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Pune Memoirs (III): A twist of friendship

Pune Memoirs :

Third Year


Some relationships are just meant to be like lemon twist and the splash bubble that grow sweet and sour with maturity.  Today, Ajitabh Bhaiya called me from Jamshedpur after reading a status on how I loathed Jacqueline Fernandez act in the new version of Madhuri Dixit’s Ek do teen, something he showed to his sister who is a seasoned journalist in Bihar who related to what I expressed. A lovely conversation I happened to have with Anni Didi and spoke to aunty in Jamshedpur. Anni Didi is a Chief reporter for Hindi news channel in Jamshedpur and we connected on one common link, national issues in the country, journalism and the common brother, Ajitabh. At the stroke of a phone call, I can feel the bond with the entire family of Ajitabh Bhaiya in Bihar, the place we hail from and a strong realization just struck on the roots percolating in the heart and soul through the pure relationship nurtured in Pune.

I remember meeting Ajitabh Bhaiya for the first time at Savera one Sunday morning while sitting for breakfast with one of his friend and college senior S, an affable and cheerful girl with whom I became friends. A group of our seniors, both boys and girls would always randomly sit on the last table cheering and singing with a birthday cake that was their way to celebrate friendship. S was part of the enthusiastic group and some girls passed me a piece of cake, telling that it was no one’s birthday. A simple way to celebrate randomness, friendship, changing weather and the state of being. So much for being alive and makes me wonder why we celebrate less about everything worth living. That’s how I became friends with S and we sat at Savera a couple of times having chai, coffee and gupshut or taking walks.

She introduced me to Ajitabh Bhaiya who was dressed formally and we exchanged Hi, a few pleasantries. He was doing his Masters at SP College and once I met them on the way at FC Road which is always teeming with activities after coming straight from the small Ayurvedic clinic after buying sleeping pills since there was anxiety pang afflicting the soul and body. The man who became a good friend over the days, months and years told me that being sleep deprived happens when we think too much. The words worked like a magic pill that night when I slept peacefully like a kid. The hazy days when he took me as a subject to SP college as part of some Psychology department experiment and we had tea in the stall outside his PG institute is a fond remembrance of those moments of elated joy. Or another instance, when I was sitting with another senior Bhakti and he came along, both asking each other how do you know him, alluding to me. They answered in chorus, ‘He is my friend’ and laughed. I felt like a balloon being tossed in the air.

One thing led to the other and friendship was carved between smoke blown in the air, soulful and deeply intense philosophy conversation, chai aur coffee and boozing next door at Namaskar. There wasn’t a minute when we didn’t laugh at every mundane moment and making me mouth the favourite Amitabh Bachchan dialogue since I was Bachchan for friends. One morning, I walked inside Savera for a place to sit that was over packed and casually said, ‘Jaga Nahin hai baithne ke Liye bhenchod.’” Ajitabh Bhaiya would always say how I am very pyare (sweet) mouthing the Hindi cuss words that must have happened by chilling with the gang. We almost ended up acting in a short film that our friend Kaku was planning and Chanda would always say that Bachchan (me) asks too much questions. Doctor Sahab just said that it is our karma to ask questions since we are actors. But, the film never got to be made with us but was ultimately was canned, the time I left Pune.

Whatever conversations we always had was laden with Ajitabh Bhaiya’s own inimitable style that made me laugh about it and seems so vivid as if the ear just heard them. Once Chanda was driving in his car to college and saw an accident happening at Deep Bangla Chowk which he found funny in the way the vehicles banged. Ajitabh Bhaiya just came and popped something that irked him. “Haan Chandi, kahani sunao (continue the story),” Ajitabh quipped in a funny tone. Chanda was like, ‘It’s no story fucker but reality.”

He would always blame me for not being able to make a new girl friend since I keep calling him ‘Bhaiya’ (brother) in college and the girls who sit with us have started calling him that. I was the one to be blamed. We all laughed in jest. It was Bachchan’s fault, after all. That’s me. Our boozing parties were made of legendary stuff and he is one truly honest dude who would tell me the reality on my face on what I am lacking or getting a bit over-the-top after a couple of drinks.

