Tidbits

I have been involved with nearly 30 feature films and about the same number of documentaries, in various capacities. I have worked mainly as sound recordist, production manager, script writer and director. I feel like sharing 35 years of my first hand professional experiences and information with as many like-minded people as, I possibly can. For this I will choose a few features and a few documentaries. I have already started writing and ultimately I would love it, if I am able to find a publisher to present it in the form of a book for masses to read. Film making is a very thrilling process to go through. It is a bit slow in parts but can move at break-neck speed at times. It may look a bit boring and mechanical at times, but is artistically very gratifying otherwise. There are loud explosions and tender words are whispered in ears. There is violence of ‘Loot Maar’ and deep emotional conflicts of ‘Kamla’.

I feel an honest and interesting form of writing down real stories of few productions will make good reading. After all this field has the most popular and sought after ingredients of the world – actors, writers, directors, location shootings, dances, tantrums, ego clashes, bloopers and of course goof-ups. I feel today there are not many people who have seen Guru Dutt, Raj Kapoor, V. Shantaram or Kidar Sharma working on the sets, or during song recordings, during dubbings, sound effects, mixing… How did these legends gave instructions, how did they speak, were they soft or had foul language? Were they funny or dead serious? How did they dress while directing? All this personal information may be getting lost slowly and surely, because we can not find such people. And if there may be some one, he/she may not find worth the trouble, putting those memory gems on paper.

I agree I am not that ancient to be talking about nostalgic experiences. But I have been around since 1972 and have seen real film life quarrels (real not filmy), developing and cracking relationships, drinking binges and flaring tempers. I do understand that it would be my version and some may think of it as my colored opinion. But if some one is getting to read and know about what was it like in Nepal during one of Dev Anand’s film shooting 30 years back or how the documentary on ‘Knit-India-March’ of Baba Amte was shot 20 years back; I recon it can provide some value to a reader. But as the time passes (it always does- take it from me), I am certain the value of this text will only grow, due to its historic values. I am certainly not claiming that film makers may get some production ideas from such compilations. In any case the movies are not made the same way as two or more decades back.

In today’s world there is so much to read, hear and see. Market leaders use expert writers, columnists, painters and film makers. Experts are of less value today than popular writers. You need to be good to be an expert; but you need to have a personality or charisma to be popular. I guess it is like the difference between a ‘performer’ and a ‘star’, like the difference between Dilip Kumar and Shahrukh Khan, Ashok Kumar and Govinda, Nutan and just anyone else. If you act well or write well you are in the same league as other experts. But to be popular, you need to have an aura, a personality or someone’s name behind you, for people to identify you. Om Puri may be working extra hard on his role in a film with Tom Hanks. He would be working to match his abilities with the best in the world. While other stars may be strategizing to improve box office collections; some may hire a team to help them propel upwards and outwards.

We are in the business of putting a smile across people’s faces. Some movies or books make X smile, while others make Y happy. Whose smile is more gratifying for us, is our target audience.

(From archive April 24, 2008)

Ever Pink Mumbai Flamingos

Recently one of my very old wish, got fulfilled. I don’t remember when, I had read in a news paper that Mumbai gets migratory birds every year. Since I have also been a keen amateur photographer, I was very excited. But I was a little puzzled too. I thought this city seems far from a sanctuary for delicate migratory birds. I could not imagine where would they perch, what would they feed on and where would they lay their eggs? If it happens by the seaside, then where? Or is it in the forest area of Mumbai like the National Park? Of course Mumbai was not like this always, but presently entire sea coast of the city is polluted and the forest has so much encroachment and other disturbances. Much later I came to know that birds are Flamingos and they land near Sewri. Sewri? I thought! It is so industrialized and there must be so much oil spilled around due to the refineries…

Well just a few days back a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go to Sewri to watch the Flamingos with him. I immediately said yes, of course! He suggested that it was better if I stayed the previous night at his house, in Bandra since we were to leave home at 5.30am. I agreed, no hassle. If a dream was coming true after so many years, anything was ok. It was important to be there before the sun rise. All was done as required and as planned. Our car rolled out of the gate at 5.30am and we were at Sewri area by 6.00am. It was our first visit to the area, so we had to ask for directions and proceed slowly. Gradually we rrealised that the mud on the edges of the road was getting blacker. The smell too changed. And the air felt a little heavier. Driving slowly and looking around we finally reached near the landmark that was told to us, the blue ‘Colgate’ building. We parked right at the edge of the slushy sea and got off. There were four security guards sleeping on a platform under a tree. I am a little wary of security guys. I had no idea whether it was allowed to be so close to sea or if we can click pictures with oil refinery in the background.

It was still dark. We were carrying a pair of binoculars. Looking through them my friend suddenly said excitedly, ‘there they are! My god, there are thousands of them!’ With my old bare eyes I too concentrated but could notice only thousands of out of focus pink dots scattered over the sea bed. As the light was still very low, I could not see them very well. So I put my specks on and then, saw them very clearly. All of them were walking about by themselves, looking down and constantly picking up something from their beaks. Obviously they were picking up food. I can only think it might be either small shells, baby crabs or fish stuck in the shallow due to low tide. I took the binoculars and realized the view was absolutely fabulous! As now I could see them very clearly and in group of 4-5. Most of them were entirely pink in color. Some were white and some had geometrical designs on white feathers. Their beaks were large with the tip turned in.

