Friday, December 26, 2008

A dog's life: stray dogs in Mumbai

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I noticed a peculiar thing and I have been noticing it for long: there are less stray dogs in South Mumbai than in the suburbs. When I went on that Sunday after the terrible terror attack, just spotted one in Colaba Causeway. In my part of town, there are is one for every ten persons living here. And I am not joking. I have allowed my cycle to rust than risk their barking run after me...

Mornings when I go out, I see packs run after school kids, snapping... I have been snapped at, by dogs in the parks... And in IC Colony, even seven years back, the packs used to terrorise scooter and autos, running manically after them. I have often spotted dogs mauled -- huge chunks of flesh off their nape -- by other dogs. It seems a constant shift in dog population, as new ones come from other suburbs, creates a vicious struggle for survival...

They -- the south-Mumbaikars who own the city -- will say that is because of overflowing garbage bins in the suburbs. Maybe.

Or could it be that the Sterilisation programme is not happening this part of town? I would really like to know.

I remember being intrigued when the freshly sprung NGOs offering to do the sterilisations charged Rs 750 to sterilise a dog..That was three-four years back. It is free for a man, why was so much being needed for an animal .. I wonder what these NGOs are charging now, for each dog?

Despite this humungous amount being offered, the NGOs would have some hassle or the other about doing the programme satisfactorily -- last I remember they wanted allotment of space where they could do the sterilisations...

Questions I would ask authorities that are meant to look after the stray problem :
  • How much funds have been allotted to Stray dog sterilisation?
  • How much utilised?
  • Give us the break-up areawise: allotments areawise -- each suburb for instance. More people vote from the suburbs than from the privileged South Mumbai. Yet we suburbanites get stick end of all such funding...
  • What is the cost for each dog sterilisation? Break-up of the cost..
  • Have u blacklisted non-performing NGOs...
  • How are allotments made to these so-called NGOs? What is the special skill they bring to this task?
Of course, the most important question is, sort of unrelated to this and yet related to all this: is there enough anti-rabies injections to save those who get bitten.
How many in Mumbai annually? 50,000 of which 25 or so are fatal..
I remember reading of a political type once running from pillar to post to get a rabies vaccine for his kin bitten by a stray: he could not. Then what of us simple mortals?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Welcome to some south Indian food..

Mid-day had done a favorable food review of this restaurant. So favorable that my husband, from Cauvery's own shores, had been slurping about a visit since the weekend. The wait was worth it. Kutty's is genuine South Indian khanna, with a mix and match from Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Different flavors of rice: next time I am going to order that ghee rice with aromatic herbs...we had a tangy rasam and though I was just going to dip into it, my kid stole it from right under my nose and finished it off. Iddiyam with potato stew. My husband had sambar rice with avial. Different vadas(kheera or greens), even idlis -- some chettinad cuisine too, and coconuty kerala stews and olan... Nice prices too. And as I tell all, the worth of any restaurant can be judged by two things: one, of course, the food. Two, how well its loo is maintained. They rank Excellent on both fronts:)

One of the waiters from good, clean south felt a bit inhibited that the restaurant was surrounded by slums we did not tell him the TV stars live where he was pointing:) This is Mumbai man!! It is on Link Road... visit it if you like subtle flavors, clean food, smiley waiters, affordable menu, food on banana leaf, payasam as dessert, bamboo-wood Kerala decor -- it will work its magic on you...

Address and contact details:
266/2125 Motilal Nagar, No 1, Link Road, Goregaon West Mumbai 62
Phone Numbers: 65282645/28712089 /2059

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Bikram yoga in town:)

The U.S. rolls royce yogi is in town, and setting up shop. It is good for us poor yoga teachers because it means there is going to a finer sense of discrimination now, as branded yoga gets a footing. There is too much mish-mash nonsense in Mumbai, more than any other city...

The cost of a Bikram Yoga routine: Rs 84,000 only.

