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)