Traffic Wisdom

Note: this is not a rant

If there’s one thing my Mum taught me to do while driving, it was to use the indicator lights before changing lanes or turning. And often, using the signals, proves to be detrimental to my cause. Every time I indicate that I’m turning, the cars behind or next to me speed up to make sure they get ahead before I make my grand turn into their way. I mean what’s the point? Aren’t they supposed to give me way?

At this point my alter ego steps in. Calmly floating on the empty passenger seat, it says, ‘Life isn’t fair darling. Stop ranting.’

With my frustration and agitation I retort, ‘I know but I’m playing fair. I am telling them I want to turn left, but then they make an extra effort to make sure my transition is difficult.’

‘You play fair, but there’s no guarantee the others will. You’ll always meet people who will be curious to find out what your next move will be and they will be equally unfair and make sure that your transition to that next move will be hellish. Look at you, sure you had to wait for two cars to pass before you could get into the lane that you wanted, but did it stop you? No. You’re still where you wanted to be,’

I fall silent. My alter ego seems to be smarter than my real self! Why didn’t I ever make this connection? Reading my mind, the alter ego decides to add insult to injury and says, ‘Look at that scooter guy who swerved into your lane without a signal? Yeah, and see how you had to stop and slow down to make way? Life will throw such scooters in your way and you will have to find a way to deal with these unpredictable scooters unless you want crash and hurt yourself.’

Who would have thought a damn traffic jam would make me smarter? And who on earth would have thought that an alter ego could reinstate sanity?

Some Observations About Relationships On & Off Twitter

I joined Twitter on 14th September 2008. I didn’t really think much of it. I randomly saw these messages from people. I stayed away.

‘Razzdino is now following you on twitter’

Suddenly, amongst those unknown people I was following, there was a face I knew. I started having twitter conversations and sort of started liking the platform. Soon enough, I found a few interesting people to follow.
I took my time to get to know the platform, which is how it should always be. In the last one year or so, I have got to know a lot of people, made some lovely friends. There’s always a flipside to it.

When you follow someone on twitter, you know the intimate details of their life. It’s almost like you peep into their heads. Yes, you know what they eat, who they hate, which film they’re watching. You know every bit about their life as long as they’re tweeting. You end up having random conversations at odd times too. However, in the offline world, you don’t get access to such details about a person and at such regular intervals unless you literally live with the person.

You love the conversations, you love reading their updates, so obviously, the next thing you do is add these people on facebook and on gtalk. No harm done. You’ve never met them, but you do feel a connection. But what happens when you meet them offline?

I have met almost a couple of hundred people off twitter. I think I have observed enough to say this. When people who follow each other online meet offline, they end up interacting like they know each other for eons. We all have masks online, so when these two people’s online masks do not match their real-life masks, it ends up making things awkward.

Some people are just as loud-mouthed as they are on twitter, some people are as quiet as they are active on twitter, some people are far cooler in real life than they appear on twitter and vice-versa. Meeting people offline can shatter your pre-conceived notions and bajao your expectations. I agree with Bombay Addict when he says, ‘I think at some point we start expecting people to behave in a certain way. I think those expectations become a burden. I’m ok with imperfect people. I like imperfect people. They’re like me. I don’t think I can live up to anyone’s expectations and I don’t think I want to. I will be inconsistent.

How many of us have the maturity to say this, least of all implement it? I don’t. But I am inconsistent, which brings me to my next point.

When you’re friends with someone via twitter, especially when the friendship came about quite quickly, there’s an immense pressure to be something you’re not. Friendships should evolve over a long period of time. The time gives you a chance to know the person for who they are, for the flaws that they have. It took me a long time to understand this that on twitter, you tend to share, reply politely and be the warmest person ever. There are chances that you’re not like that at all in the offline world. But someone who has managed to be friends with you via twitter, will always expect the niceties out of you. It’s not their fault. They’ve never seen your flaws.

I’ve had people throw tantrums because I had the time to attend tweetups but I didn’t have the time to socialize with them. This person had made friends with me via twitter and within a matter of weeks, she had decided that I was her best friend. When this tantrum was thrown my way in real life, obviously, I reacted the way I would in real life. She couldn’t relate to it because she didn’t know I had the ‘mind your own business’ side to me. Back then, I fumed. I really didn’t know why a person would expect me to be their best friend. Now, after the detox, I understand. She saw what I showed her and she wanted to continue to see that.

