Mumbai Diaries , the 11th!

So, it is already a year since I moved to Mumbai. The city of dreams; the city that never sleeps; the Maximum city – the cliches never get old, they just continue to get better and seem truer as you get to know the city closer, with each passing day. Though I have known it since precisely 12 years (2011 Jan, when I first set my feet here as a dreamy almost-out-of-college boy), the last 12 months have again made me realize that apart from my home-town Varanasi, if there is any other place where I would want to live & have a life, it is here. So here are my top 12 reasons from last 12 months, for falling in love with this city, all over again.

Bollywood: If you live, breathe and think ‘Bollywood’, there is no way you can’t get starry-eyed of the mecca of Hindi film industry. Every corner & anecdote has a filmy connection here and of course the easy accessibility to the stars and their world is a never-ending charm. The highlight for me has to be attending the promotional event of Darlings, with the amazing Alia Bhatt & Shefali Shah talking live in front of me. (And not so high-light would be the visit to the Film city, which turned out to be a damp squib.

Marine drive: When I am asked if I am a sea person or mountains person, I just say – I am a Marine drive person. No matter how many times you visit, at whichever time you visit, the charm of the place is never too much. The sea is perhaps what gives this city its strongest vibes and personality trait. From the little glimpses of the infinite blueness of the sea to the majestic aura of the Bandra-Worli Sea link, the Arabian City undoubtedly lends a lot of its dreaminess to the city.

Vada pao  For someone who grew up (and still is growing) on a staple diet of bread and aloo, there is nothing better than the Bombay street food – hands down a complete winner over its Delhi counterparts. Potato, fried and in many variants along with the Pao, and there is no looking back. Otherwise as well, the fine dine scene in Mumbai is also quite superior with lavish celebrity owned restaurants and pubs with exotic cuisines.

Opportunities: Well, ever since my ‘job location’ changed to Mumbai – that has been the happiest and most fulfilling phase of my career. Yes, I know it may not be the just the city (i) but it can’t be just a coincidence that in the city of dreams I found the opportunity of my dreams?

People I really don’t believe in branding people to places but maybe this is an exception? The spirit of freedom, fun & gentle carelessness that I see in the Mumbai folks is, to say the least – accepting, welcoming and charming. From quirky landlords who won’t rent you the place unless you take their late mom’s bed to typical So Bo resident who has never stepped into Mohammad Ali Road (as they fear being kidnapped) – they are as colorful and genuine as they get.

Freedom A casual afternoon playing cards, an evening with loud music, soft conversations, fun gossips and banters – all buoyant with the lightness of the ‘spirit’ and the interesting company; and you don’t need more reasons to love the city. Freedom in Mumbai doesn’t only mean that the city is literally active and buzzing with people round the clock, but also reflects in the open mindset and hearts in accepting you as you are, almost!

Mountains What no one prepares you before coming to the city is the fact that you’ll see mountains much more often than the sea! Casually springing up here & there, the small hills – sometimes with full green cover, sometimes covered with slums are a part of the landscape of the city. My favorite is of course the one overlooking my house – the first view that I wake up to everyday!

House If there is one materialistic dream that I have – it is to have a fancy sea-facing house in the town! While that remains, I love the house we got here – complete opposite of what one would expect from Mumbai – a lavish 2 storied house with a backyard, little garden, terrace and amidst plenty of greenery, overlooking a forest and right next to the Film City! So for all the jokes about houses in Mumbai being small – can’t relate to them happily!

Drive I learnt driving in the Covid lockdown in Varanasi, but the thrill of driving in a metro city which massive roads, flyovers (and also traffic) was something which I have experienced only in Mumbai. The charm of driving along the sea-side, along the mountains and all the while being on the big bad city roads is just something else. Though nothing beats (still) the thrilling drive on the Bandra-Worli Sea link specially in the night with the sizzling Worli sky-line glittering in the background.

Local With a couple of lines functional, and rest of the lines creeping up slowly across the city, Mumbai ‘Metro’ is soon to take its full shape and enter the popular culture – but will it be able to replace the iconic place of the Mumbai local? That seems tough. The fast pace which picks up suddenly from a slow start, the chase against time of the passengers to board on time, the push & shove in the train to settle in a comfortable spot- sometimes resisted by fellow passengers sometimes them coming together to support each other and eventually, more often than not, everyone reaching their destination safely and on time – nothing embodies the true spirit of Mumbai more than the local train. My favorite local train moment of last year is definitely the ride with Shlok, which he loved as much I did my first.

Diversity Right after landing in Mumbai, the first cab we took, the driver was from, where else but Varanasi! While that made us chuckle and take it as a hint that the city was going to be our second home – over next few months I realized it is nothing but the beautiful picture of diversity that this city presents. Simply speaking – if you meet a group of people in Mumbai it is more than likely that you will perhaps have representation from all states, religion, languages and even ideologies. Thanks to that, I have learnt about many new customs, tasted new food from lunch boxes of colleagues, discussed various views & opinions and definitely learnt to be more inclusive & accepting.

