28-Nov-2008

This morning - Bombay blast

I knew the fight was not over as soon as I woke up. The sound of helicopters was loud in the air. I switched on the TV and could still see flashes saying the final hours of the operations are on. The ‘final’ hours have been on since last evening. You can’t believe it anymore. Even worse were the pictures of massive army trucks invading the narrow lanes past Colaba market. Moving past ‘Celejor’, the bakery that serves as a marker for me on when I am in that stretch.

Brushed my teeth to the sound of gunshots coming from behind my house somewhere. I knew it must have been Nariman House. I was reminded of this picture I had seen long ago in a Reader’s Digest magazine of a dentist continuing to work uninterrupted with sand bags piled up outside his window to protect against stray gunshots. The picture had been taken in Beirut.

Pretty much around then I could feel my eyes welling up, quite startling me.

27-Nov-2008

Today - Bombay Blast

The thing about going to sleep and waking up is that you hope everything was a bad dream and things would get better. They did seem to get better this morning, what with the hostage situation being contained to only three sites.

Somehow that was not the case

The day was spent in being glued to the TV. Flipping between channels to see if there is any progress, frustrated that there seemed to be not much and getting horrified to watch footage you had missed the previous night.

Intermittently, towards evening, I could once again hear faint sounds of either explosions or gunshots. Looking out of the window and peering out to a side, I could see a huge cloud of smoke over the Trident.

It has still not ended. Every hour there is fresh information on people dead, identities of people or some movement by the army. More than twenty fours after it started, it is startling to realise that it has still not ended.

Watching the Taj and the Trident burn is not an easy sight. Watching people come out dazed and being taken away is scary. Knowing that there are still people in there is even worse.

Even as the horror of the present fails to register, somewhere in my mind I am thinking about the future.

A few months ago when there were blasts in Delhi, Bangalore and Ahmedabad, I remember taking my usual route through Colaba Causeway. And panicking that if there were ever to be a bombing of a main market in Mumbai, this would be among the chosen places. I deliberately crossed to the other, less crowded side of the road (yes, futile) and continued walking. Now that things have come to pass, you feel scared and sad. I don't want to lose the pleasure of talking on my mobile and slowly sauntering home every day while discreetly checking out the new collections in Causeway's bright store fronts.

So far, it looks I will

Last night - Bombay Blast

I was sleepy from the previous night of fitful dozing and decided to turn in early yesterday. I was almost asleep when a friend called to check if I was alright and updated me on the firings and explosions in South Mumbai. Within an instant my brain made the connection with the two explosions I had heard earlier. They did not sound like fireworks, but I had told myself that. In a normal, functioning State, that’s what you tell yourself I suppose.

It was shocking. Colaba is home. It has the road through which I walk pretty much everyday. And last week while working late, I was walking past Cafe Leopald and the petrol pump near Bootleggers everyday after ten.

For some reason, being at home suddenly felt very unsafe. I locked the door, turned on the TV and settled to watch the news in the darkness. It was somehow scary turning on the lights and attracting attention to my house. It was not like masked gunmen would have looked at the lights, walked up to my specific house and waved AK-47s at me. Yet, the remembrance of the noise of the explosion and the conscious struggle in my brain to tell myself that it was nothing more than firecrackers had rattled me.

Watching live coverage of terrorist attacks must be one of the most surreal things one can do. Amdist calls and SMSes to check with each other or to warn people to stay at home, I watched the confusion of it all. No one could say what spot would be hit next. Most news channels were desperately trying to get policemen to say what was happening or to interview hotel guests who had escaped. Only a few could manage to maintain news value and not be voyeuristic.

I tried to get some sleep. No one knew what was happening and waiting for atleast one of the channels to bring closure to the events that seemed to have no end was disconcerting. Turning off the TV seemed sensible. But trying to sleep knowing that something was raging in the vicinity of your home was impossible.

Death tolls kept increasing. Anti terror squad personnel were being covered on TV even as they tried to sneak into the affected areas. Strange vehicles were trying to make getaways with suspected terrorists in them. People were emerging with blackened faces. News flashes reported new places where firings had been reported. Govt officials began to give interviews, sounding as informed as the average viewer watching TV. Real time TV is not neatly composed, edited and interspersed by advertisements. There is no time to summarize the events to bring new viewers up-to-date. There are no clips hailing dead police officers. It is all unfolding and it is unnerving.

Calling it a day around 2 p.m., I woke up intermittently to answer calls coming from the U.S.

This morning, T.V. was still showing live news. But they were neatly clipped, the big guns in each channel had been brought in, the army was there, there were claimants to the attacks and some of the news items were being re-reported evidencing the fact that pretty much most of the city was under control except for the three hostage spots.

Order is restoring. People have been asked to stay at home. But if the noise of the traffic that has started after an eerily quiet night is anything to go by, not all orders are being obeyed. The disconnect between TV and the reality around me is widening by the minute. Things are getting back to normal.

