Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bride

"I'll come for your wedding because you will make for a very funny bride," my friend responded to my wedding invitation. "Yeah, right," I had thought then. But as the wedding date drew near, that statement kept ringing in my head. Never in my dreams had I seen myself as a bride...not even at the age when I played with dolls in cardboard doll-houses. So when I had to actually sit through the mehendi (henna) and garba sessions, I didn't really know what to expect.


Mehendi
My in-laws had called me in for mehendi on December 5...a day before my wedding. I didn't see it as an event till I turned up at their door. I froze when I saw my sister-in-law in an orange chaniya-choli. Behind her were women in colourful sequinned sarees and chaniya cholis swaying to Bollywood music. I cringed at my navy blue shorts and a red t-shirt as a photographer swooped in from nowhere and started taking pictures of me. I made my way to my ma-in-law who simply smiled at me. The mehendi designer, Razia, checked me out as I planted myself next to my German friend Katie. Now, I hn't got the patience to sit through a mehendi session. The first time I had put mehendi was at the time of my engagement last year and I thought I had done a pretty good job sitting idle for 45 minutes waiting for it to dry. I had an excuse, "I'm a Bong. We don't use mehendi." But this time, the excuse wouldn't work. For one, I was the bride...the colour and design had to be darker and better than all the other women. Secondly, German Katie had no problem sitting idle with henna on her hands for hours together. I, an Indian bride, would have no choice. It took Razia, who lives in the old city area in Baroda, four hours to apply mehendi on my palms, forearm, feet and calves. This was my initiation into bridehood. An Indian bride has to be patient. This was my test of endurance. I smiled sheepishly at the camera as I waited for the mehendi to dry up. A slight movement and Razia would scream at me. "Don't move. You'll spoil it. Let it dry and let him take the pictures. After that, I don't really care what you do with it." I kept the mehendi on till night, much to the amusement of the Bongs in my family who went in paparazzi mode as I tried scraping it off with the help of Vicks Vaporub. An uncle chuckled, "Now that's a use of Vicks I didn't know of." Well, I had just followed Razia's instructions and am glad I did because the next morning, the henna on my hands had turned a deep red. An aunt remarked, "That means your groom will love you a lot." I retorted, "Tell me something I don't already know."

"Look shy, bride"
I am camera-shy. Those who've seen my pictures splashed in Mumbai Mirror and Education Times will certainly disagree but it's true. I hate posing for pictures. So when I had to do it for my bridal portfolio, I mechanically followed the photographer's instructions. I have a natural grin. But the photographer didn't think that made me look like a coy Indian bride. He barked, "Look shy." "How do I look shy?" He picked up a handkerchief and pressed one end with his teeth and said, "Like this." I was amazed he actually wanted me to do a 'gaon ki chhori' for my wedding pictures. I refused. But he didn't budge. I picked up the corner of my red veil and put it between my teeth (I was worried that I might wipe off my red lipstick). He said, "Very nice. Now, you look shy enough to be bride." Indeed!

Kung Fu relief
What does a bride do when she has to wait for the mandap call? In an arranged marriage scenario, she would probably prepare herself for the uncertainties that lie ahead. But I have known my guy for over five years and I was sure I wanted to marry him. So after a discussion with my younger cousin on how does one know whether he/she should go ahead with marriage, I was out of words. I turned to my cousin, "It wouldn't really be out of the ordinary if we turned on the Tv to catch up on the news?" My cousin said, "I don't think people would mind too much if it's news." We hit the remote and browsed news channels. We hit Star World and caught a bit of an episode of Friends. Greed led us to surf through the movie channels on mute. We soon struck gold. A 1970s Chinese flick with lots of Kung Fu. Cousin and I laughed hysterically. And then...aunt knocked on my door. That was the mandap call.

"Man, does he want to burn this place down?"
The pujari who conducted our Bong-style wedding ceremony was innovative to say the least. He built the havan kund (sacred fire) on a wollen carpet. He put some newspapers first and marked out an area with bricks. He spread sand on the newspaper sheets and put dry twigs atop it. During the course of the ceremony he would ask my husband to pour ghee into the fire. The flames would get a new lease of life and would rise high, towards the ceiling of the mandap. My American aunt freaked out. "What is he trying to do? Burn the place down? Can you please bring some flasks of water in case we have a bonfire here." She needn't have worried so much, for, in course of the ceremony when I was asked to offer puffed rice to the fire, I threw it in with so much force that it was nearly extinguished . "Throw it with a little more grace. You are a bride," the pujari said. Right!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bloody hell...again

I am too shocked at the terror incidents in Mumbai. For eight years, almost everyday, I have walked down the D N Road in the heart of South Mumbai. I studied at St Xavier's College. I would cut across the Cama Hospital campus to go to the Mahapalika Marg. I have lunched at the police canteen on the Esplanade Court premises. I have worked at the Times of India Building for nearly 4 years. I have met officials at the BMC and the police commissionerate. I have taken trains from CST. I have watched movies at Metro cinema and shopped regularly at Colaba Causeway and even enjoyed a few evenings at Cafe Leopold. Till yesterday, I wouldn't have even blink if I were asked to go to CST. Today, I realise, I am actually made to think whether I should go or not. Overnight, this stretch of road has become the deadliest mile in Mumbai. As the events of terrorist attacks unfolded on television last night...my mind numbed. I won't even talk about the Taj and the Trident - as I have looked to them as symbols of this great city's past and future. The Taj was founded so that Indians could use a five-star hotel. The Trident (earlier known as Hilton and Oberoi) was Mumbai's answer to the Ritz. So many press conferences, so many celebrity shoots and interviews I have conducted here. I have attended their food festivals and marvelled at the luxurious suites that offer an awesome view of the Marine Drive. Never, never, in my dreams did I think that they would also turn into graveyards. My friend said yesterday, "Mumbai's gone...finished." Are we?
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Monday, November 24, 2008

Come into my parlour

The Spider and the Fly
Mary Howitt
Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Spider to the Fly,
'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy;
The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I've a many curious things to shew when you are there.
" Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again."


"I'm sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high;
Will you rest upon my little bed?" said the Spider to the Fly.
"There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile,
I'll snugly tuck you in!"

"Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "for I've often heard it said,
They never, never wake again, who sleep upon your bed!"

Said the cunning Spider to the Fly, " Dear friend what can I do,
To prove the warm affection I 've always felt for you?
I have within my pantry, good store of all that's nice;
I'm sure you're very welcome -- will you please to take a slice?"
"Oh no, no," said the little Fly, "kind Sir, that cannot be,
I've heard what's in your pantry, and I do not wish to see!"

"Sweet creature!" said the Spider, "you're witty and you're wise,
How handsome are your gauzy wings, how brilliant are your eyes!
I've a little looking-glass upon my parlour shelf,
If you'll step in one moment, dear, you shall behold yourself."
"I thank you, gentle sir," she said, "for what you 're pleased to say,
And bidding you good morning now,
I'll call another day."

The Spider turned him round about, and went into his den,
For well he knew the silly Fly would soon come back again:
So he wove a subtle web, in a little corner sly,
And set his table ready, to dine upon the Fly.
Then he came out to his door again, and merrily did sing,
"Come hither, hither, pretty Fly, with the pearl and silver wing;
Your robes are green and purple -- there's a crest upon your head;
Your eyes are like the diamond bright, but mine are dull as lead!"

Alas, alas! how very soon this silly little Fly,
Hearing his wily, flattering words, came slowly flitting by;
With buzzing wings she hung aloft, then near and nearer drew,
Thinking only of her brilliant eyes, and green and purple hue --
Thinking only of her crested head -- poor foolish thing!
At last, Up jumped the cunning Spider, and fiercely held her fast.
He dragged her up his winding stair, into his dismal den,
Within his little parlour -- but she ne'er came out again!

And now dear little children, who may this story read,
To idle, silly flattering words,
I pray you ne'er give heed:
Unto an evil counsellor, close heart and ear and eye,

And take a lesson from this tale, of the Spider and the Fly.


Pedi? Sure
I got my first-ever pedicure recently at my neighbourhood beauty parlour in Dadar. Surprised? I'm sure. For those who don't know me and have been following my blog and articles may wonder why I waited till the age of 25 to get my feet cleaned at the parlour - after all, girls nowadays start attending to their cuticles when they barely enter their teens. Those who know me may believe that I have succumbed to a form of witchcraft. Most people who know me believe I don't have the patience to warm a chair for too long - let alone watch someone else cater to my womanly needs.Anyways, that's not the subject of this blog. The pedicure experience is. The attendant started by applying some canary yellow foot cream. She then worked on my nails with a file and clipped my cuticles with a remover. Next came some shocking pink soap gel followed by a grey sandy herbal pack. I twiddled the toes that were dipped in a tub of hot water. Then came the shocker electric blue paste she smothered on my calves. Jesus! That colour would have put a flaming cocktail to shame. But I thanked my stars that it was on my foot and not my face - like the girl's in the next chair. And if that wasn't enough, I heard the attendant shout to another, "Woh vibrator idhar pass kar." I almost fell off the chair. Later that day, I told my friends about it. They cracked up, "Are you sure you got yourself a pedicure?" Well, it seems like it. I haven't soiled my feet.

Mane blame
Getting a haircut for your own wedding is a task in itself and with my kind of curly frizzy hair...it just becomes monumental. So I stepped into VLCC at Churchgate looking for my favourite hairstylist Arif. Arif's been cutting my hair for three years now. He's bald and reliable. But this time I was disappointed when a woman hairdresser took a pair of scissors and approached me. I looked to my right and found Arif working on a girl's hair. He nodded to me, smiling slyly. The woman took her scissors as I cowardly told her that I'm getting married and all I wanted was a trim. She asked me if I had a particular hairstyle in mind for the occasion. I cringed. My unpreparedness for my wedding was soon going to be exposed to a complete stranger. I muttered, "A bun." "What kind of bun?" "I think she'll clip on some extensions and place them in a bun. I just don't want it too short." After 45 minutes in the barber's chair, I woke up to the reality that my hair was much shorter than I was prepared for. She blow-dried it to make it look longer, but I was no fool. I could only betray my disappointment and hope sincerely that my hair would grow by at least 0.3 of an inch till my wedding.

