Sunday, March 29, 2009

New Love

I had decided not to write about my personal life on my blog, or at least this kind of personal stuff, after some misadventures at my previous blog, but I am so madly in love now that I couldn't resist it.

Yes, I am in love. Head-over-heels, and any other way possible. I am also pretty sure that the object of my love would not really mind me writing about it here.

In fact, for those of you who are interested, I am linking a pic of mon amour. If someone was this beautiful and this easy to handle and this much fun to be around with, it would be difficult not to fall in love.

Here's the pic.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


The comment by Pi at the previous post, and then a visit to this page at Wikipedia, made me want to write this post.

I think I have said earlier, even before the last post, that I have lived in Iraq. I generally do not say it very explicitly because I am very conscious of the fact that this was a very different experience from what most of my peers would have had. I have friends from families rich enough to have had vacations in Europe and the US and all that. But having lived for a substantial time in Iraq is not something too many Indians in my generation would have done, or would get a chance to for the next few years at least, irrespective of how much money they have. The thing is I don't want to make it apparent how much I enjoy the fact that I am one of the few people I know who has been there. A similar feeling is what I get when people talk about Pakistan. I really enjoy all the questions people ask about these two places.

One of my friends has worked in Cyprus, and I envy him for that, and I imagine, even if it doesn't actually happen, that people in some way envy me for my experiences in these two amazing countries.

I have a strong feeling of deja vu writing about my experiences in Iraq, a feeling that I have already written about it some time, but I don't have the patience to check my archives from all the blogs I have written at. So, here goes.

The wiki page has a section at the bottom called 'Cement Plant'. It's a very accurate description of the place, and unless I wrote it in a drunk condition and forgot all about it, it must have been written by one of my schoolmates at Al-Qaim. I don't think anyone outside the colony would have known so much detail.

I lived in a place called Al-Qaim, very close to the Syrian border, from early 1988 to mid-1990. We came back when the 1st Gulf War was imminent.

My father went there about 2 months before us (my mother, my sister and yours truly). I remember the last night I spent with him before he left. I wasn't as aware as I am now, but I did know that there was a war on. The war with Iran. My mom's father had been particularly worried when he heard of my dad's transfer because my mom's eldest brother was posted in Batticaloa at that time, and then another person in the family going to a disturbed area wasn't an exciting thought. I remember I started paying more attention to the images of the Iraq-Iran war once I heard of the transfer. I was scared the night he left.

I was scared till I ran to meet him at the Baghdad airport two months later. This was a little after the overnight flight in Iraqi Airways, where I managed to get locked up in the bathroom. My dad had bought loads of chocolates for me. I actually remember the mint-flavored chocolate he had bought for me. I bought the same thing returning from Dubai last year and gave it to him. We reached Baghdad early in the morning and after spending a short while in ACC's guesthouse (where I saw a bombed building for the first time and realized how close the war was - a building just stone's throw from the guest-house had been bombed the previous night), we left for Kubaisa, where ACC had one of its plants.

We spent a night or so in Kubaisa, where I experienced the terrible desert weather for the first time. I was not allowed to go out during the day and every single place indoors was air-conditioned.

I can't recall whether it was before Kubaisa or after it, but we stopped on the way at Ramadi, one of Iraq's bigger towns, to freshen up. I saw the Euphrates there. Several times after that, I was in a car that drove by Tigris and Euphrates, but I realized much later the historical significance of these rivers. Baghdad has both these rivers flowing through it, and Euphrates also used to flow by very close to where my home was.

We reached Al-Qaim pretty soon after that. We were one of the first families to get there and more kept coming in the next few weeks. I think we had around 30 families there in the colony. These were the families of people at the management level in the plant, and many married men stayed alone for the entire duration of their posting there. Which would account for all the chocolates I used to get from many of these 'bachelors' who were probably missing their children back in India.

