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Fiction: Hostage trail, city’s on edge



Thick air billowed in the Mumbai sky. Burning sensation trickled in the humid air and the usual sweltering afternoon where vehicles ambled slowly in South Bombay. The Jamun trees lingered at one end of the road, juxtaposed towards the gentle, still the Arabian Sea and on the other, sprawling buildings and the luxurious hotel giving an aerial view of the iconic Air India building towards the edge’s end, Nariman Point.

A gunshot was heard from afar provoking chaos, fearing a terrorist attack in the city. Commuters at Churchgate station ran in the opposite and aimless direction for their lives where some jumped off the locals stationed and jettisoning off the platform, jutting across the busy road, sweating blood.

The police vans and beat marshalls screeched at the altar, surveying the road and careful not to raise an alarm to provoke panic in the city. Persistent gunshots splayed and deafened eardrums. Who was doing that! The new Chief Minister held meetings in his plush office at Nariman Point and running against time in his official car, swirling past the crazy traffic towards Matoshree in Dadar and back to South Bombay. OB Vans were stationed and cameras stayed put to relay TRP to TV channels on the move, updating breaking news on the unnamed and invisible foes threatening the country, clamoring about the city assailed by conspiring powers after a decade. After all, who was behind the mayhem? Another enthusiastic TV channel broke the news on a UFO sashaying in the island city and bringing everyone on its toes.

The loudspeakers thronged to occupy space in front of the residential buildings and advised occupants not to step out because of the danger lurking where cops are pulling all strings to protect the people. A loud thunder bulged the sky and cloud menacing the inhabitants, slowly breaking the particle of heat and a sudden outburst of rain wrecked at a frenetic pace. Heat has suddenly subsided, relieving the burning skins to beat the scorching sun and water freckled at the range of arrow shots resembling the Ramayana epic battle.

A giant step moved the sky and taking the form of a thick mound straddling, forming a thick foam encircling the creamy layers percolating the cloud. Dark and grey mist moving in human form and shadow lurking behind, turning into the blue Neelkant sent a tizzy on the ground and blizzard to human eyes, tears percolating on cheeks. Burning sensation felt as a commotion made of human masses ambled chaotically on the streets. The lal batti cars stormed past the vehicles taking a serpentine form on busy road and street, suddenly turned empty seeking refuge inside homes. Gun aim was taken towards the menacing sky.  Don’t shoot recklessly only focus, was the high command’s order.

The terror threat was brushed aside in Maximum City. The TV channels didn’t pay heed and announced a huge terror hijacking the city. The fight between the cops’ eyes darting like a radar against the menace in the sky continued uninterrupted for hours when darkness encapsulated the sky. The city slowly subsided into silence and a far cry from the hustle-bustle of Mumbai. Thunder unleashed at midnight and flood captured every inch and space, rising at sea level, road and buildings washed ashore. Day’s chaos turned into a seastorm at night’s fall.

Siren wailed early morning. Sleep was furtively put at an end during the early 4 a.m. Local trains stationed inside moved and slowly rattled within distance on the railway track signaling the mundane early morning activity.  Red buses and black-and-yellow cabs slowly moved as fritters, Vada Pav, tea sellers lingered on both sides of the road to quench thirst and hunger of early revelers. A body drenched in blood was slowly lifted by the huge crane from inside the Arabian Sea where the lifeless body reeked of alcohol and tobacco stench. Forensic experts, police commissioner and the Chief Minister flocked to the spot and exuded a triumph of victory for saving the city and sinking in the ingenuity of beating TV channels, scribes and news reporters to conceal news of the day.

The man who brought the city to a halt for days, weeks and months after killing mercilessly and blood-soaked letters which were written all over the decrepit wall was finally dead. The Beer Man’s body floated and choked. Later, news splashed all over TV channels with expert panels, raising questions on the fate of beer man and questioning the system for violating human rights, unfolding the veiled of the conspiracy helmed by cops of taking their duties too far.  Who killed Beer Man, they asked? No one knew who killed the murderer. Mumbai police were clueless so were investigative journalists. The city stopped living in fear of the dreaded killer and civilians didn’t give a hoot on his murderer.

 

Love

V

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Day 32: Attached to love and a city!


Something brewing in my mind! Slap silly mind in jest! Brush the alcohol effect maketh the mind wondering, hitting an emotional high and transported into the world of surreal…love shuv, emotional fire and romance of illusion. Where’s the pretty girl, I wonder!  My heart goes cuckoo. Who makes the mind go topsy turvy! The relations we make and ideas flickering inside the head!

