Thursday, December 10, 2015

Coming in the front line

Death is a stranger to me. I haven't really had much to do with it. But now at the age of 34 I realise that soon enough we will be seeing more of each other. In the past three years or so I have lost a younger cousin brother, a dear uncle and my grandfather- Bauji. Perhaps his is the only death that can be called timely i.e. if there is a thing like that, calling a death 'timely'.

He hadn't been keeping well for years now the past couple of years being the worst. he had lost his hearing and appetite. In the last year or so I think he even lost the will to live. It was I think my nani's efforts that managed to keep his body function to the best of its abilities as much as it could.

I think all of us in the family were waiting to hear the news of his death. When Shaurya passed away in a car mishap, and my father called me up about his death, I couldn't hear his name in that one sentence that my father had to repeat over and over again. I think he became exasperated with my lack of attention and with yet one of the most difficult jobs assigned to him- announcing the death of this kid who was hardly out of his teens.

My mother one day said to me,"I have realised that with age as people ahead of you start to fall down you come to be in the front line. Gradually no one is left who will save you from heart break or hardships or bad news."

My family is slowly becoming more and more dysfunctional since these incidents, episodes. What do we even call these- tragedies? I am getting a sinking feeling. Nothing ever is going to work out for us. We will probably all turn into loonies and the world will laugh at us. We will not know any happiness. No more boisterous gatherings for us.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

On Indian pop of the 90s

I loved writing this piece. Loved it. Yeah. I said it again. Oops! Abso-the-lutely loved loved writing this piece.


Before embarking on this article I have a few confessions to make. For beginners let me acknowledge the fact that I haven’t worked so hard on an article before this. I don’t mean to boast but writing comes a wee bit easily to me then other numerous things. This one article took all my strength and by the end of it I was exhausted, bleary eyed and breathless. Also I must include that I was very close to being internet-broke.

Before your imagination takes off on wings and you imagine me running on a treadmill writing this piece, let me tell you why. I was exhausted by the rush of the numerous songs that filled my mind space gushing out like a river which is suddenly allowed to flow after its path had been obstructed by a big rock.

I was bleary eyed from seeing one video after the other on Youtube (which kind of left me internet-broke). I started with Colonial Cousins ‘Sa ni dha pa’ till the time I and Shankar Mahadevan both became Breathless.

Of course, that wasn’t all. I had to travel back in time and revisit Ila Arun’s Vote for Ghagra and Bichuda Bichuda. I had to put on my headphones for Thanda Thanda Paani and Amma dekh tera mundaa bigdaa jaaye. Sweet melody rang through the house as I raided a website for downloading Aryans’ Aankhon main tera hi chehra, Junoon’s Sayonee, Mehnaaz’s Mausam, Sahota’s Teri meri gall ban gayi. Daler Mehendi ‘tunak tunaked’ in my house and my 7 year added a few bhangra steps to her repertoire. Jassi sang Koka tera kuch kuch kehenda and Dr Zeus ‘Don’t be shy my honey’ (Yes there is a sweeter version which is nothing like the Bipasha Basu number from a recent horror flick). Then came a friend for a cuppa and we together ogled at Milind Sonam first in Alisha Chinai’s Made in India video and then in Sonu Nigam’’s Deewana.

Mother and daughter also sat down to gaze at the lovely Lisas Ray who starred in a few of my all time favourites. One being Daler Mehendi’s Har taraf tera Jalwa which has peppiest beats of all times and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s amazing rendition Afreen Afreen from the album Sangam. By the way did you know that Daler Mehendi , in his pop videos, has given a break to quite a few beauties in Bollywood, Priyanka Chopra being one of them.

Pop music short for popular music had started making its presence felt as early as 1950s and 60s when musicians began to borrow from almost all forms of music to churn something extremely eclectic. I think we can credit Pakistani singer Nazia Hassan for kind of bringing the pop music into our bedrooms and drawing rooms with song Aap jaise koi meri zindagi main aaye from the 1980 release Qurbaani. Hassan was all of 15 years and had met Feroze Khan, the film’s director, in UK at a party where he asked her to meet Biddu one of the pioneers of the Indian pop. And rest as they say is history. Biddu and Hassan came out with the smashing album Disco Deewane. The album featured Nazia’s brother Zohaib and it became the best selling album in as many as 14 countries besides India.
But it was the nineties which can easily be called the ‘it’ year for the Indian pop.

