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Pune Memoirs (III): Lights, Camera, Action!


Pune Memoirs

Third year

FTII, Law College Road, 2006:

Splatter of mist and icy cold morning felt like a chimera conspiring with forces to unwrap a perfect adventure this January as the wind fluttered in ruffling burst dripping the long, unkempt hair off the straight head into a mound. Cold seeped through the pained legs thrust on its own and plodding heavily at a stretch from FC Road to finally land right in front of India’s premier film institute, FTII. I strode past the gate with a triumphant air like an image flash pan on the face. I was broke. I didn’t stand a chance to hail a rickshaw but passion drove me on the feet for three consecutive days. The perks of turning into an Assistant Director for a diploma film shoot overrode all money consideration. I swayed to the tune of breaking bones, broke, tired but passionate.

A couple of days back, a magic sms landed in my inbox and Gyanesh, now a sound engineer in the film industry, asked me to come to the institute to discuss a diploma project. Films was my life and aspirations. I walked inside to meet Gyanesh and was introduced to Shailesh Sir, the short film’s director. The dreams almost went for a toss when asked if I hail from communications background. Clearly, I wasn’t but made the cut for being friends with Gyanesh, with whom I worked on a diploma project a year earlier.

I was elated to be part of the crew. Early morning, we hopped on the bus straight to the hospital in Warje. Life has strange way to throw you in the high tide sea to swim and turning into an early bird that felt like a miraculous lullaby. I remember tottering with the huge film equipments from the van towards the spacious hospital’s floor upstairs.  Convinced that I have to make it as an Assistant Director whose job is to ensure crew and equipments are in place, I wouldn’t give a tinker’s curse. Shailesh Sir handed the continuity sheet in my hand and briefed me on ticks and notes to be penned once a shot is canned for the next schedule, actors’ lines and the follow up. I was living a dream and couldn’t believe everything craved for was becoming true. Three days of awesomeness, waking up to the lark , to push myself to the edge and almost spending an exhaustive journey till the wee hours at the hospital surrounded by actors and medical students scampering their way for the shoot to look the part.

Inside the sprawling FTII campus. Image credit: Google India/Indian Express.

There was tiredness in my soles and knees but the inner determination made me sail through when I realized that if one has passion in the belly, the sky is the limit to make work fun. Days when we wrapped the shoot past midnight and crashing at FTII made the last year in college bliss. We couldn’t afford being bored or amused on Day One for I remember some kids storming towards me asking, “Hero kaun hai (who is the hero?) I smiled and said, it’s a short diploma project but they were adamant and convinced that some big star will come. To get rid of them, I vaguely remembering telling them SRK and Aishwarya Rai will soon join before sneaking away.

Of course, some very cute girls and medical students wearing the white coat traipsed their way to look the authentic part. I remember some FTII crew asking their friends about my identity since I was never seen at the institute and hearing Assistant for AD made me almost leap with joy and marveled in silence. During the break, I remember overhearing someone-he must have been below 17 and with the look of a kid telling in hushed tone how I don’t have it in me to become an actor. It was amusing and irked me at the same time. But, now as I hark back, I smile at the incident for he was right and yours truly never made it due to the dearth of initiatives. I remember A who is a Marathi film actor once urged me during our chai conversation in Savera to try for more diploma projects to create a platform for myself.

Day one was also the time I met and made a good friend in Anuya Bhagwat who was a student of acting at FTII and who essayed the role of a doctor in the short film. I remember the first thing she asked me was whether I had tea or something to eat. It’s another thing that we spoke only a few words at the shoot but became friends at Savera for I didn’t realize we had common friends outside the world of films. Today, I look with pride when I see her going great guns as a leading lady in Tamil cinema and she also appeared in the Big Boss regional version.One thing which I enjoyed doing as an AD was to stroll among the crew and offering tea to everyone, traipsing at length of the hospital’s sprawling surface.

Image credit: Google India. A view of FTII hostel.

The best thing about the three days was dabbling into so many things, doing the running around, following instructions by standing behind my director, smoke break, sitting in a corner on the stairs to relieve the feet and turning into the boom operator panning the equipment to hover precisely above the actor’s head. It was a hospital sequence. The actor was Anurag Singh whom you may have seen acting opposite Anil Kapoor as the main lead in Subhash Ghai’s Black and White. During the short film and diploma project, Anurag played a terminally ill patient. Over the few days, we became good friends bonding over one love, cinema. The scene vividly struck the mind. Anurag was lying on the bed and opposite to him was a child playing a blind girl. I placed some yummy apples on the bed as part of the scene. The dialogue read in Hindi, ‘Walk slowly, make three to four steps, stop and sit,” Anurag mouthed in a gentle and emphatic manner to the child. There is a genuineness in the dude and one could see it in the subtle scene which reflects on the soul doing it for acting is a medium that brings you closer to divinity and humanity. I remember Anurag offering me an apple to munch and we were in the middle of the shoot. The arm was paining and was chided by my director for the lack of concentration that pushed me to make an excruciating effort to raise and hunch the boom above Anurag’s head with flash and sound panning towards his mouth.

I realized how the innocence in kids equips them with the flair to deliver a natural performance and unfazed by camera or flashes. The child obeyed the director’s instruction and responded to Anurag’s dialogue interaction but was never intimidated. It’s sheer beauty and divinity. The first time I came close to the nitty-gritty, the film process of the director wielding the megaphone to shout, ‘Lights! Camera! Action!’ and to get the scene right with, ‘Repetition’ to assuage voices and whispers with, ‘Silence.’ Yes, the timid guy in me got to shout at people outside the room who disturbed the scene. It was the last day of shoot or one day before.