The clouds hanging over the silhouetted refinery structure in the distance were beginning to get hit by patches of flaming red color. In a while a part of the sun peeped out from behind a hill. I kept clicking away with my digital camera. Sometimes I was using full zoom to get a small patch of shimmering pink on the sea bed. We soon realized that there was no way of us walking closer to these great birds as entire sea bed was very soft to walk on. What a pity, we thought and started thinking of finding another place to get a little closer. I hid my camera as we reversed the car and drove off leaving the soundly sleeping watchmen without even a stir. Now I noticed a fleet of oil tanker trucks parked all along the road side. We moved slowly and found a tea stall from where we could watch the end of the road into the sea. I asked the Chaiwala if we could go to the end of the road to see the birds. Of course, he said.

It was a good cup of Mumbai’s famous ‘cutting Chai’. We parked the car well before the end of the road. Ships were berthed on both sides of the road that was actually a jetty. It was a strange site. So many people were exercising and doing Yoga right on the edge of the jetty, overlooking the distant sea and the Flamingos! I thought what a difference in life.
Here I am who has struggled so hard and waited for many years to watch these birds and here are some people who are engrossed in themselves right in front of these amazing birds.

By this time the light had come up and I could see their activity more clearly. I took a lot of pictures until I was happy. I am very fond of the ambiance of ships and shipyards and also trains and their associated atmosphere. I shot pictures of those ships tied to the huge pillars with giant sized ropes. Due to low tide ships had no life in them. They were totally still. I sometimes wonder, why visuals and sounds of trains and ships excite me so much. Last but not the least, there is (actually was) this little known ‘Sewri Fort’, right there. It is not a very large fort, and it is certainly breathing its last. Nothing is right about it. Its walls have crumbled down. Trees have grown on walls that have not yet broken. There is a lot of garbage dumped all around. The fort has been encroached upon from all sides. Slums have come up everywhere. Worst of all, all those slum dwellers use the fort as a toilet. From top of the roofless fort I could watch the sea, the Flamingos and the drab blue structure of Colgate factory.

Flashback

As I kept my eyes glued on the birds I got lost in thoughts. Slowly, I noticed that distant structure of Hindustan Petroleum refinery, started fading away. The ships and the jetty were gone. As I turned my eyes away from sea, I realized blue Colgate building too had vanished and entire area looked bare but green. I had no idea where I was. Suddenly I heard stern male voices in typical British accent.

As I looked in their direction, I saw many British soldiers adjusting canons through the peepholes of the fort. Some of them were watching the sea through large binoculars. I am very scared of security guards, so I was worried in case someone noticed me. And one guy in red uniform did! I froze. He started moving towards me. I nearly wetted my pants. I shut my eyes. Crisp sounds of his metallic soles passed me and went away behind. I tried to wipe the sweat off my brow. I could not feel it. I looked at my hand, there was nothing. There was no me any where. For miles there was only green earth and blue sea with thousands of shimmering pink dots.

2 Drinks 2 Much!

I don’t drink alcohol any more. I started in 1971, as trial or experiment, then more tasting, enjoying, offering friends, on the verge of addiction, and finally to 2 drinks of social drinking… but after 27 years I gave it up suddenly in January of 1998. Jan 25, 1998 to be precise. I have a great will power, so I did not have to reduce it gradually. On Jan 26, I announced loudly, ‘cut’ and the role of liquor in my life was over. ‘I have had enough of it – for life’, I said. I had enjoyed it, hated it and suffered it too. Some thought I was a fun chap after a few drinks, but I know after booze, if someone tripped on my toes, it made me mad and following scenes would be ugly. One fine day I felt responsible for one of those ugly scenes and decided to give it up for ever. That day, I think I was going to earn the ugly tag of ‘not a nice chap’. So in spite of really loving my drink, it was far from painful for me to call it a day. Interestingly raising of my first glass of alcohol too had not been without serious pains…

Background of this lies in the fact that for generations nobody had ever consumed alcohol or ate non-vegetarian food (including eggs) in my family. Some time even ‘Tamasic’ garlic was not allowed in our house. I had never seen a bottle of booze even in a shop nor had I seen anyone carrying it or drinking. I had seen only villains in movies ripping the chicken legs. Many years back as kids, we would slyly point to a house from far and say ‘you know they cook non-veg or one old man in that house, drinks!’