In that one decade Biddu launched many a talented artiste. He gave us Alisha Chinai and her debut album Made in India; launched Shantanu a.k.a Shaan and his sister Sagarika via the song Aisa hota hai and the heartthrob singer of that era Sonu Nigam.

Besides Nazia Hassan many other singers and bands can be credited with fanning the pop music fire in the Indian sub-continent and more so in our own country. Remarkable amongst those would be Vital Signs, Junoon, Strings and the likes. And who can forget the college anthem of all times Purani jeans and Ali Haider who also gave a sweet melody in Chuimui si tum lagti ho. Then there was Adnan Sami with lift karadey and tera chehra.

If Pakistani singers kind of started it, our Punjabi artists residing in UK, USA and Canada took it to the next level. Steven Kapur better known as Apache Indian who mixed reggae and bhangra beats to give hits like Chok there, Don Raja, Arranged marriage in 1993 and Boom boom shaka laka, released in 1997, is one of the pioneers of Punjabi pop music.

The year 1998 saw Rajinder Singh Rai known by his stage name Panjabi MC give the world the super hit bhangra track Mundiyan to bachke rahin. Baljit Singh ‘Bally’ Sagoo broke onto the scene with his remix of Asha Bhonsle number Chura liya hai tumne from the film Yaadon ki Barat. The remixes were just another extension of the booming pop songs and soon we had DJ Aqeel shaking us with remixed version of many popular movie songs like Nahi nahi abhi nahi, Tu , tu hai wohi, and so on. Bombay Vikings brought us retro numbers like chod do aanchal and kya surat hai in a new avtar.

While the Punjabi men and women were readying the stage, the language was gearing up to hit us like a tornado. On the scene arrived Malkit Singh, soon joined by Harbhajan Maan, Sukhshinder Shinda and Jazzy B besides Daler Mehendi, Jasbir Jassi and Dr Zeus. Armed with the dhol, tumba and the algoza they gave us upbeat, frothy, foot-tapping numbers in heaps.

Women too weren’t far behind. Anamika moved into our hearts with her take on Kahin karta hoga wo mera intezaar. Suneetha Rao huskily sang Pari Hoon Main and serenaded us. Shweta Shetty with her Johnny Joker and Anaida with Oova Oova were full of oomph. If Raageshwari was all sweetness in her ’97 relese Duniya, Suchitra Krishnamoorthi was innocence personified with Dole Dole and Dhoom tara. And who can forget the variety of moods created by the music of such stalwarts like Parvati Khan, Sharon Prabhakar and Ila Arun all in the decade of 90s.

 Soulful music also flowed aplenty in that decade. For me the top of the line is KK with his ballad singer’s voice. Remember Pal and Yaaron? While comedian Mehmood’s son Lucky Ali sang Teri yaadien aati hain, ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas intoned Aur Ahista Kijiye Baatein and Chupke Chupke sakhiyon se wo baatein karna bhool gayi. The lady with the mellifluous voice Falguni Pathak sang Maine payal hai chankayi. Silk Route gave us Dooba dooba rehta hun, Euphoria created Dhoom, and Colonial Cousins Leslie Lewis and Hariharan assembled all the ‘saat sur’ in that one song Sa Ni Dha Pa. While Shubha Mudgal ‘s Abke Sawan was energetic yet soft, her collaboration with Sukhwinder Singh for Pyaar ke geet suna ja re was full of all things Indian. Bali Brahambhatt gave us Tere bin jeena nahi and Jojo sang Woh kaun thi. The nutty Devang Patel with reworked international hits was a class apart. Kamal Khan descended on us with Oooo jaanejaana and Shibani and Aslam crooned Ho gayi hai mohabbat.

The term pop music is inseparable from Bollywood music. Some people would rather argue that the term could possibly be used exclusively for music and songs used in the Hindi films. According to Simon Firth a renowned sociomusicologist who specialises in pop music , pop music is created to please everyone and not as an art form. He goes on to add that pop music is driven by profit and commercial reward. This purpose is served well by the films wouldn’t you agree? Shankar Jaikishan, C Ramchandra, SD Burman and many others too employed the principal of harmony and simple verse which forms the base of pop music in times gone by.

Singers of great acclaim like Asha Bhonsle and Alka Yagnik also sang pop numbers like Janam Samjha Karo and Saare sapne Khain Kho Gaye while Sonu Nigam and Shaan belted out Deewana, Bijuriya and Loveology. Remo came with Hamma Hamma in Bombay but before him Baba Sehgal had come with Aaja meri gaadi main baith ja in Miss 420. And of course there is Anu Malik and Sunidhi Chauhan too deserves a mention here though she arrived a tad bit later.

