Tuesday, March 12, 2013

20 years later

20 years ago today was a Friday. Black Friday. 12th March 1993. On a sunny afternoon, for two hours starting from 1.30pm, 13 bomb blasts killed more than 250 and injured 700. Lives were lost, families destroyed. On that day, more lives were lost in Bombay than any other attack on this city that followed since then. We lost 209 in the 11/7 attacks. We lost 166 in the 26/11 attacks. Before those attacks, we lost 257 that sunny afternoon 20 years ago.

I was returning from work and switching trains at Dadar when I saw “Blood needed, go to King George’s School Dadar” hand-written on a piece of paper, stuck on a local train that passed me by. I had no idea what had happened till I reached home, many hours after the blasts. Everyone who was in Bombay that day, has a story to tell. Of streets washed with blood, of limbs strewn across the road and flung on top of building terraces. Frantic phone calls, dead bodies, bloodied bodies, victims, survivors, hospitals, morgues. Everyone has a story for that day.

Fast forward to today. 12th March 2013. The Times of India, the Mumbai Mirror and the Hindustan Times carry no mention – not one single word, not an alphabet – on the blasts that day. I place on record my appreciation to Sachin Kalbag for carrying the story in Midday today. In popular culture, other than one book by S Hussain Zaidi and one movie by Anurag Kashyap, there isn’t anything much to remind us of that day.

How can we, some 1-2crores, of citizens of this great city – and I believe it is great – carry on with our lives? Where is our collective conscience? As Indians, we accept notions such as corruption is necessary and life is cheap. Yes, real estate is expensive and life is cheap in India. There are 120crores of us. Perhaps, the US –with one third our population – can afford the luxury of spending time on remembering their victims. We don’t. We move on. We forget.

And that’s when we fail ourselves, we fail our fellow citizens. We fail the victims. Those 250+ who died that day in Bombay. Beyond a few tweets and facebook updates such as these, 12th March 1993 will be forgotten. Those born on that day are already 20years old and they don’t have time to deal with the memory of that day. Besides, so many more attacks have happened since, how many can you remember? This is how we fail ourselves and this city.

The least that can be done is make a memorial for the fallen Bombayite, Mumbaikar, resident of this city. That lost his and her life to terrorism. Terrorism on that day 20years ago, in the riots that preceded the blasts and in all the attacks on this city that followed since. This memorial should have the names of all the victims. It should be large, prominent and it should be on display at a place thronged by fellow Bombayites and Mumbaikars and residents of this city. Like Churchgate or Dadar or Gateway of India.

Such a memorial will be a reminder to every one of us citizens that this city remembers. It pays tribute to those fallen in senseless violent acts. That it does not believe in moving on. It believes in spending one quiet minute in the mad rush remembering lives lost. We owe it to ourselves. We owe to our city. We owe it to our home. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Death on a road

A speeding Honda Accord took the life of a biker and a rickshaw driver today morning. I knew the biker. He was an acquaintance from the area I grew up in and shifted out of in 2009. He wasn't a close friend but someone I knew in the neighborhood. Someone in the other team with whom you play cricket on the road when you were a kid. Someone who you nod at, or smile to when you walk by on the road. Someone who died today morning and left behind two kids, a paralyzed mother, a father and a wife.

This Bombay is different from the Bombay of the past. The past when the streets weren't as dangerous and as risky. We used to follow no-entry signs, we used to drive on the right side of the road, we used to follow signals. We did this together. That’s how things would work in Bombay. Things are a system in Bombay. A system that people follow. Follow out of habit, out of discipline, out of respect, out of fear.

No more. Slowly and steadily over the past decade, there has been a systematic decline in following these rules. Today? You break a no-entry when you can, when it suits you. You drive on the wrong side of the lane because it’s easier. You break a signal because you can't wait. In some cases you do it all together. So, you enter a no-entry, drive on the wrong side of the road and break a signal while talking on the cell phone while driving.

We all do it because we know we can get away with it. Maybe what’s changed is that the traffic police has been woefully inadequate – or even apathetic – to keep the discipline up in a city where more cars seem to be added every year than traffic police.

I’ve seen parents furiously breaking these rules to ensure their kids reach school on time. I’ve seen educated, well-to-do, middle class, rich class break these rules as often as I’ve seen cabbies, auto-rickshaw drivers, truck drivers, even traffic police breaking these rules. It's now a habit. It is something that is taken for granted. It is something that everyone does because everyone else does it. It is something that kills people. It is something that killed this guy I knew today morning.

