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the charm of marine drive

July 13th, 2013 | No Comments | Posted in mumbai, surviving mumbai, Uncategorized

sonal jhuj marine drive mumbai


The charm of marine drive has always been hard to define. It isn’t the most beautiful sea face you’ll ever see. And I do doubt that it is its beauty that draws people to it (and I’m quite certain it isn’t the smell of the sea). But everyone has their reason.


Lovers imagining a future together before the madness of Mumbai rips them apart as they make their way back home.

Over-worked executives wondering if the struggle is worth it (and it often is, as they realize).

Families looking for time away from the four walls that seem to follow them around in their little Mumbai homes.

Or solo visitors conversing with the sea.


The Marine Drive wouldn’t be as beautiful an experience without the context of its city.

Mumbai’s magic lies in the pace of its pedestrians, the wind in its locals and the ambition in its lit-up high rises.

Mumbai’s charm lies in being part of a shared ambition – the promise of a future and yet being able to be alone.

The marine drive is this Mumbai experience. It is you alone, in a crowd.

Sitting by the sea, with strangers on either side as you stare into the distance you can pretend that you’re alone.


Marine drive, then, is your confession chamber.

A counselling session with the sea.

It is your coach, goading you to make more out of your life.

It is a champi that squeezes all that is Mumbai out of you only to help you face some more.
The charm of marine drive, perhaps, lies in how deeply personal a visit it is for every person in the crowd.


The blue and black sea is the visible rendition of the blank canvas that is Mumbai.

It lets you drench the sea with your thoughts, hopes and often your sorrows.

It is the only part of the city that listens.



So, where are you from?

April 10th, 2012 | 4 Comments | Posted in india, people

I’ve lived in many cities. So many, actually, that I no longer know how to answer the often asked ‘where are you from?’

I remember when I was in class 5 a friend asked what my caste was. My only recollection of that word was the oft repeated line from my school books ‘sex, caste, creed etc’. I replied that I didn’t know if I had a caste. Quite a profound answer if you think about it but I wasn’t trying to take a political stand. I really didn’t know if I had a caste.

Also in class 5 (I had a weird class 5), a friend asked me which political party I was from. I didn’t know of any political party except the Congress and that’s what I told her. She said her family was from Congress too. She smiled and asked if I would like to borrow her movie VHS tapes.

We all like to find out if the person fits in with our idea of what they should be.

We all like to know where to peg the person quickly so that our choices become easier. Do I share my phone number or do I politely find a way out of this conversation?

An ex-boss used to tell me that Indians are the most judgemental and prejudiced people. I don’t know too many non-Indians to really have an opinion on that.
But I do know that behind the simple question ‘where are you from’ is a frenzy of brain activity, where based on your looks the questioner is trying to peg you in Chennai, but your accent seems Punju. Behind that question are little brain cells crackling in anticipation, waiting to put you in a nice cosy bucket labelled ‘generous punju’ or ‘humble gujju’.

Once a punjabi uncle came over. I offered him nimboo-paani and a couple of snacks. He looked up and said, now I can tell I’m in a fellow punjabi’s home. You’re offering me more than just the one mandatory snack :|

Like it or not, where we’re from, the choices we make, make us the people we are today. Which is why we will be judged for using IE instead of chrome. Every little thing counts.

In this world full of madness, people, thoughts, and a gazillion things to process, our brain needs its buckets.
Chrome is one. F.R.I.E.N.D.S is one. The kind who like Supernatural are in another. Without our buckets, we don’t know what to do with you. Without our buckets, our minds are constantly
abuzz. Never at peace. Never knowing how to be around you. Because we, focus so much more on you than ourselves.

There’s a personal moment of ecstasy knowing you have them neatly labelled and pegged in a corner of your brain. It helps make sense of the world.

Having lived all over the country and having switched more schools than most, I find the title question so hard to answer.

