some more faff

Sunday, April 12, 2015

All you need is...a phone

I met Dr. Aparna Hegde, the Founder and Chairperson of Armman, an NGO that designs and implements sustainable solutions to reduce maternal, neonatal and child mortality and morbidity in underprivileged urban and rural communities in India. To give a little context, I met her on Easter this year. I had attended midnight mass the night before and it had left me empty. Throughout the proceedings I had strained to find some meaning, some message I could take home with me. But zilch. I was really irritated and the next morning I had to meet this lady. But I am so glad I did! By the end of the interview I was literally trembling. These are the people who should be talking in churches! These are the stories we need to hear! Not some diatribe on what did or did not happen millions of years ago. When you say Christ died for humanity, what do you mean really? It is such a hazy concept for most. What if, instead, you spoke about people who give their lives to help others? Wouldn't that inspire more? Anyways, I had to tell her story, so here goes: 

Aparna’s father had come to Bombay from a small village in Karnataka, his only support – his monetary savings of Rs.100. Finding a job in Standard Batteries, he managed to secure a one room kitchen chawl in the Pant Nagar locality of Ghatkopar. It was here that she was born. 

Surrounded by children her age with little or no interest in studying – their parents either vegetable vendors or peons – Aparna remembers being a very grateful child. Grateful for the school she went to, for the books that lay in her shelf, the films waiting to be explored. Grateful for the opportunities that lay ahead. “I don’t know where I got this sense of gratitude from, but I remember it always being there. I just felt very lucky,” she says.

By the age of ten, she had already read all the classics of English literature. Her father, not a very well read man himself, saw to it that his daughter would never want. Every year, he took her to the Children’s Film Festival, a ten-day event that would expose both father and child to some of the greatest films in the world – French, Italian and many more. He grew with her.

Always a topper in school and an ardent Math fan, she decided to take up engineering after school, but she also always saw her future self as someone helping other people live better lives. So when her father insisted on the medical stream, she gave in and was accepted into Sion Medical College.

“Till then life was perfect. But the first year of Medical school changed everything. It was hell,” she says. Overworked, perennially tired and never feeling her best, she dragged herself through the long hours, always thinking that everyone had the same complaints. But what Aparna and everyone around her was unaware of was that she was suffering from severe hypo-thyroidism. Fatigue, constipation, weight gain, muscle weakness, irregular menstrual periods, and depression became a part of her life. Putting her trust in psychiatrists, she surmised that it was just because of the problems she was facing on the personal front. It was only after 11 years, when her voice suddenly became very hoarse and she was admitted to a hospital, that she was finally diagnosed. 

However, the ordeal did not end there. “I was put on medication for my condition, but nothing seemed to change. I was still depressed, still fatigued,” she says. Meanwhile, giving up hope in the education system that only seemed to focus on rote learning and clearing exams, she decided to go back to her books. “I was very disillusioned by the system,” she says. “There was no push to understand the higher concepts of science, no emphasis on research. Our library was filled with these wonderful books, but we never had the time to read them because we were busy trying to clear exams. I had had enough.” Re-reading her books all over again, reading new ones, she slowly re-ignited her love for science. “And these were the books that saved my life,” she declares. Putting two and two together after reading several books, she diagnosed herself with B-12 deficiency. “When I got a check up done, I had almost zero level of B12. Once I started B12 medication, I finally started regaining my health.”

By then she was a practicing doctor at Sion Hospital, one of the best tertiary hospitals in Mumbai. But her passion for research and her drive to push her horizons made her seek an MS degree in biological sciences at Stanford University. “I got through but since Stanford does not offer full scholarships, I only got a part scholarship and had to arrange for the remaining money. My family was very middle-class and there was no way we could afford it, but my parents decided to mortgage our house so I could go,” she says.

It was a dream come true, but 3 months after she left for the US, her father passed away. “I was lonely and depressed for a year, but I stuck on and was rewarded. My mentor was an amazing guide and I can’t thank him enough for all that he did for me. He opened my eyes to a whole new world of science and concepts and ideas. I could finally do all the research that I wanted to, I could finally study my way,” she says.

By then the seeds of Armman were already planted in her mind. During her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Sion hospital, she had witnessed how pervasive systemic problems in the provision of health care to underprivileged pregnant women and children led to deaths that were actually preventable. “There is this one incident that I witnessed that I always see as the beginning of Armman in my head. It was 1 am when I was called to the emergency room at Sion Hospital to examine Aruna, a 25 year old primipara with undiagnosed gestational diabetes whose baby had developed macrosmia. She had been transferred from a rural hospital in Thane district in Maharashtra with her baby’s head sticking out of her vagina but the body stuck inside due to shoulder dystocia. Her baby was half out of her womb but couldn’t be taken out fully because it had developed diabetes while it was inside the womb. This had caused the body to swell and so only the head had come out,” she says. “I will never forget the first sight of her: a frail young woman with the head of a beautiful baby sticking out of her vagina. The baby was dead of course, but now the woman had also started turning black and blue due to a ruptured uterus due to the baby stuck in it for more than 4 hours. When an emergency surgery was performed, the baby’s neck was too jammed for us to be able to deliver it through the incision. Since I was the junior most it was left to me to behead the baby on the operating table. And since we could not hand over a beheaded baby back to the family, it was also my job to sew the head back to the body once it was out. Aruna died three days later. That was when I realized where our system had failed.”
The way it works where pregnancy check ups are concerned is that a woman comes in once she knows she is pregnant, mostly in the third month of pregnancy. A lower income group woman will visit a government hospital where hundreds like her come everyday. Each doctor will attend to atleast a hundred patients a day where they write down the tablets she needs to start taking and tell her to come back for a checkup after a month. “This is good, but not enough. Doctors are so overworked that they do not have the time to explain to her why she needs to come in, what problems she is likely to face if she doesn’t, why she should take the tablets they have prescribed,” says Aparna. “Most of the women I saw were probably in a hospital for the first time in their life. They were accompanied by their husbands, who lost a day’s wage because they had skipped work. Many of the women were impeccably attired and made up because this is probably the first time in months that they had got out of the house. These women are not going to come back every month for check ups. Women I’d seen in the early stages of their pregnancy as outpatients were coming back to me in the operating theatre, dying. I opened one woman’s papers and saw my handwriting telling her to come back for a check up. But I hadn’t had the time to explain to her why it was so important.  Aruna’s death will always stay with me, not just because she died a horrible death but also because it was so easily preventable. I saw her case papers. She had gone for her first antenatal visit in the first trimester but she had not be counseled about the remaining visits, the potential complications and the danger signals. That’s when I realized I had to find a different way to reach these women with the information we doctors were just too busy to communicate,” says Aparna.

The need to fill this gap in information is what led to Armman (Advancing Reduction in Mortality and Morbidity of Mothers, Children and Neonates), a non-profit dedicated to designing cost-effective solutions at scale for complex health care problems.

“I came back from Stanford and started looking for funding and trustees. I got funding from organisations in the US and that is how it began,” she says. While the first project she started (The HERO Project, which aims to computerize hospital databases of bed and ventilator availability so people don’t waste time running from one hospital to another) is yet to come to fruition, Armman’s second project ‘mMitra’ (Mobile Mitra) is quietly revolutionizing maternal and neo-natal health care in India.

What is mMitra?

mMitra is a free mobile voice call service that delivers simple, culturally appropriate health messages to India's poorest and most vulnerable women. It provides  comprehensive information on preventive care and simple interventions to reduce maternal and infant mortality and morbidity in urban India. The voice calls are in the local dialect, specific to the womens's gestational age or the age of the infant and are sent weekly/twice a week free of cost directly to pregnant women and mothers with infants. These voice calls are delivered to the mother from the second month of pregnancy till her child turns 1.

mMitra was awarded the “People Choice’s Award” at the Saving Lives at Birth grant event in Washington DC in 2011. The project also won a place on Nominet Trust’s prestigious list of the world’s best uses of technology-for-social-change NT100.

The project is supported by MamaText, an initiative of USAid, BabyCentre, Johnson & Johnson and United Nations Foundation launched by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011. A remarkably cost-effective project, its next target is to enroll 1 million urban poor in India over the next 3 years, with backing from the United Nations. 

India has over 900 million mobile phone subscribers. Almost 63.5% of households have mobiles in the slums of India. mMitra leverages this unique opportunity of using mobile technology to reach out to pregnant women and mothers of infants with relevant information. The information is appropriately timed to the stage of pregnancy or age of child and targeted to influence adoption of the health seeking behaviour among pregnant women and mothers of infants. mMitra is a friend and companion that guides the woman and the family through pregnancy and childhood.

