Tag Archives: Mumbai

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.

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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.)

Ban OK Please

Indian trucks are the answer to the question, ‘What would Sunny Deol look like if he were a Transformer?’ The good thing about Indian trucks is that they transport vital goods across the country day in and day out, halting for nothing except maybe the occasional STD pitstop. The bad thing about Indian trucks is that sometimes you get stuck behind one. At that point, all you can think of are cuss words that would make a truck driver blush. They needn’t even be doing anything – we’re just conditioned to see trucks as missiles on wheels, which is a bit unfair because missiles are less lethal.

On the bright side, if you ever got stuck behind one, at least you could amuse yourself with those kitschy slogans on the back – because incorrect English is hilarious to people like us – while slowly euthanising your lungs. But now thanks to the Maharashtra government, the most iconic statement of them all – Horn OK Please – is on its way out. The state transport commissioner recently issued a circular banning the phrase on the rear side of commercial vehicles, because, I dunno, there’s a ban target that needs to be met every week or something.

The slogan was banned in a bid to curb noise pollution, because, as the government circular stated, “It encourages people to honk every time you pass a truck or tempo. It sends a wrong message to citizens.” Well done. This is going to curb noise pollution in the same way that banning the words ‘Colombia’ is going to curb drug trafficking.

Saying that the phrase encourages people to honk before overtaking is a bit much. You’re basically accusing Indians of following safety instructions, and that is such an anti-national thing to say. Moreover, we Indians don’t honk because a sign tells us to – we honk because we have hands.

India is a deeply spiritual country, but our devotion is strongest when it comes to the Horn God. We believe that He can make traffic jams disappear with his Voice and it is but our solemn duty to beat down on His Magical Chest like really noisy CPR.

It’s cute when people say that Indians should honk less, like we don’t know it. I once had my horn conk off while on the road, and the drive home would have been less terrifying if I’d been duct-taped to the hood of Paul Walker’s car. You think you can get by with dippers, but people see that as Morse code for ‘It is okay to die under this car’. Without a horn, you have no way to communicate to the biker speeding in from the left that maybe a 60 degree tilt-turn into six inches of space is not a good idea and that the garage charges extra to wash off idiot entrails.

Also, when you’re driving with your parents in the car, a horn is the only way you can indicate to the guy who has stopped on the sea-link to take selfies that you think he’s a dumb (body part) and that you hope he gets slapped in the face by an elephant (body part).

But hey, what do I know? Maybe this is a step in the right direction. Maybe we can extend the ban to other forms of pollution on the roads. Maybe we can tackle cultural pollution by taking on white SUVs. Because no one in Indian automotive has ever looked at a white SUV and thought, “Oh, I bet that belongs to a thorough gentleman. Maybe we can have tea sometime.” Nope, it’s always “I do not want to end up in the boot of that guy’s car.” Now that’s something I would get behind. Honk twice if you agree.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 3rd May 2015.)

Tobacco May Kill Common Sense

WARNING: The following column contains references to smoking, which is injurious to health and also makes you smell like an ashtray. Developing embryos are advised to stop reading right now.

Cigarettes have always been the most stylish way of getting lung cancer. You know this, I know this and the dumbest dungbeetle on the planet knows this. But recently, a few BJP MPs stunned the scientific establishment by saying that we maybe kinda need more studies to establish a clear link between tobacco and cancer, in the same way that we need more evidence to find a link between gravity and falling off a building.

The gentlemen in question were Dilip Gandhi and Shyama Charan Gupta, members of a parliamentary panel whose job, among other things, was to decide whether or not to increase the size of pictorial warnings on tobacco products from 40% to 85%. Another logical argument that came up during this process was, “I can show you so many chain smokers who do not have cancer”, which is like saying “I saw that one dude on TV who eats tubelights and he seems fine, so maybe swallowing crushed glass is okay for you.”

Fun Fact: Mr. Gupta owns Shyam Bidi Works, one of the largest bidi manufacturers in the country, but I’m sure that’s a total coincidence. Sanjay Jha, aka the Congress’s version of Suhel Seth, weighed in on this coincidence, saying that one did not have to be Sherlock Holmes to see the vested interests at play. At this point, a lesser man would have retired to the mountains, filled with loathing about the fact that he made Sanjay Jha appear sensible.