Hill-stations The Mumbai to Pune drive on the expressway is without doubts the most beautiful drive that I have done – thanks to the mesmerizing views of the western ghats, hills, tunnels and the clouds overflowing through all of them. There is no dearth of pretty little hill stations around Mumbai for a quick weekend getaway. Not just the very popular Lonavala Khandala Matheran, but there are a lot of subtle quaint options as well, like Igatpuri – which we absolutely loved.

I have always believed that you start belonging to a city when you don’t need google maps or even the road signs to guide you to your destination. Today as I drove back from Marine drive to my place, my phone battery & I , both didn’t feel exhausted. Off to the next list of adventures & experiences in the city!

The Kerala Story

So, I saw The Kerala Story yesterday, right after finishing the full volume of the six books’ series of The Empire of the Moghul – which chronicled the rise, rule, fall and the times of Mughal dynasty in India. As one of the villainous characters in the movie said – ‘We have to finish the incomplete work of Alamgir Aurangzeb and convert Hindustan to a land of ‘believers’, I couldn’t help but reflect on how this clash of cultures/religions has always been around in the sub-continent, but the differences get pronounced and hatred starts becoming mainstream and impacting the day-to-day functioning of life whenever the king/government tries to mix governance with religion.

Hence – turning a blind eye to the problem/issue that the movie portrays very effectively would also be as incorrect as giving in to the hatred and divide basis religion. There are uncomfortable and politically incorrect truths that need to be acknowledged and steps that need to be taken to course-correct a philosophy, belief-system and way of life. But what needs to be purely an objective view of righteousness and attempts to ensure a law-abiding society, ends up (often intentionally) as a narrative of Us v/s Them, instead of Right v/s Wrong. So, when the movie quotes Aurangzeb, perhaps it is being factually correct only as the rule of the last major Mughal emperor was indeed marked by rampant radicalization and oppressive acts against those who didn’t agree with the faith of the ruler (and that era was almost entirely responsible for destructions of most of the temples). But this should not be taken to the extremes of saying that all Mughals were the same (the stories of liberal/tolerant nature of the reign of his predecessors are well-documented) or that there is a problem with a whole religion/community as such.

This broad stereotyping and generalization in some of the ways -conversations, Whatsapp forwards and political leaders’ speeches/quotes is what leads to creation of a divide and an atmosphere of mistrust and fear in the pretext of saying the truth. There are no simple and binary answers. Like most things in life, there are multiple perspectives and it is not easy to pick a side – but why should we have to? Universal values of truth, love, kindness and humanity are the only yardstick of righteousness, and anyone against these should be the only ones whom we stand against – irrespective of their religion or caste or any other group that we may think of.

To be clear – I don’t think that there is no problem, or there is nothing wrong in the ideology and practices which (in its pure or even abridged version) is making its followers perhaps a little more prone to inhuman acts than the other. That would be denying the stark facts that lie against us. However, this doesn’t mean we discriminate – in any soft or hard forms or create an atmosphere where someone has to fear their identity. The only reason for fear should be if one is involved in anything which is wrong as per the law. The movie conveniently shows that all those who were brainwashed were also given a special drug mixed in their food/drinks which made them ‘fall into the trap’, rather than being consenting adults who chose to do certain things. Well, as I said – truth is never simple or one-dimensional. Hence in our limited capacity, let’s just follow the simple truths of loving, being kind and nice to all around us. Maybe that alone can lead to happier world.

The Pathaan of Bollywood

Pathaan crossing the unimaginable milestone of INR 1000 crores at the worldwide box-office is the stuff that legendary and historic comebacks are made up of; not just of SRK but that of Bollywood in general and of the sense of righteousness in the general discourse of the Indian movie industry. The 1000 crores’ club now consists of 5 Indian movies- Dangal, Baahubali 2, KGF 2, RRR and Pathaan, in that order. However, Pathaan’s journey to the top is definitely the most significant of them all.

Long before the first teaser/poster or any detail of the movie was out, social media was full of calls of ‘Boycott Pathaan’, often accompanied by morphed images of SRK in an Afghani dress and beard et al – in a complete lack of decency or even a pretense of respect for multicultural fabric of our country. (Maybe the makers got the catchphrase – Besharam Rang from there only). With the SSR suicide episode and the frantic calls of Boycott Bollywood, or Urduwood as many referred it to – Pathaan was a very easy target with its Urdu title and ugly discourse around it. And when the trailer and songs came out – it just escalated and political leaders and priests all came together to fuel the boycott calls for reasons as bizarre as color of the bikini worn by Deepika. However to his credit – Mr. Modi did indirectly address this in his party meeting a couple of days before the release and asked his team to not comment on ‘movies’. And when it released – the hype and craze was unimaginable and the rest is history.

