but this traffic…aiyyo… it’s too much sir. So once in a while I smoke to handle this. But very limited sir... only one or two per day”

To shrug of his hesitation, I said “That’s ok. Would you like to smoke as well?” He took up my offer pulled a cigarette for himself. As we lit our cigarettes and let a sigh of smoke, I saw other people in the traffic watching us in amusement.

Once my wife and I were traveling in his cab when I asked him “do you have children?” Cheerfully he said “Yes sir, I have a daughter. She just turned two last month” Tanu wanted to know “is she naughty?” Opening up to the topic he said “Yes madam, she is very naughty. In fact I have the album of her recent birthday party with me” and he handed over the album from the dashboard to us.

The parents and the baby dressed in their best clothes and smiling to the camera made a picture perfect family, a family that looked happy together. The baby was adorable and one could make out that she was center of their universe. As he put the album back he said “Sir, there is no bigger joy than going back to a home where your child is waiting for you. She brightens up as she sees me and I completely forget all the day’s stress and become a child with her” he finished by saying “I want to give her the best of education, best of everything that I couldn’t get”. It was moving to see a father trying to relive his childhood through his daughter.

Meanwhile, I got a driver and started using the cab only on few rare occasions particularly for airport drops and pick ups. On one such occasion, I saw his cab stripped off- of all the ‘dot on time’ taxi service stickers and even the wireless set was missing. I asked him “are you no longer with the ‘Dot on time’? Taking a breather he replied “yes sir, I pulled out of that service. I was paying them three thousand rupees monthly just to get information about pick ups. All my passengers call me directly so I hardly need that information, so why unnecessarily pay them”

After some time he asked me “Sir, what is this recession and when is this likely to end?” I wasn’t expecting a question like this from him, so, instead of answering I asked him a question “Why are you asking. Is it affecting you by any chance?” He was looking uncomfortable telling me “most of my passengers are from software companies and lot of them have reduced using cab services. They prefer autos or are using shared car services and when I ask them all of them say it is because of recession” To reassure him I said “Don’t worry, we will come out of it very soon”

He still looked concerned “sometimes I think I should take up a job. I even tried contacting few companies but all of them rejected me because I don’t know computers” trying to pass it off as a joke he said “this computer will never leave me”

A month later, he picked me again from the airport and today he was looking very glum. He didn’t speak a word in the entire journey. On one of the red lights, a fat, bulky guy suddenly opened the door and got in forcibly. While I was still shocked, Rao started talking to him in Kannada. From his tone I could make out that he was pleading for something. I could gather that he was requesting the fat guy not to create a scene before me. In Kannada he said “please don’t create a scene before the passenger and please let me drop him”

While the fat guy refused to listen to him at all, another person came on to the driver’s window and took off the keys. At this point I intervened “What is happening here. Who are these guys?” Mr. Rao tried his best to keep a normal face “Nothing sir, some confusion. These are recovery agents and they have got the wrong information. By mistake the bank has given them my car number” Before he could finish the fat guy looked at me and spoke in a dominating voice “he is lying to you. He has not paid the EMI for last four months, we are seizing his car. You can take an auto and go” and he signaled a passing auto to stop.

I didn’t want to look directly into Rao’s face and embarrass him more. His face was red with humiliation and I could sense that he was trying hard to control his tears. Sandwiched between the two fat guys he looked visibly meek and insulted- as if someone stripped off his honor. Now I could understand why he might have opted out of the ‘Dot on time’ taxi service, he could not afford the service anymore.

I wanted to help him but there was nothing I could do. All I could say was “Don’t worry everything will be fine. You call me if you need any thing” As I was getting into auto, he ran up to me with teary eyes said “I am sorry sir, very sorry for all this”. Sensing his helplessness l said “don’t be stupid, be strong and sort out the matter. Everything will be fine”

That evening I called to check on him if he was fine. He was sounding better now “the matter is in control now sir. They have given me a month’s time to pay the due amount. I will arrange it by then”. I offered him help “tell me if there is anything that I can do. Anything” I was careful with my words as I didn’t want to hurt his self respect.

For the next one month whenever I called Mr. Rao, he always arranged a cab for me but never came personally. He would always apologize and tell me that he was with some other passenger or that he was not feeling well or that he has gone out of town. I thought he was too embarrassed to face me and understood his situation completely.

Then one day he finally called me and said “Sir I wanted to meet you when you are free. Can you give me some time” Unable to read what was on his mind I said “You can meet me tomorrow morning at eight thirty. That’s when I leave for the office; I will see you outside my apartment’s gate”

Mr. Rao was waiting for me at the gate. For the first time I saw him in a shirt of some other colour than blue. He was wearing a crisp white shirt paired with black trousers today and looked better that the last time I saw him. In his hand he held a brown envelope. I greeted him “how are you and where have you been?” and stretched my hand for a shake hand.

