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Stranger – WordPress Writing Prompts

Posted by Sowmya:) on April 29, 2014

Have you ever had a random encounter or fleeting moment with a stranger that stuck with you?

That’s the prompt for April 24 but I thought of giving it a shot today.

This one particular encounter with a stranger has stuck with me for over 12 years now. It’s surprising because I was just a mute spectator to the event and not an active participant. By yet I can’t seem to forget that incident and think of it often.

It was during my CA articleship time. I used to take the public bus or BEST, as we called it in Mumbai to my place of work everyday. Since it was one of the more popular routes, the buses were crowded. And when I say crowded I mean ‘don’t know what my feet are stamping and can’t feel my arm’ crowded. It was the routine everyday and I was used to it. My Walkman made things a little easier to bear.

This lady was sitting with a couple of bags on her lap. She was probably in her mid thirties and dressed in a sari. She wore spectacles and her hair tightly combed into a plait. Another lady was standing near where the first lady sat and had a large bag in her hand. She was holding on to the bar at the roof of the bus for support and for dear life too, I guess. Her bag was constantly hitting the face of the lady sitting, who frowned. I saw it and shrugged. It was a situation you could not blame either. One could say, at least she got to sit. So what if a bag hit your face a couple of times. Another point of view could be even if one is standing, you should not inconvenience others. This continued for a few minutes. Then the lady who was sitting addressed the standing lady and offered to hold her bag for her.

I was amazed. She actually turned a problematic situation into one of kindness. She helped not only herself but also the other lady. Her empathy won the day for both of them. This could have easily been a situation that could have ended in a shouting match between the two with ugly words to boot. But this lady turned it all around.

I was so inspired by her. Later, during my work years, I often thought how I could turn the problem into a kindness or an act of goodwill and make it a win-win for both me and the other person. Thank you lady, whoever and wherever you are. Can’t forget this incident ever.

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2009 -a recap

Posted by Sowmya:) on January 22, 2010

I have never been the one to do year end posts mostly because I never found much to write on my year. Most days passed in a blur and were too similar to the other. But this time, as I sit and think there are many things that have happened this year and some that I have done. Maybe it should be put to paper somewhere for posterity when I want to know where my life went and what I have been up to all my life?

This year started out great. I had moved to Mumbai last November since the recession shut down my office in Chennai. It was not the easiest of decisions to make. Sri in Chennai and me in Mumbai was not the happiest of things to happen but quitting a job at the depths of recession also did not seem like a smart thing to do. Sri was his usual supportive self and urged me to keep my job and some hopes of a career still alive. Armed with his reassurances and my in-laws unequivocal support, I set off to Mumbai in November. I was not in a celebratory mode last new year since I was not with Sri and suddenly things seemed incomplete without him. It felt strange and weird that I could live more than 27 years on my own and be perfectly happy but a year with this guy and nothing was the same again. But then, that is what a marriage is all about I guess. It struck twelve and I ushered in the New Year gaping at the television when suddenly the doorbell rang. Imagine my surprise when I found hubby dearest at the doorstep! It is an unforgettable moment, so unbelievably true. For a guy who does not believe in the frills of the relationship, this was a huge step to take.

Work had improved significantly since my return to Mumbai. I found I was learning new stuff daily and that due diligence was not as bad as I thought. Handling two assignments and two seniors was a task in itself but fun nevertheless. Arguing over every single issue and rethinking and redoing a job till it was perfect were pleasure and gave me a well earned sleep each night. Sri visited another couple of times and I visited Chennai too. I can tell you that long distance relationships totally suck especially if they are so early in the marriage before you have had time to settle down and get used to the other. 