Perm in Patna
I happened to walk into Sterling near CST the other day, where I saw a guy with cool tendril-like jet-black curls. Now, that's something you don't see on heads too often. As I ogled at him, my friend from Patna turned to me and said, "You know I had once permed my hair.I think I was 14" I was shocked. I've seen my pal bald. But a perm? That too at 14? Having studied at a rigid Protestant school in Pune for a greater part of my life, I simply couldn't belive that a guy could keep his hair long and permed and still attend school. I suspected my friend was a drop-out. Why, in my school in Pune if our hair grew even half an inch longer than shoulder-length, we were forced to oil and tie ponytails. My friend assured me indeed had completed school. "It was a government school in Patna. The teachers couldn't care how we looked. Plus,all happened during the study leave before the final exams so I couldn't really wear it to school to show off." Mercifully!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Clothes maketh the best man

One advantage of getting married is that I get to do a lot of shopping. I detest shopping...but scouting markets is an experience I tuly relish. I was in Baroda recently, looking for stuff for my fiance when I stepped upon the concept of packaged shopping. We were at Bob Tailors at Alkapuri. Bob started off as a local darzi who would tailor suits and sherwanis for men. Slowly, his clientele expanded to other parts of Gujarat and even to Gujaratis in New Jersey and London. Bob isn't Catholic. He hails from Jamnagar and speaks English with a slight Gujarati accent. In his low-waist tight blue jeans, fitted T-shirt, designer belt and Adidas sneakers, spiked-haired Bob tries hard to project the image of a cool-dude designer who is at home with an audience that ranges from Mumbai to Manhattan. Bob showed me pictures of clothes he had designed for NRI weweddings in New York and London. In most pictures, the attires of not just the couples also the entire baaraat were carefully coordinated. Bob said, "NRIs have many foreigner friends who don't stock up Indian outfits. So we do a whole batch bf 20-25 uniform outfits for all the grooms friends and relatives so that, in the pictures, only the couple stand out. We make a killing in December. But here in Baroda, we do only the groom's outfits. People here like to invest in their own wedding clothes. They all want to stand out." Bob's right. Baaraatis in uniforms would rob Indian weddings of all the colour.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Here Cathy, sit on my lap

I didn't know when Julia entered my friend's life. I was going to scrap him on orkut, when I noticed a message that a common friend of ours had put on his scrapbook. It read, "How's Julia?" Now, curious as I am (and I wouldn't have been a journalist if it had been otherwise), I sifted through his pictures keeping an eye on any new chicks in there. Gradually, the scowl gave away to a smile when I saw a photo of him and Julia together. Julia was all red and my friend was gushing over her. They seemed very much like a couple in love. Only, Julia can't talk. She makes a lot of noises. Err...uh...hmmm. Before I describe further, let me tell you that Julia is my friend's scarlet Blaze. Quite innovative to give a bike a name. Julia and Elton have been together ever since. And when I first met her two years ago...I simply loved her...for, she was redder than my specs.
When another friend of mine bought a new Nikon camera - he decided to name it Niki. "That just sounds so cool and I feel like taking good care of her," he said. I'd scoffed. Because, the next thing I saw him do is take out a dirty rag to clean Niki's eye.
When I was in college, I would raise my eyebrows at folks who'd waste their time naming plants - Jen, Ben and Chrissy, or watches - Tiara, Swa or even cellphones - Sammy, Noke, etc. But then I got my laptop. My brother's old Toshiba was anything but a regular hand-me-down. I loved the silver casing that gleamed even in the dark. It was my first laptop and I had to name it. I started calling it Toshi, Tosh, Iba, Oshi...we'd communicate at our own frequency and I would caress it everyday before going to bed. Yes, there was a connection between us...and we could have very well been in love. Except...I had a boyfriend by then. I thought my laptop was great, till I saw something even better. My friend Vishwas tagged it along with him when I recently met him at a Barista. The moment I saw this amazing red microsatin-finish Dell laptop, I told Vish, "I like your laptop more than I like you." Vish was aghast. "Nobody has ever told me that," his disappointment was written all over his face. "I am human. This is a machine. I can talk, this can't," he argued. I just couldn't care. I couldn't stop drooling over it. I then suggested he should name it. He thought I was crazy. I came up with Rosy and Dell-amore. He said, I should do better. Next day, I came up with Catherine. He loved it. The next thing I saw...his picture on Orkut captioned, "Heathcliff with Cathy on his lap". Ahem!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Bidding farewell to the Times

Yesterday, an ex-colleague and friend asked me whether I would write something on my association with The Times of India in Mumbai. I turned him down saying there's just too much to write on. But then I thought of giving it a shot:
Today, is my last day at Mumbai Mirror. Four years ago, I had stepped into this building as a gawky little intern. All I had with me was the faith that I could write publicly. That's it. I was just a student of journalism. My friend and I wanted to take up media internships. This was before DNA and Hindustan Times came into Mumbai. We'd called everywhere - from Afternoon to BBC, but were turned down. Some said, "We have too many interns already. We don't need any more." Others just clamped the phone down, without having us utter a word.

Bombay Times
Then one afternoon, my friend got a call from Bombay Times for an interview. And since I had nothing better to do, I accompanied him. That was July 2004. Sitting in the reception area of the monumental Times of India Building opposite CST, I pledged to myself that one day - I didn't know when that would happen or how long that would take - I would have my byline in every publication of that was produced by this publishing house.
My friend was called to the fifth floor office of Bombay Times. I went with him for 'moral support'. We met the city editor. My friend responded to her questions and I simply nodded to those queries. Suddenly, my friend whispered into my ear: "Shit, I haven't carried my resume." I was aghast. He then asked me if I had carried mine. I removed an envelope from my bag. He plucked it out of my hand and gave it to the city editor. "This is Eisha's resume. I'll send mine via email. Is that alright?" She agreed. That's how Himanshu and I got our opportunity to work at Bombay Times.
Having cleared a three-tier interview, we were finally allowed in as interns. We wouldn't be paid. But that didn't matter. We knew we'd meet some of the most influential and glamourous people in Mumbai and so we did. We also realised that celebs were, after all, human. They were as shy as ordinary people are when they meet new people at parties. But the two things BT helped me get over and I shall be ever-grateful for that, are my shyness and phone-phobia.

I remember how the city editor trashed my story because I couldn't get decent quotes out of a bimbette VJ over the phone. Two days later, she sent me to do an interview, which till date, has remained my most amazing interview experience. I had to interview a woman who could hardly speak. But she refused to communicate through her parents. Vipasha Mehta is my source of inspiration. She suffers from cerebral palsy but that didn't stop her from pursuing her PhD thesis. She literally banged her head against the laptop to type her thesis over a period of eight years. If she could face the odds, so could I, I thought. I wrote 750 words on her. The city editor was impressed. The sub editor wasn't - he had to cut it down to 400.

That was the start. I learnt how to interview people. I learnt how to reproduce quotes. A senior sub had told me, "They needn't be verbatim because not everyone can express in words what they really want to say." People may trash Bombay Times and Page 3...but that is where I learnt some of the best journalism tips. It's difficult to get gossip, but if you do and if it's good, it really sells well.
Downtown Plus
I flourished as a writer with Downtown Plus, the south Mumbai supplement of The Times of India. Most people may look at the four-pager as just a 'rag', but those four pages gave me a chance to explore every inch of south Mumbai - from graveyards to dingy theatres, from temples and synagogues to burkha sellers and quaint chai joints in the forgotten bylanes of Bhendi Bazaar and Bhuleshwar, from sailing clubs to fishing villages. It helped me know people from various communities - religious, social, political, artist, expat etc. DTP gave me a chance to do something very different from the celebrity journalism in Bombay Times. If there were a term as explorative journalism, I would have described my stint at DTP as that. And believe it or not, it also gave me international recognition. Not many people know that even the smallest of newspapers can attract wide readership. Besides, at DTP I got a chance to interact with readers - a feat not many journalists can boast of. I got a chance to work with many seniors and even teach a few 'tricks of the trade' to young interns.
My two years in DTP turned me into a very confident journalist. I also realised that though features were my forte, I had a nose for investigative news too. I must thank my mentor Ashish, colleagues Swati an Sanaya and editor Sridhar for honing my skills and giving me the opportunity to write on what I really wanted to write.

Mumbai Mirror
When I got the offer from Mirror for a senior copy editor at the Newsdesk, I wasn't too sure. For one, I had never been a deskie. Secondly, I didn't know how to make pages on Quark Xpress. I must say I was handicapped as my astigmatism made it very difficult for me to gauge two-dimensional space and area. Still, I tried and tried and tried...till a point I realised that there was a very mathematical formula for pages. Once, I cracked it...pagemaking was as easy as rocket science (most would beg to differ...but I find it easier to calculate the escape velocity of a rocket than make a Quark page at deadline time). I started with the Mumbai Talking and Views Pages and graduated to doing the international and city pages. I did the stylish Hollywood pages and even the detailed listings pages (which most consider a waste of time). Sometimes I would make up to eight pages a day and sometimes, two.
Adhering to deadlines became daily challenges which were both stressful and emotionally overwhelming. I would get yelled at for making small mistakes and for not coming up with fresh ideas. Still, the adrenalin rush was something not many could do away with. Mirror has been an experience. It has helped me grow as a journalist and writer. Though people regretfully say that I should have got more opportunities to write at Mirror, I am glad I managed to pack in a few stories (mainly on classical music and dance events) even with the hectic schedule. They also helped me accomplish my dream of seeing my byline in all TOI publications.
What the Times has given me is an awesome support system of colleagues, bosses, acquaintances and friends. It has also introduced me to some great friends - Ashish, Waleed, Shraddha and Vishwas.

It's been just four years but it looks like a lifetime. Then again, I look back and say..."It all happened yesterday." With those thoughts I bid everyone adieu.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rose Tea

Strange as it may sound, I have never tasted tea. By that admission I may qualify as un-Indian for we all love chai, don't we? Well, I don't. My collagues have literally traumatised me by putting cups of chai in front of me, goading me to drink, but I have stood my ground. Never did like the look of it. Never got down to actually drinking it. I tasted tea for the first time last year. Shocked? But it's true.


It wasn't planned of course. I happened to visit a Persian chai joint at Imambada in the heart of Bhendi Bazaar. I discovered the bright blue Mughal Masjid (the only Iranian mosque in Mumbai), the Irananian hamam (bath) next to it and I found this really tiny joint called Cafe Khushali (meaning happiness in Persian) next to it. That's where I had had Iranian tea. Not to be confused with the Irani chai, which is a Mumbai staple, the Iranian tea is black tea. You put a piece of sugar in your mouth and sip the tea through your tea. It tastes awesome. I liked it because it didn't look like our ordinary chai - masala or not. After that, I did try out a couple of Arabian and Moroccon spice teas at Oxford Cha Bar at Churchgate (which my chai-loving pal dismissed off as mint-and-clove water). As for me, I couldn't figure why I should have mint or clove water. It was aweful.



It took me a whole year to actually try out tea again. The occasion presented itself yesterday. My friend had had a nasty lunch (I had made the mistake of recommending pasta to him while I comfortably tucked into my risotto) and was hungry. I took him to Tea Centre (Churchgate) for salads and sandwiches. I love the place. Unlike a coffee shop, this one allows for a more comfortable setting for mindless, idle conversations. It took my friend one and a half hours to tuck into his sandwich. The waiters were very patient. They didn't throw us out. They just suggested that we try some tea. After all, it is Tea Centre.



My friend asked me to select. I thought it was for him. I suggested rose tea. My friend asked me whether I would like to try it out. I was hesitant. Even when the bearer poured it into my glass cup, I wondered whether I should try it at all. I picked up the cup. Thankfully it smelt of rose. I loved the smell. I would have used the concoction as an inhaler if I didn't have to pay Rs 70 for a couple of cups. My friend asked me to try it. I held the cup to my lips, but couldn't sip. It was tea after all. I put the cup down. Second try. More rose steam. This time, I sipped it. And in a few minutes it was all down. I don't know whether I relished it. But it felt really good after it all went down. The honey, the rose and maybe the tea. I wouldn't mind doing it again. Who knows, I may actually become a rose tea connoiseur.