Holding my hand in both his hands, he gave me large smile and told me “I am fine sir. I sold my car last week and paid back the loan. I have decided to take up a job. Just wanted to give you my CV, if there is anything in your company please do let me know”.

Taking his CV I reassured him “good, you have decided to make a new start. I will definitely look out if there is anything for you”.

Then as I turned on my ignition he proudly declared “…and sir I have started learning computers, I have enrolled into an evening class” he took a pause and then almost personifying computer as his enemy he said “…and this time I will not leave him"

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Movie review: Love Aaj Kal

I have been withholding this post for almost a week now. I saw Love Aaj kal on the first day itself but couldn’t quite make up my mind whether I liked it or not. Intuitively I was comparing it with Imtiaz’s previous work. That it when I decided that I should give it some time to sink in, distance myself from it for a while and then watch it again- this time objectively and then put my views together.

Today, I got out early from my work and went straight to the closest multiplex. Afternoon shows on weekdays are generally unfilled and you have the luxury of choosing your seat. When I enquired the lady at the ticket counter for the top row, she winked at me and asked if I would prefer the corner seats. Taking her clue I clarified that I am watching the movie alone and I don’t mind any seat till it’s a top row.

While I barely settled on my seat, I saw a young couple getting too comfortable on the corner seat(s) that I skipped. Their movie had begun much before the screen lit. Without diverting much let me come back to Love Aaj Kal.

I am a huge Imtiaz Ali fan and loved all his previous work. I loved Socha Na Tha the most, followed by Jab We Met and Ahista Ahista (story by him). I love the way he decodes the youth of today- their confusions, their aspirations and their varied interpretations of love- all of this mostly unfolding in the backdrop of ever vibrant and colorful heartland of India. It is amazing how the ‘place’ plays such an important role in all his plots.

I liked the way the story unfolds in Love Aaj Kal. In terms of technique it is the most sophisticated of all of Imtiaz’s work. The parallel tracks seamlessly travel between places, people and time zones till they merge in the end. It was a clever idea to use Saif to potray the young Rishi Kapoor as well as it gave the audience a common lever to draw the analogy between the past and the present, and, it is done in a way that it doesn’t confuse the ‘aam junta’ (mango people). Personally, this was easy for me to rationalize than the logic of Paresh playing multiple roles in Oye Lucky Lucky Oye (I am the mango people).

The Saif-Deepika track confused me. I wish the director could have spent more time in building it. It was hurried as if it had to reach somewhere. It lacked ‘soul’ and was kind of shallow and superficial which makes you wonder why the couple was chasing it so hard and what exactly changed their hearts to take such intense steps. Frankly, it didn’t deserve the pursuit as shown in the movie. It was un-relatable even for the young, metro, multiplex audiences.

Imtiaz’s one liners are nothing short of insights on youth (who can forget “main apni favourite hoon” from Jab We Met) but most of the lines fell flat in this one and my heart cringed every time Saif said “Jaaneman” with a nasal twang.

Deepika looked a million bucks and to me her role was more challenging than Saif’s. Her character required a restraint which was very endearing. She shows all the right expressions but needs to work hard on her dialogue delivery.

I know I shouldn’t get into each scene but some of them were so repulsive that I have to mention them here- the flirting scene between Saif and the other chick in the break up party was ridiculous and didn’t make sense what so ever. I didn’t understand where the ‘twist’ song came from- it was way too ‘filmy’ and forced.

But what hurt me most (literally) was the picturisation of “main kya hoon” track (which shows Saif’s diminishing interest in his dream job) and the subsequent mugging scene. It was one of the most clich├ęd representations of an emotion even by cinematic standards.

The love story between the sardar Saif and Harleen worked well for me and I assume for most of us. There was something very pure and innocent about it and Saif looked every bit a romantic sardar. The scene where Harleen swaps her seat (in train) to be able to be seen by Saif and where she secretly brings down a cup of black tea for him in Calcutta are what I call the trademark Imtiaz scenes – the ones that melt your heart.

I liked the Saif and Deepika scene in the Delhi metro and the way they have shot the ‘chor bazari’ song. Even the final reunion scene between Saif and Deepika was understated and handled very well. If only there were more gems like that.

While the couple in the corner seats left the hall completely ‘satisfied’, I was left unsatisfied. What could have been a brilliant movie settled for just above average.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Trip to Nagarhole (Kabini)

Our trip to Nagarhole was adventurous from the word go. To start with, we didn’t take proper directions and ended up driving some fifty extra kilometers.

We stayed in Sunkadakatte Forest Guest House. The guest house is right in the middle of the jungle (5 kilometers inside the jungle to be precise). It is some 220 odd Kms from Bangalore and 80 Kms from Mysore. You have to take the Mysore – Manathavadi road and then the road to Antarasante.