So this is what I usually say ‘I’m from Chandigarh, but I was born in UP. But then I really truly grew up in a way at MICA in Ahmedabad. But if I were to be completely honest, it’s Mumbai that really made me the person I am’

And then I just sit back and hear the brain cells crackle :)


Mumbai: a city for people and not their gender

January 10th, 2012 | 4 Comments | Posted in gender, india, mumbai

I’m from Chandigarh. Now, Chandigarh is a lovely city, but the boys riding their fancy Enfields are often far from pleasant. And of course when I say ‘Chandigarh’, I could just as well be referring to any part of India. Men and the society they’ve built is largely unpleasant for women in most parts of our country.

Let me begin by admitting that I’ve lived a largely protected life. I am from the privileged lot who wasn’t killed in the womb, forced into prostitution, married off before puberty or tortured for dowry. I am educated, I hold a job and am married to a lovely man who respects me.

Perhaps being in this rare and privileged lot should be enough for me. But then by nature, man or woman, we’re all greedy and I must ask for more.

I don’t think it occurs to most men that they are men. Bear with me please. I have a point to make, I promise.

I believe that men aren’t constantly aware of being a man. While I agree that gender-specific roles find their way round the heads of both men and women, it is my firm belief that women rarely ever get to forget that they’re women. And that, I believe, is telling of a society that doesn’t give them the freedom they need from this constant reminder.

In India, a woman is always aware of her gender. Always adjusting her dupatta, wary or any man who comes within 2 feet of her, suspicious of friendly hellos and always alert. Always aware.

When the clock strikes 8 at work, women are reminded that they are women and must head home safely before it gets dark.
School girls are reminded to keep their legs together and watch their skirts.

Sit this way.
Don’t smile too much.
Watch yourself.
Be safe.
Don’t go alone.
Don’t work late.
Take a cab home, the company will pay.
Someone should drop you home.
Keep latitude on.
Don’t trust the ricksha wallah.
Stay on the phone till you get home.
Watch your neck line.
Call me when you reach home.

Mumbai, while you are far from perfect, you have allowed me to forget my gender from time to time. I haven’t had to think twice while boarding a late night local or hanging out at marine drive all night. I haven’t had to worry too much about the men. There were a few who were lewd but as a woman I’ve come to expect that.
You’ve allowed me to forget my gender in board room meetings, and late night dinners.

And as I leave you, Mumbai, I’m suddenly acutely aware that now I might need to remember more than just my name. I might need to remember and be conscious of my gender.


Mumbai teaches you many things. Not so much about the city, but about yourself.
As I prepare to leave Mumbai I feel a sense of loss. I’ll miss the locals, the sea but most of all I’ll miss the person that Mumbai made me.
As a tribute to the city that has given me so much I will be writing about the ways in which Mumbai has enriched me.

Last post Have ego, will crush: love, mumbai


you extremist you! *pulls cheeks*

The rush to create a personal brand online is leading us to define ourselves in black and white.  The internet has given us so many places to voice our opinion that often we have the means but no opinion and force ourselves to have one.

Are you with Kolaveri or are you against it? Do you think that was a flashmob or not?

Slot. Slot. Slot.

Clearly you can’t say you’re a musician and then go on twitter and not have an opinion on every piece of music being shared. You may not even have an opinion on A R Rahman’s new piece but to build your brand, you must.

God forbid you have mixed feelings about anything. God forbid that you should want to comment on a post without sounding like an extremist. With 140 character profile descriptions and your life laid bare online, there is an urgent need need to define your brand.

Comments, likes, posts, tweets and status updates seduce you into giving an opinion. Any opinion. And Quickly.

No wonder then that all you see online on forums, sites, social networks are angry, pissed-off people who either rush to embrace the next new thing or shred to pieces anything that they don’t instantly love.

Read this disrespectful comment on someone’s post – ‘You are either joking or your ideological-obsessiveness has made you stupid.’  Or just look at the unprovoked nasty messages Chetan Bhagat gets on twitter.