My school started off in the homes of the teachers. Wives of employees, who had specialisation in any subject, began teaching it. Till we got a permanent place for a school, we used to move from one home to another for each subject. I had 5 other people in my class. There were classes that had just one student. My mom was our Science teacher. So, on days my first class was Science, I would get up in the morning, get ready and then go and sit in our living room waiting for the other classmates to arrive. This didn't last too long as we got a place for school, which would double up as the club in the evening, where I used to go to play carrom and table tennis.

We didn't have any proper games or sports goods there. I don't know why it was so difficult to find anything in the shops. So we started devising our own games. Collecting matchboxes, cigarette boxes, milk cartons, every damn thing and making toys with them. Inventing crazy games. Going off to places we were forbidden to go to.

There were all these Romanian people also in their own section of the colony (I am assuming you have read the Wiki article). This was the first time I was in such proximity to Whites. We somehow got into our heads that these guys were maneaters. Don't ask! So we would have bets on how close we could go to their houses without being caught (and well, barbequeued). Though I soon realized that they were pretty harmless and spoke to a few of them. But there were no Romanian kids there.

There were some Iraqi families though. We befriended some Iraqi kids, but we generally looked at them in disdain because we felt they were very dirty and didn't understand even a bit of English.

One more new thing was seeing women in swimsuits. Some Romanian women had a swimming pool for themselves, and they would cavort in broad daylight in costumes that were too scandalous for us kids. And we would try not to stare while passing by. Or at least appear not to. I wonder how they got away with it in a Middle East country.

The Chemical Fertilizer Complex that the Wiki article talks about was visible from our colony. They actually released some chemical a few times that made all us kids playing outside cough madly.

There are far too many things, far too many, which I remember almost like they happened a couple of years back. Watching all those Hindi movie video cassettes, trips to Baghdad and Habbaniyah, the three-day state holiday when the Iraq-Iran war got over and when I got burnt on our way to Baghdad in a train, getting the highest rank among all Indian Central Schools for two consecutive years, playing in the first (and only) snowfall of my life, seeing almost every adult cry when the colony's sweeper sang Chitthi Aayi Hai at a function, far too many.

But the thing I still remember most vividly is leaving our cosy home that night in early September in 1990, walking alone in the house for the last time, hoping that I would be back some day to take back all my self-made toys I was leaving behind, leaving like thieves in a bus that was not allowed to switch on the headlights, leaving Iraq like refugees, leaving my dad back, with the very strong fear that I might not get to see him again.

My dad did come back safely, though after the war began. We were staying in Navi Mumbai with my aunt and the morning my dad returned I saw my mom run out in her nightgown into the street and hug my dad. I still remember that day. That image came to me every time there was a tiff between my parents. It reminded me what they mean to each other.

I didn't go back to my home in Al-Qaim. Very soon after our return, one night in the news I saw the colony being bombed to rubble by US aircrafts.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Days of Our Lives

A lot of kids who were born in the 90s would not believe it, but there used to be a time called The 80s, when Disco was all the craze, Krishi Darshan used to be telecast on prime time on national television and Bappi Lahiri was God. It also used to be the time when I was in primary school, and India came out with the craziest bit of Hindi movies. The two - being at an impressionable age and awesome movies - make for an interesting mix, and I am afraid I have been scarred for life.

I somehow happened to come across a clip from the movie Tarzan (the Hemant Birje one) today on YouTube, and the very visible Kimi Katkar made me think of those ladies who regaled us with their outrageous clothes and outstanding dance steps and non-existent acting skills all those years ago. I decided to find out what some of these women have been up to since we stopped noticing them.

Kimi Katkar has a three film filmography on Wikipedia. What gross injustice. All that white-sari clad rain dancing for nothing. She seems to have married Shantanu Sheorey, the photographer. My memory of her: Arre O Jumma, Meri Jaaneman, Baahar Nikal...the music still sends shivers down my spine!

Sonam, the Oye Oye girl, got roles for so long for reasons I can't fathom. Her actual name was Bakhtawar Murad, which I didn't know till today, and she was Raza Murad's niece. She got married to Rajiv Rai and moved abroad when he was shot at during the peak of the underworld-filmdom dealings.
My memory of her: What else, but Tirchhi Topiwaale!