The guest house has three basic rooms with attached, clean toilets. It has an open, wooden floored veranda with comfy cane chairs. There is a separate kitchen in the backyard and a beautiful gazebo adjoining the cottage where the food is served. We landed there in the evening and immediately set out for the safari.

It doesn’t take much to realise why Kabini is one of the most popular wildlife destinations in Karnataka- situated on the picturesque backwaters of river Kabini, the lush green forest reserve offers fantastic sightings of large herds of elephants.

We just went berserk with our cameras. I am most fond of wildlife photography. It tests your patience, like no other activity and the difference between a great shot and an average one is just a nano second. Capturing a dust bathing elephant, or a muscular bison looking intently at you, or that kingfisher just before it takes the flight again- they say a picture speaks a thousand words- it can’t be more true in a jungle – just that here it speaks a million words.

We drained our camera batteries before we returned to the guesthouse and we had to charge them for the morning safari.

Now the big question hovering over us was how to charge the cameras (there is no electricity in the guest house). The guard looked helpless when he informed that the only place we can probably go and charge was the Kabini River Lodge run by the Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR). The resort was eighteen kilometers away from the guest house and the darkness was already settling in.

Nevertheless, we decide to drive down to the resort and charge our gadgets. The drive to the resort through the darkness was one of the most memorable drives of my life. It was a strange mix of excitement and fear. While passing the rough, narrow terrain- we crossed an elephant. The shrill trumpeting of the animal scared the living daylights out of me.

Kabini River Lodge is a gorgeous property often rated as one of the best wildlife resorts in the world. The staff was sweet enough to let us charge our gadgets there. On the drive back to the guest house I saw lot of village men sitting on the roadside with torches and sticks in their hands. The guard told us that they were protecting their crop from the elephants. Through out the drive I just kept praying that we should be spared any such encounters with the wild.

There is no electricity and that is the best part about the guesthouse. As the night falls the voices of the wild echo all around you- like the trumpeting of an elephant or the alarm calls of sambar and chital. Chitals and wild boars come conveniently close to the place. Staying here, I felt a lot closer to the nature than staying at any other resorts. We just kept gazing the sky for long time- the sky just wrapped us like a blanket of stars and we had fun spotting the ‘milky way’. There is something so pure about the silence of the nature- it just calms your senses.

The morning safari was equally incredible. Charging our cameras was completely worth it. The safari was full of ‘Kodak’ moments.

We saw herds of elephants, bison, spotted deer, barking deer, sambhar, wild boars and dozens of species of birds like white breasted kingfisher, brahminy kite, painted stork, black ibis and many others- the names (and all the trivia about them) of which only my wife would be able to tell (she is an avid ornithologist).

What made the trip even more special was my first sighting of a pack of Indian wild dogs. They are very rarely spotted. They always hunt in packs and often eat their prey while it is still alive.

And yes, the big cats were elusive as usual. You know I see many people describing their trips to national parks as unsuccessful if they don’t spot the tiger. Also, they spend the entire safari anticipating sighting a tiger, while completely missing all the other marvels that just pass by.
This happens mainly because of their ignorance about the wildlife. If you keep your eyes and mind open you can discover and learn so much about the flora and fauna of a national park. In fact, I always read up (mostly on net) on the terrain, climate, its inhabitants, and the flora and fauna of any place before I visit it. It always helps me to appreciate the place better.

Also, I have seen many people breaching the basic code of conduct of national parks. Make sure you never break the basic rules of the forest- don’t talk loud, don’t honk, don’t play music, avoid using flash, never throw plastic/wrappers, and other trash , don’t feed wild animals and never ever get out of the vehicle. Remember that you are a visitor in their habitat so please don’t overstay your welcome.

Jungle safaris always make me hungry and in breakfast we devoured on hot fluffy pooris and delicious aloo ki sabji. The cook at the guest house is competent and serves you unpretentious, lip smacking food.

Around four in the evening we went for a boat safari organized by the Kabini River Lodge. It is a refreshing change from the usual jeep safaris. Apart from animals and birds that can be sighted during the vehicle safari, the boat safari offers an opportunity to observe the Marsh Crocodile and other water birds. One can also witness large herds of elephants, peacefully feeding and getting on with their lives.

Words can’t describe my joy- when I saw a pack of three elephants (including a young one) swimming across the river to meet the rest of the gang on the other side. They were so quick that I couldn’t capture them in my lens. I think it is true that the most memorable picture from any trip is often etched in your mind and rarely captured in your camera.

The resort offered us a complementary dinner and an invitation to meet the man himself- Col. John F Wakefield (referred lovingly as “papa” by all). Mr. Wakefield can be accredited as the torch bearer of the eco tourism concept in India.

