Wednesday, December 10, 2008

THE ATTACK OF THE NRI

As the year draws to an end, a certain migratory Indian descends on his hapless desi relatives turning their peaceful third world existence upside down in his attempt to assuage the guilt of abandoning his roots.
Picture this event unfolding in your living room.
The doorbell rings and before you can finish your ‘hellos’, your NRI visitors have flung themselves at your in-laws feet, almost toppling them over in their attempts to get blessed. Then, long winded pleasantries about every obscure member of the family are enthusiastically exchanged with a few tears thrown for those dearly departed. Next, follows a passionate speech and a power point presentation on how you should rectify the dismal state of Indian affairs.
By now, your mother in law is completely smitten by this family of patriotic Indians who live in decadent America but are so full of sanskaras unlike her immediate family, that she sits glaze eyed and tongue tied soaking in every word as if they were pearls of wisdom…You grit your teeth, paste a smile and try to distracting the adrenaline pumped Indians with small talk and plates of savories, but that just seems to fuel their fire.
‘You are soooo lucky to have help!’ they gush extra loudly every time your sour faced help turns the corner. You cringe because tomorrow Shanta bai, Laxmi bai and the driver are sure to hold you to ransom.
‘Now if I had someone to cook and clean for me, I would have written a Booker not just a blog’ the wannabe writer throws a jealous look at you.
‘Oh how I miss my mother in law’s cooking! Her puran polis were the best!’ sniffs the mother. Your stomach turns in fright as you catch the venomous look that shoots your way for banning this high fat item from your dinner table last week.
And the going gets worse by the minute.
‘Life is soo lonely there. It’s all work no play. Can’t afford going to a salon. There’s no one you can call your own. No one cares for you. I wish my kids had their granny around. Yadda, yadda, yadda…’ the relentless monologue continues like an annoying mosquito buzzing around your ear.
By now, your desi life in a polluted, overcrowded metro battling terrorists and oily politicians seems to resemble one a hellava giant rave party versus the lonely, dishwashing, microwaving existence of these hapless immigrants.
‘Why don’t you move back beta? Am sure your parents need you’ pips up mom-in-law innocently.
The silence is deafening.
There is flurry of throat clearing and bouts of coughing as the NRIs hurriedly gather their wits and exit visas. Suddenly the patriotic bunch is in a tearing hurry to get the hell out of your home.
‘You see…ummm…it’s too late now’ mutters one. ‘ummm, the kids just won’t be able to adjust to the water, the food, and all this….chaos’ adds the mother.
And as quickly as the desi dekhava was donned, they shrug off their responsibilities to family and country, and hurry to catch the first flight out!
You put your feet up, turn on a Bollywood number, grab a samosa and announce, ‘All right everyone, you can relax now! The attack of the NRIs has been neutralized…till they turn up next year’

Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Ode to Immortality



“2,000 miles have been wiped clean
With tears seeping from one million feet.
2,000 miles have been littered
With dead souls no one claims their own.”

News flutters achingly…just a broken bird on my porch,
Begging an invitation to a much warmer home.
Morning breezes whisper of wondrous change
But fear is paralytic …and the tea just keeps boiling over…

Noor screams, ‘Sita!’ as her life wastes down the phone line
‘Let the infidels burn!' Death rattles at her door
Agnis’ wrath embraces her in a kind afterthought
As he weds her in orgasmic style.
‘Life must go on. Live you must’ and so you pass the dead baby - slit wide open
breathing in rotting stench, vomit and death.

But the railway crossing takes more than a lifetime
Time to celebrate the existence of your nails and toes.
Time to rejoice the music of ancient tunes
That speaks of love, and nothing of the hate.

I breathe in the last of freedoms’ air.
I touch my face for comfort in immortality
Before Death and Life come face-to-face.

My life is rushing past… in a blinding moment I am but a child
My mothers voice was the sweetest thing
Before Death roared in glee as he finally found me

Shame, rage, anger, you will have none left to call your own.
Begging for existence is not worth it anymore
And as they tear you from limb to limb
Your invaluable rictus will make it an Oscar winning film…

WAKE UP INDIA!!