First time I saw someone drunk was when I was 11 years old. We were in a small town called, Bhagwanpur. My father had taken me on his bicycle for shopping. In the market he met an acquaintance, also with a cycle in the market. They both stopped and started chatting. I noticed that man’s face was red and he was not steady on his feet. I found him looking like a dangerous criminal; perhaps like a dacoit. I was trying to hide myself behind my father. Just as they finished talking the man bent towards me unsteadily saying, ‘so this is your son’ and my breath got filled with an unbearable and unknown stench. He almost dropped his bicycle, while bending towards me. I freaked. My father was holding my hand tight, in case I run away…

Ten years later when I was 21, I found myself picking up my own first glass of an alcoholic drink. I was studying in Poona, far away from my family. I remember it was in the hostel room of an editing student, Madhu Sinha. There were 4-5 students huddled in a dark moodily lit and smoke filled room. I don’t think in that group anyone was well off. So it was very difficult for them to offer some of the precious black rum to me. I saw their faces; they were clearly giving me dirty looks, because I was over staying in their room with a definite purpose of bumming a drink, my first drink. Finally I was given 1mm of rum in a glass and it was topped up with tap water. After glasses stopped clinking and everyone finished whispering customary ‘cheers’, I brought the glass rim to my lips and… sipped it. I knew it was not going to be pleasant; but I had no idea that it will be so horrible. I looked away to hide my disgust. Slowly I kept sipping it and kept eating lot of salted stuff right under their dirty looks. I was happy that I got a chance to experience this horrible tasting stuff. It helped me reach an important decision right there- ‘I was not going to drink again’. Another thing that I was working on was, to find its effect on me. I could not discover anything, then. But soon I realized that I had stopped talking. I would answer everyone with a nod and sat there with a smug smile pasted on my face through out. After others finished their much larger drinks, my glass too got empty. We all split for dinner.

I watched their body language. They all had turned much louder and aggressive. It was a way of telling the rest that they have had the privilege of having a drink. So don’t mess. I did not want be a part of that group. I don’t like aggression that might get physical. I came out of the hostel and decided to take a walk on the path. I was concentrating hard on studying the effect of that tiny drink on me. I was delibearately conscious, too conscious. My arms in place of swinging normally; were fixed by my side. Anybody would understand that I was trying to be steady by mentally shackling myself.

Next morning I got up and headed for the bathroom with a towel wrapped around me- a dress code for students going to bathe. Someone passed by me giving a strange look. Then a friend stopped in front and said what has happened, your whole body is red! I looked down at my stomach… legs, my arms. They were all deep red. I was shaken up to the core! I went back to my room, picked up the small mirror and did detailed checkup. I was red all over, on my back, behind the neck, except my palms, soles and face. My heart was beating hard. I had no idea if this was permanent or what. I might have to go to a doctor and will have to admit that I had a drink. I thought that horrible ‘rum’ was the biggest mistake I had made. That was my life’s most disturbing day. I am supposed to be here for educational purpose, on my father’s hard earned money and I have committed a sin. That is how I have been brought up.

Well, I picked up courage, wore an old shirt and went for bath. As I poured water on me, I got a shock. The feeling of flowing water over my body had changed drastically. I felt as if my skin had thickened with some rash and the sensation of any touch had changed totally. It was strange kind of a pain. Enduring the pain I soaped myself and used as little water as possible. Worst was yet to come. As I used the towel to wipe my hair and neck, I felt my skin was getting peeled off. I just sat down in pain and shock. Slowly I touched the back of my neck to check for the blood. It wasn’t there. I started dabbing myself softly to dry and gingerly come out. Wearing clothes also was a pain and then while walking to my class, trousers and shirt rubbing against skin too was horrible. I knew that I was in deep shit. I had to tell my friends that it is the reaction of a drink and I was never going to drink again. It does not suit me…

I did not go to any doctor and took no medicine. I couldn’t. It took ten full days for the rash to subside on its own. Few months later I entered my final year. I was very tense and had been studying real hard. I friend of mine asked me to share some beer with him. I said no way. He said don’t worry; beer is not a hard liquor. I had that beer and next morning my skin again erupted with the same violent reaction. I cursed myself for having to face all that discomfort all over again. But I noticed this time the skin condition got cured in 6 days.

In my heart I was encouraged, but I thought it was not worth it. My studies-schedule was very tight, but I friends cajoled me to have a small drink, on and off. I too was checking if my body was getting accustomed to alcohol. If it was, I thought it would be a good sign. The skin reaction time kept falling from 10 to 6 to 4 to 2 days and finally it was all over. It took almost a year to achieve this…

I remained a faithful friend to alcohol for 26 years and then respectfully parted company; for good. Now sometimes I would sniff an open bottle of a good whiskey or a red wine for an appreciation purpose only. I have a lot of respect for a good drink and for people who respect their drink. Even the doctors say that having 2 drinks is healthy at my age. But since I have totally detoxed myself, I would not like to complicate matters once again. So I feel I will be fine without those 2 drinks, even if doctors are fine with it.