But why is Bikram Yoga ads carrying a young BC's photo?

Maybe because of this?

I remember once Bharat Thakur telling me (while I interviewed him for the Mansworld magazine cover on yoga, which had photo-featured Deepika Mehta) that he trained only young yoga teachers because, as we all know, gods are young... :)
Well, SRK, Salman, Aamir, are you guys listening??

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mall-o-mall: review of Thakur Mall

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Kids in Mumbai no longer weep for a beach outing. I remember feeling a rush of freedom as my husband and I trundled off in our old omni with our kid in tow (her doll-house, her beach kit, her entire paraphernalia taking up a full suitcase) towards the lovely beaches hugging Mumbai: Ali Baug, for one. But nowadays, being a typical Mumbaiya she wants her outing only in the airconditioned environs of a mall, as our credit cards collectively takes a beating since we end up doing the only thing you can in a Mall: shop!

But each mall has its own energies. InOrbit has a way making your unloosen your purse strings: both my husband and I sigh with relief when we allow a weekend to pass without an Inorbit in our orbit. But PVR, thankfully, does not make us spend at all: the other day I spotted a cheap shell bracelet I picked up off the Fashion street being sold for Rs 1200 in one of its fancy shops. Well, nobody likes to be fooled. So PVR, despite getting lots of footfalls (its food court has slurping foodies' energetics) does not get much in terms of shopping windfall I guess. Price tags are not conducive for shopping....

The other day, on the say so of some of my husband's friends, we landed at Thakur Mall: very low brow stuff with high brow price tags. Lots of brand rejects, having a dusty, unsold look. At Woodland factory outlet, my husband finally found a reason to whip out his credit card. But even there we had to convince the unconvinced shop assistant that the pair he was selling us was not really matched... That sort of shopping experience, you understand. The food court is a shame. The only counter where some Indian food was being sold had a shaky cockroach wobbling on it... Mercifully, we got a masala chai for Rs 10. And replenished our irritated souls with two chais each. But though Inorbit food court may be high-priced it does not have this moth-eaten, sad, cockroachy look.

At Thakur Mall, since some shops (like Woodland and we thought Mcdonald, though the latter we later discovered actually has an entry inside) have entrances outside, we had to keep passing the security at the main entrance. The lady looked morose, grabbed my upper arm so tight that it ached the rest of the evening. After finishing checking with me, it was her way of indicating where I was to go!! By lifting me by my arm and pushing me to where I must go!! I was too tired to tick her off any case they say these checks are for our security. But can we have some polite checking... It is annoying to have resentful security staff! The other day, at Thakur cinema, for a morning show they actually had a male guard check female bags!! How is that!! ?? I told him that they simply must have female guards do that! He grinned at me cheekily.. Imagine if he dug into my bag and picked up a tampon or a sanitary pad?? A village boy unused to such things and I may have to explain what it was?? Some of the female guards are also clueless: the other day the woman guard at the PVR theater wanted to know what my credit card-holder was all about: it is this sort of lack of training or civility that gets me!!

Any case, as I can see not all malls are going to be able to survive the meltdown. I for on am happy, because that will mean our Mumbai kids stop being such bores and start thinking of a life beyond the mall...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Spit town

Was at a tehsildar's office to register my Leave and Licence agreement. And found that getting an agent to do things was the smooth experience, almost felt like I was dealing with a private company. Btw. (in Mumbai some private companies behave like they are government departments. It is all about us as a people, really!!) Any case, one thing that makes all groups -- government or private look alike is the spit stained wall...

