Category Archives: Bombay

HAPPY RANDOM MARKETING OPPORTUNITY TO YOU!

(Note: This is my Hindustan Times column dated 2nd Aug 2015.)

Today we celebrate Friendship Day in India, and by ‘we’, I mean teenagers and people who watch Bindass TV un-ironically. The concept of Friendship Day was first promoted in 1930 by Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards. This was followed by McDonald’s promoting Cholesterol and Self-Loathing Day. According to noted historian Mr. Wikipedia, the Friendship Day fad ended in the US by the ‘40s but much like Bryan Adams, it did well in Asia despite being dead.

The concept lived on thanks largely to the efforts of an organisation in Paraguay called – and this is true – the World Friendship Crusade, who introduced the concept of World Friendship Day in 1958. Their plan was to turn the world into a giant Black Or White music video. Maybe it’s just me, but calling it a ‘crusade’ probably wasn’t the best idea. That word stands for friendship in the same way Bombay stands for green open spaces.

A World Friendship Crusade just sounds like a bunch of savages galloping from village to village, forcing people to tie friendship bands around their wrists while singing Purani Jeans. In fact, you can make the nicest, most innocuous thing sound fierce and warlike if you add the word ‘crusade’ to it. If you want to appear extra manly, don’t tell people about your first kiss – tell them how you went on a Hormonal Tongue Crusade.

The World Friendship Crusade continued to pester lobby the United Nations until 2011, when the UN General Assembly declared 30th July to be International Friendship Day. And people wonder why nobody respects the UN. It’s hard to, when you see them spending time on a concept that’s already covered by the most competent authority of all – Bollywood.

Bollywood is the place that first taught us that ‘ek ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahin ho sakte’ unless the ladka and ladki are actors being interviewed by people whose idea of journalism is ‘tell na who u making sexytime with’. Classic Bollywood is how I learnt to make friends, especially with the opposite sex. The basic procedure went like this:

  1. Be the college stud.
  2. Wear jeans, jean jackets, jean shirts and jean banyans.
  3. Spot the new admission. She’ll be the pretty one in a frock that looks like a Monginis cake threw up on her.
  4. Make a move only to get rejected because The Song hasn’t happened yet.
  5. Chase her around with your mawaali friends while singing about her nakhra, which is all just code for ‘Y U NO LET ME TOUCH’
  6. The girl smiles and eventually gives in to the creepy denim gorilla.
  7. Stockholm Syndrome complete.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad. There were other lessons I learnt i.e. celebrate Friendship Day by losing to your tomboy friend at basketball and then marrying her when she gets hot.

It was pop culture like this that led to students cutting up perfectly good ribbons and turning them into friendship bands. When I say students, I mostly mean girls, who expressed love with meticulously crafted bands and handmade cards involving six types of glitter. Meanwhile, the boys stabbed each other with dividers.

This isn’t to say that boys aren’t civilised. As a kid, I once handed over a card to a guy friend on Friendship Day. It wasn’t handmade because that would be weird and as an ode to our manliness, it featured a commode and some pun about poop. Who’s immature now, huh??

Friendships work differently now, especially in frenetic, stressed-out cities like Mumbai. The older you get, the harder it becomes to make friends, mostly because there’s no time and everyone thinks everyone else is weird. The loneliness eventually leads people to take extreme steps, like arranged marriage.

You do end up accumulating a lot of acquaintances though. It’s easy to mix the two up, but an acquaintance is someone you bump into at bars and make small talk about football with, whereas a friend is someone you can get embarrassingly drunk around, trusting him or her to not turn your stupidity into a viral video. Consider yourself lucky if you have more than a handful of these around. Keep in touch and if you’re feeling extra nice, grab yourself a divider.

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Welcome To The Greatest City On Earth. Conditions Apply.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 31st May 2015.)

Earlier this week, a Muslim woman named Misbah Quadri alleged that she was forced to vacate her rented apartment in Wadala, Mumbai, because of her faith. This story came as a shock to exactly zero people, because if you’ve spent more than ten minutes in India, you know that bigotry and hypocrisy are our finest talents, second only to telling people that they’ve put on weight yaar.