When did this city break down? When did we stop caring? When did we start honking at someone who actually waits for a red signal to turn green? When did we start laughing at someone who drives all the way down a lane and takes a u-turn, instead of simply riding over a divider to get to get to the other side of the road?

Moments like these leave me with despair and anger and frustration. At the city, its residents, its people. That can take such tragic loss of life so lightly and move on with life. As I know even I will eventually. We are trained to. Life goes on. And yet, for some life is over.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Three conflicts

The recent Delhi atrocity has sparked an outrage. On the media, on Facebook, Twitter and where it matters more than those three places – in real life. I’ve expressed myself mainly on Twitter and this post is about three very personal thoughts that I feel conflicted about.

1. The word 'rape': The Urban Dictionary page on rape runs for 20 pages and has 140 entries. In common usage, the word isn’t always used literally. It is used as slang. It is part of daily conversation among men and women. The phrase “If you’re getting raped, might as well enjoy it” is used to describe such mundane activities like being stuck in traffic, having to work late nights, etc. Is this usage justified? Those who believe it is, say that it’s a substitute for fucked and screwed and that I should not take it so seriously. Just like we use 'cripple' or 'retarded' to describe a stupid person, rape describes an unpleasant experience. So this is conflict #1 – am I taking things too seriously? Can we not use the word ‘rape’ lightly? I choose my side here and say no, I will not use the word lightly. I cannot use the word 'rape' to mean anything but that act. I also can't get myself to call a physically challenged person a cripple. Call me soft like the Americans that George Carlin describes here. (I was shown this video and told to lighten up). Rape is not slang. It’s a heinous act. I restrict its usage only to describe the abhorrent and reprehensible act the word describes. There are enough slang words to choose from which convey the same figurative meaning. No, I refuse to say 'rape' in jest.

2. Freedom of speech: A few days ago I, among others, was outraged over a one-word website which said rape is a thing to do in Delhi. The site's intent was to convey irony, satire and protest. Following the outrage, the website was taken down. So, here is conflict #2. When does mass outrage infringe up on freedom of speech? When a crowd of people gang up on someone who wants to express himself, how is it different from a lynch mob? And here’s the other side – how do you register your outrage against something you find offensive? Especially something you feel very strongly about? Are you supposed to just put out one tweet and a Facebook update and ignore it as something in bad taste and leave it be? Or, have courage in your conviction and raise your protest? After all, isn’t freedom of protest part of freedom of speech? Why is one lesser than the other? Just like you can’t control creativity, you can’t control outrage. They are both strong emotions. Even so. By ganging up against someone who expresses his freedom of speech how are you different from the Government? Like Rushdie said “What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” I believe in freedom of speech as an absolute right, not up for compromise.  But I also believe in responsibility. And yet, I cannot expect or demand this from others. I remain conflicted on this one. One man’s protest is another man’s outrage. The line remains thin and grey.

3. Taking sides: Do you believe in taking sides or sitting on the fence? The case for sitting on the fence? It keeps you balanced and atop the two camps fighting each other. It enriches you because you understand and appreciate both sides of the arguments. And you don’t take things seriously. You are understanding and appreciative of both sides. This is important because we live in times where emotion is now more widely expressed than ever before and finding support strengthens your beliefs. But in extreme cases this takes the form of a herd mentality, mobbing, bullying, lynching and a general loss of perspective and good sense. In times like these you need an emotional, detached point of view. It helps. The case for taking sides? Standing for what you believe in and not flinching before intimidation. A sense of duty in doing what you stand for and standing up for others you believe and agree with.

Of the three conflicts, this is the easiest one. I believe in taking sides. There are things I stand for and I would not yield on any of these. But I also believe in learning and changing my stance over time. For example: I once loved Bombay and believed in the spirit of Bombay. Today I’ve taken all the emotion out and see Bombay as just a means to an end. I don’t see it as a dying city and I don’t see it as perfect city. So yes, when it comes to choosing, I will always take a side. But I will also leave room to learn and change over time. I wonder if this is called maturity and aging. Or compromising your passion.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

That is Bombay

There are no hoardings on the Bandra Worli Sealink. Nothing to remind you which tv series airs tonight. Nothing to remind you which bank offers the best fixed deposit rate, which mobile phone is the latest, who to call if you want to advertise. Which politician’s birthday it is and who is celebrating it.