And it doesn’t matter that the extremists have no real reason for hating anything.

Why? Because online you either love it or you hate it. There is no in between. No one wants to engage with a moderate voice.

Moderation makes not a good brand, I suppose.


Have ego, will crush. – Love, Mumbai

November 29th, 2011 | 5 Comments | Posted in india, mumbai

I didn’t think I had much of an ego when I first came to Mumbai 5 years ago. But apparently I did. It was painfully made clear in my first bus bone-crushing experience followed almost immediately by my trying-to-get-into-a-local-but-can’t that Mumbai has no place for the superfluous, much less the ego.

At first it will hit you smack in the face because unknowingly you’ve been taught in other parts of the country and that everyone has their ‘place’. After the initial shock and hurt has had time to subside you will soon revel in the ego-less-ness of the city. You will smile at the fisherwomen on your train, help a little girl find a seat as she prepares for her test at school, rub shoulders with the woman with 5 diamond rings who throws celeb names like nobody’s business.
There is a classless-ness that the local train and therefore Mumbai displays. It will free you. Unknowingly. It will free your mind from the needless pressure of constantly and subconsciously classifying everyone around you.

I have often wondered what makes people in Mumbai disregard this class divide and just get on with their lives. And the answer to that is simple. In Mumbai struggle cuts across all classes. There is a fight, a struggle for everything and irrespective of your class or place in life, there is an implicit understanding that everyone is just trying to make the best of things and striving towards their dreams. There is struggle for housing. For space. Struggle to get to work. To board that local train and then another to get off it. There is jostling. Mumbai is as much an assault on the senses as it is a delight. And it spares no one. The struggle in Mumbai doesn’t discriminate.

Never before have I witnessed this sense of mutual understanding of purposeful struggle. This mutual understanding while wading towards a dream almost-within-reach is what makes a stranger quickly make way for you as a you board a moving local and makes women smile at each other and silently nod a ‘it’s really bad today no?’ even as their bodies are tossed around in the sweaty local coaches.

Mumbai, may you always have a dream to chase and not a moment to spare for judging fellow dreamers.


Mumbai teaches you many things. Not so much about the city, but about yourself.
As I prepare to leave Mumbai I feel a sense of loss. I’ll miss the locals, the sea but most of all I’ll miss the person that Mumbai made me.
As a tribute to the city that has given me so much I will be writing about the ways in which Mumbai has enriched me.

Similar post: Mumbai: a city for people and not genders

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same pinch – losing our stories

October 26th, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted in personal

Many years ago I heard Nelly Furtado‘s song ‘Powerless‘ and the following words struck me

Paint my face in your magazines
Make it look whiter than it seems
Paint me over with your dreams
Shove away my ethnicity

She talks of a notion of beauty that she must comply with while being a star. And no, she doesn’t complain about having to paint her toes, but instead about having to do away with a part of her identity.


My sister and I were watching the 1994 beauty pageant where Aishwarya and Sushmita went head to head and I couldn’t help but notice the striking Jesse Randhawa, who was ‘Jasmeet’ then and decidedly punjabi in her ways.

I don’t know Jasmeet/Jesse and can’t comment on her and how things changed for her over time, but it did strike me then that all these lovely ladies at the time had a look that was quite unlike the other. I don’t know if it was the way they wore their hair, their accents or their skin tone. But there was a je ne sais quoi that set them apart from each other and gave them a story of their own.

A story, either of their roots or of the struggle or simply of the kind of exposure they’d had in life. The sway of Aishwarya’s hips talked of her already successful modeling career.

There was something that made them them.

A recent 90s-pop-love moment got me watching videos of Shweta Shetty , Suneeta Rao, Anaida, Mehnaz. Not one was like the other. I don’t know them personally, but they did have a look that certainly didn’t make them seem like they came off an assembly line.