Various music competitions has brought in many fresh sounds to the fore like Abhijit Sawant, Rahul Vaidya , Vasundhra Das etc. These and many more such as Rabbi Shergill, Chinmayi Sripada, bands like Indian Ocean and composers with Classical as their backbone are at the helm of things and I am sure we have much to look forward to.

(The edited article appeared first in The Indian Trumpet in the GROWING UP IN THE 90s/ Winter edition under the title Indian Pop is the Best )

What should not be forgotten

I am staring at this screen. Some time has gone by. I meant to restart the writing process. Often during the day I have these amazing thoughts that I have left unattended for a long time. Now I want to take charge and start gathering them. 

This happened after I read a quote somewhere. Isabel Allende's. Write what should not be forgotten. Now when I am trying to write that which must not be forgotten I forget already what it was to be.

Some gyaan. That I am sure of. 

Some random thought that I have been cud chewing. Some which take a shape. Gather weight. Form. See the light of the day or evening via a conversation. 

It could be that or some guilt pang looking for an escape of a expression about the way I am raising my child. Or how she is turning out to be without my assistance.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Always looking ahead

We were at a friend's house when a tiff broke between the two siblings. I offered the younger one, my daughter's friend, to hop in the car with us for a sleepover.

She did that delighted to get away from the bigger sister. My friend gulped hard. She asked her over and over again if she was sure she wanted to go away for the night. She cajoled her then threatened her then tried bit bribing and lastly entreated her to change her mind. But she wouldn't be cajoled, threatened, bribed or entreated. Her mind was made up and she came with us.

I don't think my friend slept a wink that night. Whereas the child played to her heart's content and fell soundly asleep having tired all her faculties nicely.

And this is what brought home a fact that life looks ahead. It knows only to move in forward gear. The woman might have worried about x number if things concerning her daughter but the child wasn't about one.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Humara Bajaj

If you are the child of the 80s and if you can hum Doordarshan’s signature tune and recall the colours of the montage; if you remember the Ek chidiya song and sing it too ( to probably your kids now!); if you can recall the yellow sari of the Maggi mummy and Lalita ji of Surf fame then you most definitely remember the Buland Bharat ki Buland Tasveer. Yes! Hamara Bajaj.

Bajaj Chetak- the two-wheeler that was a defining characteristic of our childhood and an imminent part of our teen years. Many of us have fond memories of riding the scooter to markets and may be to tuitions. Unfortunately, out of production for a while and not a frequent sight on the Inidan road yet the sight of the beloved two-wheeler on the set of Comedy Nights with Kapil Sharma brought back the nostalgia.

I have very clear memories of roaming about the town on the grey Bajaj Chetak that my father owned. The grey scooter was recently sold off but I can still recall the ‘vrooooommmmm’ sound of the scooter as Papa put it in gear to take my mother to the school where she taught. When we were kids the same sound in the evenings signalled Papa’s homecoming. We would rush out of doors to see what treats he had for us in the basket of the scooter.

As we moved out of the house for further studies the same sound came to signal a particular hour on the clock as we lay there in the bed lounging during the holidays and our parents made way to their respective workplaces.

My daughter, when she was three, was taken on her first scooter ride and since that time she insists on taking round of the town on the scooter, standing in front, letting the air blow her hair in all directions. Ahh...the incomparable thrill of a scooter ride!

Bajaj has been a household name in India for about 75 years. Bajaj Auto, the company that produced the two-wheeler that came to be associated with dreams and prosperity in the 80s, started out in the year 1945 as Bachraj Trading Corporation Private Limited. ‘Chetak’ was the first scooter model to come out of the factories in 1972. It remained a star throughout the decade of its launch and hogged much limelight in the 80s as well after the launch of two other models Super and M-50. Chetak, named after the brave horse of legendary warrior from Mewar Maharana Pratap.

Messers Bachraj started out by selling the imported Vespa, a product of Piaggio, an Italian company. It was in 1959 that the company obtained a license from Government of India to manufacture two and three wheelers. The year 1960 was of marked importance as the company went public. Under the license from Piaggio, Bajaj launched Vespa 150, in the same year. In 1971 the company started to manufacture the three-wheeler good carrier.