The weekend has left me shell shocked.
The anger is understandable but our apathy is not.
When will Indians quit trying to bell the cat after its entered and massacred with impunity! Terror has no face, no name, no religion and definitely no shame...the only way you and I can leave our children a world that is stable is to make our actions speak louder than our words. And this time the wound is far deeper because it has struck the heart of elite Mumbai. It's no longer tea vendors and rickshawallas getting blown to bits and then gone with the wind...perhaps thats why many of us are finally waking up to the horrible reality of terror in our coffee shops.
Enough of lighting candles, holding vigils, handing roses, writing, ranting and raving about every drop of blood spilt!!! The Indian Forces will not be magically reinforced if all that we do is expect them to step into the line of fire everytime you step out for a fancy dinner with your convent educated kid. Step forward, protect your country and your loved ones by actually putting yourself in their boots. Let's voluntarily do what North Korea does, draw up a yearlong military program where our children learn discipline, respect and a true bond with the nation. Let your child join the Forces, the Police, the Paramiliatry...and contribute to securing our nation in any way they can besides becoming a model, designer or filmstar. Of course all this must come from within because unfortunately, we are a Democracy. Many say we must approach Terrorism like our forefathers, with peace and hope.
But times have changed, and History must be written in a different ink. In ink that is not stained with the blood of bravehearts who fought a valiant battle in vain, but a new colour that pulses with the power of a awakened youth who is willing to go to any lengths to banish the Darkness that has consumed our nation.....

PS: I know what it feels like to kiss your father goodbye not knowing whether he will ever return, my dad was in the army posted at India's borders. Growing up all I ever wanted to become and sadly never could, was a army officer. Today, my daughter all of 14 years, is determined to join the Indian Intelligence, this is the promise she has made to herself and hopes that her friends will follow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008



BACK TO SCHOOL BLUES
I got my life back last Monday morning.
After two horrendous weeks of trying to entertain kids, in-laws, maids and guests, I am finally picking up the pieces of my shattered life. I was so excited, I couldn’t sleep a wink!! Wonderful dreams of having the whole house to myself without bumping into and over anyone got me so wired up that I beat the alarm clock by a whole hour! The rush of impending freedom was simply exhilarating! I zipped around, whistling merrily, packing the children’s tiffins, getting them bathed, all with a beatific smile, a twinkle in my eyes and a spring in my step! It was Back to School time and I was determined not to let a missing ID card, shrunken sock or phantom tummy aches come between me and an empty house.

‘Hurry up you’ll miss the bus!’ I frantically hustled my reluctant twin 4th graders out of the door. The elder teenager had already been packed off to her boarding school the night before and so I was down to two kids and one husband in my desperate bid for normalcy.

‘But you’ll be all alone mommy. We’ll go tomorrow’ they dug their heels in, wrapped themselves around me, trying their best to melt me down.

‘I think that’s exactly what your mother wants’ my husband dryly piped up from behind the amour of a newspaper making me look like Cruella De Vill on a mission to abandon children. Outside, the scene at the bus stop was straight out of a B grade Bollywood movie. Inexperienced mothers bawled like babies while a handful of hardened veterans like me, looked on with pity at the mass hysteria that had been unleashed.
‘She’ll be back in couple of hours’ someone tried consoling a distraught mother who moments earlier had flung herself into the bus in a desperate attempt to accompany her Bunty puttar to school.

Two hours! I thought aloud, ‘there’s a lot you can do in two hours. You can shop, eat, drink, read, for crying out aloud, sleep in peace!’ I snapped at the foolish woman, trying to shake sense into her till her teeth rattled loose.

She looked at me in utter horror, ‘You don’t have kids do you? You’re one those career women’ she hissed eying me contemptuously. Now, the Mommy Mob would have torn me to pieces if my friend hadn’t quickly stepped in and shoved me out of harms way. I fled this hysterical maternal scenario, hoping that back home, life would be calmer. That hubby would have found his way to the office, stayed put or golfed till the evening. That mother-in- law would have found something to occupy herself besides chewing up my brains over the menu and that for once I could savour my cuppa of tea without hearing the kids shriek ‘Mommmy! Help! He/She is killing me!’ for a few weeks before the next vacation rolled in and once again reduced our lives to utter chaos.

