A Mosaic of Gloom

1972, that’s when I adopted this city of Bombay, as my own. Actually I had to, due to my profession, but yet I was so lucky that I had to. I fell in love with it instantly. I enjoyed its rhythm, efficient local trains, buses, discipline, civic sense and work culture. Due to these qualities, I loved bragging, “Bombay doesn’t seem to be a part of India.” Secondly I also fell in love with the most awe inspiring and beautiful hotel, Taj. Visiting Hotel Taj gave me a sense of having arrived. There could be perhaps no higher step to climb. It was the ultimate in luxury, beauty and importance. Though not very often; but I could afford to use the Taj barber shop once in a few months, order a carefully chosen (cheapest) snack at Sea Lounge, Shamiana’s VFM burger and milk shake both costing Rs 25 each and a glass of draft beer Rs 15. I also spent a lot of time in its book shop, Nalanda. Taj gave me a sense of well being, rich feel and immense pride due to its luxurious and strong gothic structure. It also had a very comforting ambiance, ‘cool’ in today’s terms. My father had visited me in 1977. So I took him to Sea Lounge for a cup of tea and a taste of Taj. Sitting by the window opening towards sea, I ordered tea and some snacks that cost me around Rs 25 or so. My father’s face, I remember; became rigid after noticing the ‘fat’ bill…

Well, time has to move on, so after many long years that also included a new millennium; the calendar registered the date of 26 Nov 2008. I was home when I heard the news of a vague shoot-out somewhere. It is fairly common in this rich and industrial city. A gang war is not uncommon. Any ways I switched on the TV. I was sure that it must be a usual case of underworld rivalry. But soon I realized that was not the case. It turned out that some Pakistani terrorists had entered India’s maximum city! They had split themselves in 3-4 groups and had been killing uninterrupted at various locations, like CST railway station, Cama Hospital and Leopold Café at Colaba. Soon it was announced that, Chabad House (a Jewish center at Colaba), Oberoi hotel at Nariman Point and last but not the least, Hotel Taj had been ‘taken over’ by a small groups of heavily armed men. It was beyond anyone’s comprehension. I got glued to the TV. Soon news channels had setup their cameras in all three locations… and soon sounds of bullets, bursting grenades, raging fires and shattering glass panes, all became ‘live’. And it was happening, right in the heart of my city!

There was no chance of me ‘not watching’ it. I did not want to leave Taj when it was being mauled by those three Pakis who were killing guests and staff and setting everything on fire!

State and central government had no immediate answer to this crisis. It took them a lot of fumbling hours to take any focused approach. Finally politicians at ‘New Delhi’ took a lot of risk themselves and spared us a team of NSG commandoes.

Violence in the form of sounds of blasts, flames and smoke from inside Taj were going on unabated. I thought that some part of the hotel might cave in. It was very frightening. As news switched between Taj, Oberoi and the Chabad House, I felt I was in a theatre of war, right in the middle of my city. I lost track of time; eating at odd hours and sleeping very little. I would get back to TV first thing in the morning.

Gradually there was clarity – there were 10 terrorists in all. But these are not like those cowards who would cowardly plant the bombs in trains, in markets or in theaters. Experiences of bomb blasts seemed nothing compared to this. How well prepared and motivated these 10 Pakis must have been to battle India right here! And it wasn’t over yet! They had come with full knowledge that they will not be going back from here. Only ‘they’ can have that kind of motivation.

In the meanwhile commandos were dropped on the roof of the Jewish Center from a helicopter! Utterly unimaginable! A chopper dropping commandos in the most congested part of Mumbai and that was ‘not for a film shooting’. Both terrorists there were killed by our forces; but not before they had killed everyone inside there. There was a heart-warming story of a little boy being saved by his nanny.

