Saturday, February 16, 2008

Making a counter-point

Many people commented on my judgemental blog earlier, saying it was too direct and negative. I agree wholeheartedly, but that was the point of it- when one calls a spade a spade, one cant call it almost a heart. Nevertheless a good suggestion by a few has been that I should write a 2nd part, focusing this time on the more positive traits in people. I think its a great idea, but I decided I dont want to repeat myself on the points in the earlier post, since obviously if I dislike something I would appreciate the absence of it. So heres my list:

Above everything else, I respect genuineness and honesty, Mallika Sherawat-ishtyle. It requires immense guts, and more importantly, inner self-belief, to come out into the public and say "Yes, this is the way I am, and the way the industry is"- her practical logic for sleaze as the only way to beat the acting-family grip on Bollywood was impressive. (Admittedly, she overdid it a bit, and often finds herself with her foot in her mouth.) But have you observed, genuineness is a trait every person unconsciously appreciates, however genuine or fake he might be. I think its one of the traits that people who somehow seem to endear themselves to everyone, unfailingly possess.
Next on my list would be determination and ambition, personified by countless successfuls, notably Shah Rukh Khan and Linkin Park. We all know whatever there is to be known about SRK, but Linkin Park, who practise their music 16 hours a day, have taught professionalism to an industry that has always been known for humongous egos and erratic genuises. A lot among us have these virtues in their own small ways- they dare to dream big, and they spend their lives, unfazed by adversity, chipping away towards that vision. Salut!

And I'm always awed by a Darren Gough-esque attitude to life: cheerful, bright and optimistic, you could never see him without a smile or a guffaw. Such people light up our lives with their shining countenance, provide us with memorable moments, and remind ourselves of how life's meant to be lived.

But nothing's as dignified a virtue as humility and simplicity, especially in one's moment of glory, paraded by the likes of Narayan Murthy and Rafael Nadal. Rafael's post match interview after winning the French Open a record third time had more "Federer"'s in it than "I"'s! We always associate the term "being a sport" with failure, but I sometimes think it applies more to victory. I respect and admire people who display generosity and integrity in success- be it in resisting an urge to take a pot-shot at the also-rans, or be it in terms of not wanting victory at ANY costs. And its probably this fine point that seperates the likes of Michael Schumacher from the pantheon of true legends. (I'm sure to kick up some controversy about this!)

This easily has been my shortest post ever :-)
p.s: This bloody blogger sometimes really drives me up the wall. I've tried in whatever way I can, but I can't seem to get that extra line between paras 2 and 3. Anyone else had a similar problem? Works fine for other paragraphs. First person to help me gets a special reading of my 1st book. Only kidding, relax.
p.p.s: And now its doing the same prank on the paragraph above! Bloody hell.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Local anaesthesia- part 1

Luxury is for the human mind a bastard adopted from the street- we all lend it our own unique name and implication. For the gourmets, it is pampering the stomach, for the art collectors, it's pleasing the eye, and for some like me, it is relieving the legs of their arduous task of transporting my restless energy on its jaunts across town. And hence, propelled by the power of the pound, I have allowed myself the gratitude of taking cabs wherever I go in Bombay, blissful in the thought of avoiding Bombay's crowded local trains. It's a luxury that has taken a long time coming though- having endured 6-odd years of a daily 3-hr full-body massage provided by the Mumbai Suburban Railways have left me with more than a backache. Its been a thoroughly enjoyable journey though, replete with its moments, and my experiences can only seem entertaining in hindsight. So heres the first part of a threatise.

For the uninitiated, the aforementioned massage services are run on 3 lines, Western, Central and Harbour- me being the proud client of the latter-est. There is a clear status divide between the three: we Harbour boys were a bit late in catching the train bandwagon, and hence our trains are the least frequent. Counter-intuitively, our infrastructure is also the worst- saddled with no fast trains and with tracks running through slum-dwellers' bedrooms, we often have been mocked at by the others: "Harbour line pe paan thunko toh gaadi ruk jaata hai" (translated as "Its enough to spit on the tracks when in a Harbour line train to halt, who needs heavy rains or signal failures?") But we are always better off than the horrid Central line, what with its majority clientele of abusive fishwives. The Western line (some parts of it, atleast) is generally accepted as the most cultivated- after you alight, people are polite enough to allow you to climb the stairs on your own- the Central line has no such luxuries. The general quality of women is another driver for the Western line's popularity- repressed Central adolescents regularly take Western-line guilt trips to remind themselves that abusive fishwives are not a good representation of the average Bbay lady.