Insignificant Encounter

There is so much to write about when you are back home after being exposed to a new environment, new colleagues, new culture or even a new location. It is easy to get excited and fill pages with the stories of important people, places and heartwarming incidences. But this incidence in 2007 that I am writing about falls in the category of an ‘encounter of the insignificant kind’.
While shooting in Mcleod Ganj, we were staying in a hotel called ‘Spring Valley Resort’ at Bhagsu Nag, though we spent the first night in Hotel Triund. Triund is the name of a snow capped peak visible from our hotel. One can trek to this peak in 4 hours. On the off day I decide to be rebellious against the weather. I wore my shorts, T-shirt with a short sleeve sweater and went for a walk, up hill towards the Triund. The sun was good and so was the gentle breeze. After half an hour I came across an open-air restaurant called ‘Haifa’. I came to know later that Haifa is an Israeli name. Place was totally empty. Maybe it was too early. I took a table in the sun and noticed that the soft music being played was actually Indian Bhajans sung by foreigners. I was the first customer there and the kitchen perhaps hadn’t warmed up yet. A Nepali waiter very politely took my order. While waiting I fell ‘in like’ with the Bhajans’ CD that was playing. I asked the boy about the music. He said it is Kirtans by Krishna Das. Next I asked him if I could borrow the CD to make a copy. He apologized and said that the lady who owns the place is not here yet. Understandably he could not give anything to a total stranger without his masters’ permission. It was fair. So I told him that I will come back sometime when she is around. The breakfast was a massive meal with a large bowl of corn flakes with fruits and cold milk, 2 eggs omelet, 4 toasts and a large glass of tea – not to forget Kirtan sound waves floating in the air. I left after struggling to stomach the last sip of the tea.
After a few days my room-mate Pinaki and I walked to Haifa to try my luck with the music CD. I met the small made Nepali lady and asked her about borrowing the music. She went to the counter, picked up the CD and handed it to me. Just like that! I was nonplused. I told her hurriedly that I will try my best to make a copy right away and get it back within an hour; if not definitely by tomorrow evening. She said ‘no problem, but don’t forget to get it back as many people keep asking for it’.
If I was in her place and a tourist asked me the same… well, let us not talk about that. I did make a copy in less than 30 min and Pinaki went to return it. After that I decided to make another copy of it to give it to her as a spare; just in case if someone is not able to return it. Pay it forward.
I am able to extract a lot of wisdom from ordinary incidences and ordinary people. This practical demonstration of trust may be more useful to me in my life than the blessed Khata I received from HH Dalai Lama. As the distant future turns into present, I don’t know who all I will talk about and how much; but the Haifa lady’s story titled ‘Trust’ will remain a good one to narrate for a long time. In fact just like her I too find it much better to trust people in my dealings and loose something small; rather than stay tense in mistrust and later realize that it was a wrong to do so.

A Genuine Enquiry

Do you know how old is this earth? It is billions of years old, 13.77 billion to be precise. Man did not exist at that point of time. On the time line of eternity man has evolved very recently compared to earth’s age. We have all came up from a single cell organism to this present state. Some theories say we evolved from fish, to birds, to monkeys as our ancestors. According to a scientific study, if entire time of the earth’s existence is condensed into 100 hours then evolution of modern times would measure only a few seconds. By modern times we can say when spoken word developed and we started using intelligence for our benefit. We started staying in groups to avoid being attacked, robbed or killed by other groups and to flourish. As the time flew many inventions kept coming, starting from rough stone tools for hunting, to the wheel, then to clothing to save us from acute weather conditions. We started keeping animals as pets to serve us, either for milk, meat, or even to carry us around and later to work for us in agricultural fields.
Sometime later psychology and mind games entered human domain. For the first time the leaders ruled over their group for everyone’s safety. A good reason or even scare was developed in the community, in order to stay together, to fight the enemy jointly and keep the produce, women and children of the tribe safe. Somebody must have been too intelligent to order the community ‘when in danger, always gather under such and such (strategically located) tree, a stone or a certain person’. I guess this was the beginning of politics and religion. Leaders learnt that ‘leading’ gave them immense power over people and that was very beneficial and intoxicating. So from that time onwards we have only been the victims of these two social orders, religion and politics. The benefits reaped by that world by the use of religion and politics, have much out weighed the harm by its misuse, in our so called civilized world. Due to the religion, we have gone through the worst period of wars, mass killings, ethnic cleansing, Jehads, countries breaking up etc. I seriously question the utility of religion for providing any benefits what-so-ever, to human race. A sensible businessman will just drop harmful and useless items or activites from his list, which costs much more compared to the benefits from it. ‘Religion balance sheet’ shows only losses. Religion is not a necessary condition for anyone to be a good human being. People can be ‘good people’ and do very well in any field without the contribution of religion in their lives. People who are busy making money to look after their families may have no time for it. If a beggar starts praying in place of begging; without doubt, he will have to starve. Well, I hope sooner than later, constructive people will get to know the value and real utility of conventional religion and they will revolt against this concept. Charity begins at home. So, I have put religion out of the list of ‘important things’ in my life. Hoping that some others too may be thinking like me, the process may have already started. I sincerely feel it is worth trying to live without religion or at least reduce its importance in our lives and check out the so called ‘balance sheet’. I am sure we will have more time to meet friends, play with our children and do our jobs well at the office.
Any changes on these lines will be possible if other than only eating, talking, traveling, sleeping, having sex, exercising and just surviving, we allocated ourselves time to ‘think’! We have never thought that it is important to close our eyes and ‘think’, which is such a constructive mental exercise. Think about new ideas; think how to solve a mystery or find creative solutions to family’s problems. To make our lives fruitful, we need to think what is useful in our life and what is not and then work on weeding out the useless parts.