The house was silent, not a squawk or a squeak could be heard....

Ahhh! Peace at last! I thought, pouring myself a fresh cuppa of chai, ready to get back on track, when suddenly things didn’t seem quite right.

The silence was killing. As the day passed, it slowly but surely ate away all the pretenses I had of being one of those career women who raced up the corporate sans emotions. You guessed right. The next day I was the one bawling at the bus stop…

Friday, October 17, 2008

FESTIVE FEVERS

Diwali is round the corner and I’m already breaking out into humongous hives at the thought of the festive madness that will be invariably unhinged on me, however well prepared I think I am...
Within this week, after you’ve packed off hubby and the kids with a warm hug and tiffin, your day will begin to take on a strange and ominous turn with the unexpected, early arrival of your usually invisible maid, Shanta bai.
‘I will be gone for a week, starting tomorrow’ she announces imperiously clearing her throat, chopping the onions viciously just in case you have any brave thoughts of objecting to her decree. You almost pass out in the palak paneer.
‘But…what about the spring cleaning, the saaf sa faee?’ you ask meekly. She shoots you another nasty look chopping the onions even more loudly, making them quiver with her rage.
‘I don’t know memsahib, but I’m getting my house painted and I need chutti from tomorrow’. ‘Take two weeks after Diwali…’ you stutter piteously, picturing yourself returning, suntanned from a glorious holiday and morphing into a human dishwasher! But it takes a lot to sway the hardened hearts of these Shantabais. Your world comes crashing down as this modern day executioner proceeds to make mincemeat of your holiday plans. You begin to tremble, tears are a wail away, finally after much deep breathing; you do what every woman has done a million Diwalis before - You fling yourself at her mercy, begging her to turn up on Laxmi Pujan because you’ve got the entire family descending and you sure as hell can’t possibly cook aloo gobi the way she does! Shantabai smirks happily, she knows she’s got the goose where she wants and sighs dramatically,
‘Teekh hai bai, Alright, I shall come, but then I must leave early everyday till then!’
You can’t nod fast enough in agreement before she cooks up another ingenious excuse and hurriedly throw in the baksheesh of your old mobile phone to clinch the deal.
You settle down gratefully for a well deserved cup of tea thinking foolishly that the storm has passed.... The next few days float by peacefully, when a newer danger rears its fearsome head… The festive fever has brainwashed every shopper making even you buy stuff an idiot wouldn’t want. As you proceed to empty out the stores, your credit card is on the verge of swiping the smile off your hubby’s face, and you are in real mortal danger of financial freefall, but you can’t seem to stop yourself. So you head home with yet some more scented candles to mollify your mightily miffed male over a mere matter of money. Just as you finish setting the scene for the romantic evening that is supposed hypnotize him into seeing the right figures, the phone rings in the next death knell. It’s your mother in law, bursting a clogged artery coz she’s just heard that you’ve voiced this grandiose idea of making chivda, chaklis and ladoos at home!
‘Best left to the experts if you want me alive and kicking’ she rings off grimly.
It’s the second time in the week that you get weepy, your eyes well up, when something sparkles brightly in the candlelight,
Happy Diwali darling!’ and you know that this festive secason, you are going to be perfectly alright…
(DNA Pune, 'Funny Bone Column' Sunday, Oct 25th 2008)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

MEN OH! PAUSE



There’s definitely something fishy in Pune’s waters, besides just the left over ganpati idols and sewage. Something far more sinister that’s changed my laid back, beer bellied, cricket obsessed, middle-aged male friends into these uber healthy creatures I don’t recognize any more!
Let’s begin at home.
Of late, my husband has developed a sudden and frightening interest in getting FIT. Of course there’s absolutely no harm in aspiring and perspiring to knocking off those middle-aged pounds, we women do it every festive season. But it’s just the sheer testerone packed intensity of his schedule that makes me break out in a frightened sweat!