The women

I spoke to many women who use the mMitra service. For most of them, this is the first time they have had access to information, or have been given any sort of priority or value within a family. "I registered for the program in the 3rd month of my pregnancy," says Deepa Sanjay Shrivastav, a 27 year old homemaker from Malvani, Malad. "I get calls twice a week. At first there is a voice of a baby laughing. Then they tell me what stage the baby is in - the eyelashes are being formed or the face is being formed. They tell me what tablets to take and why I should take them. They also tell me what I should eat and when I am due for injections or check ups. My parents died when I was a child so this guidance is priceless for me. My husband also thinks it is a good program so he bought a mobile phone for me just for this. The best part is that it is free - we don't have to make calls, they call us."

The voice calls

The voice messages have been developed by Babycenter that were validated by Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecological Society of India (FOGSI) experts. These messages were dubbed in Hindi and Marathi before pre-testing it with women in the community.

A total of 145 individualized voice messages of 60 – 90 seconds are being sent directly to the mobile phones of each enrolled woman, based on the stage if her pregnancy or age of the infant, with the following frequency:
·      Pregnancy: Two messages per week
·      First week after birth: Once a day
·      Infancy until month 3: Two messages per week
·      Infancy month 3 to Infancy month 12: One message per week
Registration into the service:
Enrolment is done in the slums directly through community partners and in the government hospitals where mMitra is being offered as a part of their antenatal care.

Unique features of the service:
·      The voice calls are simple, pedagogically and culturally appropriate and specific for the time point in the pregnancy or child’s development. The medically accurate messages have been developed through a rigorous evidence based research process.  
·      Information is tailored to the needs of the population and addresses the cultural norms, myths, practices and nutrition specific to the study area.  
·      As it is a voice messaging service, it is an easy to use technology even for illiterate end users as opposed to text messages.  
·      Services can be used either from mobile phone or a fixed land line. 
·      The women are given a choice of three time slots in the week when they can choose to get the voice call

Thus, mMitra can improve interaction between women and the health care system and increase demand for
skilled birth assistance and other skilled obstetric and neonatal interventions known to reduce maternal and child mortality. It can do this far better than current alternatives such as text messaging (which is not suitable for illiterate women) and radio and TV messages (which have lower penetration than mobile phones). 
Technology for mMitra has been built by the Inscripts Pvt. Ltd. pro bono.

-         5000 women attending the antenatal clinic of Sion hospital, Mumbai will now have mMitra as a part of their antenatal care (funded by Glenmark Foundation). 
-         MAMA (a global alliance of Johnson and Johnson, UN Foundation, USAID, mhealthalliance and Babycenter) will fund ARMMAN to reach across to one million urban poor women in Mumbai and other cities. DASRA will help ARMMAN build the capacity needed to implement the project. 

Thursday, July 03, 2014

New York, New York

"I got out of the airport and into a cab. I rolled down the windows and took a deep breath of smoke and garbage and stale perfume and I said to myself, 'This is home.'" This is how my husband first described The City.

It has been called harsh, dirty and dangerous, a city of no rest, a crucible you cannot escape. But who would want to escape New York?

It's a city that slyly slips an energy shot into every person who walks her streets. And walk is what you will do - from matchbox sized apartments to bus stops, from buses to subway stations, from one subway station to another. And on these journeys you will meet artists, teachers, lawyers, salesmen; people from Cuba and Iran, Poland and Chile. And that is when you will fall in love. And become a part of this neurotic place, this 'beautiful catastrophe' called New York. A city of superlatives, a place where the best, the biggest, the brightest is simply, normal.

Bombay / Mumbai

For me, Bombay is the rubble you find on her streets, always taking interesting forms. It is the sea, that endless expanse of water, never changing, yet always changing. Bombay for me is a childhood spent waving at trains, those huge worms that carry the city's troubles and hopes every single day.

Like a woman shelling peas on her way home from work, Bombay does not have time to spare. Not for her old or her poor, even her children grow up much to fast. Bombay is a woman racing to keep her promise and everyone just has to keep up.

And much as I curse her crowds and her filth, Bombay is that too. Bombay is where India wants to be, and just like her many cramped chawls, she has room for them all.

This is my Bombay, it may not be yours. Because like all strong emotions, Bombay is personal. What else can it be?

Monday, January 09, 2012

a poem

Is it time, to huddle together, and speak of dreams impossible?

Is it time, to sit, knotted with other dreams?

Dreams of loving, like a dog would, of freedom and beauty and happy hopelessness

Is it time to wait, at the mouths of caves, while the snow performs its slow dance outside

Untouched, touched

Is it time to sit, a river at our feet, lifetimes between our toes

Time to fall, to surrender, to plunge

Is it time to walk the cobbled pathways, tapping out soundtracks of times gone by

To wander through the deserts of delusion, thirsting for an illusion

Is it time then?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nagpur Diaries

It was my first outdoor assignment as a journalist for Mid-day. A man from Nagpur had contracted a strange disease whose name I have now completely forgotten (and I’m too lazy to google) and which was also called ‘sleeping sickness’. One of those ridiculously rare (not to mention embarrassingly funny) illnesses that could on a whim decide to prove fatal. So yea the edit meet was of course fun and everyone had their take (mostly perverted) on it. But when the World Health Organization decided to send two of its officials to collect his blood samples…we knew we had a story.

So off I went, packed into a train bound for Nagpur. What with all the excitement of trying to make conversation with extremely sociable passengers, trying to hold my pee in and trying not to get groped at…I reached Nagpur station in no time!

Once there I checked into the closest inn I could find and then set off for Shivni, a village tucked away in the interiors of Nagpur, where the patient resided.

Here’s where I take a break in the story to thank my mother, who never once stopped me from doing the million and one foolhardy things I have gone on to do in life! Yay for SupercoolMom!

Ok so coming back to the journey that according to my research should have lasted three hours and that had now stretched to five. It was 6pm when we reached the last stop…which in case you were aching to know…was NOT Shivni. Shivni, I was told was another half hour by ric or another hour by a bus that would arrive when it wanted to.

My plans of quickly finishing the interview and leaving back for the inn seemed stupid to say the least. Calling my boss who was waiting for my story with breathless excitement brought me to the conclusion that she was fuming. Why, is something one NEVER asks. I wondered if I should make up a story and dictate it to her but I was too tired to summon the powers of my imagination so I told her I could not hear anything and kept the phone.

The other thing I had not accounted for was the dark. Villages usually descend into darkness by seven and right now it was as good as the middle of the night. So I took a ric.

It was a mud road with jowar fields on both sides and I had just begun to appreciate the beauty when my ric driver asked me if I was from Bombay. On replying in the affirmative he said, “I thought so too. Only girls from Bombay would have the guts to travel alone in a ric at this time in such a lonely place.” This memory never ceases to freak me out today but there is something to be said for the audacity of youth, (I was 23 then. I’m still young of course!) I did not quite think there was reason to worry. He continued, “But one thing I should tell you…don’t do it again…you may not be so lucky”. I saw a light at a distance and a few men waving for the ric to stop. Before he stopped the driver told me to say no if they asked for a ride.

I should have said no, but I did not have the heart to. Villages involve long distances and these men looked old. If I was in a ric I might as well give them a lift, I thought. So three of them got in, one sitting with the driver, the others behind. We got talking (Thank God for my knowledge of Marathi) I told them I was a patrakaar and why I was there.

They knew the man’s house but he would be asleep now, (of course!) they said. You will only be able to meet him tomorrow morning. Great. I inquired about village inns and they laughed it off. Nobody ever came to Shivni. They suggested I meet the Police Patil (basically the head of the village) and asked the ric guy to take me there.

The Patils house was the biggest in the village. The door was open and I asked if I could speak to him. He came out, a tall, regal man in his 70s. Grey hair, aristocratic features and an unmistakable air of authority. I spluttered out my story, embarrassed at my lack of fluency, his stature making my Marathi sound worse than usual

He heard me out, called me inside, and asked one of the many women in the house, their heads covered with their sari pallu, to get me water. While we waited for the water, he did not speak. I looked around. The house was littered with children, the object of their all consuming attention, a TV set, the only one in the entire village, and it was playing Chandrakanta.

Once the water arrived, was drunk and tumbler returned, he told me I could be their guest if I wished. They could keep me for the night and tomorrow morning I would be introduced to the man I had come to meet.

Dinner followed, the TV now showing some saas bahu saga, post which the women retired into the kitchen, each washing their own dishes accompanied by happy banter and a general air of satisfaction.

All the children had surrounded me by now, their shy giggles and awkward talk endearing to say the least. The one I most remember though was this little girl…all of 6 years…who I later learned was not part of the family, but a cousin from another village. There was no shyness about her…just refreshing candor. She had a thousand questions…all of them about life in Bombay and she listened to all my answers intently. When I finally asked her why she was so curious about the city, she said she did not want to stay in a village for long; she wanted to travel and live in a ‘big city’. She had even made a list of cities she wanted to go to! I was zapped!

