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.

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Indian Sisters in America

Day 1:
We managed to check in our overstuffed bags. This was it. I was going to see the united states of America. Well ok, not all the states and not exactly on a holiday. But yeah. I was going with my sister. My most fav person in the world to travel with. Change that. My most fav person in the world. Period.

She is going as a student and me as a starry eyed tourist and a glossy eyed sister.

Yes, me and Nanchan have passionately observed America through news, books, stories, music, films and lately television. Of course, it always was my dream to see Nyc with her. But that can’t happen. She has school. But hey, I m on a flight to Miami and I will enter USA with my darling little nanuli. Wow!

Our first adventure happened qt the immigration counter in Mumbai. Nani’ was holding both our passports, and when our turn came we went forth with one passport each. I got cleared as lalitlalaxmi salgaokar. But nani’s answers didn’t match her visa and that’s when it struck us! Our passports had been interchanged! The immigration officer was baffled and what not, co passengers had a rofl moment. And me and Nanchan, we had a good laugh too. We have always wondered if we could exchange identities (in school she wanted me to take her exams!) and here we were, a silly juvenile childhood curiosity successfully fulfilled.

It was all a breeze after that. Talking to family and friends over the phone. What I didn’t tell Nanchan was the grave worry I had on my mind. I can’t imagine home without her. Until I was four, which is when nanu was born, my life was boring. She and I have had our silly moments, profound moments and though I am a daddy’s girl and mom’s rebel and all that, I depend on nani’ emotionally. Yes everyone is saying bye to her at the airport. I m lucky. I get to go see her in Miami and be with her. But I worry about what happens at the end of the trip. How do I come home to no nanu?

Yeah yeah if u wanna show off and be the pop culture engineer’s sister, you gotta sacrifice and all.

So yeah, Miami will be about creating enough memories with nanya to help me last through the next two years of solitude in the attic we used share for a bedroom. It’s going to be about taking charge and being the elder sister I have never been.

And it will be about, writing and documenting this time we spend together. Because I m a writer and this is the least I can do for my fav girl in the world. (mom, manuaai, pannu and sneha, u guys will have to make peace with being second to nani. And I know u understand why!)

Faster’s feast

I have lived and loved Mumbai with a passion. I have combed through it’s crowded streets and hid in it’s quiet corners. I have loved it’s openness and enjoyed it’s diversity and yet, I have been taking the city’s spirit for granted. It takes an RK and WK to make me see the city like never before.
RK n his wife W live in London, while RK grew up in India, W grew up in London. Both have a passion for food and are very enthusiastic and outgoing. RK announced last morning that he wanted to visit Mohammed Ali Road during Ramadan. I had heard about it, I had seen celebrity photos but never been there.

So we started the adventure. Parents, A Mama and family, RK, W and family in tow. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiastic crowd on the streets. The steady flow of people ensured that one kept moving at a steady pace. Once we crossed the main road and stepped into the Minara Masjid lane, aromas of meat crackling on fiery coal, malpua sizzling in oil made sure that our mouth was watering. I wasn’t going to brave the roadside eateries, not with a bunch of pardesis whose digestive systems could collapse with the unhygienic conditions. However, those street stalls are all about the vibe or as they say in Urdu, ‘Mahoul’. Lights that made the Minarets of the Masjid sparkle, women dressed up in glittering outfits, add to that the street side shops shimmering with trinkets and more. One word for it all- fantastic (a bit chaotic but I am not complaining).

Minara Masjid by the night
Minara Masjid by the night

It’s one thing to enjoy the madness on the street but quite another to attempt eating there. If you like eating your food in a slightly less chaotic ambience head straight to one of the restaurants in the locality. I suggest you get there early- say by about 8.30 pm to avoid a long wait for the table. Shalimar Restaurant is said to be a one stop shop for all the Ramadan goodies and has an awesome AC section you can comfortably settle into. What’s more, the food is authentic and delectable!

We were all in a celebratory mood, so good conversation flowed. The table was soon jam packed with kebabs, cold drinks and more. There was Bhuna gosht, which was greasy enough to give my dietician a stroke. The tikkas, shammis and seekhs were succulent and packed with flavour. I’m guessing they came straight off an authentic Sigdi! No electric oven can match the distinct taste of the meat cooked on charcoal.