Attachment is a bitch, I tell you! We cling to love, the emotional sucker that we become and flitting to the past…read Bombay the emotions and city bang bang, Mumbai seeping into the soul. I can never live without the city, the rains sputtering and crowd going berserk, wind tracing emotions to be flung at Marine Drive, the local trains or life left behind. I am stuck into the past that chains me to its womb. Days of yore taking a lone walk in the city, longing for the perfume of nonveg food, cutting chai or bun maska at midnight right at Churchgate Station. Hell to the heart that cries and longing for impossible in rewind.

Bade Miyan at Colaba, Baghdadi beef fry with flat and jumbo naan to quench the stomach’s thirst or beer flowing at Leopold or Cafe Monde! Sports Express Bar, I heard it’s closed and confined to relics. I love wading past the hawkers selling fake Gucci and the unbranded, that wristwatch flapping open and close, someone asked me to change the model since her Dad didn’t like the gift Man! I bartered with the dude, maskaoing him to change and he did! It felt like a triumph to woo the lady who almost chucked me outta her life. Mumbai is an obsession for me when I ain’t in the city! The cane juice cooling the heels at every nook-and-city corner! Alcohol doing things to me and making me go berserk right now.

In the name of Maximum City, I said cheerz to Kingfisher beer and now staring at the Bombay Saphire Gin…everything amchi Mumbai and Good ole’ Bombay makes me wild, the past flashing right in front of the nose. The trips at the now-closed Planet M and Groove music shop at Churchgate, making me flaneur incarnate, walking aimlessly for a fag, I crave for alcohol, longing for a fling! Imagination is an ejaculation! The stench wafting through the air in an odorless city that can claim no place in the cramped space and pace, occupied by sweating bees, we call humans.

Stinking men and women! No world big enough to run for peddlers and pimps to make a living in a city called Maximum. Everything comes at a price where migrant workers with tinsel town dreams run the risk of being thrashed for being labeled as Bhaiya by the manoos! The ones who shall not be named! Filmstars spotted in South Bombay! Are they real! Doe-eyed babe coyly hiding her face on a double-decker bus on spotted and clicked by fans, upcoming female star having coffee in the sweltering afternoon with Parsi family, far away from the gaze! The perils of being infamously famous.

 

Love

V

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Celebrating music and glory of Ganesha


Fervor of the past,

sprouted and anchored in the cultural roots,

vivid imagery translated in the present,

the people’s favorite elephant trunk God sashays,

a cute and innocent child to many,

showering blessings,

sashaying with giant stride,

devotees swirling to music and glory,

chchanting his name,

Ganpati Bappa Morya,

days and hours toiled,

crafting earth shaped icons,

the God staying in our hearts,

brimming with excitement,

11 days of madness,

beating drums,

the glittering face of the Lord,

we waited impatiently,

for blessings,

pleading for prosperity, happiness and abundance,

our woes forgotten,

for only the Lord matters,

believers and non-believers,

decked into new clothes and moving enthusiastically,

in reverence to the Lord,

Ganesha is about Modak,

sweets and savories,

we may have moved shores,

our memories become vibrant in cities we reside,

Mumbai and Pune,

celebrating with fanfare and seamless spirit,

street and roads occupied,

pocked with crowd as Ganesha stands tall and majestic,

colors sprinkled,

bowing to the Lord,

garlanded with flowers.

 

Ganesh Chaturchiya Hardik Subhecha

 

Love

V

 

 

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Maximum City: Where dreams are bred!


Stillness at night’s crepuscule! Loneliness is beauty. Companionship and peace fulfilled in a sleepless city where hope stands unshaken, Dotted stars and chasing flies sitting on the parapet. The divine and majestic beauty surrounding the Queen’s Necklace engulfed my soul.  Romanticism of couplet manifesting in an influx mind, pretty much like the populace. Dreams are bred in Maximum City.

Tinsel hope. I strode at slow pace. Gentle breeze simpered and traversing oceans. Throwing tiny pebbles into the water. Embracing the wind and thrusting arms wide open, holding the city tight. Love is the only constant. Unquenched thirst is liberating and completes the lost individual. Flawless moon, a flick of charm for the battered, victorious, unsung heroes and newbies. The city takes everyone in its womb. Mumbra Devi, Mumbai City!

A fascinating and routine night tale. A vagabond caught in its own world and a reverie unshattered by love interest, heartbreaks and unquenched thirst of romance yet I flirted every night with the city when chaos reigned supreme. An ever-moving tale knotted and what it took was a simple leap of faith crossing seas, intermingling with beads and sweat in the madness, constantly on the edge and cherishing self companionship.

Madness of falling in love, tasting the forbidden fruit where some call it need! Love was ultimately going to happen and perhaps the subconscious mind prayed to the tiny stars, the speckle ensconced in the sea, flowing and conjuring surprises. Ultimate break up and sob stories of unrequited love adorn the Mumbai days, stripping love of the necklace at night.