But then came the twist: it was reported that the building she was evicted from houses other Muslim residents who’ve never faced such problems, and that she was evicted after a spat with her broker that had nothing to do with religion. If that’s true, then congratulations to Misbah for arming people with one more reason to turn down minority tenants.

This contradiction gave a bunch of people the chance to crow ‘SEE SHE’S LYING SHE’S A PAID COMMUNAL AGENT THERE IS NO BIAS BOOYEAH!’. That’s like saying that ‘I know a woman who filed a false dowry claim so
‘Honda City ke saath ek biwi free’ doesn’t happen.’

It’s not just religious grounds – the housing market is a basically a buffet of bias. You can pick the ideal tenant qualities like you’re designing an avatar in a video game. When you unlock the highest level, you get an upper-caste married MNC-employed couple with kids who cracked the JEE while still in the womb.

Of course, bias isn’t the exclusive domain of the majority. Like young women four drinks down at a party, it goes both ways. And you can see why. It’s because equality is terrifying.

I mean what if some heathen starts cooking meat in the privacy of his home, with complete disregard for the noses of people who live two floors up? What if someone starts drinking alcohol in his own house, not caring about some medieval definition of sin as imposed by the followers of Magic Sky People? What if kids see young men and women freely visiting each other and conclude that this is normal and does not mean that a brothel is being run on the premises? Does it not shake you to the core when you realise that people outside the radius of your tiny brain give zero shits about your prejudice?

What is amazing is that these are the same people who, when they’re abroad, will whine about how white people call them Apu-loving towel-heads. This is how Indians sound like when they’re abroad:

Guy 1: That guy just called me a darkie. White people are so racist!

Guy 2: Bhai, Indians are best. We treat visitors like god only!

And this is what they sound like when they see a black guy in India:

Guy 1: Aye Negro, how much for cocaine.

Black Guy: Dude, I’m Chris Gayle.

Guy 2: I loved you as Nick Fury!

If I ever own property – which will happen once I figure out how to monetize oversleeping – I too will have a set of rules and questions for prospective tenants. It’ll look something like this:

Do you watch Game of Thrones? Do you read Game of Thrones? Can you STFU about spoilers? Okay, we’re cool.

Are you gay? Are you straight? Are you turned on by Shrek soft toys? When is Ranbir marrying Katrina? None of this is my business, so carry right on.

Do you drink? Do you get drunk and quote cheesy Bollywood lines? Can you sing Hai Huku Hai Huku Hai Hai, and wake up the next day with not an ounce of shame? If so, welcome to the party.

Are you a pain at the dinner table? Will you put on a hazmat suit if the guy next to you orders meat? Or conversely, will you make stupid ghaas-phoos jokes if there’s a vegetarian at the table? Either way, I hope you catch a disease that requires you to only eat karela for the rest of your life.

Tina Fey or Amy Poehler? (There is no wrong answer here. Unless you say Comedy Circus, in which case you can go live in Archana Puran Singh’s mouth. It’s bigger than most Mumbai apartments anyway.)

There you have it. That was pretty simple. Now if only somebody could just gift me some property, that would be great. It’s an open offer to anyone reading this. Bigots needn’t apply.

I Got The Summertime, Summertime Madness

I love the romantic image of summer that’s been perpetuated through the ages by white people who will never know what it’s like to be a human popsicle in India. You see it all the time in the form of stock photos of bikini babes and dudes on sailboats, sipping rainbow-coloured drinks and grinning because they’re obviously in the south of France, where visas are denied to sweaty people.

I’d love to see the more realistic image, where the sailboat dude is trying to get an auto on Linking Road while a torrent of back-sweat pretends to be Magellan and goes exploring in places that are otherwise explored on incognito mode. I’d like to see him shake hands with people all day, this harmless social greeting now transformed into a Woodstock for germs, which you counter with routine hygiene measures like cutting off your hand.