Anyways it was bedtime now and just as the women and children were ready to sleep, the TV changed its tunes to Kaliyon ka Chaman…the men were ready to rule the remote now!

The next morning, I met the man, spoke to him and his family, spoke to neighbours, took pictures and then finally bid adieu to my hosts. While saying goodbye to the 6 year old bundle of curiosity, I asked her, “Yetes ka majhya barobar Mumbai?” (Will you come with me to Bombay?) This is a safe question as no child will really want to come away with a stranger but this one was ready…she had even packed her bag that morning when she realized I’m leaving!! We all just laughed it off as a joke but I was stunned to say the least. She asked me for my mobile number and my address and told me that she would call or write to me when she came to the city. I really hope she does…

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Be Stupid. Really?

I’m 27. I have worked in television (both GEC and News), print and internet space. I’m reasonably intelligent. And still have not found my calling in life. Is that what spells a loser?

Everyone around me seems to have stuck onto one job or at least one field. And all I want to do is probably study photography next. It’s unbelievable the amount of things I can set my heart on.

And it’s all good to say it’s a great idea to know a hundred different things…but hey c’mon…we don’t live in an idealistic world. Jumping work fields every year may be exciting and great fun but it does not translate into money… because learning the ropes of every new field implies starting at the bottom. Finally what you get is tons of knowledge…plenty of thrills…and a permanent place at the bottom.

It didn’t matter till a year ago. My parents were working, I was austere…almost abnormally so... and money was the last thing on my mind.

But over the past year, they have retired and something has changed. It may have to do with the people I’m surrounded with, but I’d rather attribute it to the fact that I am now 27. And have finally been granted the perennial, nagging restlessness that tells me I have to earn more.

I don’t know if the want and the restlessness are strong enough to shake me out of my more often than not, satisfied, contented existence… We shall see… This post will be updated by the end of this year. Till then…sail on…

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

An Ode to the Bombay Rains

It’s the famous Bombay monsoon… and it has arrived! Like a spoilt brat, perennially demanding attention – be it the long, desperate wait for the first refreshing shower, the excited murmurs of ‘I think its gonna rain’, the worrying once it does rain, the frantic phone calls from one end of the city to the other checking for the extent of its fury, plans cancelled in its wake… phew… The Monsoon is probably the most momentous event in this city. No wonder I love it so much…

The monsoon has always been a harbinger of change. And if you need proof… you don’t need to look beyond me! Looking back, the most pivotal decisions of my life have been made while it poured. Walking out of jobs, waltzing into new ones… Breaking old bonds, forging new ones…my entire system seems to wake up and welcome the rains…

Rains are when I feel most alive. It’s almost as though I drift aimlessly through the other seasons and reserve my intensity only for this glorious season. Feeling more and with far greater intensity in these three months than the rest of the year put together. No wonder then that it is the rains that have witnessed my most passionate liaisons

Rains are when I want to buy myself deep red roses. Rains are when I want to walk the grey Bombay streets, dressed in pastels, carrying deep red roses. Ok I’ll admit it…Rains are when I wouldn’t mind acting in a Yash Chopra movie.

My current office is the only one I’ve worked in which does not afford me the view of the rains…which is just plain cruel… To know that it’s raining but not be able to hear or see it… what kind of sadistic pleasure do these designers get!

My favorite Rain Memories:

Zooming past Worli seaface with my favorite biker, dodging the sea spray as it leaps onto the street

Walking alone on Aksa beach, drenched to my very soul, soaking in the fury of the sea

Waiting for the bus at my bus stop which faces the Versova beach, tree branches collapsing all around you… terrifying yet fascinating!

Swimming at Andheri Sports Complex with the raindrops falling on me…

Walking, through the mist (always seeming like your next step will be into thin air) at hundreds of monsoon treks

So mannnyyyy more!!!

Ok I am a rain child.

Those Balaji Days

It is one of those unfathomable mysteries of the universe under which I put the event of my joining Balaji Telefilms. It was my first full time job. I had joined as an Assistant Director which is a glamorous designation bestowed on people who are slightly better than manual laborers. They do this so we can feel good and work harder. Anyways back to the point. No, I was not assisting on any of the saas bahu sagas. I was part of this rather creatively named department called ‘non fiction’ department. This puzzled me. Balaji and non-fiction seemed like antonyms.

The show assigned to me was called Kosmiic Chat. It involved Suneeta Menon. Ekta Kapoor’s personal astrologer talking about astrology and then predicting the future of the guests on the show. It was to be hosted by Simone Singh.

My immediate senior, Rupali, was a curly haired, trim figured, impeccably attired, pixie like woman with a super sarcastic sense of humour. Then there was Anupama, typical Bong – long hair, big eyes, voice dripping with sweetness. She was one of those jhola types, always stressed and hurried like she was making life and death related decisions every two hours.

Ok now lets get down to work… which there was a LOT of! However employee comfort was top priority. We were provided with beds by the management (no, I’m not stoned). We really were. If ever an employee complained of over work, we were told, ‘but we even provide you with beds!’

Her Royal Highness:

Now Ekta is a curious character. Being no mere mortal, as has been proved time and again, Ekta works only at night. The rest of the human race which works during the day has to then stay awake at nights as well till whatever time she deems fit to grant them an audience with her.

I remember my first middle of the night meeting with Ekta:
Rupali and I enter her cabin. Ekta, seated at a huge dining table filled with all kinds of food, is busy devouring a tandoori chicken. She starts discussing the show, the elements she wants etc while the two of us nod. After we nod for the nth time, we are interrupted by an attractive redhead.
Ekta (letting go of the tandoori chicken): hey! You are looking gorgeous!
Redhead (twirling around): isn’t it a lovely color! I got it billed to your account!
Ekta: I’m glad I’m glad! (Turning towards us) doesn’t she look absolutely gorgeous?!
Rupali and I keep up the tradition of nodding like two dements.
(Oh btw, before the meet, one of my colleagues told me, oh you have a meeting with Ekta? Good, she’ll like you…she likes petite chicks. (!!!!)

Birthdays at Balaji:

It was rumored that Ekta was lesbian. Or bisexual. Which is why all the straight chicks were terrified of birthdays. Let me explain. That day, it was someone’s birthday on our floor. So Ekta ordered a cake and then personally smeared it on everyone’s face, hair, hands, anything that was not covered with cloth. My colleague and me decided to hide – she under the table, me behind the door. But while she managed to escape the ordeal, they discovered me. Psychos, all!

The Hot Director:

Oh I haven’t mentioned our director yet. Her name is Monisha and she only wears black micro minis, white shirts and no bra. She is hot as hell and very dumb. Also, lazy, which means she is never in office. Which also means great news for me. I can go for shoots with the cameraman which they would otherwise not have trusted a trainee with. I shoot all over Bombay with my cameraman who is fantastic; we end up with some really good packages.

The First shoot:

There is a puja before the shoot of course presided by Shobha and Jitendra, Ekta’s parents.
We had begged our friends, distant relatives and random good looking people on the street to come and get free readings, post which we got 4 guests whose pasts and futures Suneeta would reveal. I was also a little curious about this whole astrology thing… I wanted to know if its really valid. Here’s what happened: we spoke to the 4 guests, asked them questions pertaining to their life and then gave the research material to Suneeta. So our research would read: Gauri met with an accident when she was 12. In the show, Suneeta would stare at Gauri’s palm and go: hmm… at the age of 12… I see some disturbance… an accident maybe… did you meet with any kind of accident at that age? (!!!!!!!) Such a farce!! Anyways, we kept our ideals to ourselves and proceeded.

I didn’t like our DOP. Since the Director was busy trying not to trip over the wires on the floor in her micro minis, he had full control over the show. He was very patronizing towards me, smiling tolerantly every time I made a mistake and dropping me home if it got too late! I felt like slapping him all the time. And his name was TV of all the things! Like really!

Ekta sees the 1st episode:

Ok so we finished shooting the 1st episode and we started editing it. Once done, Ekta decided to pay us a little visit. There were 3 of us in the edit room – the editor, the Chief AD and me. As soon as she entered my editor (the senior most of the lot at Balaji) sprang up from his seat and started shaking nervously (I am not exaggerating). She saw the episode post which the fun began.
Ekta: what’s this?? I cannot show this to the channel! I have a reputation to maintain! Where are the tears? Where are the emotions? Where is the drama? How will I show my face to the channel! We need to reshoot!

I was a little confused now… I thought maybe she has forgotten this is a ‘non-fiction’ show. But I was wrong.

She continued: this is how I want it (she is enacting all this btw) a girl is sitting on the couch. Suneeta holds her hand and says, “I know what you have gone through Puja”. Puja’s eyes moisten and she looks down. Suneeta gently says, “Would you want to talk about it?” Puja breaks down and starts narrating her story… (while this nautanki was going on, my Chief AD was scribbling furiously on his notepad. I wondered what he was taking down. I mean how can anyone write instead of enjoying this performance!?)