In his mid- nineties, John is the brand ambassador of JLR and is a treasure of knowledge on wildlife. Over a drink, he told us some fascinating tales of his encounters with the wild- his visits to various national parks, first meeting with Jim Corbett (both are hunters turned conservationists), setting up of the Kabini resort and many such gems.

His views on conservation and how controlled tourism can help the cause were enlightening.
I have never met a man who has a sharper memory than him- the way he could recollect the dates, people, places and incidents was hard to believe. I was surprised when he told us that till six months ago he was driving on his own to the jungle.

When he asked us how was the trip- I honestly told him that meeting him was the best thing that happened to me on this trip. He sportingly posed for us and gave me an autographed memorabilia.

Guys, if you happen to visit Kabini then do yourself a favour – go and meet Mr. John Wakefield. He is the real tiger of Nagarhole.

PS: To view pictures from the trip- click on the 'Nagarhole' icon on the right side of the screen.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chikmagalur- Scenic Acres Homestay

It was a long weekend after a long time so I wanted to hit the road. This time we decided to drive down to Chikmagalur.

I do a great deal of research in finding the right place to stay-because the quality of stay decides to a great extent whether your trip is good or not so good.

I hate to stay in hotels on my personal trips. Hotels are the same everywhere- standard, boring and undistinguished. If you really want to get a feel of the place, see how the locals live, listen to their stories, taste their food and get a slice of their culture- then home stay is the place for you.

So, when I was surfing for home stays in Chikmagalur, I landed upon this website of a property which was really appealing. I immediately called up the owner to make a booking, but he apologetically told me that the place was running full.

But I decided to try my try my luck here. Almost in a pleading tone, I asked him “can you recommend any other place to me?”

I held my breath as he took a long pause. Then he spoke “Ya, I have friend Raghu, he has a beautiful place. May be you can check there” and gave me the details before hanging up.

When Raghu picked up the phone I hurriedly introduced my self and explained my situation “Raghu, I am planning a trip over this weekend, and looking for a place for seven people for two nights”

“We have a two bedroom cottage, with a huge living room. Even the bedrooms are quite big and we can provide extra beds, I think you guys can fit in well” Raghu replied.

The thought of having the whole cottage to ourselves, not having to share it with other guests and the idea of privacy instantly tempted me.

Like an eager tourist, I probed “can you give me an idea of the location of your home stay? Like how far it is from the town and what is the view like?”

He was composed “you can visit our website and get all that information” he said

“Ok. Can I call you in half an hour?” I wanted to check the site before I took a decision.

Frankly speaking- I was not very impressed with what I saw on scenic acre’s website. The template was dull and images were just about average. It looked like something which has been put together in a hurry, over all it didn’t excite me much.

I wasn’t very convinced, if I have to book a place the website has to win me over first. But as I didn’t have any other options I decided to go ahead with it.

While confirming the booking I casually asked Raghu “Do you have dogs on your property?”

He thought I had some reservations against dogs so tried clarifying to me “We stay next door, i.e. our property is next to the cottage and we have three dogs there-two daschunds and a three month old Labrador pup. But we don’t allow them to go near our guests”

I just jumped with joy when I heard this and solved the misunderstanding “Sorry, I think you got it wrong. Both my wife and I are absolute dog lovers and every time we travel we try to find a place that has dogs. In fact, one of the reasons why we prefer a home stay to a hotel is because of this”

This information about the dogs and especially about the three month old pup completely swung my decision in favor of Scenic acres. I thought that he would make up for what ever is missing in the home stay.

We reached Chikmagalur by lunch time and the home stay was very easy to find. It is located about 5 kms from the town on the way to mullainagiri hills. As Raghu had gone for his game of golf, his wife Kalpana welcomed us at the Scenic Acres.

All of us loved the property. The location, view and the ambience was perfect. It is a colonial style cottage with a red brick exterior. It has a beautiful garden with many fruit and flowering trees. The girls immediately settled on the two hammocks hung by trees, while we took a walk around the property. The cottage even has an extended expanse of grass land, which overlooked the hills. Interestingly there was a badminton net set up there.
The rooms are airy, spacious and clean. They mostly used the cane furniture which is basic and functional.

The best part of the cottage was however the living cum dining hall. This place has windows all around and also a fireplace. There are many games in the home stay that the guests can try their hand at- there is a magnetic dart board, a punching bag and boxing gloves, volleyball, badminton, caroms, scrabble and even an indoor golf putter set.

Coming back to Kalpana, she completely won us over with her warm smile and impeccable hospitality. Really soft spoken, she gave us a great deal of information on the places we should see, about the flora and fauna of the region, about the local customs, on intricacies of coffee plantation and the lives of planters, and lot of other interesting trivia.
Though there is a resident cook, she personally supervises all that happens in the kitchen and makes sure that you are served the authentic malnad food. The food is to die for- the variety, the portions, the desserts -my mouth is watering just thinking about it.I have stayed in so many home stays, but I have to admit that I have never been so pampered for food ever.