But chai...I don't think I have the stomach for it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

MNS overdose

On Tuesday and there were no queues outside Siddhivinayak Temple. Mumbai's favourite deity was forgotten as demons wrecked havoc on the city streets - smashing car windscreens and torching rickshaws. People don't want to venture out of their homes. Those who do were not sure if they will be able to come home. Schools, shops and establishments were all closed. Sadly, media offices weren't. Bad news is always good for newspaper sales. I had to go to office. Through the day, I sifted to photographs of MNS activists battering taxis, torching autos, pelting stones in the city. As Mumbai came to a standstill, the wires kept buzzing with figures. My mind became numb as I edited story after story on Raj and his so-called supporters. Overdose happened. I even dreamt of an MNS guy hurling a burning tyre at me that night. I wasn't anywhere close to the place of the riots. But strangely they affected me, probably as much as it did those who were caught amidst them. This is my city. I could have done something - probably. But all I could muster after viewing images of destruction was, "Mumbai's gone to the dogs."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Beauty and the geek

Yesterday, I happened to catch the last episode of Beauty And The Geek on Star World. A thing of beauty is joy forever, but what about the geek? I loved the show. It showcased the fears and insecurities that two competely different sets of people face. It paired cocktail waitresses and other pretty-young-things (PYTs for short) with academically brilliant men who believe quantum physics is easier than asking a woman out on a date.


Too bad I didn't catch up with the show from the start. It would have given me a better idea of how much transformation each contestant underwent till the end of the show. Still, from the few episodes I watched, I had a favourite. It came in the form of Josh. Josh is a museum critic. With his cute hairdo (he changed it from the 1960s Dylan style to a more contemporary boyish cut in the show), geeky glasses and nervousness, I took to him almost instantly. I just loved the way he fumbled with words while asking people out. I loved the way he would clutch onto his shoulder bag while walking. If I had known Josh, he would have been my best friend.



That's the point of the show. People like Josh are ideal best friend material. Girls seldom look at them as lovers. I am no nimble-brained beauty. I am a geek too. And speaking from experience, I've had loads of male pals who would count me as their best gal pal but never fall for me. Why? Maybe because I was too intelligent to handle. Yes, intelligence is a casualty in many ways.



Most ordinary people perceive geeks very differently. They don't really believe that scientists or researchers are a part of their world. Worse, they don't believe they could there too. I was chatting with a friend recently and something he said made me remark, "I have never heard someone reason like that. You should have been a scientist." My friend thought I was joking. He laughed nervously. I repeated it. He said coldly, "I was a pathetic student. I don't think no one would have ever thought of me becoming a scientist." Like many others, my friend also believed that science was a field very different from his own. He wasn't fit enough to be a scientist. Blame it on our education system. I've come across many high-scorers who claim to be scientists but lack any of the analytical skills required for science. They drop out as soon as they acknowledge that. There are others who are fantastic with practicals. But again, just a good pair of hands make for great laboratory technicians - not scientists.


People perceive geeks to be more than just ordinary. Many even get laughed at and ridiculed. Why? Because they can't chat up women in a library, of course! A few years back, my boyfriend, a software engineer, actually asked me whether it was okay with me that he had glasses. I responded, "I have glasses too. So what?" He simply said, "I just wanted you to know. I look like a geek in them." Thankfully, I wasn't myopic. And I was a geek, so it didn't really stop me from going out with another one.



Coming back to the show. It shattered many myths about beauties and geeks. Yes, geeks are insecure, but beautiful people are more insecure. The reason, unlike the geeks, they need to hide their insecurities. One of the beauties on the show had remarked, "I finally know what the guys go through when they go out. They should do away with the word geek. Let's just treat them as people for a change." I agree.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Shakespeare again

Not all of us have had the chance to read the great bard's plays but I have been forturnate to have read some of them. Yesterday, my friend and I had a lengthy discussion on the choices of caskets made by Portia's three suitors in The Merchant of Venice. While one chose the gold and another, the lead, the 'hero' Bassanio chose the lead. He didn't go for the appearance nce, he went for the 'strength of character'. Most people rarely move beyond appearances and first impressions.I recently, watched an episode of Indian Idol on television. A shy, 5ft 2 in boy came in for the audition. He was so shy that he simply whispered his name and that he had come down from Varanasi. His appearance did nothing for him, he said in front of an international television audience. Then her sang. The judges were stunned. So was I. He had a powerful voice. The judges asked him to sing something else. In the middle of this song, the boy coughed. Damn! He lost his rythm. He was confused and scared. He just did not know what to do. Anu Malik graciously sang the first two lines of the song. The boy picked up and breezed through the song. Wow! The judges gave him the nod. The boy couldn't believe it. He had crossed the first hurdle. I was glad. The judges had chosen the right casket.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Think out of the shoe

We all scoff at those German and Korean backpackers who tie their shoes to their bags with their shoelaces. We look at them, sometimes with disgust and at times, just smirk at their stupidity. No Indian - no matter how poor - would do that. Shoes are for the feet, that's it. That explains my bewilderment when I saw a man tucking his Lee Cooper shoes under the pillow before going to sleep.

Now, you don't see that often in the first class AC sleeper compartments of trains. I would have pardoned our man had he reasoned that he did not have place to tuck his shoes between two giants suitcases that were chained to his lower side berth. But what I saw next left me speechless. He started emptying the shoes.
I was scared - 'drugs, cigarettes...bombs?'. What fell out were pens - mostly ball point and one parker - toffees, tablets, chits and even a small diary. He caught me looking at him curiously and hastily put them all into his shirt pocket and the shoes on his feet. Can't blame me for thinking if I actually saw what I saw.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Talk, don't speak

Journalism makes philophers out of ordinary beings. After a whole day of frantic news gathering, page making and nearly succumbing to deadline pressure, I often wonder how people manage to still exercise their grey cells. But my colleague does. Yesterday, he told me, "We don't live, we just exist." That set me thinking...

A week back I had taken one of my friends to Shivaji Park. It was my friend's first trip there. You guessed it right. He's not from Mumbai though he has lived here for two years. My friend was too taken in by the beauty of the place - yes, it does look good after two months of rain, with its overgrown grass and few peddlars of chana. But more than that, he was surprised to see people idling around on the parapet, chatting mindlessly till the sun went down and 'the day melted into the night'. It was something he hadn't experienced before in this city. And he was amazed that he could do something like this in the heart of Mumbai.
I didn't even know my friend could talk. Now, people say I can make even a rock talk, but my friend was a tough nut to crack. At work, he rarely spoke. And when he did - he freakishly spoke more about others than he did about himself. But strangely, that Saturday evening at Shivaji Park, my friend displayed his communication skills to the fullest. This was the first real conversation I had with him and I can't really get over the fact that I had earlier dismissed him as a poor talker. By the end of the day, I asked him why a person like him wouldn't talk much. He said, "I don't feel the need to."
Later, another friend told me the same thing. He was known as one of the quiet ones in college and most people were surprised that somebody like him could befriend a chatterbox like me. Little did they know about El's fabulous sense of humour and the art of maaroing PJs. When one of the bosses in the organisation called him 'quiet', I couldn't really digest it. But then again, El talks only to some people. And I am among the privileged few.
Most of us in the city (yes, it's an urban trait) spend our waking hours chasing all the things that we think would make us happy when all we need is a simple conversation. Deep - isn't it? But think of it. With all the technology we have at our disposal - cellphones, communicators, emails, voicemails, etc but all we do is speak. We don't talk anymore. Talking requires more interpersonal interaction than speaking does. And somewhere in the midst of this so call media and communications boom, we have lost the basic art of conversation. We all speak but rarely do we talk.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Credit card anyone?

We are all familiar with pesky customer service calls that we would simply love to avoid. But this one really stumped me. I got a call on my landline from my 'personal account manager' from HDFC (they do come up with innovative designations, I must say).

Anyways, my self-proclaimed manager politely introduced himself as Sai and asked me if I needed any assistance. I said, "No." He didn't budge.

He went on, "There are lots of things we have to offer to you as you are a special client (I don't really know what that means). That's great because you can avail of a credit card - all free of cost."

I feigned interest, "So what do you have there?" He responded, "Ma'am, you can avail of a platinum or gold card depending on your salary. I am sure you can avail of the gold, but platimun I'll have to check. Actually, our servers are down so I can't figure which card you can avail of but I'll let you know as soon as the system is in place. I'm so sorry I can't tell you if it's gold or platinum, but I'm hoping it's platinum."

Go figure.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Farhan Rocks


I must confess at the very outset that I like Farhan Akhtar. I think I watched Dil Chahta Hai because I had a crush on him - yes, the other three dudes in the film were cool too - but Farhan had a special place in my heart. It was for him and Shah Rukh Khan that I watched Don, though I never really liked the original. And it's for him, I watched Rock On. And once again, I wasn't disappointed.

Farhan simply stole the show with his constipated voice (much like Bryan Adams) that served as the medium to convey peppy lyrics (I can't believed Javed Akhtar dished that out himself) and his acting. Farhan's acting reminded me of Shah Rukh's in Swades. Farhan doesn't act. He simply reacts.

It's never over-the-top. In portions, he almost seems immune to what's happening around - but his eyes do the talking. They convey a hint of jealousy when Arjun Rampal writes the lyrics for a song. They twinkle with glee - at the sight of a lake - and they convey a deep-rooted sadness that can't be replaced even by acquiring the best things in life.

In an author-backed role, I must say Farhan has made a smashing acting debut and he's been man enough to produce a film like this himself. I hope other directors sit up and take notice too. And I think they should consider him for a lead in some projects.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Marathi signboards in Dadar

I happened to go out for a stroll in Dadar last evening. That doesn't sound like news, does it? But hear this...I haven't had an off on a Saturday for the last six months. So I quite enjoyed it.