Putting aside the artistic merits – the messaging from this event of a movie and its outcome couldn’t have been sweeter. Perhaps, all the toxicity that we come across on and off social media is just a minority view, of the group which doesn’t really make up the core of our society or influence the collective decisions. Perhaps, like in most of our ideals we are selective in hatred and boycott also and the love that India has for SRK triumphs all other emotions which that minority group has been trying to leverage and burn fires of their own. Perhaps, we were sick with the excess of hatred and division in the name of religion and politics and this was a resounding answer to that with love. Perhaps, the brilliant business mind(s) at the Yash Raj Films just knew how to mix India’s love for SRK with the current sentiment and just gave the audience what they wanted. After all, despite all the risks and threats, Pathaan did take a brave stand via its story. It has Muslim characters as the lead actor and actress, it has the customary good Pakistani (a good ISI agent, no less) fighting alongside a good Indian against a rogue Indian ex-army agent – in short ticking all the wrong boxes in the book of the right-wing discourse that is being pushed down our throats these days. That the paying public in the country spent more than 500 crores on it just goes on to show how irrelevant the whole narrative is.

However, while Pathaan may have broken through most barriers, one which it couldn’t break was that of the south of the Vindhyas. Its Tamil & Telugu dubbed versions together have earned a meagre 18 crores and almost entire 500 cr+ collection in India is from its hindi version. It remains unexplainable why the Bollywood movies fail to appeal to the large markets of South India , while the reverse has been increasingly true over the years. Artistic excellence is definitely not the reason for this – the levels of excessive irrationality in action sequences and casual misogyny is something which has always been higher in South Indian masala movies and Bollywood has often tried to emulate it to occasional successes. Its just a total indifference or lack of interest of the non-Hindi speaking population towards watching hindi movies dubbed in their language. It is the lack of this big chunk of collections because of which Pathaan couldn’t cross 1000 crores mark in the country itself – the way Baahubali 2 or KGF 2 did. And this is also what makes Pathaan crossing the 1000 crores mark globally even more significant. For all the theories about South Indian cinema taking over Bollywood, the list of top 10 highest grossing movies of India is still dominated by Hindi movies (6/10), with Dangal comfortably being at the top.

But does that mean Dangal is the best movie made in India ever, followed by the other 4 in that order? Definitely no. The movies are a classic case of art and business coming together but not necessarily walking together always. Something that is perceived by majority as that of high artistic value may not generate revenue and vice versa. Hence, in popular discourse the idea is to create something which the largest group can enjoy and achieve what they seek out of it – which is in most cases, entertainment. That is what Yashraj exactly did with Pathaan – a superstar whom the nation loved to love but was not getting opportunities to; a script which sounded much more intelligent than it actually is; some never-seen-before action scenes even at the cost of logic and physics, not taking itself seriously; super rich production value and fast-paced screenplay with moments designed to elicit hysteria; and the result is for all of us to see.

Pathaan is a month old today in the cinemas, and if you open the bookmyshow app, you are highly likely to see some of the shows colored as red.  And while the 2 movies which came after Pathaan haven’t really done well, I couldn’t find a single comment on social media calling for their boycott – and this in itself might be start of the good times for Bollywood.


   ‘’So, has Varanasi really transformed in last 7 years?’’

This is the most common question about my city that I am asked these days from acquaintances and colleagues. (apart from, Are Kashi, Benaras and Varanasi the same cities or different?) As I cast my vote last week at the same school which I had last visited in 2017, I noticed the narrow lane leading to it; it was in a bad shape back then, but was top-notch this time. The little pond nearby had almost dried though and was overridden with weeds and trash, mostly plastic. That image for me summarized the developmental status of the city – which I am privileged to call my hometown and have most of my childhood memories (and in last 1.5 years, a lot of them as an adult as well.) associated to it.

While the holy river (Ganga ji, as we refer ‘her’) remains the soul and heart of this city, the 2 tributaries of it – Varuna and Asi which give the city its name, have also been an integral part of our life and culture. While the Varuna has been flowing over the years in the similar way – narrower than usual river still making the presence felt, Asi river has been almost missing – existing more as a drain and in the files than in reality. In last 7 years – there has been no change whatsoever in the condition of either. As far as the Holy Ganga herself is considered, for the bare eyes, perhaps clouded to some extent by spiritual beliefs, the water has also remained the same ever since I can remember it.

On the banks of the river is where the major transformation has happened. The ghats have become definitely cleaner and more organized; the surrounding markets and the famous lanes look fancier and chic with lights, stones, paints etc.; the tourism avenues including Aartis, boating have been better managed with introduction of new services and amenities from parking to cruise services to cleanliness. For the first time this year, we had a family party on a river cruise on my father’s birthday and as we breezed through the river with a beautiful view of the  colourful ghats all lighted up and shining – what was most visible was the change!