There is no St. Michael’s Church on a Wednesday, a Siddhivinayak Temple on a Tuesday, a Mahim Dargah on a Friday. No devotees walking barefoot through the night struggling for a toe-hold, a minute of devotion, 100metres away from a God that will answer their prayers, listen to them, give them hope, give them happiness. No hoarding to remind them that Jesus loves us all. No Allah, no Ganesha. No, there are no Gods, no temples, no mosques, no churches on the Bandra Worli Sealink. There is no Ganesha Visarjan, no Moharram procession, no Urs, no Jain Paryushan processions, no Chaitya Bhoomi homage.

There are no street urchins at the signals to beg you for money. To display the wretchedness of their disfigured shapes, bodies, arms, legs, nakedness. And urge and beckon and cry and tap at your window for the loose change you refuse to part with because you know it’s all a scam. Bombay style. No mercy. No, there are no beggars on the Bandra Worli Sealink. To dodge between stationary cars at a signal on their tiny carts, spotting a Mercedes with an open window here, a kindly looking woman and her kids there.  And to beg just so they can eat their happy meals at the shop in Mahim that pulls cars in their direction to feed the hungry and get dua. No, there are no beggars on the Bandra Worli Sealink.

There are no pav-waalahs on their cycle laden with pavs on the Bandra Worli Sealink. Selling their pavs to the vada-pav stalls and the brun maska Iranis. On their cycle from stall to stall, from shop to shop. In between wiping their brows with the sweat it takes to earn a rupee, one single rupee, in this city. No, there are no pav-waalahs, no chai-waalahs, no coffee-waalahs with their extra milky coffees with cigarettes on the side catering to anyone, anyone on the street at 3am looking desperately for a chai-sutta. No, there are no cycles on the Bandra Worli Sealink.

There are no railway stations on the Bandra Worli Sealink. With an endless line of people swarming in to it in the morning, and gushing out of it in the evening. No buses, no rickshaws, no taxis. Full of people rushing to reach work on time so that their salaries aren’t cut, their bosses not angry, their musters filled on time. No crowds of people rushing back home to their loved ones with the vegetables cut in the local trains so that dinner is on time. There are no mothers rushing between cars so that their kids can reach school on time, their classes on time, their sports grounds on time. On time. In Bombay you have to be on time.

There are no shops on the Bandra Worli Sealink. On the road, encroaching on the footpath. Selling nighties, selling plastic toys, selling bags, food, newspapers, cold drinks. No shop-keepers sipping tea, talking to their neighbors, waiting for customers. No shops with a 50% sale.

No there is none of the above on the Bandra Worli Sealink. None of it. And much more that isn’t there. There is just one 6-7km long road to remind us that Bombay has made progress. To cut through the riff-raff, the traffic, the noise, the poverty, the religion, the grief, the sadness, the madness, the crowds. Just speeding cars that get bigger in size and faster in speed.

No, the Bandra Worli Sealink offers you a shortcut. A bypass, a diversion, cutting through the sea. A hop, skip and jump from Worli to Bandra or Bandra to Worli. In less than 5minutes, depending on your speed. Depending on your wallet. At a price. Because everything in Bombay comes at a price. Rs82.50 for a return ticket, Rs55 for a one-way, Rs2,750 for a monthly pass. For that much you skip it all and zip through. Silently, smoothly, without traffic, without signals. Without hoardings, without street urchins, without pav-waalahs, without shops, without trains, without churches, without mosques, without Gods, without people.

A 5-minute illusion that lands you back into the arms of this mad city. This mad city with its waves and waves of humanity and noise and dust and dirt and filth and disgust and despair and hope and happiness.  From that there is no getting away. For that is Bombay.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The journey is everything

On this day, a year ago my Dad passed away from a single, and his first, cardiac arrest. From the time we broke down his door to the time I immersed his ashes, I tweeted just about everything. Since the past three years, almost my entire life is on Twitter. From my son’s birth to my dad’s death, I’ve tweeted everything. Why? Why do I share intimate details about my life with strangers? I don’t know. I wish there was a single sentence answer to that. There isn’t.