Yoga and Karate classes alternate days a week, walks and swimming every evening, add to this freaky fitness regime, the pressure of rising and shining bleary eyed at 5 am six days a week to put in an entire day at the office!
‘This is exactly what happens when men are about to hit menopause’ an older friend let on when I moaned and groaned on the state of my sleep deprived life, ‘and what’s worse, it gets worse’ she added knowingly. ‘Soon after, he will attend an Art of Living Course, go off meat, then alcohol, next, it’s lights out at 9pm, no Seinfeld or Comedy Central…’

My blood ran cold as I flashed back to last night’s passionate golf dinner debate about the benefits of lauki ka juice in losing weight. Was there more pulp to the juice therapy than what I imagined? The next day got progressively worse by the hour...

No Carbs after 6’ advised a svelte zero size friend munching on a celery stick.

‘No wine’ added another, tossing out my happy hours.

‘Work out every day, come rain or shine’ panted the third as she revved up the treadmill speed yet another notch.

‘Battle those bulges if you want your man to stick around’ sneered the fourth smirking pointedly at my ample assets.

So what on earth are we going to do if our middle aged men suddenly turn into a six pack Casanovas? That did it!

I gritted my teeth, marched down to the nearest cycle store and got myself the fanciest bike available. There’s no way I’m going to let him outta my sight even for a lauki I vowed, setting the alarm for the unearthly hour...

Now my middle-aged mind is very strong but I can’t say the same about the body, and so all I managed this morning was a half opened eyelid…to see my man still snoring away peacefully. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be at Karate?’ I growled.

‘Nope today is Sunday, I’m trekking today with the boys’ he mutters, and that’s when the coin dropped!

All these alpha males are having an affair…with themselves…rediscovering what it was like when they were not so potbellied, balding and forty years old!

The revelation was such a relief that I not only went back to sleep but actually did that trek with him and came back convinced that male menopause isn’t such a bad thing, provided you keep a 13 gear bike handy to track your rejuvenated man down saddlebags or not...
(DNA Pune, 'Funny Bone Column' Sunday, October 5, 2008)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

TIGERS IN PUNE'S WOODS

‘You must be kidding!’ was my reaction when my husband, who is an avid soccer player, announced that he had fallen in love with GOLF!
Edwardian images of funnily dressed old men swinging and swearing away as they try to sink a tiny ball into a hole located somewhere in the wilderness, popped up and I practically choked to my death on the lovely Shiraz!
‘But that’s an old man’s game!’ I blurted out, ‘and honey I really, really do enjoy soccer, it’s sooo sweaty and manly’, I tried to reason with him, being very careful not to add the fact that watching 22 muscular hunks in shorts was every red blooded woman’s fantasy. ‘There’s simply no comparison between the two’, I argued, ‘you burn 1000 calories in an hour and get a great body at the end of the game.’
‘True’ he nodded sagely, ‘but, Golf is all about mind and body connection, besides sweetie pie, it’s actually quite a tough sport.’
‘You have gone bonkers!’ I snorted derisively and dismissed his actions as the first signs of male menopause.
But I was in for a complete shocker. Each and everyone and anyone I know, is hitting the fairways with the sole purpose of unleashing the Tiger within… Golf clinics in Pune are doing brisk business, giving a serious heartburn to well established tennis, swimming and football academies. The buzz in sporting circles is - Forget about spending your youth trying to bend it like Beckham in a pot holed football field, or making a splash like the Torpedo with no sponsorship to train you better. Just pick a seven iron to swing your best shot at this million dollar sport that has set the world on fire. A unique sport that embraces all shapes, sizes, ages, gender and best of all, no need to go doping to grab those medals.
Now a word of caution from the experts before you dash out and grab your clubs, all charged up to be the next Tiger Woods.... There are some things every aspiring golfer should know....
Be prepared for the following inexplicable personality changes that take place every time you get on to the greens.
  • You will suddenly morph from a gentle soul who wouldn’t hurt a fly into a foul mouth raging maniac when your best shot lands in up the waters.
  • Within a week, you may even get into a brawl with your best buddy ready to bash him up over a score card error.
  • Your sweet conversations with the love of your life will soon become blow by blow accounts of every putt you played that day.
  • And Saturday evenings will be spent hanging out with the same guys you just finished 18 holes with…
    So what must a suffering golf widow do besides grin and bear it? If you can’t beat them, join them, my gal pals in golf gear advised me.

