Oh, the forthcoming Pujas!

September 27, 2008

I am feeling hyper-excited. I will be visiting Jamshedpur for the Pujas after 18 years! 18 whole years! I stay in Bangalore and I will travel with my family to be there in Jamshedpur for the Pujas. My sons, now 14 and 12, will be there for the Pujas at Jamshedpur for the first time!

I know I will miss the Mahalaya at Jamshedpur, that joy of waking up before dawn and listening to Chandi-Paath in Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s voice in the old Murphy radio. But I will pull out the two-volume set of cassettes I have and listen to the paath pre-dawn in Bangalore just as everyone is around the country!

I am looking forward to sitting on the terrace (“chhat”) of my parents’ house listening to the beats of the dhaak through the evening. That throbbing beat which makes you want to jump up-and-down, swing sideways, clap and generally get into a trance. I want to dance and give myself up to the joyous excitement of the pujas.

I look forward to seeing endless streams of men, women and children, all clad in their festive clothing, walking up and down our “road” visiting one pandal and then the other. (There are four puja pandals in a kilometer’s radius of my house)

I would have liked to be there arguing with the localities donation (chanda) collectors about the amount of contribution we could make. But perhaps I will be too late for that. The chanda would have either been committed for or collected already.

I look forward to wearing a set of new clothes each day of the Pujas, Saptami, Ashtami, Navami and Bijoya. I have ensured that my children and my wife too wear new clothes. And as a surprise I have planned for my parents who are in their 80’s and 70’s, (father is going on 84 and mother on 79) they will wear sets of new clothes each day of the pujas. Just as my parents ensured with my father’s meager earnings that all six of us siblings could do so.

I will buy all the pujo-barshikis and try and read some of it. So what if my fluency with Bangla script is a bit rusted now. And I will certainly read Shankar’s (Mani Shankar Mukherjee of Chowringhee fame – among many others) story if he is still writing.

I look forward to the trips to the puja pandal where I can bow to the Goddess and seek her blessings. Not before I lift my children (I am sure much to their amusement, and embarrassment) to enable them to get a darshan of Ma Durga. Just as my father did when I was a kid.

I have planned to buy for my children the small toys I used to enjoy when I was a kid. That water-filled rubber balloon slung on a thin elastic rubber tube which served as “yo-yo”. That plastic monkey which slithers down the spring-like stalk as you turn the toy up, and then down.

I want to be a part of the aarati competition each evening. Not as a participant, of course, but as a member of the audience. I want to smell the sweet, intoxicating aroma of dhoop as I stand in the crowd watching the aarati dancers to the beat of the dhaak. The dhaakis going round-and round in their own trance. My youngest sister who won all the aarati competitions she took part in will not be there as a participant but I will still cheer all those who do participate.

I would like to treat my family to phuchkaas, son-papadi, ghughni, chicken-rolls and other such heavenly snacks from the sundry vendors stationed around the pandal.

I would love to buy the coupons for the khichudi moha-prosaad and have the prosaad for lunch each day. That heavenly sweetish khichudi with kumdo vegetable.

I look forward to hanging around the para’s pujo pandal in the evenings. Who knows, I may be lucky and able to spot some of those girls who I used to eye when I was a teenager! Never mind if they are all married and with grown-up kids! I can still introduce my kids to their “aunties”!

I plan to sneak behind the pujo-pandal and grab a few surreptitious puffs of a cigarette away from the vigilant eyes of Jethi-mas, Jethu, Kakus, Kakis, Pishi-mas, pishi-moshays and everyone else.

If they still have jatras, I will watch at least one show braving the late night chill. And cry unabashedly at the predicament of the hero and the heroine.

I do not have text-books any more but I will carry whatever books I will have with me for reading in the vacation to the puja-pandal on the Bijoyadashmi day to seek Durga Maa’s blessings. And watch the women of the para applying sindoor on each other.

I shudder to think of the women crying on that last day of the pujas grieving about Durga Ma’s departure for the year. I think I may end up crying too!