Kaplpana can probably teach a lesson or two to most of the hotel management graduates on how to delight your guests.

Who also needs a special mention here is Pushpa- the domestic help at Scenic Acres who will make sure that you are always comfortable and she is always just a call away.

The main hero of the trip however was Jackie- the Labrador pup. My wife and I were most eager to meet him, and the first thing we requested Kalpana was to bring him over to our cottage. Jackie is absolutely adorable, playful and mischievous. Though, I had a difficult time clicking him (as he hardly stays at any place). Man, I want to do another round before he grows big.

We chatted up with Raghu in the evening when he gave us insights about the coffee cultivation, processing and trading. He told us that his family has been into plantations for four generations now. We were surprised to know that he also has a cinema hall in the town. Unassuming and warm, Raghu instantly put us at ease. He even gave us a guided tour to his coffee curing plant in the town.

We had a great time just lazing around and soaking in the beauty of the place and the weekend just flew by. Even before I left the place I wanted to come back again. I strongly recommend Scenic Acres to anyone planning a trip to Chikmagalur. It is the way a home stay should be-not like a paid accommodation but just like staying at your friend’s place.

PS: click on the Chikmagalur icon on the right side of the screen to view pictures from the trip.

Friday, February 13, 2009

At the red light

selected by BlogAdda as one of the top posts for the week's 'Spicy Saturday Picks'

It was a Monday morning. I woke up exactly an hour after the alarm gave up on me. I reached for my cell phone and quickly typed this message “I am sorry, I overslept. Had a party last night. Would be late to office”.

“Ok” said the new inbox message; my boss had given up on me.

It’s a twenty one kilometer drive from my home to office and there are precisely seven signals on the way. I have mentally classified them as good and bad signals, depending on time taken to cross them.

There are two particularly bad signals where the traffic comes to such a standstill that I fear ageing there.

While vehicles stand and stare the red light, a swarm of street sellers spring into action. It’s their show time. From peanuts in paper cones, to deep fried samosas, to ripened guavas, to cheap Chinese toys and cell phone chargers, to dog bone shaped head rests for your car, they sell many such interesting things. Fighting for your attention are also the beggars, eunuchs and the child acrobats with their noses and cheeks painted like clowns.

I was running very low on fuel so I turned off the ignition but kept the music playing. As I was listening to “Masakalli”, I heard a tap on my window. It was a kid wearing a tattered ‘baniyan’ and holding paper cones in one hand. I ignored him and increased the volume, thinking he would move ahead. But he kept tapping on my window harder and harder. As I gave him a stern look, he stopped tapping and came closer; almost sticking his face to the window he started saying something. There were patches of fog forming on the window because of his breath. It was really annoying.

I pulled down the window to the half and yelled “aage jaa na yaar. Dimag mat kharab kar”. Not minding my pitch, he requested “do rupay ka hai. Le lo na saab”. “Subah subah Kaun khata hai mungfali, jaa bhai” I tried shooing him away. Now he started making pity faces. A good salesman I thought “Bhai aagey bhad, yahin khada rahega to signal green ho jayega aur tera dhanda nahi hoga” I gave him a sales tip.

He refused to budge. He was looking through me. This time he spoke “ kaunsa film hai?” On the seat next to me, there was the CD cover of ‘Delhi 6’. I picked it up and showed him from behind the window “Padh Kya Lika hai”. There is an innovative mirror insert on the cover of the ‘Delhi 6’ CD, so he kept looking into it. I could see his amusement on seeing himself on it. I kept back the CD answering his question “Delhi 6 hai ye”. He didn’t get me, so I said in a language I thought he might understand “Dilli che hai movie ka naam”. “Dilli, who to shahar ka naam hai” he responded with a smile.

“Acha tujhe bada pata hai. Tu kahan se aaya hai” I asked. “Bihar” he spoke unclearly. “Arre, main bhi UP se hoon. Tu yahaan kaise aa gaya” I couldn’t believe I was talking to him. “Amma yahan kam karti hai, building ban raha hai na, wahan” . "Aur papa?" I didn’t know why I asked that. He just kept looking at me blankly. “Kitney saal ka hai tu?” I questioned him. He just kept moving his finger on the dust settled on my window, as if a kid drawing in his work book.

“Aath?” I asked. He smiled like he meant yes, but looked unsure. “Dus?” I questioned again. He gave me a bigger smile this time. I realized he didn’t know his age. Playfully I said “Tera birthday kab hai”. His eyes sparkled when he said “Happy Birthday” and then he went quiet.

