Sunday, December 28, 2008

the continent of incontinence

A suggestion no doubt specifically made for those of my friends (M and S you know who you are) who stop frequently to pee by the road

You will have to click on the picture to see what it says on the truck's ass.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

therein lies the rab

I am very concerned - and I say this without facetiousness - about Aditya Chopra's mental health.

I know that a lot of people will think Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is a crap movie. But frankly, I thought it was quite lovely to start with - uptil the scene where she tells him she'll never be able to love him. And it had a pretty good ending sequence or two. But of course in between it was like - as hapless as Suri's character. In the part where the female protagonist has her completely ridiculous epiphany I started yelling Bachao Bachao quite loudly much to my friend's horror. This sort of tapori-pan is much tolerated in Bombay but in Bangalore there was only a horrified silence. People acted as if they hadn't heard. Or perhaps they had been stupefied by the sheer gone-to-lunch-ness of the script.

But to return to AC's mental health.

Now, I genuinely feel this could have been a beautiful film. The ideas at the heart of it are eternal questions about love and romance: as we project what we think the object of affection likes, as we seek romance, how do we figure out what love is? How do we know if we are loved for ourselves or for the idea we have projected. And in the middle of it all, which is really us?

If the screenplay had handled this frivolously even that would have been something. But it's more like a certain incoherence sets in, an inability to explain what the script means.

Given the kind of relationships it explores (especially the easy homoeroticism of so many male friendships in the North), some of the very fine dialogue in the film (often spare, infrequently verbose), the moments that matter - Suri's deliriousness at getting his first tiffin for instance - you can see there is a genuine understanding, a mesured sensibility that embarked on this film.

What then prevented it from becomign what it wanted to be?

Basically I think, the stubborn-ness of the director-producer's idea of himself, ironic as that is. So insistent has Bollywood been that it is mediocrity that triumphs; that people don't want a thing of beauty and maturity; that they know the commercial formula tune to which the public dances, that it won't let itself go down the path which opens up. So neurotic is this interplay between the felt thought and the imposed commercial rationalisation, that Aditya Chopra stifles his own very bonny baby because he thinks he knows how to make a mannequin.(sorry I am sounding as incoherent, but you know what I mean I hope). It's almost as if this director wants to assert that he has not been wrong with all the movies gone by in the last couple years, even if it means not making the movie his heart tells him to make.

So, strangely enough, the film becomes exactly what the main character is - repressed. But instead of moving towards some sort of release and resolution, it remains impotent and turning its violence onto itself to become a lesser being.

Makes you feel so sad. And worry for Aditya Chopra's mental health.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Bishakha's 10-pointer on 24 hour news reporting

While I (and others) have been flailing with incoherent rage at TV news coverage, my friend Bishakha has put together this excellent, coherent point-form critique below. Fan mail can be sent to

10 problems with the 24-hour TV news reporting of the recent attacks on Mumbai:by Bishakha Datta

1)Speculative, not fact-based. The numbers of gunmen entering Bombay dropped from 20-25 to 10 across three days and from 5-7 at Taj to 4; 7-10 at Oberoi/Trident to 2. This causes needless panic; many of us still think there are gunmen out there. Ditto vis-a-vis boat routes to enter Bombay (one day Badhwar Park, next day Gateway of India). Don't report what is just said can't be verified - or atleast question statements from politicians! Otherwise, it's like reporting rumour: which is what happened Fri aft when channels reported non-existent gunfire at several places.

2)Unquestioning. How many gunmen were there actually? How many people actually died? How many boats came into Mumbai? How did the Wadi Bandar and Vile Parle blasts take place? How could 2 gunmen hold up a 350-plus room twin hotel like the Trident/Oberoi? These are just the first five - most basic - questions off the top of my head. Never heard any of them asked. I'm not even going into the lack of qs around 'Pak' involvement.

3)Class-biased. Where was VT on our TV screens, even though that was attacked at the same time as the two hotels/Chabad House - and which 40 lakh Bombayites use? After the first night, VT station and all the hospitals where the injured were taken - Cama, JJ, St George, Bombay - were taken off our radar (even though they are all in south Bombay, minutes from where the media was gathered in full force).

4)Opinionated, not fact-based. What does 'Pakistani involvement' mean? No distinction between Pakistani elements and the Pakistani state: particularly given the complex political situ in Pakistan; I have yet to hear one anchor or reporter ask the question: what's the proof? (In a hypothetical case, if a cell phone with calls to India were found somewhere else in the world, does it indicate that 'India was involved'?)

5)Simplistic. The coverage became a parable of good vs evil; 'bravehearts vs cowards' 'unsung heroes vs villains', which has now swung to 'Pakistan vs India'.

6)Stupid. What exactly are victims of gunmen supposed to say when asked how they feel? 'Did you feel scared'? (No, I felt elated after spending 10 hours hearing bombs explode around me!!!) Many such stupid questions incl those asked to Ratan Tata on Thu eve.

7)Invasive. The NDTV interview with Sabina Sehgal Saikia's husband when all the facts pointed to her probable death is a case in point.

8)Dangerous. Giving away the locations of those stuck or hidden in rooms/halls at the two hotels. Ditto with jingoism masquerading as patriotism/nationalism in the 'Pakistan' vs 'India' tenor of reporting.

9)Loaded. Constant use of emotionally-loaded terms: 'terrorists' not 'gunmen', 'dastardly', 'heinous', 'cowardly deeds' et al.

10)Theatrical. There was enough drama there; we didn't need faux drama on top of that. Barkha Dutt's coverage of the ground floor of the Taj is a case in point. "Shattered glass!! shattered glass!!" she hyper-ventilated in a broken voice. What did she expect to find? A rare orchid?


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tea for two - and everyone else


There is nothing more and plenty more to say about the attacks in Bombay this November end.

Watching the news has been frustrating, both for the kind of news and for the kind of views being bandied about. The one thing instantaneous media seem to resolutely deny the need for is reflection. Reflection inherently requires time and thought. But the very next day people want to talk about Solutions. Anyway, more about that elsewhere...

But another thing that makes me marvel is the easy talk of the Taj's iconic status. I don't want to be callous about those who've suffered directly by indulging in reverse classism. But I do think that before Ratan Tata and others demand that the Taj should be protected as PUBLIC icon, it needs to do something about becoming one.

Terrorists understand what really divides our society - and they've hit out at the things that they know we really value. They understand that the temples of modern India, like of the US, are the icons of absolute self-interest and greed, such as five star hotels and the WTC. Apart from whatever warm and fuzzy things they represent, they also stand as symbols of the extreme class divide of this country, the absence of the working poor and the dying poor in our mainstream consciousness; the divide which is a daily terror we do unto our own. As long as we live in this culture of self-interest alone, I really don't know how we are going to have a changed world. I mean the world has to actually decide to change, not just demand something else does. This is the sort of culture that makes Ritesh (no I won't spell it numerologically, what's he going to do about it?) Deshmukh and Ram Gopal Varma go so openly to prey on the event and shows that there is no lag between an occurence and thinking of what it can do for you.