Probably, on the last day of the shoot, I was able to observe more closely a doyen of acting and a genius who contributed immensely to Marathi television and films, the late Smita Talwalkar. Ma’am played the mother of Anurag. I remember the scene and the day right now. A Monday. It was the last scene where actors donning the white dress as doctors and rushing in the middle of herky-jerky camera movements. Smita-ji effortlessly played the role of a mother who lost her son, succumbing to cancer in the last shot. It was pure education watching her perform, the subtlety and intensity in her eyes expressing grief and tears dropping. I had a very brief chat with the lady and remember on the first day of shoot, she returned my greeting with a genuine and affable smile. I was too afraid to strike a conversation with the TV csar, perhaps because of the star aura and the respect she commanded as an artist.

There was one guy I remember at the shoot with whom I became friends with and we would wade out, walk at length to smoke since it wasn’t allowed inside the hospital premise.  We spoke about cinema and the future of acting, genre and how a door was blown open for us at FTII.  The bus trip back to the institute after the scenes were canned turned out to be long, caught in the traffic swirl but made smooth with singing and jokes inside the bus, which flitted past a wedding and me in enthusiastic mood told Shailesh Sir that we could have gone there for food. In jolly mood, he said that they will ask who are you. I was like, ‘A star matlab banne wala hai cineme ka bohot bade star (I will become a  huge superstar). The silly banter ended with him telling me we won’t be let in and the marriage folks will tell, “Pehle star bana tab aana (First you become a star and then you come.”

It took us to the last day of the shoot on Monday past the graveyard shift and we packed up beyond 2 a.m. Tired like hell.  I could never imagine to sustain throughout the full stretch but did. It showed that passion can take us through the thick and thin, beating all thoughts of boredom.  During one of those shoots past might, there was one senior person called Mama and with whom we would hang around after shoot time in the bus and at FTII. Mama was talkative, high and a jolly good fellow who could sense the potential in me. We are speaking in a circle with smoke in hand and he told everyone that I have it in me to become an actor and a director. He was truthful and saw the passion through my eyes. But, you know the story, right. Kuch nahin hua! The best was another guy who was already sloshed, a student at the institute and constantly cussing in Hindi to bitch at everyone person who wasn’t there.  Someone remarked that something is wrong with this dude, spouting venoms, finding fault with everyone and seems there is no good human on earth. I remarked in a jolly spirit, “Usko mandir leke jao, acha insaan milega (He should visit a temple to meet a good soul).

The starry night ended in style like the climax of a heart-pounding film. A tall shadow sashayed in front of us and the towering persona blessed with a baritone voice tightly shook the hands. I almost fainted and couldn’t believe it was true. The late Tom Alter who was one of FTII’s patron inquired about our film shoot in the blink-of-an-eye appearance and speaking in pure, shuddh Hindi before disappearing not before telling he will go back to Mumbai tomorrow but will be around. The night and shoot ended in style. I crashed at FTII in Gyanesh’s room on the night and surrounded by huge trees sprawling over the windows blown wide open.

The shoot remains one of my most prized memory in Pune which I fondly remember. Mama-ji and Shailesh Sir wanted to shoot a video of mine, mouthing the dialogues of Amitabh Bachchan but never happened. Neither did the party post the film shoot. I became busy with college and stuff. Once, I remember meeting Anurag on his bike at Deccan and he called me out, asking to visit the institute sometimes. I could have built up on that but shall not mull over things that never happened. Regret is the antidote to hope and passion. Cinema lives forever in my veins. Never say never for I shall never hang out my boots. I am forever acting in my mind. Grateful to the world and friends in Pune is one thing that shall stay forever.

With love

V

 

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Tribute: Tom Alter, the lasting impression


Alumni and former Head of Acting Department at the prestigious Film Television Institute of India (FTII), veteran actor Tom Alter breathed his last on September 29 at 67. Eternally grateful to life that I was able to interact with the supremely talented artist one late night at FTII, the days I was assisting some friends who were aspiring filmmakers, actors, editors and sound engineers.  The year was 2006 when I was doing my finals at Fergusson College.

Alter was a huge fan of the first superstar in Hindi cinema, Kaka aka Rajesh Khanna and it was the time when the acting bug hit him like millions across India. Born to American missionaries in Mussoorie, the versatile actor joined the FTII where he had among his peers, stalwarts like Naseeruddin Shah and Benjamin Gilani, who went on to found the theatre group, Motley.

Image credit Google/ http://images.indulgexpress.com: Tom Alter

 

 

 

 

 

 

The most I remember about this impeccable artist was during my childhood and teens ushering into adulthood days, they are his various portrayals of the ruthless Angrez, be it in Kranti, Parinda, and Aashiqui, just to name a few. Don’t blame me when it came as a shock and surprise during one breezy and wintery Pune night to witness him speaking in Shuddh Hindi after our three days shoot was canned.

I was naturally bowled and amazed to see a ‘Gora’ speaking pure Hindi with ease and not diluted by Puneri or Mumbaiya slang. Unfortunately, some of the cliché roles that he played in some Hindi pot boilers made me ‘wrongly’ believe that he was a white man while the reality is that he breathed Indian in blood and soul since he was born and brought up in the country.

I remember him as someone who was very down-to-earth, showing no starry airs or the slightest arrogance. There was a certain simplicity about him and stood in awe at the man who was not only very much grounded but a towering persona that commands huge respect.

Struck as I was, Tom Alter Sir was passionate about cinema and of course, offering his inputs to the aspiring film-makers that we were and having an uncanny eye for detail by inquiring about the shoot. It was his firm belief that in the years to come, FTII will play a bigger role to shape the destiny of Indian cinema through the talents nurtured.