“ Acha movie dekhta hai? Film?” I wanted to distract him. “Haan” he liked this topic. “Favourite hero kaun hai?” I wanted to know. “Shahrukh Khan” He said with a sparkle in his eyes. “Ohoo…mere baazigar, yeh bata ki movie kahan dekhta hai? Hall me”. “Showroom mein” and he pointed out to the fancy electronics store on the other side of the road.

I knew that the signal was going to turn green “Acha chal ek packet de de” I said. Wanted to pay him for his time I wasted. He gave me a paper cone. While I paid him a coin, I asked him “Kuch khaya subah se?”. “Nahi” he moved his head in disagreement. I gave him back the paper cone. “Yeh meri taraf se, yeh bechna mat, tu kha isko”. With a big smile he surprised me with a “thank you saab”. I could see the signal turn green. While the vehicles before me were preparing to move, I asked him the last question “Naam kya hai tera?”. “Sanju” he said and ran towards the pavement.

The next morning while waiting at the same signal, I was looking for Sanju. Wanted to see if he recognizes me and gives me any special attention.

I kept waiting but he didn’t turn up. Instead a eunuch came to my window. I wanted to ask her about Sanju. I pulled down my window and held a ten rupee note. She took the note and blessed me, while she was walking away, I asked her “who mungfali wala kahan hai, dikhayee nahi de raha”. “Who aaj nahi aaya saab” she informed me. I was thinking aloud “Aaj Sanju nahi aaya”. She turned back and asked me with an expression of surprise “tum usko jaante hai saab”. “Nahi Aise hi” I said. “Usko kal police pakad ke le gayi sir”. “What?” I exclaimed. “Usne kal chori kiya na saab, ek ladki ka mobile leke bhag raha tha toh police ne usko pakad liya”. The signal turned green.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Meeting Aamir Khan- Luck by chance

This post has been selected by BlogAdda as one of the top posts for the week's 'Tangy Tuesday Picks'- link:

There is a scene in “Luck by chance” where Konkana and Farhan are in a supermarket where there is ‘write a slogan and win a refrigerator’ contest on. While Farhan wants to fill the form, Konkana is quite cynical about such contests. They have a conversation about this before he fills the form, which loosely translated in English sounds like this-
Konkana sarcastically asks- “Do you think if I fill this form, there is a chance that I would win the fridge?”
To which Farhan responds-“I know that if you DO NOT fill the form, there is NO chance that you will ever win the fridge”
I watched “Luck by chance” on the night of 4th Feb and this particular dialogue lingered in my mind the whole night- and will always- whenever I encounter a similar situation of filling forms, writing captions, etc to participate in any contest or lucky draws.

I had an afternoon flight to Hyderabad on 5th (Thursday) and was scheduled to travel to couple of other places, returning to Bangalore only on Sunday.

I landed at the Hyderabad airport and was on the bus to the arrival terminal, when I switched on my phone to call up my wife. But before I could dial her number, the phone rang up. It was an unknown mobile number- I thought it was the driver who had come to pick me up. But a female voice greeted me. I suspected it to be one of those spam credit card/loan kind of marketing calls and didn’t pay half attention to it. It didn’t help that the signal was also poor. Her voice was cracking and I couldn’t make sense of anything that she said.

As I was stepping out of the bus I heard her say something like “he wants to meet you”.
I exclaimed “Who?” and then I added “may I know who is on the line?”
She started all over again “I am Aamir Khan’s assistant and I got your number off the blog. You are one of the short listed candidates that he would like to meet. How are you placed at 4.30 PM tomorrow? Can you come to IIM Bangalore campus?”

I was numb with excitement, all I could manage was “whattt…how…wow”
Taking a deep breath I pulled my self together “are you sure?” “ya” she said in a very matter of factly manner, “so can you make it?”.
“Yes, yes” I almost screamed as if the opportunity was slipping out of my hands “I mean, I am supposed to be travelling tomorrow, but I will cancel all of that. Ya…ya I will be there. Thank you so much. I can’t believe it”.
While she wanted to hang up, I foolishly let my suspicion out “I hope this is not a kind of prank call or something, because I am cancelling my travel and rescheduling my whole trip”.
“No. It is true and you can bring along a person with you. Only one” she said in a tone that you can add a smiling face to.

After this, I wanted to call the whole world to announce my luck. Didn’t know where to start. The first call was to Tanu, my wife. Before she could ask me “have you reached?” I mumbled out “We are meeting Aamir tomorrow?” “Stop kidding” she said. “No. God promise. Keep yourself free in the second half. I have to make couple of calls, I will call later…Yahoooo” I screamed like an excited kid

I walked out of the arrival gate with a spring in my step and in all my excitement missed out the cabbie who was standing with a board displaying my name on it.