Through the city, the roads have got dividers and those artistic streetlights (though a lot of them function at will). The ring road and the beautiful elevated corridor around the airport is the stuff that we were not used to seeing earlier in our Benaras. The walls across the city which were covered with movie posters or paan stains are seen covered with beautiful paintings of mythological stories and at times over-written by hate messages as well (Though the administration made sure they were removed and culprits held up to task). The railway stations have become much cleaner and well-managed.

The memories of power-cut happening as a daily routine seem distant in the past, though I think those had stopped even before 2014.

The health facilities in the city seem to have improved if we go purely by number of hospitals and facilities available, but the fact remains that like most of the country, Varanasi also saw breakdown of the machinery and trust in the second COVID wave last year.

The biggest transformation by a huge margin, in terms of effort, outcome and impact is the all new Kashi Vishwanath Dham. Even the harshest critic of the ruling party cannot deny that it was a monumental task – which has been actualized in a record time and strikes all the right chords with us. The temple premise looks majestic now and with the corridor linking it to the Holy river now open for public, this one change alone would have won them the elections and hearts. If you visited the temple last year, unless you were visiting solely with a religious and devotional eye (like most of the visitors here), the first impression of the temple would definitely have been underwhelming but now it seems grand and worth its fame – and that is no mean feat to achieve by removing obstacles of mushroomed-over-decades-constructions in the narrow by-lanes around the temple, which had it gasping for space and breath. While one can debate the relevance of politics around temples and religion and its significance in a nation struggling in various human development indices, there is no denying that this move is also an economic one- with a major boast to tourism and spiritual industry. For the city where we grow up chanting Har har mahadev, the city where the common tradition is to take the blessings of Kashi Vishwanath in any auspicious event (Apart from the main event and the court registration, I also had a small wedding ceremony in the temple), the city where there is an actual police station where the Kotwal (station in-charge) chair is occupied by a deity of the God (as he is supposed to be the Kotwal of Kashi) while the officer assigned sits on another chair nearby – no change could have been bigger.

Culturally, there has been an increased visibility and prominence of the city in terms of political, cultural, filmy and artistic events being hosted here or the mention of it in national and internal news.  

However, for residents and tourists, a lot of the existing problems in daily lives continue undeterred – overcrowding, narrow roads, traffic jams, money extortion by the middlemen around temples, lack of job opportunities in the private sector being the most prominent. But on all these, perhaps it is the general consensus that any solution will take long to show its impact and change or the problem just cannot be solved, at least in most of our lifetimes. (e.g. overcrowding).

Walking out of the polling booth I noticed amidst the entangled hyacinth weeds, a sole lotus blooming in all its glory, that seemed to be answering the question on its own.


