Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Winter's Day

On a winter's day, the monuments in the tomb complex of Mughal emperor Humayun are showcased against the perfect backdrop of a setting sun.

I have often wondered if these walls could talk, what tales they might have told. 400 and more years - of the people, their politics, the rendezvous of lovers, the whispering of secrets, the change of dynasties, the rise and govenments.

Location: Delhi
Date: December 2010

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stringing up the lights

The festival of Diwali (or Deepavali, the original Sanskrit name) signifies the triumph of good over evil according to Hindu mythology and is traditionally celebrated with rows of oil, clay lamps lit over 5 days.

But modern day lights have taken over the festivities with its psychedelic colours and varieties of light displays. No fuss, no oily mess to deal with, no fear of flames being blown away by the wind, electric lights are a convenience here to stay. It has changed the face of the festival and how?

Busy streets lined with jewellery stores selling the most sought after metal - gold, almost an obsession during Diwali (textured photos). The greater the competition among them to attract attention with bigger & brighter displays each year.

Diya (lamp) - shaped electric lights strung on a tree in front of a high-street store

Colourful paper-lamps hung in a corner-street shop waiting for customers to take them home.

The new diyas or clay lamps are generally bought in advance and soaked for a few hours in water to reduce the absorption levels of the clay. When oil is poured it stays in the lamp and does not get absorbed by the porous nature of the clay. Whereas, all it requires is for the electric lights to be taken out of storage, given a good dusting, strung on railings, balconies, trees & shurbs and plugged in. Reusable, year after year. Unlike, clay lamps which if used one year cannot be reused the next year as per tradition.
Traditions do evolve over time but one cannot help but feel a sense of nostalgia for the earthy, tiny, diyas which are fast becoming just token symbols of the festival.

Monday, October 11, 2010

"Inspired" (by another)?

In recent times, one of the most talked about advertisements on Indian television is the new Kerala tourism ad. The reasons may not be all that the tourism board officials or the agencies involved envisaged but a buzz it has definitely created.

Love it or hate it, one thing's for sure, you can hardly ignore it (which I might add is also the reason for this post. I couldn't ignore it either)

Most Indians viewing it on their television channels in India seem to have gone ballistic about the ad being mis-representative of the state. Kerala, one of the most attractive & well-visited by tourists, both domestic and international evokes images of swaying coconut palms, cool back waters, lashing rains, boat races and resplendent elephants at temple festivals. Imagery, which by the way, has only been reinforced by advertisements (view here) from the tourism board themselves. It has to be one of the most advertised states in the country, a job the tourism guys are doing very well, I must say.

The director, Prakash Varma, of Nirvana Films (makers of the now omnipresent Zoo Zoos for Vodaphone in India) claims that all the locations & traditions featured are very much a part and parcel of the real Kerala (ref TOI Crest edition Oct 2-8, 2010). And being a Malayalee he ought to know (I should think) what the redeeming features of his native state are.

So what exactly is the problem? Is it that Indians are so influenced by stereotypes of Kerala that they cannot keep an open mind and view it differently? Is it that the visuals are just so stark and haunting that it just doesn't invite? Was it even meant for Indian viewers, given that it was launched in London as a promotional to attract foriegn tourists (who incidentally love the ad) ?

Did Kerala tourism then make a mistake by airing it in India and opening it up to unnecessary criticism? Yes, I would think they did make a hash of the media plan and subsequent PR in India. If the advertisement was created as a invitation to foriegn audiences who are vastly different from Indians in their outlook, why air it on Indian channels and that too in such a piecemeal fashion? Guess, Kerala tourism's marketing people are the only ones who probably know the answer to that question.

Is the creative in question a true representation of the state? To that, I can only say, "to each his own", every creative person has the license to express her/his creativity freely. The creative has the feel of an art film rather than a commercial that sells a product to viewers. In the case of the ad, the client and the advetising agency collaborated with the production house in the making of the film, so shouldn't the brick-bats as well as the bouquets be for all?