For the next hour and half or so that I was in the cab, I was busy on the phone. The driver’s name was Ali and all this while I could see him intermittently glancing at me in his rear view mirror- especially each time I mentioned “Aamir Khan” in my phone conversations.
When finally his curiosity crossed the threshold, he asked me “Sir, are you talking about the cine star Aamir Khan?” “Yes” I replied proudly.
“But why does he want to meet you?” he asked me in an offensive way- like what has such a big star to do with a looser like you. “Just like that” I acted snotty.
“Sir, who apna bhi favourite hai. Apne Ghajini dekha kya? Ekdum mast acting kiya hai. Apna bhi salaam bolna usko” “Bilkul” I said thinking about how movies connect each one of us, across geographies, religions, languages and economic backgrounds.
I reached my hotel quite late that night. I was completely exhausted and had an early morning flight. Even a hot shower could not put me to sleep. Random thoughts about the upcoming meeting kept playing in my mind.

I wanted to revisit the place where it all started. So I switched on my laptop and logged on Aamir’s blog. I have been reading him since the beginning, but he is quite an infrequent blogger. Like with movies he posts after long gaps. Thankfully, unlike movies the gap between posts is just in months.

His last blog is titled ‘Thank You’ and was posted on 16th Jan. where he thanks the readers for liking Ghajini and credits the audiences for making it the biggest grosser of all times. He also apologises for writing after so long and tries to explain how busy he has been. Then he goes on to talk about his stay on the IIM Bangalore campus and how he enjoying it and finally getting some time to catch up on his sleep.
What was interesting and kind of news making stuff was what his closing lines said. I am quoting them as they appear on the blog-

“Would like to meet some of you who live here in Bangalore. So post me your contact details if you are up to it and I’ll try and work it out”

Almost instinctively I wrote a comment on the post- “Hi Aamir, Congrats for the success of Ghajini- though it is not one of my favourite Aamir Khan movies. I am glad you like 'India after Gandhi' and more so about the fact that you like to read on varied topics- its people like you who have redefined the way we look at actors. I would (and more importantly my wife) would love to meet up with you. If your schedule allows you, please do call me on xxxxxxx. All the best for your future endeavours”

There were some eight thousand five hundred plus comments on this post, thousands of them had people leaving behind their contact details and pleading Aamir to meet up with them.

I knew Aamir is an avid reader and has a keen interest in History. Next morning, I picked up‘The Life of Mahatma Gandhi’ by Louis Fischer from the Landmark bookstore at Hyderabad airport. On the first page I wrote this small note in my best possible hand writing- “Be the change, said Bapu. And you are one of the very few ‘change agents’ of our generation. Love and luck”

Aamir spent over an hour and half with us. Sporting a schoolboy-ish haircut, dressed in an ‘ed hardy’ kind of pink t-shirt and loose faded sky blue jeans he could easily pass of as one of the students of the institute.

The first thing he said was “yaar lets sit closer, these chairs are too far pull your chairs closer”- that really broke the ice.

As it was his last day of shoot in Bangalore, his in-laws were also there. He affectionately introduced them as “amma” and “appa” and ordered chairs for them as well.

One thing which I noticed about Aamir is his ability to connect with his fans. He made the whole setting so comfortable and casual.

We bombarded him with questions about three idiots, slumdog millionaire, rahman’s oscar nomination, movies that he is very proud of and not so proud of, fitness tips, about his stay on campus, his next directorial plans, upcoming movies, politics, his thoughts on a sequel to Andaz apna apna, his dream team to work on a movie, and many more.

Interestingly, he wanted to know our views on what worked for and what did not work for Mangal Pandey. While we were talking about Mangal Pandey, I got a feeling that he really felt for the movie and wanted it to work.

He also shared his interest in the epic tale of Mahabharata. We all got a taste of his perfectionism and importance he assigns to preparation and research when he said “A story of that scale would take at least five years for research and prep itself”, before he could finish, all of us unanimously screamed “Noooo… we want to see you at least once a year, please don’t deprive us of that”

I don’t think I can put down Aamir’s views on all these things, but what I want to tell is the fact that he was brutally straight and honest in his opinions. Not even once, during this whole session, did he mince his words or sounded guarded. He even jokingly asked us “I hope none of you is a journalist here. Yaar yeh sab kahin likhna mat. Hungama ho jayega”

All this while I was thinking about this parallel-y “How much has this industry changed. Five years ago could we even think of meeting our favourite superstars, let alone like this? Technology and blogging in particular have changed so much. What is more interesting is that the established stars like Aamir and Amitabh have embraced it so well. This is definitely the changing face of the Indian cinema, a new era and I am so lucky to be witnessing this first hand”

I got his autograph on Ishan’s flipbook. He read my quote on the book and gave me a modest smile.