So anyway, here's something I think the Tatas could do, just symbolically so that maybe the cliche of indiscriminate openness that people bandy about without a thought can be a little more true. Because after all, why should only the cabbies, the dabbawalas, the train commuters and the other regular folk have to bear the onus of maintaing the spirit of Bambai? 

I think when the Taj is fixed up and restored, its ground floor sea fronted rooms should be turned into a public tea-room where not only the rich, but all sorts of people, can come in and afford the price of the tea. A place they keep as clean and lovely, if not as plush, as the rest of the hotel. A place which says - this building is a Bombay icon because the wealth of this city which was generated as much by workers as by industrialists, has also made it so - and this tea-room is a token participation in that idea. I think this would be a simple gesture and a step towards erasing those hard lines that keep one type of Bombayite far away from another, indeed, indicating which type of Indian citizen benefits more from our supposed democracy. Those are the things we also have to work at changing besides holding governments responsible for their duties. That won't require much money from them. But it would require a bigger heart.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

the report card of love

Yesterday I needed to find my Class X school leaving certificate- as that's what the government considers proof of age. I'd needed to find it for many days now, but I'd been dreading the exercise. Everytime I'd remember I'd go hot and cold with nervousness and feel that heavy feeling of gloom in the pit of my stomach.

Looking for it was part of so many pasts - it was the misery of those teenage years. Being 13 or 14, in a new school. Growing up and feeling confused about boys (not much has changed there!); feeling ugly, feeling dumb, feeling peculiar and not like the other girls, unable to translate their mysterious language of groups and giggles and arch phrases. It was the fear of board exams, the inability to soldier on past the inarticulate, inaudibe, intractable, self-hating teaching style of Miss Kalra from physics, Miss Saumya Das from maths, Mrs. Subramanium from chemistry. It was the confusion of seeing marks that had been really good, plummet to borderline pass, the fog of just not getting a thing in some classes and everything in others which made it impossible for you to just accept that maybe you were a duffer so why care? It was the emotional coldness of hostel - I was the type that hated it - the constant fucking surveillance, the suspicion of girls getting "too close", the public humiliation by a totally unbalanced Matron (what a designation) if you made a silly joke she didn't like, the enforced study hours, the one movie a month chosen democratically, which means it was always a horrible movie - the one time I got to choose I chose a strange but interesting sounding film called Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, came out walking on clouds, only to be stoned to shock by everyone saying - what ya, Paromita, what a stupid movie you chose (not much changed their either notwithstanding said movie's cult status). The whole control of your time, first at school and then at home so that there was no time for dreaming, for sleeping, for reading too late into the night because you could not put a book down. It was the loneliness of not telling your parents what you felt because you knew instinctively that parents do not have the strength or the spine to deal with their children's hardships. It was waiting for letters from the free world of no-hostel - when the letter came you were lifted up on the breeze of excitement and for the 15 minutes it took to read once and then once more, not trapped in this gridlock of timetables, but lost in the world of the letter writer, feeling their love, imaging them talking like those old movies where the face is superimposed on the letter, clinging to every little detail of what they did, what they'd been reading, a new cassette they'd bought. And then when you put the letter down, you were surprised to find yourself still there, as the blood that had rushed up in excitement settled down, the colour of the world went back to medium setting. If it was a letter from my dad it was a less extreme experience of course. My dad's letters were always in point form, written in his strong, squat loops and usually only came on birthdays:

" My darling daughter,

1. May you have a wonderful birthday
2. My prayers to God to give you great happiness and the best things
3. I love you

and sometimes

4. Love and kisses.

Your loving Papa"

I laugh about it now, but I always felt disappointed then and would read it over and over to somehow suck more up from it, wanting there to be more. And if Matron passed by she would always say some Manorama or Shashikala type thing that would emabarrass and deflate you, break the spell.
For someone as easily terrorised as I am, the last years of school were the final inhospitality of life and took years and years to recover from. And still show up in my awkwardness with belonging to a gang or crowd of any kind.

Added to that, the search implied some of the terror of early PMGP days. I was 23, depressed, uncertain about my future, living like no one in my family had lived before, doing something that didn't seem marginal, it just seemed pointless - and always broke, always wishing I could have nicer clothes, a table to eat lunch on. I would try to store important things in suitcases or in a big wooden box under the window. But the PMGP rats were not a force to be so easily fought. If the damp didn't get the papers, a scrabbling sound would eventually start up and you'd know that the rats had squeezed or chewed their way in. I would be scared to open the box in case they leapt at me. So I would bang away at it and run back. Once the beast had scurried out I would gingerly open the box. On bad days I would find a clutch of pink rat babies. On good days I would find only some juvenile poems or old college assignments chewed to bits and would feel miserable. I knew that the papers were probably lying in that same box and I dreaded opening it to discover that in fact the papers weren't there, had been eaten by the rats and I had erased the memory.

And intertwined with it all was my irrational terror of all things official - property deals, passport applications, income tax, Matron asking if it was you who had thrown a sanitary napkin down the commode and you standing there frozen and terrified even though it wasn't you.

But eventually I couldn't put it off so I went down on bended knee and forraged.

Out they came - the files of proposals for un-made films, scripts that were never produced; then a layer of production files of various projects (no wonder the rats chase me, I'm a pack rat myself!); and finally, that blue plastic Tata Steel file marked 'important papers'.

What I found there took my breath away - because perhaps I hadn't remembered it was there, or if it was, never thought about it's meaning.

There was my Class XII and Class X certs. My college certificates and mark sheets. My "Character Certificates" - our famously corrupt principle Mahendroo certifying that I am a girl of good character!

But that wasn't the main thing. In it was also an envelope my father had given me when he thought I was old enough and responsible enough (well!). I had forgotten I had it. In it was every single report card of mine from Lower KG onwards. Each one neatly and lovingly preserved and handed over to me.

Looking through them made me smile at the quaintness now of what was once valued. In Upper KG for instance Science and Sanskrit had been crossed out and subsituted with Rhymes (Fair) and Conversation (V.fair). It made me laugh to see how some things have changed: Remarks - Remains tranquil and attentive (!!) Makes good use of reference books (oh why did I become the girl who only reads murder mysteries and steamy romance novels? Well perhaps that's all the refernce books one needs in life?) Well mannered, QUIET and friendly; Does not waste time uselessly (!!!!!!!! a game of wordtwist anyone?) and shows originality; A QUIET and affectionate child! Clearly I was leading a Jekyll and Hyde life early on because I don't think my family has this memory of me! It made me laugh to see how some things really haven't changed - Remarks: weak in Hindi; needs little work in Hindi; she is a good pupil but can work harder; she is an excellent student but she could be much better if she tried to live up to her promise; It made me remember that even if the report card of youth in my memory is full of Unhappiness - 9 on 10; Alienation 10/10; Sullen Misery 8.5/10; Life (V.Unfair), that isn't the only assessment possible.