Thankfully, the government rebutted all of Gupta and Gandhi’s arguments with an official statement saying “Bhai, tu rehn de”, and said that they would go ahead with the plan to increase the size of pictorial warnings. This is great news for all those who believe that smokers actually care about such things. You could sell the damn things with a warning that says ‘THIS IS POISON. IT WILL ROT YOU FROM THE INSIDE AND TURN YOU INTO A HUMAN TUMOUR WITH A VOICE THAT SOUNDS LIKE RANI MUKHERJEE AND FARHAN AKHTAR GARGLING TOGETHER’ and it wouldn’t matter.

By all means, double the size of the images of the mouth sores and lesions and tumours, because that’s just more real-estate for smokers to ignore. Heck, you could sell cigarettes encased inside an actual diseased lung – have them fish out a pack from inside a blackened, slimy slab of cancerous tissue – and their only reaction would be, “Bro you have a light or what?”

This is the part where I get to be smug and say that I don’t smoke, because I have amazing willpower and I should get a medal for it. But the truth is that I can’t handle it, which is the only good thing about having a rubbish respiratory system. My lungs are so sensitive, they perform slam poetry on weekends.

I know this because like every stupid college kid out there, I tried. For a couple of weeks, I checked out a bunch of options to see what the fuss was about. The reviews ranged from coughing and puking (gold flakey nonsense) to nausea and puking (milds) to expensive nausea and puking (“David Hoff”, as a friend put it) to a double shot of impotence (“girly menthol crap”) and of course, the garams, that were lit ten years ago and are probably still burning.

I didn’t try beedis because you’re only allowed to smoke those if you’re squatting outside a building gate with a muffler wrapped around your head. All in all, it was a daft thing to do, especially because I live in Mumbai and I can get free cancer home-delivered to my body just by breathing.

Whenever this issue comes up, there are always people who wonder why you can’t just ban tobacco outright. It’s a complex issue involving agriculture, finance, trade and science but I’m going to try and break it down for you:

Money good. People like money. People no like if you mess with their money. Mmmmm. Money. *frolics naked in a pool of dollar bills*

What works though, are all the restrictions on advertising, public smoking and of course, not selling to minors, which is really the big one. So if you’re a young person reading this, do not even bother trying to smoke. Those things are super addictive, like heroin or popping bubble wrap, and quitting is going to be a pain. Seriously, you’re better off eating tubelights.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 26th Apr 2015.)

BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM I WANT YOU IN MY CITY!

As anyone who has ever attended a gig in Bombay will tell you, we are the number one destination for international musical artistes who have been classified by other countries as “clinically dead”. For example, at one point, you didn’t know if Bryan Adams was coming to India to perform or to reincarnate.

The latest on the coffin tour is the ‘90s electro-pop sensation Vengaboys, who will be performing in Mumbai, Goa and Chennai in May. The shows are expected to go off smoothly, mainly because their name is Vengaboys and not Jerry Seinfeld. But on the flipside, the Mumbai venue is – and I kid you not – a mall in Kurla. Yup, a band that was one of the most popular acts on the planet at one point is going to be playing venues that even DJ Suketu would spit at.

It’s so sad that we live in a place with 25 percent entertainment tax, 14 percent service tax, a licensing regime that is basically The Hunger Games but less compassionate, and yet, Kurla is the worst thing that could happen to you. Ah well, I suppose it could be worse. The government could ask the organisers to squeeze in a Lezim-and-Musical-Chairs act in the middle of the show.

The Vengaboys have performed in India before, back in 2001, when their fans hadn’t yet been afflicted with conditions like Male Pattern Baldness, or Babies. They had a spot of bad luck back then too, when their Guwahati show had to be cancelled so as to keep “in tune with local sentiments”, which is just another way of saying that some angry people thought their music would inspire copious amounts of sexytime. That’s ridiculous because in the 90s, there were way more people who hooked up after whacking dandiyas to ‘Pari Hoon Main’ (thereby completely ignoring all the lyrics).

But it’s not difficult to see why the moral brigade would have a problem with some of their songs. I mean one of their biggest hits is named after Thailand’s number one export. It’s weird to think about now, but I remember kids, including me, listening to Boom Boom Boom, completely oblivious of the sexuality blasting out of those old truck-sized “hi-fi” speakers. This is what those deep, metaphorical lyrics went like:

Boom boom boom boom

I want you in my room

Let’s spend the night together

From now until forever

Boom boom boom boom

I wanna double boom

The good thing about those days was that nobody overthought this kind of stuff. Or if they did, we didn’t have to hear about it. We danced, enjoyed and got over all of this without having to read grave op-eds about how Boom Boom Boom is either:

a) A misogynistic song that promotes objectification and patriarchy, and is the worst thing to happen to women since stilettos

OR

b) A feminist anthem where a woman fearlessly expresses her desires, while deliberately keeping the identity of the lover non-specific, so as to encompass all races, sexualities and body types.