And this was like a decoration which started from the base of the staircase and went up all the way to the floors which opened into the office. Fresh, red colour too. And right under the Do Not Spit written in BOLD RED LETTERS,in Marathi.
Welcome to Mumbai!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mumbai snapshots:)

Spotted this amazing little note on this cement chair in a middle class society and thought how Mumbaiya it was:)
One chair in the simple housing complex, lined with small shops. On it, this note: `Donated by so-and-so. Only for Members.' What happens, I wondered, if anybody who is not a member sits on it? And I wondered what had provoked the donor to make that point -- an uninvited congregation of outsiders? Or is it some panga (Mumbaiya, for squabble or tussle) with the shop-owners? Who can guess. In any case, it was enough to warrant immortality, along with the donor's name:)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Salman talks sense

Salman Khan, beleauguered at the box office, spoke some sense last week. He spoke of unity and then urged against corruption, praised the sadly paid cops for their courage. But what I liked of what he said was that it is important to look at who is selling arms to actually track global terrorism. Because the arms manufacturers are the ones fostering terrorism actively.

In this context it is intriguing to note a small, buried report in a daily. It has anon quotes from city intelligence agencies which said how when western/global intelligence agencies land up after such terrorist attack ostensibly here to help with the probe, they actually pick local brains, do not share anything in return and go back without having been of any help whatsover!

The interesting thing here is the media fanfare that accompanies such visits which projects the arrival of such foreign intelligence groups as a warm, concerned attempt by that country to aid investigation. But this tiny report, buried under mounds of other reports and stashed away in an inside page, says that these agencies use local intelligence and do not really share anything. In fact, in earlier such events, though specific requests were placed with such agencies which had information about tracking arms back to the country of origin/manufacture, either the arms disappeared or there was no response!!

Imagine, I always thought that these countries were so concerned, in the James Bondesque fashion, to save the world. Obviously I, like the media which creates such an image, is just being naive:)

Friday, December 12, 2008

What Time-out magazine says to terrorist attacks

I love Time-out since it is very Mumbaiya. It also makes me catch up on what's happening in the city, even though most happening things happen only beyond Bandra.  The rest of the city still lives in its ghettoised way -- rich ghetto, regional ghettos, middle-class ghettos, slum ghettos, Bollywood ghettos,  so-boring ghettos, bling ghettos etc... From Bandra onwards, Mumbai has still remained, mostly, the Mumbai I know --  Fashion Street has become a nightmare street -- with cheap rowdies now manning the shops: they  try to touch the women, whistle when the girls go past them, generally behave like men who have left their women back home in villages and know that their women are making up for this desertion in the way women know how to;  so these men `retaliate' impotently  by behaving crudely towards other women, since these women are within touching  distance of them... as everyone is in, in Mumbai.  This is  one aspect of Mumbai that needs to be addressed seriously and firmly. But well -- you know, we are so chalta hai, that I will possibly shift towns before that happens... or return to live here when I am grey-haired, so that it is safe for old women (except old, rich women, as is happening in south mumbai with its murders of seniors) ...

Any case, to return to the latest Time-out, here is the cover. If you want to know what Time-out decides to say check below:)

I liked the issue because it used Mumbai language, and I liked the young and  `enlightened'  viewpoint. Eg. as columnist Girish Shahane observed, we are all patting ourselves on our back for not immediately erupting against one another, despite hidden angers. Shahane says terrorist outrages never spark riots, they build a reservoir of resentment against a particular community, till a trivial issue can spark riots and gets innocents butchered.  Btw. the reason I am raving about TO is not just because my old colleague Naresh Fernandes is its editor... He is a good guy, a true Mumbaikar...When Sai and I  were leaving our PG accomodation in Bandra and shifting homes  years ago, he had offered to help: though  he came  only after everything was packed in the lorry, I thought that it was very   sweet of him:)  I spotted him the other Sunday, after the terrorist attack, off the Taj... and realised time does fly...