It was a brief conversation and recalled him saying in Hindi that he should go to Mumbai tomorrow (Saturday) but will be around. He shook hands with everyone and walked fast like a royalty cum Kingly warrior. His spoken Hindi was like flawless music to the ear and an artist painting an aesthetic gem on the wall. I could never forget seeing him walking away from us with poise, grace, and style.

I wonder how someone in a very short span of time can make such a lasting impression on the mind and when heard that he was in a coma, suffering from cancer, it brought a tinge of sadness harking back to those days.

There are so many of his films that I missed watching and intend to go back to Shatranj ke Khiladi, Shyam Benegal’s Samvidhaan, Junoon, Sardar, Gandhi, Charas and of course visiting Zabaan Sambhal ke.

Tom Saab, as he was known by people close to him in the industry, was the one who conducted the first television interview of cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar, himself being a cricket buff bleeding blue. Many say that this all-rounder always wanted to portray on-screen Jim Corbett and of course, the hosting the Chunavi Chai show for the 2014 Lok Sabha that went on to become a huge hit. According to insiders, the man who served as director at FTII was a recluse and a private person that showed during my brief interaction with him, along with my friends who knew him well. Whether it’s playing Lucky in the play Waiting for Godot or his last appearance playing good friend Ruskin Bonde onscreen in The Black Cat, Tom Alter remains an institution of acting and legend that will serve as fodder for future generation of actors.

Shuddh Hindi and Urdu as his languages, Padma Shri Tom Alter was someone who I remember in this blink-and-eye meeting. There are people like this and perhaps unfulfilled wishes will find fruition in the sky and clouds. Rest in peace Sir for I am eternally grateful for having met such an admirable personality like you.

Love

V

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My Ganesh Chaturthi moments in Maharashtra


Ganesh Chaturthichya Hardik Shubhechha. The extravaganza and simplicity simply add to the glory of the elephant God, Ganesha that unfurl in every nook-and-corner of Maharashtra but also across the entire of India and far-flung corners of the world that Indians made their home. There can be no soul that is unmoved by the sparkle, might, and sweetness of Bappa where his blessing is sought to gain knowledge, wisdom, and wealth.

As I hark back to the past, Ganesh Chaturthi or Chavithi Chaturthi brings vividly fond and personal memories of witnessing devotees throng to celebrate his presence for 10 days and the beating of drums, dancing wildly and the pandals adorned with clay and earth idols that make the celebration a grand spectacular affair

The eclectic grandeur of the celebration was first witnessed when I first shifted to Mumbai in 2006 and found a triple room in the hostel at Churchgate to stay. It was the immersion day and along with roomie, Lalit from Kohlapure and another friend, we wrestled our way in the midst of the swarming crowd, buses, cars, and trucks carrying Ganesha idols in various forms and shapes. Of course, colors sprinkled on devotees scything their way to Girgaon Chowpatty.

Image credit: http://www.travelwhistle.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Ganesh-Chaturthi-Maharashtra-India.jpg

All roads converging to Chowpatty are normally closed on the Visarjan day and the only way for devotees, admirers, and curious visitors is to take the local train to stop at Marine Lines. The vehicles must stop somewhere at Marine Drive and walk a distance of three minutes to reach the sea. The ambience drags one into the world of Bappa where the crowd scrums their way to get a darshan of Bappa rising tall in various forms, from small, big and mammoth idols carved with the love of devotees singing, Ganpati Bappa Morya’, swirling from one side to the other on the beach, pushed back and forth to make way into the sea water.

The universe of Bappa brings a vibrant sense of community that blends beautifully in the Maharashtrian way of life, be it the conversation in Marathi by organizers and devotees involved in arrangements that make this melting pot called Mumbai endearing. It’s about oneness where the Lord reminds us that there is no outsider in the city where celebration touches souls and spirits.

Image credit: http://images.financialexpress.com/2017/08/1-pti-3.jpg

The drum beating to an octane level, folks swarming and gyrating wild to music on the busy road and pandals sprouting on every path makes the city endearing. It a uniquely aesthetic treat and enthralling experience where the drum beats still reverberates in the mind as if it was yesterday only, ear-splitting Marathi folk and crazy foot tapping songs bringing so much joy and wild abandon.

I was spending my last few days in India before moving out in 2008 and it was a Sunday evening that the coach from Pune took a grueling five hours to reach Mumbai. I got off much before Dadar and plodded my tiring feet to experience the festival that the mind captured forever. It’s such a beautiful sight to walk through the night and be surrounded by colorful pandals sprouting on both sides of the road where devotional music is played and posters of Bappa greeting everyone makes the road taken a sheer delight.

Of course, Pune happened much before Mumbai where the celebration was in full swing in the various colonies where I stayed from Gokhale Nagar and Fergusson College Road and the slums nestled not very far away. It doesn’t come as a surprise where music was played full blast till the wee morning. The chapri dance and children gyrating in sheer wilderness, fire crackers may disturb the sleep but it brings so much fun and joy in a seamless manner. Of course, walking past the crowd and pandals decked in colors, from red to yellow makes Ganesh Chaturthi a memorable fest in true Puneri style.

The best thing is the double whammy celebration since Pune Festival celebrates tradition, music and folk dance takes place at the same time. The Peth areas become magnificent and of course, Vinayaka Chaturthi cannot be celebrated with the traditional Lavani dance. If you are in Pune, make it a point to seek the blessing of Bappa at popular places like Jogeshwari Gbapati, Kasba Ganpati, Tulsi Baug Ganpati and of course, Shrimant Dagdusheth Halwai Ganpati Temple, Pune which is famous for its opulence where the idol is carved in gold. The place is visited every year by the Chief Minister of Maharashtra.

