About Me

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Study life, study literature. Eat food. Lots of it.
Also, I use a lot of adjectives- working on that, so bear with me.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Yeh Gaadi 12 Coach Tej Local Hai

No matter what city you live in, there are some things about each city that you cannot escape. 

If you live in Ahmedabad, there is no way to ignore the teeming groups of under-age school kids driving bikes like they're starring in the Gujarati sequel to Dhoom 3. 
If you live in Delhi, your vocabulary cannot shade itself from the rather colourful terms for female genitalia.
If you're in Bombay, there is no chance that you haven't experienced its bloodline, the local trains. 

I've realised that Delhi has a lot of songs about itself, Mumbai has significantly lesser. Think about it. Yeh hai Mumbai meri jaan. Bambai Nagaria. How many more can you remember? I was beginning to feel a bit cheated, but then recently it dawned on me that Bombay makes up its own soundtrack. Close your eyes and picture it: The vocals from the hawkers, the strings of the Sea Link, the percussion of hundreds of thousands of feet, the rhythm of the waves, and oh do you hear that? The steady beat cycle of the local trains, on those weather-beaten tracks. 

I've always been a bit of a voyeur, but the trains make it easy for everyone to be one, whether or not you have kinks in your head.  You know somewhere just past the half-way mark in Hindi films based in Bombay, there is a sad song? You know how many of these sad songs are framed around the mellow young protagonist or their love interest seated against a window seat, the city whooshing past them, wind in their hair? In essence, that is the perfect encapsulation of the local train experience. Except for a few tiny details, that is. One, there's never an empty window seat unless it is raining, and if there was, there sure as hell isn't enough space to fit in a camera there. Oh also, try singing in a Virar fast, I bet you, please. However, during those rare off hours, if you do manage to snag a window seat and let a tune play in your head (or through the headphones, put away that Candy Crush, will you?) and feel the wind in your hair, it really is worth the film reel.

Most days when I travel by train and if ever I manage to get the above mentioned prime real estate, I like to picture myself in a music video. And it is exhilarating. However, if you don't find the drama in the wind tousling your hair, do turn inwards. (Towards the inside of compartment, the introspection can wait a minute.) You know how they say Bombay is a city of a million dreams? It is also the city of a million stories, and a few thousand of them fly past you in the locals every single day. Honestly, just look around, and stop the music on your phone for just a while and listen. See that mother who is smiling at the child who wants to use the bar as a stool? See that other woman grumbling because the same child is squashing her bag? Look at that woman who is munching ceaselessly on that pack of potato chips in her hand. She knows that this is the only time she gets to eat in peace without worrying about work or cooking for her family. Look at aunty there furiously chanting the Gayatri Mantra as she turns the pages of a holy book. Look at that girl with the pretty nails giggling quietly into her phone while her friend anxiously memorizes those last two formulas from her notes. Look at the ads for the all-capable jyotish who claims to solve all your problems, plastered across the walls of the train. Look at the experts who reserve your seat even before you get up to go to the door next to your station. Look at the woman sitting on the floor near the door, counting how many aam-papads she has sold so far, and look at the hair-clip vendor who's haggling with her. Look at amma, fumbling with her umbrella while her neighbour aimlessly watches the latest film that her son loaded onto her mobile. Look at the bunch of women waiting at the platform with bated breath and bhel packets, never once contemplating taking the next train because this one is too full. Look at that girl, standing by the door, weeping while on call, unaware of who heard her, distraught (If you actually do ever come across this post, I hope you're doing better now, and I'm sorry I couldn't muster up the courage to give you a hug and tell you that it's going to be okay.) Look at me, staring hungrily at the imprints of so many lives, while trying to figure out how to get to my destination once I get off at the station. Look at us, look at our multitude of stories, all bundled up, hurtling towards Borivali and towards Churchgate. Some of these stories culminate in a bunch of discarded tickets inside the dustbins at the platform, some stay with you till you come home and wash the trains away from your scratched bodies. If the lifeline keeps going, the stories keep going. And I keep going.

While I'm aware that all my instances and observations come from the Ladies Compartment, I do know that the stories extend to the rest of the 9 compartments on the train just as much, if not more, but I'm not experienced enough at those to churn them out as passionately as I can write about the women who sit across from me so often, whose lives temporarily cross tracks (see what I did there?) with mine.  Those smiles, those grumbles and those voices are the heartbeat of this city, much more than any film or any trade can be.