The Ganapati (Ganesha) festival is coming up and the predominantly Mahrashtrian Dadar is buzzing with activity. There are shoppers everywhere - those who come for clothes, shoes, torans, gifts, utensils, etc. There are festive shoppers, regular shoppers and shopaholics. Walking on the footpath is difficult during non-peak hours - thanks to the hundreds of hawkers (did anyone hear of the hawkers' plaza here?) and the bumper-to-bumper traffic jams.
Yesterday, it was even more difficult. There were policemen everywhere. Nah, they didn't look active enough to make it look like there was a bomb hoax or a security threat (believe me...they do a fairly efficient job at spreading the word among people, in either case). I couldn't make out why they were there in the first place. Yes, the Sena Bhavan, Plaza theatre and the railway station do make for soft targets, but a sudden increase in the number of policemen is still questionable.
It didn't take me too long to figure out. I stopped at the new Waman Hari Pethe (a jewellery shop) at Gokhale Road (north), where a man was adjusting the shop's display board. It was a new one - in Devanagari, of course. Two blocks down, I almost bumped into a ladder. A man, precariously balanced on the top step, glared at me before getting back to painting the signboard in Devanagari. "Aah, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena's diktat. No wonder, there are so many policemen," I chuckled to myself.
Later, a thought came to my mind. I have had the privilege of travelling around India. If stores and roadsigns in Chennai could be in Tamil, in Bangalore in Kannada, in Kolkata in Bengali, in Gujarat in Gujarati and in Delhi in Punjabi and Hindi, why can't Mumbai, which incidentally is the capital of Maharashtra, have Marathi signboards? Language signboards are meant to help the locals. After all, how many of our people can read English and even if they can, why shouldn't shops put up Marathi ones as well for the benefit of those who can't. You don't find too many English signboards in Beijing or Soul, which are world-class cities, so why do we crib about putting up Marathi signboards in Mumbai? Is it because Mumbai is cosmopolitan or is it because we think we are above the vernacular? The MNS has raised a valid point. Only, it should have debated it in the House instead of forcing people to implement it on the streets and thus creating a security issue.
Language is the most important part of a culture (after its people of course). It should be preserved so that it can evolve in the future, to be able to bring and bind people together. It should be a matter of pride, not fear. People shouldn't be forced to display their shop names in a language, they should want to do it because they are proud of it. I guess, we still need to understand that...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Of Berry Pulao and Raspberry Soda


I must credit my friend Ashish (who is a girl, by the way) for introducing me to Britannia. No, she never took me there. But she did ask me to read an article on Parsi food joints she had written for Downtown Plus. I knew Merwan, Kayani, Yezdani, etc. But Britannia, didn't sound bawa enough. (Come to think of it...it's British and hence Anglican and...so Bawa but I never quite came up with that kind of explanation earlier). Ashish had described Bawa-ness of the Britannia restaurant at Ballard Estate (near New Customs House, if you please) and its speciality Berry Pulao. I never quite made sense of that. Pulao with berry? I alsways thought the owner has rechristened resins as "berry" to make it look like it was the only thing of its kind in Mumbai. I was sceptical - as I always am where food is concerned.



The first time, I actually visited the place was last year. I would have made a trip earlier but I was so scared of getting lost in the labrynthine bylanes of Ballard Estate that I just didn't have guts to try it out. Pardon me, folks. I hadn't developed my tastebuds for the sinful delicacy that actually draws people from as far as Surat and even Bawa expats who keep homing in during winter. The occasion presented itself in the form of a few junior colleagues who craved for berry pulao and sali boti. I had volunteered to participate in the conversation and it was very natural for me to actually take them up on the offer. We piled into three separate cabs - some 10 of us.




The first thing I noticed when I stood outside the very regular looking Irani restaurant was the signboard that proudly announced: "Britannia: The High Class Irani Restaurant." "Oh really! We shall see," was our collective response.




We managed to grab two tables with chequered green tablecloth (how Iranian) and settled ourselves into the 100-year-old black Czechoslovakian chairs (again!) as an old man came to our table. He introduced himself as the owner (pity, I don't recall his name) and talked to us about the restaurant - of how it was the secret headquarters for British spies during the World War II, of his pet rooster who welcomed guests until its ripe old age (it died a decade ago) and the food - "Try berry pulao - mutton, chicken or veg (that's the only veg item on the menu), whichever you please." And thank god we did.


From then on, Britannia's tangy berry pulao became one of my favourite delicacies. The berries are very real and slightly unreasonable (as per standard Irani rates) at Rs 249 a plate, you can have a comfortable meal for two with some delicious sali boti or sali chicken for company. As for the drink, I'd go for the very Bawa Roger's raspberry soda anyday. People may say it tastes like Benadryl cough syrup but it gives the tangy berry aftertaste a new flavour.


However, vegetarians may have a tough time as my colleague who is a Jain discovered on a visit. She had insisted she wanted to go to Britannia for lunch. I was reluctant. But she'd persisted. I had nothing to lose and I agreed to go along. Big mistake. My poor friend went twice through the menu before she zeroed in on the only two veg dishes there - veg berry pulao and veg dhansak. And to make matters worse - she said she wouldn't eat if I ordered non-veg. So yeah, I ordered a veg dhansak (a disgrace!) and veg berry pulao. Midway through the meal, my friend said she'd had enough of the pulao and opted for - you know what - bun maska (phew!) I had learnt my lesson - keep vegans off Bawa joints.




Monday, August 11, 2008

Everobody loves a good gossip

I just got a message on gtalk from my friend in the US. It reads, "I didn't know Kareena split with Shahid and is now seeing Saif." "What a pity," I thought but then I decided not to be mean to her so I simply responded with, "Old news." She wasn't happy with that. Whether she expected sympathy or probably more on the topic - when did the Shahid-Kareena break up happen, who got the dirt on it first, when did Saif declare his love for Kareena, the famed "Kareena' tattoo he got on his arm - I wasn't too sure. Nontheless, I empathised with my friend. She said, "This is what happens when you leave the country. You lose touch with your roots. You hardly get news about India in this part of the world unless there is a major disaster. And there's no gossip on Indian celebs."


I was a little shocked by her response. For one, I have known this girl since college. We weren't in the same group but we were very cordial classmates. She would sit on the first bench, I on the second (usually just behind her). I hadn't heard her discussing movies in class or in the girls common room at St Xavier's (where their gang used to hang out). She was studious...actually, still is. And was also my closest competitor in class. I wondered where she had acquired a taste for gossip. Probably when she studied in Baroda probably after she completed her MSc and was teaching at an NGO in Mumbai or maybe, I had been wrong all along - she may have had a thing for it all along.


Everybody loves a good gossip - even guys (as much as they want to deny the fact). If you just slip in a couple of lines laced with malice in the middle of a conversation at a party and everyone's ears prick up. Gossip is the best conversation-starter we have. Ask me, I was a Page 3 journalist.


My job was to go to high profile events, parties and dos to keep track of who says what to whom and why. When people would call Page 3 of Bombay Times 'trash' because of its gossip content, I'd retort, "But don't tell me you don't read that page." They would cringe or smile sheepishly. Once, at a party, a celeb artist saw me and remarked to her friend, "I don't know why so many art dos feature in Bombay Times. We aren't celebs. We don't seek this kind of publicity." My report for the next day, did carry her quote and my response to it as well (and I am very very grateful to the editor that he let it go as is) - "But, isn't any publicity good for you? And if it isn't why do you call us?" There would be times, when celebs would ask us journalists for gossip on other celebs (after all, we do know better). It's a vicious cycle.

Coming back to Saif-Kareena, it may be nobody's business to talk about them, but don't we all love to. As mediapersons, such gossip is the source of our daily bread and butter. But for my friend in the US who is doing a PhD in biomolecules in Boston, it's the only way she can connect to her roots. Yes, she has friends like me, but we can't contact each other whenever we want to thanks to the time-difference. She prefers to surf entertainment sites for gossip instead of 24x7 CNN coverage on the bomb-attacks in India. At least, the gossip makes her secure. The talk about 'others' is certainly more comforting than the thought of 'I could have been killed here."

My friend asked me, "Give me some new goss." I said, "I don't know." I lied, of course. There are million things I can gossip about - the Salman-SRK fight, Sania Mirza in track-pants at the Olympics' opening, sports, books and their authors (Rushdie comes to my mind now), cricketers, PYTs at parties, colleagues, friends-who-are-not-close-friends, politicians, economists, bosses, families, relatives - you name it. But then, the goss is a goss for a reason right? And it's got to be shared for a reason too. It certainly isn't free.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Chelo Kebab

"Only Bongs can think of mixing sweet rice with chicken tikka," my friend remarked. I looked at the menu again. Chelo kebab. What the hell was that? I am a Bengali...at least by name and family...I've never heard of anything called Chelo Kebab. Nonetheless, we ordered them. I love trying out new stuff and Copper Chimney comes up with really nice kebabs, so it was a good bet, I thought.

It hardly looked appetising. Worse, it didn't really look like a Bong dish. But then, the glutinous curd rice was sweet. My friend insisted I have more. I helped myself to the chicken pieces, as he indulged in the rice. "It's very Bong and it's delicious," he told me. I still had my doubts and I couldn't really enjoy the dish because of them.

Later that day, I asked mom about Chelo kebab. She hadn't even heard of it. She didn't think it was a Bong dish till I told her about the sweet rice. "It may be a Bangladeshi dish," she said. I asked friends, relatives and all the i-know-it-all people I know, but none of them seemed to know Chelo.

Finally, I searched on google. There it was. National dish of Iran - Chelo kebab. The Mughals or the early Iranian settlers may have brought it to India, but it certainly wasn't Bong. I was glad. My friend was wrong. I called him up and fired him. "Stop spreading wrong information about Bongs." He simply laughed and I felt like a fool.

As for the dish - I must admit, it's worth a try. Imagine less-sweetened kheer with chicken reshmi tikka cubes. It comes close to that.

THE ORIGINAL CHELO(W)
Chelo kabab is a national dish of Iran. The meal is simple, consisting of steamed, saffroned basmati or Persian rice (chelow) and kabab, of which there are several distinct Persian varieties. This dish is served everywhere throughout Iran today, but traditionally was most closely associated with the northern part of the country.

It is served with the basic Iranian meal accompaniments, in addition to grilled tomatoes on the side of the rice, and butter on top of the rice. It is an old northern tradition (probably originating in Tehran) that a raw egg yolk should be placed on top of the rice as well, though this is strictly optional, and most restaurants will not serve the rice this way unless it is specifically requested. Somagh (powdered sumac) is also made available, and if desired, only a dash should be sprinkled upon the rice.

In the old bazaar tradition, the rice (which is covered with a tin lid) and accompaniments are served first, immediately followed by the kababs, which are brought to the table by the waiter, who holds several skewers in his left hand, and a piece of flat bread (typically nan-e lavash) in his right. A skewer is placed directly on the rice and while holding the kabab down on the rice with the bread, the skewer is quickly pulled out. With the two most common kababs, barg and koobideh, two skewers are always served. In general, bazaar kabab restaurants only serve these two varieties, though there are exceptions.