The eclectic beauty and magnificence make the pompous celebration in Maharashtra and many parts of Pune an enthralling grand affair that hails Bappa who brings so much glitter and sheen in our lives. You cannot afford to miss the celebration in Mumbai at Gurgaon Chowpatty, Lalbaug cha Raja or Kasba Ganpati in Pune. So much for the vibrant life and pandal hopping that makes Chaturthi a blissful celebration.

Ganpati Bappa Morya

Happy Ganesh Chaturthi

V

 

 

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Pune Memoirs (III): Protesting against reservation, ideology and friendship


Pune Memoirs, 2005/06:

Third year in Pune

May 28, 2006:

The TYBA (Third Year) exams were finally over. Everyone waited in anticipation for the results that were delayed forever. I was constantly making this stupid joke of pulling a Rang De Basanti (RDB) climax at the University, reeling under the effect of the film that could be a mass movement in college. I was not the only one under the effect of RDB, it seems.

We were all counting the days, sitting and whining time at our college hang out in Savera with the gang. A bigger movement was taking shape all over India and it spread from one city to another, that ultimately reached Pune. Students all over the country, from  MBBS, engineers and arts, were angry over the latest measure announced by the Government and the HRD Minister Arjun Singh to go ahead with the reservation of 27 percent seats in premier institutions like AIMS, IIT and IIM for the OBC castes. We were young and reckless. After all, 20s is the age to protest against discrimination, misplaced merit which we viewed as negative discrimination to garner a vote bank.

It was a Sunday. I was bored sitting in the flat.  On that day, I took off early morning at Savera, picking up the morning newspapers and sipping countless cups of filter coffee and chai. I received an sms from P who became a close friend during the last year in college, where we were hanging out together at Savera to puff and indulging in gup shup. I walked back to the flat that was minutes away from Savera on FC road to take a shower and hastily walked back to my favorite restaurant for a quick meal. I met Sudhendhu on my way out when P buzzed, asking me to wait outside since she is on her way in the rickshaw where I’ll be picked on FC Road.

The movement was hosted by Youth For Equality and everyone would assemble at Saras Baug, Bajirao Road near Swargate where we would march from Saras Baug to Tilak Road, Deccan Corporation to end our march at Shanivar Vada. As we reached the venue, we could see flags flying against reservation and cops surveying the students’ movement with rumors spreading like wildfire that students were lathi charged.

Fortunately, nothing of the sort happened the time we reached post lunch at 1 pm and things started to move fluidly where we walked peacefully and in a disciplined manner following the crowd on a line on the bustling roads in the city. It was quite a long march and can’t remember the last time I plodded my feet for so long. We strongly believed in ideology and a quest for a better and equal India that shouldn’t have a room for discrimination.

Image credit: http://shoppinglanes.com/Google India.
An outside view of Sambhaji Garden off JM Road in Pune.

Today, it’s a different story that my ideology has shifted drastically away from the misplaced capital system where I find myself more in sync with leftist socialism. Needless to say, I have a significantly altered view-point on the whole reservation issue after reading several scholar articles on groups lacking access to education and there is a certain ground reality that we cannot ignore.

As we sweated it in the sun, we indulged in discussion on the whole issue between sharing fags and P rightly observed that this march wouldn’t make any difference to a chai or paan wala who is more concerned to make both ends meet, ensuring that his children don’t sleep on an empty stomach and on how to send them to school. It’s a valid point that has relevance even in today’s times. Time was flying fast on this otherwise boring Sunday where it didn’t struck us that it was almost past 4 pm as we sat at the Chattrapati Shambaji Garden on JM Road sipping chai and resting our tiring legs.

It was fun times to be in the city. I constantly pulled P during the entire year in Savera and she would get angry, protesting at my antics and the next breaking into a cackle of laughter. But, we were thinkers who could also have a passionate debate about issues. We spoke about a classmate who was planning for DU (Delhi University)  and has boasted about how he will never go through reservation under foreign quota, but would rather give entrance exams. But, sometimes, ideology fails when it doesn’t suit your interest. The man who faced the truth about the DU exams decided to opt for a seat under the quota, ultimately. It can happen with people where all their self-claimed ideologies go for  a toss. I found it ludicrous. Why boast about ideology when you will ultimately choose the easiest route?

At that time, I was trying for Mumbai University to do my Masters and was eligible under the NRI quota but decided that I am not going for it. As a proud Indian, I told the administration that trying under the merit list suits me when my results will come. It was either a do or die situation for me. It was one of the reasons that I was anxious about the result getting delayed and desperately praying to secure a first class. Ultimately, I sealed my seat in the Second Merit List at Kalina Campus. Delay meant not being in time for admission and there was always the risk of being royally fucked in the ass. I shared it with P who told me, ‘I am so proud of you Vishal.’

We parted ways in the evening. The cherry on the cake was that we crossed the path with N who was apparently the darling of college dudes and on whom I had such a soft crush in the first year. We cheerfully said Hi to her and exchanged pleasantries, talking about the reservation march for few minutes before she disappeared.

It was one of the memorable friendships carved during the college days with P and the bond that makes everything so vivid as if it was yesterday only. How I wish time would never fly so fast! I mean, we take every good thing for granted and at that juncture in life, we never realize that nothing stays forever but the only thing that would matter are the memory, friendships, and bonds. It was the last days that I was spending in Pune where good things were escalating one after the other that would make one miss the place like hell. College life was almost over. The best in my life.