If you are in Bombay, get up, go out and get a ticket to the farthest station on your line. Sit back (if you find a seat), relax (if you can), and let the Great Mumbai Talkies begin (they will, whether you like it or not.) 

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Life, Stuck in Instagram Filters (Don't Sue Me for This)

It is hard to have a genuine smile on your face when you're surrounded by cameras.

Oh no, this is no snide reference to what I do for a living. It is a rather grating reminder of the fact that everyone and their aunts are now armed with smart phones and cameras and, as if that wasn't enough, selfie sticks. (Side note, I take a lot of joy in the fact that my computer still spits out a scraggly red line under the word "selfie". Just saying.) Ironically, when almost every other photograph comes with the hashtag #candid, there is no such thing as candidness anymore. We're all now just parts of someone's cover photos and we can find each other lost behind a myriad of instagram filters. 

While people argue rather passionately for both sides of the oversharing on social media debate, I don't suppose a blog post is the best idea to take my stand on it. What I couldn't help but write about was the fact that every experience of every day now comes with a caveat for posterity built into it.  
"But first, let me take a selfie."

You're getting ready for a night out with your friends? Time to whip out that cell phone and cram six faces and an ample amount of cleavage into one screen. You're spending a lazy weekend at home in your pyjamas? Time to spend ten minutes getting that messy bun just right for the perfect Instagram post. Found a cool looking butterfly? Oh wait, photo toh chahiye yaar. (All butterflies are cool, just saying.) Going to see a new film? Wait wait wait, I need a photo of the title credits. Diwali? "Look at how pretty that flame on the diya is." Makar Sankranti? Photos with beautiful tukkals in the sky are mandatory, duuddee. Vacation? Oh you have to begin right from the boarding pass. Take one good scroll through a Facebook timeline, and you know exactly where that person has been, whom with, and what they were wearing and eating. Makes the whole idea of  "What's up? What have you been up to?" rather useless, doesn't it? Sometimes it feels like our life gets reduced to a Facebook album. 

Our routines now involve including an extra few minutes to click the right photographs and another few to upload them on all our social networking accounts. Don't get me entirely wrong, sometimes I'm just as guilty of this as the next person, but what I fail to understand is when it became a priority for us. So much so, that it is now imperative to capture a moment even before we live it, if we live it at all. The fact that you saw a beautiful sunset or shared it with someone who was sitting next to you is clearly not enough any more. We need to share it with the thousand other people, because of course it we don't, they will have no clue what a sunset is like. We share to show off where we are, we share to show off who we're with, what we're doing.

What scares me the most is the fact that whenever I go to any place, or for something that is going to be a unique experience, I know that I make a special effort to take photos and videos and record everything. I assume there is nothing wrong with that, but my problem occurs when I get so busy capturing photographs that I actually put taking all of the visuals in at the back-burner. I have a hundred photos of the Jeep Safari I went for, but ask me what it felt like or looked like, I'll take a while to recall it. I went to see Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge at Maratha Mandir- which is unarguably a historic moment for me. Everything was perfect, but after I kept interrupting my viewing process to take photos of iconic scenes on the silver screen, I knew I had ruined the charm. Having the perfect Facebook and Instragram posts just wasn't enough. I view everything through a camera lens, but I don't always know what it looks like to the naked eye. Just the other day, there was a woman on the local train that I was on with a pet monkey on a leash. Before it even registered that it could be dangerous or to think of what her story could have been, the jaws of my phone had already snapped the image. And that was that- I may have sent the photo to five people, but my thinking process stopped there. When we have a strong opinion, we voice it on our Facebook status. Again, nothing wrong with that, except that the voicing ends there.

I try thinking of the whys and the wherefores, but honestly I can't. At some point in our journey from sitting through newly developed photo albums from the neighbourhood One-Hour Studio and bonding over them to stalking random people and their Instagram accounts, we lost the idea of truly living a moment. We've lost the charm of being so involved in an experience that we have no clue of the outside world. In stead, we now make it our priority to make sure that the whole world is involved in our moment.