Tonga ride and horse trotted at snail pace. Lovers’ stealing a moment inside the nest. My eyes darted and roved at the impossibilities on Marine Drive where not a single reason exists for maximum happiness. A child’s somersault and regaling the audience to quench hunger! How many empty stomachs! Perhaps, no damn is given. Night roaming. I have the skies, stars and vastness of the sea for company. My senses are excited and belonging to the towering city offering mirage and realism in unequal…the undisputed crowned Queen surrounded by the horde of admirers, the bevy of people residing in the city. I lit a cigarette and crossed the road hastily, walking back to sleep. The train whistles and honking still enraptures the mind.

 

V

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Remembering VG Siddhartha: A lot happened…at CCD


Sweltering Pune summer of 2003. Youngish 20 something explored the first days in the city, student life ever ready to unravel, traveling in rickshaw to and fro, from the PG at Aundh to Fergusson College (FC) Road that cost a bomb. Zigzagging in the city which embraced me with open arms and disoriented, unsettled a bit, lost as I may seem. Variegated thoughts verging between excitement and anticipation, a chick showed me around the city and we met at the coffee shop. First visit was a taste of glamor.

The tag line read: A lot can happen over coffee. Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) over the years became a well-nurtured dream for the young generation of Indians, uber-cool and college-going crowd stealing a kiss and admiring female beauties thronging as cool music played in exchange for cold coffee.

Arab Iced Eskimo was the first coffee sipped at Barista! The state of art and deco was the real winner, easy-going and chilled college crowd yelling and breaking into laughter, without damn care for the world. That was my first tryst with Pune and CCD represented the aspirations of a young India, that was in flux post the aspirations of consumerism of the 90s economic liberalization. The man who sold a niche coffee dream to Indian, thousands and millions, VG Siddhartha who allegedly committed suicide this week and broke the hearts of many. There is not one moment of joy he gave to us but so many as we spent times with friends at CCD.

Wanna spot a crush or ask a girl out! CCD was the place and easily accessible as a Fergussonian for it was just down the road. Perhaps, a post won’t be enough to pay tribute to the dreams that we may not have thought about but a creative concept he created over the years and sense of identity among college crowd spanning across generations. We all have our CCD stories. Mine traveled from Pune to Mumbai. A stop at Pune station’s CCD waiting for the next train. Sit alone, ask for coffee and blow the smoke outside for who knows and how one can get lucky when eyes may be met with a damsel.

CCD at Pune Central.

CCD celebrates friendship, dating, love and romance. Initial days of swooned over, the music and what was not just ambiance but celebrating youth anthem in this refined coffee culture and basking in luxury that spared none of the easy-going dudes and babes.  One couldn’t stay away from the madness of Cafe Coffee Day, the vibrant crowd bustling and bonding, glamor wearing its USP on the sleeve. I loved sitting upstairs and watching the bustling FC Road from the glass panel. The initial days of CCD waned away and shifted to Barista housed adjacent since we were allowed to blow curled ring smoke.

The perks at CCD remain the free party tickets distributed for free and at times, studying for exams, gulping iced coffee preferred over hot Capuccino. When I shifted to a new flat, a group of us during the evening at the Law College Road outlet to meet the female friends. Hugging and charming conversation, the dudes sneaked outside letting the chicks having a hen kinda party. Squatting on the floor and back fixed on CCD’s wall, boozing in hiding and singing on the road. Many years later when I came back to India, hanged out with M a couple of times at different CCDs in the city. Harking back to the past, I vividly remember one Saturday evening, encountered K my crush in those days with her gang and flowered her with compliments. She was wearing a saree and was just standing outside CCD. To tell, the odds of spotting someone outside the brand coffee outlet and there is always a chance of someone meeting someone.

I had a blind date, fixed by a friend during a Mumbai trip at CCD in Dadar nestled outside the station and made few silly jokes over coffee, turning the tagline into cliche for nothing ever happened. When I shifted to Mumbai, CCD at Juhu Chowpatty was the place, I would regularly trip over alone and sat there to study for my Masters exams, sitting smoking and admiring the sea.

CCD offered an identity of being young in India, affording space in a cramped city like Mumbai where roof is the raw and real deal. The barista once shared how Kareena Kapoor would sashay in the evening and sweetly entertain the staff with autographs, made interesting anecdotes. Of course, going back to Pune, a very awkward and embarassing incident still sends a chill down the spine, the beans cannot be spilled. I simply owe my coffee shop addiction to the curated CCD, the concept in itself, making reading and coffee, a uniquely enthralling experience, something can’t do away with the regular weekly trips till now.