She looked at me and went: did you get it?
I nodded and said, but where will we get people with dramatic stories all the time? And most people wont cry on camera…
Ekta I don’t care! Get actors! Give them stories! They’ll cry! I want tears!

This was full paisa vasool. Balaji was not meant to do non-fiction. Though I don’t know if Ekta realized it, but what she was talking about was reality television – a dramatized, fictionalized non-fiction, which is now rocking the TRPs on Indian Television.

The non fiction department quit soon after but it was fun while it lasted.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

About Me

1. Photography is my first love.

2. I love to travel! I look and feel my best when I travel. Its therapy. I even like traveling alone within the city in auto rickshaws. That my 'me time'.

3. I like people who use punctuation marks in sms.

4. I love watching films, but only on the big screen. It has to be larger than life.

5. I am a closed book. Rather, I am, as some of my friends put it - an enigma :P

6. I open up to strangers more often than friends.

7. I love food! All kinds.

8. I'm a rain child.

9. The one fictional character I associate myself most with is Scarlett O Hara from Gone With The Wind.

10. I am self obsessed. Though I pretend otherwise.

11. I hated my childhood.

12. I want to do and be lots of things. I want several lives.

13. Books are what I go to every time I need to fill a void. Films I go to when I want to live. I dont know which of the two I treasure more.

14. I am lazy and content in my laziness.

15. The only pet Ive ever wanted is an elephant.

16. The best thing about chat is saved conversations..

17. Stories - real unreal, true untrue - are what keep me sane.

18. I steal pens. My dad does too.

19. I love people who can laugh aloud and without trying to look good while they are at it.

20. I am very pessimistic. Maybe it is just my way of coping with the world.

21. My mom was a Hindu who converted to Christianity when she married my father, who was a Muslim turned Christian, because his father (my grandfather), a devout Muslim, decided to suddenly embrace Christianity on, of all places, his deathbed (yes, the entire family is insane), post which there was a mini riot in the village because the Muslims wanted to bury him in their graveyard, while the Christians obviously thought his body was theirs and theirs alone.

22. I, meanwhile, am a mongrel, and free to create my own religion and my own morality. I am grateful to my insane family for this.

23. All my job interviews have been funny.

24. I don't think anyone can really know anyone else.

25. I don't believe in planning beyond tomorrow. Except when I am paid to.

26. I realised I had a mad streak when I agreed to be a dance bar girl for a undercover (ahem) assignment

27. At 13 I quit my convent education and got myself admitted to a village school. That is where I learnt to speak.

28. I am a proficient Self Bubble Burster. I can burst my bubble with more flourish than anyone else.

29. I don't have a back up plan.

30. I want an Undo button in my life. Then again, maybe not :)

Monday, December 29, 2008

in conversation with a journalist

naveeta: u know what... i did a fuck all story...where some sahar locals paid homage to dead pigeons...and said no air crafts of Pak airlines should be allowed on Indian soil... because they killed the pigeons at the Taj
naveeta: i was so embarrassed to go there that i didn't mention it to the boss...just wrote a one liner about the story
now boss calls me, n says they are taking it as front page
naveeta: i was doubting my journalistic credentials when i went for the story
now I've a doubt about journalism

Friday, August 08, 2008

strange, stranger, strangest?

Her name was Fatima. She was beautiful as beautiful can be. Tall, fair, svelte, eyes the colour of forests… She was someone any guy in college would have fallen for. But she already had a boyfriend, Imran. We had never seen him but she spoke a lot about him. She would come to college with red roses in her hands gifted by him. We knew more about him than her, we thought. Some days she would enter class all red eyed, having had a fight with him and would cry bitterly all day. But they would make up the next day. Her parents knew him and his parents loved her. It was the perfect love story.

Then on the last day of college, she called us together, wanting to say something. She was getting married she said and going away to the US. We obviously assumed it was Imran and congratulated her. But she continued. This was not the important part. What she really wanted to say was that there was no such person called Imran in her life. Imran was just a figment of her imagination. In her words: I knew I would never find the guy of my dreams so I just made him up.

It was the weirdest experience one could have gone through.

This was long ago, but the reason I thought of it now was because of what happened a few days back.

There was this girl I knew from work, named Kajal. Ordinary girl, living in Parel with her husband. She spoke about him and her parents. I don’t really recollect any spectacular conversation we had ever. She wore a burkha sometimes because her husband was a Muslim. Then one day she said she was going to move out of the country soon with her husband as he had found a good job there. She quit her job and that was the last we heard of her. Till a few days back.

A common friend saw a small article in a newspaper about a girl found murdered in her flat. It was Kajal. Few of us went to her house to offer our condolences. Which is when things started going haywire. It was the same girl, same name, same face, yes she had worked in our office before. But nothing else, absolutely nothing was the same. She wasn’t married. She had never moved out of the country. The police had no idea who had murdered her. And I thought she was ordinary! Now I think I’ve never met anyone more mysterious than her.

But then, aren’t most people mysterious? I ardently believe that one can never know a person fully. Like I’ve said before: Every person, be it my parents or my best friends, know only a part of me...a part which I choose to show to them… I wonder when I die, if people will gather together and exchange these bits of information that they know and try and figure out the whole. And I wonder if I could stand by and actually watch the fun or rather, confuse them even further :)

(Some names and events have been changed to protect identity)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Prashant and the Lovebirds

One fine day in office. I heard Prashant's cell phone ring. Prashant was nowhere in sight so we ignored it. Prashant had weird ringtones. Horses neighing. Pigs grunting. Cats mewing. This time around it was birds chirping.

A few minutes later, Prashant entered the room. It was a small room which housed 5 reporters - Prashant, Sayli, Smita, Swatee and me. It was the room where great stories and articles would be written and subsequently thrashed. Anyways, I'm digressing. So Prashant entered the room.

Me: Prash, your phone was ringing
Prashant: my phone is with me
Me: arrey something was ringing on your desk. It was making some birdy sounds.
Prash: ohhh.. my darlings... my darlings...

So saying he leaped towards a brown paper packet. And sure enough the chirps seemed to emerge from that packet.

Me: What the hell is that??
Prash: (dangling the packet for everyone to see) LOVEBIRDS!!

A crowd of 3 had gathered around him now. The birds are chirping away to glory. The packet has small holes in it ideal for cross ventilation.

I propose the idea that the birds may be getting suffocated and are hence calling out for help. Prashant gasps. Immediately an empty dustbin materializes. The packet is opened and the birds are emptied into it. The dustbin is covered with my duppatta. But before we can finish patting ourselves on our backs for a job well done, we realise the magnitude of the problem has multiplied. The racket emanating from the dustbin was enough to rouse Raj Kamal Jha from the IE headquarters.

The rest of the day was spent in keeping the bosses away from our room. Evertime Raman would try entering our room, one of us would go : "Raman! I want to discuss my story with you.. Can we sit in YOUR cabin please." or something to that effect. Never before or after would Raman have seen a more dedicated bunch of reporters wanting to discuss their stories in such detail.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Prashant and Ramkali

Prashant who had just finished writing his article for the day submitted it to the desk (the people who edit the articles). The article was on Ramkali the elephant who had gotten stuck in some marshes and required two cranes to pull her out.

Around 11.30pm, Prashant was just planning to skip home, when he was summoned by Joy, the desk in charge and asked a very pertinent question. A question that would shake the very basis of Prashant's story. A question like no other.

It was: "Why is Ramkali's pet name Ramu?"

Prashant, like any ordinary person, was flabbergasted. Why indeed?! Doing some admirable quick thinking in such a time of stress, he replied:

"Because the owner must have kept it Ramu."

All of us mere mortals found the answer exemplary in its simplicity and good sense and would have awarded Prashant a standing ovation had we been there. Thankfully we were at JATC stuffing ourselves with salads.

But Joy was made of sterner stuff. He continued:

"How can a elephant with a female name (Ramkali) be given a male pet name (Ramu)?

Yes. Its the kind of question which makes you go: Whaaaaa????
Prashant reeled.

Joy continued: I want you to call her owner up right now and get the answer to this question.

Staggering back to his chair, Prashant realised it was nearing midnight. So instead of calling the owner, he called us.

And that is how I know this incident, one of the many such in the annals of courageous journalism.

Prashant does a volte face!