My kids and I would line up the street and watch the immersion procession with me holding my kids’ hands. Cheering each grand statue as it passes by.

I would go to each of our neighbour’s house in the evening and touch the feet of the jethus and jethi-mas and do kola-koli with all my childhood friends. And eat mehidaana, sondesh, ghughni and loochi.

The day after Bijoya, I will go over in my mind the days just gone past reveling in the memories. And plan my trip to Jamshedpur for the next year’s pujas.

Oh to be in Jamshedpur, for the Pujas!


Mauritius 6: Vikram, our guide and Bollywood

September 25, 2008

On the first day of our tour of Mauritius our driver-cum-guide Vikram lands up at our hotel sharp at 9.30 am to take us on a trip to South/South-West parts of the island.

The 20-something Vikram, hair neatly bleached and spiked, facial hair trimmed and carved into pretty unimaginable shapes, smartly clad in the global outfit of today, jeans and a T-shirt bearing his travel comany’s logo. Vikram could have been a young man from any part of the globe.

A cheery hi, a quick introduction and we were off to our first destination.

Five minutes into our drive, excited by the sight of the lush green sugarcane fields on either side of the highway, glimpses of the clear blue sea just beyond the green fields, no pot-holes, no traffic jams in the first 5 minutes, what better could a Bangalorean want at the beginning of a long-planned vacation!

Hey, Mauritius, here we come!

Lulled into the holiday mood I asked Vikram whether he could play some music for us on the car stereo.

“Of course”, he said, “I have just the right music for you!”

Vikram inserted a CD into his car stereo as I settled into my seat, eyes closed.

Strains of Sega music floating through my mind I quite looked forward to the drive. Alas, my pleasure was short-lived. As the first strains of the first number wafted through the speakers, I sat up with a jerk wondering what had hit me; it was the unmistakable nasal twang of good old Himesh Reshammiya. “Aashiq banaya, Aashiq banaya…”. I grit my teeth, too polite to ask him to change the disc, and braced my self for the HR assault. Then followed, “Aapka suroor..” and then “Shakalaka boom-boom”!

I could not bear it any longer and asked Vikram to change the CD and play something else.

“No, no, sir”, he said, “you MUST listen to this track. I have personally remixed this track on my PC with the new remix software I have downloaded”. So the HR assault continued this time via a remixed HR track, “Zara jhoom, jhoom..”.

Vikram went on and on about the Bollywood stars he has driven around Mauritius. Yes, he has driven around the great Himesh R. as well a few months earlier when HR was down to Mauritius for a concert.

Vikram then confided, he has also driven Preity Zinta around. He proudly said had promised to make him a Bollywood star should he deign to give up his driver-cum-guide job in Mauritius and visit Mumbai!

If it was not for Vikram’s earnestness and his innate likeability this piece of our chat would have been intensely funny. But I quickly realized that he was dead serious in what he was telling us. I just could not bear HR any longer and asked him to switch to any FM station which played Hindi stuff. And the good, well mannered guy Vikram is, he switched on to a popular FM station and guess which song was playing? Good old HR’s good old “Aashiq banaya!”


Bollywood film posters on street-side walls

Bollywood film posters on street-side walls



Bollywood is something which will never be far away when you are in Mauritius. The latest movies play in the theaters of Mauritius. While we were there we could see the posters of “Lagaa Chunari Mein Daag” and Manorama Six Feet Under” pasted all over the city walls. A visit later to the posh Caudan Waterfront and we saw a giant poster of Om Shanti Om at a multiplex announcing the movie release on 8th November (9th Nov is the official release date in India).


Poster display at Caudan Waterfront Theatre

Poster display at Caudan Waterfront Theatre



We were shown various locations where Bollywood movies have been shot:

“Hey, this is where this shot of “No Entry” was shot!”

“And that is where the car chase in that movie happened”.

“And that is the beach where that song was picturized.”