The bigger question though - is the creative an original or heavily "inspired" by another nation's tourism advt? I believe it to be as good as plagiarised from what I have seen of Mexico's tourism advts. Though don't take my word for it... see for youself:

And some more in the series of advts at

Infact, this blatant 'copy' bothered me more than the bad idea of releasing the advt in India or the so-called mis-representation of Kerala. An ad that showcases Kerala and therefore, a slice of India to the international audience is going to be seen as a rip-off. More surprising is that a reputed production house like Nirvana (creators of the Zoo Zoos - very original) is associated with copied content. Why?

Some other relevant links:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Turning 30... is it really such a bad deal?


I was thinking about this the other day as a friend & colleague is soon going to be 30.

Considering I don't have much time to think these days especially with work driving me up the wall and around the bend, this question pop up in my head often enough to give it some thought. I asked a few of my other friends who are well over the '30-hill' what they felt, thought of it.

Here's what they had to say:

"(It has) Meant more freedom, more money, more travel, more of everything and most importantly more of life :)" ~ 35 yr old, single, heading-up-the-corporate-ladder, career-woman.

"No special feelings except that i started having my annual medical checkups after 31. Over the last few years I have started taking things more seriously, especially retirement. When I think of all that we have to do before we retire, it scares me. There’s so little time." ~ 35 yr old, entrepreneur, usually-fun-loving, just-become-father-for-the-second-time.

"More certain of what I want, what lengths I am willing to go to get what i want, what I am willing to sacrifice, definitely dawning upon me to treasure the precious moments, people I care for in my life (read 'treat them less cavalierly'), Freeeeeeeeedom (from society's hang-ups), more travel, an ever expanding horizon...among many, many other things." ~ 35 yr old, single woman, living-on-her-own-in-an-alien-city and who has promised herself she will follow her heart!

(note: please place above statements in the context of being Indian and living in India. There's a vast difference in the extent of influence that family, tradition and society holds over a person in this country as compared to so-called modern, progressive nations)

I realised that all the 30-somethings I had spoken to had an outlook at life that was more positive, more independent, a setting of long-term goals, maybe a a greater sense of responsibility, definitely a feeling that there was a lot of life yet to be experienced (and the 'moolah' to do it) and an almost prophetic sense of adventures in the horizon. Adventures different from one's teenage years or even the 20s but exciting enough nonetheless.

Maybe it's on hindsight we all realised that turning 30 was far better than we had anticipated.

My friend who will be walking up to that summit in a few days from now has mixed feelings. On one hand she is eagerly planning her party, dropping hints about b'day gifts she would like, in some cases even being direct about it while on the other hand she raises existential questions on being 30+.

If the experience of all of us are anything to count, seems like she too will figure out that 30 ain't a bad number after all! :) Cheers!

(pics courtesy:;
P.S. I would be happy to hear from you what you felt about turning 30

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Can a good girl really have a good time?

I just finished reading 'Keep the Change' by Nirupama Subramaniam - about a 26 year old Chartered Accountant from Chennai who moves to Mumbai (for conservative Indian parents it reads 'sin city') with a new job. She shares an apartment with a chic, sophisticated colleague from Delhi.

This is not a review of the bookso i'll get to the point about the post. The novel's not great literature, doesn't even claim to be. But an easy, humourous read that keeps you engrossed.

Some sample lines from the novel:
  • A wedding scene: "Vision of myself with a large sticker on my forehead saying 'Bride Available', and a cardboard sheet listing my golden virtues around my neck like those people you see proclaiming The End of the World..."
  • About her flatmate: "I live in a den of vice, with a girl whose clothes are tight and morals loose. Despite that, or because of that, she seems to be having a great time. I hate her."
  • About today's ideal beauty vis-a-vis 'curvaceous Tamil film heroine' in another era: "The message is clear - if you don't look like a beauty pageant contestant, you should be prepared to live the life of a social outcast with a paper bag (XXL) over your head."
Towards the second half of the book, the protagonist's romance which was starting off in fits and starts...seem to remain at that. Got a little tedious. Her interactions with her flat mate could have been included a bit more instead, they were more interesting than the romance for sure.

The story ends well for the protagnist with her securing her dream job etc etc. I like happy endings, so am good.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rainy days are here again!

Even as I contemplated moving to the new city, one of the things that had always fazed me about it was the legendary monsoon season. Lasting two to two and a half months, the monsoons here meant heavy rains, all day, all night with breaks so short that if you blinked you would miss it. Its not like I had lived in the desert before, but in all the cities of my past, I considered the rains 'manageable'.

