Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Isn't it fate biting you in the rear when you escape a leaking toilet spray hose in rented accommodation by moving countries, only to find that the toilet spray hose in the brand new house leaks in exactly the same way?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Wi-Fi, in Dubai

The last time I used the joys of wi-fi to write about a place, I was sitting on an open-air bench in Mauritius. Today, I sit in a French cafe on a busy highway of Dubai, munching on a cinnamon danish and writing about my first 5 days in this new place I'll call home for 2 years.

Dubai has been interesting so far. When I stayed here for 3 months last year, I wasn't too happy. So moving here has been a leap of faith for the two of us. But this was a good time in our lives to uproo ourselves, take a chance and head out. There is no guarantee we will like it. But why try and predict the future. You all will know what happens as it does.

Wrapping up in Mumbai was bittersweet, and if it hadn't been for my wrath at Reliance, I may even have got rather sentimental about it. But the smart people at Reliance ensured I had time to feel little else but anger. To cut a long story somewhat short, there was a landline connection. I explained to many, many people at the Reliance call centre (see this, point 4, and multiply each figure by, oh-i-don't-know, 10,000?) that I didn't want it anymore. They were supposed to come by, collect the now-good-for-nothing instrument, and give me my honest Rs 2,000 back.

So of course I heard all sorts of promises. And of course on the last day, with my world being packed into cartons around me I had my finger on the redial button to check where on earth their representative was and when he would come by. The icing was when, exasperated after being promised that this would be done at "top priority" (no one there knew what that meant), I called to ask if I could then leave the phone instrument with a friend. Oh no, they said. We can only collect it from the registered address. But that's your fault I said through clenched teeth, in a high-pitched, echoing sort of voice. I apologise for the inconvenience, they said, unhelpfully. Finally when I got all suicidal on the guy he told me I could take it to a Reliance WebWorld outlet and get the work done. Light at the end of the tunnel, I thought, and sat up straight. He told me the address nearest to my house and then said, but I'm not sure they will do it. You can check. Oh, so please give me their number. I'm afraid we don't have the number they said, bringing the whole warped cycle of dial-redial fulllll circle. I will end this story right here, since I hung up at that.

Anyway, so I am away from them, and settling into a new house in Dubai. We're at a hotel till the furniture arrives, and I've been spending short stretches of time at the house, getting curtain rods fixed (yes, the house has nothing), the cooking range installed, etc. while Anando crawls around on the bathroom floor locating the source of the leak near the shower. (We're 50-50 partners. But it seems I choose which 50 is mine!)

Dubai is an assault. Not necessarily a bad kind, but it does stun you with lights, speed, technology, artificial land, and skyscrapers. When you recover, you try to look beyond all that. But the buildings are all built of reflecting glass, so you just see yourself, a stranger trying to look in, but eventually just looking. And seeing only himself or herself. Once you find some friends in all the concrete and wires holding the sand together, it looks better. And you sort of get held together as well.

Kachra jagah hai (it's a trashy place) judged the Pakistani taxi driver. On a 20-minute drive I learnt his entire family tree, the career aspirations of his nephews back in Lahore, and how he hated it here but loved going back armed with suitcasefuls of gifts. Since he wouldn't get leave for his brother's wedding, he devised an 'emergency'. His friend's cousin's brother-in-law passed away in the village, and the friend faxed a copy of that death certificate for this guy to apply for leave. Little does the newly-dead man know how he helped a total stranger enjoy an unexpected holiday.

Taxi drivers are interesting here. Take for instance the Pakistani man who knew all about Bal and Raj Thackeray and who also vented angst about American puppet governments destroying the world. And all this was done while driving and furiously trimming the hair on his left ear with a pair of tweezers. Or take the red-haired Egyptian called Mohammed who talked to me about Pharoahs, meat-only diets, embalming techniques, herbal medicine and a 5-times married grandfather.

The Philippines is well represented here. And when I say well, I mean your housekeeping, your hotel waiters, your customer-care voices, your laundry people, and just about everyone else. If they are not Filipino, they are mostly from Kerala. The complimentary house-cleaning our broker arranged for us happened while I was away. The company employs only Filipinas. So I get this SMS from the man in-charge. 'Anamika, the girls I sent were too short to clean the tops of the windows. Next time we will send the taller girls we'll get that done.' I let myself into the apartment to see untidy arcs on the upper edges of the windows, where some poor vertically-challenged girl had jumped in vain and taken swipes at the dust mocking her beyond the 5-foot-5 mark. I think I will clean those windows myself. Why wait for a tall Filipina to arrive. That could take a while.

But it's amazing how international and Indian this place is. Sure, the Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and other South Asians are keeping the country going, but you hear all sorts of languages all around you. You see all kinds of people. And you can lapse into Hindi with about 60% of the people you meet no matter where they are from. You can struggle to communicate in English with the home delivery guy over the phone, only to hear him ask his colleague while you hold 'Woh fridge ka order tha, nikal gaya?' And then when he comes back online you continue the conversation in Hindi.