And they all expected us to go all ooh-aah-waah at all these juicy tidbits!!

Bollywood has this uniquely irritating habit of crawling all over you wherever there are people of Indian origin.


The Joys of Gymming

September 23, 2008

It is incredible that even after 15 years of checking into five star hotels I had never seen the inside of a hotel gym. Nor swum in the hotel swimming pool. Or used a hotel spa. All complementary facilities but never used.

What is true of hotel is true of home as well. There is a decent swimming pool in the apartment complex I stay in. And a decent gym at the “club-house”.

The only time I have entered the pool is when during winters, a few years ago, they had drained off the water to clean the pool and the pool was used as the dance floor for the New Year party. And I have visited the gym only twice: the first time to show off to a visitor of ours the facilities I had bought into with the purchase of the apartment. The other time was to locate my kids; I thought they may have found it a cool place for playing hide ‘n’ seek.

So it was with some hesitation that I entered the hotel gym some days ago on my travel a few days ago.

I have been taking brisk walks in the evenings of late, not much, about 30 minutes. My doctor has proclaimed that it will help control my blood sugar levels. I have taken the advice seriously. To the extent of even carrying my walking shoes etc. on my recent travels to be able to do the needful in the hotel gym.

It was not so bad after all. Simple, really. You walk onto the treadmill, switch the machine on, adjust a few controls like your weight, speed, duration of the walk etc and you, well, start walking!

Here are 10 reasons why I have enjoyed the first few trips to the hotels’ gyms:

  1. I am provided with a nice thick hand towel to wipe my sweat and a bottle of water by the gym guy/ girl as I start. Much better alternative to a handkerchief which I carry in my pocket as I walk on the paved pathway of the apartment building where I stay.
  2. If I am lucky I may see a nubile, curvy female on the neighboring treadmill. On the pathway I see my wife’s friends.
  3. I get to watch live TV as I tread the mill. At home I get to hear my neighbours’ snatches of gossip.
  4. I do not run the risk of bumping into wife’s friends who stop me just as I am gathering speed. And throw at multiple questions at me. Like: Oh! When did you start walking? When do you start your next travel? When did you return from your last travel? Where is your wife?
  5. I walk or run without the risk of bumping into kids learning how to cycle, lads learning how to play basketball.
  6. I do not have to dodge the odd dog being taken for a walk.
  7. I do not have to worry about the barks of the odd (and even) dog.
  8. I have no risk of tripping on the odd pebble on the pathway. The gym’s treadmill as smooth a baby’s bottom!
  9. I do not have my kids peering down my apartment balcony and yelling, “Papa, how many rounds done so far?”
  10. My wife is not around in the hotel gym to keep an eye on the time I walk. Or don’t!

Oh! I love the gym!

On 5 Star Hotel Service Levels: Part 4

September 20, 2008

Part 4: In Which We Have Strong Doses Of Customer Service And Are Happy When It Is All Over


I was dreading going to the coffee shop for breakfast the next morning. The F&B department and more specifically the coffee shop was the target of my complaints. With all the activities of the past evening, I was sure that I would be singled out for some hyper-attentive service. The coffee-shop staff on duty would be waiting to pounce on me to show-off their (newly acquired) super-service skills. I was sure that my name and room number would be prominently marked in the register kept at the entrance and the moment I announced my room number, I would be a marked man!

This was day 3 of our meeting and I was not required till late morning. So I decided to take it easy and went for late for breakfast. With a deft movement I managed to sneak into the coffee-shop without informing the person my room number. I heaved a sigh of relief. Now I can have my breakfast in peace!

But the joy was not very long-lived. Half way into the breakfast, someone realized that I had walked in without informing my room number. A Black Jacket, who was probably the coffee shop manager, approached my table and asked me, “So, sir, what did you say your room number was?” I nearly choked on the spoon of cornflakes I was having. For a moment I even considered giving a false room number. But the consequences of doing that would have been embarrassing if I was to get caught. And I softly gave my room number. Nothing happened for a few minutes. So I was unnecessarily worried, after all. Relief!!