If my father had kept each progress report of his child so carefully, surely there needs to be a column in my head: Acts of Love - 100/100. Looking at it all I felt again the intense fragility and perfection of being one who is loved. People say to be loved makes them more secure - and in some ways I believe it does. But it also makes you aware of the fleeting, ephemeral quality of life, so unbearable is the beauty of being cherished by someone in this simple way, so full of pride; and of the wafting, wispy nature of love that can pass through the tightly packed wall of death. It was fitting that I looked and found these yesterday, November 11, which was my father's birthday. Because even though he is gone I felt once more enveloped in his kind and generous hug, in his simple, never second-guessing love - one perhaps, like everyone, I hadn't always felt aware of as a miserable child or an angry teenager.

That's my father on his last birthday. My mother and sister always buy a cake on his birthday and say they will celebrate his life and not cry. I am not yet that brave or beatific but I will get there. This year too, they each bought his favourite dark chocolate cake and cut it. As for me, I got the back-present.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Other Me (would rather be the nice one): a rant and a half

Last night I went to see Madhur Bhandarkar's Fashion. Don't ask why please. I did. Maybe I'm growing old or what I don't know. But lately things like this arouse only utter violence in my breast. I want to run into Madhur B wearing Doc Martens (me, not him) and kick him senseless. To kick him senseless I would have to kick him in the crotch because that's where our man's sense and sensibility both reside. Then, as he lies there disintegrating and groaning I want to shout loudly - dude, ever heard of ANOREXIA?? No?? BULIMIA then maybe? Oh, you thought all those models that you saw throwing up during your ASSiduous so called research were just pregnant out of wedlock and getting a reminder for their next abortion.

How can someone be so unempathetic? Oh well, I guess it's easy if you're a racist, homophobic misogynist. How can anyone write such a bad script in which plot point 1 is - Meghna smokes a cigarette - drums and synth full power AND Interval! Plot point 2 - Meghna has sex with - not 6 men, one dog and an anteater - But-with - a black man - silence on the track and then racing heart music. Meghna wastes a whole box of tissues trying to rub out her face. Is she worried that the mascara giving her raccoon eyes is man's skin colour rubbing off on her perhaps? Breakdown happens.

And what is Madhur B's problem with women who have sex by the way? What? All the women in the film who have sex come before a fall. The one who comes out smelling of roses (Janet/Mughda Godse) is the one who has a marriage of convenience/companionship with a gay man. Even when the gay man asks her to marry him he never says - hey, we can be married but you can have sex with other people or be in love with them or whatever you want. There is only one straight man in the film and he's a bit of a jerkofsky - Arbaz Khan. So maybe Madhur B on the whole has a lot of discomfort with heterosexual sex? I don't know.

In fact I am thinking that if he didn't make films he might be a serial killer - so on second thoughts, carry on O progeny of Arthur Hailey and Jackie Collins who's loving nanny was Danielle Steele.

But why is it ok to make a film which is basically made up of all these moments of moral horror rather than a story which explains how each person makes their own Faustian pact as they move on through life? I guess because people are going to see it. And because so what if the US president is now a Black man - back home the MNS can go round beating people up and the Shiv Sena can burn valentines cards and... you know.

Oh and by the way I've got one more thing to say to Mr. Realistic Research Bhandarkar - Mathur's are not Punjabis! So there.

Anyway I've lost all claims to family values after this demure tirade, I know, but what else to do?? Luckily there's an Other Me. The inestimable Mr. Karan Bali has persuaded me to blog on and so there's a grown up, well behaved version of this post there. Hey the truth is complex. You can choose this version or that version.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

latest object of desire

With renovations in the house there have been many objects of desire which cannot be had. Handmade tiles in colours with polysyllabic names- chartreuse, turquoise and so on.. but priced at a 100 each.

But one cannot, even in one's fantasies, only think of the unreachable. It is necessary to reach into the inner pocket of your soul and find the thing that fulfils your most visceral desires.

In my case, this:

The Built NY Cargo Computer Sleeve. Those orange thingys are pockets. Sigh. Need I say more? Other than - I must have it?

Monday, September 29, 2008

What big, umm... you have mama

I'm all for niche markets but this defied even my evil imagination. Anyway, all the mama bears out there, you cannot say you are not prepared with this handy helper. It is a book that tells you how to help children cope with MUMMY'S PLASTIC SURGERY!!

And there's more to be had HERE

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Jhoota kahin ka mujhe aisa mila

Not that we loved Shahrukh for his muskels... but it's hard to love him for the amount of dissembling he's been doing of late

And before anyone casts aspersions on my character or surfing habits - I only found it while looking for the show times of Mamma Mia!

Speaking of abs - I saw the broadway show of Mamma Mia! in New York last summer. There were a couple of items with very gorgeous effotlessly 6-pack boys. Maria who'd come along said she was seeing it for the second time and she did not remember all these half clad men from that time. I figure the show figured out its primary audience soon enough - women near-abouts 40 (who might have ABBA nostalgia) and gay men. So they rewarded us for our loyalty - any problems?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

a certain azaadi

A producer I'm writing for says - I'll call you in the afternoon, after I've read the draft. I say - actually you won't be able to reach me between 1 and 5 because I'll be at the Queer Azadi march. ""Oh," he says, "is that today?" Yeah I say enthusiastically. I wait for him to say, "Maybe I'll come too." He says, "Ok I'll be sure to call only after."

The day of the march my aunt and uncle stop by for raksha bandhan on the way to their farm, where they go on weekends. My aunt says, "why don't you just come along with us?" I say, would have been great to. But today's the day of the Queer Azadi march, so I definitely don't want to miss that. I see her trying to look poised even while her brain makes loud noises - is that why she's not married? But unlike in my youth when I would have only zoomed in on the disconcerted look in her eyes, today, I am impressed by her desire to remain poised, as if it's absolutely routine. I don't put her out of her confusion by clairfying.

I do clarify with my mum though - it's important the rest of us go to show support. In fact we're thinking of renting some kids to go along.

I wonder if Celina Jaitley clarified to her mum too. Later some older activists I am chatting with make some laughing but disparaging comment about her outfit. I of course a) loved it b) think she's redeemed all the bad acting with her presence while the rest of showbiz types stay away, even if their best friends, or at least best designer or best make up man are gay. Bollywood folks one expects nothing from. But I thought advertising types would come at least. Ah well..