The Bhunas and Kadais were very oily, but they were so good on the flavour that just a bite sent me straight into heaven. We decided to take the adventure further with some Bheja fry and Bheja masala. The sweet n spicy masala, with the luscious brain meat made me go back to my childhood, when I enjoyed Bheja Masala served in Crystal Punjab (RIP). The rotis and Naans straight off the tandoor with the curries and kebabs were a match made in heaven! There was just no reason for us to complain about the food. I guess this is why the fast is worth it, spiritual reasons aside.

The entire meal would have been incomplete without dessert. We were directed to the Mithai section of the restaurant. Out came the Aflatoons, which were greasy to the core but they were packed with such wholesome taste and texture. Although the kulfis and the faloodas were mind-blowing, what took the cake was the Malpua. A dude sat there cracking eggs into a vessel to mix a batter and frying humungous pancakes and then stuffing them with cream and dried fruits and nuts. Just plain awesome.

Of course, last evening set me back by a month in terms of my weightloss goal, but I am not complaining. It was worth every single calorie and I mean it. You have two more days. Shun your inhibition and head to the food heaven that is Mohammed Ali Road. If you can’t make it this year, make sure you go next year. But do make sure you go there atleast once in your lifetime, because this, my friend, is a true foodie’s Mecca!

‘Taxi’ trauma

Bombay, Mumbai or whatever name you address this city by, is constantly on the run. Floods, blasts, strikes have failed to bring the city to a standstill. Everyone is trying to get someplace and they want to get there fast! I am not talking figuratively, nope, I mean literally. Life is all about catching the bus, train or a cab and beating the traffic. Time my friend, is priceless. And yet you spend so much of it just traveling around the city.
Every city has a peculiar cab driver. The New York cabbie is shrewd and the London cabbie is full of wisdom. Welcome to Mumbai, our cabbies are rude, full of unnecessary wisdom, have an attitude and they are doing you a huge favour by taking you from pt. A to pt. B. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t know the way, it doesn’t matter that the jerky ride killed your back and it doesn’t matter that the cab almost hit almost 10-15 pedestrians, 25-30 cars. What matters is that he got you there and you are intact (oh thank God).

So why am I writing his? Well because, I am angered by their arrogance, dishonesty and lack of integrity. I want to relieve myself of the anger, or I might just end up being the serial taximan killer.

I work in an area full of swanky offices and parking is an issue. My relationship with BEST buses is another story altogether. So, I hold on to my dear life and make a run for the nearest taxi. I happily chat with Sneha on the phone or read the papers and voilà, I am at work!
Cut to the evenings. I get out of the office, aching to go home in time to watch friends. I flail my arms at every cab but all are taken. A few empty ones slow down for just a minute, I ask then if they’d oblige and take me to Dadar. They shake their head, give me a sad look and zoom off!
Yes, they refuse to take me where I want to go!
This is a day when the rain isn’t threatening to drench me and believe me, its a happy situation. When it rains, the traffic is worse and I am flailing my non-umbrella wielding arm to stop any cab I see. I see a lot of them empty, but with their doors locked and windows rolled up. They refuse to take any of the passengers, gape at drenched women in a vulgar manner and make their way out.
Some of the ones forcibly opened, claim they are running out of gas. But happily accept a fare for Andheri after you curse and get out. This has happened to me not once but about 10 times and I don’t know how to get some authority to punish them for such unprofessional behaviour!

Now, today there’s a brand new reason I’m pissed with the men in balck and yellow. It’s their job to take me to my destination and their job profile requires them to know the friggin’ roads! But fine, I’m ready to show them the way but the dude must ask! He takes a turn he does not need to, takes me on an extra long ride! When I argued with him, he said that I was mistaken and that his way was the right way. Okay whacko! On reacing the destination i can’t believe that the meter reads almost twice the amount I usually pay. I ask for the tariff card. He merrily shows me the October 2000 card which is the wrong one. A brand new tarriff card has come into being from 2007 and acording to that card the price I need to pay is 10 bucks lesser. I am irrtated. I am convinced he has tampered with the meter. Consumers forget to ask them questions and these guys try and make that extra buck by cheating them.