But this happiness proved to be very short-lived. As I was sipping my tea towards the end of the breakfast, through the corner of my eyes I could see Black Jacket in conversation with another Black Jacket. And within a few minutes they bounded to my table, together.

“Mr Ojha?’ Black Jacket 2 enquired.


“Good morning, Mr Ojha” Black Jacket 1 said cheerily.

 “Good morning” I replied.

And then started a long-winded one from both Black Jacket 1 and Black Jacket 2 on how apologetic they were regarding their staff’s service-quality levels the last few days and how they will make sure I am never inconvenienced in future. And so on and so forth. Each fished out his card and urged me to call them directly the next time I was staying at the hotel.

I did not notice the cloud of white-jacketed junior staff forming around my table as the Black Jackets were at it. No sooner my tea gets over, WJ 1 quickly refreshes the cup. The moment I light up my cigarette, WJ 2 hastens to light it. One tip of the ash into the ashtray, WJ 3 rapidly clears the “dirty” ashtray away replacing it with a fresh one. And so on and so forth it proceeded till I decide that 3 cups of tea and half and hour of listening to Black Jackets was enough and I have to move on with the day’s work.

“Good morning, Mr Ojha. How are you today?” I had not noticed Mr GM who suddenly materialized seemingly from nowhere.

“Good morning, Mr GM.” (I wanted to tell him, over-pampered, over-stuffed, over-indulged. But I refrained).

“I was walking past and I saw you,” he said in a casual manner.

I was sure Mr GM must have instructed his staff to inform him when I reached the coffee-shop.

An “All well?” and  a “bye” and Mr GM was off.

Back  now to the Black Jackets.

“Thank you, sirs”, I say to the Black Jackets.

“Thank you, sir. And as we told you, we are really very sorry….”

I am already running towards the exit. This had been the most embarrassing 30 minutes ever in any coffee-shop!

Through the meeting I noticed that the tea table had a lot more to offer than the mandatory cookies. Sandwiches, pastries, samosas,; the works. And more than the usual compliment of staff waiting on us.

Our meeting had “broken-out” in three groups working in three different conference rooms. As I moved from one room to the other across the floor, I could sense I was a marked man among the staff on duty. Let me tell you it is not a comfortable feeling walking around with the knowledge that there are a dozen pairs of eyes watching your every move and eager to serve you. You suddenly feel so vulnerable. Vulnerable to attacks of customer service!

The lunch we had later in the day also deserves some telling.

If you are familiar with five star buffet lunches served during meetings/ conferences, you would know these are very different compared with the fare you get in the regular restaurants. The spread is a stripped-down version of the restaurant buffets. Sometimes you even suspect the dishes are left-overs from some other spread.

But for this lunch the hotel had pulled out all the stops! For one, instead of the normal two non-veg dish fare, we were served fish and chicken and mutton. And all three were prepared in the local style. That was yummy. And then instead of the perfunctory roti/naan we had kulchha and paratha and hot pooris in addition! And, wonders of wonders, instead of cold and indifferent stuff, we were served hot kulchhas and pooris by waiters circulating around the room.

And of course, I remained the marked man! When I was trying to help myself to some more of the delicious fish curry, I had a waiter thrust a bowl on my plate to take the curried fish. Hot pooris kept raining on my plate (I love pooris) so much so that I realized that I was over-stuffed and kept my plate away. Prompt appeared a finger-bowl! A finger bowl in a buffet lunch!

All this time a black jacket was keeping a keen eye on me and orchestrating the moves of his staff. The moment he saw me washing my fingers, he crept up to me. “Dessert, Mr Ojha?”

“No, no, I am off sugar stuff. Doctor’s orders, you see.”

“I understand. But we do have this sugar-free dessert. Why don’t you try it out? Here.” As he served me a few pieces of the sugar-free barfi.

