The Chat Continues…More Friends In Chembur

‘Modesty aside for a moment, aren’t we so pretty?

And yet, would you believe, they have just one of us here:-(

‘We know we got you hooked…But do look around, there’re more of us back there, you’ll like them too.’

One glance, you’ll know we’re not Parijat, Bonsai Lotus or Jasmine!

‘Small, but no less beautiful! That purple at the center breaking up the white is our beauty spot. You agree?’

Would you believe if we tell you we’re actually a Periwinkle? Of course, the leaves give it away if you noticed. See down there the purple duo, our kin?’

‘Don’t we know you can never get enough of us, Gulmohars!’

‘Figure out we’re green turning yellow or yellow into green?’

‘Or red into green or green to red?

Very small, may be (less than a cm across), but sticking together in a bunch we’ll stop you in your tracks! Admit our striking yellow amidst the green is something.

The chat to be continued!


Impressions from Chennai (Recent)

HiTech Ladies!

This shot of a Ladies Hostel was taken at a great personal risk!


Mind Your Steps

Walking on those uneven footpaths, the strap on the chappal (footwear) had snapped. Try as I did, could not find a shoe-smith to mend the break.  Back in the house, in an ‘Ah’ moment, it occurred me to ask the domestic maid who comes to clean the house where I could find one.

She laughed: ‘Thookki pottottu vera vanguweengala…adhai vittuttu…’

Translated: ‘Instead of throwing it away and buying a new one…you go around in search of…’

‘But it is only a strap that needs fixing.’

Appadithhan, Sir.’

Translated: ‘That’s what it is, Sir.’

Later I learnt if even I found one from the rarefied breed, he would charge in the least Rs 25/ even to look at it.


Letting My Hair Down

Even the sparse growth on the top was becoming bothersome in the summer heat. Had to have a much-delayed haircut that day.

There was a saloon near the house where we stayed with a fancy signboard announcing Rs 100/ for a haircut and Rs 80/ for a shave. Come on, a hundred bucks for a haircut? Must be one of those plush places that cloak you in use-and-throw sheets, spray imported perfume…didn’t need them.

Footed it up and down on the main street looking for a fair-price place. Could see a few, but they were not open for business – it was only 4-00 pm, or they were closed for repairs or had shifted to new premises a few miles away as the sign-boards helpfully informed. At the end of some twenty minutes, was on the verge of giving up when someone pointed me to a place I had crossed more than once during my search without noticing it.

Yes, there it was. No wonder I had missed it – it was tucked behind a canvas sun-shade curtain seemingly not gone for a wash in recent months.  

The place had two chairs and two men, one pair already serving a customer who, it was reassuring to see, appeared not unhappy in his predicament.

I was waved in to the other.  Inside, felt good to have finally found a place that would not be a rip-off. Though it meant a little more effort under the hot sun.

The chair was comfortable, the cushion letting out a sigh under my weight as I parked my posterior; and the cloth thrown over me appearing clean and fresh from a wash. No AC, so what? I was not sweating yet. Only had to keep my eyes away from the small wash-basin on the side that made one in an unreserved compartment of a passenger train at the end its journey look spit-and-polish clean. What was it to me as long as I didn’t have to use it, eh? One of those things to be taken in stride when one meant business.

Instructed my man to cut it real short for the summer. If one ever noticed, one’s hair is wont to play the devil. Mine – thin at the top, flowed like a mane on the sides, almost covering the ears and prick-y at places around the back of the neck. The man quietly set about going with a machine first, followed by the scissors and finally finished with a razor.

The job was done in a short time not entailing any great effort. No spray, no holding up a mirror to inspect the job done. No big deal. Felt immediate relief like a few oppressive kilos taken off my head – purely psychological, looking at it rationally, with so little removed.

I got up, shook myself clean, forked out a hundred rupee note from my pocket and offered it to my man asking him how much.

The note was wordlessly passed to the other man – younger of the two, also the proprietor, I guessed – who was free by now, continuing its journey to a collection box on the counter.

The young man, I could see, made no attempt to return the change. Heck, I am a reasonable guy appreciative of the service I get, but not so as to tip like a man with an aunt dying inestate.

Wanting to take the matter to its end, both logical and pecuniary, I pressed ahead with the query again.

‘It’s hundred rupees, Sir,’ said the young man calmly.

‘A hundred rupees?’ I cried incredulously.

‘Yes, Sir,’ he further assured me it was a tariff standardized by their Association of Barbers, Chennai. I could check up if I so wished.

I registered dissent: ‘But even the great-looking place near the street corner (the one near the house alluded to at the outset) claims to charge only hundred rupees, all inclusive. No hidden charges or options priced extra like cutting the hair, nettlesome taxes, etc…’

My feeble attempt at humour in face of adversity went unrewarded without a chuckle or even a hint of a smile.