To wrap it up, I recently read that the amount of happiness that science and technology have given us in the last 100 years much out-weighs the happiness given to us by religion in the past 2000 years!

‘What the hell are we doing’, isn’t this enquiry justified now?

Two Flowers

Sound of spoken words

Sounds of spoken words or speech would be the most heard sound among all the other sound waves that are stirring the air around us. I speak, my friends speak, my wife, my father speaks, my mother speaks and my grandfather too speaks, shop keepers, doctors, cops, politicians, businessmen, actors, singers, beggars, watchmen, servants, salesgirls, priests all are filling our ambiance with spoken words. Our sound-scape is full of colorful speech patterns. But it is certain that all the vocal sounds have different effects on us. Some fill us with affection and another fills us with anger or despair. Of course yet another may not make much difference.
But is it ‘the words’ that really do the trick? Or is it the person? Is it the way of speaking? Or it is just my perception that the words from some people affect me in a certain way. Why is it that when your daughter speaks you feel that you are being reached out. When your son speaks to you, you feel important and equal. But your father’s words may fill you with dejection and breathlessness. I could never be comfortable in front of my father. Whenever he enters my room from one door, I get up and leave from other door. And try to find another place to sit. My father’s presence always makes me uncomfortable. I never find him friendly. His presence never relaxes me, because I could never be myself in front of him. So his ‘words’ do not matter or may urge me to get away. He had an overpowering personality. On the other hand my mother does not throw me off balance. I can put my point of view in front of her, sometimes even fight with her. I just thought I could handle myself much better in front of her.
I have realized now, that words do not matter. It is the person who speaks matters, because we already have an impression about him/her. When I hear the voice of a brother of mine, I feel relaxed, while another one may make me tense; although both may be giving me the same information over telephone from different cities.
We feel differently in the presence of a certain doctor or a car mechanic. An FRCS doctor may not necessarily make you feel better and thus may not be able to cure you easily; while a simple GP may just do the trick because you feel easy with the quality of his voice and the way she speaks. In the same way a qualified automobile engineer might make you uncomfortable, while you may leave your car confidently with an illiterate person in a small town.
I guess there are people who grow your confidence and space in their presence, while others squeeze it off. This is what makes them popular or unpopular with you. There is some magic in the way people speak. It is not the exact words people use that matter, but it is our experience of their total personalities from the day we have known them. A hundred different persons asking an innocent ‘how are you?’ could make you feel alerted or angered or make you fall in love.

Straw Age Hand Writing

I am quite excited to be writing about a part of my early childhood (mid 50s), which is associated with the nostalgia of writing instruments, or ‘pens’. I am also happy that in my life as a young student, I got to use ‘pens’ of various kinds, from downright primitive to current. I guess today’s generation will be missing out what we had to use 50 years ago. Most basic pen that I used was made of ‘straw’ that grew wildly on the roadsides and was found in abundance in villages and small towns. Thankfully it was also, no one’s property. We just had to pull out dried plant of straw, cut it to a suitable size with a kitchen knife or a discarded shaving blade and make a pen. Length and thickness of the pen should fit my (student’s) hand comfortably. One end of straw would be sliced off diagonally, making the side narrow and expose the hollow of the straw. This was sliced further from both sides until the point reached the required thickness of alphabets. For me in the 1st standard the point must have been about 0.3cm to 0.4cm wide. In the beginning of my school, I learnt to write the alphabets and digits on what we called as ‘Takhti’. Takhti was a single piece of flat rectangular wood, measuring about 1.5ft X 1.0 ft and weighing about a Kilo. Its surface would be either black or white. On one side a handle was carved out to hold and carry the Takhti comfortably. Takhti could be used only once at a time. If it was to be used again, one had to go through a long and laborious process of repainting its surface. So every time I came back from school I had to wash the Takhti clean, re-paint it with black or white liquid and leave it to dry for next day at school. It had to be done every day. Initially my mother did it for me, but when I grew a little older she asked me to learn to do it myself.

White ink was made by dissolving chalk (white Khadiya) in water and for black ink I used a charcoal based stuff. Both looked like small pebbles. Sometimes we also drew lines on the Takhti, to be able to write in a straight line. My alphabets would be about 2 inches tall. With that thickness of my straw pen, I could barely write about 5 alphabets in one row. Takhti had 4-5 rows. Sometimes one side of the Takhti was used for writing alphabets and the other for numbers.