The traditional beverage of choice to accompany chelow kabab is doogh, a Persian sour yogurt drink, flavored with salt and mint, and sometimes made with carbonated mineral water.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tree-fall in Dadar

They came, they saw and they axed. One by one, the branches of the tree opposite my house came down with such force that it actually created a dent on the corrugated aluminium roof of the shed below.
Standing in my balcony, I winced every time I heard of a branch crack. Why, all the branches? The BMC is ruthless on its tree-cutting drives, I'd heard. But now, I thought I'd seen them all.
They cut off all the axillary branches and left only one vertical branch that stood out like a shaft. No more greenery outside my window. No more of crows cawing from their nests.
And it wasn't just this one. All along, Gokhale Road, Dadar, I saw wounded branches torn apart from the trunk. Massacred! Macabre!
Someone said BMC probably cut the branches down as they could be security threats. A bomb was found hidden amidst the branches of a tree in Surat. With Independence Day and Ganpati coming up, the security agencies probably did not want to take any chances. Some excuse, to chop off trees, I tell you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Edward Theatre Story

This is a raw draft of my story on the Edward Theatre in Kalbadevi, Mumbai that appeared in Downtown Plus on August 12, 2005. This has been one of my best discoveries in Mumbai, so much so that I had a team of filmmakers come down from Germany to film the theatre for National Geographic Channel. The theatre still stands today, and it has got a fresh coat of paint too. This is an unedited version so it may have errors, but the facts are worth pouring over. If I find my published story, I will definitely put it up
Nestled in one of the oldest business districts of South Mumbai, Edward theatre at Kalbadevi stands test to time in this age of multiplex cinemas. The theatre may well be the oldest in Mumbai but there is no proof of its age.
Theatre manager, Ramesh V Kadam elaborates, "I wanted to find out when this theatre was built so I went to the collector house. lack The oldest record they have of this area is of 1844 when this place was full of jhuggi-jhopdis and the plot of land where this theatre now stands belonged to one Bahadur Jamshedji The next survey report dates back to 1918 when this theatre was already there. There are no records for these 78 years, so we don't really know when the theatre was actually built."
The theatre that now plays only old, dated films started off as a drama theatre. While Metro, Regal and Eros had largely British audiences, Edward catered to the Indian tastes with their Gujarati and Parsee Theatre plays.
It also served as a platform for leaders of the Indian Freedom movement such as Gandhi who addressed a congregation of grain merchants in 1921 (non-cooperation movement). Since 1932, the theatre has been screening Hindi films, even though it still follows the three-tier seating structure that is unique to an opera house.
Owners, the late Bejan Bharucha whose wife Gertrude took over in 1971 (who is currently in a state of coma) wanted to keep the theatre in its original state disallowing any structural changes and renovations. The ground floor or the Orchestra seats 250 people and is closest too the screen/stage area. It may be equivalent to the lower stalls of other theatres, but here you pay the maximum ticket rate of Rs 17, to sit closest to the screen. Then there is the arc-shaped First Class on the first floor seating 136 people which would cost you Rs 15 and on the second floor you have the Dress Circle seating 115 people that would cost you Rs 13. Women and children are prohibited from sitting in the first-class and dress circle simply because of the steep steps that could leave many groping in the dark. Next to the stage area are the three-tier boxes along the blue walls that remind you of the privileged few in the days when people would come there to watch plays.
As for the films, there could be the 11-year old film Jai Kishan one day and the not-so-old Gangajal on the next. The theatre screens two films a week and sees around 200-300 people a day, most from the adjoining areas of Lohar Chawl and Crawford market. The longest-running new release at the theatre has been Jai Santoshi Maa (1975) which ran for 43 weeks. Commercially, the film became so successful, that the manager's cabin and backstage area are still adorned with posters of the film and idols of the Goddess herself. On July 26, when rain played havoc in Mumbai, Edward theatre ran to packed houses while screening Gullu Ki Saajish netting a collection of Rs 4404.
Film trade analyst, Amod Mehra says, "Compared to other small theatres, Edward has its own policy. The fact that the owner (Gertrude Bharucha) doesn't want to demolish the property or make some serious changes to the structure, makes its upkeep and maintainence difficult.
The value of property has decreased. Similar circumstances have called for the closure of other small theatres like Hindmata and Kohinoor in the past. When the seating capacity is about 510, you can't expect a distributor to release a new film at Edward. At the end of the day, you should be able to recover your cost of the print i.e. Rs 50000. After the run is over, the prints lie in a godown so distributors give it to such small theatres for a re-run to bag in as much as they can. After all there is an audience for every film.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Implosion

The word describes a process in which objects are destroyed by collapsing in on themselves. The opposite of explosion, implosion concentrates matter and energy.

It is the principle based on which a nuclear bomb is made. In an implosion-type nuclear weapon design, a sphere of plutonium, uranium, or other fissile material is imploded by a spherical arrangement of explosive charges (neutrons, protons, etc) . This decreases the material's volume and thus increases its density by a factor 2 to 4, causing it to "go critical" and create a nuclear explosion. A similar process takes place in celestial phenomena such as the formation of blackholes where stars collapse upon themselves and become so dense that their gravity simply absorbs everything around them.


As a student of science, I had learnt about the chemical reactions in a nuclear bomb. Balancing those equations was an easy task. I just had to see the difference in the atomic number and the atomic mass between the products and the reactants and I could measure the number of neutrons, protons, electrons and helium atoms that would be thrown out. I would marvel at the fact that man could replicate something that is more common in stars. Though I had studied about the effects of such radiation on life, I don't think I thought about it too seriously. Maybe I was naive but I didn't really know how the bomb worked.




It was only after a recent reading of David Bodanis's book E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation, did I actually understand why the bomb that America dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 was so powerful, so much so that it's impact would have been visible from the moon. It's in the book where I read about what happened within the 'Little Boy' once it was dropped by a B29 aircraft till it fell on the roof of a surgical clinic in Hiroshima.




Imploding plutonium atoms, gave rise to several chain reactions that lead to more implosions. As a result, the plutonium-uranium mass kept collapsing into itself, radiating extra-short wavelengths and emitting charged particles. Meanwhile, the high-density core, started sucking in matter from the outside (air) creating a zero-density layer (nearly vaccuum-like). Any resistance the particles would have encountered in the natural atmosphere were nullified and they spread far and wide, creating further implosions. The fires covered an area of nearly 11.4 sq km, burning all life forms. Those who came in the zero-density radius had air sucked out of their lungs (a death most would have never conceived). Those who survived the impact of the bomb had to live with the impact of the radiation - gamma and X-rays attacked the nucleotides in their DNA, leaving them exposed to the risk of cancer, not for a few years, but for a few generations.




Had it been an explosion-type bomb, it would have cause immense destruction, no doubt, but the effect would have been short-lived. Or better still, if that energy from the 'imploding bomb' have been used to light up an airbase.




So why am I talking about this? Because we have an N-deal issue that has required the Indian government to pass a trust vote in the Parliament.




From what I understand, nuclear energy is one of the best solutions to power crisis. France manages to light up the Eiffel Tower everyday, even as we face loadshedding in suburban Mumbai. Why? Effecive conversion of nuclear energy into electricity. Let's face it. Uranium ores in India are scarce. Worse, with a yeild of around 0.04 per cent, they don't even live upto international standards. (Canada has the best ores that contain 40 per cent uranium). Hence, if we have to rely on them, we will have to spend a lot of money on plant and technology to yeild even meagre quantities of uranium. Forget generating energy with that.




Bottom-line: We need to look at 'nuclear' options for power generation. As for the instability, it works for a nuclear device, not for a government that runs a country of one billion people.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jaane Tu...ya maane na

I finally managed to catch this month's most-hyped flick, Jaane Tu...Ya Jaane Na. But before I get down to a review, I must still get over the shock of actually being able to watch the movie on July 14 when I had a ticket dated July 7.
No, I am not the defaulter. Like any other movie-crazed fan, I hopped around to Eros before my work-shift on Saturday to get a couple of tickets for this Monday. I didn't really think there would have been a rush but mom insisted.
So I walked upto the counter and asked for two balcony tickets for Rs 100 each. And he gave them to me. I checked the time, the date (there was a '7' there that I thought stood for July) and most importantly (or so I thought), the seat numbers). I rushed to my office.


I was happy with my 'acquisition'. It was only when I reached home late at night and fished them out to show them to my mom, when I realised that I had got them all wrong. Date: 7 Jul 2008. Pity me, guys. I was crushed.


It's in times of crisis, we come up with great ideas. Mine was practical. Simply change the 7 into a 14. When I reached the theatre, I realised that I needn't have bothered. The guard never even looked at it and allowed us entry. Phew! That was easy.


As for the movie review: Those who were in Xavier's will love it because of the images of the campus on-screen and those who weren't, will know what Xavier's is like. It may be the same old romantic story, but its fresh and fun.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Pickled Delights

This piece of mine appeared in the Mumbai Mirror's comfort food section.

Pickle queen, my aunt remarked as she saw me scraping the bottom of the glass jar for the last of the green chilli pickle my maternal grandmother had made. I smiled. I love pickles and have a palate that allows me to experiment with stuff such as radish pickle, olive pickle and even chicken-and-egg pickle.

I wasn't born with a stomach for achaari delights. As a child, I would rather tuck into a honey or butter-sugar mix with my bread and chapattis. “My son likes the sour and spicy stuff; and my daughter has a sweet-tooth,” my mother would tell neighbours. But pickles were very much a part of my life and the lives of my near-and-dear ones, especially that of my maternal grandmother in Patna.

She would spend a fortnight every winter making pickles out of every conceivable vegetable — beet-root, carrot, cucumber, onion, Indian olive, garlic and ginger. She would neatly line them up in glass jars in cupboards with iron-net doors to let in sunlight. Making pickles was her hobby and I liked assisting her. She never told me her recipes though. She said that we would have to return to her for more.

And so we did.It was during one of those annual visits to Patna that I developed a liking for my grandma's special red chilli pickle. I even sneaked into the kitchen one night to watch her mix the masalas and the chillies with mustard oil. The aroma was overpowering, but strangely comforting. While the super-spicy pickle was a favourite accompaniment to the aloo ka paratha, it be came a sandwich filler, quite accidentally. The Mumbai-Patna train journey takes almost 36 hours. In those days, you could call yourself lucky if your train was less than 10 hours late. My grandmother would always pack food for us for the lengthy return journey.

On one such occasion, she packed parathas, pickle and a loaf of bread (“For the kids. In case they get hungry”). The parathas we had for dinner, but the bread was too dry (thanks to the AC) for next morning’s breakfast. So mom buttered two slices of bread and dabbed some of the red chilli pickle and we had our first pickle sandwich.

Over the course of time, the sandwich made its presence in my school lunch-box (my friends loved it). Mom innovated too – mixing grated cucumber with the pickle sometimes, or grandma’s pickle with Bedekar's mango pickle and even honey, butter and pickle (simply awesome!)

Thank God for innovation, and thank God for grandmas!

Bombay Lights


Good-looking pandu
That's an anomaly. Rarely do you find a goood-looking cop or hawaldar on the streets of Mumbai. Pot-bellied, unfit...time and again we've had newspaper reports that write off the various fitness regimes designed for our cops. So I was in for a really pleasant surprise when I actually bumped into a smart-looking pandu aka hawaldar at Prabhadevi. And if that wasn't enough - he even smiled at me. A good-looking pandu smiling one of the rarest phenomenon in Mumbai. So when I excitedly told my senior colleague about it, I expected her to be surprised. Instead, what I got was, "Why the hell were you looking at a pandu? Your generation is weird." Phew!