Chetak was next on the list of production. The reliable and economically priced scooter fulfilled the desire in many households to own a vehicle. Rahul Kumar Bajaj was the force behind the Chetak scooter. At one point of time, the scooter had a 10 year waiting period. Rahul Bajaj, in the capacity of the Managing Director of Bajaj Auto in 1972, invested a lot of time and money in the research and development of the scooter that went on to garner a place for itself in the auto history of the country. The 4-stroke Chetak remained a flagship model till the late 80s and the Hamara Bajaj television commercial did much to ensure that it held on to that spot of glory.

The monopoly that Bajaj enjoyed at a certain point time in the two-wheeler segment soon began to see competition from the likes of Honda and Vespa which came out with products that challenged the beloved scooter directly. The license agreement with Vespa had ended by 1977 and Bajaj launched the ‘Super’. Revered as a dowry item, the Super was quite identical to the Vespa. A three gear scooter Bajaj Priya was also launched in 1977.

The times were challenging and the company decided to enter the mopet segment with the launch of M50 and M80. Out of these M 50 turned out to be a failure but the sturdy M80 found many takers especially in the rural segment.

Next in line was a technical tie up with Japan’s Kawasaki. This proved to be game changer. Soon Indian roads began to see the bulky motorcycle speeding ahead of the scooter.

Change was knocking on the door. In 1986 Bajaj had sold 500, 000 vehicles in a financial year. In 1995 the figure touched ten millionth mark and the company sold one million vehicles in the year. From those figures the production of scooter had come down to a mere 1000 mark. In 2009 the company took the decision to exit the scooter market.

A popular tag line for Bajaj was ‘You just can’t beat a Bajaj’. The day of the scooter might be over but Bajaj Auto Limited is going from strength to strength. 

(The article appeared first in The Indian Trumpet. Go here to read it online!)

Tram, The Heritage Wheels

February 1873 was a monumental year for Kolkata, then known as Kalikatta. Commerce had compelled the British rulers to look for cost effective and efficient ways to carry merchandise from Sealdah railway station to the Armenian Ghats of the river Hooghly. Unfortunately the horse trams did not find many takers and had to shut down the same year. But in the mean time something of an affair had been heralded that would go on to add to the uniqueness of the city Kalikatta.

Think of trams and you can imagine life slowing down a pace or two. When I first set eyes on a tram in the middle of a main road in the South of the city, all the other noises seemed to recede away and a Mantovani melody started to play in the background instead. I was so mesmerised by the way it snaked on the road, leisurely at its own pace, not bothered by the honking cars, autos and taxis that I forgot to board the bus my palm had brought to halt.

Kolkata is a metropolis like none other. It is large. It is smelly. And it is congested. Yet there is a strange amalgamation in which many new and old; metropolis like and unlike metropolis things/ features, survive side by side. The various modes of transportation are a case to point. Look at what all plies on the city roads and tracks: you have the air conditioned metro rail, the famous yellow taxis, as well as the haath gaadi and horse carriages. The trams possibly the first public transport system introduced in that fateful year of 1873 has continued to co-exist with all other modes of commute without any malice.

Trams became a part and parcel of the daily life of the people of Kolkata once the Calcutta Tramway Company Ltd was created and registered in 1880. The then viceroy Lord Ripon inaugurated the route between Sealdah and Armenian Ghat via Bowbazar, Dalhousie Square and Strand Road. Electrification of the trams was started in 1900. Alongside the work for reconstruction of tracks to a standard size was also initiated. The first electronic tramcar ran between Khiddirpore and Esplanade in 1902. By 1905 the entire system had been converted to an electronic traction. Till 1952 the tram cars were imported from England, though a workshop, which exists till date, was set up in Calcutta to undertake repairs.

In 1967 the West Bengal government took over the management of Calcutta Tramways Company. In the year 1992, the Calcutta Tramways Company introduced a bus service and the trams suffered a jolt as the hurrying passenger preferred the bus to the lolling tram. The number of fleet was reduced due to the high costs of maintenance and less takers.

Today only about 130 of the 530 trams running in the 1980s are making their way on the Kolkata roads.