Love

V

 

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Pune Memoirs (II): Friends, squabbles, and pranks (8)


Pune Memoirs, Second year:

2004-05:

A black kinetic went for a toss like Sirius in Harry Potter. I became fed up in kicking to whoosh ahead but the engine lost steam. Constant trips were made to the cheerful mechanic always dressed dapper in jeans at Bhandarkar Road who welcomed me and Adi with, “Ajao saalon Tum kaminon kidhar the itne din”. This bike is finished.” It hit me hard on the head. I should have never bought it in the first place from the moron. Finally, I became so fed up that I left it with the mechanic dude and told him that you can do whatever you want with it. A feeling of relief blew in the air like the relationships that I left mid-way.

The friends that we make during the blissful college days are like book characters and no wonder Dil Chahta Hai is one movie where we find a bit of ourselves in it.  Meet Neraj. Both of us started silly when we ended up hating each other and took a sadistic pleasure in pulling each other. Now, I don’t where this love-hate-love jingle came from. Now we are good friends and as both of us agreed, ‘We were both immature during this time in college.’ It was funny, irksome and shitty at times. But, I guess that’s how friendship is, first sour before reaching the crescent of sweetness. Bitter-gourd! I just came with a new definition of friendship.

During those days, he used to like R in college, a super sweet and helpful girl and we would tease him endlessly about her.  Once, he went to his home town and during a mundane conversation, R told us that she knew about the whole scene. Obviously, this little chat flew like the pigeon cooing into Neraj’s ears and he wanted to know what she precisely shared. Any leads! He suddenly felt like a journo.  Me being me, I never interfere in my friends’ personal things and Neraj was like, “You asshole…should have asked her more about me and everything.”

Fights and squabble! There were quite a few when we made fun of each other and once there was this gay guy in college whom I loathed like hell proposed not just Neraj on V-Day but one of my best friends. It was one V-Day when Neraj got the unwanted proposal. The next V-Day when I heard about it, obviously it was party time to make his life hellish. I was sorry about it but couldn’t hold myself to push Neraj to the brink or the BPL (Bum Pe Laath) on his birthday at midnight. There was no dearth of pranks and once he called Adi, to pretend that someone was beating him on the road past midnight. But, of course, we got worried and later came to know that it was one of his silliest jokes. Having said that, we all had a nice time together and the putting down was done in ‘good faith’ if there is something like that. We were not particular fond of each other in those days but we did watch a couple of movies together, Spiderman, Corporate and few others with the gang. There were dinner, daaru and going out in the group together.

Once we were all tickling him and poor man pushed his body under the wash basin and near the washroom but what asshole did was trying to pull my short. Ha! But, in the end of our final year, he gave me a place to stay in this flat since I was homeless, wandering from one place to the other.

The pettiest squabble started with him telling me, ‘You are not mature’ which irritated me to no end and I responded with ‘Panvel ka Dalal’. Now, don’t ask me why I said that?! Ha! I took my sweet revenge one winter in the morning when we all were waiting at the college katta and Neraj Sirjee missed his Philosophy class.  He cheerfully went to the professor who was fuming, “Where have you been? Do you want me to come in your house and wake you up in the morning?” Every one of us laughed. I kept teasing him about it. Neraj was someone who used to tease me about everything, ranging from my favorite Man U team, my crushes and going all the way from FC to Camp to buy 2 packs of imported cigarettes or studying all the time. Yes! I can be quite a nerd when it comes to studies. It used to piss me off and this fucker was laughing. Our friend had an endearing quality, he used to make a joke which nobody understood and would laugh the loudest. As long as everyone laugh, life jingalala.

There was a common foe for me, Adi and Neraj: K, the gay guy. The worse thing which I hated about him (her) till the brink was the fact that his proposals were turned down by the straight dudes but since he couldn’t take no for an answer, he was bitching about them to everyone, telling that they are homosexuals.  It was in the start of college when he pissed me out inside college campus when I was hitting on a girl, Ku, who was biting the bait and was almost on the verge of asking her out for a coffee date. I was flooring with compliments when this chutiya barged in at the wrong time. You know how girls are? They warm up to the ‘saheli’ type. I wanted to kick him in the ass. Matlab machli phasne wali thi!

The street opposite Fergusson College where we would be having chai at the tapdi in those days.

It screwed my head. I joined Adi and his girlfriend of that time who laughed at me since they understood what happened and we walked past the main gate at Fergusson College to head towards the tapdi for tea. Adi was laughing and winked at me since I was fuming at this ass for ruining my date. I was like, next time I will kick him in the ass. His companion broke into a cackle of laughter saying that the moron will be happy to be whacked. Just imagine that I didn’t know that the guy was gay when the entire college knew about it. Adi thought that I was faking it out and knew about his sexual orientation. I started shouting, “Fuck! I never knew.”

At that moment, another crush waded past me to pick her bike, stopped and looked at me, telling ‘I am going now.’ R was my senior in college and was part of the college cultural committee, the time I had something for her. Man! She was curvy at that time and I drooled over her curly hair. The funny thing is that once someone wanted to know about our cultural fest and I walked to R, asking her about the dates and she looked at me, saying that she doesn’t know and kept walking. It looked weird for a guy to walk towards a random girl in college, asking her about info. Some other guy told me, she must be thinking that you got the hots for her.