So lets focus back onto the product- the massage. Its a winner, this one. For starters, it is delivered dynamically, on the go, unconsciously, perfectly positioned to make efficient use of your travel time, and thus fits in handsomely in Bombay's breakneck pace. In fact, "Journey is the destination" was adopted as a slogan by the Railways once. (It was however removed a few days later after customers started stoning rail offices, mistaking the tagline as a lame attempt to pacify them on the matter of train delays). Secondly, and most enchantingly, it is delivered by the clients to the clients, much like a network marketing concept, wow! Such an arrangement upholds India's status as the world's largest democracy, giving customers the power in their hands (and legs and head and shoulders) to customize their own experience.

The dynamics of it all are also very fascinating. It usually starts with waiting for the train to arrive, and the waiting usually starts when its expected time of arrival and you can't see the train anywhere in the distance. Certain self-driven members of the crowd usually act as the harbingers of fate- straining their neck and their binocular-ly organized eyes, they provide free regular updates to the rest. A few minutes later, there is the unmistakeable murmur as you brace for the most important part of the journey: getting into the train- many a self-proclaimed-street-smart Delhi novice has underestimated this step and paid a heavy price.

So you roll up the sleeves, hide the cellphone in the innards of your clothing, lift whatever luggage you are carrying onto the top of your head and take a deep breath. (The deep breath serves two purposes- it destresses you and it saves your life, since there is very little chance you are going to get any air once you are inside.) It is also important to choose the right entry position, the right gambit. Mumbai locals have no doors to their exits, so its a free-for-all, with the exception of a rather inconvenient steel rod right in the bloody middle of the exit. After above mentioned Delhi novices learn after a few attempts to give themselves a chance of getting in, the rod presents their next nemesis, and they often end up smacked right against the rod, with no room for movement and no sensation in certain body parts. You thus endevaour to choose 1 of the 2 sides of the entry to make your way in.

And before you know it, the train has chugged onto the platform, and there are people spewing out of the moving train in dozens and thirteens, headed right towards you. Which is very unnerving, as many of them will drop right onto your right toe, thereby spilling the pickle from their tiffin box conveniently onto your shirt pocket. But you shrug it off, not letting it divert your attention from catching the train. And as the train finally grinds to a stop, there emerges an even greater exodus of humans in every size, shape and mood, falling off like grains from a leaking sack.

Everything after that can be simply described as going with the flow- a concerted wave of pressure from people behind you propels you with lightning quick speed into the compartment. The crowd also rationally takes care of your seating preferences- if there are free seats inside, you will be taken right to them. The massage then continues unabated throughout the journey- you only have to steer clear of the all-encompassing-in-its-midst Kurla-exiting flow and you have gained full value for your money.

And then its time to hop off. Alighting from the Mumbai local is as simple as staying in- again, you simply go with the flow. If you are in a Central line train and alight at Kurla, and the flow is headed to the bus depot at Kurla's stations east-side exit, thereby interfering with your plans of catching the Harbour line train to Vashi, you dont fret. You simply follow the flow to the bus depot, and latch onto the next flow originating from there to your preferred destination. Its simple ergonomics, you see.

So before you realize it, you have been released from the pressure cooker- clothes rumpled, confidence eroded, de-de-odorized but positive about life- after all, you have successfully completed another day of reaching office! And you say to yourself, "Wow, there weren't any bomb explosions either! Life is indeed beautiful." :-)

p.s: This initially was meant as a comprehensive essay on the local train services of Bombay. Midway through the piece however, it struck the author that there was more to it than he had envisaged- as the memories came tumbling back much like men from a Dadar local, he realized that this journey was worth more than 1 Harbour-line trip down memory lane. Watch this space for the trilogy!