Friday, 2 November 2012

We all have our 'Mo'ments

Movember. Official month to grow a Mo for a good cause - men's health. (

For someone who's not a big fan of facial hair, I've decided to keep a moustache for the month of November to support a cause. A cause that is not as widely spoken about as some of other health issues.
I feel a lot of men ignore a lot of signs early on and keep pushing back/ignoring these clues to get a health check done regularly. Admittedly, it's simply not a thing we'd readily put on our smartphone reminders eagerly. No matter what kind of physical activity you are in, what diet you follow, it sometimes pays to go to a doctor and get a health check done.

Last time I grew a Mo was in 2009 for the same reason - supporting Movember. Truth be told, I didn't have a clue how one goes about cultivating a Mo. I was aware that it takes time, a lot of patience and getting used to a lot of tickling around the lips before one can go proudly strutting that Mo. Of course, the direction and growth of your facial hair also influences what sort of Mo you'd want to keep.
I went for the handlebar.

Not a bad effort for a first timer I thought.

I am doing it again in 2012, but I may be experimenting a bit with the Mo, depending on how much I can look after it over 4 weeks.

Much as my wife prefers my clean shaven face, she wholly supports my idea of growing a Mo because she appreciates the cause it stands for. She lost the first important man in her life, her father, to prostrate cancer a few years back and would like to raise the level of awareness about men's health.

This year along with doing it for the actual cause, I also have another reason to do this.
My 1.5 year old boy. I want to make sure I stay in good health and get the appropriate checks done so that I can be around to see him to grow up into a fine man.

Check out my Mo 2012 space:

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Raising Denver

How it began
Everyone's heard about the Customs' Foster Carer Program, right? We saw it first on TV and immediately thought - that sounds exciting. I remember applying for getting a Customs puppy way back around Mar 2010 and was initially told we would be contacted soonish about this.

It wasn't actually until Sept 2011 that we heard back from Australian Customs and informed that we were successful in our application and that they finally had some puppies now ready to be taken to their foster homes. We were asked to come to their Training Centre (previously in Tullamarine, just behind the airport, but now relocated to Bulla) and pick up a "black lab, 6 weeks, male" after hours. Little V was only 3 months old then and it was going to be a big task, managing 2 babies and of course, the big one - Benji. However, the moment we first set our eyes on this gorgeous, cuddly set of pure joy, we knew it was going to be one helluva journey. Out of the 5 puppies ready to go to their foster house, I reckon Denver was probably the largest in size and most athletic (his jumps were enough evidence to that!).

One of the conditions around raising Denver was that he wasn't allowed to sleep inside the house, regardless of what the weather was like outside. It was a bit disheartening to leave him outside the first night, though Benji immediately jumped in and straight away took control of Denver's bed and his house, in spite of having his own bed laid next to Denver's. It was funny initially to see Denver curled up besides Benji in the same house and that's how they slept the first few months. Personally, I think Denver loved curling up to someone like him, though as he grew bigger, Benji soon had to make his own arrangements.

Around the house
Denver started like all pups do - chewing at anything and everything that he could. He was also encouraged by the fact that Benji still regularly destroyed anything new in the backyard and routinely demolished any attempts of maintaining a proper backyard.
Denver was sharp though. He was quick to respond to his name and even quicker to respond to praises. Even as a pup, you could see his superior hunting skills. He could find anything within seconds, no matter where you hid it in the backyard.  

Benji and Denver had an absolute crazy time in the backyard, chasing each other, playfully biting and rolling each other.

I remember we got him inside the house the first time, to familiarise him with the environment, and the effect 15 minutes later was near similar to when the tsunami stuck Japan. Absolute chaos within the house. He loved going through everything and shred it to pieces.  

I once took Denver to the airport to socialise him in crowded environments and he immediately took to task of sniffing out traveller's bags, as if he was already employed to do so. This was when he was a mere 3 months old. He walked around with an air of absolute fearlessness, inquisitive and watchful every single time. And boy, was he strong. At the age of 5 months, he was already pulling me easily on leash and taking me on regular walks around the house. By the time he was 7 months, he could easily haul my backside and not be out of breath after 30 minutes. 

Around 5 months of age, we took him to the local pond where Benji loves swimming. At first, we were apprehensive of how Denver would go in the water. He astounded us with swimming as if he's been to the Olympics, in his first attempt. He even went in further than Benji and absolutely loved the idea of fetching balls that I threw in for Benji primarily. Shaking off the water with gay abandon, without a care of other pets or owners, he would search for Benji and follow him like a little brother. Benji no doubt loved the attention and it kept him fit and on his paws. In hindsight, Benji taught him more about being a tough pet than anyone.