I got a job in Chennai in May and I moved back in June. I was hoping that it would never happen, that I would never need to get back to the darned city but destiny had something else in store for me. I quit my job, left an almost promotion and some salary and came back to Chennai. On one hand it seemed like a crazy thing to do. I was giving spiels about having a career and not just any job and here I was quitting and maybe, in a way moving one step lower in the chain. But life did not seem worth it without Sri. Staying with him meant more than everything else and so I took the call to switch my job and get back to staying with Sri and making him pull his hair out in frustration J

So in June I joined my new company where there were about seventy people working but not one in my department. I was the first and only one and it was up to me to do something about it. It was a challenge along with the very different work environment. I had to get used to a lot of things which I had not heard of before. Chennai, and in particular my company, believes in a lot more formality and protocol. Coming from a place where everyone was on first name basis including the boss, it was initially very weird. Protocols again are not my strong point and I struggled in vain trying to follow it. Eventually I have managed to establish some kind of middle path with the people here whereby I can breathe comfortably and offend no one. That should count as one of the achievements for the year. Being new and starting a vertical by yourself meant many days of intense frustration of not doing anything, of trying and not succeeding and of trying to rid myself of the feeling of futility of it all. I missed my brainstorming sessions, my intense work pressures and the joys of trying to learn something new every day. I missed having people around who I could talk to about things that mattered and who understood what I was saying. Being one to think in English, conversations in Tamil were an effort. Yes, it is my mother tongue but I have not spoken in Tamil so often, especially outside the confines of home.

A huge responsibility then fell on our shoulders. We were building our own house. It started sometime in December last year when I was in Mumbai and so could not involve myself in it completely. But since I was back, I started getting a feel of it. It was driving everyone at home totally crazy. There was nothing on which Sri and me could agree on and if we did, by mistake, my in-laws did not like it. Life was at it chaotic worst. Or should I say best? Being involved at every stage of the house is a nerve racking experience and I would prefer buying a ready-made one any day.

In July, I made one of my bigger decisions and my biggest purchase as yet –I bought a car, a lovely new shining grey i10. Driving made some part of my life easier since I could do away with bargaining with the auto guys every day morning but it brought other complications with it. I now know why some people swear so much. They obviously drive around a lot in Chennai. This place is a driver’s worst nightmare coming true every minute he is behind the wheel.  Another challenge I overcome, not unscathed. My car has more than its fair share of bruises and beatings in these past six months. But a car gives you a feeling of freedom which you don’t get otherwise. I still plan to explore the city with my car. That is yet to happen as I only commute to work every day and catch the odd movie some weekends. An exploration, a long drive is definitely on the New Year agenda.

I made a very brief visit to Mumbai before Navratri when I helped mom set-up our annual golu. I, then finally met J and S, my closest friends who had been blessed with a pretty little girl in July. I became an aunt all over again. Seeing J with her little one was an overwhelming experience. It feels good to know there have been people with you since college about ten years ago and we are still there for each other.

Work was still erratic till October and my frustration levels were going up few notches every day. Add the house construction to the equation and there was complete incompleteness all around me. We had decided to forgo our annual vacation and I had nothing to look forward to in November and December.  Life seemed very boring and bleak. Every day was filled with making budgets and cutting costs and looking for increasing revenues.  In a bid to make life interesting I entered the NaNoWriMo contest in which I had to write a story of 50000 words in the month of November. To my utter astonishment, I completed it. I am someone who completes everything up to 90% and then quits. Somehow I do not finish anything fully. It is not something I am proud of but the truth it is. So the fact that I completed a story of 50000 words was a huge achievement for me. I hope to get the final draft out this year and who knows, maybe get it published J I finished the year with an awesome New Year party with some of Sri’s friends.

All in all, I can say 2009 has been a happening year in my life with its many twists and turns and roundabouts but overall a fun year.  Welcome 2010

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There is a first time…..

Posted by Sowmya:) on October 24, 2009

…for everything. For me, this is the first election that I did not vote. I have been extremely sincere every time –be it the Lok Sabha or Assembly polls –to go and cast my vote. Most times, my family and I were the first people in our polling booth.