Then came the up-grade in writing technology and I got to write with a ‘nib and holder’. Holder of the nib was again a comfortable sized piece of wood, at the end of which was a slot to hold a writing nib. This piece of wood was factory made. The nibs also came in two kinds, one for Hindi and the other one called ‘G-nib’, for writing in English. The nibs had a fine cut in the middle that held a little ink and was right for writing English alphabets. Hindi did not need the slit in the nib. For writing, the nibs had to be dipped in the ‘ink-pot’ frequently, as they had no arrangement for storing ink in them. You could write only 2 to 4 alphabets after dipping it once. So, the idea was to master the art of dipping it just right to avoid a drop falling on the paper and nib not drying off soon enough. Even this ink was made at home. I remember I used to buy blue or red color, dry ink by the weight. It looked like crystals, the size of sugar. I would put some crystals in the old ink bottle, add some water and then stir it until it dissolved. The darkness of the ink could be increased by adding more solid stuff and vice versa.
After a while fountain-pens appeared and I found them so very convenient. I could fill the ink in it and that eliminated the problem of dipping it frequently in the ink pot. Initial fountain pens seemed ahead of time then, but in reality they were very crude. First fountain pen I remember was the type in which its nib assembly had to be separated by unscrewing it from its ink storage to pour the ink in it and tighten the nib assembly back on. Though it could take hardly 2cc of ink, but you could do a whole day’s work with it.

Initially we filled the fountain pens, directly from the inkpot. But soon I learn that it was a good idea to always fill the ink, away from my lap or any other item. Later to avoid messing our clothes we got medical droppers to fill the ink more efficiently. Many times after filling, the ink did not flow down onto the paper while writing. To solve this problem, the famous action of giving a few jerks to the pen was used. With this action drops of the ink would escape out of the nib and that meant that, pen will surely work now. Again, here too utmost care was advised to be very careful while jerking the pen, in case the drops of ink fell on the table cloth or on your teacher’s white Pajamas.

Later on the ink filling technology improved when small inflatable rubber tubes were introduced for filling and storing ink. They were attached to the nib assembly. This mechanism worked by squeezing the tube to create vacuum inside, dipping the nib into the ink pot and then releasing the pressure to get the tube inflated back again; there by sucking the ink inside it. I felt this was a brilliant idea.

Then for a short while there appeared a piston type arrangement for filling ink. You push the piston down to create a vacuum, dip it in the ink and pull it out. Just like our Pichkari, used during festival of Holi. Most of these pens were not really fool-proof (read leak-proof). So many educated people shyly wore a patch of blue ink around their shirt pockets, as everyone would sport his pen in the shirt pocket. To some extent this could be tackled by putting Vaseline on the threads of the pen. There used to be some pen thieves too. They would borrow your pen in a post office and then walk off with it. To tackle this smartness you did a touché by not parting with the cap of your pen. So, if a thief pocketed your pen without its cap; he would certainly be caught red handed, by being blue pocketed.

For hand-writing the last instrument to arrive was the ball point pen. They were accepted very well are still reigning supreme. With these, the trouble of keeping ink bottles and filling ink was completely taken care off. But economic conservatives initially said it did not make sense to buy new refills every time. Indian banks too took time to accept forms or cheques filled in with ball point pens. You know how resistant governments and its employees are to think beyond what they have been doing. They did not care if the figures or signatures on cheques got washed off with a drop of rain water. They stuck to their point, ‘ball pens are not allowed!’

It does not seem to me if there are any advanced technologies in hand-writing instruments are waiting in the wings. In the present age of flying emails, I feel using those straw pens was literally like being associated with the stone-age, rather ‘straw-age’ of hand writing.

Red Bus

Normally every big city has a few get away close-by locations to spend a weekend or even for a day picnic. Sometime if a place is very popular, then people who have to travel to that location over and over, need to get creative in order to derive more fun from repeated trips.

For us in Mumbai, the most popular such an escapade is Lonavala. It is rather smallish hill station, but is very popular among people of Mumbai and Pune as well. It is two hour drive from Mumbai and just about an hour from Pune. Mumbai being such a fast paced city, a lot of people drive down to Lonavala to take a breath of much needed fresh air. Although a distance of only 120 km separates Mumbai and Lonavala; Lonavala gets bitterly cold in winters, compared to Mumbai.

From the time we got the first six lane high-speed expressway connecting two cities, people have been zipping across at not less than 100kmph, making the travel time even shorter.

For environment conscious people not owning a car, there are options of numerous buses. Oldest bus service is State Transport Corporation, Maharashtra or ST in short. Its non-A/C simple red color buses weave a very intricate web of convenient routes across Maharashtra’s towns and smallest villages. It is also the cheapest mode of road transport. Thus, it serves the least affluent of the state. At next level come ‘Asiad’ buses; also run by ST, mainly connecting Mumbai with Pune at regular intervals and many more cities. Originally these buses were used during India’s 1982 Asian Games or ‘Asiad’, in New Delhi. These were used to ferry sportspersons and other officials between sporting arenas and hotels. After arriving in Mumbai, name ‘Asiad’ stayed as the name of bus service too. In the beginning they were very popular among regular travelers. They were considered stylish, comfortable and dependable. Although today after so many years obviously they look washed out and shabby compared to new Volvos in-use. They have given excellent service for nearly 30 years. Most of them now are in the process of being replaced with better bodied air-conditioned ones.