On the eve of India’s departure, I spent some time with M at CCD, clicking each other’s pictures on the Kodak camera as we sat for coffee and chatting about every single thing. The moments shall be entrenched in our memories forever as the parting gift that felt like yesterday. There is a story in the final year when I didn’t set foot in CCD for a string of months after this super embarrassing and hard to say who was the victim me or the stranger.

An early tryst of CCD was at Aundh and the first PG I stayed at Goodwill Housing Society, wooed by Ozone mall and the tiny place for a quick iced coffee to beat the heat and boring day to death. It makes for an interesting walk to the mall, spacious and open, shopping for stuff inside, sipping coffee and watching kids delighted playing outside under the watchful gaze of parents. CCD is about pleasure activities.

 

The college bum B skipped work and we drove on his bike from FC Road to Karve Road when he took me to the bank. No success! Money not in. He took a quick detour to be avoided from being seen by office people and we landed again at FC Road. This time at CCD! It’s quite surprising since in those days, we hardly hang out there. Our den was Savera. We were in for some delightful moments as a newly designed CCD greeting us grandly and the open space as we slouched on the couch gulping coffee with huge door jutting towards the road. Yes! Smokers were allowed downstairs. When you don’t have money, friends settle in and truly a lot can happen over coffee.

Tragic that the founder and brain of CCD VG Siddhartha ended tragically. He gave joy in abundance to thousands and millions in this coffee abode and the man’s soul will loom large. Perhaps, newbies may be unaware of Siddhartha and his out of world concept. The show must go on. Post his death, it’s been business as usual with the crowd teeming around, laughs, first date and a kiss! Couples may have courted, and will lead to a harmless fling, serious relationship and marriage. A thought to the coffee conoisseur. Hope the truth will triumph on what led to his ‘death’ and gen next are educated on this success story displayed in CCD. A lot happened…coffee or not! I take a bow, Sir! An adda for so many!

 

Love

V

 

 

 

 

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Day 26: Mumbai diary-Shooting the moon


Bombay is a city. Mumbai is countless emotions, tall buildings, frenetic pace! How cliche! Cliche is beauty like pigeons flock swarming above the sea edge, beaches and people wading in and out, hymning a new tune, happiness, anger and struggle!

The gentle and silent night, burst of breeze and wind skirting past the sea, heat belching to cake the face,  running a sensation of thickness past the Arabian Sea juxtaposed between the monuments and buildings splayed, horns ok of black and yellow cabs, red buses ambling as slums stares with silent eyes, wide and open.

Rattling of trains and whistles purrs like the fat cat whining, conmuters scampering in the hustle and bustle. Chaos has a name, Mumbai local. A city of the impossible. Every step taken is worth money.  Grabbing a Vada Pav and cutting chai quenches thirst and hunger, counters the cornucopia of wealth flicked on the face.

Silent nights compensate for the day’s struggle as one sits on the cusp chasing flies and watching the water slowing unlike life in Maximum City. Lighting a smoke and the company of cheap rum soothes the spirit, watching revelers hanging out at the parapet. A long journey may never end nor the night provides closure for a restless mind wandering to make the moolah. Living on the edge and constant worry of homelessness, uninvited monsoon washes not just our deep worries but an entire city riding against the tide of uncertainty, running aimlessly and shooting the moon. Struggle is another name for Mumbai.

When pressure cooker whistle disappears like the train whistle, the difference about two worlds, slums and high rises fade away. A cab driver heckled out and slapped for daring to enter the city as saffron flags threaten an eco system, of inclusive Bombay vs fast Mumbai.

Yet, another day triumphs when the sun rises for the commoners. United the people are and we call it the resilience residing in the world of extremities. A beggar child at the traffic signal and a scarred, wrinkled young woman decked in a cheap saree squatting on the floor begging for milk to feed the urchin, yowling for small mercies reminds us that as ruthless as Mumbai may be, hope hanging on a thread can never be wiped off.

A random child singing nasal in the local, wiping the train’s floor and selling handkerchief to commuters hoping for a single coin as a bridge collapses right under the face, blood-smeared like paan stains and lives lost in the chaotic, flesh twirls into a spin. Every second matter.

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Untold tale of rain


A drop of rain,

priceless tear,

enraptured memory,

celebrating joy and sadness,

erupting in unequal measure,

tilted balance of haziness,

wiping scars,

rattled branches,

black umbrellas splaying single inch in the city,

forever on the move,

battling arrow of water,

a dejected lover nursing a breakup,

wailing baby crying for milk,

a torn soul,

a splash of monsoon,

bringing hearts together,

fighting the battles,

marching ahead on the potholes,

Mumbai’s swan song,

clouded sky exuding creamy layer,

thick black smoke conquered,

blessings doesn’t knock,

grey sky,

untold tales,

enmeshed inside our hearts.

 

Love

V