The evenings at Fergusson College were spent roaming at night and scanning restaurants to eat. One winter evening, I was walking down the road and saw a couple of Fergie people at Barista where one cool dude, Chanda whom I would often come across in college called out to me and told to join them. There was this cool chick, Anjee, Chanda and a host of people who swerved in and out. We saw a grandma having choco and ice-cream. It was a treat to see an elderly having a good time and the smile on her face made possible by her children and granddaughters. Pune has such a cool quotient and a mirror image of beautiful human lives where you don’t trade happiness but it happens in front of the eyes.

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Kasba Peth/Image credit: Google-http://pardistour.com/pic/1307353232_.jpg

Anjee whispered, “Grandma is having the time of her life’. We discussed a host of things, from that guy who filed a case in court against a shop on the other side of the road for putting a poster which was deemed as indecent. It was a model in short skirt. We were aghast at the so-called moral policing by people who don’t have anything worthwhile to do in life but slap lawsuit in courts. Over the years, Chanda became an intrinsic part of my life and we boozed, discussed relationship issues. We bonded together and he was one guy who was a guitarist in a rock band. I bonded with his entire Science gang.  In fact, I was one Arts student who had lots of friends in the Science stream. I loved their music. I am sometimes amazed how a small conversation can make us great friends over time and carve the best memories in life. Now, who wanna argue with me when I say college days are the best times in life!

There were Aparna and Ritika who became my two Rakhi sister in Pune. Ritika was in my stream, Economics and often we would hang out on the campus, where she was convincing me that love happens but I never believed in it, at that time. My sister took my case once on the phone when I called her to tell that I didn’t want to take the Sociology paper and planning to give it in October. We discussed everything under the roof, from career aspirations to politics which she was well versed in, her parents and in particular her Dad whom she adores. My sister’s family was based in Lonavla and she would stay in a rented flat in Pune with a couple of hot girls. At that time, she was aspiring to be an IAS officer. Shall come back in a fresh episode on how she berated me for not taking the exams.

The pranks that the flatmates would play was legendary and it was one such afternoon and evening when everyone ganged up to make me a ‘bakra’. You know the MTV Bakra and all! Adi would go home at the Peth area and I would often accompany him where we would roam around the road, have amazing coffee prepared by aunty and relishing Maharashtrian dishes. Among all the houses that I visited, aunty-Adi’s Mom-makes the most amazing coffee and being fed by her is a treat for its ghar ki sabzi aur Maa ka banaya hua khana jo dil ko chu lete hain.

We went to Adi’s flat and said Hi to Uncle and Aunty and went out on the bike to roam around the Peth areas which are compact with the small, dingy lanes and crowded population. It’s one of the places that I love since it gives a feel of the old and traditional Pune. The real Pune is experienced in the Peth areas. Now, I didn’t realize it, since the time we were still in the flat I was getting some blank calls and messages from someone claiming to be a fair Iranian girl apparently in love with me. I didn’t really respond to that since I sensed that something was not right…daal mein kuch kala. True, I was confused but at the same time, the prank became so lame. When I picked up the phone and prodded by Adi, the different women at the other end pretended to be this Iranian girl, “But I like you…I love you.”

By the time, the caller kept buzzing, I got wind that it was a prank and a major fucking set up. We drove on Adi’s bike to one cool tea shop with a hut roof and the walls were made of brick like old houses near the end of the bridge after Omkareshwar temple. It gave a sense of comfort and old world homely charm which was quite spacious inside with the waiters swarming to take the orders. Somehow, Adi didn’t really like the waiters and told, “Don’t be too friendly with them. They are asses.” The ‘Irani girl’ again called to snare me with this trap, ‘but I love you.’ I just hung the phone. I looked at him with a poker straight face.

He started laughing with, “Yes! It’s them. I didn’t want the prank end but those girls are being lame.” The women were our flatmates, one was his then girlfriend and the second, the girlfriend of the second flatmate. The cherry on the cake is despite trying hard like fuck, they didn’t suck me into this game.

Things started shaping between me and K who was modeling in Pune where we would spend time chatting on phone till one day…

Love

V

 

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Pune Memoirs (II): A candid tale (6)


Pune Memoirs, 2004-05:

It was quite a joy ride in Pune during those days where life flickered like the breezy wind and meeting the college gang, I mean the usual suspects, was not a call but a walk away. The wintery evenings was spent at the college hang out, Savera restaurant just opposite our Fergusson College where you would find mates and acquaintances sipping, sipping cups of tea and coffee. The place was calm in those days unlike now where the traffic is crazy and sitting at Savera watching the traffic moving in peace to a certain degree was a soulful exercise. Of course, the definition of ‘peaceful’ is subjective unlike now. I enjoyed gazing at the road from the restaurant and the horde of people swarming on FC Road. The place was serene, peaceful and lazy. Pune was quite a lazing off affair where life moved in a comfortable zone.

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Image sourced from Google: Representational picture of Pune.

I enjoyed long walks, wading past Deccan to have a taste of pan carefully snuggled on a pack of ice, scouting for paperback books and woolen winter cap spread on the pavement. The best thing about walking at a stretch towards JM Road is that the body becomes warm in the cold and of course, tea was brewed and served hot at the street stalls. I enjoyed the Mastani sweet drink which is a Pune specialty in the cold season that sends a cool sensation down the body. In the apartment where we stayed, there was a rickshaw uncle whom our flatmates befriended and he would often come to visit us, bringing hot bread, bun, and cookies wrapped in newspaper for all of us. Quite a quirky character he was! He wasn’t really dumb but his voice was choked due to dysfunction where we had to follow his lip movement attentively to understand. At times, uncle could be very irritating when he would comment on the number of pair of shoes lying on the rack and bitching about an acquaintance in whose apartment, there were innumerable pairs. Of course, he meant no harm and was a kind man.