So, if you love Mumbai pick up the latest Time-out. It is  a nostalgic issue: my sort of stories... by people who know the city. And love it... 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On roads, potholes, pavements and more

As I said, now that I have left journalism full-time I can sit back and criticise it:) As if I was ever a reporter (I was a feature writer, part of the elevated clan that was hated soundly by reporters:) who mostly followed her own whims and fancies at work. So, it is even more inappropriate of me to run down the clan. Nevertheless, as a `concerned citizen' I can say that it is soo predictable for the media to suddenly wake up to relevant city stories only when the monsoon happens: you can hear rain-drenched TV anchors screaming about Khar Subway, Milan Subway and then keep showing flood images that frightens my family back home in Chennai. Then, to keep pace with such show-stealing, the print press will go on an overdrive, so you can watch, with a state of immense great deja vu, media ink and ire being spent on the `bad roads', even worse accident statistics, and some blame-game, name-flinging between different maintenance departments. Why wait till then, guys... Have An Accountability section, to pin these issues down....

Here is a lead, sent to me by a blog reader as sms: "Subject for your city blog: at Andheri and Santa Cruz highway is getting a fresh coat of pre-fab macadam sheets. But during the last monsoon the sad thing was scraped out since it was felt they caused accidents (not bad driving)!. Now they are being laid again, but will be scraped out in June!"

Am not technically qualified to tell the difference between one road material and another(feature writers then, and now, only wax eloquent about colour of roads:), but those who drive clearly do know. So, if you are driving past Santa Cruz and Andheri highways, and smell something, it is either macadam. Or a racket:)

Chalta hai, Mumbai!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Saturday, December 6, 2008

When a widow weeps: why we must all hang our head in shame

Here is the story of Shruti Gunjan Narang, who lost her husband, and so many others from her family, at the Taj shoot-out.
It broke my heart to read that when her husband's body was recovered from the morgue, only the ring he wore was found. The rest of the jewellry were missing. How can that be? From the Taj to the morgue only so many people could have handled the body: and it cannot be difficult to track down the culprit. Poverty is often cited as an example for such vandalism. But having lived in Mumbai for so long, I simply won't accept that. Oftetimes, it has been the poor who have been the sweetest here. So, whoever took jewellry from a slain man did not do it out of compulsion, but out of a lack of humanity. And under the circumstance, we do not even need to look at why or wherefore, but just seek to pin down and slam that sort of behavior so it never gets repeated again.
Even as the post-terror stories emerge, you can predict the pattern of stories. If the media could kick-butt its journalists to look beyond the obvious. Or read through emerging stories and take leads to chase up certain facts so that the media can, finally, become part of the change everybody is hankering after.

Even if just Narang's case was followed up, with hospital authorities, it would mean the beginning of accountability.

Mumbaikars' anger and their slogans

Somebody sent me, over email, these images from a website: I just cropped the slogans. While I knew that Mumbaikars had turned up in huge numbers for the spontaneously organised Mumbai rally protesting the terror attacks and official bungling in preventing and handling it later on, I never knew the scope of it. Local newspapers seem to have deliberately downplayed it.. Wonder why?

I did not catch any of these slogans in the papers. Or see photo features on these.. That is rather wimpy ...

Media cowardice is part of the current malice we are facing since a watch dog media is what creates accountability -- otherwise citizens do not get a valid platform .... Today, whatever the eruption of anger we witnessed in Mumbai is actually despite all, including the media, a spontaneous affair ...though the way the media is behaving, you think they somehow sponsored the event...

While I was a journalist I remember the shift towards PR journalism had started in full swing -- being wined and dined and being handed out PR releases that they wanted printed. If some of us decided not to take gifts, we became less relevant (to the PR agencies) since we could not be manipulated. But at the time I decided to quit, I realised that this was changing so much so that all of us were becoming bling journalists...Often I was bored that I was only made an `event organiser' -- asked to organise lunch dates between two celebs, so we can record it, or some such nonsense!! Or land up at the film events only when the actor wanted to give an interview.. stuff like that... Even the more `conscience-keeper' magazines were not averse to PR write-ups...Thus, all of us have contribute to the current rot...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Auto rickshaw: rocking rides

(The image is from this link... seems an official site of an auto rickshaw-manufacturer)

When I landed in Mumbai, two decades ago, during monsoon, my sandals broke. I was just walking distance from my destination so began to limp tortuously towards it... One auto rickshaw fellow gallantly stopped, allowed me to hop in, and when I covered that minimum distance and alighted to give him the fare, he refused to accept it. That was the Mumbai I had fallen in love with.