In my heightened booze state, I would always say, ‘Ajitabh tu aata hai jaata hai, mamla kya hai ( You just come, meet us and go). Probably, because he was always in a hurry during the day, coming for a smoke, his personal brand was either four square or small Wills stick and to disappear suddenly in the distance like a UFO.  It’s another story that he was the much sought after person everywhere, in our surrounding, the external environment, cosmic and beyond for the deep conversation that sucks us into his world. The way he would play with his hand and glint in the eyes doing the theatrics and acting moved us into a world of dreams where nothing was impossible in life. The bunch of us vowed to make it big in music and films where he would casually remark that we don’t need to go to Mumbai to make it big creatively but the city of dreams would one day come to us.

The last time we met was in the same old Pune at Namaskar and recalled at that time, there were some tensions brewing among close friends. I was also going through a terrible heart break in Mumbai that compelled me to withdraw into a sullen mood but somehow, our vibes were lost in translation. The conversation was very less except for a snippet of conversation that Ajitabh Bhaiya made with a genuine smile on his face to dilute the tension. But, I suddenly grew distant and cold. Call it my immaturity but certain friendships have to take a leap back, wear thin on the sleeve to regain its strength. Like all deeply connected ties, we weathered the storms and connected again last year after a decade plus.

But, many years back, I sensed that we were destined for reaching out to each other.  I happened to be in Pune towards the end of 2011 and was having a joint with A and S when they told that Ajitabh Bhaiya happened to face a major accident in Pune where he fell down and his parents came to take him back. He was in a serious condition but he is fine. It came as a jolt. On that day, I passed out on the ground but don’t know whether it was the effect of ganja or focussing my mind too much on his accident, like my dear friend A said.



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Pune Memoirs (III): Smoking up and midnight drama

Pune Memoirs: 2005/06

Third Year

Fergusson College Road:

It was a Saturday afternoon. I straddled my way to the college hang out at Savera for the cuppa tea ritual but this outing was beyond ordinary that would change my life forever in the company of friends. The road was always pocked with people in the evening and the gaze fixed at the cool crowd teeming their way for tea, coffee, and snacks.  Of course, our eyes were fixed to the college building watching people hopping past the gate for evenings walk, the sound or sight of vehicles screeching and honking or the favorite pastime of watching chicks thronging their way with friends or gallant company.

The first time I explored ganja in full public glare that happened in the nick of time. I sashayed my way outside the restaurant entrance that felt like an inlet, surrounded by the line up of bamboo,  flower pots and to huddle on the pavement. Someone in our group asked if I am game to smoke up and vaguely remember sometimes back I obstinately refused a friend A asking the same past noon at the same place. The crime was committed in less than 10 minutes, exchange filter that passed different hands and we bask into the glory of the puff and scent of the leaves. Ganja has a golden rule that newly initiated like me discovered:  Once you take a puff or two, it must be passed in the circle pretty much like the childhood games to everyone in regular interval till the roll is done and dissected with.

I was ballooning in the air and the throat felt suddenly dry as we lingered on the pavement watching in wonderment at our college that stood tall like a rock solid human made of steel that nobody could touch or harm. I stood in deference right in front of the alma mater’s gate.

Alcohol and the first brush of ganja do things to me, getting swayed by emotions high on adrenaline and feeling the wind blowing in ruffling burst. I felt like leaping and being carried by an unknown force to fly in the air. The feeling of unusual happiness has always made me feel good and smoking up parachuted in me in a universe where no dreams are too big a path to tread.

We took leave of each other since the boys had to go home after the traditional hug bonding us forever during the last year in college. I didn’t give a tinker’s curse about the world and took herky-jerky steps straight to the room. A bottle of water was kept by the side of the mattress lying on the floor and hunger pang was felt.

For one moment, I almost forget about the dinner with Adi, M, K and a bunch of new people. It was almost six when Adi sms-ed with the typical, ‘When are you coming?’ It felt like quite an effort to type with a simple, ‘sum time…will get ready.’ I got up and swiped left and right on the feet, trying to strike a balance to stand straight. After all, the smoking up and a couple of drag didn’t seem to wane away. Half a bottle of Bisleri was gulped to dilute the effect. I was feeling good being high but had to cross the busy road to reach the apartment of my friends at the other end. I went back slouching on the mattress and trying to close the eyes. After some time, I not only felt better but saw a couple of missed calls from the chums. It was time to go. I washed the face and scampered my way down the stairs. I stopped at the pan wallah to buy a couple of cigarettes and crossed the road to again trudge on the stairs to reach my friends’ apartment. M’s younger brother G greeted me and as soon as I entered made a u-turn into flaneur mode back on the jam-packed road since the folks wanted to buy stuff to cook. We stopped at the small Kirana shop, halted for a smoke and got some paan since the dude wanted to have a taste in the evening. Of course, the bhaiya in me would never miss an occasion to munch on the banarasi.