But this time, since I am not in Mumbai now, I did not vote in this year’s Assembly polls. Feels horrible! Really! I can hear all you cynics out there saying – what’s the point? What are we going to change? Whoever is voted to power will do the same thing and ruin the nation, etc etc. But as a citizen of a democracy, it is my duty and my right to vote. I should cast a vote and pay my taxes. I know my vote may not make a difference and my taxes probably go into the deep pockets of those who I vote for.

But I perform these duties with the hope that some day, someone will change all this. It may be me or someone else but I know it will happen. Don’t ask me how. I have no clue of that. But some day, during my lifetime, I shall be proud that I unfailingly played my part as a citizen and am seeing it pay-off well.

But if I delve deeper into the issue, it’s kinda confusing. I am patriotic and all that. I love my country and am proud of it. Though I realize that there are almost 30 states and few lakh square meters which we call India, my country is Mumbai. Somehow my patriotism seems to be confined into that tiny little island. I do think of India as my country but what I discover now is that though I have a vague idea and feeling about the rest of the country, India, to me, essentially is Mumbai. Whenever I have lamented in the past week or so about my first no-show at the election booth this time, I am told that I should not be voting for the Maharashtra Assembly any longer but for the TN government formation.

Ideally, I should. But a part of me votes because I care about Mumbai and what happens to it. I believe that ‘Amchi Mumbai’ has a right to decent facilities and proper infrastructure. Sadly, much as I try, I do not have any similar sentiments for Chennai. The patriotic fervor in me does not rise when I speak about Chennai. Delhi may be capital, Chennai may be home town but when I shut my eyes and think India, it is the 8.43 local and BEST buses along with the choking traffic jams and Gateway of India which come to my mind.

On paper I am patriotic. Hugely! I am filled with sarcasm dripping words for my NRI friends and relatives who, according to me, have abandoned their country when it needs them most. I am filled with pride for each and every achievement of my country in any field. I abhor the general jingoism surrounding Indians abroad because I believe they belong to their country of residence and it cannot be classified as out ‘India’s Achievemnt’ in any way. But am I patriotic in the real sense? If I was, then should not Chennai’s water and power problems make my heart bleed as much as Mumbai’s overcrowded trains and potholed filled roads do? How different am I from my NRI cousin who has settled abroad?

Am I guilty? Of what?

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Hitchhiker’s Guide to Arranged Marriages -Part 2

Posted by Sowmya:) on July 16, 2009

Hope all you guys could digest Part 1 well and I am stretching imagination to the limits when I say all of you are more than eagerly waiting for part deux.

Me thinks that before I reach the ‘boy meets girl’ stage I should elucidate the types of guys you usually meet (rather I met). This obviously can’t be an exhaustive list but covers the usual suspects –

Maun vrat Muni -The true believers of ‘Silence is golden’. It took all my energy, effort and patience to get a 2 sentence worth from them. Any question was met with a single word answer followed by “u?” Something like –

Me: So what do you do? (lame question, but what else does one say?)

He: I work in blah company as blah. U?

Me: I am an investment banker working in blah company. I did my schooling and college in Mumbai as also my CA.

pauseeeeeeeeeeeeee

Me: So what is your work profile

He: Blah. U?

Me: Blah blah blah blah blah blah(pause for breath) blah blah…….

pauseeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Such encounters ended with me trying to tear my hair out

Motor Mouth -Talk of opposites!! These guys, a rare breed i agree, ask a question and answer it themselves. And you are enriched with knowledge about them, their families, neighbours, friends, colleagues, state of this country, next rainfall, sensex movements, bollywood gossip,….in effect everything. Something like –