So there I was, last Sunday, all togged up, ready to take a swing that would make Tiger proud. But alas! The swing that was to break a few records broke someone’s nose instead! With that one stroke, I had thrown my entire game out of bounds and put my husband’s fears of me turning pro to rest…that is, for now....

(DNA Pune, 'Funny Bone Column, Sunday August31,2008)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

GANPATI BAPPA MORYAA!




GANPATI BAPPA MORYAA!
As the war cry summoning the potbellied god Lord Ganesha, rents the air over the next few weeks, everything potholed Pune city undergoes a 360 degree change…. For example...

The neighborhood corporator who vanished on an overseas jaunt soon after he was elected can be spotted zealously supervising the ‘Ganesh Mandal Mandap’ down to the minutest details. When you corner him and quiz him about the much needed garbage dump and speed breakers, he will arrogantly remind you that this holy work is far more important than doing his job!

Then as the festival draws nearer, the horrifying prospect of spending sleepless nights’ listening to ‘Pappu can’t dance’ terrifies you enough to make a frantic dash to the local activist. But you are in for a nasty surprise!

This fearsome crusader who normally makes life a living hell for any one who even dares to park their chappals outside her building, has suddenly turned into a docile god fearing lamb!

‘Arrey’ she smiles beatifically, ‘Kashala kitkit kartoos tu? Why are you cribbing?It’s all for Ganpati Bappa!’ and proceeds to lecture you on your lack of religious understanding. You try and revive her civic spirit by citing the nasty effects of noise pollution, but she’s under a spell….she sees no reason why you cannot adjust for a few days and enjoy the music. You stumble out shell shocked, bang your nose against an illegal mandap pole and get accosted by a bunch of youths you’ve never seen before. ‘Chalaa, Mandal chi vargani thayCough up your donations buddy’ and the thugs quickly relive you of five hundred and one rupees in the name of the Lord.

Now with your pocket picked to the bone, you head back home to discover that your atheist maid has taken the entire week off as she is in charge of the Ganpati Mandal Utsav in her mother’s neighbourhood!

Fed up, you decide flee the city and land smack in the middle of a traffic jam caused by a 20 foot Ganpati idol traveling trans-city at snails pace…you grip the steering wheel grimly, waiting for the inevitable road rage to unleash its presence. But nothing happens. No fisticuffs, no flying chappals, nothing but serene silence… It is as if Pune city has slipped into some kind of a time warp. Suddenly no one seems to be in a mad rush to bulldoze their way past your car anymore. Not a honk disturbs the procession of the divine idol as it proceeds to throttle traffic and squash any plans of getting anywhere! You are forced to sit back, relax and go with the flow of devotion. Minutes turn into an hour and slowly something inside you changes as you look upon the beautiful idol that gazes down at you. A sense of joy, hope and festivity fills your soul. You are a changed Punekar, no longer bothered about the various pandals and mandals that have sprouted like wild mushrooms all over the city. Nor does their raucous midnight revelry bother you anymore. As for the garbage dump and speed breakers, who needs them anyways, you hear yourself say It can wait for another year. and you speed away to bring home your very own Ganpati Bappa with Mrs. Joshi’s words ringing in your ears, ‘Kashala kitkit kartoos tu, Ganpati Bappa alley Punyala…!!!

(DNA Pune, 'Funny Bone' Column, Sunday, September 7, 2008)

BANDIT QUEENS OF PUNE


THE BANDIT QUEENS OF PUNE

There’s a distinct species that rules our Pune city roads, setting it apart from all the other la de dah metros …Nope...it’s not the poor cyclist, or the hapless pedestrian, neither is it the hanging-by-a-collar bus commuter, our beloved cousin Mumbai beats us hollow once again on this front with Bangalore coming in a close second…
Just take a peek out of your air conditioned skoda, and you can’t miss the ‘mummy driver’ that zips around on scooters, wrapped up from head to toe, deftly dodging cops, breaking signals and juggling mobiles and many a times, hunkered behind the scruffy boyfriend, dad can’t stand….You guessed it! It’s the Bandit Queen of Deccan….