About seven years ago, such a thing was still likely to happen. While walking with my daughter I remember being hit on my chest by a teenage boy: I ran after him as he began running, a tribal for whom running was like the very breath. But I kept up, panting, angry, trying to flag some vehicles down, to chase him effectively. Only one auto fellow stopped, I hopped in, dashed after the running lad, and landed ahead of him, and thrashed him with my handbag, quite effectively, so that he would think twice again before touching a Mumbai woman. He took it silently, even apologetically, because by then a grinning, gawking crowd had gathered. In any case, as I wound up my wrath and paid the auto rickshaw driver the minimum fare he had covered, the sweet driver refused to take the money!! So seven years ago, that still was the Mumbai I loved.

These days every day I am finding that the auto rickshawallahs are beginning to change this great city into another Delhi with it cantankerous autos ... and cheating drivers. Soon Mumbai's auto fellows would be winning prizes ahead of Delhi and Chennai (another worst city in that sense because the auto fellows are so annoying and have been since I started affording autos in that city) for the title as to `Who is the worst of them all... '

Some problems I am facing and that is what most other Mumbaikars, especially in the northern suburbs must be facing (Bandra, I have found, is not so bad)...are as below:
  • Autowallahs will not come for a minimum distance. And they will not come for a maximum distance. As a rule, they will NOT come, wherever you want to go. Most are saying no just for the heck of it, is what I have realised!
  • Even though there is a provision for complaint against such behavior, I find that it can be tiresome to do that. Plus, most of these fellows are hanging outside at unregulated auto-stands. When you have a kid wandering about the complex, I can imagine that most parents would hesitate to take on such goons who are passing off as auto wallahs.
  • Meters are tampered with maddeningly. I travel often to Bandra: the fare on a nice, empty road (early mornings is the time I travel, being yoga teacher), is Rs 120 one way. I have had fares bloating from Rs 150 to Rs 190. Is this fair? I am supposed to complain?? How many fellows can I complain against.......Especially, as I had explained, they are sitting just outside my gate, watching who goes in and comes out.... and clearly have their local gangs or whatever local goons they pay hafta to, in order to take over prime roadsides to set up their stands?
  • I have had to deal with auto fellows who will suddenly decide mid-way that their `auto brake is broken down'. This has happened so many times, I cannot tell you how frustrating it is. Especially when you are travelling on the highway where you will not find another auto, empty. Or if you find a taxi, the driver will refuse to ferry you. And this `brake break down' happens usually after the auto fellow asks you what is the time. That is because his shift is ending, he must return the vehicle to the owner and has decided he will turn and go back, or remain in the eastern suburb and the hell to how you find your way to the western part of the town. No care, if it is raining. Once I got into a huge argument with one auto fellow, very politely in the sense I told him that my idea of dharma refused to accept his reason or his meter (overcharged by 60 rupees) and so I will pay him only what I thought fit the distance and his behavior: his brake suddenly started working, since he followed me ominously, abusing me with the most crude words imaginable. When ahead after this torture, I halted another auto, this angry auto fellow threatens him against taking me as passenger. Then, the second guy refuses and seeing that the first fellow is still following me, abusively, suddenly decides to give me a ride. Yet, the second fellow, whose brake had broken down, follows me for a long distance, yelling crude, dirty names at me!! This is the Mumbai I had loved?
  • Another headache with auto fellows: suddenly, since the time I take the vehicle is usually the time when their fuel stations are likely to be empty, they will insist on refuelling: an auto refuelling means joining a long line of auto rickshaws, with crudely gesticulating drivers, at the backside of the service station (that is where they are allotted space). So you are there, uncomfortably being stared at by bored, crotch-scratching men, outside smelling male urinals, in a space that is not clearly, for women. After one such experience, I have become smart, and usually step off the auto, pay my fare and walk away. But I almost got abducted the other day by this smart cookie auto fellow who suddenly shifted lanes, in the highway, to the side of the fuel station, beginning an argument about just why it was not nice of me to refuse him `five minutes only' refuel time. Imagine, I was going for a class!! (always I am headed for a yoga class in this state of absolute mental disarray, thanks to this deterioration in auto services and the men who ply them).