Prashant: 20 dogs poisoned in nerul
Me(having worked with Prashant in the same cabin for over a year typed out a sympathetic): "oh! thts bad na?"
Prashant: arrey only 20 were poisoned
me (confused now) : u wanted more to be poisoned?
Prashant: yeah some 50-60
me: lol...ok..
Prashant: yeah re...these dog lovers are bloody fools...they don't feel the pain, but I do
me: you were a dog lover once, if I'm not mistaken
Prashant: noooo, i was never except the fact that i loved my dog but she died long back. These dogs don't allow me to roam in the garden in the night. They bark at me all the time... they also chase my gaadi... And they have absolutely no sense of family planning!! Every bitch in my building has loads of puppies and I hate them. That dog, whose XXXX (this is what he typed) was diseased, I got him operated. But that fucker is now behind every bitch in my building and has no job other than fathering loads of kids.

So there.

Now why was I surprised?

Sometime around last year I was shooting a video fiction series and needed a live mouse for one of the episodes. Calling up the usual suspects did not yield results other than : "Are you ok?" to "You'll get them in any gutter in Bombay" and "go to the BMC office. There are more rats there than all over the city."

In a flash of brilliance, I remembered Prashant, my ex-Indian Express colleague, animal lover and certified mad hatter. So I called him.

Me: Prash I want a rat
Prash: ok... so get one
Me: I thought you would have them by the dozens since you go around saving them every second day.
Prash: ok...what kind of rat do you want?
Me: a small black rat
Prash: eeeeks... don't ever talk about black rats!!!
Me: what? why? what?
Prash: why don't you want a white one? White ones are better!
Me: Stop being a racist!!
Prash: Arrey I'm telling you...these black rats!! They are all namak harams!
Me: Eh??
Prash: you don't know... I had rescued that black mouse remember?? The one who was dying on the road?
Me: yes (how could I forget. He had roused an entire edit meeting seeking help for this particular mouse who was dying on the road near VT)
Prash: that fellow... i rescued him ok... i took him to the vet got him fit and fine and took him home. Imagine I took him home even though there was parental disapproval. I went against my parents for him... and put him safely in my table drawer. And guess what I see the next day!! He has eaten up all my notes!!! (Prashant was studying for his UPSC exams)Gaddar!! I saved him and he ate up my notes!!
Me: eh...ok... I think we are digressing...
Prash: no... listen... so you know what I did to him??
Prash: I cleared out another drawer. I cut out pieces of cello tape and arranged them in the drawer face up. And then...I put that fellow in it!! And closed the drawer. And then when he was sufficiently entangled and all stuck up in the cello tape, I picked him up and threw him in the dustbin...

(I sincerely hope no animal activists read my blog.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Extracts from a conversation

This post is dedicated to Robin Singhvi, my friend and laugh partner.

Robin speaks:

Ok we were at this party called POP. You know what that stands for? Pass Out Party...not that it means too much to me..but I was there.

So its about 5 am. at Madh Island. Everyone is sloshed beyond all senses. So I decide it's finally time to leave. There are a few other drunk souls with me. We're standing at a bus stop. And i yawn. And we all know how contagious that everyone starts yawning. I'm standing on one end of the bus stop and this group is on the other...and suddenly I hear this commotion. I look around and everyone is surrounding this chick...

I'm already in the "ok now what? "just fuckin pass out rather than make a scene" i meander across to see what the commotion is about...and i see this chick standing in the middle of the crowd with her mouth WIDE open...and i mean WIDEEEE ok!

I'm like what kind of drunk behavior is this man? It was getting interesting now coz this was a new drunk trait i was seeing. There are various people trying to shut her mouth....n she has strange hands on, around and inside her mouth....supposedly trying to find a hinge or something I'm guessing...I finally come out of my boredom and ask..."Whats with this chick?"

And they tell me " she yawned. And now her jaw is stuck"
And the guy in front of me has spit in his face....coz i just laughed so hard!
I was like "WTF? what do u mean its stuck? is she like so drunk she can't shut her mouth?"

I'm befuddled....n fuckin happy at 5 in the morning! like this is a different drunk man! So someone tells me..."arre no...she opened her mouth too much and now its "unhinged" "....thats the word she uses haan...unhinged!

I was like "how the fuck can u open your mouth TOO MUCH??"
And now obviously people are annoyed at me....n i get "look just fuck off if u cant help" kinda looks. But thats not enough to deter me as u know...So I decide to volunteer in the 're-hinging' drama!

So I'm like..lemme help...I'm an engineer..hinges and screws are like backyard stuff for me...and everyone is so drunk they even buy my bullshit story and agree!

So i go up to her and tell her "ok now close your eyes". The chick looks any chick would, who's being asked by a random guy to close her eyes...when she should be trying to close her mouth!

But I'm like "trust me" with that innocent look and tone which u know I'm capable of...n she does...

So then I start massaging her eyes...then her cheeks ...and just poke around anywhere. There's utter silence around me. Everyone thinks I'm doing this scientific shit to help it close. And one chick asks me...."oh your like trying to slide it into place?"
I'm like "exactly"
And u can NOT imagine the resilience it took to not laugh at that point of time!!! I had a stomach ache trying to prevent myself from bursting out!!
so then after 5/10 minutes of this massage....I'm like...."hmmm..not helping...should we just smash it into place??"
And I draw gasps and screams from the girls around ...and terrorized 'aaaaabbbbaaaayyyyaaa" from the girl with the open mouth
so I'm like..."then nothing can happen. just take her like this to the doctor"
they agree! is this still sounding reallll???

The bus comes in right on cue. Everyone gets in. By now the girl has drool all over her dress coz her mouth's been open for 30 minutes now.

She has this friend...fuck they were telepathic i tell u. The girl goes "aaaaayyyyyaabbbbaaaa"....and I'm like what the fuck is trying to say man...and her friend is like "she says 'whatever whatever'"
I'm like "huh? how the fuck do u know?" she just shrugs me off...and i have this stoned smile on my face...I'm high on laughter by now!

Meanwhile the conductor comes....still groggy I'm guessing...and sees this chick.....with her mouth open. And fuck swati...that expression! Priceless is not the word!! It's beyond "WHAT THE FUCK?" amplified a million times! He's like "FUCK ME SIDEWAYS! 20 years of service and this has to be a first"

The open mouth girl goes "aaaayyyaaayayaa" and I'm laughing and her friend is giving me a dirtttty look...and the conductor is looking at each one of us...and doesn't know what the fuck is going on!!
I'm like what the fuck is she trying to say man! And her friend is like "she's asking for a ticket to andheri station!"

Meanwhile there are attempts to stop the drool. At first the drool girl uses her handkerchief to clean...but then its too full of spit to be of any that goes out of the window.
And then swati! then is the bestttttttt part!!!!
I don't know from where....but these guys find a newspaper ok...and guess what they do!! Fucking drunk bastards!!
They roll it into a ball and stuff it into her mouth!!

And by now I'm lying flat out on the last seat of the bus....n there is unbridled laughter!! I've never ever swati laughed so much and so hard in my life!!

P.S. sympathies with the girl and her friends ... but this was too bizzare a conversation to not put up on my blog... please excuse

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Ladakh Trip

Mountains. Icy. Jagged. Blue. Friends in half hour. Laughs. Daimox. Old Hindi songs. Remixed. And translated into English. Snow. Dairy Milk. Lonely Planet. Strawberry lip balm. Peace. Sand dunes. Heat&Cold. Fields. Lakes. Mountains. The river. Happiness. Ladakh.

The principal players apart from me are:
Couple 1: Ateeq & Somita
Couple 2: Alifia & Murtuza

Disclaimer: I am much better when writing about people than places. So this isn't going to be a very passionate account of Ladakh.

11 June 2008

9 am:

Jetlite flight from Bombay to Srinagar.
I'm with Couple 1. Rather I just realise they are a couple.
Also am told that the other two jokers are also a couple, making me the only odd one out. Ugh!


Srinagar makes me feel like a bollywood heroine of the 70s. Old hindi songs play everywhere on the streets and in the various taxis we travel in. Flowers line the streets.


We reach the hotel. I meet Couple 2. Take an instant dislike to both. I'm sure they don't love me either.

A walk down Dal Lake while the sun dissolves into the horizon.
A little boy fishing in the lake while a lone shikhara wala rows away in the distance.
Roasted Bhutta and namkeen chai.
A chat with an ex-terrorist.

P.S. Srinagars most happening hangouts are its pavements. People fish, laze around, meet for chai, share a kashmiri naan, meet old friends - all on the pavements. And yes, unlike Bombay, they are very clean. We spent most of our time there.

Hazratbal shrine. On the banks of the lake.
Lawns that stretch forever.
An attractive yet stern looking lady guard at the entrance of the mosque, fully covered except for her sharp eyes. She roughs me up because I walked in while the men folk were filing out of the shrine.

