Monday, June 25, 2012

Mumbai musings

Mumbai is in the throes of ACP Dhoble (Assistant Commissioner of Police, Vasant Dhoble)’s “social” (as distinct from “moral”) policing. Ever since  the Social Services Branch of Mumbai Police – placed under him -  busted a couple of ‘rave’ parties involving kids of celebrities , high and the mighty –  who later tested positive for drugs – the city has been up in arms against him. Rallies are being held demanding his removal and ‘anti-Dhoble protestors’  are  valiantly courting arrests

The socio-lectuals  (Mumbai is proud of the fact – it doesn’t have any ‘intellectuals) are outraged.  The media Diva – Tavleen Singh tweeted:  “If someone wants to have a rave in a private home why should the police have a right to interfere”. She went on to add,  “surely the police must be doing more to catch drug dealers and terrorists and less on catching adult revelers”.


Pooja Bedi, another great mind hidden in a fab body,  had a different take in her weekly column. While taking care to stay on the right side of Dhoble (her own social diary must be quite a rave) ,  she says power should not be used “selective”.

All this, probably, inspired Aakar Patel – the only true intellectual of our time,  to devote his entire weekly piece on the ancient India’s connection with cannabis.

Ordinary folks have  more simple concerns such as places like Amar Juice Centre in Ville Parle (Irla, actually – opposite Cooper Hospital) closing down by 11  –  one of the few places  in the suburbs people could find something  to eat  (other  than  5 Star Coffee Shop)  after a late shift or post midnight show  movie.

The man is no doubt controversial and there can be two views about his method and motives. Surely, this can't be a clamour for legalizing drugs. That Mumbai is India’s most hip city – doesn’t give it an unfettered moral licence. Even New York had to contend with a Robert Giuliani’s tough act. It is his ‘cleansing’ drive that made New York the city it is today. 

In a country where, most laws are more than a 100 year old – the Bombay Police Act of 1951 would almost appear modern. But, it is a law that was followed more by exception than as a rule.  I also don’t buy the logic that – it is the drug peddlers who need to be targeted more than the drug users. Where there is demand – supply will always find its way. So both ends have to be tackled simultaneously for effective result.  But, interpretation of the law is always a tricky affair. 

So, it is a thin line that would distinguish a lady making liquor chocolates at home as a  commercial “hobby”  under the Excise & prohibition rules and another selling Bhaang Ka Laddus under the Narcotics act. What so different between discreetly adding a driblet of opium into a hookah as opposed to rolling a joint at a party  - or, for that matter, between having a swig and a sniff of Coke.


Finally discovered Arsalan in Khar having heard a lot about it from friends on Twitter. It is at the junction of S. V. Road as come from the Khar Road Railway Station. Didn’t go in to check it out –  will take the word of the Tweeple fraternity for it –  but I was impressed by the look and scale of the place, nothing like their rather shady outlet one in Bangalore. I am sure the prices will be suitably indexed over Calcutta by the PPP factor of Mumbai. Apart from home delivery – it seems they have already started also a home catering service as I figured out from the display on their van parked outside. Why can't they do something on a similar style in their 'home town' of Calcutta, I wonder. Mumbai broadens people's outlook for sure.


Auto Rickshaw

Auto rides have become quite expensive in Mumbai. Last time I took one from our company guest-house to the domestic airport early morning charged me Rs 70 and I thought he jipped me. But, today I paid Rs 50 each way to Khar and back. In comparison – on a relative scale – taxis seem less expensive. A trip to Byculla cost me Rs 125. Looks like – the Auto Drivers’ Union (probably controlled by one of the two Senas) is more effective than the ‘immigrant Bhaiyas’ dominated Taxi Drivers’ outfit.

Aaj ka Slumdog

Child labour still thriving in the heart of Mumbai.  This young boy  was working “bindaas” at the Banarasi Sweet Shop and Restaurant, where I stopped by for a Lassi. The owner couldn’t be bothered. Why should they be – if customers like me don’t raise a voice and are happy to go away just by clicking a snap on the mobile phone ?

Saturday, June 09, 2012


Spent a lovely week in Coonoor last month. It’s without a doubt our favourite hill station. The weather is just right -  never too cold - and it has little attraction for tourists other than the Sim’s Park for it to get over-crowded. We love  the Wellington Gymkhana.  Though the food , over the years, has become slightly indifferent and the service a bit variable – the view from the sit-out of the cottages , of the tea gardens and the golf course, makes up for everything.  For us it’s usually five days of doing nothing  - not even  Golf - except for long walks  and the mandatory visits to Bakers’ Junction in the evenings to pick up bread, locally made cheese (Gray’s Hill and Acres Wild) and Pomelo Marmalade.

The problem with Calcutta is the lack of getaways. It’s one more reason to miss Mumbai – with Goa just a handshake away or even Khandala, Pune and Mahabaleshwar at striking distance Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai all have more than their  fair share of places for short breaks.  It’s a pity though because very few states are blessed with such range of vista as West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee points out, for once got it correct (given her fantastic sense of Geography.  Remember her classic “Bengal is the gateway to the countries of the North East” and “Bangladesh, which is the border of Pakistan”? ).  West Bengal is endowed with natural bounty – from the Himalayas at one end to the Bay of Bengal on the other, traversing through forests, rivers and many heritage sites. But, the woeful infrastructure doesn’t offer many options for a decent holiday.  Especially after Darjeeling has gone out of bounds.,  a Bengali  traveling to the Nilgiris to enjoy the tea gardens may  not  be as New Castlenian (if one were to coin a term) as it may sound.  Today, Bangkok, Phuket and Langkawi (and even Kunming in China) have emerged as popular holiday destinations for Bengalis and Calcuttans thanks to ‘low-cost’ airlines and budget hotels.

On returning from Coonoor what hit me hard is not the steam-bath weather of Calcutta – but the cruel credit card bills. Though, we had the luxury of staying at the Club (which was a saving grace) – what dealt the killer blows are the air-fares and taxi bills.  Which begs the question – why can’t we holiday in India without having to go broke? Or is it that we have become too snooty and spoilt for our own good?

That’s probably being a little unfair. Basically, I don’t think we have got our act right as far as cost equations  go in the tourism and hospitality business  or  for that matter even in airlines ( perhaps,  Indigo  is the only exception).  So, what’s ‘affordable’ is really lousy quality and what is passed off as ‘budget’ is sometimes as steep as a good 4 or 5 star in Thailand or Malaysia.  Even neighbourly Nepal offers far greater value for money for an ordinary tourist. So, no wonder more and more Indians are opting to holiday abroad than at home.

There are exceptions, of course. Home-stays in Kerala have caught on. And, the latest Kerala Tourism ads promote it as a destination for all seasons and to suit all pocket sizes. Goa has something to offer at every price-point from the shoe string to the ultra luxury.  Rajasthan too operates across a range – from the bag-packers to the super rich.  But, that’s about it. In the rest of the country the infrastructure, particularly at the lower end of the spectrum, is worse than pathetic.

Yet, as the poet wrote, we travel the world but overlook the beauty at our own back-yard. As a Bengali, I am ashamed to admit that I have never been to the Sunderbans – partly because till recently no infrastructure worth its name existed there.  I am told now a few Eco Resorts have come up – which aren’t too bad.  Monsoons are certainly not the time to go there. But, I hope to make amends this winter and wade through a few pages of Amitav Ghosh’ The Hungry Tide.