नन्हें  नन्हें  क़दमों से

तुम जो ठुमक ठुमक कर चलते हो

यूँ  आड़ी -टेढ़ी नज़रों से

न जाने क्या खोजते हो

डगमग डगमग सी चाल से तुम

जब इधर उधर लहराते हो

मन-मोहक सी इस अदा से तुम

दिल कितनो का बहलाते हो

टूटे-फूटे शब्दों में तुम जो

अनर्गल ही बतियाते हो

किसी भी भाषा से  बेहतर

अपनी बात यूँ ही कह जाते हो

तुम जो ठुमक ठुमक कर चलते हो…

चंचल, चपल, चतुर

चक्षुओं से जो तुम चहुंओर  चहकते हो

मासूमियत के इस  छद्म में तुम

जीवन का एक स्वछंद भाव सिखाते हो

हर पल में बस उस पल में रहना

हर ख़ुशी पर खिलखिला कर हंसना

और हर ग़म से अगले ही पल में उबरना

मानो बस यही एक पल था, और है

और इसी में हर रस से मन भर लेना

अपने अतरंगी भावों से तुम

हर पल मानो  ये कह जाते हो

तुम जो ठुमक ठुमक कर चलते हो

गोल मोटी निश्छल सी आँखों से तुम

जब शिकायत से यूँ देखते हो

कोई हल्की सी चोट या माथे की शिकन ही हो

या फिर जो तुमने सहे वो सारे सितम ही हों

अपनी एक बस आह से तुम

दिल को मेरे कैसे द्रवित कर जाते हो

प्यार इश्क़ मोहब्बत का एक

अलग ही उत्कृष्ट अर्थ समझाते हो

खुद  ही को जो एक बच्चा सा महसूस करे जो

उसको भी एक पल में मानो बड़ा कर जाते हो

तुम जो ठुमक ठुमक कर चलते हो

हर दिन एक नयी शरारत

हर पल एक नयी अठखेली

कौतूहल भरी तुम्हारी नज़रों से देखो

तो लगती है दुनिया नयी नवेली

हर रिश्ते में हर किस्से में

जीवन के हर एक हिस्से में

बनकर एक नयी उम्मीद

कैसे हर दिन को एक त्यौहार में बदलते हो

तुम जो ठुमक ठुमक कर चलते हो…

City lights

The twinkling sparkling city lights
Spread around as a sea of illumination
I sit across the window trying to grasp
The stories behind each little spectacle
Some lost in their own chapters,
Some still awaiting culmination
But most of them
Flickering with the hope of salvation
Of their original spark
That got them here, propelled by dreams and pushed by fear
But mostly as unchallenged and blinded by history – unwritten tradition
Each spark, of a unique shine and color
Shone brighter and brighter
Rose higher and higher
To merge with this sea of illumination
In the mirage of building one’s own identification
An identity defined by chases and labels
Strengthened by exchanges and transactions
of merging with the whole
of assimilation and standardization
of following the pattern and joining the big sparkling sea of illumination
The stories, each brightened with their unique hues
Each of them gradually blending into the yellow
Their unique stories losing into countless others’
Creating the strong, fascinating glow of the city lights

Work from Home!

The (HR) professional in me may debate on the effectiveness of the Work from home set-up, but the 18 years old boy that left his home about 14 years ago and post that got to visit it sporadically for short periods, lesser than many guests, has nothing but all his support and gratitude for this scheme of things.

When I had first left this city, I was of course sad and home-sick for months. While I am all for the spirit of exploring new places and people, it was more than just missing your parents and family. I remember often researching and feeling disappointed at the state of distribution of development across Indian cities. With most of the good jobs only located in 5-6 cities in a country of more than 700 districts, I wondered how most of people of my generation and professional camaraderie would end up settling down in one of these cities. Apart from causing a tremendous imbalance of population and practically unbearable load on the infrastructure of these cities, I also felt it would lead to a terrible loss of the culture and uniqueness of people and their folklores, especially for the next generation which would all have grown up in one of those almost identical flats and would have barely known the cultural flavours of their hometowns – the small towns, which I doubted if they would even be able to call home! For the last 7 years of my professional life, I have lived that life – and loved it no doubt. The glamour & charm of everything that these metros have to offer is also something that I wouldn’t have missed for anything, but is not something which isn’t replaceable or reproducible. And I daresay, a lot of the tier 2 cities are also fast catching up on it.

Then came the doom inducing pandemic – and amidst all the misery, mayhem and loss brought on by it, it also perhaps reconnected many people like me to their homes, courtesy the Work from home set-up! Needless to say, this is the longest that I have stayed at my home, in this city after leaving it more than a decade ago. It is a sad irony that it took this tragic event for us to stay in our homes without compromising on our careers. This time period of last one and half years has not only disrupted in a major way the way how we work but has also reset in motion many a beautiful memories of past. A piece of childhood thrown around at every corner of the city; the lush green views and large open spaces to call your own and walk around; the familiar faces of neighbours, colony kids and even the next door shopkeepers growing old with us; occasional visit to/from cousins and relatives at ease post work; actually having all the meals together with family, and at times joined by extended family; roaming around the city with a sense of belonging and ownership at the same time the pride of ‘having made it’; all these are what else but the happiness boosters for the country boy in me and productivity boosters for the professional in me.

There are times when I do miss the charms of the big bad city, so if I were to say that I would never want to go back to that life- that’d not be true. But why should we have to choose? And if we had to, why should there be the only 2 extremes for choices? To use a clichéd term- the way ahead has to be (wishful thinking!) defined by flexibility and distributive development- the flexibility to not let location of an individual be a constraint in his or her dreams and actualization of aspirations; and the distribution of development across the country to create opportunities. While the former has to be led mainly by the organization and latter by governments; both are extremely intertwined and follow each other. While this is mostly being seen as an interruption before things go back to normalcy as we defined earlier- it should ideally be seen as a watershed moment in the ways of working of and especially India where we haven’t really been great in terms of workplace flexibility. There are tremendous possibilities of where we go from here other than the extremes of remote work or on site jobs now that we have data to validate efficacy of what works worse, at par or better from a specific location and with teams that are close to each other physically. Most of them would have drastic impact on the supporting eco-systems – housing, retail, transport, hospitality and entertainment. But most of them would be much awaited and for an eventual better future, the one where we wouldn’t have to spend hours in our cars, stuck in traffic.

Here is hoping that a year from now, when the world is vaccinated and has moved past the fear of the virus, we wouldn’t have to wait for 6 months to be at our homes for 2 days! The change has just begun, hopefully!

Horror Story

The darkness of the night engulfed her all around, as she walked with hurried yet hushed steps. A distant flicker of the sole streetlight was in the periphery of her vision as she walked stealthily towards it. She felt a little stupid and also irresponsible for not ‘planning’ the evening better, but then a lot of things had not happened as per the plan that night. Her flat was still a good 20 minutes of walk from the point where the bus had dropped her. Usual sounds like howling of dogs or screeching of tyres of cars being driven perhaps by someone in a drunken influence (either of power or alcohol) seemed unusual and added to the eeriness of the night. It was after a long time today that she felt fear. Not the types of how her boss will react or what will her parents say, but scared for her life and safety.