Stock up on film rolls and batteries.
I had heard Kashmiris don't consider themselves as Indians. Its true. Ironically Srinagar is where i heard the most number of patriotic Indian songs. When I asked my driver why he played these songs when he did not consider himself Indian, he said: We play them for the Indian tourists.
Indian tourists or angrez is what you will be described as in Kashmir and Ladakh.
They aren't pro Pakistan or at least its not apparent. They believe Kashmir is a separate country altogether.
Sleep in Srinagar.

12 June 2008

Leave for Pahalgam.
Aaj phir jeene ki tammana hai... playing in the background.
The 70s are back.
The journey is beautiful. Chinar trees line the streets as far as you can see. Stopovers for Qahva (Kashmiri tea made with spices and dry fruits) are completely out of a Iranian film. And Qahva! Who ever invented the recipe be blessed a thousandfold.

A quaint little place with the river flowing by.
A peaceful deer park with all kind of flowers to walk around.
Sitting on a rock with the river at your feet.
You can buy saffron and dry fruits here. Everything else is way too expensive and can be bought from the Leh market in any case.

Warning: Don't try the so called white water rafting here. Its a flimsy 2km and the rapids are non existent. Why anyone would call it rafting I have no clue other than the fact that you are sitting in a raft.

Wazawan. Too much fat and salt. Only for die hard meat lovers.
Finally start getting along with the other couple.
Sleep in Srinagar.

13 June 2008

Leave Srinagar.

Reach Kargil
Kargil would have been a nice place if it wasn't for its people. The place has a taxi union problem. People follow you around trying to figure out where you have come from and where you want to go. Eve teasing galore. In Bombay language: sidey place!
The children are sweet though. Wide eyed, shy and innocent. Faces stained by orange ice candy. But then, children all over Ladakh look innocent. And beautiful. Naughty and child-like. Quite different from the bratty Bombay kids.

Lunch on boiled eggs, rice and mixed vegetable. Delicious!
Stay in the PWD guesthouse in Sankoo. 100 bucks per room per night.
The rooms have a double bed, a balcony, a conference area and a bathroom. Hot water is arranged for by the chowkidaar in the morning. The guesthouse faces the mountains and a stream. Its luxury at its best!

14 June 2008

12 noon
Leave Sankoo for Rangdum.

Reach the picture perfect village of Rangdum. Don't know if I can call it a village. Rangdum surrounded by ice capped mountains on all sides, is a cluster of about 15 houses and a lake. Yaks graze lazily, men have cold water baths and children help their mothers to carry water. It is peace personified.

Speak to a few localites - two women along with their children. They sweetly invite me home.
Its strange how the first conception of Bombay for people outside is Bollywood. As soon as I tell them I am from Bombay the first comment is: Bombay?! Aap filmstar honge phir!

Freeze point. I wear my thermals. Over that go my t shirt and jeans. Then 2 sweaters. A monkey cap. Gloves. And then (with great difficulty) crawl into my sleeping bag. And then I feel thirsty! Uff! Squeeze myself out of that bag, drink the ice cold water and back again. Ladakh does not have lights post 11. Here too the lights have gone and there is a sole candle burning in my room. Its nice to be alone sometimes.

15 June 2008

Drang Drung glacier. Majestic and Overpowering. And breathtakingly beautiful. But as our driver says: not even one third of what it used to be. Global warming here we come.

Play with lambs on the way. Very friendly and adorable animals. They even lick Ateeqs face so you can imagine. Mary must have been lucky though might get a bit irritating if it followed you everywhere you went.

The idyllic village of Abran. Chai, rotis and lots of villagers who made us feel like exotic animals in a zoo.

And we still can't find a guesthouse to stay in. The Parachik guesthouse was closed because not expecting any tourists at this time, the chowkidaar had gone home. Drive on.

Tangol. No chowkidaar here either. But driver knows where he stays. So driver and Ateeq go to find him.

Chowkidaar found. And off to bed. Somita has had a fight with Ateeq so she preferes to play games on her mobile sitting outside in the cold rather than get some sleep. Ateeq meanwhile is blissfully snoring on his bed. Kya couple hai!

16 June 2008

Wake up. First sight: school kids peeping at you from the window. After you have recovered from that, second sight: some more school kids peeping from the door. Oh, two of them are inside the room as well.
They tell us that they have bunked school because they wanted to meet the 'Indian tourists'.
Anyways, the chowkidaar a sweet 16 year old guy has brought his mother to make chai and omlettes for us. His mother had the sweetest smile ever. Ok I'm repeating the word sweet too often.

Somita has been on a hunger strike since her fight with Ateeq, so no omlettes for her.

Leave for Lamayuru with a half hour halt at Kargil to buy film rolls and make STD calls.

Reach Lamayuru
Too dark to see much. At dinner, Alifia, Murtuza and me discuss and hotly debate Somita's stand on the issue. Actually we have no idea what the issue is. Nor does Ateeq.

17 June 2008

Lama yuru.
Looks like someone just dug this village out of layers and layers of time. Like the Mohenjo Daro - Harappa civilizations.

Lamayuru monastory.
So peaceful, I almost feel like getting back to religion.

11 am
Leave for Leh

Reach Leh and book into a hotel.
Hit the market.
Quaint little place. Interesting shops. Though you need to bargain like mad. Wisdom passed through the ages: When you bargain here, slash into half the quoted prices. And if they don't agree, act very hurt and pretend to walk away. They usually fall for it.

18 June 2008
Hemis. Thiksey. Shey Palace (except that there is no palace)
Couple 2 will leave for Delhi tommorow. We speak to our travel guy. He says he has arranged for 2 more people to join us - a Maharashtrian family. I immediately picture a middle aged couple talking incessantly in Marathi all the way to Pangong lake and back. Ugh!

19 June 2008

Meet the Maharashtrian family. Two guys. Since I have been so 'coupleised' I immediately think of the two as a gay couple. Later i learn, that is not the case. After some exchange of who-why-where (Robin Singhvi and Nikhil Gurjar, best friends, engineering students, one moving to the US in a month's time the other to Cochin, last trip together before that) and some more exchange of Polo, Dairy Milk and Daimox, I decide that I quite like them.

Pangong Lake
Blue. Green. Blue-Green. A dash of purple. The mountains. And noisy tourists. If it wasnt for the latter I would have been happy.
Maggie. Bread butter. And chai.
Nikhil's stone fixation. He threw stones into the lake, at sign boards and at other stones. Basically, everywhere. He also taught me the various nuances of playing goti. (Since I have never had the opportunity to play gotis ever in my life, I was labelled a waste)

Regret: That we didnt row / drive over to the Indian border of the lake.

Leh market. Bought rum and a few other essentials in preparation for the next days trip to Khardung La and Nubra.

Dinner at the Tibetan joint with Nik and Robin. The best ginger-lemon-honey tea I've ever had.

20 June 2008

Leave for Khardungla and Nubra

Khardungla - The highest motorable road in the world.
Its snowing. And breathtaking. Have some much needed chai with the army guys. Nikhil and me climb up a 5 minute path to see a temple and end up in a field of snow. Climbing down the 5 minute path was a pain though. Ice had formed on the path and ice unlike snow is slippery. Anyways we managed.

Hot springs. Ya sure there is a stream of hot water. And you can use it to cook maggie and boil eggs. And there are bathrooms where you can use the water for a bath. But please do not visualise anything more than that like me and Robin did. I had visualised a quiet place with a water fall coming out of the ground like an inverted shower. Robin had visualised a pond of hot water one could float around in. Alas.

I decide to stay with Robin and Nikhil. In their room I mean. Dump luggage and go out for a walk. Talk about I don't remember what. In the night, they wake me up to tell them stories because they aren't getting any sleep. Do I sound like a grandmom or what? Anyways, after I've spoken some nonsense they let me sleep.

21 June 2008

Camel rides on the Bactarian (double humped) camels. Great fun. My camel took a fancy to Robin's jeans and kept rubbing his nose on them. Very cute. Though not for Robin.

Then we went to the Deskitt monastory. Inside, all the monks were sitting along with the baby monks. Two of the latter category were responsible for offering tea and water to the senior monks.
We sat inside and took pictures though it didnt seem like a very nice thing to do. But the board outside said Flash not allowed. So photography as such wasn't banned.
When I came out, I felt a sense of peace I hadnt felt in a long while. Strange how I don't believe in a God, am anti - religion, but still find a few holy places the most peace giving. Though I would like to emphasise on the word 'few' here.

To get back to Leh we had to cross Khardung La again. We had started drinking rum mixed with coke. It had started snowing and by the time we reached Khardung La it was snowing quite hard. Oh and the snow! The snow! It was so so beautiful! The army guy there said it was minus 10 degrees. Nikhil's nose leak froze on the way down. Ateeq ran his lighter flame on my hand and I didn't feel a thing. I held hot tea in my hands. Yet. Nothing. It was brilliant.