It's been a long time since I've been at a rally where there are people of different classes present. A very South Bombay man in a fantastic rainbow boa and holding all manner of cute, come-on toys - rainbow coloured rattles mostly - tries valiantly to shout along with slogans. But "teen sau satt-at-at-at-sathar- satathar" is his defeat. But he keeps trying, which is entertaining for me and I end up giggling more than shouting slogans. A drag queen in spectacular high heels soon learns that performance requires rigour and has to take off the stilettoes and walk in green stockinged feet. People look on as always, although not as many as once used to, during the walk up to Chowpatti. Although they are the kind who can say teen sau satatar without a hitch, they don't of course know what it is or for that matter what sort of disease this homophobia is that we keep saying down!down! to. Moreover, since we keep saying 377 Bharat Chhodo, I am sure most think this is just an eccentric Independence day parade. But they kindly desist from saying, angrezon ne bharat chhod diya.

The press coverage was huge and it was nice to see - not homophobic.

The parade was not as flamboyant as I imagined, New York being my unrealistic index. I think in coming years it will be. But more than entertained, I was very moved. Because I meet most of the people in the parade in "progressive" contexts where sexuality isn't much of an issue in our interaction, I forget what it must be like to deal with families and the regular world, especially for the older people present who must have suffered a lot more harshness and loneliness. They are euphoric about being able to walk on the street and shout these slogans and dance and sing. A woman has covered her face so completely with dupatta and mask because she doesn't want her kids to know, that when she says hullo to a friend, her friend doesn't recognise her. Someone yells loudly - Paro! I turn around and say, what? thinking I will be instructed to walk in pairs or hold some placard. But she simply says Paro! again and hugs me in a state of excitement. It makes my eyes fill a little to see people so happy.

It also made me smile to see a couple of heterosexual men I know who had come to support. Their body language was a picture of awkwardness. As soon as we reached chowaptti, they scurried off calling out that non-partisan slogan - Taxi!

Some nights later a friend told me how hard some lesbian activists worked to get police permission. Apparently the traffic police guys wrote a letter saying - I have given them a fair hearing and their purpose is indecent so I cannot grant permission - or roughly that. Permission finally actually came through only a day or so before.

I just want to note, that we could not afford to rent children. I went in sadly un-flamboyant clothes (why try to compete with drag queens yaar?). Hansa, to make up for absence of any trappings of middle class morality, wore her most aunty-ji salwar kameez. I'd say it was a good attempt.

no more rain checks

For the first time in years I've been in Bombay over three months running with only a two day trip to Poona in between. And luckily for me it's been in the monsoon, which has been pretty here - as if to underline the ironies of life: those of us who kvetched about the South and North Bombay divide as proven through drainage in the 26/7 floods never think of the ironies of the say Bombay and Bihar divide: where for us it's romance, for someone it's death. Although that also applies in an everyday sense here in Bombay for those who live on the street.

Because the monsoon light disguises the passing of the day I am less anxious and more able to think; yet unable to find the exact right answer of how to live with one's own pleasures without blocking out others' pain; to be compassionate of others' pain without disregarding of the small daily pleasures that sustain. To figure out that balance is obviously to be at peace, to be less pointlessly self absorbed. Some days you feel you may almost have found that elusive centre. And then you realise it's just a trick of the light.

Bye bye rains...

Friday, August 15, 2008


...for a recording of this ghazal sung by who-ever (I don't know who sang it though I thought it was Begum Akhtar)

Bas Ik Jhijhak Hai Yahii Haal-e-Dil Sunaane Me.n
--Kaifi Azmi

Bas Ik Jhijhak Hai Yahii Haal-e-Dil Sunaane Me.n

bas ik jhijhak hai yahii haal-e-dil sunaane me.n
ki teraa zikr bhii aayegaa is fasaane me.n

baras pa.Dii thii jo ruKh se naqaab uThaane me.n
vo chaa.Ndanii hai abhii tak mere Gariib-Khaane me.n

isii me.n ishq kii qismat badal bhii sakatii thii
jo vaqt biit gayaa mujh ko aazamaane me.n

ye kah ke TuuT pa.Daa shaaKh-e-gul se aaKhirii phuul
ab aur der hai kitnii bahaar aane main

The only person I ever heard singing this was my dad, who'd sing it beautifully. He was of the generation that had never studied Hindi in school. He couldn't even write his own name in Hindi (his name was Ravi, but he'd write it and say - see - and it would be Ram - someone had obviously taught it to him as a joke). He'd studied Urdu so his relationship with Urdu poetry was one of both ease and pleasure. When he was in hospital I used to try to make him teach me. I know that I wasn't quite getting it for a while because he'd keep correcting me. Some times I would get it right though. It is just one of those tunes that seem simple but it as a lot of nooks and crannies. So in essence I've been trying to re-remember it and I think I've gotten it back mostly. But if I'm not singing it right, my dad's not around to correct me any more. So it somehow seems to matter a lot that I should be able to sing it right.

So any afficionados or friends of aficionados, please let me know if and where I might get it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

the b-side of this whole rock music thing

Sunday releases me from my newspaper dilemmas - I get 6 papers and spend the mornings voluptuously drowning in their various registers. Today's Times Life! quoted Riddhima Kapoor sister of Ranbir, saying "Ranbir has a wide social circle compromising both sexes." Now I see why the boy is a gay icon. 

Also I read one of those survey type interviews with the heroines of Bachna Ae Haseenon, where they were asked to complete lines like - I am turned on by a man if he.... /I get bored by men who... etc.

In a bad habit I have had since I could read These Are a Few of My Favourite Things in Stardust, I imagined myself as a famous and sexy person being asked these sorts of pertinent questions. This would qualify as the most serious thing I did today unless you count eating last night's left over olive hummus and drinking a glass of rose as a noontime snack. I agreed with Minissha Lamba that what I like about men is that, well, they are men, my most heartfelt response was to I am bored by men who....think Pink Floyd is the eternal best thing in music - and nothing else is worth it.

Frankly nothing irritates me more. But there's an entire edifice supporting this provincial superiority.

I always associate this sort of music with something conservative - because it's the favourite of boys who go to IIT - because of which I call it IIT music - or IIM and BITS, Pilani - and the favourite of people who sit around talking fondly of college which seems to have been a Cliff Richards movie for them, bachpan ke din bhi kya din the, type of thing as if there was no angst, no doubt, no hatred of the cool gang.... oh wait! That's because they were the cool gang! Or what passes for cool when you're young which is a sort of alpha conformism, an all-rounder existence of no radical or even rather uncoventional choices, primed to believe every cliche the advertising world will seduce you with and to credulously use the trend-phrases coined by Sunday colour supplements (today's discovery being "alpha female" - what used to be called superwoman as a comment on how difficult it is for any human woman to manage work and home and all else - but alpha female sounds like you can become one just by gymming often enough and religiously following the cleanse, moisturise, tone routine, no?). 