Oberoi was next to get sanitized. All the terrorists were killed by NSG not before many guests and staff had lost their lives. To face bullets inside the most familiar and secure place must have been utterly unbelievable experience for everyone. Dozens of grenades were hurled inside the plush suites of the old wing of Taj in an effort to destroy them somehow. Most rooms were on fire on top two floors. Smoke was bellowing from large windows under those prominent Taj domes.

Finally 9 terrorists were killed. I saw one of them falling out of a ground floor window in Taj in the hail of Indian bullets, ‘live’. That was satisfying; but other than this, I had seen so much of real blood on the floor of CST, innocent poor passengers lying around. Print and TV started showing images where they could not reach during the carnage, all this was adding to collection of images on my mind…

This piece is being written in an effort to get back to writing. I take my motivation to write from incidences that unfold and affect me. But after those 60 hours long war, nothing else felt important enough to affect me. Everything seemed too small or insignificant to care about. I suffered a 3-year long ‘writer’s block’ borne out of ammidyphobia… I had a fright that Taj would collapse right in front of my eyes or it will never look the same again.

This year will be the 3rd anniversary of 26/11 and I wish to turn the leaf over and get back to my earlier sensitive self, by becoming ‘writer of small things’ once again. (29 October, 2011)

The terror carnage was played inside this railway station. Ajmal Kasab was the main terrorist here.

One usual morning

When I went for my walk, there were very few people. I kind of like it, when walking track is less crowded. I hate clutter in life. My house is so full of unnecessary things; curios, wall hangings, show pieces… its no one’s fault though. The house is 31 years old and things keep coming in at a faster rate than they go out. So much for my dislike for clutter.

Today I did not have much time; may be 30 min or so. I like to be back at 8 to make tea etc. During my rounds of that smallish rectangular track I noticed 3 sikhs. No not together. They were on their own. One here another there and third one somewhere else. The oldest one was sitting on a bench with few others, second one walked one or two round and also sat down. Third one was doing stretches after his walk.

These are the fleeting images that I notice as I walk. Obviously I don’t stop to see who is doing what. After 2 rounds I saw the 3rd sardar doing stretches and a dog watching him. The dog was only 3 feet away from him and looking at him with full attention, just like the HMV dog. It looked weird. But I moved ahead. I know that dog well. He and few others are always lazing around in the garden. In next few seconds, I thought that the dog must be knowing him well or may be he has been given some eatable, so he is waiting for the next piece. But in next round again I found the dog exactly in the same attentive posture. That was very unnatural. I had to stop now. So i did and asked the man (sardar), “does he always do this or is it the first time?” reply was, “he has done it few times earlier.” Okay I thought and I moved on.

in the next round I saw a girl was talking to same dog. I had noticed her earlier. She was walking and listening to music with earphones. The dog was responding to her well. I stopped again and asked her,”do you know him?” “No”, she said. I moved on thinking this dog was behaving really strange familiar to everyone. He is so comfortable getting so close to unknown people!

Like I do mostly, I marked (made note of) out one large leaf and one red flower fallen on the ground. I mark out such things, only when I get a clear signal from them. Signal being, ‘they want to come home with me.’ The leaf was from a badam tree. It had lovely hues of green and red on it. The colours were mixed in an impossible to conceive or recreate pattern. Green color meant it had fallen off, when it was still young. There was still some time for it to leave the branch. it might have fallen due to strong breeze or heavy rain drops or may be another leaf fell on it, taking it along with it. Somehow it did not seem to have any regrets or rejoices.

I picked it up and the red flower and brought them home. I gave them place from where they can show off their beauty.

They will be here for 2-3 days. They are are not here to become a part of the clutter and make me uncomfortable… on the contrary.