Once he took us for around and sashayed his vehicle at a screeching speed past the red light area at BP Road, showing us the commercial sex workers. It was quite a sight, frightening but also an outsider’s view in another world we were alien to. Of course, uncle’s advice of how we shouldn’t go there but end up laughing at his own joke asking if we want to go. Of course, none of us ever did that. Once, I was walking on the busy FC Road past Vaishali restaurant when a hand grabbed my arm and almost jumped in fright to see rickshaw uncle pulling a prank on me. Of course, I was shit scared.

But, I had an almost scaring incident with a random rickshaw wala at Deep Bangla Chowk while driving inside the crowded place surrounded by a lineup of small electric shops when my vehicle brushed past the former. I didn’t realize that my bike almost stumbled on the speeding rickshaw and somehow lost my balance to regain control before accelerating past the chowk.  The infuriated rickshaw dude did a u-turn to stop in front of me and bang a resounding slap on my face that almost deafened my ear. I didn’t defend myself and was smart enough to avert danger since, in this particular area, there could be a risk of dozens pouncing on me on account of a rickshaw stand not far away. The shop wallas came out of the shop with the aim to separate me from them and it was time for the asshole to run away, who earlier thought that I bumped his vehicle to flee. The shop guys told me you should have slapped him back and he has no right to hit you. But, then, I guess it was a minor incident that doesn’t weigh against the fabulous times spent in my city. By that time, Pune has already become my home where I became a Punekar in no time.

The best thing about the localites are their welcoming nature and not once, I felt like an outsider in the city. It’s what makes the beauty of Pune that gave a sense of belonging. It’s very important to have local contacts and one such nice people were the Bhave who managed Bharat Gas on FC, uncle and his son Siddharth Bhaiya. They were like family and would often lend me cash from the company account when I was broke. I would often visit them when in need of cash. Adi would joke that whenever I would visit the outlet, they must be thinking, ‘Oh! He is again here…in need of cash.’ Might be holier than truth.

There were no dearth of visitors at our apartment and one such good guy was Pradeep who was much elder than us who at that time sported a mustache and long hair like Aamir Khan in Mangal Pandey who was all over the billboards. Pradeep who is a techie would always bring for us huge Cadbury chocolate box and sweets during Diwali and on any random occasion. Once he took all of us for dinner at a Rajasthani place off JM Road and the place looked like The Great Indian Wedding on a Saturday where food was served unlimited for 150 bucks. On the day, we were treated to a royal feast, we waited for a long time outside since there was a huge crowd but once we were in, the treat was sumptuous with mouth-watering veg and nonveg Indian delight plus sweet meat. Pradeep loved music and he would often bring his guitar, encouraging us to sing along with him to the tune of typical Goans songs and dancing to Kajra Re, where he did the perfect AB and Junior B signature style. He was not only a genuine soul but also very jolly dude. He would hug you by slapping on the back. That was his way of greeting us with a smile. He was a well-built fellow at that time and very athletic that we would often joke that if had to beat someone, we would bring Pradeep bhaiya along. Then, one day, he simply disappeared and wondering where he went but then heard from that he moved to Dubai without telling many people.

When we were not having visitors, Saturdays were spent having vodka, smoking up both cigarette and the shit by sitting on the stairs with Adi where we would talk just about anything under the stars in the sky, from girls to exams and people we liked and disliked. At that time, we were up past 2 a.m and yours truly was always high. He also tried to get me hitched to one of his friend from Mumbai and who was studying medicine in Nagpur, N. Of course, things didn’t work out and he harassed me to keep messaging her. Of course, I did but on and off. The friendship and carefree days were priceless where life was taken for granted, at times.

Before I wrap it off, there was an anecdote where I was unintentionally made the joke while sitting and studying like a good boy for exams in my room. My only fault was listening to the Walkman in loud volume while writing on loose Sundaram paper sheet as an effective revision method to retain concepts.  Somehow, I sensed some human movement behind my back and heard laughs and was greeted to roomies sitting like disciplined kids on my bed.  I was right. They were laughing at me. I thought it was some pranks. Adi just said, “Asshole what’s up?” He used to call me that and I would return the compliment with bitch. He again asked whether I didn’t hear anything. Everyone ended up laughing. An earthquake that shook the building made each and every one of them who were confined to study in their respective rooms leap off their feet and storm their way inside the hall that was converted into my room. Yours truly was the only specie oblivious to the earthquake that rocked the entire city and shook our building.

I shall leave you with this episode in the Pune Memoirs and hope you enjoyed this episode that I believe turned out to be a spicy and filled with anecdotes worth a memoir. Sometimes I do blow my trumpet.

Postscript: Going back at times can be quite painful in racking the brain to separate the chaff from the wheat to recollect moments worth telling. The past shall not bear the burden of pain but glorious moments that made life worth living and taking a risk. I am at my candid best.

Ciao!

With Love

V

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Pune Memoirs (Part II): Ghosts, voyant and Katraj Park (5)


Pune, 2004/05:

It was quite a funny encounter with a self-claimed Pheku fortune-teller who visited us in Pune and claimed to know about our love lives while visiting one of our flatmates and stayed with us for a couple of weeks. He happened to be a close relative of our friend when he came as a guest and his tales regaled us. There was one such hilarious tale to fool everyone of us and naturally, we played along by listening as an enraptured audience.

The self-claimed fortune-teller would study my palm and say that the girl in college loves me and it’s the right time to play the cards properly before making a move. The dude would narrate to us how his clients fund his air ticket and stay abroad when he is called far-flung corners of the world to solve their woes and perform a miracle. He apparently dabbles in spirituality, foreseeing ghosts, priest and astrologer. No wonder, we were entertained by his fancy tales.