This has been a disjointed post. But so are my impressions as yet. We will move into the house in another week at most, and hopefully have Internet at home by then. Along with the furniture, I will organise my thoughts and come back with more to say.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Not Caught on Camera

Picture this:

A 6-foot something Arab. Possibly weighs 120 kilos. White outfit. Red and white chequered headdress. Heavy stubble. Standing in a mall. Holding up to the light a baby's milk bottle to check the level of milk.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

I'm Alive...

...in case anyone was wondering. While waiting to board I noticed a man in the lounge who was exploring his nose like there was no tomorrow (and no audience). And I worried that I'd end up somewhere near him on the flight. Thankfully, he was meant for other places of the world than me.

Dubai is nuts at the moment with the shopping festival going on. There are HUGE queues everywhere and people wait patiently for cabs with trolley-fulls of stuff. It took us 45 minutes yesterday to exit the parking lot of a mall once we had finished shopping for our furniture there.

An empty house is full of possibilities. And imagination. And dust. I spent 15 minutes yesterday trying to figure out what sort of broom would be best given that our good old Indian jhaaroo was nowhere in sight. I swept the 'brooms aisle' with various varieties before finally settling on what I wanted. Now to use it.

An interesting discovery, apparently at night we can see from our balcony the lights of ships near the Iranian border. I think I'm going to buy binoculars to peer into the distance!!!

Ok, off to do some more work.

Friday, February 08, 2008

All My Bags are Packed....

...err, no, not really.

But here's a reality check on the way things stand:

  • I ran to the drawing room from the shower to answer my cellphone but the bright light there reminded me just in time that there are no curtains the drawing room windows. (They're at the dry-cleaners)
  • The spare-room bed is COVERED in stuff that needs to fit into two suspiciously small suitcases.
  • The car is being sold tomorrow. No, not to Honey. Yes, of course he is heart-broken.
  • I have explained to 6 different Reliance Telecom representatives over 4 different phone calls over 2 weeks over about 14:56 minutes of Airtel talk-time that I want to cancel my subscription and not transfer it to someone else and that I cannot possibly take up their kind offer of a low-rent scheme because it's of no use to me in Dubai.
  • Since Tata Sky provides no refunds I have gifted my subscription to someone for 1500 Rupees. (Angelic smile)
  • My good friend (the salesman at the curtain shop) is thrilled to have 'exported' curtains to Dubai. His clientele previously extended to Khandala, as he proudly told me (after presuming that leaving Bombay meant I could only be going as far as Panvel).
  • I may end up stealing the VCD of Padosan from Jagan Bhai of Chariot DVD as no one has come to retrieve it and I haven't had time to return it. It is a 99-Rupee VCD which he rents out for 45 Rupees. I think his business will survive.
  • I have cleaned up nooks and crannies of all my kitchen shelves and bedroom cupboards, and discovered some things I thought were lost (and some that I’d forgotten even existed).
  • I have said my farewells to Candies, Toto’s, Café Britannia, Just Around the Corner, On My Own, Linking Road and all the other usual suspects. Tomorrow, I will bid a beerful, oops, tearful farewell to Café Mondegar.

More again from the other side, my friends. I fly to desert lands soon. Imagine my next blog post done on camel-back amid sand-dunes. Sighhh...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Hasta Lavista Bombay (and what you stood for)

I leave Bombay in a week to set up life in a new country, and around the same time that I am getting nostalgic about places and people in particular and about the city in general, I have also come to the conclusion that much of what Bombay has stood for in the popular imagination is changing. And so when I say good-bye to Bombay next Tuesday it will not just be to a place, but to a concept that is quickly and systematically being murdered.

With more and more incidents of women's molestation coming to light and with an increasing intolerance of outsiders, Bombay is losing the cosmopolitan, progressive tag it always had. People came here from all over India to make their fortunes. A Nat Geo programme said Bombay is both the New York and the Hollywood of India. So true - with the stock market and the film industry headquartered here, it is where India's global heart beats today.

And the buck just keeps passing on and on. When a woman was cut into three pieces by a train last week at Dadar station no one agreed to take her to the hospital. The station said it was police responsibility. Police said it was the railways'. Ultimately 3 coolies wheeled the body on a goods cart to the Sion Hospital 5 km away. All this as the woman's son helplessly watched his mother's body lie there.
When women were groped and their clothes torn at Juhu after the new year's party, the Shiv Sena said, 'these were outsiders.' Today, news channels showed footage of Maharashtrians on the rampage, against North Indians. I watched a man carefully pick-up 2 sealed packets of paapdi from a stall, tuck them under his arm, and then knock down the chaat vendor's cart. Someone even committed the heresy of trying to attack the house of the original UP bhaiyya in Bombay - Amitabh Bachchan! Raj Thackeray said 'They were not from my party.' Tomorrow, his party workers do something wrong he will say 'It was not me.'