Wait for Bliss

Somewhere in the distance, far away

When the day reaches its zenith

And the evening arrives quietly

Like a shy hesitant bride

Lighting lamps of my memories

When memories make my breath heavy

And well my eyes up for no visible reason

The love reaches out to soothe the tension

I know it’s you who touched me

Dusky bride facing me

Some hearts remain distant forever

And some for eternity, belong together

My own mind becomes my enemy

When it offers to suffer

Even your pains inside me

When I find myself in such complexities

I light a lamp of your memories

In my heart I know

My heart’s deepest secrets

Secrets to my everlasting dreams

I exist due to those sun-gold dreams

If only a shadow of my dream escaped

My heart might feel dead to its beats

When the day ends

And sun takes the light away

Along with reason for dreamy shadows

The evening turns into a bride

Covered in a dark cloak

And arrives by my side


Feel Good Factor

These assorted snippets are from 2012.

In Mumbai there are so many roads, squares (Chowks) and gardens, that are named after film personalities. It has been on my mind for a long time to do a series of pictures on these plaques as my homage to these stalwarts or stars. Recently one fine day I was to go to down town for some work and took my camera along. I started shooting pictures with Mukesh Chowk, named after singer Mukesh at Nepean sea road.

Since 10 Jan, I am attending Swami Parthasarathi’s discourses on 13th chapter of Bhagwad Geeta. Its good fun. I am enjoying it thoroughly. Let me tell you something that Swami Parthasarathi enlightened us all, with. The first Shlok of chapter 13 is not included in many editions of Geeta. Geeta has 700 Shlokas in all, but if this Shlok is included, then the number goes to 701. He also told that chapter 13 and 15 are the most philosophical of all. They give you real insight about life, what to look for and what are the ways we should to go through it – to put it simply.

Of late I have been doing some reading in my spare time. You know, life is not a straight line. Reading is possible when there is a lull in the business. It is very difficult to work on what you like to do I mean your hobbies; when you get busy doing what you need to do; ‘work’. I read recently, ‘Sophie’s World’ by Jostein Gaarder. This book has been put together with a fresh approach. It works very effectively like a textbook of philosophy. It’s about philosophy and philosophers of the past 3000 years! Beginning of the book has a quote by Goethe, “He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth”. Second book was ‘One Night @ The Call Center’ by Chetan Bhagat. He has a ‘fresh, matter of fact, ordinary spoken language’ approach to writing and expression. I see myself writing like that. In fact while reading ‘One Night @ The Call Center’ I felt as if my ghost is in the words. Mr. Bhagat is very innovative and adventurous in his narrative. His first book was ‘5 Point Something’, about his life in IIT Kanpur, which also made enjoyable reading. I have just started reading, ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts. This name feels as if they are 3 people, but ‘no’. This book has been recommended to me by many. Since Shantaram is a big (thick I mean) book, I decided to parallel read ‘Gödel Escher Bach-an Eternal Golden Braid’ by Douglas R. Hofstadter. Now this is a difficult (actually impossible) task I have taken up. It is like saying, I want to climb Mount Everest without any training, without Oxygen, in my shorts and T-shirt. So I know the result but basically I want to graduate in the impossible. So I got so busy reading those two (books) that I did not meet people for very long. So to reaction of friends, “long time no see”; my mad answer would be, “I wasn’t feeling like it”.

Not that lots has happened; but yes, some things did happen as they always do. It has never happened that nothing has happened. Nothing never happens.

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival is being held in Mumbai between 4th–12th February 2017. The fest always attracts talents of many performing arts like dance, music, singing and paintings. Many seasoned and upcoming installation artistes also get chance to show their talent… Rampert Row precinct is closed to traffic during these days, though the small street is studded with most popular landmarks like Lion Gate, Jehangir Art Gallery, West Side, Chetna and Khyber restaurants. It is very close to BSE, Museum, Colaba, Fort and entire central business area of Mumbai.

2 Click or Not 2 Click

Right from the beginning of my career in movies, I started travelling to interesting locations for shootings. And I would always feel that my friends and family should also get a taste or a glimpse of wherever I went or whatever I have done. That must have been the reason I took to photography so very passionately. May be not entirely. People do feel like clicking pictures, so they carry a camera with them. But this desire to click is stronger in me now. Any ways various mental or physical strengths naturally, keep changing in intensity.