The best story would give the Ramsay and Bhatt brothers a complex was made to be eerie and chilly but the bubble burst when you have a horrible actor, learning the wrong lines that made him falter. I was in second year when the uncle called asking if he can rest for sometimes in my room since I was out. I am pretty cool that way. I normally don’t hop straight home once done with lectures or the time I skip them to whine time with pals at our favorite hang-out, Savera opposite college or to CCD indulging into tp with friends and watching the glamorous views.  When I came back, uncle had a tale to tell everyone and asked me to be cautious since I stay put in the room. He promised to perform a prayer before leaving. The tale read that as he was resting, a ghost family lurked past the window and the wife tapped him on the back. The man with super power that he is, sensed danger and didn’t turn back to respond to the ghost call. His sixth sense apparently saved his life when he pretended to be in a deep slumber.

Had he turned, he would have died on the spot. The power that he holds as a deeply spiritual manner and the gift of astrology helped him to see the man, woman, and their small son. In fact, the ghost tale is a real one but his encounter was quite a concocted, saucy and sassy story to impress us with the mighty power that he holds on human and non-living entities.

The place where we stayed at that time is located behind one of the several gates of Fergusson College where you go straight to Deep Bangla Chowk (DBC) and as you enter the gate, there is an abandoned house. The moment you walk past this house which was left unattended for a decade, you experience an eerie feeling and once we tried to take a peek through the broken window glasses, there were broken furniture and chairs lying in shamble and pile of dust. The owner hasn’t been able to rent the house because of the ghosts who once were human tenants and their small boy who perished along with the couple in a road accident. Apparently, the little boy wouldn’t let anyone stay there since he believed that it’s his personal property. But, the self-claimed astrologer must have heard the story from our flatmates and he played on that to make it sound as if it’s his personal battle with ghosts.

The same year I almost missed becoming a caged animal when we took astrologer uncle to visit the Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park, famously known as Katraj Park which is located at Satara Park. It was a boring Sunday and took us more than one hour and 30 minutes by rickshaw. The group was huge and two rickshaws were booked. Adi and his then and now ex-girl friend rode on the bike which means they reached before us. The park was magnificent, grand and spread over more than 7 acres nestled in the center of Parvati Hills.

It was a sheer delight to see the amazing bunch of animals like leopard, tigers, black bucks, peacocks, cobra, sloth bear, four legs antelopes, deer, monkeys, and vipers caged in the spacious, secure and concrete enclosures made of steel. It was fascinating to spend time for a change in the company of animals and seeing the birds flying from one branch to the other was a magnificent sight. The best thing was that no matter how tired you are, it doesn’t dent your spirit of exploring the zoo and space that never seem to end.

The only good thing that the uncle had, an amazingly powerful high-end camera that you could focus on the animals and zoom on them in and out. Normally, I am quite bored to visit zoos but I loved this gorgeous natural terrain on a boring Sunday. The Pune authorities have taken extensive care in maintaining the place and ensuring that there is no hazard to the visitors. I was quite wary of approaching the steel bars since there was always a fear that our friends in the zoo may do an angry act to eat you raw. It sent shivers down the spine. We were tired walking and the bottle of waters was quite an energy-saving act, plodding our weak legs to explore the animals that we would perhaps not see in the entire lifetime.

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Image credit: Google

Rocky terrain, sand path, and stone crafted stairs to get a peek of animals nestled in their abodes coupled with facts about the zoo and captured or endangered animals kept for conservation was an education in itself. At some point, I started to get bored and sat on the ground for a nap or taking a lone walk. It was hard to believe that such a grand place could be found in the far-end of Pune. It was my first tryst with a zoo worth its name. I am quite scared of such huge animals. The face off with species and sound made by them was a uniquely thrilling experience that stayed and haunted me throughout the night.

A funny incident happened to me when we were set for a ride in the lake and truly yours was freaking out to make the leap from the ground to the boat on a suddenly acquired phobia of falling into the water.  The gang convinced me to get on first but freaked so much that I entered last. The joy ride was smooth and pictures were taken sitting inside the boat. When we were finished, I got off last and nearly stumbled into that cold water but was saved just in time. Ha! Man that was hilarious. I faintly recall the sock, shoes and jeans being sprinkled with water as if I have jumped in the Ganga to attain salvation. It was nearly 5 p.m when we were done. We were lured by the pistol target game hitting balloons outside the park where I failed to hit the targets on several occasions. But, it was compensated by the spicy channa wrapped in a newspaper cone and other local savouries.

At the end of the day, we had no life and once we came home, pizza and beer did the trick. I slept early like a baby after being drained and the energy sucked out of the body at the park. Do you think on Monday, I would get away with things? The astrologer baba uncle convinced me to accompany him again at the park and at first I refused, because having only this man for company was quite a pain with his concocted stories, imagining himself to be Peter Pan or the living ghost of Ruskin Bond getting inside his body. In fact, he wasn’t that bad but visiting the zoo again?! But, he bribed me with beer and offering to buy my share of cigarettes for the day. The offer was too good to resist. Monday was spent in the zoo in the company of animals, far away from the bustling city life that I was planning to book a place to stay in the zoo. Ha! Thankfully, we stayed there only for half-day or else chances were mighty high that I would start behaving like animals, not that I am not one.

The post made me relive all those moments spent a decade back in the city of Peshwar but never thought that I would pen my experience on zoo and ghosts as part of the memoirs. 2004/5 was such a year in Pune. Life was beautiful and near perfect. Hope you all like this episode as part of the memoirs.

Love

V