This ageless species is interestingly - a ‘Women’s’ Only Club’. Entry to this select club is by simply wrapping yourself from head to toe in a duppatta…and taking to the roads, recklessly ferrying your kids or yourself all over town on a two-wheeler high, on adrenaline!

When quizzed by the city’s paparazzi for the nth time as why they insist on not saving their brains by wearing a helmet like their male motorcycle counterpart, the first Bandit Queen sighs deeply and mutters through mouthfuls of cloth, a perfectly irrefutable reason…
‘As per world gas emission levels report, Pune’s pollution is currently at the Nazi gas chamber level, yaar’ She then rolls her eyes heavenwards, coughs delicately to emphasize her point and piously claims that the simple dupatta is a superbly effective way to keep out the disgusting smoke!
But of course, no one knows about the 10 ciggies she smokes with her bandit queen buddies when unwrapped and chilling at a nightclub…
The second similarly attired friend grandly lists another brilliant reason that sets everyone nodding in unison.
‘ The embalming keeps your skin fair and lovely from all the UV rays man’
Uh huh, I nod blankly thinking, aren’t you already a shade darker than cocoa and wait a minute! It isn’t summer anymore… Just when you wonder if the rest of the population is missing out on a horde of secret, unknown health tips, the third bandit pipes up sagely to ask –
‘ Auntie, do you know what happens to us when we’re stopped by a cop?’ The ordinary unmasked commuter like me is flummoxed! I twiddle my thumbs nervously, scratch my head and wonder, Is this a Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader quiz?
‘You get thrown into jail for masquerading as Phoolan Devi? I ask meekly, hazarding a wild guess.
The Bandit Queens grin evilly behind their mummification…and whisper hoarsely...
Nothing ever happens! All that the cops will ever remember of me, as I speed away into the sunset, surrounded by other Bandit Queens, is a pair of the smokiest eyes he has ever seen... So try getting someone to file an FIR if I do happen to knock you down senseless!’ she laughs.
Now I’m really impressed.
Who would have ever thought that just a yard of cloth, meant to cover a woman’s modesty could come in so handy…My pulse quickens, adrenaline floods my body and my mind begins to whirl with the exciting possibility of recruiting a troop of Bandit Queens to zoom around town, chasing down all the guys that have managed to muck up our city...
Just like Phoolan Devi did when she set out to avenge her lost love…
Long Live the Bandit Queen and may her tribe increase!

KYA KATTA CULTURE HAI

‘KYA KATTA CULTURE HAI…’
…Remarked my friend who had just alighted from the land of Laloo.
‘So cool yaar, just sit here and chill, while watching the babes!’ he enthused delightedly, thrilled at the prospect of getting within touching distance of the bevy of beauties who strolled past endlessly, hurrying to college.
‘Are you MAD?’ I hissed, glancing around worriedly, wondering if any of the ghatti gang had heard this imbecile. ‘The Katta’ I hastily explained to the migrant before he could get himself into further trouble, ‘is meant to sit, smoke and spout intellectual shop, not start an eve teasing club!’ But this incident did set me thinking…
The Katta Culture is a phenomenon unique to our city. Puneri Kattas have a deep, philosophical purpose that goes beyond simply parking your backside on a cold, damp slab of concrete while munching on a paan. Pune Kattas offer its squatters a safe sanctuary to socialize. A legitimate meeting place where one can hang out with buddies and bond between bunking college lectures and ogling at the female population with drool dripping down your T Shirt, all this and more, without really looking like a vella…. And while you read this and glare disapprovingly at the youngsters who have infiltrated every inch of the citys’ space, remember that Katta Squatting is a time honoured tradition, a rite of passage for almost every true blooded Puneite. But then, a rather strange thought struck me…What if these stones could talk? An icy chill ran down my spine. Every single pockmarked, cracked up Katta in this city would have more than just a rather interesting story to tell!. Just like the ruins of Pompeii, the older, more worn out the katta, the more legendary and scandalous must be the secrets that lay within those stones. My blood ran cold; my heart beat faster as my imagination took over. Take the FTII Kattas for instance. Many famous actors, directors, editors have parked their then- not-so- famous bottoms on these Kattas for comfort as they struggled to make it big in the industry. Think of all those wild, off beat, bollywood emotions the stones must be privy to over the years! Now, take your imagination further down the road, and stop at the hallowed ILS. These ILS Kattas are a totally different lot of stone. Stiff-upper-lipped variety listening in keenly to those legal eagles in the making, readying for Moot Courts, some on the path to become legendary Chief Justices…
But to me, it’s the College Kattas that still line many college canteens and certain eating joints that hold the mother lode of secrets. Many a Majnu on the verge of turning Devdas, has sat for hours on FC road trying to find a way to convince the love of his life that he is not a lukkha. The Katta has comforted him, perhaps even sent him some stone cold advice that gets him off his lazy feet, saves the day and wins his damsel! Then night falls, streets empty out, and everyone is happily snoring away in bed, when I sit up wide awake and wonder, how many secrets do these Kattas hold? Keys to unsolved murders? Booker prize winning stories? Tales of friendship? But whatever lies within these stones, there’s a comfort in knowing that the Puneri Katta is here to stay…