‘Sir, they all do that,’ he explained. ‘Unlike us they employ kids totally untrained for the job. You for sure wouldn’t go there next time. Why…for next couple of weeks, you would emerge out of your house on the streets only after dark not wanting to be seen in daylight. And, with us, nobody would give you a second look as you go out from here right now.’

Ah, familiar words spoken here – the karma theory. The very words from customers, many years ago, on our project pricing vis-a-vis competition and our unassailable defense!

And, no second look, eh? Those self-congratulatory words were, I saw clearly as, double-edged.

Am digressing. Back to the nub of it:

Looked around in vain for a tariff board somewhere on the walls – there was none. May be the A-of-B-at-C did not think it was expedient to early-warn their poor unsuspecting customers, only to spring it on them later like their buses do on the road honking furiously when they are within inches of your behind.  

In no mood to start a scene, realized the case was hopeless. If our CBI’s against Raja comes to your fair mind, don’t fault your good self – the comparison by no means inappropriate though one was in high places and mine was in a barber shop.

Well (?), cursed myself for not checking it out before putting my hair between the scissors. Left the place holding back all those rather uncivil words crowding on my tongue threatening to roll out any moment, but not before handing a ten rupee note to the man who had served me – after all it didn’t seem fair to take it out on the poor man who had exerted though without a bead of sweat to show.   

Much later a disturbing thought occurred: What if my man was indeed the father of the young man? All in the family, you see? Dismissed it not wanting to feel miserable any more than it was already.

Am at an age where talking about one’s miseries with equanimity and mirth came easily. When I narrated the incident, my cousin for a moment stared at my pate and laughed: ‘Don’t tell me, dear fellow, you got it done squatting on the pavement…’ He enlarged on the theme to remove any misgivings I might have had on what he meant. If ever salt was rubbed in with vim and vigour on one’s wounds, this was it.

Seeing the look on my face, he quickly did the cousin-ly thing bringing on the balm: ‘My fellow, you know, I pay nothing less than Rs 250/ for my haircut?’

Thereupon I sneaked a glance at his crown and saw things showed up no better for such lavish self-indulgence. No topiary practiced there either.

Well (!), anyway, the information he shared did soothe the ruffled whatever remained of the hair a little bit. So, that was it. At hundred bucks a nip, mine didn’t seem to be too bad a deal by local norms, if one did not allow the mental picture wash-basin to unduly cloud the scene.  It was like the riddle where you’re required to make an already drawn straight line shorter without touching it in any manner and you do it by drawing a longer line alongside. Same with fails.  

Enough said. Are you non-Chennai folks out there listening? Rs 250/ for a haircut! In Chembur it is Rs 50 plus a ten rupee tip in a decent looking saloon, though small, with non-English tongued barbers in their civvies and a wash-basin that would pass muster – certainly not the khabootar-khana type.


How Selling is Done In Chennai?

Natural Chat!!

Here are two commonly played out scenarios, so different:  

At an eats shop:

If you ordered idli’s, idli’s are what you get, not vada’s

Any flaw in the logic? Read on:

‘Give me Parle’s Marie biscuits, make it the bigger pack.’

‘Parle? Sorry, Sir, we don’t have.’

Made a show of walking away gesturing disappointment.

No attempt to sell me Brittania or Sunfest Marie.  

Actually, this little game I play at shops just to see what they do with it – I know there is little chance or choice as Parle’s products are not widely stocked for reasons known only to Parle.  

Finally I asked for and got Brittania.

At a cloths shop:

‘You have banians for my size, larger than 110 cms?’

Never a pleasant experience. I get eyed like I’m a freak escapee from a nearby circus. So much so I wear my current stock to the point where the banians now have more holes than one hole to put my head through.

No surprises here: ‘No, Sir, we don’t have large sizes like that.’

Oh, so where do those mammoths one sees on and off the screen buy from?

By now I know enough of Chennai to ask: ‘You know where I can get it?’

‘Yes, there’s a place here, passing about half-a-dozen shops down towards Luz on the same side of the road. Wait let me show you.’

He ignores our repeated ‘never mind, we’ll find it’, leaves his counter, comes out with us halfway until the shop is in sight and then goes back even before I could thank him.


(there could be more!)


A Cuckoo That Flew Away

“barbād gulistāñ karne ko bas ek hī ullū kaafī thā

har shāḳh pe ullū baiThā hai anjām-e-gulistāñ kyā hogā.”

     (Shauq Bahraichi, 1884 – 1964)

“For destroying a wonderful garden, even one owl is sufficient.
Here there is an owl on each branch, wonder what would happen to the garden (the world?).”

Unforgettable words said often to mock at us.

Finally, wearied by the futility of it all, he decided to give up on the ‘incorrigibles’ around him and find kindred souls elsewhere.

While much is said about the firsts in life like first date, first night, first match, first job…there isn’t much to be found on one’s first friends at a workplace. It must be so for those riotous memories, when they do surface from the depths of obscurity, shout for attention all at once.  