Aamir has a very special way of making people feel important, for instance, when he asked us about our suggestions to improve his blog. He listened to each one of us so carefully, as if taking a mental note of all that we are saying. His genuine desire to make the platform more useful for us could be felt effortlessly.

It was a dream come true for a movie fanatic like me. While we were walking back to the main gate of the institution, it suddenly stuck to Tanu “Oh I forgot to ask him- among thousands of mails how did he choose to meet the ten of you? I am thinking what must have been the selection criteria or was it a kind of lucky draw”.

“I know the answer” I said, “How?” she was curios.

“Luck by chance” I believe.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

To Nani, with love

This is the last post of the year. 2008…what a year it has been. Let alone the news and events like nuclear deal, IPL, Olympics, polls, Obama, terrorism, recession, etc. Even at a personal level the year has been quite eventful.

Two life changing things happened to me this year and these involved the two most important people in my life.

In February, I got married to my college sweetheart after almost a year and half of convincing her parents- It had to be the most cherished moment of my life.

In October, my Ammumma (nani) passed away. She meant the world to me and it has been my biggest loss till date. Her departure has left this huge unfillable void in my life.

I met up with an old friend of mine in a coffee shop today, and during one of those mindless conversations- this came up. He casually asked me whom would I dedicate the passing year to. Probably he just said it as an uncaring comment and didn’t expect any answer for it.

But that just kept me thinking- till I finally wrote this blog.

Here it goes… If I had to dedicate this year – I would dedicate it to my nani.

Nani, I will tell you a secret today- as a kid I read a story once which said that God loves kids the most and because he can’t be there with each one of them all the time, he sends his favourite angels to take care of them as their nanis.

Its not that I believed in these fairy tales, but this one just seeped quietly into a corner of my mind and just stayed there.

How else can one explain the love and joy that you brought to our lives?

Nani, I remember that you were the only one who used to believe in the lame excuses that I used to make to avoid the school as a kid. You always tried your best to negotiate with ma on my behalf.

Your energy was infectious. We never needed an occasion to devour your ‘halwa’ or ‘kheer’, we just had to mention it and you would ever lovingly indulge us with your delicacies. You made it look so effortless that you put the younger lot to shame.

Let not people mistake you for a docile housewife. You are the most powerful and assertive women I have come across. You stood like a pillar with your husband, almost single handedly raising seven children, so that he could become one of the most successful lawyers in the state. I have heard the stories of how you would run the huge household with almost an iron fist- taking care of the huge joint family, the bungalow, the properties, the fields, dogs, cows, workers and the cars.

You were so well traveled and had so many stories to tell about so many cities that I suspect that I got the travel bug from you. From holidaying in Kodaikanal, to playing ‘ping pong’ in colonial Ooty, to helping your son settle in IISC Bangalore, to getting a major surgery done at AIIMS, to accompanying your husband on his trips to cities as distant as Mumbai, Chennai, Pune, Mysore, Roorkee and to god knows where all, you have seen it all.

I am told that, when it came to some of the most important personal and professional decisions, your husband trusted you the most for advice. Though you went to school only till fifth standard (I know how much you regretted it) your common sense was astounding.

How can I forget how you used to stay up with me all night in my eleventh hour preparations for board exams. You almost fell sick by the end of my exams. If it wasn’t for you- I would have never survived them.

As a kid, whenever I had to buy a toffee or chips or comics or anything that my parents didn’t approve of- I would always come to you for money. Tell me something, you kept the change in a knot on your ‘pallu’ only for me, right? Because you stopped doing it as I grew up. Oh how much I miss that knot nani… it almost opened up the doors to my happiness. I wish I had access to something like that even today.

You proved that modernity has nothing to do with age. From short skirts to love marriages, you had such liberal and progressive views on each one of them, that if I put them here, some fundamentalist party might raise a protest against you. For you, the terms like ‘generation gap’ were non existent. Your ability to look at things from our perspective made you so endearing. No wonder, all my friends bonded so well with you and instinctively called you ‘nani’. I must add that you had a charming effect on female friends of mine and I leveraged it to the maximum effect. Wink.

I remember you weren’t in your best health around my marriage time. While we were concerned about how you will travel to Jaipur, you were the cheerleader of the party. You packed your best clothes before any one of us and what a power packed performance you gave there. We had to restrain you from dancing in baraat but from the corner of my eye I could still see you doing a jig in the car.

On the night of the reception you were the first one to walk up the stage to get clicked with the couple (By the way nani, I framed that pic and it now adorns my living room). You were the most beautiful woman that night- and even Tanu would agree with me on this.

Nani, a night before you left us- you spoke to Tanu for good fifteen minutes (she misses complaining about me to you) while I was busy watching some stupid show on the TV. I thought I would finish that and talk to you in leisure… but that was the biggest mistake of my life.

If I could undo just one thing in my life…I would have spoken to you that night.