Anyway - for me that sort of musical monomania simply means a rigid nostalgia, a cultural varnashram system whereby you will only be exposed to certain types of music (and in the case of my generation this would be the previous generation's music). Thereby you will be the prime consumer of this music in some theme night or theme bar or whatever. Because you won't change tastes, acquire new ones, lose old ones - or indulge in nostalgia only very occasionally. I'm sorry to say that my Bengali friends do this the most.

Soon after thinking all these irritated thoughts I read an interview with Farhan Akhtar wrt the new film Rock On! - with no irony there - (I already don't want to see it - what sort of embarrassingly credulous, passe title is that?- but I will have to because of knowing people who worked on it). In this he says - the best music ever is - Pink Floyd. Sigh. Well not like any idols are keeling over in my mind or anyting, but STILL!

And it is with these thoughts that i came to read this article - and though I haven't read the book obviously, I already felt like I may not agree with it so totally, but still some bits, um, rocked? - no, they echoed some half articulated thoughts I had. For instance:

"Since at least the appearance of the first issue of Rolling Stone in 1967, it has been a common assumption that popular music, particularly rock and roll, is about social change....

...The great fallacy at the center of this thesis is that the cultural explosion that occurred when rock began carried such a heady charge because it was about overturning societal norms. In fact, the music was reinforcing orthodoxies that are as old as mankind. Put simply, most rock and pop songs, from Chuck Berry through the Beatles and including the latest single from Coldplay or Justin Timberlake, are about love. Not polygamous, destructive, selfish love, but about love for another person, monogamous love, spiritual love that transcends the laws of nature -- "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "She Loves You," "My Love." Pop songs are about heavenly love and the attempt to attain such love on earth.

There are, of course, exceptions. There are rock songs that are about rebellion and revolution, but they rarely become popular. "

You can say Pink Floyd are not all about love and all that. You may be right but you won't get no satisfaction from me.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

the times they are a-changing back

So a historic decision has been made in the Vohra-Andheri (E) household.

Some years ago, fed up of the page3fication of the TOI I decided to move to the Indian Express. It wasn't easy because all my life newspaper matlab TOI just like orange boleto Gold Spot. But if the Parle factory could change its goldspots to bisleri surely I could change my paper? In truth, I went back and forth - to the Express, then back to the TOI until I finally made the transition in 2003.

I stuck with the Indian Express for the next few years, even though it got thinner and flimsier and less and less satisfying. So what if the main paper was iffy - at least Newsline was good I'd tell myself. IE was the default choice of the progressives.

Then in 2005 the Hindustan Times which I used to read and like in Delhi, came to Bombay and without thinking I switched, relieved that I had a way not to give in to the insistent promotions of DNA and Mumbai Mirror.  And I was quite happy with it for a while - it was a meaty paper with lots of interesting, provocative columnists and enough about environment, film, art, archaelogy etc. I didn't even succumb when Meenal, the editor at Mumbai Mirror said to me -'you don't get the mirror? Ok,I won't say anything.' although I felt a bit guilty given I write for them. Well, three years on, it's not quite so rosy. The papers gotten thinner than Kareena Kapoor. The columns are a bit centrist and shrill. They don't even really have an editorial of any gravitas. The supplement is depressing. They have tonnes of mistakes of language and of fact - recently in some article on porn the Milos Forman movie was referred to as Larry Flynt vs. Larry Flynt - when the real title is The People vs. Larry Flynt (as a google search would have confirmed). And even the initial campiness of Under Honey's Hat has gotten very ho hum and not fun.

So today, standing at the door, paying the newspaper bill, complaining - aap Tehelka itni der se kyon dete ho etc. - I slipped in the words I never thought I'd say - kal se roz ka paper Times of India.

I get the Times on Sundays and I've noticed that it's really improved. I see it at other people's houses and I do feel its changed in the opposite direction to itself. And one can just not read the Bombay Times.

Now there's been no change in the ownership, the basic philosophy etc. of the management so what's changed I wonder? I tell myself political growth lies in not being rigid but in responding to the reality as you see it.

We'll see what happens - tomorrow being the first day of my changing times.

Monday, July 28, 2008

To All The Girls I've Loved Before

And while I'm thinking about all the ladies from the past whose style I love - the Miss Johras and the Sulochanas and the Sandras from Bandra, here's a piece I wrote for Time Out's last anniversary issue where they'd asked some of us to write about an era we'd liked to have lived in in Bombay..


It’s the 1930s and freedom’s in the air. Not only because JRD Tata makes the first civil flight from Karachi to Bombay, or Gandhi issues a call to Do or Die from Manibhavan. Bombay in the 1930s is not a bad time and place to be a woman.

A Congress sub-committee on women draws up recommendations based on radical feminist ideas which see women as individuals with rights to work, property, divorce, and equality within marriage. Amid some shock, R.D. and Malati Karve start a family planning clinic with contraception counseling. The archbishop of Bombay suggests starting the Sophia College for Women.

An alluring magazine advertisement asks: “Have you a Telephone in your Home? If not you are denying yourself the pleasure of communicating with your FRIENDS and running the risk of being unable to call the DOCTOR or the FIRE BRIGADE in time of need.” A woman in fashionably striped sari and matching puffed sleeve blouse reclines on a sofa, a movie magazine in one hand, a telephone receiver in the other – the very picture of indolent seduction and modern facility. For 12 rupees a month, it suggests, a girl need never be lonely again and the lines between inside and outside could get deliciously blurry.

In fact on the other side of that phone line could be one of those new girls with a new type of job: telephone operator. And if that telephone operator was called Ruby Myers she could become Sulochana, heartthrob of millions, with her own Chevrolet, the handsome actor Billimoria for her reel and real life lover and, at 5000 rupees a month, a salary higher than the Governor’s.

Women emanated glamour, an eroticism and mobility as never before - and never again. It looked like a lot of fun – especially the crimped hair - and opened up a whole world of imagination and desire most visible in the movies of the 30s – Bombay ki Billi, Indira, M.A., Miss 1933. Female stars like Sulochana, Patience Cooper, Nalini Tarkhud, “the glamorous graduate” and Devika Rani guaranteed the success of a film – and so its primary choices -prompting a pained exhortation in Filmland that directors exert at least some care while casting male leads.