Since the completion of expressway in 2002, nobody seems to be using the good old ‘Poona Highway’ or NH-4, as it has been known as, any more. Most of the public and private traffic has diverted itself towards more expensive but faster and smoother express-way, since everyone is always in a hurry to get to their destinations.

One fine day, I was traveling to Pune alone. So, I decided to relive the nostalgia of NH-4. I decided that I would not opt for hurry or luxury. So, instead of a taxi, I took Mumbai’s local BEST bus to Chembur from my locality. Chembur is an important exit point of Mumbai; thus it has a State Transport bus-stand near RK studios. I parked myself at the bus-stop and informed the booking office that I needed one ticket to Pune.

‘Time pass, time pass’, the peanut seller appeared. I bought some. Soon many red Asiads started lining up. Conductor pointed towards a Pune bus and asked me to get in. He said it will reach fast since it is going by the new route. He was surprised when I told him that I want to travel by NH-4, the old route. I did not have to wait much. Soon another red bus arrived. Conductor told me that is your bus. The bus surprisingly had seat numbers and I got a seat as per my ticket. I was traveling in a non-A/C bus after ages. Passengers were so cordial and gentle.

Due to traveling by the new Expressway so many times, I had forgotten the landmarks of the old route. Soon the memories started getting refreshed, as the bus entered a crowded and always unclean, Panvel bus depot. This bus was stopping at every small little village, for the convenience of the poor villager’s destinations. It was entering each bus station for a few minutes and moving out. It was a good opportunity for me to feel all those places all over again, which I used pass during every trip.

Another main nostalgic point was Khopoli. It used to be the most popular break point for passengers. Everyone would halt here for snacks and beverages. From here the hilly region or Ghats starts. So people prefer to cool their cars a bit. Stroking his content stomach, driver announced the departure.

Soon the route became steep and wavy. The hills had started. At one point the road takes two very steep hairpin turns. Then a popular Hanuman ji’s temple passes on right. It is a small temple under a tree. Driver slowed the bus a bit. So everyone can pay their respects by bowing to this popular deity and throw some coins as offering. If you are in a car and slow down, you can get Prasad too.

I realized that the trees were much closer to the bus window. The road was much narrower, but it was in good condition; may be due to reduced traffic. Earlier when this was the only road in use, it was really bad. There used to be very long traffic jams. Sometimes it has taken me 6-8 hrs to reach Pune, in place of usual four.

As the bus neared Lonavala, it reached the top of the hills. It was raining here. I had kept my elbow and face out of the window to feel the rain and cool breeze. Mountains on the other side of the wide and deep valley were dotted with numerous waterfalls. I got deeply engrossed in watching the scenic panorama. I was discovering real beauty in everything that was around. I was able to absorb each view and find playfulness in nature.

There were clouds below my eye level, at the eye level and above too. At a distance, I spotted a small white cloud that had got entangled in bushy branches of a tree. It seemed to be trying to pull itself away but was finding it difficult. Strong breeze was trying to help it; but it wasn’t easy. Due to pull of the breeze in various directions, cloud was changing shapes. Even in total silence, it was a thrilling moment – a highflying cloud held down by a tree and not being allowed to fly away. It seemed like a simple game young kids might be playing in villages. 

The red bus entered first of numerous tunnels. Tunnel was packed with white fog; that felt as if we were passing through a block of white cotton, which easily rushed inside the bus too. Now the clouds were traveling with me, in the bus. Like a dream sequence, everyone looked hazy…

There is no way I could have had so much fun in an expensive claustrophobic A/C bus.

We all have noticed that due to this covid 19 lockdown, earlier normal life has been totally disrupted. As I was editing this I saw the videos of my fast paced life with loud traffic sounds of buses, autos etc. That was normal then. But as I listen to and feel present ambiance, I feel this is so much more peaceful. Of course a balance has to be achieved between peace and progress.

Industrialist Sportsman

On 25 Nov, 2005 at 5am, I left home for Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi racecourse. It was still dark then. I got a bus going to Andheri station easily. With all the inside lights on and my sleepiness yet to wear off, the bus looked so dreamy. From Andheri station I took a slow train to Mahalaxmi. Mumbai has slow and fast trains. Fast ones have limited stops, while slow stop on all stations. There was place to sit; but I decided to stand near the entry to get strong breeze on my face to get rid of drowsiness. After a while I sat down and checked my belongings, mainly my camera, extra film roll etc. I was yet to get my first digital camera then. Mission was to watch a ‘mission near impossible’ by Indian industrialist and sports adventurer, Dr. Vijaypat Singhania (CEO Raymond). He was to fly in a hot air balloon with the intention of creating a new world record. The previous record had been held by the Britain based Swede, Per Lindstrand since June 6, 1988, after touching 64,997 ft in Texas. So Mr. Lindstrand held on to that record for long 17 years! There were not many chances that it would fall easily. Because of this, I knew the importance of this mission; and that is why I did not want to miss the opportunity to watch its starting point. I got off at Mahalaxmi station and came up near the high level road facing the race course. A large area in the middle had been cordoned off. The balloon was being inflated far in the distance. It was so exciting. I took some pictures of completely a new visual of the panorama, a large red and yellow balloon changing shapes in the middle of huge space of race course. Then I took a cab up to the gate and walked in. Race course is for horses to run. They go around it in seconds. But it took me 15 min walk to get close to the balloon. There were placards announcing MI70K (Mission Impossible 70,000) History in the making”. Not too many people were there. Mostly technicians and engineers were working in various areas. Well I could not get much closer; but I took a lot of pictures of the gadgets and the ambiance. To my pleasant surprise the horses came out to practice. Watching them run close by was exhilarating. That meant clicking some more pictures! As the sun came up I got information that take off has been postponed to next day, due to high air turbulence. Well, it seemed that I had reached the racecourse a day too early. I indulged in shooting pictures of those lovely horses doing their practice runs. Later it was great to watch the sunrise from such an open space, and not to forget brisk walking 2 rounds of the course. The walking-track runs inside parallel to the racetrack made for the superior beings. It took me nearly 30 min to do one round. A Walk on the racecourse tack has been in my ‘to-do’ agenda for many years! In fact it was a revelation that one does not have to be a member of the Turf Club to get inside for a morning walk. It is open for all. So I relaxed, enjoyed my walk and then walked out to the bus stop and soon was home for breakfast.