But of late efforts have been made to turn the trams in to profit making extensions of the government by bringing in AC coaches and transforming them in to a major tourist attraction. Heritage tours aboard the tram start at the Esplanade Tram terminus offering you a glimpse of history at various destinations like the Dalhousie Square, the Presidency College, Ashutosh Museum and many more. It offers a slice of life in the form of the view of the coffee houses on College Street. You can get acquainted with history during this tram ride as it chugs along the Victoria Museum and the Writer’s building. You get to sample the delights of the rich cultural heritage of Kolkata as the off the Chitpore Road is the campus of Tagore’s university of liberal arts the Rabindra Bharti

The city has been a favourite with cinematic geniuses like Ritwik Ghatak and Satyajit Ray. Many Hindi films of the yore like Howrah Bridge, Do beegha Zameen, Amar Prem and Devdas have been set in Kolkata but then there was a lull. Of late Kolkata has again become a favoured spot for Bollywood with many blockbusters being shot in the city. Think Mira Nair’s The Namesake, Sudhir Misra’s Calcutta Mail as well as Anurag Basu’s Barfi and if you prefer Mani Ratnam then Yuva!
Film makers have been wooed with delightful sights and sounds of the Durga Pujo as well as the majestic sights such as the Victoria, the Howrah Bridge and the bustling Esplanade. The trams have held their lure too for the Bolly directors and we have them either playing out a vivid role or being part of the narrative in many films. Two which immediately come to the mind surprisingly have Vidya Balan as the protagonist. One is the adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel Parineeta and the other is the suspense thriller Kahani.  

The gong-like sound of the tram horn is a part of the mosaic morning sounds in Kolkata. The trams have stayed around despite threats of being scrapped then and now. Even today the sight of a tram manages to bring to mind the picture of a regally clad viceroy or the bhadrlok in white dhotis chewing paan. The trams have journeyed thus far and I am sure picture abhi baaki hai......

(This article was first published in The Indian Trumpet and you can read it here)

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A gratitude list

The new year is already 6 days old. I haven't made a list of resolutions or I haven't done anything else yet that would have set these other 5 gone by days from the rest of the years since maybe 2007 or 08.

The year that has gone by was spent waiting for the baby. In the meantime I came across gratitude as something of a magical force that could change lives. I was tagged in posts on FB to express gratitude, I got my sister to write a column in place and guess what was the chosen subject- gratitude and so on and so forth.

So because gratitude has been making an appearance over and over again I decided to make a list of things I am grateful for. Mind you, I am not an ungrateful person, but this is taking things a plane higher.

So without much ado, here are a few things for which I am immensely grateful.

1. I am grateful that little kids have a short memory span. In the last seven years that she has been around I too have had many a rough patches. I have often taken out my frustration, my anger and my desperation on the little one. I have said nasty things to her. Many nasty things. And the thing I dread the most is that she might remember everything and hate me all her life. But I find solace in the fact that I don't remember much of my own childhood which was definitely more exciting than my daughter's. So.

2. I am grateful that I live quite far from my parents and that they can't really see and know what a terrible mess I am. This is a do-dhaari talwaar actually. I think that if I lived close by they would have probably straightened me up .

3. I am also grateful that I don't live closer by to the family because everything about my family since my young cousin has gone has started to look and feel horribly wrong. I used to think we are very average and nothing exciting ever happens to the average people. No excitement and all that. But when this happened I was shaken. I wanted to be below average. I didn't want to be counted. I didn't want our family to be scarred, stamped or spoken of because something out of the ordinary had happened to us.

4. I am grateful for friends that I have made here. Lovely people who like taking care of each other, who listen to your groans and answer. People who love me for being my loony self. People who have tough lives but always make an effort for my sake, to meet me, call me and ask after me. And who have repeatedly hear my petty woes without interrupting.

5. I am grateful for the little baby boy. He has brought me a clearer understanding of the term 'bundle of joy'. He is all of three months right now but his chuckling is the music my life resonated with at the moment.

6. I am thankful for the husband who is the man he is. Little bit nutty, somewhat weird and mostly adorable

7. Similarly I am grateful for the sister who is as much a nut job as I am but is a class better. She is everything I would have wanted to be if I knew my own mind.

8. And I am grateful for this little beauty who pervades every aspect of my living. I am thankful that she is smart, intelligent and very perceptive. I could not have gotten beyond myself had it not been for this 7 year old motor-mouth.

9. I am grateful for good music, photography and inspiring words people write and post on social platforms. In a way I am thankful for Instagram who has seen me through lonely nightly feeds.


Gathering your thoughts is so difficult.

I mean I have all these wonderful thoughts, world-improving thoughts, thoughts that when turned into a book will make me a multi-millionaire-ss, thoughts that I have in my most generous state of mind (and don't ask me what that is because while I grappled with my thoughts about this blog entry and the concept of generous thoughts I forgot it).

So you see what I am talking about.

And it is so difficult to make my right hand work because of the stupid nerve-wrecking herpes on the right side of my back. Yeah well where did that come from!! I was writing about thoughts, how it is difficult to gather all that you think or thought about a certain topic.