Ektaa, who had been acting as late as 2005 in a movie called Anjaane: The Unknown, saw the highpoint of her career in movies like Awwal Number and Saajan. She married Mohnish Behl, and thankfully gave up trying to act.
My memory of her: Actually none, but fleeting images from the two movies mentioned above.

, the lady from a seriously academic family and Shabana Azmi's niece, and also the elder sister of Tabu, had a short-lived marriage with Dara Singh's stone-faced son Vindoo. What is she upto now?
My memory of her: Her roles in Marte Dam Tak and Ghar Ghar Ki Kahani

Shilpa Shirodkar
, who wasn't technically an 80s actress, but is probably associated with that period, had her biggest hit in the madcap Aankhen. I can remember, rather vividly, her vigorously choreographed dance numbers, many of them in extremely wet conditions. She seemed to have married a banker, which is always a good thing, recession or no recession.
My memory of her: Her dance with Govinda from Aankhen, where she tells him that her dad's gone to the field and her mom's at the market, and so he should make hay while the sun's still up.

Sangeeta Bijlani
, the third in the Tridev trio and former Miss India, is described on Wiki as someone who was known for her dance numbers than histrionic skills. Who am I to argue? She obviously got good value for stardom in marriage to one of Indian cricket's most eligible already married men.
My memory of her: Gali gali mein phirta hai tu kyun banke banjaara...

Neelam (Kothari) was probably one of the richest non-film-background women in Hindi films. Her pairings with Govinda were particularly successful, but that didn't do much for her career. A quick marriage and divorce later, I believe she is back to the Page 3 circuit and jewellery designing, the two last resorts of erstwhile celebrities.
My memory of her: Tip tip tip tip baarish shuru ho gayi...

Anita Raj, whom I remember mainly because of how shocked I can recall I was when I read in a film magazine (most probably Stardust) that she was going to expose a lot in a film directed by her brother. I was a kid then, of course. I actually can't recall a single film of hers, but I definitely saw quite a few films where she came in for the songs, or to provide a reason for the hero to beat up the villain. She maaried some small-time film director and left the industry.

Mandakini, who probably had the most eventful career of all. Being launched in an RK film at the age of 16, with scenes under the waterfall people still haven't forgotten (I saw the film at the ripe old age of 3 with my parents, so you know now why I am the way I am), allegedly becoming one of India's biggest criminal's moll, and then coming back to release two pop albums, she sure did interesting stuff. And, again, I didn't know her real name is Yasmeen Joseph.
My memory of her: Sun sahiba sun...

There were others, for sure, whose names I can't recall. Some like Poonam Dhillon, Padmini Kolhapure, Amrita Singh, Meenakshi Seshadri and Jaya Prada had slightly more successful careers. Others, like Hema Malini and Zeenat Aman, were kids of previous generations. And then there were Sri Devi, Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla, who were far too great to be included in this list.

There's this thing I can recall right now from 1988. Tezaab had just come out, and I hadn't seen it yet. Uttar-Dakshin and Hifazat were the only Madhuri Dixit movies I had seen till that time. One fine evening in Al-Qaim, I was having a discussion on favorite heroines with some of my friends. I actually told them that I don't like Madhuri Dixit because she can't act and she is too thin. 6 year olds know nothing. I saw this very soon. And have been a fan ever since.

And lastly, I didn't exactly mean to make fun of these ladies. If roles weren't being written for women, and the ones that were being written had been cornered by the likes of Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Deepti Naval, these ladies couldn't have done much about it. Seeing some of the videos I have provided links to gives me goose-bumps. Marveling at how India has changed over the last 20 years would be one of our generation's favorite pastimes for the rest of our lives.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Two Cents on Pride and Culture

First Cent: This whole obsession with getting back Mahatma Gandhi's personal belongings has gotten really crazy now. And everyone involved seems to be trying to outdo the next party in being idiotic.