My relationship with the rains has always been a love-hate one. Unlike most people, I love the rains... with conditions attached. If I am indoors, dry and warm, I can watch the rain pour down for hours especially if accompanied by its own sound & light show - thunder and lightning. A hot cuppa tea and snacks would make it even better. I love the smell of mud as the first drops fall on the dry, dusty earth... something I always look forward to. The trees all look clean and greener than they did all year.

But I simply draw the line at having to endure it all day, all night. I have to see the Sun! How can one bear to not feel the warmth for so long...?!! However cliched it might sound, after days of grey, gloomy skies, my mood starts matching it too. So when the sun suddenly breaks through the clouds, it lifts my spirits like nothing else can at that moment.
The only time I can bear to be in the rain outside is if I am wearing the right clothes, rain gear in hand and suitable footwear too. When (in foolish optimism that the rain will hold off for a while) I have stepped out in clothes that would cling to me at the very sight of rain or footwear that would soak in water like sand in the desert, I have obviously got caught in the rain and simply hated it. Not to mention the motorists who think you are fair game to be splashed by puddles or maybe they just couldn't care less. Surprisingly, it has happened more times that I would care to admit. Then there are days I have carried an umbrella and wondrously, almost every time I have come back home without it.

The rains have also brought with it allergies, coughs and colds for me. Small stuff that doesn't affect me for long, but it is there nevertheless waiting to catch hold of me as the first drops hit the ground. And my very curly hair turns frizzy and springs up and about as if with a life of its own.

To go back to the beginning of this post, I moved to this new city and in a couple of months faced its hot, humid summers and almost immediately the rainy season. The start of the monsoon was every bit as real I had heard and I wondered how I would get through the season. Within a fortnight though, the heavy downpours had petered off and it was just a shower now and then, sometimes only a drizzle. Of course, it meant that the rest of the year the city would face a water-crunch and most people I knew were apprehensive. But secretly, I was pleased, as wicked as it might sound.
Into my second year here, the monsoons have arrived. It is the second week and after fits and starts, it seems to have acquired its legendary status. And I am once again left wondering " will I ever get through it?"

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Normally, I am not the overly sentimental type nor do I gush about the good things in life, even if I like them a lot (except bookstores, maybe). And for those who know me, it might seem a little out of character for me to post this piece. But, I shall risk it...

I wonder what it is about the TV series "Friends" which makes it so evergreen? I have been watching it for many, many years (more years than I care to admit) now... rerun after rerun after rerun, but I just don't seem to tire of it.

Friends - the TV series
And I cannot think of any other TV series that I can watch endlessly without getting at least a little bored of it, not even "Malgudi Days" (based on RK Narayan's novel by the same name).

The six friends whose lives revolved around a coffee shop and their New York apartments - Phoebe (eccentric, masseuse, ex-street thug), Rachel (fashionista), Monica (chef with an OCD for cleanliness), Chandler (witty, no one is really sure what his job is), Ross (paleontologist) and Joey (womaniser, out-of-work actor) - have kept me entertained many an evening. Bored or need a break from ploughing through studies/ work or just to pass time, watch "Friends"!

Sometimes even when more than one channel on TV aired the show with episodes which were many years apart (as per storyline), I have happily watched them. If one channel had Monica and Chandler married and living in the same apartment, two hours later on another there would be Monica in a relationship with a man old enough to be her father. But was I disoriented, fazed? way...not me! I lapped it all up even if I was watching it for the 'n'th time, even if it was to watch Phoebe sing "smelly cat" again or Joey ham through another audition or Rachel & Ross in their on-off relationship...

Well... yes... I am a die hard fan. Enough said. :)

(pic courtesy:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Rishikesh 2010 A.D.

My first trip to the hills immortalised in the writings of Ruskin Bond and my geography lessons in school, was one of shock and awe.

It was towards the end of March 2010 and I was eager to see the hills that were said to be thick with forests, wild animals and the hillsides dotted with remote, picturesque villages. Instead, I encountered landslides and brown hills devoid of forests. There were trees, yes, as brown as the hills, so much so that they seemed to be in camouflage.
It was a short 3 day trip, mainly spent river-rafting down the Ganges. All along the 50 km stretch of river the scene was the same. Brown and myriad shades of the same. The only green you could see was closer to the river at it's edge.