“Why do so much natak (drama) for 10 rupees?” He shamelessly asks me. How do I explain this stupid man that it’s not a question of those 10 extra rupees but that of integrity. I want to ask these questions even if it means 10  minutes of my precious time is wasted. There are a number of times my female friends have had horrifying experiences on account of their taxi drivers. Some have even been sexually harassed. If all of us bother asking, maybe they will start behaving themselves.

Home Sweet Home

What are dream homes made of? That’s a question I often ask myself. Swanky high-rise, plush marble floors, ample rooms, snazzy decors, location, neighbourhood, blah blah. While all those things are cool, they wouldn’t exactly compose my dream home. And I realise that no matter how many of those things you get right, your home will still be one-step short of being a dream home… Why you ask? Yeh hai Bombay, yeh hai Bombay, yeh hai Bombay meri jaan!

 

Okay let me give you my example. I live with my parents (what, it’s normal in India for a 24 yr old girl) and they bought this house back in the 80s.

 

Its a five minute drive to Dad’s office, it was housed in an old building that boasted of Scottish architecture, Italian mosaic floors and a brown-tiled roof. We were housed on the top floor, with humongous rooms and loads of airy windows. For the toddler in me, it was a great wide space for hiding and seeking. The building had a nice garden that was promptly taken over by Mum. There’s 2 schools and 4 colleges within a walking distance. There are two vegetable markets in the area, both are a 5-10 minute walk. The station is a 15 minute walk and there’s a bus-stop right under with over 20 buses connecting us to the city! Brilliant.

 

The house has few rooms but they are big and spacious. Me and my sister, have taken over the attic. We have our tiny little den cut off from the rest of the house, every teenager’s dream come true!

 

So yes, I live in my dream house. I have my parents to thank. I love it that it takes me 25 minutes to get to work on a great day and 45 on bad day! I love it that I can reach anywhere in the city in 40 minutes (on an average! Don’t ask me how long I’d take to come to Yaari road!)

 

But… there’s a catch. The area I live in is the quieter side of the town. We have few multiplexes, and even fewer restaurants around. Me and the sister are adventurous with cinema and food, and our area does little to cater to that. Most of the restaurants within a 20 minute reach are fantastic, but they’ve been here ages and we know the menus inside out!

 

India, especially Mumbai, is getting global. We’ve got world cinema releasing in our theatres, we have cuisines of the world being offered on the menus (dude! The quality is really bad and if you want the real thing, be ready to cough up an entire month’s salary!) and of course we have interesting brands coming to our malls.

 

That makes Mumbai such a vibrant city doesn’t it? Of course, but all that happens in the suburbs of Mumbai. The world cinema is released at a late night show in a theatre far far away. At the end of a tiring day at work, I don’t feel like taking a drive down through the mad-mad homeward bound traffic. And the parents don’t exactly feel great about us daughters being out in a film till 1 am and then driving back home.

 

Every week, the newspapers recommend new restaurants, new pubs. I see what’s on offer and I say, “I am going there!” Then I look to the bottom of the review and read Malad, Andheri (W), Goregaon and Mulund and the enthusiasm just pipes down. I don’t mind driving all the way, but then the prospect of spending 2 hours stuck in traffic listening to Emraan Hashmi films’ songs lifted from some Chinese musicians doesn’t excite me at all!

 

BIGFlix, the new DVD rental service on the block, has my list of dream movies, but guess what, they don’t have a single outlet remotely close to my area! And they have a rocking network in the suburbs. Result: I don’t get prompt service from them nor can I go and demand movies L

 

It is times like these when I start to think about moving to the suburbs. Life is vibrant there. With the new restaurants, funky theatres, new services offered and a plethora of pubs and clubs, I believe that the true spirit of Mumbai is out there. I share this with a friend who lives in the suburbs and she goes, “You mean you want to eat at new restaurants and watch crazy films from countries I haven’t heard of and for that you’re ready to switch places! Sounds good I don’t mind living in your exotic building, walking to work everyday and chilling….”

 

The grass is always greener on the other side! For now, I will settle for the green grass on the Parsi Gymkhana lawns that I can see from my window…