How long can we keep constructing an 'other' to blame for all that is wrong with a place. How comfortable. How convenient. But don't people realise that Bombay's world identity also comes from these 'others'? And where does one draw the line between 'us' and 'them'? Tomorrow Christians in Bandra might say that they won't allow Muslims from Mahim to come into Bandra as they are spoiling our 'culture'. People from Nariman Point will say that they don't want people coming in from the suburbs and taking away their jobs. What sort of boundaries will we draw when there is nothing left to divide further?

As the world becomes a smaller place, our minds are getting smaller too. There is nowhere left to run. The daughter of a Bengali from UP and a Bengali from Delhi, married to a Bengali who grew up in Dhanbad, where does that leave me? If tomorrow Dubai tells me to go back to where I belong, where will I go? If I come to Bombay will they send me to Delhi? If I go to Delhi will they send me to Calcutta? If I go to Calcutta will they disown me?

And while we talk of blaming the invisible other, here's the first poem that taught me about passing the buck:

Mr Nobody

I know a funny little man,
As quiet as a mouse,
Who does the mischief that is done
In everybody's house!

There's no one ever sees his face,
And yet we all agree
That every plate we break was cracked
By Mr. Nobody.

'Tis he who always tears our books,
Who leaves the door ajar,
He pulls the buttons from our shirts,
And scatters pins afar;

That squeaking door will always squeak,
For, prithee, don't you see,
We leave the oiling to be done
By Mr. Nobody.

He puts damp wood upon the fire,
That kettles cannot boil;
His are the feet that bring in mud,
And all the carpets soiled.

The papers always are mislaid,
Who had them last but he?
There's no one tosses them about
But Mr. Nobody.

The finger marks upon the door
By none of us are made;
We never leave the blinds unclosed,
To let the curtains fade.

The ink we never spill;
the boots that lying round you see
Are not our boots -- they all belong
To Mr. Nobody.

Each of us is a Nobody. As is everyone else. So Nobody is Everybody. And Everybody is Nobody.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Bare Necessities

Do diwane sheher mein

Remember the original hunt for that dream house, picturised on the optimistic Amol Palekar and Zarina Wahab who sing of the aashiyana they seek?

As the daughter of a government servant, I saw my parents always live in whatever house we got. You took what you got because otherwise there were enough people waiting to take it instead of you! Choice was not a known entity.

Soon after we decided to get married, Anando needed to move houses in a hurry and found this furnished Bombay house, which became my home after November 2006. Now, though I love my Bombay house, it's because how at home I have been in it, how many memories there are here, how many dear ones have visited and spent a great few hours or days. But, though I love it, I didn't choose it. And I didn't choose for Anando to drive around the lanes surrounding the building 3 times before he finds a parking spot that is not a giant pot-hole. I certainly didn't choose for the 8 in the 18 on our door to be screwed in upside down so the fatter o is on top (I still itch to fix it when I see it). I certainly didn't choose the wall-to-wall mirror in the drawing room that reflects every move you make in the living room. And I certainly didn't choose the pink tiles in the kitchen that occasionally feature a jug with assorted fruits lying around it. And I certainly did not choose the GIANT mirror in the bedroom (no laughing!).

So when the move to Dubai was finalised and we figured we could actually see several houses and pick one, I was kind of looking forward to a house that would set me free from these very, umm, defined, tastes in decor. I was thrilled that for the first time, I could pick and choose our home. And, I must admit, I was lost. I had little idea what to look for.

So Anando and I went househunting in Dubai some days back. The company sponsored a sort of reconnaisance trip so that when we eventually move in mid-Feb we know where we are going to be. (And so that Anando doesn't take time off from the new office to house-hunt.) I had a little notebook with the names and numbers of all the estate agents and we were armed with an Excel sheet that contained the parameters we wanted to keep in mind while selecting a house (yes, an Excel sheet, Anando is not an MBA for nothing. These are the ways he reminds me).

Our central issues were basic ones - proximity to workplace and groceries (traffic in Dubai sucks), 2 toilets (allowing easy (ahem) passage for all the relatives and friends who are threatening to visit), decent kitchen space, and other assorted middle-class concerns. And oh, of course, whether we could afford all those in an obscenely expensive place like Dubai.

And then, we finally found a flat which seemed to fit the bill, and more. Thrilled, we rushed around from room to room wondering how on earth we would fill up all this empty space with what little we own. And we day-dreamt about the ways in which to decorate it. I worried about the lack of a gas connection, which meant that I would have to cook on a hotplate. We worried that the supermarket was not as close by as we would have liked. But we were willing to live with these problems. Then, going up in the elevator, we met a European gentleman who lived in the building. And Anando asked him whether there were any major problems he faced in his day-to-day living here. The man thought, and with a grave shaking of his head to indicate dissatisfaction, came up with this as we waited anxiously: "Yesss. There is only one fixed parking spot."

By this time his floor had arrived and he left with a small bow. And Anando remarked: "What problems these people have."

Yes, when you come from a place where you cannot take water and electricity for granted (and you are still better off than millions of others), locating parking for your second car is not exactly high on the priority list!

Added soon after: I clicked 'publish' and the doorbell rang. Watchman telling us the lights are off between 10 am and 5 pm tomorrow. Thanks Reliance! I knew I could(n't) count on you!