When did I become a grown up?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and say this happens to everyone. Almost everyone, at least. That feeling of “wow! I’m an adult now? When did that happen?”

One of the instances of that feeling accosting me occurred last weekend. I was at my sister’s place and was out for an evening walk with my sister and my 6 month-old niece when three 10-year-ish-looking girls ran towards us, all giggly. I smiled back politely and maybe encouraged by that they proceeded to tell me the story of how they saw “3 frogs.. no wait, there were 4 frogs – 3 big and 1 small.” The long story was told, debates on the size of frogs were made and they ended the story with “Don’t go there Aunty!”

When they said that, I immediately looked at my sister, because in my head, it makes sense for her to be called “aunty”. ‘Coz, you know, she has a kid and stuff. Only catch – they were clearly talking to me.  (Unless all three had crooked eyes. That is a possibility, yeah?) Then I convinced myself that they called me “aunty” ‘coz I was holding the baby – can’t blame the kids for being politically correct, can I? It took me a few more minutes to accept the reality that I am (and I look) old enough to be included in the ‘aunty’ category, especially from a 10-year-olds eye.

As we were walking back, my sister and I ended up talking about the whole ‘oh-man-she-called-me-an-aunty’. (Dear reader, I can sense you rolling your eyes at me now. I’ll stop in a bit. Thank you for your patience!) When we were talking it dawned on us that there is no equivalent term in English for the Malayalam word ‘chechi’. Technically, it means sister, but colloquially, it is used to address all women who appear to be older than you but is no old-old, geddit? You can’t ask people ‘sister, could you help me get an auto?’ whereas ‘chechi, can you help me get an auto?’ is completely acceptable. The vagaries of languages. Sigh.

As for the growing old part, I feel that there is a huge difference between growing up and feeling grown up, though I am still on the fence about the importance of the latter. All this hungama (which I am causing. Yes, I’m aware of that) is reminding me of a conversation from the movie ‘Liberal Arts’ (it’s one of my favourite movies. Go watch it if you haven’t. It’s super amazing.) which goes as follows:

Prof. Peter Hoberg: You know how old I am?

Jesse Fisher: No, how old are you?

Prof. Peter Hoberg: It’s none of your goddamn business. Do you know how old I feel like I am?

Jesse Fisher: [shrugs]

Prof. Peter Hoberg: 19. Since I was 19, I have never felt not 19. But I shave my face, and I look in the mirror, and I’m forced to say, “This is not a 19-year-old staring back at me.”

[sighs]

Prof. Peter Hoberg: Teaching here all these years, I’ve had to be very clear with myself, that even when I’m surrounded by 19-year-olds, and I may have felt 19, I’m not 19 anymore. You follow me?

Jesse Fisher: Yeah.

Prof. Peter Hoberg: Nobody feels like an adult. It’s the world’s dirty secret.

And now you have in on the dirty secret too. You can thank me in the comments. Or send me Bournville – the super dark one, not the raisins one. That works too.

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Come on, India. Let’s football!!

I still remember the first football match I saw on TV. It was the opening match of 2006 FIFA World Cup and Germany had demolished Costa Rica 4-2. The gawky teenager who had been secretly disappointed at the absence of their charismatic leader Michael Ballack was mesmerized by the sheer energy of the players and the beauty of the game.

Fast forward 8 years and things are not much different. Through all the frenzy of Ferguson retiring and Germany winning the Wold Cup, there is a question that has haunted every Indian football enthusiast – when will the Indian football set the world on fire?

The answers to this question have always been a combination of words like ‘negligence, ‘lack of facilities’, ‘insufficient support from the authorities’, ‘lack of fund’ and ‘overshadowed by cricket’ – all with good reason. The fact that a good portion of Indian football enthusiasts who can spit out Zaltan’s height in their sleep find it hard to recollect the name of the captain of the Indian National football team speaks volumes about the hold Indian football has over its masses. (FYI, his name is Sunil Chetrri)

Sunil Chhetri, the current captain of Indian National Football team
Sunil Chhetri, the current captain of Indian National Football team

When Sepp Blatter, the current FIFA president, described India as a “sleeping giant” of football, he may not have been much off the mark. Indian football, with its rich history, has been always under-represented and ended up playing second fiddle to the legitimate First Lady aka cricket. Even though clubs like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting have managed to survive against all odds, it is a sad truth that there are hardly any clubs that the soccer fanatics of the country can identify themselves with. Even in Kerala, which has churned out many a talented player like I.M Vijayan and Jopaul Anchery, the game of football, though widely played, is yet to be popularised as a profession. It is a great hobby – nothing more. As Nilanjan Datta of Times of India once wrote, “the coconut trees among the picturesque lagoons have, in fact, seen only the death of many a bold dream.”