Don’t mind me. I’m just cranky because I stepped out for ten minutes and now I feel like something the cat dragged in out of a coal mine. Thankfully, I have science to back up and quantify my whining. Humidity levels reached 81% in South Mumbai this week, a phenomenon scientists refer to as ‘Just Stay Home And French-Kiss Your AC’.

This is how I know I’ll never be a great person. On the one hand, you had people like Nelson Mandela, who stayed unbroken after 27 years in prison. And then there’s me. I wouldn’t even need to be tortured or anything. If you want to get state secrets out of me, just put me in a room with a fan that the bai forgets to turn on after jhaadu. In three seconds, I’d confess to everything from killing Kennedy to being that guy who let the dogs out.

Another thing better people do is realise that they’re so much more privileged than most people out there. It seems a bit stupid to tweet updates like ‘UGHH SO SWEATY I COULD IRRIGATE HALF OF INDIA WITH MY ARMPITS’ and then look out of your AC cab to see a handcart puller lugging a load the size of a house without cribbing because he doesn’t have a Twitter account the luxury of doing so.

The only bright side of summer is the arrival of mangoes, a fruit known worldwide for its ability to drive Indians nuts. But I have to mess it up by being possibly the only Indian person who couldn’t care less about Katrina’s make-out partner. It makes things awkward in social situations. There’s always that moment where someone lovingly serves you a mango dish for dessert, and you tell them that you would rather eat your toes. As a result, I’m less welcome at dinners than the one friend who gets drunk and starts saying things like, “I’m not a bigot, but the problem with *those* people na…”

I guess the only good thing about summer is that you see way more women in summer dresses, which is really the hottest, most bad-poetry-inducing thing women can do. There’s just something about that look that makes you ignore the glossy finish that all Mumbaikars come in. As men, we have nothing even remotely classy going on. Our greatest fashion achievement is successfully resisting the urge to take off our pants in public.

There’s about six weeks of this nonsense left, so it would be best to remember the wise words of Plato who said, “Screw this, I’m going to the hills.” Unfortunately for Bombay people that means Lonavala, the hill station brought to you by Maganlal Chikki, starring Maganlal Chikki and introducing Baby Maganlal Chikki. What I’m saying is, just take a break and go to a nicer place, like a coal mine.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 10th May 2015.)

Look Before You Sit

These are troubled times for the nation, seeing as how the most popular choices on our voting machines this May will be LOL and ROFLSCREWED. Sure, there’s something called a Third Front which pops up once every few years, but just seems to be the political equivalent of the Eclairs that tollbooth attendants try to palm off when they run out of real money. Given such dire circumstances, it is only natural that I address the most pressing concern facing the nation today, i.e. there could be a snake lurking in your toilet.

This is a real thing. It happened in the Mulund suburb of Mumbai this week, when a family discovered a 6-foot-long cobra in their toilet and did what any normal human being would do: they gutted all of Mulund with a flamethrower. At this point, let’s observe a minute’s silence for the fact that nothing good has ever been associated with Mulund. The only nice thing about Mulund is that it’s not Vikhroli, but that aside, it’s just another pimple in the general rash that is Central Mumbai. For long, its name has been a source of much amusement for 12-year-old boys, but that may change now, what with builders giving it fancy monikers like Lower Powai, Lateral BKC and Groin of Thane.

Anyway, as it turned out, the cobra had been living in the sewage pipes and occasionally surfaced through the toilet to get some air and transform into Sridevi. It was eventually rescued by a team of people who are trained to go from toilet to toilet and rescue snakes, as if they were the love child of Steve Irwin and Aman ‘Harpic’ Verma. Although anything that can survive in Mumbai sewage doesn’t really need to be rescued. I’m sure the cobra was doing just fine, and had managed to score an Aadhar card, domicile certificate and a “setting” with the local corporator.

This snake-in-a-toilet thing sounds like one of those urban legends that we all heard about while growing up in Mumbai. For example, there was one popular story about a faceless gang that skulked around crowded theatres, quietly pricking people with HIV needles and stamping a message on their arms that said “Welcome to the AIDS Club” (which just sounds like a rejected slogan for South African tourism).