I don’t mean for this to be a comment on the state of beauty today and how we’re all chasing the same ideal. (which we are by the way)

Instead, I wonder how much we’ve lost in terms of our ethnicity and our stories by straightening our hair and wearing it French. Or shaping our noses and losing our Kashmiriness? I don’t know.

Consider the young girls that Tehelka wrote about, who’re erasing their skin of marks and scars, almost erasing their stories too.

‘A week before arriving at the clinic, the night when her nikaah was decided, she privately thanked Allah because she would now be able to wear T-shirts and short-sleeved kurtas like the rest of her friends. Her husband would know and there’d be no need to hide herself anymore. It was then that her parents announced their engagement gift for her — plastic surgery to permanently remove The Scar. In the clinic, mother and daughter talk in excited whispers — neither realising that Bilquis’ husband will never truly know his wife — that she’d been obsessed with exploring places as a child, that she hurt herself but discovered the other side anyway, that she’d spent her entire childhood worrying someone would see the most imperfect and most inimitable part of her.

True, celebrating our differences is easier said than done.

The world’s a global village with startlingly low patience for differences. And we may not want to cling to our roots all the time, but there’s something sad about having them wiped out altogether for the sake of beauty and the subsequent likeability .


For all our talk about individuality, sadly we’re more alike now than we ever were.



why generalizations piss people off

October 25th, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted in people

Generalizations help us make sense of an otherwise complex world.

Dealing with different people and recalibrating how to communicate with them, work with them, talk to them, can be exhausting. It’s just far simpler to make a bucket in your head and dunk people according to religion, place of origin, sex etc.

It’s just easier to make sense of the madness by staying organized in our heads and fitting people into little boxes that we comprehend. Like the 25yr old go-getter man from tier II cities who aspires to be cool and own the latest in mobile gadetry, or the 17 yr old girl from Allahabad who has worldly aspirations and her air-hostessing is going to get her all she wants. We’ve all made these boxes in our heads.

And so we generalize. More for our sanity and inability to comprehend large amounts of seemingly incoherent data that we receive daily from the people we encounter.


But why does it piss people off?

Contrary to what people say, I don’t believe generalizations piss people off because they’re not true for them. In fact we feed off of the generalizations that agree with what we believe is our identity.

It’s not generalizations that we hate. We use them to our advantage. We wear them as a badge of honour when they coincide with who we think we are. We fuel these generalizations when it suits us. The DLSR around your neck makes you part of the creative lot. We like that.

In that sense it becomes an issue of identity. So while I’d like to be known as an MBA because I would want to associate with some of the generalizations made about them (successful, achievers etc) I’d not want to be associated with the generalizations about MBAs that don’t suit me.

So we take what we like and get upset at what we don’t. It’s only natural.


But, I believe that the real reason people take offence to generalizations is because it shows  an utter unwillingness on the part of the generalizer to try and get to know the generalizee.

We get pissed off when we find that people aren’t bothering with getting to know us and instead are happy to place us in a ready-made box.

Placing someone in a box, even if ever-so-gently, is a way of telling them that you already know whatever’s worth knowing about them.

We get pissed off because not bothering to get to know us is the only way someone can make us feel insignificant. And we’d all like some validation.


And yes, this is a generalization.


this explains a lot of the melodrama that is my life

October 18th, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted in personal


Sartre’s beliefs explained in ‘Introducing Sartre – a graphic guide’


facebook’s made aunties out of you

October 17th, 2011 | 3 Comments | Posted in humour, india, social networking

I remember being a terrified 15yr old who couldn’t wait to get away from the neighbourhood aunty whose only purpose in life (or so it seemed), was to ask me which college I was planning on going to. At the time I remember marveling at her cheek. As if planning to get into a college was all it took. I remember feeling stressed about my exam results not because I cared about which college would have me (I never ended up doing engg anyway) but because of what that aunty would say.