My 1950 model Contaflex has been with me since 1974 and still going strong! It is totally a manual camera, with strong mechanical structure; so there is not much in it to wrong. I am told this is basically a German camera; but for just one year, it was manufactured in Russia and I happened to get one those models. So, it is dependable old German gadget and not one of those delicate darlings of today, with so many facilities and weak electronics. I must have clicked nearly 5000 pictures through its 50mm block lens. I have been getting it serviced too – though not too often.

Let me take this opportunity to thank 2 people here. First is Mr. Jayant Patel, who was instrumental in getting me hooked on to photography and second person is Mr. S I Sheikh, an expert in servicing old cameras. He gave up his repairing-business recently because he became too old. Because of him I could keep my camera going strong for years. At this moment I don’t even know if he is around…
I had bought this Contaflex for a sum of Rs. 800. Those days my average monthly income was about Rs.1000. But I could spend that large sum of 800, because I happen to save some cash after I signed up working with a big film company.

Well, Jayantbhai was an excellent still photographer. He must have won more than 50 medals in competitive photography. And all those medals were kept in a cotton bag (Thaila) that hung unceremoniously by the nail on the wall in their house.

Once during monsoons I was travelling to Lonavala and my first digital camera gave way. The screen suddenly got pixelated. I changed the batteries. Switched it off/on. Nothing! Sadly, I started watching lovely green hills and valleys (photographs) passing away. I felt I missed a lot of pictures during that beautiful journey. Soon I stopped struggling to fix the camera and concentrated on the view from the bus window. I did some reflection on it.

Surprisingly some benefits of ‘not being able to click pictures’, dawned on me, which did not show ‘clicking pictures’ in a very positive light –

*While shooting pictures I decide some scenes are good and some not so good – does it mean that I am being judgemental?
*I take pictures to show others, or is it to show off – is there a trace of ego?
*If the picture is being clicked while travelling then I have to move my eyes from the scene in order to pick up my camera, focus, zoom or make other adjustments in the camera. Thus my mind gets engrossed in a mechanical and relatively unartistic activity; while the scene would be passing away without me even taking a look at it. Thus I will not be able to ‘fix’ that scene in my memory. It will finally remain on the photographic print or in HDD of my computer. I realised travelling pictures make me loose a lot, mainly because I am not seeing the visual directly and so called ‘fully’. If I use all that time to look at the panorama, it will get memorised in my mind in rich 3-D with all related sounds, movements and smells, while the photograph will remain a soul-less 2-D frame. All it will document that I passed here one day.

So if I am travelling to a new location, it may not be worthwhile to look away or look through a gadget rather than look directly at the view. I remember once I was flying by a helicopter to Madurai and I noticed some amazing formations of clouds. They looked like soft fluffy toys of various amazing shapes, playing with each other. I remember them so well because my camera was not at hand.
If I stop somewhere for a leizurely cup of tea; I would have time to replay that scene in my mind. Yes, that would be only in my mind.

Makes sense? I am sure not for all.

Contaflex 861/02 Carl Zeiss Ikon Tessar 2314609/ 1:2.8/ f=50mm

Paa for my Deeds

When your wishes get fulfilled and start falling in your lap means, that you truly deserved the good luck. And in all probability you will do well with them.

I just happen to call a friend casually and she asked me if I wanted to see the movie, ‘Paa’. She added Amitabh and Abhishek will also attend. I was happily surprised and obviously said ‘yes’! Seeing Paa was high on agenda for me. Also I had not yet seen Abhishek personally.