It is important to understand that relationships on twitter, however rosy they might seem, are relationships based on online personas. If you want them to be real, take it slow. I have a bunch of friends whom I have followed for years, I met them a few times and our friendship evolved slowly and steadily. These friends have lasted. Because we took our time.

Too close, too soon does NOT work.

Judaai Is Not The End of Pyaar

My dad’s friends’ love stories always amuse me. Some of them started dating whilst in college and stuck to their relationship even as they travelled to different cities to pursue their careers, post grad degrees and all that. ‘They didn’t even have telephones back then, letters were their only hope,’ says Dad. ‘Besides, breaking up was not an option for them. They had decided already that this person was their life partner. They did what they had to and made it work!’ And mind you. There were no mobile phones, no pagers, and no email back in their day. ‘People didn’t even have telephones, you had to go to the neighbours’ if you wanted to make a call’ Dad tells me.

Next morning my phone goes frantic. SOS messages. ‘I think I am getting dumped,’ one message says.
‘She’s moving to UK, I am breaking up!’ another message says. Wow! Last night’s gyaan is totally out of date, I tell myself as I get out of bed. Most of my friends, me included, strongly believe that long distance relationships are just not worth the effort.

‘My girlfriend went to Singapore for her masters and within 3 months all I had left was astronomical phone bills, crazy amount of time wasted on the computer, cartloads of angst and a dysfunctional relationship,’ says Mr. J. Add to it, facebook made it prominent that his girl was busy but with parties and fun outings. ‘If a guy flirted with my girl when she was here in Mumbai, I wouldn’t give a damn but a picture with a guy randomly putting his arm around her on facebook pisses me off now that she’s so far away!’ he adds. They finally broke it off because their relationship started becoming a liability.

‘There’s no point of being in it if everything about your relationship bothers you. Not having your guy around to hug you, to tell you it’ll be alright is just not cool. I miss him, but I don’t miss the online fights. I’m glad it’s over,’ says Mr. J’s girlfriend.

Kinda paints a bleak picture about long distance, doesn’t it? As Ashish Chand accurately puts it, for many people a long distance relationship is the kiss of death. Ashish firmly believes that they can work, however, this is conditional. ‘If you’ve just met someone and the relationship goes long distance, it’s going to fail. At this stage you crave for each other. You want to be physically close. But if you’ve gotten over the clingy phase, there is hope in spite of the distance,’ he explains.

Poo, a self-confessed commitment phobic agrees with Ashish and thinks that long distance relationships just get a lot of bad PR, ‘Long distance isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be. If you are someone who values your space, it can be a boon.’

Of course, Poo firmly believes that in addition to constantly reassuring your partner of your love, you have to have mutual trust and the ability to be very open with your partner (which is where the Js failed) ‘With email, chat, skype and other such tech innovations, long distance is definitely possible!’

But what happens when you’ve had a bad day and all you want is a hug from your partner or when you miss them so bad, you can’t take it?

‘It takes a lot of time and patience,’ says RV who believes that one has to invest a lot of time and emotion to make up for time apart. Much like V had to.

‘Knowing that the long distance was only for a couple of months, made it easy. I missed him like crazy at times. Sometimes, it got so bad I almost thought of ending it, but then I’d remind myself of the big picture. You love this person enough to want to be with them? Then the long distance is just a hurdle you have to cross…’ says V. She is now married to the guy, so yeah, she crossed the hurdle.

If your partner is in the same country as you at least you are in the same time zone. Honey had to battle a transatlantic time-zone war to keep her relationship going. This essentially meant that when she slept, her guy was awake and vice-versa. ‘We both were sure we wanted it to work. Ending it was not an option.  We web-cammed, shared filmy music, shayari and photographs to reassure each other. If you want to make it work, you can,’ she explains. She also thinks that observing her parents, who shared a LDR for a while, has taught her that the distance can actually work in the favour of the relationship. It can make you independent, strong and it can teach you the value of the much spoken about ‘space’ between couples. ‘It is not for the weak hearted, though. You will spend a lot of time away from your partner and that takes strength,’ she warns.

In conclusion, if you really love this person and the idea of long distance is bogging you down, think again. Give it a shot, it’s worth it. And finally, based on the yapping I did on twitter, here are three things you should focus on.