As a kid, she used to get easily scared- of monkeys, dogs, the evil bearded baba who ate kids if they didn’t drink milk, darkness and most of all – ghosts. Whether it was due to all those horror serials that her elder brother used to watch and she had no choice but to see or due to her own ingrained fears, she was easily afraid of the thought of ghosts and always imagined them creeping behind her whenever she had to encounter darkness or be alone at night. However, as she grew her fears gave away for a strong will, a sense of questioning things and looking from a logical lens and charting out her own path. Coming from a small town, she made sure she didn’t fall into the trap of limiting her life to the confines of womanhood as defined by her traditional society. Post excelling at her education, she was in the journey of building her own identity – through her work, her job and her dreams of doing something worthwhile for the society, and this pursuit had no place for any kind of fear. While she had overcome most of her fears, even with all the rationality and matter-of-factness, she had not been able to convince herself that ghosts didn’t exist. So while she was not really that afraid of the idea of a ghost now and didn’t really believe she will ever encounter one, she wasn’t completely convinced that it was all just a myth. Around a year back, when she was moving to the Capital city for her new assignment; her parents though were gripped by another fear.

‘’The city is not at all safe for girls, please find an opportunity somewhere else’’

“Don’t you remember the 2012 incident? That is no place for a girl to work and stay alone, without family’’

‘’We have always encouraged you to follow your dreams and do what you believe in, but nothing is more important for us more than your safety’’.

However, as always she followed her will and moved to pursue her dream job after a lot of convincing and explaining to her parents and herself. She had spoken to some of her friends and acquaintances who were living there already and understood that it wasn’t that bad – you just have to take some precautions and everything will be fine. She had mentally prepared herself for all the self-imposed restrictions and moved. The year gone by had been decent by the standards of the image that this city had. There were a few incidents of some stares and attempt to shove in the crowded metro, but nothing that made her question her decision, until this night of course.

The office event that she was managing was in a hotel located in the outskirts of the city. The event was supposed to end late and unfortunately all the private cab operators had declared a strike in the city that day. She got to know this in the morning, so she spoke to a colleague who had his own car and agreed that he would drop her home post the event. In worst case she would take an auto, she had thought to herself. However, at 1130 in the night when she found herself free after closing the event and called the colleague, it came as a worry to her that he had to leave early due to a family medical emergency. So, she waited for an auto outside the hotel but she realized that perhaps due to the strike the autos were also sparse at this time and all that she could find was the local city transport bus which had a stop around 2 kms. far from her place. Though she wasn’t feeling very sure she boarded the bus, comforting herself with the fact that there were around 7-8 passengers including women in the bus. It was almost midnight by the time the bus started and her stop was a good 45 minutes away. She closed her eyes and rested her head on the seat, hoping soon to be in the comfort of her room and cosy bed.

As she walked with hurried yet hushed steps, the sole streetlight was her guiding star. The droplets of sweat trickling down slowly from her forehead towards her nose weren’t a result of the temperature for sure. In the eerie sounds of dogs and car tyres screeching, she suddenly heard the sounds of footsteps behind her and for a moment, her heart skipped a beat. But she continued taking brisk steps and didn’t look behind. However, the sounds only grew clearer with each step, and along with it the pacing of her heart. She walked for a minute in hurried steps, but realizing the house was still a good 10 minutes ahead, she gathered all her courage and turned back to face her follower. Before she could barely part her lips and utter a word, she felt the hands of her follower on her neck and a face covered almost completely with a mask except for his eyes. She tried screaming at the top of her voice by overcoming the force on her neck by the hand of the attacker.

‘’Madam, your stop is here’’, she woke up with the conductor’s call, startled out of her nightmare, though the drops of sweat on her face were real. It took her a couple of seconds to realize that it was only a dream, triggered perhaps by her constant thoughts about reaching home safely. However as she got down the bus, the nightmare felt even more real. While she had thought before that she would wait for sometime on the bus stop if there was a fellow passenger at the stop or a stray auto or e-rickshaw, given the complete deserted and dark ambience of the place, she started walking at a fast pace immediately. However her heart raced faster than her feet as she felt a wave of fear pass through herself. All the news articles and coverage she had come across of gruesome incidents with girls involving molestation, rape and murder started coming to her mind. She felt afraid, angry and sad at the same time that amidst all the talk of equality and women empowerment a simple act of returning to her home had the potential to make her feel so weak. She was reminded of her childhood, when at times there was power-cut at night in her home and in a few minutes of complete darkness (while the candles/lamps would be arranged) her brother would make scary sounds and she would get terribly afraid of imaginary ghosts, dreading that any moment a hand with long nails and blood dripping from them will emerge from a corner and grab her or in the dim moonlight view outside her window, any moment a scary face with blood red glowing eyes would walk towards her, with his feet turned backwards.