By the 40s, Chandulal Shah’s 1925 film “Gunasundari”, a dutiful wife’s journey to win back her husband from the venal world of clubs and cabarets had become the template for filmi femaleness and kissing on screen was banned. As for the Congress sub-committee: a 1970s study by women freedom fighters revealed the “brain shattering” fact that free India had not adopted or implemented most of these recommendation for free women. But the 30s had given us all sorts of desires. And telephones. That still counts and rings in change.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

zara hatke meri jaan

This is just a random associative post about words and language and life- one of those days when too many thoughts trip over each other in your mind without necessary developing into a big pattern..

Have been listening to Rabbi's new album. While much more uneven than his first - which I don't think people ever listened to fully - his big hit did him a big disservice - this album has a some really nice tracks and most of all, I think his ability to make very urban seeming songs and touch on some in between note of relationships is his strength. Another reason I like him is that he sings in Punjabi - a language I ought to know but don't, and now regret not learning. But because the jacket carries the translations of the songs, because they aren't the hey ho, let's bhangra type of thing, I can listen to the words and learn new ones and make pictures in my head. I think he's very good with grown up love songs (which means they contain an element of sexual tension and emotional ambivalence, guardedness). It is so also with the title song of the new album, Avenji Ja Nahi

I've been listening to this song over and over and learning the words some of which are lovely. You can listen to it here.

Tere larian ‘ch
Din kinney beetey
Kujh kat gaye
Kujh jamaa keetey

Ni maen akk gia
Bol chup teri parhda
Taenu parhna na
Sohnie hai mere vas da

I'll do my own translation as the official one appeals to me only in parts

Days passed, borne on your false promises
Some were spent somehow, some really added up
And now I'm tired reading your silences and words
Reading you, sweetheart is not something I'm up to now

And it goes on to roughly say - forget the words and silences, the direct and the oblique, just tell me if you're going to come to me or not and so on.

I think this is the sort of sentiment of course has completely vanished from Hindi film songs which were once so full of ambiguity and texture when it came to romance - and not only when they were written by poets. A lot of early Rajendra Krishan lyrics are the equivalent of the Ande ka Funda type song for the '40s, but they manages to evoke the nature of relationships while trying to be 'modern' (he used a lot of technological metaphor or reference- mere piya gaye rangoon, vahan se kiya hai telephone and those other C.Ramachandra songs.

And it was what I sort of meant when I was cribbing in my Sex and the City post - that even if a man has written the lyrics, somehow the song does not seem to exclude the woman or her experience or speak for it completely.

And then I saw the video which I have blanked out of my mind completely, unable to bear the invasion of this uninspiring girl, who is just a silly tease, rather than the complicated creature the song calls up (what are you scared of, someone should ask you/do you just hide, so someone can find you/so if i come to to find you/will you let yourself be found, or not, will you leave a clue on the road, will you leave your door open, will you come to me or not?).

Anyway - I learned a new word - lareyan, plura of lara which means false promises. I knew I'd heard the word before and it came back to me in a conversation I had with someone today - I knew it from that old 1940s song - Lara lappa lara lappa laya rakhda... Ooooo dekar jhoote lare. This song often came on Chitrahaar/Chhaya Geet and I used to be both entertained by it but mildly resentful because the heroine, Meena Shori, wasn't glamorous and pretty. But I used to laugh at the words - aaj kal ke gentleman, khaali jeb, matakte nain.

Watching it now I was charmed and excited as I often am when I see stuff from the 30s and 40s - because women have more to do in the film and the language of their songs is so much more active and their body language is so different! This song obviously has a kind of simple feminist message which makes it all the more fun. Apparently the song was a big hit. Interestingly it was composed by a Christian who used a Hindu screen name so all kinds of stories within stories.

But the most interesting thing about it is that it is sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Whodathunkit? I mean this is a different person from the sweetly suffering voice that has been fitting itself into tighter and tighter corsets with the passing years!

So I did a little research on Meena Shori (procrastination procrastination) and I found this:

"She was born in Raiwind near Lahore in a rural and poor family. She was totally illeterate girl and jumped to Bombay in late 30's and became silver screen temptress and happiest girl in the Indian filmdom from 40's & 50's."

What happened to the happiest girl afterwards?

"She worked in Indian films from Sikandar (1941) thru Shrimati (1956) and then moved to Pakistan and worked here in films till late 70's. Eik Thi Larki (1949) made by her husband Roop K. shorie (at the time of marriage with R.K. Shorie, Meena changed the relegion to Hindu and later after the seperation, again she entered to Islam), dubbed her as the sensational Lara Lappa Girl"

And then...

"Meena got married with R.K. Shorie, Zahoor Raja, Al-Nasir, Raza Mir and lastly Asad Bokhari."

Celebrations of a spunky babe, hold on...

"At the last and final part of her life story that was also too painful to be real. No one from them was around her and she also had no issue from them. A bright star in glaxy of filmdom in 40's and 50's was reduced to extremely destitude living by the end her life before the death in 1989. In late 80's when she was seriously sick having no money for treatment, former Prime Minister Nawaz Shareefhelped her out and one time late Mohammed Ali also gave her moral support when she had stood up in a function begging for charity money to marry off her sister's daughters. Once she told that she felt like a dried up tree in a grove of green saplings that everyone is out to chop down and burn. It is said that her burial was arranged with charity money. "

It is indeed "too painful to be real." Parveen Babi anyone? The stories of all these women who didn't just stand for something different - they were someone different, their every inflection and expression declared it. Zeenat Aman, Rekha, Parveen Babi... one has to wonder.

And that's why we end up with something like Genelia's character in Jaane Tu - a sweet little spitfire with not much but marriage on her mind, whose erotic framework comes from the guy being able to go defend her from the baddies. Because she can fight in playtime but not in real life - for that a guy, even one who doesn't want to be macho, must step in and be one. it's too depressing because it's all about zara hatke - but only zara, very very zara. We end up with grown up (but of course upper middle class) people thinking this is the coolest movie ever because it's full of negative choices - hardly any positive, assertive ones, where you choose because that's what you want, not because you were a moron and realised you ought to stick with your own kind in the end. Whatever, little women, whatever.

Meanwhile I got to wondering what was going on in Pakistan while our films were going steadily the long suffering way borne along on Lataji's high notes. It was this. And this is from a 1956 movie.

Ya ya I know -that was then. But stil...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

budding promises

Yes! There are buds on the chinese rose plant - I'd been losing hope. Meanwhile the mogra is sitting as sullen as a backbencher - I don't think it's grown even a leaf since it came. But the double jaswanti blooms and blooms and blooms. Each morning I get up and shuffle out of the bedroom and then I see a fat, showy red flower blooming with its chest stuck out and it wakes me right up.

I hope this lasts.....