1.    Be strong. Remind yourself of the big picture and be ready to do what it takes to make it work.

2.    Keep communication channels open. This will reduce misunderstandings and reassure your partner of your sincerity

3.    Use technology. Skype, email, IM etc are free. They will reduce your phone bills!
And yeah, good luck, I say!

PS: SMSers I hope you guys give it a shot. This one’s for you

Happy Birthday, Mariam…

There’s a thrill when you make a major change and land up in an alien environment. You don’t know how things are going to be, you don’t even know if you will deal with them. I was always told that people around you give you the strength to work through that uncertainty. They infuse you with energy, inspiration and no matter how alien or bleak the environment they’ll tell you that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

Luckily enough, I have always had people like that around me. But I left them all behind and landed in UK. From being a confident Mumbai girl, I was the latest export from India, a meek, lost girl in the Queen’s land. I’d spent a week with the Kale family but as I drove down to the uni with my family, I started feeling that knot in my tummy. I was scared. I had never lived on my own, I had never been so far away from my friends and I had never ever been friendless. Well, not since high-school, but let’s not go there.

As the car wove through the University of Sussex campus, I was bright eyed and as we located my residences I was nervous as hell. Making friends from scratch, fending for myself, cooking, cleaning and studying all by myself and in addition to that, homesickness. I wasn’t unprepared. I had been warned by many, but it was happening now. This was real. I took a few deep breaths and told myself I’ll be ok. We pulled up right behind a car. A  girl got out of the car. I had never seen her before and yet there was something very familiar about her face, something very comforting. She smiled looking towards the residences and I saw hope.

I got off the car and continued to stare at her. Will she be a friend? Will she be in my school? Will she be…
‘Hi are you studying here?’ I heard my cousin ask.
She nodded, that smile fixed on her lips and excitement dripping from every corner of her face.
‘My cousin’s doing her MA from here. Meet Shakti,’ he introduced me…
She shook my hand, ‘Hi, I’m Mariam. I’m doing MA in Critical Theory. And you?’
There was warmth in her voice. And I replied that I was doing my MA in creative writing and she could critique my work. In my head, I thought, WTF are you saying? I realised this was going to be awkward, making new friends. But then she laughed at my stupid joke and I felt like all be ok.

Little did I know that this girl, the first person I met on the campus, would end up being such a close friend! Mariam Zia, this bundle of energy, hails from Lahore, Pakistan. She’s one of the people I treasure. At times, a mere ‘hi’ here and there tells her what’s going on in my head. She’s like this elder sister who’ll watch out for me, who’ll patiently listen to me whining and then bring a smile to my face. She is the reason why I loved my novel as much as I did.

At Sussex, I made my own family. They were and are still pillars of strength in my life (I know I never email or keep in touch, but they continue to be my strength) Mariam happens to be one of the closest to me. Mariam and Shefali helped me grow up; they helped me be me as I grew up. Of course, Shef deserves a blogpost of her own but Mariam, this one’s for you.

Our countries can’t see eye to eye and yet we see each other to the depth of our souls. My calls or SMS wouldn’t go through to her, we all know why. She lives in Lahore. On her birthday, I couldn’t hear her voice, I couldn’t tell her how much I loved her, all because our countries are constantly at loggerheads. Our friendship is very special to me on an individual level, yes, but I also know that it is symbolic. It is symbolic of the fact that beyond that border, we share a similar culture, similar values. And if we have enough love in our hearts to give and enough room in our hearts to receive, we can share a lovely relationship. I should be able to take a flight and go see Mariam. She should be able to get on a bus and come see me, but we can’t. I haven’t seen Mariam in 4 years. Last time I saw her, we were freezing at Trafalgar Square, right outside National Gallery and we held each other tight. We promised to see each other soon in our respective home cities. We continue to promise each other that even as relations between our countries have turned more and more hostile. In the end what matters is that our friendship, our love has continued to grow strong. And no matter how many of my SMS or phone calls get blocked or however difficult it gets to see Mariam, I just need to close my eyes and I see her. She is in my heart.

Happy birthday, Mariam Aapa (big sistah!) Tum jeeyo hazaron saal, saal ke din ho pachas hazaar. May all your dreams come true, may all the happiness in the world be yours and may you live a long life. And we will see each other soon, I mean it!

On your birthday, words are all I have… So here’s to you, thank you for being in my life…
P.S: Mariam, do you notice the excess use of ellipses? It’s because words, they’ll never be enough…

Woh 7 Weeks: End of a holiday

Past 7 weeks have been pure bliss; ups and downs included. Quality sister time, unique relationship insight (how I love my older friends!), a dash of disappointment, blistered feet, emptied bank balances, crazy credit card bills, tons of food, serving portions I can only dream of finishing, jeans feeling a bit too snug, not fretting about the weight, the beach, pride, inspiration and more than anything LOVE.

