That Awkward Moment

The train rhythmically drones on it’s way. All the passengers are staring at you. One teenager nudges her friend, points and both of them giggle.
You fidget in your seat and wonder what’s the problem. Is it your clothes? Have you worn your shirt inside-out again?
You pull at your clothes, and the lady next to you turns her face to fix you with a hostile glare.
You sink back into your seat sheepishly. People are still staring. Small smiles are playing around some of their lips, like they’re at a circus and you are the freak.
You wish you could, like a chameleon, merge with the ugly blue colour of the train seats and gain some modicum of invisibility. You wonder again if it’s your posture – are you taking up too much space? You shuffle your feet and straighten your back.
To no avail, people are still looking.

And then you realize………….your earphone jack isn’t locked in properly. Your mp3 player is blasting music not only to your ears. The entire train compartment can hear Shakira crooning.

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Life in Mumbai: Early Morning Woes

What are the things you need to do within 30 minutes of waking up to ensure your day gets off on the right foot?

1. Don’t Hit The Snooze Button

This should probably be my new year resolution.

My first act every morning after waking up is turning over in bed, pulling the covers snugly under my chin and muttering, “5 minutes more!”

When I finally do wake up — 15 or 20 minutes late — I inevitably curse myself and become the whirlwind of destruction and drowsiness, trying to get ready for college.

Forget dressing up in the latest college trends of the season — I don’t even have time to match my clothes. Half-asleep, peering through squinted drowsy eyes, I grope blindly in my cupboard and wear the first two things that I reach. Accessorise? Forget it!

After spending 15 minutes playing tag with the cold shower (who has time to wait for the geyser to heat up?) I emerge shivering and dressed like a gypsy, ready to wolf down a quarter of my breakfast, while my mother attacks my hair with a comb.

Five minutes later or sooner, I am clumsily fumbling into my shoes, hastily pocketing my watch (and maybe a pair of earrings) to wear in the rickshaw, and after a quick peck on my mother’s cheek — while she admonishes me for not finishing my breakfast and laments my dowdy appearance — and a hastily called out goodbye to my father, I am out of the door and jogging to the street to find a rickshaw.

10 minutes later I am at the station, running pell-mell on the platform to reach the train compartment, as it blows it’s whistle impatiently.

10 seconds before it departs I throw myself into the compartment and collapse on a seat, or if a seat is not available, against the side-bars by the door, and make an out-of-breath promise myself — Tomorrow I shall wake up on time!

2. Do Something Constructive on the Train

If you are a Mumbai suburban resident you know that you have a lot of time in hand every day while in commute. The choice then lies with you how to utilize this time. I know a friend who spends her one hour of travel solving algebra sums. Now that is dedication!

I may carry a magazine or a book, and sometimes even a newspaper and vow to read it on the train, but what I end up doing every day is plugging in my earphones and dozing off on my makeshift pillow aka my college bag. Or at the most play Candy Crush.

I am pretty sure I would be a more knowledgeable person in life if only I spent my commute time in doing some constructive reading.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Two Right Feet.”

Sunset at the Beach

The call was unexpected to say the least – “Hey, wanna go over to Juhu beach?”

“Why” I asked.

“Just”, she said. “I want to click the sunset”.

It was summer vacations, and I did not really have anything better to do. A trip to the beach with my camera and best friend sounded pretty awesome. I agreed. We went and clicked away to glory…much to the bemusement of the passer-bys. A group of boys actually asked me if we were from some magazine, doing a photo shoot. I don’t think they believed me when I told them we were doing this just for fun, and because we liked photography.

The pictures lay in some elusive niche of my computer hard disk till today, when I saw the Photography 101 assignment for the day: Water.

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Lovers on the Beach

Lovers on the Beach

Into the Sunset Together

Into the Sunset Together

The activity on the beach only increased as dusk approached

The activity on the beach only increased as dusk approached

I tried out a different technique that day. Shooting a picture through a pair of sunglasses – better than any filters you can apply!

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This is the actual colour

This is the actual colour

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And….sunset!

Durga Puja 2014 in Mumbai

Durga Puja means three things to me and my family — good food, new clothes and pandal hopping!! For the uninitiated, pandal hopping is when you go around town visiting different durgoustavs and comparing the idols, the decor of the mandap, the pandal theme etc.

First Stop – Powai Bengali Welfare Association

Decor at the Pandal

Decor at the Pandal

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The Exterior

The crowds at this pandal was intense. We were only there long enough to sample some of the Mishti Doi being sold at the Mother Diary stall there, before proceeding to the second puja in Powai – The Spandan Durga Puja. 

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IMG_0497We reached this pandal around lunch time, and feasted with pleasure on the delicious and piping hot bhog being served there.