Until they’re called to order and given a voice…am sure, he understands, as he always did, my eloquent silence.

RIP, dear Shyam, I’ll shortly.


Romance On Rails (Updated)

A Vignette

Thirupparaithurai, our village, flanked by an endless roll of lush rice fields on one side and by the river Cauvery on the other, is some miles (<10) from the town of Trichinopoly (Trichy) – a place we spent some part of our annual school vacation (the rest in nearby Srirangam).

At the back of the sprawling house, some 100 meters away, ran a single train track, straight as far as we could see, to/from Trichy from/to Kulithalai/Erode (for some reason the track is not doubled even today and the station, sadly, stands decommissioned, overrun by weeds and vines, for want of traffic).

The track served a few long-distance trains and a couple of local trains for office-goers from villages around.  Standing out among them, even today, is the Pilot that fetches the commuters to Trichy in the morning and returns in the evening.

In those days it was widely rumored how the powerful bus operators were pressing on the railways to schedule the Pilot in a way it did not draw the crowd away from them during the busy hours! It may not be out of place here to mention the state has excellent network of bus services – you could go from anywhere to anywhere any time of the day (of course, some restrictions apply!).

It was for us an eagerly awaited daily experience to hear the whistle of the Pilot in the distance. We ran through the back-door of the house , past the long and full cow-shed, huge hay-stacks, the water-well and the toilet – yes, in those days toilets were located far back outside the house – to reach the back-door of the property. Beyond, the ground dipped into a grassy ‘valley’ to rise on the other side bearing the track, all within about 15 feet.

Standing at a safe distance from the track, we kept our eyes peeled and hands free and ready. First it was the dadak-dadak rumble of the wheels on the rails, soon followed by the puff-puff smoke-belching steam loco, slowing down as it neared a road-crossing and then immediately the station. As the loco passed us, we would frantically wave and shout to the driver to get his attention; he always stood on the side and leaning out to look ahead for safe passage – there were always people footing it across the tracks in a hurry even when the gate at the crossing was down barring road traffic and the train was almost there.  

For a few seconds, he would take his eyes off and look at us, return our greeting with a wave of his hand, his coal-blackened face breaking into a smile – enough to get us thrilled high!

We wouldn’t move until the train, after a halt of a minute or so, whistled and slowly pulled out of the station. A sad moment it was for us as it slowly receded from our sight and we trotted back to the house wordless.

Of course it was all forgotten soon as other distractions kicked in…until the next morning.


For some reason, a railway train, particularly its steam, diesel or electric loco has been and is even now a sight that fascinates many, evoking awe at the machine and its brute power and speed. An enduring romance.

The Mumbai artist Biswas captures it on his canvas like it is!

From his profile:

Kishore Pratim Biswas lived near a locomotive workshop in Kolkata when he was a child. It was very easy for one to spot steam locomotives every now and then, and as an enthusiastic 5-year-old kid, he loved to run out and watch them go. He would then come back home and sketch what he saw. A giant locomotive surrounded by steam – the aura of that scene attracted him tremendously, and inspires him even today. The firemen and drivers at the workshop became his friends, and they would usually gather around to look at his sketches. He remembers listening to their stories and trying to sketch all their emotions on a piece of paper…

He graduated in Fine Arts from Government College of Art & Craft, Kolkata, spent a few years in his hometown, and then moved to Mumbai in 2009.

Here we go:


After Kannan’s idyllic description of the scene near IIT, Guwahati (see in Comments), I had requested him for a few snaps. He kindly obliged with the following:

Here’s the strange thing with Agthori, perhaps unique in the vast railways network: the lone platform – seen in the pic – is some 300 mts away from the main station and its entrance! It seems the Station Master’s office and the entrance would be moved nearer to the platform once the land needed nearby is acquired.

Also if the train were to stop in front the present Station Master’s office, it would be required to go back a good 200 mts at least before moving forward and picking up enough speed to go over the slope ahead.

A view of the Station Master’s office at the entrance 

A view of Agthori railway station from the road over the bridge near IIT entrance gate.
A view of IIT staff living quarters

The locals n and around prefer to commute the distance of 20 kms to the city by road and, yes, a ferry across the mighty Brahmaputra!



Words Adding Enchantment To Thoughts…


And what are words?

Pankaj Thakkar‎ Best English Quotes & Sayings

Varun Kumar‎ Best English Quotes & Sayings


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Life Cycle Of A Scam

…The fiction above is but a microcosm of the play in real world where the curtains stay permanently raised up for a non-stop run of scams and the public looking away helplessly in disgust, disbelief and disinterest.

The wise rishi’s up there in the high mountains meditating on and seeking ‘Truth’ are not back yet. It is quite likely they’re successful in their quest before long while we putter around in the plains?…

Fictional, for a good part, read it here.


What No City But Mumbai Teaches …

3, 4 and 5 are my favorites!


Source: The Nationalist Mind