Monday, July 7, 2008


Was talking to an unweildy writer friend about his chronic bad behaviour and inability to finish book. Was talking with knowing wisdom and the scolds prosaic intractability. When he pointed me to THIS PIECE

How accurate! How I laughed! But no, I did not write a word after, only this. But I did preen at the preening chinese rose and go out and scan a form.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

not a good day for the roses

Ever since I read Heidi (about a dozen times as a child) I've wanted a magical window - like her round one in the loft with its views of a starry night. I've been quite lucky to have a room with a view wherever I've lived. Even Baghdad where there was a panorama of the river Tigris (and the orange akak against a slatey dawn sky when the Iraninian Phantom planes raided). I struggled for a while with the balcony in PMGP, making a little seat there, but the shortage of space meant it was always getting used as a storage ground and was sat in very little. In this house the window sills are big enough to sit on. My dad, the only time he visited here, used to sit on the window sill and trim his moustache, read the paper, chill - the only time in my life I ever saw him so lazy and relaxed. He too reacted with childlike pleasure to the hidey hole feeling, that unexpected extra space the window sill yielded up and would like to put things there, neatly, as was his way.

Then one time when Samina and Imran came, Imran used to sit and play there, and make drawings. 

I've not been using it all that much because first I had put a chair there but it felt ridiculous. I felt like Naseerudin Shah with his gramophone in the desert, like some clueless overseer sitting on a chair on a window sill, drinking coffee. Plus there's my fear of heights which would come and go in waves. But the coming of Oberoi Mall and a Lifestyle store has (yeah yeah I shopped there, castigate me so I may be absolved!) resulted in me acquiring the correct height ka stool.

Once the stool came then it seemed like two plants (of which one is a lemongrass plant!) was definitely insufficient, so the family has been expanded to include - double jaswanti, mogra and (my favourite) chinese roses (they did not have tibetan, sorry, I tried).

This has resulted in new visitors, whose names I do not know, but whose songs are sweet. Pappu can sing sala.

And then, the rains came and blew the tops of the flowers off :( decimated the roses and turned the mogra flowers the colour of apples sliced a while ago.

I bloody hope some new ones grow soon or I am boycotting Lifestyle store. >:-|

Monday, June 30, 2008

dragonflies in allahabad

The two top unconnected searches that bring people to this blog:

Dragonflies - who knew so many people want pictures of dragonflies??

Group sex in Allahabad - this I understand. In Allahabad group sex is possibly easier because after all two people on their own would be frowned upon. Therefore orgies are the only way out. I imagine that like raves they have an underground information network and those outsiders who want in on the action are left with no option but to google group sex in Allahabad in urgent if tenuous hopefulness. Poor things come here and find only dahi bataase ki chaat and Wheeler's bookshop.

Also a search that often leads here is SRK without a shirt.

Not much explanation needed there.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

ladies and gents

This last month I watched three films that I've been thinking about for various reasons (instead of work)

-Sex and the City by ( I had to google this) Michael Patrick King
- I Am the Very Beautiful by Shyamal Karmakar
- Sherman's March - Ross McElwee

This is a rambling and maybe unclear post because I'm still sorting through the jumble of thoughts in my head. 

Again it felt to me that while there's a cliche about how women are obsessed with love and romance (thanks for nothing Byron) they don't or can't seem to create works around this. Obviously I am not talking about Mills and Boons - nor am I dismissing them. That's just a separate discussion. I mean that Sherman's March and I am the Very Beautiful are obviously abiding, strong, resonant films about love and men - this is a very masculine perspective (and I am not in complete agreement that the women in this film - Ranu in IATVB and the 5-6 in SM are allowed to construct their own realities alone without the filmmaker imposing theirs over them. That sort of goes hand in hand with the myth of verite - which both of the films use masterfully. In fact the charm of both films for me lies in the fact that they are so strongly the filmmakers' constructions and it renders the filmmaker vulnerable and reveals for me very intriguing things in a way that involves me. I feel this way also about Hanif Kureshi's The Black Album - a very male book but transparently so in which it's almost as if got an intimate entry into a man's mind, otherwise an area of shall we say, speculation). 
And then there's Sex and the City. I must say that while I was a bit leery of the class aspect and a little floral feminism thing going on there, I also enjoyed the first two seasons because they were funny and had something recognisable in them. But also because they were funny and very well written. It was kind of nice that there was a space where love and sex could be spoken of simultaneously although not necessarily together/in a causally related way and women had jobs as well as breakfast and all along you could indulge in the ultimate female pornography - role play through clothes. 
But the film! When Carrie gets stood up I felt her shock and pain and well I just thought - yeah, that's what you get for wanting to marry Big! When she runs to be with Miranda on New Year's Eve while Samantha and Smith make out and Charlotte is playing happy families I really really thought the film would end. But no - it went on through the whole excruciating process of Big sending apologies and copying other people's love letters and finally Carrie marries him again and just forgives and forgets because "it wasn't logical, it was emotional."
Anyway this is not a rant about SATC as much as just wondering why women aren't making work about love which is more personal and honest. I know what stops me for instance. Like I've always wanted to make a sort of female Hi-Fidelity, going back to all the men I'd ever been with to ask what and why happened. I don't do it because it seems that I'll get laughed at - which is to say, I'll be exposed for being a loser, inviting comments about my appearance and my various shortcomings. I shouldn't care about it would be one way of thinking about it. But as Carrie says, it's not logical it's emotional. But the fact is, the fear of it never really being listened to for what it is ends up making the artist search for more disguised forms of this expression. If a woman made a film like Sherman's March, with that Woody Allen style voice over, people would call it self indulgent and self pitying. But this figure of the commitment phobic, self pitying, indecisive man is a convention and it's supposed to be honest and sweet.
I marvel at how in SATC Big is allowed to be, well, a guy. That's just how he is. I panicked about getting married so I didn't land up at the altar (oh that's ok, you know, men aren't able to cope with feelings so go on, forgive him). (Of course the entire subtext of SATC is that it's Carrie's fault because she wants a big wedding that naughty spendthrift).  And the way too that both men in the documentaries mentioned above are also just allowed to be themselves even when that self causes hurt to the women around them. Those films are gentler to the women in the film and the sense of mystery that these women hold for the  men filming them is a touching sort of filter through which we too see the narrative. 
In contrast the women in SATC are constantly examining themselves, figuring out where they went wrong, trying to fix themselves ( so they can have men really but well, why not perhaps).
Of course one can and should point out that  SATC is not written or directed by a woman. The original series was co-written by the woman author of the book Candace Bushnell but the film is written by a man. However SATC has that veneer of being about a life women have written for themselves. You can see that in the way groups of women come in to watch the film, giggle a bit too loudly at the generic chick culture jokes while they don't get the NYC references, but eventually lapse in energy. However their idea when they enter the cinema is to claim this film as something written by them in a notional sense.
Of course no one identifies with Samantha the one woman who makes a non-coupled choice in the film. Because Samantha is supposedly a slut however much they may celebrate her wild ways.
Anyhow - if someone knows work by women that's about love and in English - the anger, pain, sensuality and which is not written by Colette or Anais Nin (how faithfully they get trotted out everytime) please let me know, I am curious to read and think of this more. I think there's stuff in other languages which must be good - Krishna Sobti's Dil-o-Danish comes to mind though I've only read it because it is in English translation while I can't read others which aren't.But the work in English I am more curious about.  Similarly if there's more films you know that I could watch that traverse this territory of men and love. I'm looking more for non-fiction than fiction but both would do really at this point.
Meanwhile there's also another film battling inside SATC - one that vaguely reminded me of Dil-o-Danish, in which when Kutumb, the wife, rails against her husband having a mistress she's told to stop being ridiculous. Women aren't supposed to consider men so important. The important things are the clothes, the jewels, the house, the kids. In SATC too Carrie says while at the NY Fashion Week - "I don't know if it was because it was just us 4 together or because it was the fashion. But for the first time in a long time I felt like my real self." And later she meets Big again only because she goes to bring back her pair of $525 Manolos which she left behind. It's very clear where the real love story lies here and the timid celebrations of it while noteworthy aren't nearly enough.