Dehradun, the town made famous because of its salubrous climate, proximity to the national capital and its numerous schools was busy & crowded. In certain areas that I drove through, it still retained a semblance of old world charm one hears of hillside towns but they were few and far between. The main street boasted of a Nirula's, pizza places, MNC brands like Bossini, UCB and more. I guess, free-market India had sunk its root wide & deep into this Himalayan town. Not to mention the boarding schools provided ample customers for these outlets.

The Rajaji National Park just outside of Dehradun had...good guess... brown trees. The few rivers or streams I drove past along the highway were dry and the beds were parched, thirstily awaiting the monsoon rains. It appeared to me (though I didn't check on it further) that these rivers might have either been dammed or the river waters diverted into canals, else it was hardly likely that snow-fed rivers would be completely bereft of any water.

While I loved the river-rafting, the dips in the icy-cold Ganges, the gleaming white beaches along the river bank, I realised that the Ganges was perhaps the only draw to this piece of (erstwhile) paradise. Over-harvested forest and hills seem to have given up the struggle and why not? Now more work-gangs are employed just to wall the hillsides so sudden landslides don't endanger roads and motorists along the heavily travelled route from Haridwar to Rishikesh, Devprayag and beyond.

It made me wonder if, Ruskin Bond's poem would hold true for Dehradun & its hills in the years ahead or is it already too late? (I would like to believe it isn't and the people of Uttarakhand will once again restore to its pristine glory, the valleys, hills and forests of the state.... if not for the fear of the Gods in these "holy" environs but at least for the fear of Global Warming!)

Living with Mountains
Once you have lived with mountains
under the benedictory pines
And deodars, near stars
And a brighter moon,
With wood smoke and mist
Sweet smell of grass and dew smoke
You will return,
You will come back,
To touch the trees and grass,
And cimb once more the windswept pass
~Ruskin Bond

Friday, April 2, 2010

Post-it Notes tell a story

Post-it notes are cool again (if they ever were before). They've played a starring role in several recent videos, from the romantic one-upmanship of this love story to the basic yellow background for illustrator Arthur Jones. With their sticky backs, absolute squareness and bright colors, Post-its also make perfect pixels for a new wave of stop-motion animation.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Of 'backsides'

As an Indian, I guess I ought not give a second thought to the usage of 'backside' in everday language without blinking an eye. Let me explain... here, in Mumbai, where I have currently live, 'backside' is used thus:
  • The cafe is located on the backside of that building
  • You will find the ph no on the backside of the book
  • You have to search for it on the backside of the shelf

So on and so forth...

In many of the cities in India that I have lived in or travelled to, I have heard the usage of 'backside' in a similar fashion but not as commonly as in Mumbai.

Even though am no expert in the language, I doubt that the usage is incorrect but it's informal meaning is so commonly known & used that one would hesitate to refer to buildings, books, roads etc as having 'backsides' (i.e. instead of back entrances or behind...).

back·side: noun 1.the rear or back part or view of an object, person, scene, etc.; that part which is opposite the front. 2. (informal) rump; buttocks. (source:

Whatever the reason might be, it does seem that 'backside' has caught the fancy of the locals and is here to stay... offering many amused moments to those who first stumble upon it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Not my first blog...

In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd. - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in Don quixote

The absurdity here is my renewed attempt at blogging despite my lack of even the tiniest, itty-bittiest success with my previous one.

I did start a blog once before, sort of a dry run but that's exactly what it turned out to be - a dry run. I had a blog post about once a month. I couldn't, for the life of me, think of the powerful, impactful, earth-shaking topics I always imagined I would write about. I had a few, random visitors (that blogging service had analytics...hmmm) who, mistakenly, am sure, strayed past my blogs, left virtually no comments and never came back. Needless to say, my first blog shut shop in about 6-7 months. This was writer's block even before it started.

Taking inspiration from Don Quixote though, I charge at the windmills and banish the giants in my head that tell me blogging is not for me. Muahahaha... [evil laugh]