By the time Denver was 10 months old, he was bigger in size and weight than Benji, given his extremely talented parentage and could easily dominate Benji. 

We had to play with Benji and Denver separately, as his foster caring conditions didn't allow us to get Denver to fetch objects like we'd do with Benji. So one of us had to take Benji for a walk while the other played tug-of-war with Denver, letting Denver win every single time (this is crucial for their development).

It was funny to see the amazing similarities and differences between 2 kids (V and Denver) growing up in and around the house. Little V had a great time watching Denver and Benji and also imitating them by licking the windows from the inside, while Benji and Denver did the same on the outside.
The Customs team provided food, medicines and all other support over the year and came out every month to test Denver, closer to the house and then take him away for 5 days, every 3 months for a more rigorous training.
Soon after he returned from their training, they would send us an assessment of his skills/shortcomings and ask us to work on a particular thing. One great feedback throughout the year was he was great around other dogs and had an amazing nature. Again, Benji at work.

Ready for the real world
Around the 11-month mark, Denver was taken for his final assessment and we were informed that due to Denver's superior hunting skills, he was to be shown to Australian Federal Police in the next 2 weeks and if he was selected, we would not see him again. We had 1 week to say our goodbyes.

On the last morning for Denver with us, we had taken him to the pond for one last time with us  and that's when I got the call from the Customs guy that he was waiting for us at the car park and since he had the work car with him, he could take Denver straight to the Customs Training Centre once we were done with our walk.

Splashing his way out of the freezing cold water, onto the car park and just like that, Denver was gone.

I received a call from Customs 2 weeks later informing me that Denver was successfully selected by Australian Federal Police and that he would now go to Canberra for further training.

Denver not only made us proud by getting selected, but also taught us a few things we easily overlook these days - loyalty, fearlessness, love and a genuine zest for life.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The (Great Indian) Soap-Opera

Been subjected to a number of soaps (both the telly and the bathing kinds) since childhood, I’ve often fantasised about directing a soap-opera, where the soaps are the real stars. Sounds childish and corny. I know. But hey, what the heck.
Creativity should have no bars (no pun intended).

So here goes…

Sabun family

Hamam as Bade Bhaiyya
The straight-forward bro. You always have one in the family. He may be bitter, he may be of strong opinions, but he is honest and he is consistent. Nothing changes for him ever.
Like the Neem Soap.

Lifebuoy at Pappaji
The no-nonsense stern patriarch. Goes about his business, takes care of and feeds the family. Warm embrace and clean image.
Does what a father ought to do. Protect. Safeguard.

Little wonder the jingle goes “Lifebuoy hain jahan, tandoorasti hain wahan”.
Cinthol Lime as Chutki
The quintessential quirky teenager in the family. Fresh, young and vibrant. Perky, zesty and rebellious.
Remember Preity Zinta under the waterfall in the advert?
Dettol as Dadaji
Build to last. They just don't make them like him anymore.
Healthy, vigorous lifestyle. Can more than stand his own.
Often seen as a shining light and a guiding force against all enemies.
Mysore Sandalwood as Amir Chacha
Comes around once a year, usually around Diwali, bringing good tidings, fragrant airs and lots of loving.
Gift bearer, warm natured and nice smelling.

Lux as Maa
Comforting. Always there for you.
Displays a range of emotions, but understands you like no one else. So popular that a number of filmstars often endorse her being.
Pears as Badi Chachi
Popular, good looking and a big show-off. Carries herself well and loves to please everyone.
Welcome anytime, but visits as rare as a mongoose sighting.

Handmade variety soap as Didi
Individual, quirky and always there for you. Like Maa, comes in a range of emotions - very interesting some of them.
Everyone wants one and is usually loved by the masses (as well as the classes).
(Images courtesy Google images)

An old tattered shopping bag in the pantry. A little boy is looking with his wide hazelnut coloured eyes at the wide collection of soaps in the shopping bag. He wants to pick one up but cannot make up his mind, so he scampers off to look for his Mom to help him decide.