This incident also has to be the cheapest, tackiest remake of the masterpiece that is Snakes On A Plane. I can already see the desi version unfold before my eyes:  Snakes In A Sandaas, starring Nana Patekar, who’s basically the Maharashtrian Samuel L. Jackson, standing there slapping his own head while saying things like “I HAVE HAD IT WITH THESE MOTHERF****** SAANP AADMI KO HIJRA BANA DETA HAI!”

The problem is that this has ruined my relationship with toilets forever. There are things that toilets are great for: snatching a few moments of solitude, waiting for creative inspiration to strike, cussing out the creator of Flappy Bird, being bulimic and so on. Here’s what toilets aren’t great for: surprise prostate exams. That’s what Dadar locals are for.

In more wildlife news, the citizens of Meerut in U.P had a terrible week, probably because they are citizens of Meerut in U.P. Also, a leopard strayed into the city and attacked some men after –  and I quote – “Some of them went close out of curiosity”. Why would these guys see a leopard and then walk in for a closer look? What did they think it was – a woman?

One suburb of Mumbai that has seen its fair share of leopards is – surprise surprise – Mulund. It’s not the leopards’ fault though, because we’ve been encroaching upon their forests for ages. It must be terrible, as a mighty predator, to come home one day and see that your hunting ground has been replaced by MANDAR BUILDER AND DEVLUPPER SPACIOUS 26 SQ.  FT. FLAT FOR 4 CRORES BECAUSE APPARENTLY THESE FLATS ARE MADE OF COCAINE. It’s the kind of thing that makes me want to go away to a nice, quiet place, like my bathroom. But I’m going to need a flamethrower.

Some Angry Politicians Have Sent You A Mob Request

In this fickle, ever-changing world, it’s good to know that there are some things that will always remain the same, like a majestic sunset, or Rekha’s age. Another constant that the world revolves around is the ability of our politicians to do something amusing and stupid, like when someone says that the dog ate their coal scam files, or when Rahul actually believes that he will win next year.

(Note to Modi fans: This does not mean that I’m one of you. I like these things called facts.)

(Note to Rahul fans: Aww. Hug?)

In keeping with this trend of inducing voter regret, the Shiv Sena took it upon themselves to hunt down a man in Kalyan because he allegedly destroyed the lives of several thousand farmers in Maharashtra by selling them out to sugar barons made a Facebook post. This came as quite a shock – I didn’t know they had Facebook in Kalyan. The post was reportedly derogatory in nature to the man himself, one of the most legendary figures to ever hold fort at Shivaji Park, Ajit Agarkar. No, wait. It was about He Who Must Not Be Named Because Our Offices Aren’t Fireproof.

First of all, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would have anything negative to say about the man. How can someone like that inspire anything except a permanent state of genuflection? But happen it did, and the party’s IT cell was alerted, causing a flurry of activity as Orkut windows and Milind Gunaji erotica had to be minimised. The hunt was on. Police complaints were filed in Thane and BKC, but because constitutionally appointed law enforcement is for pussies, a mob of 300 party workers surrounded the house of the alleged perpetrator in Kalyan, in what has to be the worst adaptation of the graphic novel yet. But I get why political parties use mobs. It’s pretty much their signature move. If political parties had a resume, this is what it would look like:

Objective: To organise mobs.

Experience: Mobbing.

Strengths: Organising mobs.

Hobbies: Mobs.

Education: LOL.

Anyway, the alleged culprit, one Dhananjay Pathak, wasn’t home at the time. But that’s okay – his wife and child were, and if a mob shouting threats under a four-year-old girl’s window isn’t justice, I don’t know what is.

Dhananjay Pathak surrendered, but he maintained that he hadn’t posted those comments and that maybe someone else had gotten hold of his account. To prove this, he pointed to a compromised status update that said, “I LOVE JUSTIN BIEBER’S NIPPLES!!!” He then told the cops that he was the vice-president of the BJP’s Kalyan unit, a claim promptly denied by a party spokesperson. The BJP disowned Pathak so quick that he now has to legally change his name to Advani.