Next we proceeded to Shivaji Park, in Dadar to see the famous Bengal Club Durga Puja. 

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From here we went on to Shakti Samanta’s Puja. 

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A pandal built in the shape of a Buddhist Temple

A pandal built in the shape of a Buddhist Temple

Next we went to Hotel Tulip Star in Juhu, to visit the puja of famous Bollywood actress Rani Mukherjee. The decor of this pandal was probably my favourite!

The Gate

The Gate

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The Stalls outside the mandap.

The Stalls outside the mandap.

From here, we proceeded to the Lokhandwala Puja, in Andheri. 

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As evening approached, twinkling lights appeared on the trees and everywhere within the pandal. The lights in themselves were a sight to behold.
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The Changing Lights on the Idol

The Changing Lights on the Idol

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We were also lucky enough to catch some the dhak performance of the evening.

IMG_0631IMG_0633IMG_0636Next destination, Thakur Village in Kandivali, with its two puja pandals. 

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Dhunuchi Dance

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The Lights Leading to the Next Pandal

The Lights Outside

Lights Leading to the Next Pandal

Lights Leading to the Next Pandal

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Things You See On Mumbai Locals #5: The Hand of the Modern Indian Woman – The Best Of Two Worlds

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From in between the half a dozen Nike and Adidas armbands, the symbol Oum tentatively peeks out

…..

– this is the arm of the modern Indian woman. The red tikka or vermilion mark contrast sharply with her GreenDay t-shirt. She is just as punctual for the first day, first show of the latest Tom Cruise thriller, as she is for every puja or religious ceremony in the temple. She revels in her culture and is unapologetic of her bold sexuality.
The way the young girls in Indian metropolitan cities have assimilated the modern day trends with the traditions of the past is admirable and worthy of being written about.
In my college, for instance, girls have the option of choosing between two ways of dress – ethnic or western. A girl can, if she so chooses dress in tight figure-hugging jeans and a tee or a short black dress, but she would look just as attractive in an azure blue salwar suit with silver lace on the duppata and dangling silver earrings, with a tiny diamante bindi to finish the look. You could also, and many do, combine both forms and mix ‘n’ match – an ethnic kurti over jeans, a duppata thrown casually with a dress, or something as insidious as a traditional block printed dress or a tie and dye shirt….options abound, and the modern Indian woman is determined to make best of all of them.
If you move from her wardrobe to her food habits a similar fusion prevails. For instance, today on the train it was the birthday of a passenger. She is in her early 40s and travels regularly to work with a group of her middle-aged friends, who all wished her with a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday!’ today. She distributed packed chocolates and wafers among them, and they gifted her a packed red box that contained coconut barfi. Or the other day, I overhead a 30-something woman tell her friend that the manchurIan balls she prepared for her son’s birthday party had been praised by all, as had been the rice payasam she had cooked.
Just like the sacred thread which hides underneath the more modern accessories, underneath the modern exterior, the Indian woman has preserved her heritage and culture. Over the years, instead of discarding one for another, we have chosen to learn from all that’s new and modern while not forgetting the wisdom of the ages. Be it in her wardrobe or her kitchen – the modern Indian woman has skillfully fused the best of both worlds.

Things You See On Mumbai Locals #4: Life’s Little Dramas

She got on from Dadar, and sat in the corner seat, tapping her toes and fidgeting with the strap of her bag.
Suddenly she asked, “What time will this train reach Borivali?”
“45 minutes”, I answered with the suave ease of a seasoned Mumbaikar. She blanched so visibly that it was evident she was running late for an appointment.
“Tell them – wherever you are late for – that it was raining and all trains have been delayed” I tried to reassure her. “It’s true.”
“No – actually I have to catch an express train” She confessed, and now both me and my friend (who was accompanying me) could empathize with her situation.
Who hasn’t experienced the nail-biting stress of being late for a train? Trains are the most heartless of all beings on the Earth. They never listen to excuses, or justifications, no matter how ‘justified’. Sometimes they will leave the minute you step onto the platform, just so that they can have the sadistic satisfaction of knowing they made you feel like a loser.
The three of us together tried out 3000 different hypothetical possibilities, but no matter which way we looked at it, it was a bleak situation. At the best, it would be a very close shave.
Our train, being the sadistic thing it is, didn’t make things easier, by suddenly becoming a slow, which means that it would now stop at 5 extra platforms!
My friend’s station arrived and she alighted. A few minutes later, she called up to tell me that the S Express (the girl wanted to catch) had just thundered past. We were only a few minutes ahead of it.
What followed was agonizing 15 minutes as we waited and silently urged our train to reach before S Express. After every few seconds, we would share a nervous smile. I wasn’t going to catch the S Express, but I could almost feel my co-passenger’s tension, like it was mine. I wanted her to be on time for the train almost as badly as she wanted it.
2 stations later, the S Express thundered past our train, past our dismayed eyes….till I had a hopeful thought: There are a lot of signals outside Borivali. Most express trains are forced to wait for a while before entering the station. Ours being a local had no such compunctions.
Another hopeful against hope 10 minutes later we reached our destination. The S Express was still at its platform.
The last I saw of the girl was her running towards the overpass, till I lost her in the mass of black heads and colourful backpacks.
In life, we like to have a happy ending; and so I hope she got the train.
For all I know, maybe she was going to take the train to meet her lover; maybe she was a secret agent, in hot pursuit of a criminal aboard the S Express; maybe she had a life-saving drug in her backpack that she had to take to her sick sister; or maybe she was going to participate in some sports tournament, and years later I will see her onscreen playing at the Olympics – there is a thousand distinct possibilities, and if this was a movie one of them would even be true. But who says life is any less dramatic than a movie? It may not be as obvious, but life has its little dramas…and all I hope they have happy endings.