Meanwhile, in the Sabun family down in the shopping bag, all the family members are scared of losing a family member. Which one will it be this time? The family has seen such disappearances before, but this time around, they are adamant of not losing anyone. They have run out of ideas to outwit these humans, but when all hope is lost, they sight a bottle of bodywash tucked in the corner of the shopping bag…

What happens next? How do they get the young boy to pick the bottle of bodywash and spare the Sabun family members…

Thursday, 14 June 2012

22 yards and the cordial

Warm start to the weekend. 8 am and the mercury's already threatening to torch the thermometer. I am on my way to the supermarket to get some bread, cheese, ham slices, fruit chutney, fruits and a packet or two of lamingtons. Standard cricket-issue supplies. It's a home game and I am eager to contribute towards arvo tea. Sandwiches, a (hastily put) bloke's version of a fruit platter and lamingtons all chucked in the back seat of the car.

11 am and I hit the road. Bon Jovi's "Livin on a Prayer" is blasting away on Gold and the day outside looks perfect for a game of cricket, albeit a little on the warmer side. By the time, I arrive at the clubrooms, it's a hive of activity. Teammates making a beeline for the fridge to get their drinks in, stash away the sandwiches, fruits, cakes and other assortment of edibles in the already burgeoning shelves. There's always one bloke setting up the clubroom bar and given that the mercury's predicted to hit the high 30s, there'll be more than a few frothies dispensed before the day is over. The others lounge around the clubrooms, chewing the fat, potting a few balls on the pool table, or trying to hit the bullseye on the dart board hanging limply on the wall. The captain rounds up everyone and gets us moving, some carrying chairs, others a heavy scoreboard and an extraordinarily huge table down to the ground. A few boys walk up to the pitch and start removing the rain covers, whilst chatting about their activities from last night.

"Didn't get home until 3 am this morning. Have a bloody headache the size of a planet" quips a young'un.

A couple of lads run the periphery of the ground, placing the witches hats, marking the field boundaries. Meanwhile, the group standing on the ground wheel in the cart from the shed near the training nets and plonk the covers and ropes onto the cart. There's always one bloke from the team who turns up late, citing reasons such as "Was trying to get some fresh meat at the butchers for arvo tea", whereas his bloodshot and sleepy eyes suggest he was the one who was butchered after a late night.
The other team's arrived by then, blokes hanging around the pitch, examining the 22 yards, chomping on burgers/pies, chatting, texting. Both teams go off the pitch for a short while, while the captains swap team sheets and greet the umpire who's just turned up. He's as eager to get on with the game as the players are, as the sun is now out and blazing away to glory. The SPF15+ lotions come out of the kits and teammates start smearing themselves to gay abandon. A few of us seem to need the protection more than others, lest they want to end the day resembling overburnt snags.

The smell of the suncreen lotion is one of those things that brings me to the ground each week. I associate summer cricket with 3 things - that balmy smell of the sunscreen lotion, the raw feel of the Platypus ball in my hands and the sweet taste of the cordial. You don't get to experience these senses with winter cricket and resultantly, something seems amiss on those wet, cold dank days - it just doesn't feel like cricket to me.

Meanwhile, the toss has taken place and our captain vigourously rotates his arm to indicate we are bowling. We get into our whites and warm up a little bit, jovially talking about everything that 11 blokes might talk about. A few of us have been around the club for light years, and they often have a few stories to tell.

Like the time when this big bloke played for our club in a match near the Parkville Zoo. He apparently was hitting them that hard, one guy reminiscences "Mate, the gorillas were in trouble".
Or about this guy who's 68 years old and still plays fairly regularly for us, prompting one of the funniest guys in our team to exclaim "I reckon he was around for the autobiographical signing of the Bible"!

It's this camarederie, this atmosphere that makes the trip to the ground every Saturday worthwhile.

We take our positions on the field and the umpire signals play.
There's a lot of chirpiness the first few overs and some really wise words of advice to the opposition.

"Look at that shot. I reckon my Nanna could play it better"
"Big swing. No Ding."
"Use that thing in your hands son, not your pads"

At the loss of the first wicket quickly, a really young bloke walks in nervously to the words
"Look at him boys. He's still got that burger hanging out of the corner of his mouth. He didn't think he'd be in this early"
The cordial comes out after an hour and is a welcome relief in the rising heat. Players liberally dip their cups in the esky to quench their thirsts, totally ignoring the warning on the Esky "Do not dip your cups in the esky. VTCA guidelines".

The consistency and taste of the cordial is one of those very important aspects of the game. Go too easy on the cordial mix and you're only drinking coloured water, whereas take a liking for the cordial and the boys feel like they are visiting a pharmaceutical company to taste syrups! A few blokes quickly trundle off the ground to puff on their energy sticks.