The team logos.
The team logos.

It is into this scenario that ISL makes its brave debut. Preceded by the I-League which failed to reach the expectations due to financial instability (among other reasons), Indian Super League has a huge burden to shoulder. The IPL-type football league, first launched in the early 2011s, has stoked much debate even before its official commencement. The latest ISL promo, unlike the first one, have been much criticised for giving undue focus to cricketers and film stars with just a glimpse of Alessandro Del Piero. It is indeed a matter of great distress that not a single Indian footballer, from past or present, is featured in the promo which aims at the “birth of a footballing nation”. It is unclear whether footballers were asked to be a part of the feature or they were sidetracked completely. However, a section of supporters see no harm in involving the celebrities. “Yes, they [the makers of the ad] could have included footballers too. But we have to remember that football is yet to be popularised in India. If including a bunch of celebrities can bring some much-needed visibility to this sport, then why not use them?” asks Ajay Reddy, an avid footballer. Sruthi Menon, an mass media student based in Bangalore remarks that too much attention is given to such trivial matters. “ISL is gonna be big. It is set to be telecasted live across multiple channels and will even have vernacular commendatory. When is the last time this happened in football?”

Bhaichung Bhutia aka the Sikkimese Sniper. He is India'a most capped player and my fav Indian football (after I.M Vijayan, i.e)
Bhaichung Bhutia aka the Sikkimese Sniper. He is India’s most capped player and my fav Indian footballer (after I.M Vijayan, i.e)

Good or bad, ISL sure seems to be attracting a lot of attention. The mainstream media, which initially trotted around with an air of condescension, slowly seems to be catching up to this new phenomenon. The buzz in the air seems to be that ISL willsurely go a long way in spreading the base of football across the nation. Whether it’ll go on to fulfil their vision of India becoming a global football power and qualifying for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, only time will tell.


This article of mine was published on Youth Ki Awaaz. My first article that is published anywhere other than my blog. Yay!! 🙂

The new-found freedom

It was only the last evening while talking to a friend on phone that it dawned on me that I’ve been away from home for nearly 6 months now. Which, of course, in the larger scheme of things is kinda like a drop of water in the ocean. It’s just that I absolutely loved these last few months. And I find that amusing ‘coz if you were to call me up at this moment and ask me to educe my memories of Bangalore, I’d probably come up with more rotten ones than the other.

Huh.

On second thought, that shouldn’t surprise me so, should it? En masse, we humans have this tendency to highlight the bad over good, haven’t you felt? Trashy movies, shoddy books, third-rate politics, mediocre celebs, their sub-standard tactics…all this makes us have collective mini-orgasms. The good stuff usually makes us go “Damn, why didn’t I think of that? And now I have to sit through others praising him. And smile while I’m seething with jealousy.”

And so, it is a truth universally acknowledged that bad experiences end up being a damn good story. And yes, I realise it echoes of the first line of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. And that, keeping in with the tradition, I’ve drifted off the topic. Focus, Navmi.

So yeah, Bangalore. I keep saying Bangalore ‘coz even though I’ve been here for just 3 months, life in Gandhinagar had been a breeze compared to that here. There, everything was handed out to us in a platter – all we had to do was to shell out a few bucks to keep ‘em coming. Here, we had to start everything from scratch. You know how you watched Ayesha paint her cute little apartment in ‘Wake up Sid!’ and told yourself “That’s how it is gonna be when I move to a new place”? Well, I really don’t want to rain on your parade, but THAT is utter bullshit. When YOU move to a new place, you’re probably going to end up in a P.G which advertises free wifi, “homely” food, and a bunch of smiling owners only to realise by the end of the month that (a) it takes an hour to load Google, (b) you can only have so much dal in a day (c) you are the little Red Riding Hood and the owners may as well be the big, bad wolves in your Grandma’s clothes. So there.

And then you are going to realise that life is bloody expensive. I’m not talking about the ‘No cash for petrol’ kinda crisis. I’m talking about the one where you realise a packet of Surf Xcel costs as much as a king-sized Diary Milk Silk! And once you realise the number of chips packets you consume in a month, you’ll start wondering how your parents could afford to stay off the streets. Seriously. But hey, jokes apart, there is nothing like being completely in charge of your finances that helps you grow up. A few of us taste the first spurt of this growth in your college days. For a few others like me, it’s a completely new arena. There is nothing as baffling as watching your carefully scripted monthly budget plan falling apart in the first week of the month. From then on, it’s like increasingly depressing cricket match. Theoretically, there is hope till the last over is bowled. And yet, you get a picture of how things are gonna be in those crucial initial overs.