He: So what do you do? I work in XYZ company as ABC. During weekends I watch movies, catch up on some reading and meet my friends. Last week we saw this movie -it was so bad. I have decided never to watch movies with that actor ever again. Btw did you know he is going around with this actress. They have a flat in Andheri. Must have made lot of money to buy flats in Andheri. The real estate prices are shooting up like crazy. My cousin bought a house in Chembur for $$$ last year. This year my neighbour bought it for the same amount in Vashi. They shifted yesterday and we are having new neighbours tomorrow. Actually they were supposed to shift today but had to postpone because of the rains. That reminds me, what was your 26/7 experience? You know what happened with me?…………… 

Me: (Thank God! I chose the seat facing the TV)

Floodgate -When I started this post I swore I will not reveal any regional biases that I strongly possess. So I shall keep that word and continue. The rest is upto your imagination and understanding 😉 Quite a few of the guys I met were totally smitten. NO! Not by me. Not at all that. But by the general female population. Any lady and they would drool. It was quite embarrassing to handle that. If you like a guy drooling over you all the time, go ahead. But I could not. I ran like….like I have never run before. (And I have never run before)

Ice Ice Baby -Talking of opposites, I also found quite a few who thought they were the Almighty’s gift to womankind….like they are doing me a big favour by sitting at the same table. Well, well. Keep those thoughts and go home dude! Something like –

He: Actually I am not in much favour of this whole arranged marriage stuff, you know. Its like…like….crazy man. I mean how do people do that kind of thing.

Me: (Grrr… go home and stuff yourself dude) hmm followed by plastered smile

Medieval Man – Actually most guys are medieval….even those who think they are ‘modern’. But as far as they make an effort….I forgive them. I am quite benevolent that way 🙂 But some take the cake. Sample this –

He: I will let you do whatever you want.

Me: (And please introduce yourself Mr. God Almighty)  Oh !

He: As far as you take care of my parents and do everything for them, you can do anything you want.

Me: (Ah! What untold freedom. I am speechless) Hmmm

Yeah! I tell you they were fun.

Ideal Man -Most welcome to my humble abode to meet him 😀

I’ll conclude in Part 3. Keep watching this space!!!

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Hitchhiker’s guide to arranged marriages

Posted by Sowmya:) on June 25, 2009

After a really long hiatus…….Hope this worth it 🙂

Ok, now I dont have to tell you which book my nose is buried under….on to the topic at hand. I think this post is an extremely relevant guide to all to-be married people…more to the to-be married girls. I decided to bless the rest of mortal land with my vast experience and wisdom.

I can see many of you thinking…hmph! Arranged Marriage is such an old fashioned concept! Who opts for arranged marriages these days?
Well in that case buddy, lemme tell you 2 things –
ONE Check out the number of applicants registered (their tribe does increase) on these marraige portals.

TWO This post is the result of many young ladies coming to me crying at 2 a.m. petrified about the ‘meeting-the-boy’ stage.
So I am documeting my experiences for posterity when more such young women will be petriefied and not have my phone number….Girls, help is only a ‘google away’……..

So here goes……This contains mostly my experiences which I am sure will enrich your knowledge and make you realise that it can be fun too 😉

    Typically arranged marriages happen in the following stages –

    FIRST STAGE -The Discussion
    This is THE most important part of the process -when your parents finally are able to convince you that its time you ‘settled down’ in life, etc, etc. You know what I mean 😉 My parents were all set to throw a party when I half nodded my head in assent to ‘start looking for Mr. Right’. My mom visited few hundred temples and finalized some coconut breaking deals with the Great One Above.
    The actual discussion happened in a somewhat upscale restuarant over dinner. Dad started with a small welcome note and an introductory speech complete with the purpose of ‘the discussion’ and agenda for the evening. Mom butted in, as she always does, with a few insightful glimpses into her ‘non existent’ discussion with her folks complete with the ‘times have changed’ story. With the formalities complete, came the main agenda…..my bro and I fought over what to order for the starters and the usual dal vs no dal arguement. Then I presented my ‘conditions’ to my parents who agreed instantly that it was most reasonable -No smoking, no businessman, no USA. My bro was totally dissapointed -he had planned to order pop corn to watch us fight. But, unfortunately for him, the show was over before it started.
    My suggestion to all you young girls and guys is that -be clear to them about your reasonable expectations of your dream guy. Certain requirements like ‘hot-bod / Brad Pitt / David Beckham look-alike’ can be safely omitted. I did.