The captain has a quick word about our strategy (or the lack of it) for the remaining overs. Fielders take their positions and the game continues. The fine leg fielder walks back to his position, strategically placed close to the walking track that runs next to the ground and is lucky to witness some really fine legs jog down the path. He draws a quick appreciative whistle and focuses back on the game, just in time as the bowler is about to start his run-up.
Around 3.20, the umpire calls for arvo tea. We've completed our quota of 40 overs and have been set a reasonably fair target. The teams come off the ground in now-searing heat and head to the relatively cool climes of the clubrooms.
Meanwhile, some of the club members who usually turn up to assist on a Saturday, have laid out the arvo tea in the club rooms. The spread is impressive. Sandwiches of all sorts. Lamingtons. Fruit platters. Cakes. Timtams. Pies. Sausages. Tea and coffee. And cordial.

Arvo tea is one of those moments when you forget you are here to play a game of cricket. Blokes stuff as much sustenance as they can while trying to debate the exploits of Black Caviar, as the TV is tuned to Raceday.
A few clubs I've played against have some really amazing arvo teas. Mini pizzas. Sushi rolls. Gourmet stuff. There have also been the odd instances where arvo tea was one soggy packet of Timtams (and nothing else), or a packet of chips. Shocking.

The captain announces the batting order and we head down to the ground. The temperature is now close to 37 as predicted, but there's a tiny bit of breeze drifting in from the river close to the ground. The other team is already on the ground, going through the motions - apply some suncreen, arrange those sunnies on top of the club cap, stretching, chatting. Our batsman take their guard and the chase begins.

Out by the boundary, the rest of the team is trying to find some shade amongst the gum trees, some blokes spread out on the ground baking themselves, others chewing the fat seated on the chairs we grudgingly carried down start of the game. A couple of blokes have taken ownership of the scorebook and are now well into ticking off the runs, getting the bowler's names, putting in the extras in their regular columns. As one of the teammates disappears behind a large tree to relieve himself, a gunshot goes off on the nearby athletics track, prompting the other teammates to instantly snap their necks in the direction of the bloke behind the tree and enquire about his wellbeing (this particular bloke is known for his often violent and amusing outbursts). He's still getting rid of excess water in his body and the world goes settles back into its daily motion.

By the time the drinks break comes on, we have lost some wickets and scored bugger-all. The captain is complaining about the lack of application by the batsman, while he munches on some chips, and pushing it down courtesy a large bottle of Coke. Not a very athletic outlook on life with this game.
In last 35 minutes of the game, we are about 70 runs behind and the last pair attempting to limit the damage, as the dark clouds start building up in the north. Batsman no 10 provides some entertainment swatting a few away to the boundary and the bowler is not happy with this. He bowls a terrible one, short and ready to be dispatched, and waits for the smack. Instead, batsman no. 10 misreads the line and pops one up in the air to mid-wicket.

That's it. Game over.

The teams shakes hands, a few blokes run around gathering the stumps, witches hats and get the covers on the ground, before the clouds burst into a song. The captain has a few words to say to the team and we pledge to go better next week.

The teams gather over cold frothies in the clubrooms, and chat away like old friends.

Inspite of the loss, we all know we'll be back next week.
Club cricket is more than a win or a loss. It's more than those 22 yards.

It's about the spirit, the friendly banter, the smell of the suncreen lotion, the feel of the leather, the sound of ball hitting the willow and exclusive bloke's time.

And the cordial.

Friday, 8 June 2012

You are what you read

It was inevitable. It was inescapable.
People who know me would have seen this coming.
They knew there would be a blog about reading, given that's the only thing I tend to do fairly consistently.
Read. Anything. Absolutely anything that comes across me or I can get my hands on.

Before I ramble on about reading, I'd like to make this clear. I may not be the most well-read person on earth and there may be a quite a few who are that far down the road to reading that it's difficult for authors to keep up, let alone other readers.
I am not that far down the road. Yet. I've barely started.

A couple of decades back, when I caught the reading bug, I came across a saying in Marathi "Vachal tar vachal", which literally translates to "Reading will save you", though, as is the case with most local adages, loses it flavour in the translation. There have been instances where reading has been life-changing though, if not life-saving.

Some of my earliest memories of reading are mostly around fiction. No greater joy those days than laying your hands on an Enid Blyton or getting thrills out of finding the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series in the school library. My mum introduced me to Marathi books - specifically classics such as Mrityunjay, Chhava and also the perennially popular Pu.La. Deshpande. And then after that, there was no looking back.