And somewhere between all these, you’ll start getting hounded by a newfound worry that you are not doing enough for your parents – financially or physically, whether they need it or not. There’ll be times when you’ll be astounded by the heights of your selfishness in choosing to put your life, your dreams, your independence above that of theirs. You are gonna fret over those calls that start with “I have this headache for the last few days…” or “Cholesterol level is quite high…” When they call you up to inform you about the demise of an acquaintance or a friend or are uncharacteristically silent on the phone, you are gonna catch yourself wondering “If only I were there, we could have talked about this…” You are gonna brood over that for a while and will, almost certainly, try and shake it off by watching a movie or reading a book. After all, you gotta do what you gotta do.

And in between all these, strangely enough, you’ll relish the life you live. You’ll enjoy that you can go out at 9.30pm to buy a jar of jam. Or that you can go jogging in the morning just because you felt so. Or that you can blow off a good portion of your salary on books and no one is gonna give you THAT look. Some days you’ll go up on the terrace, look at the stars and simply lie there, listening to the distant rumble of traffic, the impatient horns and wonder where everyone is going. You’ll gaze at the apartments nearby and wonder what they are doing. You’ll have the luxury of being at your whims and fancies…

Some days, most days, that’ll be enough.

Live From Bangalore

That tangy smell of coriander being sautéed…I’ve always associated that with the feeling of being at home. For there is little that says “Welcome home” like having your nostrils burned by the smell of spices. So here I am, another day, another place and yet, very much at home. Only this time, it’s my sister pottering around the kitchen, trying to whip up something edible from a mass of greens and pulses. Every time I look at her, I get this kinda maternal vibe…a sense of pride as if she is what she is because I am who I am. Does that make sense?

So here I am. New day, new place. The same old sense of excitement. But this time, there are no nerves. Bangalore seems as much home as Thrissur. Now how is that? I don’t know the language, the people… and considering the fact that I’m one of the most geographically challenged people existing on the face of earth, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t know any of the places too. And yet, my mind is at ease. There is something about Bangalore that welcomes you right in. It seems to have a place for you, whoever you are. And somehow, I have this gut feeling that life here isn’t gonna have as many peaks and ditches as life at Gandhinagar. Let’s see…

Meanwhile, I’d appreciate it if those of you who knows Bangalore like the back of your hand or knows someone who knows someone who knows Bangalore like the back of their hand lemme know about what to do at the so-called happening city of India. Good eateries (‘coz after all, food comes first), good music, fun places to hang out (which are, preferably, rather easy on the pocket)…anything and everything about the place. So do drop me a message with suggestions, wokay?

More on life here later. Go…have fun!

Goodbye Gujarat

“Why does one person need so many cloths?? How many t-shirts and salwar could one person wear in a span of 3months?? What in the world was I thinking when I bought all this stuff?? How the hell was I going to get all this stuff across 5 states?!”

These were just a few questions that were going through my mind as I sat in front of a suitcase that was looking increasingly puny in comparison with all the stuff that is supposed to go inside it. So I decided to do what many a genius has done time and again when faced with such daunting tasks. I decided to procrastinate.

See the thing is, I am moving out from Gandhinagar in less than a week. Wow… hurts quite a bit to think about it! In a little over than 3 months, this place has become as much a home as is possible. So many memories…walking down the memory lane, I am jotting down some of the most vivid memories I have of this place.

  1. Wandering through Manek Chowk

Manek Chowk is a street food bazaar which opens at around 10.00pm every night. Known for the mouth-watering variety of food it offers, it is the perfect place to have the BEST dosa you’ve ever had (I’m a South Indian. So when I say The Best, I mean it), lip-smacking pav bhajis, kulfi with raita, faludas, hot jalebis, and reasonably good pani puris among other delicacies. Key in the 1980s Bollywood music streaming in from speakers to experience life in North India at its best.

Street Food at Manek Chowk (Photo Courtesy: www.ahmedabadgiftshop.com)
Street Food at Manek Chowk (Photo Courtesy: http://www.ahmedabadgiftshop.com)
  1. The day of hailstorm

This is truly an unforgettable experience. A few friends and I had set out to visit the Adalaj Stepwell as few kilometers away from Infocity. It was a very hot and cloudy day and we were expecting (or rather hoping) for a strong drizzle at most. Imagine our surprise when the sun who had been playing peek-a-boo barely a second ago, suddenly disappeared and wind strong enough to overturn roadside carts and uproot age-old trees appeared. Initially we waited a while, hoping it would abate as abruptly as it started. And then it started to rain with such ferocity that we wondered if this was a replay of the 2001 earthquake. Somehow we managed to find an autorickshaw. It took us a moment to realise that half the ferocity of the rain was because it wasn’t raindrops that was drenching us – it was sharp, pebble-sized pieces of ice! My first hailstorm! And then, as if it were a Bollywood movie, the rickshaw broke down. How we got back to the hostel with our wits intact still eludes me but once we did, it made a hell of a story!