4 Fusion Foods – My Style

1. Fruit Custard with Gulab Jamuns and Vanilla Ice-cream: Every Sunday, after lunch, my dad will look at my mom and go “what’s for dessert?” She in turn will shrug and tell him that she isn’t cooking anything more, and if he wants dessert, he has to arrange for it himself….and my dad will. Usually it’s just ice-cream or some delicious concoction of our local sweet shop; sometimes cookies, but one Sunday he outdid himself.

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That delicious little bowl contains custard, succulent slices of bananas, apples and mangoes, some peeled litchis, luscious black grapes, two scoops of vanilla ice-cream, and is topped with tiny cherry-sized Gulab Jamuns. It is by far, the best dessert I have ever had in my life!! It’s happiness in a bowl!
2. Roti with Manchurian Balls: This is a recent innovation – a couple of days ago, me and my friend were having lunch together at our college canteen. I had a plate of fried rice and manchurian, while she had roti-sabzi. For some reason, neither of us much fancied the manchurian balls, and they remained on the plate, forlorn and lonely, long after we had finished the rice and gravy. Experimentally, I tried some of her rotis with a little bit of a manchurian. Lo and behold, it tasted really nice!
3. Sev Puri with Rotis – This is something I discovered during my school days. Roll up the crushed sev puri chaat in a roti, and be amazed at the surprisingly delicious taste.
4. Schezwan Vada Pav: This is actually available on the menu of Jumbo King outlets across Mumbai. I was a little skeptical when I first tried it, but now it’s my favorite item on the menu.

Inspired by today’s Daily Prompt

10 Indian Foods You Must Eat Before You Die

(This was a creative writing assignment in class).

1. Chicken roll from Kolkata
2. Qurbani ka Meetha from Hyderabad
3. Tender Coconut Ice-cream from Naturals, Mumbai (It’s not technically a traditional Indian food, but you will miss out on a lot, if you restrict yourself to technicalities in life).
4. Indian Hakka Noodles and Chilli Chicken – These may be termed under ‘Chinese’ food, but its the Indian inputs that make them a street speciality every where around India.
5. Prawns in Coconut Milk or prawn malaikari from Bengal
6. Spicy Pani Puri from Mumbai
7. Vada Pav from Mumbai
8.  B.B.C (Boneless Butter Chicken) with Biryani rice and raita
9. Malpua – a kind of fried sweet jn syrup that will definitely leave your tastebuds asking for more.
10. Shrikhand from Gujarat – a dessert made out of curd.

( Update: In retrospect, this post is a little too oriented towards non-veg cuisine. For more vegetarian options I would request you to check out this post by Priyanshipandey).

Things You See On Mumbai Locals #3

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Traveling in locals (assuming that they are working)  during the heavy monsoon showers is an unique experience. You have the surreal pleasure of enjoying the beauty of the gray skies and the cool moist breeze – without getting wet or squashing through mud!!
You can watch the silver droplets rain from the sky, you can see the thirsty trees spreading their branches out towards the heavens, and some will even dance to the preppy beats of the wind. You can marvel at the gray clouds with streaks of pale sunlight cutting in between. They seem to have thrown a dark blanket over the city,  and Time has curled itself up in it, and gone to sleep. It’s hard to say whether it’s 6 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon or 5 in the evening, if not for your dogged watch – the ultimate workaholic!
You can bring your face close to the window bars, close your eyes, and enjoy the soft, wet kisses of the raindrops.
Or you can be like me – you can take a seat back, and enjoy the masterpiece.