7 weeks have passed since I left Mumbai, all starry eyed. And now I shuttle out to Miami airport sobbing. Yeah, you heard me right. I am grateful for all the madness of the past 7 weeks. I sobbed because my sister (she never really was a baby sister) is independent and brave, far braver than I could ever be. Here I was leaving for India, why did it feel like I had forgotten something, someone? The truth is I was leaving behind a big chunk of my heart in Miami.
I hate that I am early at the airport (paranoid as I am, I am always early!) Check-in and security checks, all taken care of, I still have another two and a half hours to kill. I could either brood over how much I was going to miss my sister or see pictures and giggle with glee about the lovely times we had exploring her city with her, going to Disney world or while battling bed bugs (bed bugs was not fun but hey, I m trying to see the glass half full here!)
I could sit and smile about the fun times I had in New York with Roger, Baa and Tarlet. I could think about what an adventure it was discovering what I didn’t want from a relationship… There, I started again. So much happened on the past 7 weeks that I *almost* feel like a whole new person. Okay, I’m exaggerating but, I do feel like Shakti Salgaokar version 8.0.

I’ve fallen in love with solitude and lost my heart to a city. I love Paris, London and Barcelona. But New York, I think we are headed for a serious relationship and imagine the mess that’s going to be when Mumbai finds out!
And yet, I am back to the city I call home. Despite its pollution, dufus governance (the Frenchman working on Mumbai waste management project on my flight brought this to my notice) I love it. There’s so much this city can be if she got the right things to work with, and yet, she sits there, making the best of whatever she’s got. New York is like the sexy woman you want to be. She’s that woman who has the perfect life. A perfect career, she looks hot, so perfect that even her problems seem perfect. Someday, I’ll come back…

And yeah, on this trip I also achieved acute spiritual maturity (yeah, right!).  And I finally figured the prophecy of one my gurus, Mr. John Lennon: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.

I’m alright to go where life takes me. No more planning. No more superficial goals. Just one principle- have fun.
Btw, Air France: thank you for being a kill joy airline. The cranky me, agrees to go through the ordeal of 19 hours on a flight for two things. Nonstop movies and eating airline food like Charlie Chaplin (dad, u r genius in discovering that simile. Yes I don’t mind airline food. It helps passtime!). Yeh modern day air travel isn’t so bad because food apparently has gotten better and inflight entertainment is supposed to be awesome. Thanks air France for not having a personal screen on my first flight from Miami to Paris and a little note: Hindu non veg meal means a non-veg meal sans beef or pork. It doesn’t mean you serve me rice, veggies and chicken with garam masala tossed on it!

Anyway, the 8 hour ordeal ended at Charles de Gaulle. And look at me, merrily Bon jour and au revoiring people like I knew French, deliberately struggling to read things in French before giving up and settling for English. Whoa! I miss Nani. The last time I was at this airport, Nani and yours truly had flown in from Barcelona on a delayed flight and missed our connecting flight to London. The lady who reissued our boarding cards, issued a wrong one for Nanchan and I put up a classic performance, being the drama queen I am, and got Nani bumped up to business class.
Such funny incidents happen when me and Nani set off to explore the world. ‘Be nice to your siblings,’ is an underrated line from the Sunscreen Song. Love your siblings, pour your soul into them, because trust me, other than your parents they are the only people who know you, your past, your whims, your fancies, your strengths and weaknesses and yet love you like no one else will. My sibling is a part of me, a part of who I am and what I am. I realise this after years of sibling rivalry, friendship, arguments, fights and much more.

So yeah, Nano, this one’s for you. Love life so much that you can be a 70 year old who can tell tales of her life and amuse people by the sheer presence of life in them!
And in case u want assistance, who u gonna call?

Living a Dream

A day in the life of Shakti Salgaokar: The day that felt too good to be true. The day that was filmy.

A van pulls up in the building. Two girls walk out to the van and hug tight. One of them is dressed a little too much for Miami. Jeans, tshirt and woollen jacket get her some extra attention from people walking around. She hugs the girls in shorts again and nearly chokes up. ‘Have a happy Diwali, okay? And eat well, and don’t be out too late and…’
‘Enjoy NYC. Live it up and have fun okay?’

The girls part. She settles into the van and wipes a teardrop on her cheek. She wanted to see New York her whole life. And she had had daydreams about landing in New York. In those dreams, she always landed with her sister. But then she realised there was no point in fretting. She had to be grateful that she was about to see New York City.