    SECOND STAGE -PROCLAMATION

    Your parents now commence increasing the gross revenues of SIFY / TATA Indicom / etc and register on the million and one matrimony sites….bharatmatrimony, shaadi, jeevansathi, are the most popular. And all parents list their offsprings on all of them. Guaranteed. Me thinks these are the scrips one should invest in. Recession proof, I say. They may also flash an ad in HINDU / Times matrimony. The only saving grace is that your name is not mentioned. Yes! I completely agree it is cringe-worthy but, to them, the end justifies the means. Typical ads read ‘Looking for suitable bride / groom (as the case may be) for XXX years, fair / wheatish & good looking CCCC caste girl / boy who has completed YYYY degree and is earning $$$ from Mumbai / Chennai / etc. I have never understood why everyone feels the need to mention ‘suitable’. Obviously you are looking for a suitable match. Why on earth will someone look for an unsuitable match???? Beats me to this day!
    One tip to all girls -when such an ad mentions ‘professionally qualified homely girl’ or ‘with values’ BEWARE!!! It simply translates into -” You have to be well qualified else how can my son take pride in you BUT you have to also be the self sacrificing soul who gives up her career for looking after her family. I am not against looking after my family. But the sole responsibility of it, I shall not accept. So if you are career oriented, you are forewarned. ‘Homely girl’ is as dangerous as dangerous can get. Run! Run! Run!
    There are also these marriage meets which well meaning ‘sabhas’ and associations organize. Its as close to ‘marriage market’ as you can get. Parents of single boys and girls meet at this common location and each is assigned a token number. The parents are given a list of the boys / girls available and they rank their prospective sons / daughters -in-law as per their various preferences. If your ranking matches your token numbers are called out and you can meet up in a corner to exchange hororscopes / CV / itsy-bitsy details, etc. Some of these sabhas went one step further and brought in an in-house astrologer who matched horoscopes instantly and declared the results.
    All this are, of course, except the traditional route to getting your dream mate -relatives. Each of my relative had a few thousand copies of my horoscope and were doling it out like freebies. I would not have been surprised if I got sundal at Marina beach wrapped in my horoscope.

    THIRD STAGE – Shortlisting
    Hunt! Hunt! Hunt! For the prospective one ….short listed by various criteria like height, weight (we all lie about it), location, caste, creed, washing machine, dog, etc. MS EXCEL is very useful, I assure you. Most of Excel functions which my father is aware of today can be traced back to the time he was groom hunting. Once shortlisted, the prospective guys’ parents were called and if the guy was unmarried still and interested, then horoscopes were exchanged.
    I was not a first rank choice since I was not a part of the elite software engineering angels descended from the heavens above. Poor me with a simple CA degree could not match up to their exacting visa requirements and was so turned down by more than a few blessed souls settled in the USA. The fact that I was tooo keen to settle down in India, actually Mumbai and preferably somewhere close to my workplace made all this a lot of fun for me. You may wonder why my parents were looking for USA guys when I had asked them not to. Well yeah! They wanted to keep their options open. Location can’t be a barrier, said Dad. I have not seen the USA, said mom. Thats how it was. But thankfully I escaped all that and had a ball of a time in the bargian. One parent actually asked my dad if I had a visa to go to USA; only then could they proceed further. Another one insisted that since his son had a touring job (he was a cricketer actually) I would have to go with him everywhere and hence I could not have a job, let alone a career. If it was Saurav Ganguly, I would have thought about it but Ranji and Duleep Trophy did not excite me that much. Another guy wanted me to get a job in the USA before thinking of a marriage. lol. Dinner times were full of mirth and laughter. My bro & me eagerly waited for the next funny punk.