2 of the most interesting books I read when I was in school were The Godfather by Mario Puzo and Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer. I won't get into the synopsis of the books themselves, but the emotions I felt after reading these books were enormous. 2 powerful books in their own rights. They had a great influence on my reading habits. I was addicted.

Over the last 2 or so years, Wednesday evenings hold a special treat for me. The local library is open late and I can usually hang around the place for a good solid hour, trying to get as many books as I can. More often than not, I end up getting way too many books, but I am like a child in a candy store there. The last 5 times I've been to the library, I've been spotted carrying at least 10 books (mix of novels, non-fiction, comics and magazines) and 2-3 CDs/DVDs.

Reading liberates me. Similar to riding my bike, reading takes me places where I'd usually only dream of going, or enjoying things people wouldn't associate with me. Reading engulfs me, engages me, captivates me, thrills me.

I've also realised my tastes (or is that habits?) have changed over the years. A few years back, I'd usually make a beeline for the fiction shelves, scouting a Patterson, Archer, Grisham or Reilly. These days, I rarely go past the fiction shelves. Non-fiction catches my eye easily at the moment.
Treading down the non-fiction path has revealed some real gems. As it often turns out, fact is indeed stranger than fiction and it has been awesome being party to such facts and fact finders. Of course, sneaking into the fiction shelves every now and then has had its own consequences.

Last 5 good books/series I've read
(Note: Won't go into the book contents or play spoiler, but just my experiences reading them)

Amazing Spiderman
There are comic books and then there are COMIC books. I've got a lot more access to comic books than what I had when I was a kid. And I make use of this access fully. I must have read a lot of comics in the last 2 years than in the last 20 before that.
In personal experience, comic books are usually a lot about graphics and less of content.
The Amazing Spiderman was the complete opposite. So much content. So much structure. It actually took me more time to read a comic book than reading a small novel. That's saying something.

Empire of the Moghul series (Alex Rutherford)
Raiders from the North
Brothers at War
Ruler of the World
At school, we had a bit of history of the "Mughals" invading a large part of India and how the valiant people from these various parts fought back, with a varying scale of success.
I was mesmerised by the language, texture and richness of the content of this series. Read the 3 books back to back, learnt a few things along the way about 3 generations of the Moghuls and absolutely enjoyed the journey back to the 14th century. Can't wait for the final book in the quintet.

Dubai - the story of the world's fastest city (Jim Krane)
Everyone knows or must have heard about this amazing city where the rich people are not ashamed to display their wealth or opulence. What I enjoyed greatly was reading about the origins of this wealth, this magnificence and culture. Splendid story telling.

Apples are from Kazakhstan - the land that disappeared (Christopher Robbins)
The first thing that caught my eye about this book was the strange title. It didn't disappoint. The book was that well-written that I felt as if I was actually present watching the author travel the length and breath of this largely unknown land. It was nothing short of a fairy tale, only that this was a real place. Real people too. And apples.

A Moveable Feast (various contributors)
I remember casually picking up this book from the specially recommended section of the library. Distinctly remember starting reading it over lunch at work. A couple of stories into the book and I almost had to fake sickness and take the rest of the day off, to finish the book. Hooked. The book tells experience of various people, a heady mix of chefs, cooks, restaurateurs talking about their favourite food experience. I can't imagine anyone having cried over a story of skewers, kebabs or good earthy meals. Aren't food stories meant to be comforting and snugly? I must have wept at least 2-3 times throughout the book. It was that powerfully written.

A couple of years back, my friends gifted me a Kobo E-Reader. I am still partial to the use of this. It makes sense to carry it on long flights or travels. I still prefer the real thing though. Nothing like having a good paperback in your hands.

I've often wondered if what you read shapes your personality. Does it affect your thoughts, your actions, your decisions? Does it influence your behaviour (regardless of the situation) and does it impact your connection with other people?
I'd probably say people who know me may be in a better position to answer these questions for and about me than myself, but I firmly believe in this.

You are what you read.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Riding in 3 degrees

Helmet. Check. Baselayer. Check. Big grinning smile on the face. Double check.

It's a freezing 3 degrees outside, with a promise of sunshine and a top of 17 to come. I push my trusted old Apollo Evolution out of the garage and get ready to ride.
A little wave and a flying kiss to little V (my son) and I am on my way.