And so on it went.

I had to check out later that afternoon. I was keen to make a quick unobtrusive getaway but I was not quite sure how I could manage that.

There were butterflies in my stomach as I was waiting for the accounts clerk to swipe my card as I was checking out. What surprises were awaiting me on my departure from the hotel?

Mercifully, none. Maybe this aspect of customer service I liked the best! Leave your guest alone!!



Cinemania 6: Birthday Movies (’81 & ’82)

September 20, 2008


Another bonanza year for AB fans. “Shaan”, “Barsaat Ki Ek Raat”, “Naseeb”, “Laawaris”, “Silsila”, “Kaaliya”, “Yaarana”. What a bunch!

Shaan”: An under-rated movie like “Kala Patthar”. I think this movie was too classy for its times. And can you forget the “Shakaal” act by Kulbhushan Kharbanda? And the menacing manner he caresses his shaven pate and menacingly mutters in a low tone: “Yeh jazeera bam ki tarah phoot padega”.

Barsaat”…” was directed by Shakti Samant going downhill pretty rapidly, while “Naseeb” (MKD) and “Laawaris” (Prakash Mehra) were representative of their director’s forte. “Yaarana” was an uncommon pairing of AB with Neetu Singh but thoroughly enjoyable. “Kaliya”, I remember not only for AB but also for  the Radio Ceylon jingles for the film which started and ended with the echoing slogan “kaaliya, kaaliya, kaaliya, kaaliya”.

Silsila”! How heart-breakingly gorgeous did Rekha look! I was a big, big fan of Rekha; the walls of my hostel room were adorned with posters and picture cuttings of Rekha. And the brooding AB, the poet. The tulip fields. The songs. Everything about the movie was perfect!

My birthday movie, and the movie of the year was, “Ek Duje Ke Liye” at Kanhaiya Chitra Mandir. Tragic story of geography coming in the way of two lovers. A Madrasi pitted against a North Indian. This K. Balachander movie starred Kamalahasan and Rati Agnihotri. Besides the tragic tear-jerker of an ending and the super-super hit songs, I remember one scene from the movie. Kamalahasan challenged to prove his love for Rati burns her photograph, stirs the ash into a cup of tea and quickly proceeds to gulp down the concoction. A case of Rati na sahi to “ash” sahi? Not a bad choice!

One of the last movies of the year was the gorgeous Rekha’s “Umrao Jaan”. What times those were, Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha in full bloom!



The birthday movie was seen under fairly unusual circumstances, parts of Varanasi was flooded and the area around the university campus (Lanka, etc.) had a couple of feet deep water. However the cinema halls in the city were operational. There was no way I could miss the annual ritual on my birthday. With two brave-hearts for company, I set out to see AB’s “Khuddar”, a rollicking story with such bizarre scenes like AB’s taxi flying over the traffic on busy Marine Drive of Bombay. We would have  done well to possess such a taxi in those times of flooding in Varanasi! The song “Angrezi mein kehte hain ki I love you” topped Binaca Geet Mala that year, surprisingly beating “Pag ghungroo” of “Namak Halaal” to the second place! Which song do you still remember? And which song do you join in chorus during a drunken evening even now?

And that brings me to the other AB films for 1982: “Satte pe Satta”, “Namak Halaal”, “Desh Premee” and one of my all time favorites, “Shakti”. I remember the first time I saw “Satte pe Satta”. The movie was released while I was visiting parents in Jamshedpur. Jamshedpur those days rarely had the privilege of screening the latest movies. I was dying to see this latest AB movie. So I did the next best thing possible. Immediately upon reaching the Varanasi Cantt station, a group of us landed at the cinema hall (Anand), suitcases/ hold-alls and all and thoroughly enjoyed the movie!

What a time it was to be living in, with AB’s movies being released nearly once in two months!

1982 was the last year I saw a movie on my birthday. No particular reason, just that all quirks need to die some day!

Movies still remain a passion for me!