Anthem beats

Listening to the national anthem being played in Bombay theatres always brings in mixed emotions.

For a second I feel like I am in Hitler’s Nazi Germany and patriotism is being forced upon me. But then the feeling passes and I briefly think of the lone soldier I had met in Ladakh, guarding the road to Siachen. His utter frustration at being caught in an arid, high altitude desert with harsh climate and no entertainment. The cold that he must battle if he is sent up to Siachen on rotation.

I think about the thousands of his counterparts who fight in faraway border areas and die unknown and unsung for people like me. And those brief minutes of the national anthem gives me a chance to honour them in my memory.

Which is why I like my national anthem to be played in a triumphant manner, full of vigour and vim and the feeling that we are a happy, proud and successful nation. Infact, which is the manner in which it should be played.

However, if you ever decide to watch a movie in Metro Cinema, you can subject yourself to the dirge Lata Mangeskar and Asha Bhosale sing. The two old women alternatively appear on screen, with around five chins quivering between the two of them. Atleast one of their voices is so past it’s prime that you feel like India is a spent force rather than an emerging superpower. At the end of it there is this intense urge to run up to the screen and tear it apart. But you are emotionally too drained to do anything but to collapse on your chair from your weak knees.

Some sense seems to have prevailed of late though. The visuals no longer show the sisters but their voices continue to haunt on screen. Which brings me to another issue around this song – Is it the correct version at all? Not the lyrics. But the time taken to sing it.

I remember in school when our music master appeared for our first lesson. He made us sing the national anthem and the bunch of us teenage girls sang it slowly, tentatively, almost defensively at being asked to do something so embarrassing. We finished and the master looked like a thunder cloud. He pointed out that we were well over the 52 seconds or so within which the tune had to be completed.

The Metro Cinema version probably has my old music master turning in his grave, with excellent company in his rotation being given by several founding fathers of our nation.

When we have a perfectly good original version of the national anthem ( I suspect the one played in Inox is close to it), why get a couple of aging stars to murder it? Spare a thought for the lone solder in Ladakh and help us send some thumping, upbeat thoughts his way.


Arriving Early

The computer glows gently as it breathes into life after a long night of hibernation. The morning noises of phone calls and shouted voices have not yet began to usher in the daily office din. Papers on the desk lie solemnly awaiting the inevitable shuffling around that will happen in the day.

All is calm. All is mellow. I login and scroll down my mails.
Penetrating through the still air.
My shoulders tense slightly and my hair stands on end awaiting…
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
The frequency of the sound increases as the unknown person from a couple of cubicles away gathers momentum in downing his packet of chips.
Crunch, crunch, crunccchhh.
The quietness around me is no more as the crunches flow like volleys.
My morning calm has been cut short suddenly and unpleasantly.
Like a bucket of water thrown on you to wake you up.
Or a stray cigarette that wafts amidst the fresh mountainside air.
The crunches have now disappeared into the office conversations which have been gradually growing louder.
My shoulders tense even more as I plunge into another day at work.
The unknown eater goes about his routine without realizing the precious seconds of quiet he took away from me.


Panchgani Strawberry Festival

It was sheer serendipity that I ended up in Panchgani right in the middle of the Mapro Strawberry festival weekend and boy, was it worth it!

It was a simple and neat affair. A huge ground had been emptied out and various levels contained all things related to strawberries. The ground was large enough to absorb the 1000 visitors that the newspapers had predicted.

We were greeted by the sight of volunteers dancing to live drumbeats. All of them were dressed in white kurtas, making it easy to spot someone to help you out, be it at the shops or in the gardens.

The first stop was at the chocolate making area, probably a spin-off business of Mapro or run by local villagers. Free samples were handed out and we gorged on the raisin and cashew dipped chocolates. Close by were stalls selling preserves and juice mixes of all sorts – strawberry (of course), custard apple, litchi, black currant – at decent prices.

The next level contained a food court. The menu proclaimed exotic things like ‘Strawberry bhel’ and ‘Strawberry pizza’. The food court itself had been set up under the trees and you could look at the mountainside while helping yourself to the baskets of free strawberries that had been kept on every table.

Adjacent to this was a nursery which offered an array of plants you could buy. Exotic orchids were within a layman’s reach, finely set up in pots that could be kept in one’s living room. There were tables and chairs around this area as well and an enthusiastic band belted out old Hindi songs.

Finally we went in search of the showstopper – strawberry plants from which you could pluck strawberries and pop straight into your mouth. Sadly, we found out that the fields were in a nearby village. We did manage to catch sight of a few strawberry bushes though, with the lush green leaves bursting forth from the ground and juicy looking red strawberries jutting out of them.

After checking out the grounds, we headed back to the food court and picked ourselves drinks made of strawberries. That done, there was nothing else to do but to bask in the sun and gulp down the free strawberries.

There was something charming about the whole festival. It was well organised, no doubt. The commercial aspect was very subtle and not in your face. The stalls were run by earnest young men who let you sample stuff generously without screwing up their faces if you decided not to buy anything. Most of all, it seemed like the sort of place where a strawberry lover could soak in strawberries and more strawberries for a while. This is a luxury when you compare it with the strawberry experience in Mumbai - a small bowl with cream in some cafe or your house.

We enjoyed the strawberry excesses and ferried some back for later.

I would not mind going for a mango festival now. Or even a water melon festival. Anything that reminds one that fruits are neither indulgences nor health therapies but yummy food to be eaten till your stomach is bursting and you can't move anymore.