Cars whizz past me, drivers no doubt snug in their seats, climate control working overtime and a hot cuppa alongside. I ease onto the cycling/walking tracks and ride over fallen autumn leaves and under bridges, braving the cold. The air is crisp, fresh and with a definite nip to it.

As I pedal my way along Werribee river, the cold is biting, it's pitch dark and the only sound around is that of an odd insect starting it's day. On any given day, it takes me 16 minutes to ride from my home to the train station. The train station is the usual hub of sleepy eyed commuters - shift workers, early starters and school children. I put my bike on the train and catch a few breaths before I offload at Footscray.

From Footscray to the city, it's rush hour on the cycling path. Heavy trucks hauling enormous containers from the docks, livestock, produce and all that whoosh past me, but I am safe on the off-road cycling path. There are probably more cyclists on this track than cars on the patch of road between Footscray and the city, along Docklands Hwy. The cyclists move in a single file, against the backdrop of huge shipping containers bringing in supplies on the docks. The CBD looks splendid in the orange marmalade poured by the rising sun.A few cyclists break ranks on their ultra svelte bikes and race past me, while I try to focus on a steady cadence. No point getting to the destination in quick time, when you can enjoy the glorious views of the city along the way.

I notice a poor rider stranded by the National Flower Centre/Melbourne Markets, bringing out his bike repair kit. Another tire puncture then. I remember something similar happening to me last year.

I'd just got myself a Reid Condor and was thrilled to swoosh down the path on a much lighter and faster pushie. But it was not to be. I had 2 tire punctures in a span of 15 minutes and any ambitions of arriving safely in the CBD were dashed. To top if off, I was missing my bike repair kit and could do nothing except to call a taxi to transport me to the bike park. As it so often happens, the taxi company sent a taxi-sedan, in spite of me having explained my predicament and requesting a van/maxi cab so that I could carry my bike on it. So I walked. Walked a whole 40 minutes to get to the CBD, before I could get the puncture removed. Thankfully, I've smartened up a bit and carry my bike repair kit and have also bought a bike assistance (similar to car roadside assistance) product thereafter.

Closer to the city, cyclists branch out in various directions as I continue along Docklands, until I hit the mysteriously-yet-beautifully designed Webb bridge (also known as the Eel Trap bridge). (Image courtesy: Flickr)

The throng of cyclists falls to a trickle by the time I am riding along the Crown Casino. Over the Queens Bridge, I sight the familiar building of Bike Park ( - a wonderful idea of having a central bike storage/amenities in the CBD.

I hang my bike onto the bike stands along the wall, discard my bike attire and luxuriate a few moments in the shower, lathering myself with a invigorating mix of olive oil, eucalyptus, rosemary and palmarosa.
A quick change into work clothes, a short walk to my workplace, a hot and welcome bowl of rolled oats, a hot cuppa coffee and I am set.

The week begins.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Ek Raviwar Sakal!

Fortunate enough to be in Pune (for 2 consecutive Sundays) recently and could not help noticing.
Started my Sunday with dunking a couple of Parle-G biscuits in a nice hot cup of chai (Exactly that. Not tea. Not chai tea. Not chai latte either). The gentle fragrance of a Cycle Agarbatti hangs around in the room. The gentle sound of Vividh Bharati drifts somewhere in the neighbourhood.
I may have added on a few years (and a few extra kilos) and relocated to a different continent, but surprisingly, some things have never changed on a Sunday morning in my opinion. (And I doubt they ever will).

a. Chai - Has to be Brooke Bond Red Label. Admittedly, in the last 3-4 years, it has been upgraded from the standard Red Label to the Natural Cure version (the one with a whole heap of interesting bits added to it - Cardomom, Ginger etc), but it has always been Brooke Bond Red Label since ages. I reckon some of my early learning around colours and shapes definitely started with that red rectangular block of tea. I can't do teabags. Not regularly anyway. People may find it easy and convenient, but I find it a lazy way of enjoying this beautiful beverage.

b. Parle-G biscuits - There's something innately lovable about these little pieces of happiness. Maybe it's a physical manifestation of that lovely sweet smell that drifts into the nostril as your Mumbai local races between Andheri, Vile Parle and Khar. Amazing how your brain stores smells as a memory. There may have been variations of the humble Parle-G biscuit, but it is one of those icons that has stood the test of time. Easily accessible, wholly digestable and entirely likeable.