She was half-way to her home with barely a soul in sight when she clearly heard the sound. She doubted for a moment that it could be her overactive fear-stuck imagination, but the second time there was no doubt. It was a shrill sound almost like a whistle, only much clearer and somehow it seemed directed towards her as it stopped the moment she stopped walking. She was passing by the local biodiversity park named after an erstwhile dynastic politician known mainly for being the son of one of most powerful prime-ministers of the country. It was now reduced to a lake with green water lined on all its sides by the trash from nearby residences, some remains of a broken boundary wall and a large, very old Peepal tree. In his last visit here, her brother had tried his old trick and told stories of how the old Peepal trees are supposed to be home to a large number of scary ghosts who come out post midnight. However, she always suspected that this place must be a safe haven for miscreants and criminals and the recurring sound made her fear the same. She stole a look back towards the source of the sound, but could see nothing and continued her walk. With hardly any human life visible, apart from some homeless beggar or drunkards sleeping on roadsides or one stray bike-rider passing by, the sound was getting clearer by the minute. The sweat droplets on her forehead became pronounced, her heart was thumping in her chest heavily as now the soft whistle was also accompanied with clear sound of footsteps. She dared once again to look back, but this time she realized the sound was actually coming from the side where the tree stood in all its eerie glory. She increased her speed and was almost running now, with the sweat drops trickling on her specs and distorting her view. As she ran she could also hear the whistling sound along with other set of footsteps, also running now. She was sure now that she was being chased and was in one of those horror stories that she had heard and read about female safety in the city. She was dreading that the moment from her dream would be a reality in a few seconds now and started figuring out how would she escape from the predator who was behind her. As the sound of footsteps and whistling became stronger and closer and her hope of escaping unhurt became weaker, she saw the final turn – which would bring her society in her view and along with it perhaps a few people who would be able to help her.   It gave her the final push of strength needed and she ran like she had never ran before and almost leapt to take the turn with such a strength that she leapt and found herself on the ground, with her face pressed against the soil.

The sounds – both of whistling and footsteps suddenly vanished. In fact it was as if they never existed. She was needless to say relieved though still in shock. But something felt very weird and she turned back her face immediately to save herself in case the attacker tried to overpower her.

She thought her eyes were failing her.

The large Peepal tree was swaying swiftly in a strange pattern, as if a group of ‘’people’’ were moving it together, from all its branches and extensions. On all its branches, she could or she felt she could see the blurry outlines of a few strange looking people sitting, with their legs hanging on both the sides. Their nails looked much larger than any she had ever seen and she could see in a blurred vision that the red liquid was dripping down the tree. Maybe due to the dim lights, they all seemed almost transparent and their faces were on opposite side to her and as she lay there frozen, she noticed the set of red footprints, all inverted, leading towards the broken wall of the ‘’biodiversity’’ park and on the edge of the wall she saw it standing, rather floating with pale face, blood red eyes and a smile on the face, looking towards her.

In the few seconds that her eyes comprehended the sight, she thought she ought to feel afraid and run for her life. But she felt the exact opposite, she felt relieved. She remembered her response to her brother’s attempt to scare her as she grew up, “What is there to fear of the dead? The real horrors are all by the living ones.” She felt relieved and picked up her bag and walked towards her society, towards light – having escaped the real horror tonight.

एक प्यार कुछ ऐसा हो

एक प्यार  कुछ ऐसा हो

जिसमे न सही होने की ज़रूरत

न गलत होने की परवाह हो

जो है दिल में मेरे बात

वो कह दूँ खुल के बेबाक

मीठे प्यार भरे शब्दों में

या कभी तल्ख़ कुछ लम्हों में

जिसमे न हो बराबरी न जीतने की होड़

न मन में न बाहर  से हो कोई शोर

एक दूसरे के लिए बस सब करने का ज़ोर  

सम्मान, एहसास और स्नेह का मेल अनोखा हो

एक प्यार ऐसा हो

एक प्यार कुछ ऐसा हो

प्रेम और विश्वास की नींव पर

समर्पण और सेवा की छत हो

खुद के गर्व से ऊपर उसके

स्वाभिमान और आत्मसम्मान की नब्ज़ हो

मधुरता लम्हों में

और कोमलता हो शब्दों में

हर पल आँखों में एक सरलता सी हो

कौन सही और कौन नहीं के आगे  

प्यार के लिए जो  सही वो सर्वोपरि हो

एक प्यार ऐसा हो …

एक  प्यार कुछ ऐसा हो

विचारों और व्यक्तित्व के भेदों  में

संवाद और विवाद की स्वछंदता हो

शालीनता और नेह की बंधनों में सीमित  

अभिव्यक्ति के अधिकार से ज़्यादा  

अपने तर्क और विचार से आगे

गरिमा की मद्धिम रेखा से पीछे

प्यार की कोमल ध्वनि से कम

विचार और आचार के क्लेश में

प्यार विचार से सर्वोपरि हो

एक प्यार ऐसा हो…

एक प्यार कुछ ऐसा हो। ..