"This cabbie can speak English. We'd better shut up"


We were returning home by cab after an afternoon show of the film Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic (that's one of the worst versions of Mary Poppins I have come across). Our middle-aged cabbie slowed down at the Haji Ali signal. While we waited for the lights to turn green, he whisked out his cellphone (don't cabbies love to flaunt them in front of passengers?). In impeccable English he asked the person at the other end: "What's for dinner dude?" "No drinks today, please. Let's have fish. Yeah, prawns are fine. Prawns it is!" I was impressed. But mom was a little un comfortable. I remarked on one of the hoardings when mom turned to me and said, "Don't speak in English. 'He' (cabbie) can understand. Speak in Bengali."


It reminds me of this incident in Byculla last year. My photographer and I were on an assignment to do a story on the fledging Byculla vegetable market. I wanted to interview a few shopkeepers about the business. I started off in Hindi, only to get a response from one of them in pucca 'Oxbridge' English - "There was a time when people would come here from far-flung suburbs to buy fresh veggies, but now we don't see any of that. Those days are gone." I felt silly that I had assumed that a vegetable seller may not know English.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Kumar Ketkar's editorial on Shivaji

This is the piece on the Maharashtra government's decision to install a massive statue of Shivaji off the coast of Mumbai, which sparked an attack on the Loksatta editor, Kumar Ketkar's house. I finally managed to get my hands on the English translation so I decided to post it.

'All the problems have been solved. Now let's build a statue'

It appears that all the problems of Maharashtra have been solved.People are not only happy and contented but are looking forward to a magnificent future. There are no indebted farmers in the state now, nosuicides, no deaths caused by malnutrition. All children go to school,there is no unemployment among the educated as there is tremendousgrowth of industry as well as the knowledge sector and everyone hasbeen employed. There is no question of the unskilled or the uneducatedbeing unemployed because there is no such person. All the rivers andsmall and big dams on them have irrigated most of the land, includingthe drought-prone rainshadow belts. Obviously, there is no foodshortage and, in fact, Maharashtra is surplus in food. There is noload shedding and not only is Nariman Point-Colaba shining but thewhole state is illuminated. Dr Abhay Bang had espoused the cause ofArogya-Swarajya. That cause has already been achieved and the averagelifespan in the state is 100 years.

This great success could not have been achieved without the farsightedleadership, commitment, conviction and vision of the state government.The credit for this goes to Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh andDeputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil. That is why the whole state isapplauding and saluting their leadership. Indeed, that is why thepeople of the state are immensely delighted that the duo that rulesthe state has taken up the grand project of erecting a magnificentstatue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, right in the Arabian Sea,across Nariman Point, about one kilometre away. The government hasdecided that the statue will be taller and more grand than the Statueof Liberty in New York Harbour.

The very idea of such a statue, mooted by the Congress-NCP four yearsago, was welcomed by the whole Marathi people. Such a monument was thenecessity of the hour, to announce to the world that Maharashtra is astate of warriors and patriots and the symbol of that spirit is Shivaji Maharaj. That is why Victoria Terminus was renamed asChhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). Instantly after the renaming,trains began to run on time, crowds could be managed, corruptiondisappeared, the local train journey became comfortable, like in theEuropean suburban railway, and there were no accidents. Could thishave happened without the glory of the name of Shivaji Maharaj thatadorns the station now? Then the state and the people took theinitiative to rename the domestic as well as international airport ofMumbai. Both are now renamed as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj airportterminal. Like a magic wand, the airports became efficient, employeesbegan to behave courteously, flights were punctual, take-offs andlandings perfect, no more hovering in the sky looking for landingspots. Who would have believed this if it had not actually beenexperienced by the people? Was it possible without the miracle calledShivaji Maharaj?

Naturally, the government felt that having solved all the problems ofthe people, what remains to be done is to tell the whole world of thegreatness of Shivaji. The government has decided to have more than oneacre of land inside the sea acquired and filled so as to build themonument, which will attract all global tourists. All facilities willbe given to the tourists. There will be a museum near the statue,artifacts of the 17th century, Shivaji's personal effects, swords andshields and attire. There will also be directives issued by theMaharaj to his administrators on how to govern and make the peoplehappy. Along with the museum, there will be shopping malls, sellingT-shirts with Shivaji's painting. There will be Shivaji key chains,Shivaji gift items, including cutlery.

Of course, there will be no beer bars. So obviously, there will be nodance bars, which the Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil detests so much. There will be perhaps wine, which according to the leader ofNCP, Sharad Pawar, is not alcohol. So wine will be sold and servedalong with Coke and Pepsi and other soft drinks. There will be swadeshi McDonald's as well as vintage Marathi vada-pau, which hasbeen renamed by Uddhav Thackeray as 'Shiv Vada-Pau'. There will alsobe 'pani puri' sold by the MNS activists of Raj Thackeray. No'bhaiyyas' will be allowed to do business, only locals will beengaged.The monument will inspire not only the people of the state but allthose who visit Mumbai.

The globe-trotters will go back to theirrespective countries with the message of Shivaji Maharaj, and theglory of the state called Maharashtra, where every person is happy andcontented. It is the most ideal place on earth and anybody looking fora role model should look at the creation of Vilasrao Deshmukh-R.R.Patil. Did anyone else think of and visualise such a fantastic idea?The monument would be ready soon.

In the year 2010, on May 1, the state will be celebrating its golden jubilee. Could there have been agreater tribute to the image, symbol and glory of Shivaji Maharaj thansuch a statue, standing in the middle of the sea, warning all theterrorists to keep off Mumbai, and to keep away from India because thepeople of Maharashtra protect and promote the idea of a Great India?

The piece originally appeared in Marathi. It has been translated intoEnglish by the writer.

Source: The Indian Express, June 6, 2008

Intelligent journalists...Oh really?


"Even though you are a journalist, you are intelligent," a distant cousin remarked when I had helped her fix a puncture. Though I was sure it was a compliment (quite befitting of my talent), I couldn't heock ovlp expressing my shock. My cousin wasn't in the mood to explain and I didn't want to pursue her.


During my internship with Bombay Times, I had the priviledge (it was indeed an eye-opener), to meet students of the prestigious Lahore University Management Studies (LUMS). I struck a friendship with one of them, Sheikh Aslam - a tall, lanky guy with brown skin and light eyes. Sheikh was intelligent...and he aspired to be a journalist. He was the editor of the premier business schools in-house magazine - "it's a much sought-after post", he'd proudly declared. During the course of our conversation, I told him that I had studied life sciences before switching over to journalism. He said, "No wonder." I asked, "What?" He stated, "You are too intelligent to be a journalist." I was surprised he would make a comment like that. After all, I met him on a journalistic assignment. I asked him for an explanation. He simply said, "You are wasting your brains."


Over the course of my short journalistic career spanning three years, I've been repeatedly told that I'm too intelligent to be a journalist. I once asked my boss if I were a misfit in the media. He said, "Look at your stories. They're really good. You must be doing something right." Now, how's that for encouragement.


But why am I talking about all this right now? Because Vishwas Heathcliff, on his blog www.writechoice.co.in, has said that you need intelligence for journalism. Probably Vishwas is caught in a time-warp. Or maybe he should just go on field to actually see for himself, how many intelligent journalists actually make the grade.


I've had TV journos asking me full forms of IO (investigating officer, for the uninitiated), nearly four days after their routine court drills. Better late than never, huh? Then, there was one who couldn't tell the difference between Kangana Ranaut and Shamita Shetty (how?). And though I have my sympathies for those convent-educated literature graduates who become sub-editors and can't understand basic arithmetic such as percentages (that doesn't stop us from using them any way), I am not as grateful to those who believe that 1,500 and 15,000 are equal. I actually had a senior sub-editor reason this one out!


What I find unnerving is that there is more than just enough room for such intelligent journalists to thrive and even flourish. I may perish but they won't, I am sure.



So when Vishwas says, journalism requires intelligence and concentration, I simply don't understand.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cowherds in Baroda


For a city of its size, Baroda aka Vadodara has a very large floating population of cows, as I discovered on my trip to the city, last week. Cows are omnipresent - along the city's roads, lined up along the dividers on the streets and in groups of ten in the tenement areas (you can't call them slums or jhopadpattis) and grazing on the greens. Then there are herds of buffaloes that jostle with modern contraptions such as green-and-yellow autorickshaws that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), Yamahas and Honda Civics. In fact, there are more cows on the streets than there are stray dogs and that makes Baroda curiously 'different' from any other Indian city.



The cattle, I gather comes from the neighbouring 'semi-rural' areas. Herdsmen have been traditionally coming into the city during the monsoon to look for small-time jobs to supplement their incomes. (These jobs have now become the primary source of income during the rains over the last few years as flooding has become a prevalent phenomenon in the low-lying plains around Baroda.) But unlike migrants in other Indian cities who leave their belongings and cattle in their villages, these semi-nomadic herdsmen, prefer to bring their highly-productive cows (and some bulls) into the city. They mark their cattle with stamps or rings (in the cows'nostrils) and leave cows to graze on the greens around the city (even the patches on the road dividers aren't spared). Thankfully, Baroda doesn't have too many open garbage dumps so the cows keep away from plastic junk that can fatally clog their intestines.


At night, the herdsmen, return after their daily-wage jobs, to gather their cows together. If you drive through the city late at night, you see the cows tethered together outside tiny semi-permanent shelters along the city's periphery. Older cows, who can no longer produce milk, are left astray. There are very few slaughterhouses in Baroda and even I am not sure if those that exist slaughter cows in post-Godhra Gujarat.


I find it quite amazing that even in India's most industrial and developed state, there lies a confluence between two entirely different forms of lifestyle - the nomadic and the urban.The move from a semi-nomadic lifestyle to a sheltered urban life may be tempting, but people still prefer to cling to their old way of life, much like the inhabitants of Mumbai's slums.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

And the fight club rules are...

1st RULE: You do not talk about FIGHT CLUB.
2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about FIGHT CLUB.
3rd RULE: If someone says "stop" or goes limp, taps out the fight is over.
4th RULE: Only two guys to a fight.
5th RULE: One fight at a time.
6th RULE: No shirts, no shoes.
7th RULE: Fights will go on as long as they have to.
8th RULE: If this is your first night at FIGHT CLUB, you HAVE to fight.

The Jerry Maguire Mission Statement

I simply loved Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire. And more than anything else (even th bungling Tom Cruise), I liked the mission statement. So here it is for all those sports freaks, journalists and Jerry Maguire fans:
The things we think and do not say: Thoughts of a sports attorney

Miami Hilton, 1 AM
It's 1 AM and this might be the bad pizza I had earlier talking, but I believe I have something to say. Or rather, I have something to say that I believe in. My father once said, "Get the bad news over with first. You be the one to say the tough stuff." Well, here goes. There is a cruel wind blowing through our business. We all feel it, and if we don't, perhaps we've forgotten how to feel. But here is the truth. We are less ourselves than we were when we started this organization.
Sports Management International began as a small company. I was hired by Jack Scully in 1981, I was fresh out of college, I didn't even watch much sports. But a young man came to me, and his name was Bill Apodaca. He asked me to look at a contract he'd acquired to play football for the Atlanta Falcons. Before long I was overseeing the business of another member of the Falcons, and two baseball players. The nuances and the small miracles of professional sports would soon hook me - there was something simple and perfect about the way a stadium felt. The way you felt when a player you'd helped and represented made his stand in front of 54,000 people. And I remember the conversation Mr. Scully and I had by an elevator, standing next to one of those sand-filled ashtray posts, right before he hired me as one of the first agents in this company. "You and I are blessed, he said, "we do something that we love."