Friday, June 6, 2008

day trip in Alexandria

While I was in Cairo I went along with my friends Svati, Sanjay, Tammy and Nehal to Alexandria for a day. I was kind of semi-aware of it - it's Mediterranean, somewhat European inflected history and that Lawrence Durrell had of course written a book there and various literary types had hung out there as they seemed to do with astonishing flexibility until World War II. How come we don't? How come we have to sit at our desks and wait for the monsoon to come so that we can write? Some of us anyway, sigh....

But I digress.

Alexandria lived up to its image as a fancy holiday resort but that was after. First of all we had to negotiate a highly tedious conversation with the Tourist Police (yep, a fine Egyptian institution specialising in befuddled expressions - and pictured below). Then, we ate breakfast in Rameses station and commented on how like VT it was and nodded wisely about the Brits.

Then finally we were on the train and all said how much nicer than Indian trains it was although a bit same - and how the sights outside were similar to those seen when leaving Delhi. I will say though that the train loos were foul requiring simultaneous levitation, eye closing and breath holding. Try peeing with all that going on - boys.

Then... we got off at the station but rather than the picturesque period scene we expected we came out of a rather dank tunnel onto a rather dispiriting office type area like Nehru Place. We conquered our sinking hearts (oh gosh maybe it's changed and become like this in Modern Times) and thereby discovered we'd gotten off at the wrong station - apparently Alexandria has three. So, we got in a cab and drove.

And then there it was - the sea, or Corniche as they call the promenade with a row of art deco buildings along it, glamorous looking hotels where surely they serve a high tea with scones and in the far distance a 12th century Citadel.

Since we were told the citadel was only a 15 minute walk we set off. It was a lie - but it was fine because we had several interesting diversions on the way. First was a man who leaned out of his window to talk to us.

Then we discovered he was from Melbourne! And so was Sanjay so they had a happy animated conversation and he called his girlfriend out to meet us while another couple watched from above.

After a few more blocks we chanced upon the most baroque fruit juice shop - it reminded me of tablemats some relatives of mine used to have with a giant cornucopia from which grapes and cherries and figs spilled out in technicolour, plump abundance.

Along the way we were frequently solicited for tonga rides, which we didn't accept (till later, with consequences), but we saw some cool vehicle decorations alright.

The Citadel meanwhile was seeming very far yet near. When we got there I have to say it was worth it - it's huge and it looks almost as if it's new - the white stone next to the deep blue sea and lovers at every corners or sometimes groups of girls or groups of boys listening to music on their cell phones and giggling. Here Tammy and I also bought some highly touristy camel toys and while bargaining she uttered - no, please, I am unemployed, you cannot charge me so much. Needless to say the man was too stunned to argue anymore.

By now we were exhausted and hungry and made our way to a fish restaurant where there were huge fishes we could choose from which they would then fry or grill for us to eat along with hummus and baba ghanoush and sour pickles. I was too hungry to take pictures although I was moved by the soup..

Feeling sated we became falsely confident. At this point we began our misadventure with the tanga. We hired one of the solicting horse carriages thinking it would be a fun way to see the city - but it also turned out to be a real s-l-o-w way to do so. No cantering for our horse, oh no. It was all at a stately pace. Meanwhile Svati, who took a turn sitting up front discovered she was terribly allergic to horses and got an asthama attack. We might have had to go to hospital if it hadn't been for Sanjay having an inhaler (see, it pays to be prepared). At the end there was a huge fight because suddenly our driver said he had meant 20 pounds per hour and not for the ride, at which point the news read at slow speed pace became a little easier to understand. Svati, encouraged by her brush with death was very vocal in the fight and said various strict things to the tanga vala like - Sir! Be honest! and also, You don't only have to talk to him - you can also talk to me.

But either way - via the tanga we did see lots of the old city and could also take pictures while riding of the lanes, the buildings, the cafes - although no pictures of the catacombs (which were discovered in the 20s when, er, a donkey fell down the shaft).

After our tanga adventures we decided to resume trusting cabs and after getting directions written in Arabic from the tourist office, took off in cabs for the old Jewish souk which would apparently feature some striking architecture.

The cabs dropped us off at some market which had many exciting things in it but did not seem particularly to have any semitic connection. Of course this does not stop me from buying (cheap earrings, peachs and strawberries) and staring, although the other were a bit more dignified.

Sanjay pointed out that the sign here said "Oriental Antics" which is definitely a good one. I of course was too busy staring at the vampy ladies above it. Well that's why it's good to have company.

In this market I found a pair of 'bedouin' earrings that said I love you - and the salesman expressed the desire to take a picture with me - as also matrimonial/romantic interest which seemed to be an Egyptian sales tactic in general. If someone can tell me it's not a sales tactic but a real thing then baby, I am moving to Egypt very fast.

Anyway after a while it became clear that we were not in the old Jewish souk and people were also getting fed up with my frivolous behaviour and it was suggested we do something to salvage our last two hours. So we made enquiries and trustingly followed directions (tourists do not learn, that's half the fun boss), to a synagogue, which, if it was there, was constantly receding, and coqettishly hiding, the closer we got. In the end, we gave up, and ate ice cream - apparently Alexandria is famous for a particular type of icecream - and though I tried to ask some nervous looking girls if what they were eating was it, I don't think it was (they said yes yes gigglingly and scuttered off, as if I was going to pull of their scarves any minute). So anyway, we ate ice cream at a shop with a rather extravagant sign.

After that, feeling resigned, we used their fairly clean loo and made our way back to the correct Alexandria station. It must be said, it was every bit the picturesque building we had hoped to find on coming. So if not our entry, our exit was picture perfect.