खुश्गर्मियों और जश्न के आगे भी  

जिसमें ज़िम्मेदारियों की स्वीकार्यता हो

तंज या तनाव से नहीं

उचित और अनुचित की परिभाषा से परे

सिर्फ प्यार और ख़ुशी की परिकाष्ठा के लिए  

होठों पर हंसी और मन में मुस्कान हो

वह प्यार जो दिल में ठहराव और मानस में आराम दे

जिसमे इश्क़ का जूनून हो पर मातृत्व का सुकून हो

प्यार जो स्व से परे सिर्फ ख़ुशी और हंसी का एक जरिया सा हो

एक प्यार कुछ ऐसा सा हो

प्यार कुछ ऐसा सा हो

जो रिश्ते के बंधन में बंधकर

दायित्वों के निर्वाह में उलझकर

नए रंगों में ढलकर

त्याग और समर्पण से निखर कर

गहराइयों से आये और उभर कर

तपती  धूप  में ठंडी हवा सा हो…

एक प्यार कुछ ऐसा सा हो..

#Boycott -2

It has been one month since the unfortunate demise of Sushant Singh Rajput. The incident triggered a massive outrage among people on and off social media. The outrage has resulted into the following ‘’initiatives’’ by the people who were saddened by the alleged harassment and mental trauma caused to Sushant that pushed him to take his life.

  1. Most of the netizens seem to have agreed to boycott movies of Dharma Productions, Yashraj films and of all other stars who are part of the so called ‘’nepo-gang’’. Considering the cinemas do not seem to be opening in the near future, the effectiveness of this can only be tested maybe at Diwali or Christmas- when Sooryavanshi and 83 the movie release. Both of them either star or are made by the member of nepotism gang. But they also star and involve a lot of people (in fact this number will be much larger) who are outsiders to the industry. So the boycott gang will have an ethical dilemma here, which will also be the case for a lot of Dharma/Yashraj movies who star outsiders. (Dostana 2 starring Kartik Aryan) Not just boycott, some people even found time to burn effigies of Salman Khan and Karan Johar amid the pandemic.

  1. Petitions were filed in court against big names of the film industry who were supposedly responsible for the nepotism in the industry. Needless to say, they were dismissed and wasted the time of an over-burdened judiciary. They were perhaps based on the rants of Ms Kangana Ranaut against the ‘’nepo-kids’’. While she is arguably the most talented actor that we have today, employing her sister as her manager and her brother as the legal and finance head of her company is an irony that she couldn’t fathom it seems.

  1. In their angst against harassment and trauma that Sushant was subjected to, perhaps the angry public decided to harass and abuse those who seemed to be responsible for it. Just scroll through the social media profiles (facebook, Instagram, twitter) of any of these – Karan Johar, Alia Bhatt, Sonam Kapoor to see what can be called a case of cyber-harassment. From being called a ‘Chakka, Hijra (it gets must worse) to suicide wish for his kids – Karan Johar’s punishment, in the view of angry netizens was perhaps to be abused for his sexuality and body mannerisms. From rape threats to her and her sister, death-wish for her family and boyfriend, Alia Bhatt’s punishment for being a star-kid and working in movies which were successful was perhaps this in the eyes of angry netizens. Same for Sonam Kapoor – whose punishment for not knowing Sushant when he had just 2 releases was to hear the vilest and horrifying things for her family.
  2. Meanwhile, the police continued their investigation and nothing surprising has come out of it till now. As known already in the public domain, Yashraj had signed a 3 films deal with him out of 2 had released and 3rd (Paani) was in production due to which Sushant missed out on many good projects including a few of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Later Yashraj backed out of the third movie. If there has been a breach of legal terms of the contract, the police should take action. This is awaited.

The point is, protest is necessary for anything which we- as individual or group feel is not right. But as a society there should be maturity and sensitivity around the right ways to protest. Just like physical violence is not acceptable as protest, bullying and harassment should not be the way. Not only it dilutes the real problem and shifts focus from real solution to theatrics and drama, it also perpetuates a cycle of hatred and violence. If we really feel sad for Sushant and many others whose talent gets lost in the crowd of mediocrity, nepotism and cartels, we must start with giving all kinds of movies the right chance, let the streaming platforms thrive and avoid watching pirated movies, and yes by all means, do not watch movies of Karan Johar, Alia bhatt or anyone you have a problem with – but do not burn or vandalize theatres, and let those who want to watch peacefully.