But now, I imagine the Vengaboys would end up having to justify themselves to everyone with a smidgen of authority and/or access to the internet. I’m not sure what they’ll say, but the following culturally-approved explanation might help:

Boom boom boom boom

(Sound of dholak beats for cultural reasons)

I want you in my room

(Because good boys and girls don’t go outside at night…)

Let’s spend the night together

(… and also because you missed the last local, so sleep over, but on separate mattresses)

From now until forever

(Signifying commitment, because flings are for white people)

Boom boom boom boom

(More dholak to drive away impure thoughts)

I wanna double boom

(I want two kids.)

Dear Vengaboys, if you’re reading this, first up, thanks for teaching me that you can make an entire song with just one word i.e. BRA-ZEEEEEEL. And secondly, feel free to use the culturally-approved subtext above. I ask for nothing in return. I mean I would’ve asked for a free pass to the gig, but um, it’s in Kurla.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 12th Nov 2015.)

On Your Marks, Get Set, Pizza!

If you’re reading this in the morning, then congratulations on being one of the four people not running the Mumbai Marathon today. Seriously, the last time I saw thousands of Mumbaikars run in one direction, it was for a local train seat.

But what I like about the marathon is that every year, it gives so many people a chance to wake up and seize the day by vowing to run next year pakka I swear boss this year was full hectic with job and baby and winning Nobel prize and licking schezwan off my chin and all.

The Mumbai Marathon has grown spectacularly since its inception in 2004, mostly because new generations of women kept discovering Milind Soman and his short shorts. The fandom is completely understandable. For starters, Soman is a friggin’ Greek god whose idea of light cardio is jogging from Mumbai to Pune. And the heartless monster that he is, he probably doesn’t even stop at the Panvel McDonalds. Also, when it comes to sexy studful studly stud-type men, Milind Soman is pretty much the only Maharashtrian option on the table. The only other hot Maharashtrian is Chicken Kolhapuri.

The reason the marathon is so popular is because it’s accessible to everyone who’s not lazy. It features categories like the Senior Citizens’ Run aka You Can’t Say Anything Mean About This Because You’ll Look Like A Sociopath, the Champions With Disability Run aka This Will Make You Feel Small and of course, the Dream Run, which supports the most important charity of them all i.e. the I Just Wanted A New FB Display Picture Foundation.

I don’t know how this happens, but at some point in your late 20s, a bunch of your friends – people whose idea of exercise was picking up the phone to call the wine shop – will start running seriously. This is a good thing because when done right, running develops the most important muscle of all – your credit card. Because you can’t just go out and run anymore. What are you – a caveman? First, you need the right shoes, something with basic features like “AdiBok Nano-engineered Oxyrich air granules embedded in a lightweight sole made entirely from the burps of god.”

The clothes that you wear need to have been designed at NASA, because if they aren’t high-tech enough, your body will put on fat in protest. And of course, you’re a real runner only if you strap on some sort of activity tracker bracelet that connects to sixteen social networks to let everyone know about your vital signs, the distance you covered, your deepest and darkest fears, which Sex and the City character you are and so on. I wish these devices and apps would broadcast more honest updates, like these:

“Champak just checked into Potholed Running Surface Buzzing With Kamikaze Autowallahs.”

“Champak just slipped on dog poo. Impossible is nothing ki mother-sister, he says.”

“Champak just spotted a cute girl up ahead. He quickens his pace because girls like nothing more than a guy racing at them from behind.”

“ABORT ABORT ABORT! Girl is wearing trackpants that has the word JUICY emblazoned in bling across her butt.”

“Champak’s lungs are screaming for mercy. It has only been one kilometre. Screw this, he says.”

“Champak just updated his FB: Ran 5 kilometres today! Feeling alive! <Protein Shake Selfie.jpg> #Motivated #BornToRun #JeSuisPistorius”

The marathon is also a giant fancy dress party – it’s like Halloween for people who’re off candy. But when it comes to fantastical costumes, nobody can beat Anil Ambani, who turns up dressed like he’s one of us. I imagine him running across the city thinking, “Yeah, I own that… and that… and this bridge over here and all the slum-dwellers over there… and that white building at Nariman with the flag on top” until he spots Antilla, at which point he wishes it were the monsoon, because nobody can see his tears in the rain.