Caught in the hailstorm (Picture Courtesy: www.skymetweather.com)
Caught in the hailstorm (Picture Courtesy: http://www.skymetweather.com)
  1. Strolling through Sabarmati Riverfront. At 12.30 am.

Sabarmati Riverfront Development Project is an initiative by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to develop the Sabarmati riverfront in the city of Ahmedabad, India. . We reached there at around 12.30 am, only to be sent back as it closes at 11.00pm. Neverthless, the short walks outside the entrance were enticing enough to make me want to come back to this place as and when I can.

Sabarmati Riverfront at night. (Photo Courtesy: defence.pk)
Sabarmati Riverfront at night. (Photo Courtesy: defence.pk)

It was also the place where I got the first glimpse of how dangerous the seemingly safe places of North can be. The fact is, in the Southern parts of India, people rarely venture out after dark, with the exception of metro cities. We don’t have night bazaars or street shopping. However in the other parts of India, night is the time everything comes alive. There is something about seeing multitudes streaming through streets going through their lives that make you put your guard down. It makes your forget all that you’ve read about how unsafe a place it is for girls. Which you should never, EVER forget.

  1. Sunset at Somnath

Somnath is an ancient temple located in the Western coast of Gujarat. We were on a trip to Diu and stopped there and ended up visiting the temple at the best moment possible. The evening aarthi was just starting and the ambiance inside was amazing. But the best part of Somnath was standing on the deck there and watching the sunset across one of the most beautiful expanse of sea I’ve ever seen. Experiencing that sense of peace and tranquillity – very difficult to put into words.

Somnath temple at sunset. (Picure Courtesy: Shobha Kamath)
Somnath temple at sunset. (Picure Courtesy: Shobha Kamath)
  1. The day Modi won

How can that day not be memorable? Hearing about Gujarat rejoicing over Modi’s win is one thing – seeing it person, feeling that joy and sense of triumph vibrating through passers by…unforgettable. Needless to say, by the night of 16th May, there was not a single sweet shop not empty and there were policemen stationed every 100 metres. (Erm…I just realised that those two facts have nothing in common!) Brushing aside my personal emotions, it was amazing seeing so much faith in one man’s vision.

Celebratory ladoos on the streets after Modi won (Photo Courtesy: indianexpress.com)
Celebratory ladoos on the streets after Modi won (Photo Courtesy: indianexpress.com)

Falling for ‘What Young India Wants’

There are a lot of things that you don’t do in life – for various reasons. Some things you don’t do because you don’t want to do it. Like getting drunk. Or eating curd rice. Or eat curd rice when you are getting drunk – you get the gist. Then there are some things that you don’t do because you KNOW it’ll get you killed – like check if you are, by some stroke of fate, a long-lost third cousin of Spiderman, or put up a Facebook status that goes “Mohanlal is fat”. And then there are things that you really want to do/say but don’t because you know that it’ll make you seem – there is no poetic way to say this – LAME to the world.

Where are you going with this, you ask?

Well the point is there is something that I really want to say but is hesitant due to Reason No.3. But I really want to say it so I’m gonna just blurt it out fast so that I can try to pretend I didn’t say it, okay?

Here goes. *Deep breathe*

I’mKindaStartingToFindChetanBhagatReallyREALLYCool.

There. I said it.

You know that guy who writes predominantly crappy novels that get turned into rather crappy movies that people love? Yup, I’m talking about him. Correction – only two of the movies turned out to be total crap – 3 Idiots and Hello. The rest of them, the movies that is, were pretty good. *And this is where it dawns on me that there is only one other book that has been adapted onscreen. Good going Navmi, good going*

So where was I? Haan…Chetan Bhagat. As someone who has read every single one of his unbelievably ridiculous books that somehow turns out to be bestsellers (I can personally justify the popularity of 2 States. That one, you gotta admit, was pretty cool), I think it’s safe to say that I’ve always had a certain amount of scorn for people who find his books “awesome!” Imagine the look on the face of someone who has watched a Leonardo DiCaprio movie if you tell him Nargis Fakri is your favourite actor. That’s how I’ve felt every time I heard “Chetan Bhagat is my favourite author”.