I’d like to believe my real life is boring. And that Twitter, with all its noise and chaos, is my real life. But it’s all the same. I don’t know if there is such a big difference between your real life and your online life. Time is a constant. You choose the places and the people you like. And sometimes they choose you. I got so much warmth and support from Twitter, through that period last year, that it overwhelmed me. Even today, my Dad’s first death anniversary, I got a beautiful, sensitive and supportive email from someone I’ve come to know through Twitter. It has also overwhelmed me with its warmth.

When I was going through hell last year, I got support. Absolute strangers helping me to deal with my loss. In my anger, in my grief, in my rage against things I couldn’t understand, they were there. Even at the prayer ceremony to remember my Dad, they were there. Strangers who didn’t know me beyond my daily, aimless 140-character blurts were there to be with me and give me a hug. It moved me then, it moves me now. Makes me wonder about that saying “smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone”. I cried and it seemed like the world cried with me.

I don’t know why sharing with strangers worked for me. Maybe because I’m not good at being alone, at being quiet, at being pensive. I like talking. About myself, about my very boring and ordinary life that I love and enjoy. About my mediocrity. I can also go on and on. Thankfully, I remember someone even hauling me up on Twitter last year when I became too depressive. I’m glad he did. I did slip into a depression that I’m still not sure I’ve come out of. My grief was still my own. The warmth and love and support help, but the loss is mine and I have to carry it. (Aside: This NewYorker article helped in a very big way because it questions our traditional idea of grieving).

So no, I don’t know what it is about Twitter that works. I’d be daft if I started to talk with strangers in the local train. Or roll down my windows in a traffic jam and tell people that I’m sad and depressed. They won’t care. They don’t need to. But I guess Twitter is different in how it gets us together. All of us together in a journey. Friendships and relationships can get made in journeys. We laugh and cry in journeys. We unite and fight in journeys. We love and lose in journeys. You can choose to be alone in the journey. And you can see the train go by on its journey. All that’s left in the end is the journey. I think, and as the tag line of that very famous movie goes, the journey is everything.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bombay Taxi Documentary

Azhar Chougule is one photographer I really admire, going back to when I used to blog. He now has a photographic documentary on Mumbai's taxis up at his blog.
It feels like there are more taxis than private vehicles in Bombay. As I traveled to work everyday, It took over a week to suddenly realize that I was involuntarily immersing myself each day into a painfully obvious, yet hidden, colorful and maddening world while in transit. Somewhat hesitantly, I started to carry my camera along. Then as I began to photograph the vehicles, drivers, interiors, dashboards - it occurred to me that Bombay probably has the most unique breed of hired cabs in the world. From their gaudy plastered interiors to the diversity of the drivers, each trip turned out to be ridiculously memorable.

So go ahead and check his photos out here:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why I deleted my 4sq account

I deleted my account at 4square. I did this during my recent Twitter detox and after I got a notification that someone had ousted me as Mayor of somewhere. Kinda made me realise that this 4square stuff is also about numbers.

I don't get social networks. Why do I need these numbers? Is it like some popularity thing? You know. I got so many comments on my blog, I got so many followers, I'm the Mayor of so many places. Is that some confirmation of your very cool personality? I'm sure it's great networking but I think I've had it with this obsession with numbers and fame in a place that's basically binary code.

4square was cool with all the useful tips about places, telling you what to try and what to do where. But after some time I began to feel weird when I reached out for my iPhone and rushed to check in. Why? Just so I can retain my Mayorship? Uh..like dude..it's only a website you know. You might be a Mayor but you won't be cutting ribbons. Besides, you can even create a place in your toilet pot and become it's Mayor. Yeah! Ain't no one removing me from my shit pot! Bugger off, go take a dump!

And from what I hear, you don't have to be at a place physically. You can check in wherever you want at the 4sq website. So I can check in to some cool Russian bordello sitting out here in Lower Parel? So much for authenticity. Kinda like creating bots to increase your follow count. Kinda like those spammy emails to increase your pee-pee size. Uh-huh.

Oh ok. I get that 4square is cool if you're in a new place that you don't know and you want to find the coolest, most hippest and happening thing. Yeah, I'm willing to let that once-in-a-lifetime chance pass me by. I'll use Lonely Planet or ask some dude. Or hey, there's always Twitter. Enough of all this badges, mayorships and check ins. Some real world shit too.