So clearly, the moral of the story is, don’t live in Kalyan. Seriously. Nothing good ever happens in Kalyan. Have you ever read a news report that didn’t talk about something horrible happening there? The rest of city gets headlines like, “Rich people run over other rich people to get into Starbucks” or “Anushka Sharma accidentally inhales four molecules of food at restaurant opening, dies of shame”, whereas Kalyan gets something like
“New strain of rabies distracts residents from the fact that they live in Kalyan.”

(Fun fact: If you google ‘Kalyan’, the first autocomplete suggestion is ‘Kalyan matka’. For those of you from Colaba, ‘matka’ is a gambling system that is fuelled by your wife’s jewellery and despair. The search results link you to matka sites festooned with blingy gifs that look like they were directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. These sites also offer tips on how to win the matka lottery, i.e. “Look like someone from Satya”. At the bottom of the page is a link to “masala videos”, probably featuring the aforementioned guy from Satya making love to his white SUV.)

At the time of writing, there was still no clarity on who had really put up the FB post. But whoever it was, there’s only one way to ensure that it doesn’t happen again: send a mob to Mark Zuckerberg’s house. And remember, everything goes as long as it’s done in the name of Ajit Agarkar.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 20th Oct 2013.)

Nobody Puts Baby In A Corner

This week, the Supreme Court earned the respect of thousands of lonely and unwashed men after it struck down the Maharashtra government’s eight-year-long ban on dance bars. The verdict antagonised R.R Patil, who said that the state would take legal measures to ensure that dance bars stay shut, because apparently, bar girls are responsible for all of the world’s evils, right from the holocaust to Jain Chicken.

But the Home Minister was gracious enough to admit that the state’s post-ban vocational program for the rehabilitation of bar girls had received a grand total of zilch applications. This implies that people distrust elected representatives to the point where they’d rather go for the safety and stability offered by pimps, gangsters and patrons who look like they stab a minimum of three puppies for lunch.

The bars had been ordered shut on moral grounds, so clearly, it was the dancers’ fault. They would’ve been better off pursuing more moral professions, such as Riot Engineer, Farmer Suicide Enabler and Sea Statue Builder. The Dance Bar Association is now hoping that Mr. Patil will be as effective at opposing the SC order as he is at bolstering the state’s security.

Dance bars seem to be such a quintessential Bombay experience, like bumming around Colaba, or getting leptospirosis. My friends and I visited one a few years ago, but it didn’t really count because the ‘No Dancing’ rule was still in effect, which meant that the women just bobbed their heads and tried to seduce you by pouting in that lovely ‘Surgeon Botched My Lip Job’ way. Or as girls on Facebook call it, “WEEKEND DUCKFACE XOXO!”

Now before you judge me, please know that this visit was academic in nature. I had always been fascinated by the subculture and wanted to write about it. I was also partly inspired by Suketu Mehta’s account of Monalisa, the bar dancer, in his book ‘Maximum City’. (Similarly, I wanted to visit Dongri after reading Hussain Zaidi. Then I read Arindam, whose book gave me mind cancer.)

Saying that you want to visit a dance bar makes you sound like a creep who’s never had normal interactions with women. But I’ll have you know that I have many female friends, and I never, ever shower them with tenners. Unless it’s their birthday or something. Kidding. I respect all my female friends, because they are all ekdum mast raapchik maal jhakaas malai maar ke.

Dance bars are highly embarrassing for men who aren’t – to use a scientific term – slobbery sleazebags. The standard procedure involves ogling every dancer with a zen-like focus that can be achieved only after years of desperation. The problem is that normal guys like me aren’t used to this concept of blatantly staring at random women and then summoning the ones they like, as if they were items on a menu. The only other place it is acceptable to do this is shaadi.com.

(During my visit, I displayed all the charm and swagger of James Bond, the ornithologist after whom the fictional spy was named. After mustering up the courage to call over one of the women, I led with a timid, “Aap ka naam kya hai?” Not used to being slapped with respectful words like ‘aap’, she looked at me oddly, as if a giant nipple had just sprouted on my forehead. She walked away soon after, and then it hit me. I’d just been rejected by a bar dancer. It made me want to return to the real world, where I could go back to being rejected by women I know.)