c. Cycle Agarbatti - A true ornament of the house in my opinion. The market may be flooded with all kinds of incense sticks, but Cycle Agarbatti rules. It's gentle and calm fragrance is enough bring about world peace in my opinion.

d. Sunday Times of India - The family may have moved onto a different (and a better) newspaper, but I always associate Sunday mornings with 2 things - a crisp copy of the TOI and Pattice The Sunday TOI may have more adverts than editorials or more pages than a Chetan Bhagat novel, but I find immense comfort cradling the newspaper in my arms as I settle down to chai and pattice.

e. Pattice - Hindustan kiva Modern bakery che fresh Pattice (that is how it is spelt. Not Patties. Pattice).  Nothing like flaring up those taste buds than with these delicacies. You can have Pohe on any other day or Sabudana Wada/Khichadi on your Upwaas days or Idli Sambar later on in the day, but Sunday mornings are when you enjoy Pattice the best. A little bit of Tomato sauce on one side and a little bit of Imli Sauce on the other. Awesome.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Hair today, gone tomorrow

1985, Borivali, Mumbai
Childhood. No pressure. Gently woken up by parents on a wet Saturday morning. Mumbai rains. Scary but beautiful. And plentiful.
Dad walks with me to the local haircutting saloon. A number of people sitting outside on benches, dunking Parle-G biscuits in chai, reading newspapers in various languages. Discussions still on about 2 events from the last 2 years. Indian winning the World Cup at Lords in 1983 and then the rather grim Punjab riots in 1984.
The barber directs me to the next vacant chair and adds an extra mini-seat on top of the existing chair so that he doesn’t have to bend at ridiculous angles to give me a haircut.  The barber takes his time, but does a decent job of making me look presentable. Dad’s sitting in the next chair getting his hair trimmed.
The barber finishes up by applying a generous portion of talcum powder on the face and neck and blowing away loose hair with a hair dryer. Love the feeling of a warm hair dryer tickling the skin. Goosebumps.
Walk home in relative peace, hand in hand with Dad.

1992, Borivali, Mumbai
Sleep in on the weekend. Wake up and nearly scare myself to death looking at my reflection in the mirror. Time for a haircut maybe. No wonder your class teacher and monitor were looking at your head as if it was the venue for the new Jungle Book movie. Trod along to A-One (or some such) Hair Saloon. The Proprietor‘s sitting outside on the wooden bench, getting his mental stimulation via a cutting chai and a copy of the Navbharat Times. He welcomes you warmly and points you in the direction of one nhai (barber) by the name of Shuklaji, Plonk yourself in the rexin seat and swivel to face the mirror. No; face still scary enough, so it wasn’t a nightmare.
Shuklaji starts by spraying your hair (missing mostly) and your face (largely), waking you completely. No caffeine hits needed here. You mumble something like very short, or close enough to short grudgingly. Even if you were impressed by Milind Soman, Rahul Roy hairdo recently, the school won’t take a liking.
The nhai picks up his trusted pair of scissors and an old thin comb (there’s always 2 combs – one thin and the other one, a big whopping one, enough to hold you in your seat if needed) and starts going at your hair as if there were no tomorrow. You can’t bear to watch it, so you close your eyes and drift off somewhere, aided by the melodious sounds coming over Akashvani. Mukesh and his tel maalish, Kishore crooning away to his Dreamgirl.  The nhai picks up his pace around your head and soon a pile of precious locks gather at the feet of your seat. The nhai is eager to tell you about his latest trip to his gaon and how he misses his family sometime. The other nhai lighten the mood talking about politics, cricket - the new sensation Sachin Tendulkar, prices of onions (always a topic of debate), and fillums.  The nondescript fan in the corner of the room trying its best to cool down things and not blowing away all that hair.
Shuklaji finishes shearing the locks and picks up the ustara to clean up around the edges. Once the hair part is done, he treats your head to a complimentary head massage, complete with knuckle-knocks, presses, cupped palms hit. You are offered a tel maalish, but that’s better left for another day. You pick up a kangi and arrange your hair in exactly the opposite way the nhai left it at.
You cast a glance at the other customers getting their beards trimmed, shaven and finally applied a stick of alum to their smooth faces. No fancy aftershaves or moisturising lotions. Customers with kids with them getting offered a lolly for the little one/s.
That trance like state finally dissipates and you walk out a new man.
Nhai – barber, kangi – comb, maalish – massage, ustara – razor, chai - tea