Robin had started getting a bit high on the rum and on the way back to Leh was behaving rather cute. (Disclaimer: I don't usually use the words sweet and cute, but can't seem to help it this time. He showed us one of his dance moves among other things.

By evening we were back to Leh. I dumped my bags again at Robin and Nikhil's hotel room (I had disowned Ateeq and Somita by then) and we went out for ginger-lemon-honey tea.

22 June 2008

Had to leave for Manali at 2am so did not get much sleep. And poor Robin and Nikhil had to wake up at 1.30am to leave me to the bus stand. Felt very guilty. I mean I hardly knew them for 3 days and was already making them wake up at 2am for me. Though of course it didnt seem like 3 days. I was definitely more comfortable with them than with people Ive known for years.

Anyways I slept through the journey from Leh to Manali like I was drugged. Don't remember much except once when i woke up. It was dark and the bus was surrounded by the icy mountain peaks, lit by moonlight. Surreal.

Reach Manali.
Terrible place. Too many Punjabis everywhere. (I know I'm not politically correct and I don't care)

23 June 2008
Leave Manali after lunch.

The bus we are travelling in has the following characters:

An attractive Italian girl whom 3 Indians are trying to flirt with. She seems quite assured though.

A honeymooning couple sitting right behind me - a boring uncle types and a very orgasmistic aunty. They did't speak to each other throughout the journey. All they would do is lean forward on their seats and stare at me. The reason I'm calling her orgasmistic is:
On one of the stops the husband disappeared and the bus couldn't leave because of it. So the conductor yelled at the aunty and she, in a very very orgasmistic voice said: Kaha gaye hai woh? Ab hume kya pata.. (damn this is no fun.. i need to enact this one out) But for those with a vivid imagination, think hema malini combined with Zara Murao (for those who know her.

A large Punjabi family who ate and ate and ate. They ate through the journey and even at night. In fact the father even admonished one of his numerous children who wasn't eating much saying: Arrey! Humne sleeper gaadi isiliye toh book karvayi taaki tum log sab aaram se kha sako!
He would get off at every stop and get more food stuff which the family would devour till the next stop. Anyone not eating would be denounced: So kyun rahe ho? Maine nahi kaha tha khana nahi khaoge toh beemar pad jaaoge. Dekho ab so raha hai...

24 June 2008

Delhi. Bargaining with auto drivers. Raman Kirpal's house. My ex-boss from Indian Express. Pampered to the hilt. Have first proper bath in days. Lots of hot water. A double bed all to myself. Lime juice. Salad. Tea. Orange juice. Lots of food. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

25 June 2008

Go out to the nearest mall with Raman to buy my pending birthday gift :P
Then airport.

Board Air Deccan flight to Bombay. Only 40 seats are filled. Gujju group who insist on changing their seats every 5 minutes

To Be Continued

The pics can be seen here:

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Mahajan Saga

I had already submitted my resignation at The Indian Express when Pramod Mahajan was shot at by his brother, Pravin.

Since I was still serving my notice period I was again sent, this time to stand outside Hinduja Hospital (Damn! No sprawling lawns!). By the time I reached, a barricade had already been constructed for journalists. I walked up to it. Strangely I did not recognize anybody there. Later I realized that all newspapers and news channels had sent their political reporters to cover it. Express was the only one who had sent its health reporter. Everyone there seemed senior to me. I spotted 3 of my journalism college professors so you can imagine what i mean by 'senior'.

In any case, since I had already resigned, and was in the process of scripting for the short film I was going to make, I would sit inside the barricade premises and script. Others wondered what notes I was taking down so diligently and whether I had more information than them.

Day after day we sat there, hoping for something to happen. The usual stories were done - other patients suffering because of all the attention going to Mahajan etc. A news channel guy went and interviewed two people. It goes like:
Anchor: Aap yaha kyun aaye hai?
1: umm... hamare rishtedaar admit hai
Anchor: Toh aap ko bahut takleef hui hogi
2: ab kya bataye... (goes on with an entire sob saga)

At the end of the interview when the anchor thanks them, feeling happy he has something atleast for his channel, they tell him that they are both actually reporters from Mid-day come to report on the Mahajan story. Hehehe... yeh Mid-day wale bhi!


After a few days of standing like that, reporters and photographers actually started hoping Mahajan would die fast so they could resume their normal lives. We would all take our positions around 10am and stay there, sit, stand, walk around, pretend to talk to small time politicians hanging out there, sneak into the hospital. Around 6pm the newspaper reporters would walk to the nearest cyber cafe and file whatever they could. Then back to the barricade.

One such day, around 8pm, we were still sitting there, looking like if Mahajan did not die, we would, when 3 sexy chicks decided to descend on us. They were in red mini skirts and white t shirts. They were selling Red Bull. The cameramen almost fell over each other trying to make conversation with the girls. Some even bought Red Bull while the girls sashayed and giggled in style. Poor Mahajan fighting for his life inside while girls sold Red Bull outside! What is this world coming to I tell you :P


Finally one morning, sources said that Mahajan had passed away. Now the wait began for the hospital authorities to make a formal announcement.

As morning turned to afternoon, our tummies started rumbling. But no one - not one reporter or camera person budged an inch in the fear of losing out on the sacred quote.

Finally at around 4pm the Hinduja hospital spokesperson ascended with a piece of paper and read out from it. As soon as he was done with announcing Mahajan's death, all the reporters and cameramen just filed out in one straight line to the nearest hotel to EAT!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Brave feats performed by Journalist Swati Ali

November 2005.

One day.
Location: The Indian Express, Journalism of Courage Office. Lalbaug.

One happy evening, Swati is merrily packing her bags because she has no story to write. Just as she hops and skips out of her cabin, she is stopped dead in her tracks by her then editor Mr RK.

RK, booming voice and all: He has been hospitalized! He has been hospitalized!!
Swati, who covers hospitals among other things goes pale. Not at this time.
She asks: who? who?
RK: Amitabh Bachchan (it was too big a name, else even this would have been repeated twice, in keeping with the spirit of the conversation)

Swati groans. And unpacks her bag to retrieve her notepad and pen. Thankfully he has been admitted in Delhi. So she dutifully calls her Delhi counterpart for details.

Swati: Ive heard ABs been admitted
Glum Delhi CP: ya...
Swati: (smiles consolingly) don't worry, he'l be out soon
Delhi CP: Im not worried. They are flying him to Bombay tonight... Lilavati I think... you're in luck!
Swati grinds her teeth, bears the sarcasm and sends the night reporter to Lilavati.


Swati takes a ric to Lilavati hospital. The autowala seems as well informed as any of her journalism colleagues.

He says: arre... waha toh bahut bheed hai... amitabh bachchan admit hai na?
Swati: haan... hum unhi se milne ja rahe hai

Sudden new found respect reflects in his face and he drives without talking too much. Swati likes doing such things sometimes and entertaining herself.

She has to get off and walk because there is too much traffic. When she reaches Lilavati, she sees people sitting on trees. (I don't know what they could see from the trees, but it's true. They were.) Lowering her vison, she sees people sitting on the walls. Still lower, there is a man sittng on the ground with cards. He is a fortune teller and is foretelling Bachchans fate. He is being covered by all the tv channels. Even her photographer is clicking away to glory.

Ah... R is there too... a photog from a rival newspaper whom she kinda likes. They shake hands and she asks him whats going on. He, like the rest, doesnt have a clue.


No news on Amitabh. Swati knows she should get more proactive, but she is bored. Investigative journalism can wait.

By then the hot(??) channel chicks are tired of covering the fortune teller and their make up has smudged. The high and mighty Swati has refused to even look in his direction. So she has no news yet, not even of the fortune teller variety.


RK calls.
RK: so swati.. what news?

Swati suddenly rememberes she has been sent here to find news and not look at R from the corner of her eye.
She then goes about calling her contact, a doctor from the hospital.

Dr B: bolo swati...hamari yaad kaise aayi?
Swati: umm... isnt it obvious...?
Dr B: but i dont know anything... have had lots of surgeries today
Swati: oh...hmm... not even little?
Dr B: i'l try... but no giving out my name
Cuts the phone

After sometime.

Dr B: he has stomach ache
Swati: huh??
Dr B: dukh raha hai uska
Swati: what rubbish... is that why we are standing in the heat from morning?? Because he has stomach ache??
Dr B: I always knew you journalists were stupid...
Swati: hullo! this sells you know that... anyways.. that is not what we were discussing...please get me more info
Dr B: ok... but no giving out my name

RK calls again.
RK (sounding worried now that his reporter may not be as good as he thought after all): what news?
Swati: he has stomach ache
RK: huh?? is that why i sent you? to tell me he has stomach ache??
Swati: but... but.. he does
RK: dont talk nonsense...atleast give me some medical term for stomach ache dammit!