Even though dancing may be allowed now, the SC has recommended that bars follow some guidelines, including a mandatory “non-revealing” dress code, all in the interest of women’s safety and world peace. Dancers will now wear a salwar-kameez, topped off with a saree, wrapped in a burkha, enclosed in a HAZMAT suit, and then sit in a lead-lined concrete box. For extra safety, this box will then be placed in orbit around Saturn. Basically, what the government means to say is that the women should slip into something safer, like the Y-chromosome.

The ongoing tussle between politicians and bar dancers is odd, given that both have the same work philosophy: How much money can I squeeze outta this sucker before he breaks? At least with bar girls, you know your money won’t be blown up on statues in the sea.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 21st July 2013.)

No Suburb For Old Men

“If I could buy a nice house anywhere in Bombay, I’d pick Bandra Bandstand,” I often tell myself, before collapsing in a pile of tears, because I’d only be able to afford it if I were reincarnated as Laxmi. It’s sad because after having lived in Bandra for the past year and a half, I know that it’s easily the most fun part of the city, especially if you’re young (defined as “The age when Lilavati Hospital is just a landmark for all the bars nearby, and not the destination itself.”)

I’m not being snobbish here. I grew up in New Bombay, so I can’t look down on other suburbs, unless we’re talking about Nallasopara, which is such an honest, self-aware name. It pretty much says ‘gutter’. I wish other suburbs were honest too. For example, Powai should just own up and call itself ‘Leopards and Call Centres’, while Dadar should be ‘Local Resentment Shakha’.

Eons ago, town used to be quite hip and happening (this was when it was ok to use the phrase “hip and happening”) but has since lost out to the Bandra-Santacruz belt, so much so that the youngest person in Colaba now is Alyque Padamsee.

I don’t know why youngsters would flock to the Bandra-Santacruz belt, but I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that this area has the highest bar density in the city. That’s right. A recent RTI query revealed that there were eleven bars per square kilometre in the area, which makes it a total of 359 bars. And that’s just in Salman’s liver.

It’s not just humans; this place is so first-world, it regularly throws parties for dogs. These are specially designed events where people pay good money to play with their own dogs. It’s weird because the dogs I know are perfectly happy licking nuts, sniffing butts and humping legs. (Or as they call it in Andheri, audition.)

But there’s more to these suburbs than alcohol, especially on dry days. For example, Bandra gets decked up for all the major festivals, like Christmas, Diwali and Happy Birthday Baba Siddiqui – Here, Have Five Million Hoardings. I like the Carter Road area too, because it proves that in order to be truly world class, a locality must have 23649 cupcake and yoghurt shops right next to each other. I don’t even know who’s eating all those desserts, because most women there look like they survive on a diet of skimmed air. Their presence draws giant wads of hair-gel masquerading as teenagers, whose preferred mode of courtship is to drive by real slow in a woofer with an engine attached to it, until the bass notes achieve the desired effect of blasting the women into the sea.

Later, the cops chase you away, because HOW DARE YOU FAFF AT A PUBLIC SEAFACE THAT WAS DESIGNED FOR THE SPECIFIC PURPOSE OF FAFFING? I’ve tried reasoning with them. It’s not very effective:

Me: Why can’t we sit around for a little bit more?

Cop: For your own safety. It’s late.

Me: How is it unsafe when you’re stationed here to protect us?

Cop:

Me: Well?

Cop: Aye chal hero, licen dikha!

It’s the little things that end up serving as markers for ‘home’ in my head, like the restaurant guy who doesn’t need my full address to deliver food at 3.00 a.m., the 50 bucks-a-peg place that shall go unnamed because it needs to, or oddly enough, the ladyboys lined up along Linking Road, whose work hours are often the same as mine. (Of course, they have a way more enthusiastic fan following.)

There’s also an East section to all these suburbs, in the same way that there’s another side to Harvey Dent’s face. I’d tell you more but duty calls. Bar no. 360 has just opened up. It’s very easy to find. It’s right next to the Baba Siddiqui hoarding.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 7th April 2013. Cross-posted from here.)