Cut to 2011 and the aunty hasn’t met me in over 8 yrs but it’s as if magically her spirit seems to have split 400 different ways and turned into my Facebook contacts. Suddenly I didn’t just have to answer to the aunty. Now I had to answer to the 400 people who I don’t even remember anymore, demanding I go to South Africa for a holiday because switzerland was made uncool by Yash Raj.

We were answerable to that aunty when we were kids, and we’re answerable now to our ‘friends’ who sit around the world staring at their phones/computers and judging us for what we do and don’t do.

While we may have escaped forced morality by breaking away from our extended family, we seem to have gladly acquired a new set of friend-like facebook profiles whose sole purpose in life is to praise us for our sexiness (yes, that’s about that new pouting FB profile picture you put up) or to judge us for not having had that phoren holiday or not putting up pictures of those colourful shots that are so crucial to down for an FB album.

These aunties forced us to compete. And these FB friends are doing that now.

And not unconsciously, mind you. Very willingly. licking-their-lips-waala consciously. Pushing others into an imagined life of un-happening-ness.

Did you enjoy the feeling of staring at the mountain top in Leh as much as you enjoyed the envious ‘Likes’ from your fellow friends?

Are you living your life to please your facebook aunties. Or are you living it because it makes sense to you?

Just asking.


say no to guinness

October 7th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted in advertising, brands, PR


I know I’ve grown up on Guinness books which left me amazed at that women with a 13 inch waist and that Indian (always Indian) man with the longest moustache. Good times those.

But then somewhere along the way I got to see other ‘amazing’ things. The jackass’ on MTV, Kim Kardashian’s crazy family, America’s funniest videos and of course the coke and mentos guys. I’m sorry to say but it deadened my sense of awe. The longest, biggest, fattest, thinnest, tallest didn’t hold my attention.Not only did things have to be the ____estest, they also had to be interesting. More interesting than that bespectacled young man lip syncing the hell out of every song I couldn’t figure out the lyrics to.

So if this is what my world is like, why in the world would brands go all out and thump their chests, raid their coffers, spruce up their PR machinery for a measly Guinness World Record?

Why brands do it

- Their PR agency tells them it’s a sure-shot way to get media attention.

And this they go on to eventually prove in the form of PR valuation excel sheets that invariably will tell you that you got millions worth of free publicity. It’s fascinating how so much money exists on paper. and only on paper

In effect, the record is for the media junta. Who couldn’t be bothered.

- Their head office is in the US.

Trust me on this. Most brands attempting Guinness records in India for PRgiri are headquartered in the US. These brands would love to do cool interesting work but their HOs won’t trust them. And Guinness becomes this 3rd party translator between the HO and the Indian guys. The HO thinks ‘Diwali, Anna Hazare. I don’t know what that is. But Guinness. Yes that’s something I understand’. Please go ahead.

- They give you a plaque (oooohh!!)

It’s proof that you did something. You are the fastest growing market for the brand. You have been showing amazing growth. But all you did was TV. And God knows these know-it-all experts are pushing you to ‘push the boundaries’ on marketing. So you give the Guinness thing a go. After all, Guinness gives you a plaque to hang on your wall. And we all love shiny new things (oh wait it’s a paper certificate!)


- It’s legit

It makes your marketing activity legit. If Guinness says you’re cool, then you must be…. not!

Why the Guinness Record makes no sense

  • People don’t really care unless you’re doing something cool and fun. No, thousands of men holding a mug of water and attempting to shave is not cool.
  • You’re paying the PR company, the events company, the media company (for that oh-so-important 360 *buzz*). That’s one expensive plaque.
  • You can do way cooler and impactful stuff with a camera-phone and youtube
  • Who is your TG? And do they really care about this record you’re creating?


So before you reach out for that Guinness World record, answer this. Why do you really want to do it? We all know it’s for that case study you so wanna send out to your US team for that all-important pat on the back.

Company ka maal, darya mein daal?


This is not to say that it won’t work for some brands. But it really isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Also, this is an exaggeration. Else it wouldn’t be fun!