Tonight, I find those words guiding me back to an important place, and an important truth. I care very much about the fact that I have learned to care less. Now our company is one of the top three in this business, and we represent over a thousand athletes. Over sixty agents work at our huge new office, and I still haven't met all of you. The business of sports has never been bigger, or tougher, or more written about. And we are at the forefront. But I wonder tonight, as we leave our 13th annual conference ... we've talked a lot and partied a lot over the last three days, but I dare say that not one of us, our diet Pepsis and sheaf of papers in hand, have said what we really think.

It is beyond the easy arguments waged against sports, and our business on the editorial pages of the New York Times. It is beyond the huge salaries, the endorsements all our clients now want because "I'm a better actor than Michael Jordan." Beyond the globalization and merchandization of the games. It's more subtle than the baseball strike, more about loyalty than the Colts moving to Indiana, the Rams going to St. Louis, or the Cleveland Browns moving to ... someplace. I'm talking about something they don't write about. I'm talking about something we don't talk about.

We are losing our battle with all that is personal and real about our business. Every day I can look at a list of phone calls only partially returned. Driving home, I think of what was not accomplished, instead of what was accomplished. The gnawing feeling continues. That families are sitting waiting for a call from us, waiting to hear the word on a contract, or a General


Manager's thoughts on an upcoming season. We are pushing numbers around, doing our best, but is there any real satisfaction in success without pride? Is there any real satisfaction in a success that exists only when we push the messiness of real human contact from our lives and minds? When we learn not to care enough about the very guy we promised the world to, just to get him to sign. Or to let it bother us that a hockey player's son is worried about his dad getting that fifth concussion.

There is a good bet that I will erase all of this from my laptop, and you will never read it. But if you are reading it, and you're reading it right now, it is only because I was unable to stop. I was unable to forget the quiet questions in the hallways, when some of you, usually the younger agents, or interns, asked me on the side: "How do you keep all these lives, all these clients, separated in your mind?"

Chances are, I didn't say much. I might have told you "it's easy," or, "you're not working hard enough." Chances are, I said something that you expected, maybe even wanted to hear. But it wasn't the truth, and it wasn't what I felt. And if you ever wondered about the drawbacks of being quiet about important things, talk to yourself in the mirror some time, say the truth. Yell the truth to yourself, when no one is listening. See how good it feels?

My father worked for the United Way for 38 years. We lived in San Diego for many years, before I left to move up the coast to Los Angeles. One of the things my father said was: "Every time you allow a problem in your life, you are actually at a point of transformation. Crisis is a powerful point of transformation." (Never mind that he sat at the same chair for 38 years, and when he retired said only that he'd wished he'd asked for a more comfortable place to sit.)
We are now at a point of transformation with this company. But this is not something to fear, it is something to celebrate. Because I come to you tonight, looking out at the dark Miami skyline, not only with a challenge. I come to you with answers too.

But first let us define our position.

Right now we are a breaking point with our client list. We are not so huge that we must hire more agents, and not so small that we have not experienced huge success. We are at a point of neutrality. We are all, right now, neutral. Neutral, as in not black or white. Not bad or good. Even. neutral.

Even in my own life, after 35 years, I feel that I have never done that one thing, that noble thing that defines a life. Even writing this Mission Statement is odd for me. I am used to flying below the radar, enjoying my life and friends. But I have not been truly tested. I have not gone to India to explore my life, as my brother has. I have not been in a major car accident, or fathered a child. I have not created a life, nor have I killed anyone. I am neutral. I haven't started a war and I haven't stopped a war. I have broken even with my life. I have a nice home, a nice car, a fiancee who makes my heart race. But I have not taken that step, or risk, that makes the air I have breathed for 35 years worthwhile. I once had a yellow couch. I got rid of it because it was neutral. My life is now like that yellow couch.

And yet, as I sit here in the wonderful Miami Hilton, I have never been so happy to be alive. I have said "later" to most anything that required true sacrifice. Later I will spend a weekend reading real books, not just magazines. Later I will visit my grandmother who is 100 and unable to really know the difference. Later I will visit the clients whose careers are over, but of course I promised to stay in touch. Later later later later. It is too easy to say "later" because we all believe our work to be too important to stop, minute to minute, for something that might interfere with the restless and relentless pursuit of forward motion. Of greater success. Make no mistake, I am a huge fan of success. But tonight, I propose a better kind of success. I could be wrong, but if you keep reading and I keep writing, we might get there together.

Random Fact #128:

* * *
Sports Management International, founded in 1981, was dedicated to the then-rock solid notion that athletes deserve a decent home with decent pay. The original client roster existed of four athletes, one of them was the first American Frisbee Champion, Chester Savage, who was actually born in Australia.

* * *
Now of course we all know that we possess the job of the decade. Last year, when a poll of college students was taken, our occupation, Sports Agent or Sports Attorney ranked number two to Rock Star. But rock stars, like sports stars, have a limited time in the spotlight. Nobody likes an old lineman or a bald rock star. But sports representation can give you a career into your 80's, like the original sports agent Dicky Fox, who died on his way to a Chicago Bulls playoff game in 1993. He died gloriously, right by the B gates, a happy man who had actually written a book called A Happy Life. Taken by a heart attack, he left a loving wife and family, and a home next door to his first client. And we won't talk about the two guys who stole his playoff tickets, right out of his pocket as he lay on the cool floor of the 'O Hare airport. They were yanked from Dicky's seats in the first quarter, and two guards kept the seats empty in tribute to him.

A Happy Life.

And to those young agents who never met him, Dicky Fox always said the same thing when asked for his secret. "The secret to this job," he said, "is personal relationships."
We are agents. To some, that brings with it the image of a Slickster. A Huckster. Someone profiting off the efforts of others. For many of those we've met or observed, that is what we are.


I know an agent operating in this very state who regularly gets the phone numbers of college athletes by calling school offices and posing as a tutor who has lost their student's contact number. He is often successful in acquiring athletes, but none for very long. Privately, an agent can be a father, a friend, an inspiring force in the life of a young man or woman. We are sometimes as important as priests or poets, but until we dedicate ourselves to worthier goals than getting a illegal phone number, we are poets of emptiness.

Somehow all this has been bubbling up inside me. A man is the sum total of his experiences. And it is now that I am interested in shaping the experiences to come. What is the future of what we do? Give me a goal, and I will achieve it. That has been my secret design for most of my life. Perhaps you are the same. We're all goal-oriented, so I hereby present a goal.
How can we do something surprising, and memorable with our lives? How can we turn this job, in small but important ways, into a better representation of ourselves? Most of us would easily say that we are our jobs. That's obvious from the late hours we all keep. So then, it is bigger than work, isn't it? It is about us.

How do we wish to define our lives? So that when we are sixty, or seventy, or eighty and we're sinking down onto that cool floor of O'Hare airport, with playoff tickets in our pockets, perhaps we too can know that we led A Happy Life? Is it important to be a Person and not just a slave to the commerce of Professional Sport? Do we want to be Remembered?
Or do we just want to be the guy who sold the guy who sold shoes that came with the little pump?

Recently I was asked by the son of a client, in so many words, "What do you stand for?" I was lost for an answer. At 14, I wasn't lost for that answer. At 18, I wasn't lost for an answer. At 35, I was blown away that I had no answer. I could only look at the fade of a 12 year-old boy, concerned about his dad, needing my help, just looking at me for the answer I didn't have.
The look on that kid's face is a part of me now. And the feeling I had, and have now, is pushing me forward, writing this Mission Statement.
1:17 AM, Miami, thoughts:-

* * *
What am I doing? I must erase this entire document. I'll write a little more, save it and go to bed.
* * *
My dad was one of the good guys. He studied at West Point, went to Korea in the conflict there.

Later, he left a glittering life in the military to move to California, because my mother did not take well to the army life. My father never complained about it. He was prone to tell his war stories, but never in a beery "you gotta listen to me" way. He was graceful and he was funny, and he didn't complain. For the late part of the sixties and the early seventies, even while doing volunteer work for United Way, as I previously described, he was an operator of Telephone Answering Services. He had two of these businesses. Long rooms filled with telephone operators who cooly answered your phone for you when you were away from home.
"Can I take a message?"
Almost as soon as he began this business, the first automatic telephone answering machine was introduced onto the market. Our conversations at the table were often about the future, and whether the world would accept these new machines.
"I just can't talk to one," said my mother.
"Neither can I," said my older brother. "Nobody wants to talk to a machine."
"They'll never last," said my dad. "People only like to talk to people."

Within three years, mechanical answering machines were everywhere. The whole idea of a human answering your phone while you were away was no longer important. People were talking with machines, regularly and familiarly. Making funny phone messages, personalizing the machine of forward motion that had arrived in their homes. There was no way back. The machine was a part of life, but only when everyone learned to personalize it.

The same thing is true of sports. Sports may never be the pure and simple thing that older men pine for. That ball park in the corn fields of Field of Dreams is, of course, a fantasy that lives in the mind. Sports is a huge operation, always was, but now that fact is no longer a secret that lives in the luxury boxes of ownership. The secret is out of the bag. Way, way out. Everyone knows that sports is a machine. The Endorsement is now in danger of overshadowing the game. The commercials are often more interesting than the telecast. Money sits on the bench, right alongside the players. The players know, the owners always knew, the fans know. The machine has moved into our homes.

The question is, how do we personalize that machine? It is a question we must now ask ourselves at S.M.I.

I propose that, like the world embraced those telephone answering devices, we talk to the machines. We deal with the future that is already here. It isn't even the future, it is now, so let us talk to the Machine and see what it says to us.

Let's bring soul and character to what is already there. I propose that we recreate everything that we're currently about. Right now we're at the top of our game. Traditionally people do one thing at this point in their success. They try like hell to maintain what they did to get there.

Their personal and intense road to success, their original inspiration (which is at the heart of every success) is now lost in the pursuit to keep the money machine smoothly rolling forward. Delivering crisp green sheets of greater and greater amounts of fortune. But there is a problem with this stage in the success game. In so doing this maintain-success cycle, they forget the original glimmer of passion that got them there.

And historically, no one successful ever pauses to think that they might tumble like everyone before them who forgot. The whole success cycle dooms the very thing that causes the success in the first place - it puts shutters on the windows of reality. It makes us all forget that monetary success comes from something very pure. It comes from a desire to do well, to make life better, not just to do well with financial regularity.

Recent telephone conversation with a Client who had been accused of "selling out" by a local columnist: "Of course I sold out. My old problem is, I sold out before there was any money in it."