24-Nov-2008

Smile please

I have never looked good in a passport size photo so far. There are of course, basic factors that work against me. Such as the fact that people would be hard pressed to say I resemble Aishwarya Rai and the fact that I photograph quite badly. But add to that the fact that no human being in the recorded history of the earth has been known to look good in passport size photos and you know the picture is bleak

Yet, my parents persist.

I am due for a passport renewal. My dad mailed me a checklist he had made for mom earlier. My mom called me

Mom: Did you get the list?

Me: Yes

Not that she was worried that the list had been lost in cyberspace, since it had been sent to both my personal i.ds and my office i.d. It was merely a prelude to the next topic

Mom: Are you going to take a passport snap?

Me: Yes

Mom: Ok. Then please remember to put on some make up. Don’t smile too much. Don’t smile too little. Don’t look sad. Comb your hair.

Me: Yes

It is touching how parents believe that their progeny will look closer to Aishwarya Rai with just a little make up and the right facial expression.

I must admit that by the time I went to the photo shop, even I was slightly nervous. While never brilliant, my passport snaps had hit a new low with my new office ID. I looked like Eve in Beta version before God released her and it had shaken my confidence a bit. And given that a passport is something that you carry around for another ten years, you did not want immigration officers across the world visibly recoiling at the snap.

My plan was to dash across to the studio opposite my office at lunch hour and be done with it. Ten minutes before schedule, I was in the office washroom, armed with a huge make up pouch. I emerged after a while, the world already looking slightly better. Partly because it was hidden by my lashes, now thick with Mac Zoom Factor mascara.

The photo studio was not a large affair. It had a counter and a small place off the counter where patrons could smile and pose. The guys at the counter took your money and order and then quickly swung into the role of photographers. I tried not to look sad, or smile too much or smile too little. Infact, I went so far as not to blink or frown either. Especially when one of the guys at the counter hovered into the line of sight of the photographer, casting a shadow in my direction.

The snap was taken. I released my breath.
When I went back for the snaps, I was pleased to note that it was not too bad. Infact, the creases from my eyes to my mouth, curving around my cheeks had been gently erased. Clearly, the days of the skillful photographer were gone. It was the rule of the skillful Photoshop editor.

I don’t think they will meet my mom-standards. After all, the image she has of how I look could be a tad different from the opinion of the casual observer. I, however, do think that airport officials shall not take a quiet moment off their busy schedules to chuckle at my passport.

Not a bad deal at all.

13-Nov-2008

Conversation with colleague on Quantum of Solace

Male Colleague: So did you catch the new Bond movie?

Me: Yep. I thought it was quite incoherent

MC: I swear. I am planning to watch it again so I can understand it better. I did not get the story

Hello!

Me: Yeah, but no one got the story since the screenplay and editing was bad. Not because it had layers and meanings.

MC nods thoughtfully. Feel slightly sorry for him and decide perhaps he can be dissuaded from watching the movie again if I tell him what the movie was about.

Me: I think the movie was a bit about closure

MC: You mean like closing the company the villain runs?

Clearly MC had not seen sitcoms like Friends and Sex and the City and had no clue about such lingo.

Me: Er..no. It is about Bond coming to terms with his girlfriend’s death in the last movie

MC visibly recoils

MC: That sounds like a Mills and Boons novel

Add Mills and Boons to the list of things MC has not experienced

Me: No. In a MB, they just spend 100 pages pretending to dislike each other and in the last page they make up..

(and usually make out, I add mentally)

MC nods thoughtfully. He has clearly learnt more girlie terminology in the last ten minutes than he has in his entire life. He has also quickly learnt that trying to discuss Bond movie with women may not always result in a blow by blow analysis of the action.

MC changes subject quickly.

09-Nov-2008

Quantum of So Less

Bond movie rating

a) 100 Rs ticket for last row at Sterling Cinema – worth it
b) 325 Rs ticket for 4th row from the front in Inox Multiplex - not worth it

Scatter brained plot (and we are only comparing with other Bond movies here), jerky action sequences and a random influx of characters who die before you notice their existence made this movie trip quite bland.

Methinks action movie directors are going through a lot of existential angst. ‘Do we focus on mere action sequences or do we bring in the emotional trauma of the protagonist?’ is the question that seems to be springing to the lips of the whole lot. Good movies at both ends of the spectrum work (Case in point - Die Hard and Dark Knight). But most of them fall somewhere in the middle, giving the viewer one solid headache and plenty of time to think about everything in their lives other the movie. An excellent example of this horrid failure is Wanted. It did give me a regular optometrist workout as I rolled my eyes continuously at bullets being shot in curved lines, the hero suddenly taking up the cause of a dad he had never met in his life and Angelina Jolie finally looking like an anorexic hockey mom instead of hot babe. As a friend put it, at the end of the movie you began to appreciate the gritty realism of Rajnikant movies.

The best game plan to not drown in Hollywood’s murky waters is to sit at home and watch TV. Yup, for anyone who has not yet woken up to the existence of World Movies and NDTV Lumiere, please turn on the idiot box. And enjoy.