MISAL IN THE MONSOONS




Now that you and I, and the rest of Pune, are soaked way beyond the skin, you may naturally assume that I would rather spend my weekends curled up in bed, reading a comic book, sipping chai, drying out my waterlogged brains, like any other sensible forty year old. Ha! Think again! All it takes to get these creaking joints rushing out of the front door these days is the lure of Pune’s misty mountains in the monsoons, garam, garam chai and a plate of spicy misal.
Before you fling yourself out of that chair and throw your back in a fit of inspiration trying to keep pace with Pune’s middle-aged trekkers, there are a few tips I’d like to share with you…

  • First, park your Merc at home. You’re going to need a Scorpio to dirt track your way out of our potholed town into the Sahyadris.
  • Next, head out as early as you can. Anything closer to lunch time and you’ll be road raging with a hungry-as-hell Mumbaikar intent on grabbing his Toni Da Dhaaba spot.
  • Now as you get onto the highways, don’t fall prey to any ‘Ati kya Khandala (let's hook up)’ proposals.
  • Deliberately take a detour and head towards any obscure sounding village with a bigger chicken population than that of people!
  • Please note, if the friendly villager speaks Marathi/Hindi with a smattering of English thrown in, you can bet your chai will be triple the normal price. So quickly brush up on your Marathi and bond with him before the misal costs you more than the blessed chicken.
  • As for the dress code, it’s a smarter option to go really rugged. Coz then dahlings, you can safely skid down a slope, plaster yourself in muck and still trek another mile without wishing you had left your Chanel top at home.
  • And finally, be prepared to come face to face with an inquisitive bovine while answering the call of Nature.
    Now that we’re all set and ready to climb that magnificent mountain in our quest to be closer to Nature, turn off the engine, switch off that radio, take a deep breath and relax.... Let your senses soak in misty valleys, gushing waterfalls, and sheer expanses of green. Enjoy, for you are in heaven. That is till someone’s brat shrieks, ‘Mommy I’m hungry, I want Bingo!’ There’s really no point burning up diesel trying to find a dhaaba in this wilderness, you’re better off taking your chances in a run down shack manned by a gnarled geriatric whose sunny smile lights up the overcast surroundings.

‘This is sooo quaint!’ coos your friend, ‘I wish I could live here!’ she declares flashing a Colgate smile at the toothless geezer.

‘Are you nuts?’ hisses your other city pal, glaring angrily at the gaggle of kids who gawk and gape at her as if she were a Martian.

You can hear tummies rumbling, feel tiredness seeping in, the need to get out of the unfamiliar, when the real magic of the monsoon begins. Seductive spices rise in the air, your senses reel, and your tongue begins to water…out of the dinghy corner, strides up the geezer.

‘Misal Pav and shyample, just yenjoy!’ she smiles and disappears into the pouring rain, luring you to escape the city’s monsoon madness, this Sunday...

(DNA Pune, 'Funny Bone Column, Sunday, August 24, 2008)