Around 2 weeks back, I came across one of his books, “What Young India Wants”. Expecting the usual potpourri of the girl-who-kisses-the-poor-timid-guy, sex scenes that have nothing whatsoever to do with the plot and a storyline that makes as much sense as Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, boy, was I surprised to find myself hooked – like dream-about-reading-the-book hooked – to it. So much that I dashed off to Flipkart and bought that babe home. And lemme tell ya…it has been a hell of a long time since I’ve done THAT.

Hey, before you dash off to check out ‘What Young India Wants’, a word of caution. The book, is by no means, an awesome piece of literature. The content is, to be frank, nothing new. It is a seeda-saada Chetan Bhagat book.

And yet I was (and am) totally smitten. The entire book, a collection of selected essays and columns CB has penned over the last few years, is very well put-together. The issues CB brings up have been discussed about at length and with varying degrees of seriousness and expertise. So nothing new there. The real pull of the book for me was how it spoke about various issues in India like an average Indian who is so in love with the country, despite all that is wrong with her. An Indian who dreams of India growing up to make a name for Herself not unlike how our parents dream for us. A tad bit silly, I guess. But you and I, my friend, are in our hearts, subscribers of that silliness. Often, it is the only thing between us and insanity in this amazing country which is, many a time, an increasingly frustrating place to live.

Live From Gujarat #1

Almost a month back, when I was all set to move to Gujarat, I put up a post in Facebook covertly poking fun of a certain Mr. Development. It is common knowledge that I’m a secularism-spouting, slightly-pretentious, arguably-naive new kid on the block and hence by principle I was against Mr. Development. So I stepped into Gujarat rather curious to see the much-touted “development” – I was all set to report the level of deceptiveness of all those articles that was buzzing around every Indian’s ears.

My first day in Gujarat was pretty much what I expected. The road connecting the airport to the Old Ahmedabad city started deteriorating exponentially as we moved away from the airport. Filthy roads crowded with chaiwallahs (pun not intended. Honestly!), roadside vendors, not to mention hoards of animals, vehicles that buzzed around with little or no regard for traffic or the lives of the pedestrians, women with every inch of their body covered to protect themselves from the unbelievable dust… the scoffer in me grinned like a maniac. See..! This…this right here is the development you were talking about huh?? What a Modification of the truth!

And so I started my life in Gujarat with a certain sense of peace. I was right after all…who doesn’t love hearing that? (Even if you are the only person who is saying it!) Nowhere I looked could I see even the ghosts of the much-touted D-word. All was well.

It started out with little things. Like how I could walk around at 9.00 in the night without a care in the world, reassured at the sight of the police vans at every other junctions. Or how I am yet to sit through an hour of power failure. Or the beautifully paved roads lined with sturdy & shady gulmohar trees on either side. It was with no little horror that I realised that I have been sighing in contentment a tad too often for my comfort! “So…?” I argued with myself. “It wasn’t as if I was hosting chai pe charcha. And I wasn’t even impressed with what I was seeing.”

And then I went on a trip to Ahmedabad City.

As you might have heard, thanks to the relentless media music, Gujarat is home to one of the largest man-made lakes India, the Kankaria Lake. It was during the journey from Kankaria Lake to ISKON Mall in Ahmedabad that I first came across Janmarg. Janmarg, which means ‘the people’s way’ in Gujarati, is a rapid transit bus service system that was inaugurated in late 2009 by the then Chief Minister Mr.You-Know-Who.

Now Janmarg…Janmarg blew my mind. As a civil-engineer who has often lamented on why-can’t-India-have-a-comfy&attractive-public-transport-system, to say that Janmarg had me drooling would be the understatement of the year. Dedicated lanes just for public transport which ensured zero traffic-jams, smart-cards for ticketing, numerous flyovers, automated buses and middle-of-the-corridor bus stations…I had goosebumps by the time I got down at the destination. Later I heard that the Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited went so far as to offer free rides to commuters for three months before commissioning the service to get suggestions, most of which it implemented. I seriously contemplated rearranging my priorities and, at a weak moment, inching over to the dark side.

No kidding.

So what’s with those dusty roads and emancipated kids selling chai on the road-side, you ask? The covered up women and the dangerously speeding vehicles…the roads with not one speed-breaker or pavement or a shadow of a cop… Turns out I hadn’t chosen the best galli of Gujarat to shack-up in those initial days.

Funny it didn’t dawn on me earlier considering how everywhere I looked, kajal-rimmed eyes and paan-smeared lips had smiled at me.