  • Imagine auto unions have gone on strike protesting against the public bus corporation for plying in certain areas(the Goregaon road, the last time the autos went off the road in protest)!! I find that absolutely difficult to swallow... That means we citizens have no collective voice, no union, and must be held to ransom like this? I mean these guys wont come where we want to go. And if I am to be given an alternative transport that is reliable, he will go off in a huff and protest!! Give me a break...
What may be done to improve the system?
  • I cannot imagine why the city municipal corporation will not allot valid auto-stands for these guys so they are not taking up road space. And there are complaint boxes or liason people (from among auto fellows) at such halts. A city adminstration cannot think of the city only in terms of private buildings and highrises. The state government only seems to think of space in terms of what it may negotiate with private builders. Unless it starts to think in terms of such allottments for auto, car parking (rentals, as happen abroad) the city will continue to bloat like an unattended garbage can. Or try to organise it the city will be a mess. And it is also becoming difficult to stomach such nonsense. What made Mumbai tolerable, despite its filth, difficult commute, etc are its sweetness in daily transactions. The auto fellows are eroding that and thus eroding the ethos of the city. If you don't see that as a problem, soon people like us, from outside of this city and who have loved it as their own, will desert it.
  • There has to be random meter checks: it seems corruption means the one who pays the most gets away... Suppose I as a citizen even complain (despite all those inhibitions I have explained above), if an auto fellow will pay some piddling hafta, which is most likely, he is going to be left off... right?
  • The government must insist that unions liason with citizens -- after all, the unions are not an isolated entity, but can exist only with citizen patronisation! Just like Parent-Teacher Associations are a must (though schools can flout that too) in schools, so also all registered unions must have Commuter-Union meetings regularly so that such complaints get redressed.
Till then, I will suffer and dream of moving out, to a place where I don't have to travel by autos ....

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Khar Subway: why is it so hellish...

You can see, though the picture is so shaky the garbage piling right into the road-- this is one of the most important subways in Mumbai. Not just during monsoon, but at all times the access from East to West road (the other street is dry) is always wet with some water/drainage leakage. Kids go to school stepping over it. Pedestrians use that pavement, splattered always with Mumbai's own exotic graffiti -- paan/betel nut spit stains. Am going to post better pictures when my auto does not stumble too fast -- those would clearly show how both sides are equally piled high with garbage. The richest city in the country. And this subway is one of the two most subways linking the eastern and western suburbs -- sign the city has been imploding for long on its own filth... Today I saw a few construction workers pore some tar/stones on some potholes -- somebody's grand idea of road repair:)

Khar subway has been like this since I have known it-- and none of us are really concerned that this is also the first view most foreigners or new comers to the city get if they take it, as they must, to catch the arterial SV road, to enter the western part of the city...

C'mon all you developers/city fathers/or whoever is supposed to taking care of this spot -- when are you going to do something about this rot? Don't t you use this link route at all? It does not make you cringe?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A slideshow of South Mumbai, post-attack

(Click on photos, for captions)
This is a slideshow of South Mumbai, on Sunday, as the city firmly decides to return to normalcy... By evening, some of these spots must have been thick with crowds, carrying candlelight, to mourn the loss of innocent lives and show their solidarity and also inform the politicians that enough is enough.