Show was at 1.30 pm in a nearby multiplex. It was passed 12 noon. I rushed up with my bath, dressed up and most importantly had my lunch. I can’t stay hungry beyond a few minutes after my due ‘eating’ time. I gobbled up ‘roti subzi’ from my plate as slowly as I could and was at the theatre before 1pm. I was a bit early. I relaxed after rushing things for past 45mins. Deliberate relaxing is so important.

In a few minutes I noticed some tourist buses were being parked by the side of the gate of the theater. Buses normally are not allowed in. Some security guards were running between the buses and managers. I knew the students of DEEDS had arrived. The buses had to be parked inside the compound for their safety. I took charge of communicating this to the manager. Soon it was organized. Nearly 200 young boys and girl students in uniforms queued up at the entrance of the multiplex, under the instructions of their teachers. They were not using words to communicate; but gestures or squeals – they were all deaf. DEEDS is an NGO that runs regular and vocation schools to provide education to deaf young adults. They have nearly 20 centers in Mumbai and elsewhere in India.

Soon I was in my seat along with all those happy children. They were so excited. Such outings are always special since they are bit rare. It did cross my mind as to how will they get the dialogues of the film; but I gave it no further thought. Anyone can easily understand the storyline of a movie without hearing ‘sound’. Well may be I am putting the movie ‘sound recordist’, out of jobs but that’s a fact that for many years the movies were silent. Later on they did add music and some effects to Charlie Chaplin movies and I hated it. I had seen them completely silent way back in 1969…

I am told that Amitabh and Abhishek will joins us after the show. Somehow I thought if Jaya also would come with them. It would have been nice to meet her. The film started and there she was on the screen. She was reading all the names in the titles. So, it was seeing her in person, since she was not acting. Cool. I got another wish, which I only thought about.

Soon screening started. Theater fell silent.

Everything about the film was good. Producers had planned ‘not’ to dramatize Auro’s sickness ‘progeria’, to earn sympathy points. He was there as everyone else. Only a small change that I will make will be in Amitabh’s introduction’ in the movie. I would have certainly put a few students in the toilet where Auro is first seen. They don’t have to call him by his name and all. It would be more normal to fill up the ‘loo’ a bit more and add some passing. There was no need to give him a filmy ‘introduction’ – hogging the frame all by himself! Rest all was great.

There was short intermission during which organizers had a small big job to do. They taught the students currently popular ‘jig’ that Amitabh does in the film; to present it in front of him. They learnt it pretty fast in 2-3 rehearsals only. Finally on cue, children in entire theatre did those complicated arms movements. They were ready.

Second half of the film was more engrossing, which is not too common in Hindi cinema. Most films fail in this area, especially in the climax…

‘Paa’ has a beautiful end.

We had to wait for 10 minutes for the father and son duo to appear, and appear they did. After excited exchange of hand waves between delighted children and the Bachchans, things settle down. Bachchan senior joined children in the jig they were ready for. Both Bachchans spoke about the movie, mostly during a chat with press.

Amitabh: the make-up for the film was very difficult and tiring. It used to take 4-4.30 hours to put it on and 2-2.30 hours to remove it. During this entire time I could not speak, laugh, eat or drink. After that we would be shooting for 6-7 hour on every working day. Our make-up persons were from abroad. And they did a wonderful job. The head of a progeria patient becomes very large, hair is lost and the veins on the scalp become visible. Since I am playing a 13 year old, I could not do anything about my height. Second point was that eyes of progeria patients bulge out. They become very large, which also we could not do. Although there is an injection which when given in the eyes can make them large; but everyone opposed the idea, as it would have had adverse affect on my health.

Abhishek: I carry him in the film, because I am his father here, otherwise I am always sitting on his shoulders. “Mere paas maa hai”, is a line from one his father’s films, but I am happy kyonki “mere paas Paa hai”.

I watched Bollywood’s most famous ‘father and son’ in a good mood, very witty and relaxed. Amitabh especially handled a battery of young and stupid media very well, providing them with in depth answers (read gems) to silly questions (read roadside gravel).