2009, Pune
Back home for holidays. The lanes of Shukrawar Peth and Sadashiv Peth waking up to a cold start. Newspaper boys, fruit and veggie vendors milling about. People walking their dogs/pets and trying to contain them from killing other animals or humans on the road.
My usual barber’s gone AWOL. Hang around for some time hoping he’s only gone away to get his nashta and will turn up. No such luck.
Walk across the road to another barber, who’s precariously resting against an old bicycle, soaking in the knowledge from a copy of the Sakal. His eyes lit up on seeing his first customer walk in to the saloon. He unfurls his haircut apron and wraps it around me. He then proceeds to wash his hands with soap thoroughly, making me increasingly nervous of his prior or post movements. Thankfully, it’s only a habit he’s cultivated, he remarks. He begins with a grand flourish of his arms and reaches for his ammunition. Once he gets going with the trusty pair of scissors and comb, talks turn to the obvious topics. Cricket, Hindi films. Politics. I mention to him I am currently living in Australia and that’s where he spits the dummy. Putting down his scissor for a moment (for both our sakes), he starts “Hey Bhadkhau Australian kay aplya indian poranvar halla karat sutlet? Aapan chaila yanchya cricket team la yevdhe ithe khelun deto, tar hey ka aaplyavar halla kartayt?”
Satisfied that he has cleared his mind, he resumes with his haircut and stops only once he’s cut to his heart’s content.
Walk home still thinking about the barber’s sudden outburst.

2011, Werribee, Melbourne, Australia
Get up early on the weekend. No rest for the wicked (and possibly crazy). A rather disapproving look from your better half makes you reach for the car keys for a visit to the barber.
Line up at John the Barber (precisely that!) and hang around with people with varying degrees of toplessness (at the head). Browse through some rather eclectic collection of magazines, ranging from chick mags to wildlife to motorcars to guns!
John summons you to his witness chair to plead your case. You request (and hope) for some assistance with looking better. “Very short on the back/sides and a little trim on top” you plead.  John looks at the evidence and decides to investigate more. Empowered with a good pair of scissors and a decent comb, he starts his trial. A little snip here, a little cut there. Your judgement is being delivered by the mounting evidence of hair around the seat. John takes his law very seriously and even hums in a deep baroque voice as he observes the proceedings.
The room’s always lively with sub trials and delivered judgements and there’s never a dull moment. People talking in wonderful Italian voices, greeting or bidding adieus.
Your plea is heard and the judgement handed down with some nice gel on your head. Acquitted.
You a free man.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Photo dharun thev

In one word. Incredible. 
All it took was 2 mins and my life was complete (well, almost). 

At a very privately organised function by Achala's company, the Indian cricket team was in almost full attendance to see Don 2 at Hoyts Melbourne Central last Saturday night. Strangely enough, the Indian cricketers do not have any aura, contrary to popular belief and are very down to earth (when they want to be). I suppose being outside India, the pressure to appear glamorous all the time is a bit less than being in some private function in Mumbai or Delhi. Most of the group formed sub groups based on personal friendships, age or whatever it was that caught their eye, so while Sehwag hung around with the team physio (no doubt discussing his recent injuries), Ishant and Virat were chatting away like collegians gathering at a local hangout. 
The new boys Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron sat at a different table to the rest of the group (I guess they must be as overwhelmed to be in the company of such other stalwarts as Sachin, Zaheer, Dravid, Dhoni etc).
The only person that actually went up to them, chatted and actually sat down with them was Rahul Dravid. 

At a nearby table, Pragyan Ojha, Rohit Sharma and a few others from the team management enjoyed the snacks/nibbles, chatting away like old friends. Real nice and easy conversation. Dhoni moved amongst the group and chatted with everyone equally. Dressed in easy army fatigues, he rarely looked the part of captain cool who had won India the World Cup a few months back. Missing from the scene were Gautam Gambhir and VVS Laxman. To each his own, I suppose.

At a table near the corner was where the real deal was. Chatting amicably with Zaheer Khan and enjoying a glass of red, was the object of affection of billions across the world. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. Also referred to by many Indians as "God". 

Just as he was about to move towards the movie theatre, I mustered up some courage and went up to him with a photo of my little boy and said "Excuse me Mr Sachin, tumhi majhya mulachya photo var sahi karal ka?" In his trademark voice, he said "Ho. Kay naav aahe mulache?". Balancing his glass of red in his right hand, he put the photo on the table and said "Photo dharun thev, mhanje sararknaar nahi". 

Don't believe this? The proof is in the pudding...
(maybe a platter of fruit in this case)