It is not easy to hide a winning formula. Take a successful t.v. show. The following season, you see twenty others just like it. Same goes for our company. Sports Management International was, of the first great success stories of our business. But the great ones all do one thing at the time of their greatest success. They change the game. They make it harder for themselves. They raise the bar. They work not just harder, but they work smarter. That is why the great athletes, politicians, musicians, philosophers all got stronger instead of more weary. We must do the same. And for those wondering when I will propose an answer to these many questions, I must ask you simply to hold on. Because it's coming.

I have just poured a pot of coffee. Maybe I'm crazy, maybe it's just tonight, but I really do think


I'm onto something here. And, as I said earlier, if you're reading this, it means that I didn't conquer this statement with my own fears of rejection. If if you knew me, and many of you do, you know that "rejection" and "fear" are not words I say easily. But this is more than a Mission Statement. This is not the equivalent of one of those magnetic "poetry kits," you know the ones you buy at a stationery store, a mess of words so you can assemble funny poems on your refrigerator door. This is from my heart. This is a love letter to a business I truly love.

Miami, 2:37 AM, Thoughts:
* * *
Coffee tastes different at night. It tastes like college.
* * *
I'm back. just checked the messages at home, and sure enough one of them was a man I will call Client X. Client X was watching ESPN and he saw Athlete Y talking about the many many millions he has in contracts both in football, baseball and product representation. We have all been on the receiving end of a message like the one I just picked up on my answering machine.
"Why aren't I making what Athlete Y makes," said my client. And the truth is obvious to everyone but Client X.

Athlete Y is a superstar, and is more talented. But to tell this to Client X would be asking him to become Ex-Client X. And so begins the game of flattery, of lip service, of doing everything possible to soothe and stroke. It is part of our lives, and part of our jobs. The game of agenting.


The tapdance. Not only will Client X be a tapdance, but there will be a tapdance involved in explaining why I didn't return the call and begin the tapdance earlier. I know it is a tapdance, and so does he. I have seventy-two clients, and over sixty of them are full-time tapdances. I sign ten or twelve new ones a year. As many of you know, it is going in the wrong direction.

But as I sit here in the darkness of this hotel I room, the answer to the future is rather obvious. If the tapdancing becomes less constant, less furious, less necessary, what will the result be? The result will be more honesty, more focus, fewer clients, but eventually the revenues will be the same. Because the new day of honesty will create a machine more personalized, more truthful, and the client that wasn't bullshitted this year, has a greater chance of greatness next year.

And now we get to the answer that Dicky Fox knew years ago. The answer is fewer clients. Less dancing. More truth. We must crack open the tightly clenched fist of commerce and give a little back for the greater good. Eventually revenues will be the same, and that goodness will be infectious. We will have taken our number oneness and turned it into something greater. And eventually smaller will become bigger, in every way, and especially in our hearts.
Forget the dance.
Focus.

Learn who these people are. That is the stuff of your relationship. That is what will matter. It is inevitable, at our current size, to keep many athletes from leaving anyway. People always respond best to personal attention, it is the simplest and easiest truth to forget.
Love the job. Be the job.

The phone calls will still come in at 2 AM, but on the other end of that phone at 2 AM will be someone deserving of your time, and you will be honored to share their time. And that will be what the road to greatness feels like. A little rocky at first. But think how good it will feel to wake up in the morning and know that when the phone rings, it is not Client X demanding the tapdance. It will be Client K, whose life we know and share in.

Let us be honest with ourselves.
Let us be honest with them.
Forget the dance.
Focus.

I propose this as the very heart of the Mission Statement that is flying across my screen. I am not a writer but I can't stop from writing this. It is something pure, from the deepest part of me. It has to be right, and as one of the Senior Agents at this company, I ask to be heard. And if I am wrong, then grab me by the collar and tell me why you disagree. And I will happily talk with you because we are talking about something that matters.

Down below on the Promenade, I see a young girl skating in the night. The simple beauty with which she cascades across the smooth cement, the intelligence with which she uses this path that is crowded with shoppers and businessmen in the daytime. At night, it is hers. She owns it. I feel the same pride of ownership, owning this world that allows me to type this message to you. And perhaps save the future of this company. It is a great feeling, not just that wretched desire to survive, to outswim the huge wave that may drill me into the sand below the water, but to seize this time. To set the agenda. To say what I feel.

Miami, 3:13 AM, Thoughts:
* * *
I have the distinct feeling that what I have written is "touchy feely." I don't care. I have lost the ability to bullshit.

* * *
I feel so good about not erasing this Mission Statement. There is so little that we are able to create in this business.

Most of the time, we are creating nothing. We are shoving digits around. But to address the growing pains of our business, and to create a new way of looking at what we do ... because these growing pains could easily be dying pains. But we are meant to live at this company.
Our work actually does have an effect on people. In a cynical world, we make people happy. We let them know that one athlete can make a difference. The same can be said of one company.
Random Travel Tip #434:

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When using a hang-up bag, whenever possible pack clothes in dry cleaning bags. The extra layer prevents wrinkling.

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I propose also that we step up our concerns to build in non-profit areas of our contracts. It is something that we often talk about, sitting in those athletes' living rooms, but often we let these factors slip away. How often have we advised clients to move to Florida, this very state, where taxes are lenient? Let us use the same sharp thinking not just to set up Charity Golf tournaments, but to help build schools in the communities where many of our finest athletes first found the inspiration to helped them onto greatness.

It is important to tweak the greater concerns of our athletes as well. Because the ability to forget social causes happens easily, in the night. Suddenly the desire to survive obscures the quest to give back to a community. If we don't exercise the muscle of charity, one day it is dead. It doesn't respond, it's just a fiber in your body that serves no purpose. And the next thing that happens is the lack of depth that comes with financial prosperity. How many rich people have said this in our presence: "I thought I would feel better when I was rich, but I don't."

That happens when we don't listen to the loud sound of the quiet voice inside. Life, I believe, is not a country club where we forget the difficulties and anxieties. Life is the duty of confronting all of that within ourselves. I am the most successful male in my family, but I am hardly the happiest. My brother works for Nasa, helping grow blue-green algae that will one day feed the world. He was originally targeted as the "successful" one in my family. But he gave up early, for a quieter kind of success. He was once tortured, now he is quietly making the world a better place.


He learned earlier what I am just now starting to wake up to. He sleeps well at night. And he doesn't worry about being too preoccupied or too busy to get the dance right. He dances for something greater.

3:32 AM, Miami, Thoughts:
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Next door, someone named David is having sex. I know because his girlfriend or wife just yelled something out in the throes of ecstasy: "Put the top back on, David!" I pause and wonder. What did David open, and why does he now have to close it?
* * *
You can e-mail the President, you can get sushi in a supermarket in the middle of the desert, you don't even have to read a book anymore, you can buy a tape where it is read out-loud. But where is the simple truth about how to live a quality life? I hope that I have not overstepped my boundaries by writing this to you. This is an attempt to reach out, and say loudly the things that have been festering within. And once you begin to speak these things, it's hard to stop.

I have decided to tell you about Mimee. A few days ago I got a phone call from a friend. Mimee Senadetta had died. I barely knew her, she was the girlfriend of a friend. They broke up in the middle 80's, but Mimee and I had the attraction of two people who might have been together, had circumstances been different. We lost touch. And now she is gone, dead from a car accident, and I find myself thinking about what I could have done while she lived.

Last Christmas I felt the tingle of a thought - call her. I delayed calling, now it is too late. I think that tingle, the small voice inside, is always the voice of what is right. And how much sound and fury exists in our life determines how we easy it is to listen.

I miss you, Mimee. You and I both know. We had something that was never followed up on. I wish you well on your journey.

Random Airport Fact #23:
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Denver International Airport is a converted cornfield that sinks 3/4 inch deeper into mud every year. This airport also contains the best gift-shop, with adajacent ATM access, in the continental United States.
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I have never been a writer, but I can see how this great lost art will never truly die. Putting words to paper is a sacred thing. It's more than a phone conversation, it is a document. It is something you are putting on paper. The relationship between a phone call and a letter is the difference between a magazine and a phone book. One you leave on a plane, the other you save.

I am too excited to sleep. I want this Mission Statement to last to the light of day. Outside, a passing car plays a snatch of an old Pink Floyd album. Money ...

I am wondering what that exact moment is when we truly, truly love our jobs. Is it during the day, or at the end of the day, or is it years later looking back on all we accomplished? I think perhaps truly loving something is the ability to love it at that moment. It is an elusive ability, something I have never been able to quite accomplish. I must go home, and take my experiences like a squirrel, and consider them, before I can truly enjoy them. I must work on this. The daily journey is everything. Being able to enjoy enjoyment while it is happening. I might erase this part.

4:45 AM, Miami, Thoughts:
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Whatever David opened, the top is now back on and not much has changed. Does sex really sound this silly? And if it does, why don't people laugh more when they're having it? Why do I feel more alive for having written all of this?
* * *

Some of you are younger than me, some of you are older than me. Right now I have one foot in each of your worlds. I am thinking about marriage, and the future, but I'm old enough to have a past that I (hopefully) have learned from. In another hour or so, a USA Today will plop at the door, phone calls will come in, and provide a whole new set of distractions to keep me from the central issue, the issue that we have discussed all this week, in various ways and in various forums, but have we really discussed it?

I have now written far too much on the subject of our future, the future of this business. But the beauty of this proposal, I think, is that it is only a slight adjustment, an adjustment in our minds. An adjustment in attitude. An adjustment to point where we can discuss the things that really matter to us, and our many clients. This coming holiday season, that time when we all know we must work harder to let our clients know what we're doing for them, that difficult time when big decisions are made and agents are often fired, let us really reach out. Let us celebrate the clients that have meant more to us because of this small adjustment.

Let us work less hard to sign the clients that we know won't matter in the long run, and work twice as hard to keep the ones who will. I believe in these words, and while they may not yet be true for you, they are true for me. And I ask that you read this with that in mind. I am dictating not what I want us to be, but what I wish us to be. There is a difference. You can only get there if I have written this correctly, and if you are inspired. I am reaching out to you, personally. I choose to be passionate again. I choose to reclaim everything that was once exciting about this job. I wonder if this might just be the best idea I've ever had. I hope you understand. In the words of Martin Luther King, whose suit I suggest you all visit before they move it from its display in the Atlanta airport: "A life is not worth living until you have something to die for."

A life is not worth living if you are sleepwalking through it. Because that is what feels like death. That is what causes athletes to, out of despair, get drunk and wrap their cars around a pole. Or lash out at someone they love. Or that is what might have caused Mimee to careen into another car in an oncoming lane of traffic. It is the feeling of sleepwalking. Of others living life around you, keeping their fists tightly wound around whatever dollars they can muster, caring little more than nothing about those around you. We cannot sleepwalk. We cannot just survive, anything goes. We can take control of our lives, we can quit sleepwalking, we can say - right now, these are our lives, it is time to start living it. It is time to not second guess, to move forward, to make mistakes if we have to, but to do it with a greater good in mind.

Let us start a revolution. Let us start a revolution that is not just about basketball shoes, or official licensed merchandise. I am prepared to die for something. I am prepared to live for our cause. The cause is caring about each other. The secret to this job is personal relationships.