She was early for her flight, so she settled into the lounge with a grande Café Mocha and a chocolate chip muffin. She tried to read her book, but couldn’t focus. A lot had happened around her and a lot is about to happen. Her trip to NYC is a lot more than just a vacation. It has an agenda to it. She has a gut feeling that her dreams are about to come true. She flips through the book: Spouse by Shobha De. A book about marriage and all that one needs to be prepared for. She laughs of many tips that the celebrity authoress dispenses in the book. ‘Why am I reading this?’ she asks herself.

She settles into her seat as soon as the aircraft boards. A window seat on the right, as instructed by her father, she rarely dismisses the father’s suggestions. She has heard about New York from friends, she’s had impressions about the city from movies, tv series and she has painted a mental picture of the city through the songs she’s grown up hearing. But her biggest influence in loving NYC before she’s even seen the face comes from the stories her dad has to tell. She loves seeing the way his eyes light up when he talks about the city. If nothing, she wants to see the city that is such a joy to the person she looks up to all the time.

She keeps staring out the window like a 5 year old who can’t wait for the car ride to end. She keeps staring at the ground below, scanning it to see if NYC is visible yet. And then the pilot announces that they’re ready to land. She sticks her nose to the window and peers. As they close in on the ground, her eyes start to light up. She sees them in a faint reflection on the window she’s stuck to. She smiles, she nearly jumps out of the seat when she realises she is finally going to see New York. And then, some flickering lights make her shriek with delight. Why, it’s Times Square.
She lands, she calls up the one person she wishes was sitting next to her on the plane.

‘Nani, I just landed!’ she says with a wide eyed grin. She knows, she knows its love at first sight, but yet she bounces about into a cab. And takes in the sight of every little thing… Thousands come to New York, why is she so thrilled? Because it was her dream!

I am so dreamy eyed about New York. I love walking the streets with a big smile. I love spending time with Raj and Pratibha and I love bonding with little Tara. I do miss Nani, but hey, we have our whole lives to see New York and many other cities.

Walk On: we took Bono too seriously!

Day 3:
Mondays are blue, but a different kind of a blue when you wake up in a new country and a completely new city.
Agenda was set. We were seeing 3 apartments, then checking out nani’s school and figuring out the city. Big tension. I don’t know where what is!

Well, I’d forgotten how exciting it is to discover every little corner of the city… To unravel the folds of the character that makes up a city, to create memories at little places or monuments and to slowly fall in love with it’s charm.

In the scorching heat, we lost our way. And in losing ourselves we found little things about South beach, Miami quite amusing.

So anyway. My sense of apartment scouting had gathered rust too. Nanchan made all the calls and scheduled meetings. The first apartment was a little room available 10 blocks from nanis school. We rang the bell and a south American man dressed in a lungi answers the door. Pictures of Ganpati Bappa, Shiva and Buddha greet us along with a wafting scent of agarbatti. Hello, we walked just 10 blocks, how did we end up in India? Apparently, the house was a yoga center with meditation rooms and a huge Radha Krishna idol. ‘we serve vegetarian prasad’ the dude announced. Alright, I looked at nani and we walked out.
She didn’t travel halfway across the globe to live in a wannabe Indian surrounding. So that’s where we said om shanti and moved to the next house. The next one was pretty. It had a courtyard, a good neighbourhood and boy, what floored nanchan was the cute lil fat cat! Nani loved it. Hell, I loved it. Having a nice roommate makes a huge difference too. And that’s why I thought this was a good option.
It was almost 4 and we hadn’t managed to find the time to eat. Snacking kept us going. Thank u mommy 🙂
The third apartment was our last stop.
‘i promise u, after seeing that apartment, we will eat, ok?’ nanya assured me. What, after walking 30 odd blocks through the day my feet were blistered and the stomach was hungry.

So we dragged ourselves down another 8 blocks to see the next one. The neighbourhood was dodgy, one of the roommates I thought was a junkie. Dude! I was worried. Nah, my little sister cannot live here. But I didn’t want to influence her decisions but nani almost agreed. Thank god!
What followed was the most satisfying meal I have ever eaten.

After all the walking, my spicy Italian sub tasted like heaven! Yummm… We walked another 10 blocks and made it back into our hotel room. Funny how a hotel room starts feeling cosy after 3 2 days! Nani took back to craigslisting and I crashed.

Another day, another city. At least we knew our avenues and streets… Sigh, being the older one and pretending to know your stuff is a tough act to pull. Wish me luck?