Next day on Nov 26, I was even more serious to reach Mahalaxmi on time, because I was sure that in all probability this was going to be the ‘historical day’. Near the gallery steps they had placed large screens showing the visuals from a multi-camera setup. It was good to watch close up of the capsule and activities around it. The sound track was filling-in the details of Dr. Singhania’s previous records. One of them was flying in a Microlite aircraft from UK to India in 1988. This is record that he still holds. I was lucky to see this tiny plane from close quarters and also meet Dr. Singhania at Pune airport. He had just finished his great adventure then. I found it really very brave. He showed us the pressure marks on his knees due to constantly being pressed against the dash board of the tiny plane. The second record was winning the world air race in 1994.

Near the launch site the atmosphere was electric. There were a lot of people. Most of them seemed to be from Dr. Singhania’s office. Raymond is huge organization and Dr. Singhania has a lot of friends in every field. There were many celebrities. I got a chance to say hello to Dr. Jagmohan Mundhra and Mr. Vinod Khanna (a famous actor and an MP). Mr. Khanna was accompanied by Mr. A. Parthasarthi (an expert on Vedanta). Just before entering the capsule Dr. Singhania waved to everyone. Crowd responded by waving and clapping for long time. The door shut securely. The capsule seemed pretty small. It may have space for just one person to stand or sit on a chair. If it had to take a man to edge of space, it had to be highly technical. Other than life support and flight control equipment, Capsule had advanced communication system. It also was insulated and pressurized to the perfection. Since at its maximum height the outside temperature might be nearly -100C and atmospheric pressure will be so rare that it could kill you instantly. A huge flame was being fired inside the balloon to make the inner air hot. The balloon was now becoming taller and bigger. At its peak its height was supposed to be equivalent to a 20-story building! The take-off time was close. Finally the wait was over and capsule lifted from the ground in a shaky manner as it was still tied to the ground. It was really a wonderful moment. My heart was beating hard. Everyone was clapping. As balloon’s lifting power built up it was untied and allowed to move on its very fateful journey at 6.39AM. The capsule swayed unsteadily for a few moments. Excited crowd cheered and clapped as capsule gained height. Capsule was now just above us all and moving south slowly. From Mumbai’s point of view, it moved towards Peddar road, soaring over tall buildings. Within 5 minutes of lift off I felt that balloon was losing height. I was worried. I watched other faces to confirm my doubt. Everyone seemed worried. There was a young couple next to me who shared my apprehension with ‘oh my god’. Still above those tall Pedder road buildings, I saw a whole lot of flames being fired into the balloon to counter a possible descent, followed by a lot of smoke escaping from top of the balloon. That smoke got me very worried. Kerosene is used for igniting the fire up to a certain altitude. Soon the smoke vanished and balloon started moving higher. Its path curved towards northwest, above the sea and gained good height. People started moving off. I watched it moving fast above the sea. It was looking very small now. Soon tall buildings of Worli blocked its view and I too turned back slowly and decided to take a walk on Haji Ali-Worli road. After witnessing an important event, I prefer to spend some quiet time with myself. Last time it was when I attended the Zubin Mehta show. It helps me absorb the show into my system. I do not feel like coming out of that mood too quickly. There was a lingering apprehension too; whether the mission will be accomplished? If not then I hope Dr. Singhania lands back safely… I walked towards Worli for about 15 minutes and sat down for a cup of tea.

PS: At 8.55 AM Dr. Vijaypat Singhania broke the previous world record of 64,997 ft. And while flying above Ulhasnagar he created a new hot air balloon record of 69,852 ft. He could not touch 70000ft as planned. He said later ‘it was not worth it to endanger life for the sake of 148ft’. So from the edge of space, he decided that it was good time to return home to family and friends. His balloon landed safely near Nasik at 11.30 AM. The record was monitored by the Aero Club of India. It was later recognized by Federation Aeronautique Internationale as an international record.


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.