We got back to the apartment and Adi who was on his way out asked whether I have an extra fag on me. I flipped open the box.  Trying not to speak and silently praying that he would buzz off since I didn’t want to be caught and subjected to his irritating sermons like the holy priest. But, some people have the dog’s luck and sniff! He was watching my mouth and casually asking, “What are you having?” ‘Paan’, came my answer. Dude sniggered and called me ‘weird’ before disappearing. He came back in a short while and pulled a fast one on me, making a joke on who eats paan before dinner. Well! I do.

Post dinner, we were roaming in the night a bit high on alcohol and smoking up stuff in his Dad’s brand new Maruti Swift that I loved to death. Now, you know why yours truly is hooked to the Swift that goes a long time back to connect the dots of friendship. Now, I don’t know what got into him or us as we drove from the Peth area at leisurely pace till Aundh. What happened afterward made me reel into embarrassment which was the entire doing of our dear friend.  I shouldered the blame and kicked myself in the ass for popping the question of exams where the conversation was routine in the middle of the night at Aundh village, smoking and having alcohol which we got from the wine shop.  Exams were round the corner. We whined on how we didn’t study and there was barely enough time to wrap up the whole thing as the finale was fast approaching.

Lord Voldemort was our staple diet in those days. He had to spoil everything. “Did G gave back your notes?”, he doggedly asked. I tried to avert the question with a chilled out, she will give it back. But, no, Mister decided to have his way and funnily enough to be concerned for Xerox notes in a subject that he wasn’t doing in the first place, Economics general. There was no way that I could avoid his pressing and he dialed her number from my mobile. The phone was ringing and finally, she picked up. Now, this guy was pinching and tickling me in the car. I had no option after saying Hi to ask in a hesitating tone about the notes but think she said something about giving it back to me on Monday in college. But, no, asshole had to speak and make his voice louder at the back of the conversation clearing saying something like, ‘ask her…you need it now.’

Pure hell. It felt like the end of the world for me.  This Abhay Deol feeling of the funniest situation in Socha Na Tha just happened to me and couldn’t believe that a chosen victim was born in my soul.  G was pissed and legitimately so.  She just fired while Adi pulled the trigger. “Please tell Adi if he has some problem, speak directly or tell it to my face.” I was crestfallen and felt like being caught in a war zone.  Fucker had the nerves to steer the engine and stationed right in front of G’s gate and casually ordering me to press the bell to take the notes. Can you imagine my plight? I tiptoed on my foot and walked the slowest praying the building gets into blackout mode. It would have been the saving grace. Nothing of that sort happened.

I landed in front of the door when Adi suddenly buzzed and telling, “Press the bell fucker.” What timing! I did it out of fear and G opened the door to hand me the notes. I apologized more than 10 times and made a silly face. She gave a wry smile in return, ‘that’s alright.’ But, I could make out that she was majorly pissed off. This story of losing face goes back to one year back when I had a huge crush on her and proposed on sms with 1, 4, 3-it was Adi’s idea by the way-but we remained good friends after that. But, suspense had to be triggered towards the end of it by one of my closest buddies to create unnecessary drama. Deep inside, I knew that gotta mend things out but, somehow, we were drifting apart which was not Adi’s doing but mine.

Love bell was tinkling inside the heart. A new crush and an old flame were surfacing in my life. I love Saturdays when one evening, path was crossed with K outside CCD on FC Road and she was wearing a saree. I instinctively complimented her saying that she looked like Rekha. The smile was divine and the drums started to dance inside the heart. Well! Adi believes that such compliments during evenings can be lusty.



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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



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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/ 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.



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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.

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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:

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




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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: 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.




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

Pune Memoirs, Second year:


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.
Kasba Peth/Image credit: Google-

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…