But my favourite marathon moment has to be the one where I wake up after it’s all over and everyone has gone home. It’s not like you need to watch it to know how it ends. Two things will happen: an African guy will win, and Rahul Bose will become relevant again.

Jokes aside, the marathon fosters a sense of community and bonding that this angry, overworked city so desperately needs. That is reason enough to run. I’ll do it next year pakka.

(Note: This is my HT column dated 18th Jan 2015.)

Could This Headline BE More Obvious?

Twenty years ago, the world watched its first episode of Friends, and given the rerun cycle in India, I’m sure my grandkids will end up watching it on their deathbeds, getting nostalgic about a world without nuclear winter. Friends is said to be responsible for the rise of everything from a certain haircut to coffee sales to awkward guys using sarcasm as a defence mechanism because clearly, that’s all we do all the time for no reason.

Friends hit Indian shores when I was about fifteen and I could tell it was something big because it was the only thing that made us stop our cricket game and rush home to huddle in front of the TV. (NOTE TO YOUNGER READERS: A TV is sort of like a physical Youtube, except someone else is in charge of the playlist and you don’t get to leave nasty comments about people’s mothers.)

Back then, we had no real idea about the stuff they were talking about – being on a break means nothing when the only girlfriend you’ve ever had is a Kate Winslet poster – but we lapped it up because it was our first proper pop-culture look at adults in America. It was like Archie featuring yuppies, it was three-big-laughs-a-minute and honestly, if someone from my generation tells me they didn’t like it, my brain automatically classifies them as horrible people, like serial killers or MBAs.

In fact, I’m sure that even the most despicable, blood-thirsty bastards on the planet are fans of the Central Perk gang. This must’ve happened at ISIS camps at some point:

Terrorist 1: … And then, Rashid here was like, “Boss, I forget to carry detonator.”

Terrorist 2: Hahaha, you pulled a Monica!

Terrorist 3: (spots a girl in black) How youuu doin’?

*awkward looks all around*

Terrorist 1: Dude, that’s a curtain.

Friends helped an entire generation of people discover themselves, which is just another way of saying that everyone thought they were Chandler Bing. I was convinced I was Chandler because of my tendency to make bad jokes while gradually putting on weight, which, if you think about it, is a pretty generic brief. Nobody ever thought that they were Ross, because that’s the kind of realisation that would drive a man to three divorces. As for Joey, I didn’t even think such people existed, but then I started working in the entertainment industry and long story short, you can shoot a Joey spinoff in any gym between Bandra and Andheri.

But the biggest validation for Bright, Kaufmann and Crane has to be the fact that we ripped off their show to create something called – the subtlety will blow your mind – Hello Friends. It featured Nikhil Chinappa, Maria Goretti, Cyrus Broacha and Mandira Bedi, because I guess VJ Shehnaz was busy digging her way out of the cardboard and glitter avalanche that was MTV Most Wanted.

Hello Friends was pretty much like the original, if you removed all the funny bits. One difference was that desi Ross did not have a lesbian wife – he was just a regular divorcee. This was because lesbians did not exist in India in 1999. We only imported them later when we realised that we had way too many plaid shirts and not enough people to wear them.

Friends faced the same criticism a lot of sitcoms face – “It’s so unreal”, “How can they afford that apartment?”, “Can I get the number of Phoebe’s dealer?” – but nobody really cared because the other stuff made up for it. Sure, the theme song sounds less saccharine and more realistic now – I’ll Be There For Youuuu (Until I Get Married Or Move Cities And We Lose Touch Because That Kinda Thing Happens Watchu Gonna Do About It).

But the rest of it feels real enough, especially once you’ve started living on your own: Having people whose fridges you can raid, no questions asked, hearing them out after their sixteenth break-up with the same person and then getting drunk because that’s as good a reason as any, having people come over with soup when you’re sick and being as exclusionist about your group as those six were, and believing that a Chandler-Monica romance is possible because she’s not obese anymore.

I recently came across a photo of the grey and saggy Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc hugging at an award function, and all I could think was, “Goddamn dust allergy, making me sniffle.” So I know that if a Friends reunion ever happens, I’d be the first to drop everything and watch, all the while thinking, “Could I BE more senti?”

(Note: This is my HT column dated 21st Sep, 2014.)