Firstly, I don't understand why India's pride is at stake here if a dead (even if arguably great) man's slippers and glasses and few other things get auctioned off. Haven't some really priceless pieces of art and architecture been also auctioned off earlier? And, though I am not very sure of this mainly because I AM NOT INTERESTED, weren't these things already in foreign possession? So why this sudden fuss? The only thing could be that this is close to the election season. I mean I have genuine respect for Mahatma Gandhi, and a visit to his Ashram in Ahmedabad was one of the highlights of my recent trip there, but I am pretty sure he wouldn't have cared either.

Now the Government says that it'll go all out and bid for these items at the auction. Am I the only one who finds it really idiotic that they are openly declaring that they are going to bid anything to get these items back in an open auction. Opens up some interesting prospects for the seller.

And the rediff news article says that James Otis, the seller, 'wanted
the Indian government to shift priorities from military spending to health care, especially for the poor'. Is the man crazy? Or are we?

Second Cent: I had made a post some time back about how Bangalore is looking more and more like Delhi each passing day.

The latest bit of resemblance is how this city is getting unsafe for women. It will take a long long time to get anywhere close to Delhi, but it seems all determined to get there. Such incidents have suddenly become very noticeable, so they are either just being reported more now even though they were always there, or some sick bastards have suddenly realized that they can get away with a lot of things because Mr Yeddyurappa has some very twisted ideas of what constitutes Indian culture.

There have been quite a few incidents lately where women walking alone in a jeans or in a pub with a man or riding a bike have been misbehaved with. And even slapped. By people at random. For no reason. What kind of castrated, low self-esteem, frustrated moron would slap a woman, and think that he is protecting Indian culture.

Bangalore is an amazing city, with a culture that people have unbelievable pride in, and not altogether unjustified. Even for someone who has been here for less than a year, it feels great being called a Bangalorean, being part of that community. So, it truly sucks when I see something like this spoiling what is supposed to be a rich, tolerant, beautiful place.

Even though, I am also sure that if I see a couple of guys on a bike slapping a single lady on the road and driving past, I would not do much beyond standing there and cursing them. Sucks.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Quizzing in Durgapur

This last weekend was spent in Durgapur, which for some reason I am really fond of. Made a couple of extremely enjoyable visits there when I was studying in Kolkata, and then there were some really nice visits from home too when my parents were staying close to it. I had never imagined a town so developed, when I made my first trip there. So, it's probably the memories.

I was there this weekend to conduct a couple of quizzes at NIT Durgapur, at their tech fest Aarohan. It was a really nice experience, not the least because of their hospitality. It actually felt like coming to a place I have a relationship with, and I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

MnA has been doing quite well. We have done some good quizzes, while some other invites didn't work out because of time issues (it's difficult for us to do a quiz, on most occasions, on a weekday). The economic downturn has had both good and bad effects - people have become more cautious with money and so value our low cost-high standard quizzes more, but at some places they are so short of money that they just prefer having local quizmasters. But since this was never meant to be a money-making venture, we are happy with almost anything we get. Which has included invitations from some colleges I really wanted to go to as a quizmaster, and a weekly gig for a regional supplement of one of India's biggest English newspapers. There are some other things in the offing that might or might not work out. But the high of running a company, even if it is largely informal, is just awesome. There's this motivation that I can garner while pitching to someone or negotiating with someone that I never knew I had in me.

The trip also made me realize something I had not thought of very consciously till now. I love interacting with under-grad students. That might be a very important sub-conscious reason why I decided to make an effort to conduct quizzes instead of just being happy with my great job. There is this confidence that I have seen in so many under-grad students (though my experience has been limited to some of the best engineering colleges of the country only) that I haven't seen in anyone older. Confidence in their abilities, in the fact that they will achieve every dream they see, without any concern for the world that might be barely holding together outside their campuses. It might be foolhardiness, but what would we be without people like these?

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