Dr B calls again
Dr B: ok write that they are conducting various blood tests and x-rays along with a CT scan and an Ultrasound
Swati: thats better... makes it sound serious... what else?
Dr B: how do I know? You can say its food poisoning...

RK: what news?
Swati repeats what Dr B had to say.
Swati: uh huh
RK: now go find out what he ate to get food poisoning

Yes, this is just the beginning...

The next day,

Bachchan was in the ICCU (for stomach pain, no less) so there was no way our great journalist friend could ask him anything. Swati had not provided details of his eating habits to RK, so he was acting a bit weird.

Today, Swati had come to a realisation - that R was not worth it. She felt energised and decided to treat herself to a meal at Candies. Though it was just on the other side of the road, she could not take a chance and walk away from her watchpoint. What if Rekha decided to make an entry in those seconds?? So she decided to order. Though surprised at an address that said person standing outside Lilavati hospital, they humored her. No Rekha did not make an entry. Some cars did arrive but she could not see or recognise any of them. Everytime a car arrived the photographers would go berserk and start clicking hysterically. After the frenzy subsided discussions were held that went like this:

a: woh juhi chawla thi na?
b: juhi chawla??? juhi chawla kab aayi?
a: uske jaisi hi dikh rahi thi...ab pata nahi

(by then the news channel chicks had already gone live: "jaise aapne dekha (kisne??) isi waqt mashoor film abhinetri juhi chawla lilavati pahuch gayi hai...")

Burping after her meal, Swati starts talking to people. (Tip: if, by afternoon, you dont know what your report is going to look like, start talking to people. The oldest and most tried and tested story is that of people who have ventured from far and wide to pray for the subject under consideration).

conversations like:

Swati: aap yaha kyu khade hai?
a: amitji ko dekhne aaye hai
Swati: par woh toh icu mein hai
a: kabhi toh bahar niklenge... hum prathana kar rahe hai (not bad)
Swati: aap kaha se aaye hai?
a: hum toh yahi pichwade rehte hai.. (ugh! couldnt they have come from nagpur or something...pichwade it seems! waste!)

After talking to some more weirdos who have come to watch/pray for the subject, she decides to venture into unknown territory: the Lilavati reception. Nothing much of interest. So she decides to go to the canteen on the 5th floor. Only 6 floors away from the great superstar. Amitabh is on the 11th.

Once inside the canteen, like all perrenially hungry journalists, she feels her stomach beckon to her and she busies herself eating a thali. The next thing she knows is Abhishek Bachchan has strolled in with Ajitabh Bachchan. (For the record: Abhishek is NOT hot! The only reason I looked in his direction was because he was wearing glares inside the canteen without any naamo nishaan of the sun.) Anyways, the choice was between the thali and them and by the time she started inching closer to them they had disappeared into the lift. Sheesh! What if they were discussing ABs will??

Anyways, she went back to the thaali, finished it and went back into the reception. She reminded herself to carry a book the next day on to keep herself occupied. But then again... what would the others think...

Everyone here was busy trying to look serious and busy. Swati also tried to look like she had a lot of information about the man on the 11th floor (quite succesfully as R later said) but then got bored of the act and went back to being herself.

Swati used this time to get in touch with a lot of her friends whom she had not called in years. It was fun and also made everyone curious as to who she was talking to and what information was being given to her.


"Diverticulitis of the small intestine"

Yes. That is what he had.

Thanks to Bachchan everyone got to know the correct spelling and pronounciation of the word diverticulitis. Journalists actually googled the word to find out what it meant. Diagrams were drawn with Amitji's body frame with his intestines and the diverticulitis obviously highlighted.

My editors would check and recheck before firing the page. No word had been given so much importance before. Bachchan was operated on and later put on liquid diet. Swati's job now was to find if he had orange juice for breakfast or coconut water. When he progressed to semi liquid diet, furious debates were held on whether he has mashed rice or mashed fruit pulp.

Lilavati had started ressembling a picnic spot. Reporters would sprawl on the lawns, doze off on the stairs, sit next to each other and debate whether the reporter from TOI looked cute or the one from HT.

More proactive reporters from the likes of Midday and Mumbai Mirror tried getting to the 11th floor via the fire exit. There they were then duly caught and sent back down to the ground floor.

One of the reporters, i forget which paper or TV channel, even dressed as a nurse or doctor or something and went to the 11th floor. He/she was caught and thanks to that, all the reporters were asked to stand outside the gate. No more sprawling on the well kept lawns of Lilavati.

Now, Swati had one ace. Her dad knew Bachchan personally. But he refused to visit him for some mysterious reason. Everyday, Swati, doing her best to sound concerned would ask him: Why don't you go visit him? He is really unwell
Dad: ukhjdsdj (she never could understand anything he said)
Swati: what?
Dad: jkglsa
Swati: ok

Finally he was alright and had to be discharged. Now newspapers started laying bets on when he would be. While reporters consulted astrologers etc. Swati had no such contacts. She only had her Dad who spoke in Greek.

RK: Swati, tommorows story is about when AB is going to be discharged. So find out.
Swati: But I dont think the doctors have decided on when to discharge him
RK: i don't care... you have to tell me the date

Swati makes a call

Dad: jgdask
Swati: Come down to Lilavati immediately
Dad: jlgasa
Swati: its urgent... he needs you
Dad: for what?
Swati: ok.... i need you. You need to go up and find out when he is getting discharged.
Dad: you are mad... its too hot.. gjkalsg... im not coming down

After much pleading he agrees.

He goes up, comes down and says: I spoke to Abhishek. He says he won't be discharged for the next five days.


The next day, Swati is woken up by her irritating cell phone. It's RK who sounds like one of those Hindi film fathers on hearing that their daughter is pregnant.

RK: Swati what have you done... we are doomed...we are doomed..
Swati: what what? what happened?
RK: (ominously) have you read the papers
Swati: oh fuck ... he was discharged last night?
RK: no... but all the papers except us say that he will be discharged today
Swati: umm...ok... but he won't
RK: how can you be so sure??
Swati: I have my sources
RK: (a little exasperated) what sources?? doctors hi toh hai! Abhishek ya Jaya ne toh nahi bola na?
Swati: ummm... kind of...
RK: what kind of?
Swati: Abhishek ne bola
RK: (silence) Abhishek told you?? (the incredulous tone irritated me but nevertheless)
Swati: no... he told my dad
RK: are you sure?
Swati: yes... i will ask my father to go visit him today also to confirm but i'm sure
RK: your father knows Amitabh??
Swati: ya...kind of..
RK: (sounding a little relieved) ok...we will see then... but you post yourself at Lilavati anyways.

ya ya... whats new...

The next day...

Swati walks in. Reporters are almost trying not to laugh their heads off looking at her. Reason: Swati is the only one who has reported that he wont be discharged today. Anyways she walks in with her head held high and her usual expression which says: i don't associate with you low down creatures.

A smartass reporter from Mid-day walks up to her and says: So why are you here today?
Swati: because my editor asked me to
Smartass: why? are you not confident about your report?
Swati: I am. He isn't.
Smartass: so you really think all of us have got it wrong and you have got it right?
Swati: Yes.
Smartass: Why? Has Abhishek told you or Amitabh himself
Swati: Abhishek (and walks off)

OH! His expression was priceless!

Anyways, he wasnt discharged that day. And RK almost threw a party in her honour. :P

Trials and Tribulations faced by Swati's phone

Swati gets many calls daily. Today was no exception.

The first call wakes her up from one of her pointless dreams. Its Dr (ahem.. she can't take names), an ex-contact from her journalism days. He had even given her an eye check up once, free of cost!

I Dr: Swati... Im taking my parents to Tirupati... Can you please put this in your paper..
Swati: No..I...
I Dr: no no.. i can link it up to medicine... see... its because they can see so well even at this age that they can go to Tirupati in the first place...
Swati: Dr.. I...
I Dr: Im telling you its a great story! If you don't then I will give it to Times of India

Swati would have used colorful language but she thought of the free eye check up and softened. She would be nice to the silly blighter.

The second call was from a long lost ex whom she had conveniently forgotten. But unfortunately, he hadn't.

He: hiiiii... how are you
She: fine... how are you?
He: Im fine


He: Hows work?
She: Work is fine... How is your work?
He: oh... going on

Pause. Swati thinks of what to say next.

He: hows dad?
Me: dad is fine
He: and mom?
Me: mom is also fine

Breathe in. Breathe out. Yoga helps.

The third call.

She says: My son wants to act
Swati:Umm...ok... thats nice... (2nd inaudible track: toh main kya karu?)
She: haan... toh main photus bhejna chahti hoon... aapka email id milega... woh sahi mein bahut accha actor hai
Swati: uh huh.. theek hai...kya umar hai (coz swati is looking for a 25 year old for her short film)
She: woh june mein do saal ka hoga.

Swati's phone is now contemplating suicide.