    FOURTH STAGE – Horrorscoping
    Oh yeah! This is the craziest of them all. Some people dont believe in it and I think they are missing out on a lot of fun. So, once the parents agree that something may come out of it all, they exchange horoscopes. Some people like to meet before matching and some dont. Some believe in horoscopes fervently and some are pretty lax about it. My parents believed it, in their words, ‘to some extent’. They did not get into the details and nitty gritty but they wanted the comfort that overall the horoscopes ‘match’.
    Mom and Dad initially went to a particular astrologer. Mom did not like him tooo much since he was one of the few who predicted that I would never clear my CA exams. So she changed astrologers till she found one who said that I would. But I digress. Anyways this was the most logistically convinient astrologer, which is the most important factor, considering we live in Mumbai. If you could not find dad at home or office, you could conviniently drop by at the astrologer’s place. He went there on weekends first, then weekdays and then morning evening till I was scared that I would have to sacrifice my room to accomodate our friendly astrologer. But, just in time he had to go on a looooong vacation to meet his son / daughter in the US. This forced my parents to look for another astrologer. He was the genial sort, from what I heard from Mom. When Astorloger 1 returned, my parents were faced with the dilemna of choosing between the 2. For sometime, to massage their egos, my parents actually consulted both. Funny, neither could forsee what my parents were doing. That period was hillarious. What Astorloger Uncle 1 would approve that guy would be rejected by Astrologer Uncle 2 and vice versa. My parents were so at their wits end. Finally they phased out Astrologer 1 when he started insisting that I marry a particular guy who was his friend’s son. So once we had the horoscopes approved, we informed the result to the guy’s parents. The inverse ratio in such cases is very high. When our astrologer found it to be perfectly matching the guy’s did not and so on and so forth.
    You can tell, by talking for 5 minutes with a parent, as to how long they have been groom / bride hunting. Half way throught the process they become half astrologers themselves. Some will ask for your ‘natshatram’ aka ‘star’ and instantly inform you that it does not match with their son’s. Some even ask you -‘what is written in this box’ i.e. one of the 9 odd boxes which make a horoscope. This bug bit my mom too and soon she was analyzing horoscopes of my cousins and neighbours and suggesting remedies.Like go to ABC temple on tuesday and XYZ temple on Saturdays. I miss those times. Sigh!

    These two stages are generally completed by the parents. That, I would say is a huge plus for arranged marriages. They scan through the muck and short list a set of diamonds for you. If you think they are as precious is another story all together.

    FIFTH STAGE -Introduction

    Once the horoscopes match, then the parents meet the other set of parents. My folks were out every weekend visting prospective samdhis and samdhans. Mom made it a point to be the visiting party primarily because she wanted to check out if the guy’s house was good enough for her little princess. More importantly because she could not trust me around prospective in-laws and thought it safer that they meet me after they have been mentally prepared for it by mom and dad. They traversed the entire city of Mumbai, every nook and corner meeting up people. Dad even made a few trips to Chennai in his quest for an ideal son-in-law. Why do you think he is a Jet Platinum Card holder 😉 Mom came back with various stories from each visit. Some were fabulous, some average and some made her furious. Our dinner menu varied from feasts and dessert, rice and sambhar to saltless rasam and padval (bottle gourd / podalankai) depending on the success of her trip. I never knew what to pray for……..

    Once they were satisfied, it was finally time for the STAGE of me meeting the guy. Sometimes, if the guy was not from Mumbai, the parents meet was combined with the boy meet. That was more fun…All that and more in Part II of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Arranged Marriages.

    Yippeeee! I have actually enough to write two part series. Yohooo!

Posted in INSIGHTFUL?, MUMBAI MERI JAAN, NOW THAT'S ME, ZILLION YEARS AGO | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »