Sunday, January 7, 2007

daze and nights

[pics to come when I'm not on dial-up]

So much time has passed.... and life has passed and I can't capture it all. Last time I was without the Net I was diligent and had it all written as separate posts ready to put online when I could. But things have been so busy and I am sorry to say it’s one giant rant this time. It's 2007... how did that happen?! Last post was on Christmas day and that already seems eons ago. At that point Arun had some time left here and the apprenticeship was still in its formal training. So.... I better backtrack to that point.

I spent a very mellow Christmas day, which was good after the craziness of the day before. The last few years in LA I have ignored the holidays, but still felt a little low at Christmas, and it was good to be here in such a different place and able to ignore it easily. It was a pretty hot day and the plan was for Serkan, Burcin and I to go for a sushi run! We had recommendations for a fancy place at the Taj Hotel downtown... a restaurant called Wasabi with a chef who had trained with the famous Nobu in Malibu. Good pedigree if nothing else! I had made reservations several days in advance.... so I met them at the Infinity Mall and we hopped in an auto and headed for Bandra to change over to a taxi. The point to note here is that autos can not go further into the city than Bandra, so you have to change to a cab there. Man.... it really was a stinker... reminiscent of summer Aussie Christmas days with no a/c. The traffic was really heavy... I guess we imagined it might be better, but it was *bad* - and when we changed to a cab we were in a heat trap inside that Ambassador. By the time we reached Churchgate we were all very bedraggled little rats feeling not that great.... 2 hours later! Yup.... the quest for sushi is a serious one!

We wandered around the incredible Taj ... with plans of a drink and then sightseeing. But I think our exhaustion with the drive and heat just made us really hungry and we decided to see if we could push our 8pm reservation forward to when they opened at 7pm. We had a drink in the very old fashioned and lovely ‘gentlemans bar’ below Wasabi (oldest bar in Mumbai) and headed up the spiral staircase to the classy and gorgeous Japanese restaurant. Really amazing place with views straight onto the Gateway and harbour…. world class in everyway. We drooled over the menu – chose appetizers of carparccio and miso, followed by chef’s plates of nigiri and rolls. The sake we ordered, recommended by the waiter as very smooth was delicious… smooth like the one I have in my fridge back home :)

OK…. so sushi at Wasabi is not something you could do often here. I have all sorts of conflicting feelings about it. The food was great… but it came out to about $120 a person. Now I really know I am truly one of the lucky few in the world and can do that sometimes…. as I do in LA with friends occasionally. My favourite sushi place that I go to every few weeks is a $70 meal right there. But once you come to India… and see how little you need to spend to get a wonderful meal… and more importantly – *much more importantly*, how little most people around you have – if you are any kind of reasonable human being, you have to feel a certain sense of sickness in your insides at spending that on yourself for a meal and stepping outside with little children coming up and begging for money. I’m not sure where exactly to put it all in my head and heart… but it’s something you have to come to grips with. We all have to figure our way through this world… and how we can make it better from being in it. Conflict is everywhere internally and externally and that will always be my challenge to move peacefully through it and try to not add more conflict to the world. Best I can do I think.

Oops.. enough of my philosophizing there! Anyway…. the week after Christmas, Arun was back from visiting his family in Coimbatore in the south, and we had our last week of classes for the apprentices. It wasn’t very structured… overviews and some pipeline tools. We tried to cover things they might not have understood.

Friday was a special day in several ways. It was officially the last day of formal teaching… also Arun’s last day, and the release day of Night at the Musuem in India . R&H had worked on the movie as the principal VFX house, with the India office doing a great amount of work. The office had bought tickets for everyone to go late in the day so the excitement was high.

We planned to take the apprentices out for lunch to celebrate the end of their training, and as a surprise for Arun. We went in Prashant’s car the few minutes drive from work to a place called Pop Tates… infamous from Danny Speck and others who had been here from LA. They had a long table set up for us. Arun and I made the mistake of offering to buy everyone a cocktail but were quickly told that there is no drinking during office hours, and that that is not just an R&H India policy….but an LA one too. Hehehehe… ok…. now I don’t know if that is in the employee handbook in LA but I can assure you it is SO not adhered to…. hahaha. The barfridges at people’s desks alone make a mockery of it ;) Anyway…. they provided us with a tasty lunch and lots of nibbles. And at the end two big pink cakes were brought out for Arun. Fun for all.

I have to say my favourite moment was the ride back to work though. As we left, I saw Imran getting onto his motorbike and I called out asking if I could ride back with him. What a thrill. Now probably 40% or more of the traffic in Bombay are bikes and they are just so cool. I have been dying to get on the back of one. Some are scooters but most are various kinds of motorbikes (including the gorgeous Royal Enfields… still made here) that can hold the entire family bundled onto the back seemingly without effort! Impressive :)

It was such an adrenalin rush… zipping in and out of the traffic. You never get to go fast, but you get to really move around – which you don’t in a car, or much in an auto. The air is flowing through your hair (ok, so you’re left with the windblown look) and you feel sooo free! I know the passenger has the advantage since the driver is having to deal with all the stress of the life and death traffic.. while I just sit back and laugh and hoot and enjoy it all… but it is truly the way to travel! Sigh… I am a-d-d-i-c-t-e-d!!

It felt like a transitional day for some reason… a moment where I was cementing new friendships that will be with me for a long time. As we headed out for the movie and mingled in the lobby waiting for everyone to assemble, and I was exchanging mobile numbers and organizing to ride on the bike again… I could suddenly see a picture of my future life here. I have been so accepted … welcomed and blended into worlds. It took years for that to happen in LA… but here it was the blink of an eye.

Of course a great bike ride to the cinema … a new one I haven’t been to near Infinity Mall by my apartment. We all milled about outside talking for a long time… then moved inside where it was HOT… no a/c in the lobby. The movie started very late but the amazing thing was the seating! There are all levels of seat types… as you move back in the theatre they get fancier… I was in a big fake-leather thing like an armchair.. incredible… you can actually curl up in this thing. So comfortable. No more expensive either. At the back they have ones that fully recline and you can sleep in them… hehehe… the make-out chairs. ;)

So… the very very different thing is that Museum was the first English movie released in India only in hindi! ("Museum Ke Andar Phas Gaya Sikandar") Haha… I was pretty excited about this. I can’t say it had looked to me like a great contribution to cinema… in English anyway… but perhaps in Hindi it might be a little more interesting! Seeing it with the group that worked on it though…. now THAT is an experience not to be missed. They screamed and hooted all the way through… for every shot they worked on. Just great! A real sense of pride and enjoyment. I could pick up the story mostly… lots of English words always creep into Hindi, plus this wasn’t rocket science! It was a thrill when I caught a Hindi word here and there I knew. By coincidence the day before I had learnt that when kids need to pee the word is ‘su su’ and there is a scene with the monkey peeing with Ben Stiller clearly saying su su which made me laugh because I knew it! I’m learning all the important stuff here, people!

Afterwards, lots of chatting outside…. everyone was buzzing from seeing their names in the credits! A big moment as I think this may have been the first time folks from the India office got credits… though don’t quote me on that. I felt really happy for them :) Their work looked wonderful. I met up with 3 of the senior lighters – Imran, Kunal and Kiran and we headed off for dinner. Still weren’t sure where to go so we rode around and finally settled on a place in the Lokhandwala market called the Food Inn. I had a tasty biryani and a sweet lime soda and tasted everyone else’s food.

A little note… the sharing of food here! … it is INCREDIBLE…. In the pantry (the lunchroom at work) everyone is eating from each other’s plates. Those who have brought in home cooking are sharing… calling people in to share their breakfasts… it is much more than just having the taste of food from each other’s plates that we do in the west. So giving and blindly generous without a thought. One friend always brings me packages of his mother’s incredible halwa dessert… made from carrots. I had liked it when I tasted it at Indian restaurants in LA but the homemade version will blow your mind. And now I get these foil packages of it to carry home and nuke for my late night pleasures! Very spoilt!

Ugh… the Saturday morning after the movie fun did not start nicely. I knew how it would begin and hadn’t been looking forward to it. Arun was leaving… my new little brother, partner in crime, advisor in all things Indian and male and romantic, and general buddy for all seasons… not to mention the best roommate I could have ever had! Who would have known that we would become the closest of friends.. sharing everything with each other? As I said to him, though I was losing him I had gained him in my life and that was a bigger thing than this physical loss… and we shall be buddies for a mighty long time I know it. Once again… India provides…. But that bastard…. he made me cry ;) Noone makes me cry dammit! And I have been missing him a lot. What a good time we had… laughing just so much.

I spent the afternoon in at work as I felt a little lost without Arun. Plus I needed to make a plan of action for the mock production we were going to run for the apprentices. Two shots in 3 weeks… as if they were in real production having dailies and making changes presenting to their supervisor. It needed to be as real as possible. It turned out a couple of friends were in at work as well… and we all sat in the training room with the a/c on and hindi pop radio on listening to a bunch of my favourite songs. Very good! :) It did turn into a nice day. You are never alone for friends in India.

Next day I went to the InOrbit mall by work to try and find some things to wear for our New Years eve party that night. It’s a slightly different experience shopping here. The shop assistants are very attentive..almost to the point of being pushy. But they are all sweet and gorgeous to look at…. which helps. I went to lots of places. Got everything except actual clothes. I guess I wasn’t really sure what I wanted… hard to shop without an Indian advisor! I did get a couple of pairs of the neat leather shoes Vani had. They are so unusual… hard to describe too. They don’t have a left and right (!), and are stitched together quite roughly, with a leather sole as well. I was pretty hesitant about them, but they have been so surprising – wearing in quickly, shaping to your feet… no blisters, comfy and fun. I will have to find more.

A CoolCab (the rental vehicles you can get for a day – driver and car that will wait diligently for you everywhere) arrived to pick me up and get Serkan and Burcin… to then head out to Prash and Vani’s place. I hadn’t driven right up to the other apartment before… it is certainly fancy at the entrance level! We piled in and took the drive out to Mudh Island where the Buyyala’s live. Although not really far from the office as the crow flies it is a long circular drive around marshland and into real country roads. It felt like we were so far away. Very pretty and lush and through village areas. I couldn’t believe they travel that far to work every day. But, it’s all relative. If you were going past urban areas it wouldn’t feel so far… it’s 45 minutes really… an average LA commute! But the countryside made it feel sooo far. Very pretty though. And once we arrived at their palacial buildings which look like a giant resort of Oberoi standards we were just blown away. Burcin fell in love with it and is determined that they will find a flat there to rent for their year in India. My fingers are crossed for them. Prash took us for a details tour of the grounds. I can’t really put it into words except that it would look at home in Dubai or Saudi Arabia or any of the exotic MTV videos you see shot in locales like that. Quite stunning and gorgeous. And the view from their balcony is straight across to work… over the marshlands to the city skyline. Dramatic and beautiful and peaceful. You’d never need to leave it!

We went for a drive to the local village. The fish market was underway. There was no mistaking that for sure…. my nose was tickled in every little pocket. It was a little .. shall we say .. rich.. at times! Though the fish is all fresh, it’s just sitting in the open on slabs of plywood and being cut on treestumps… so it can’t be that clean when those are washed at the end of the day for the next catch to come in – I can’t help thinking. The variety of fish was phenomenal! So many…. in all shapes and sizes. Right down to tiny little bonsai sharks, flat flounder-like fish, the local pomfret, catfish, big tuna, tiny shrimp, and so many many more. It was dark so worth visiting another time with a camera when the light is up. Really fascinating. Vani bought fish and shrimp for our dinner and we headed back. She effortlessly put together a meal of many courses… what a talent – one I am in awe of since I can boil an egg and that’s about it ;)

After Vani had dressed us gals up in her cool clothes, we headed out at around 11pm for the New Year’s Eve Goan Grind not too far from them near The Resort. We got their to find a lot of people, food, alcohol, the usual party stuff. It wasn’t really anything Goan but a nice atmosphere. Full of really young people… I guess because it was one of the cheaper New Year’s events… plus all the booze you could drink for free! We got something wet and headed towards to throng of people dancing. It wasn’t a huge crush of people and we found a spot and started to have fun. At one point my arse got grabbed which was a little disconcerting, but I was lucky as both Burcin and Vani had one aggressive guy grab a breast and they had to really hit him to get him off. Not nice!

We danced and danced and there was a lot of fun Hindi music, including my current favourite ‘Beedi’ from the movie Omkara. When midnight struck people went crazy with their drinks and sprayed them all over the crowd and we were totally drenched in beer, Bacardi, scotch and god knows what else. Sticky and oogy! My hair felt matted and awful! It got more packed and we were getting pushed around so we decided to move on. Found a nice patch of grass with speakers near the port-a-loos so we set up there and danced away for the rest of the night. Much nicer!

The party was advertised to go from sunset to sunrise… but in the middle of a loud song the music suddenly died as we saw a line of Mumbai’s finest march in to put a stop to things. The organizers had obviously not ‘done the needful’ and paid the necessary bribes to the cops to make sure the party could go on past 1:30am. Noone was surprised.. it’s a very normal occurrence with nightclubs getting the treatment all the time… so we all sat around waiting to see if bribes would be paid and the music would start up. We eventually saw them leave with bottles of alcohol (hey, I guess they wanted to live it up on New Year’s too!) but obviously no money changed paws and the party was pretty much over. We gradually made our way to the car and met up with the CoolCab driver who had patiently waited all that time (ji, they are truly an amazing group these drivers!) and Serkan, Burcin and I were driven all the way back to our apartments. There was barely any traffic on the roads…. a sight to see in Bombay. By the time I got it in was actually 3:30am and I was still awake. I made some calls to LA and crawled into bed around 5am.

The week flew by. The mock production started with some pipeline issues but the apprentices were all patient and are now working away on their shots and dealing well with the marathon daily sessions! It takes a long time to go through each shot as we have to get them used to presenting their shot as if they were having a video conference with the LA office…. quite a discipline in itself and very different to dailies I’m used to. I am impressed at how well they are adapting and trying to do it as well as they can…. especially with the challenge of another language.

Yesterday was a wild and funny day. It was the end of a busy week and my energy levels were very low…. I was yawning all day, but somehow I got my second wind and ended up having a lot of fun by the end of it. We managed to get dailies finished just in time for the notorious monthly company meeting which I had heard about and been dreading! It initially echoes the LA version with Prashant going over all the company news…. what we are bidding on, job news etc. We don’t look at financials though.. which is kinda nice since they are always so depressing… haha… and then the various coordinators give reports of each department – how many shots there are on each show, and how many are finalled etc. I think they would normally show shots as entertainment, but LA had a blackout and there was no access to the system there so we couldn’t show anything. Good thing too… the meeting was over 2 hours as it was! It's very lively too - people are very vocal through the whole thing… lots of laughter and cat calls.

So now to the real guts of the meeting…. where it gets interesting and freaky! The introductions of new people! each person has to get up…say a little about themselves, answer questions… and then… sing or dance! If they don’t…. someone.. usually Vani… will invent something more embarrassing for them to do! It is a hoot and gets everyone going. They call it ragging, and it's a tradition from college that really breaks down barriers and gets people into the group…. It works because the group is not intimidating and is very sweet and teases kindly. Not the kind of meanness that you’d get in Australia, for example. I got up as the 3rd person and it was initially a lot of fun just talking. Everyone was really into it… my comments on hating the Aussie cricket team got cheers, and when I said a line in Hindi the place erupted in thunderous applause. I will never experience that in my life again…. so for that one moment in time… I lapped it up, dude!! Haha! But…. it all fell apart when I had to sing. I had decided to sing Roberta Flack’s ‘Killing Me Softly” but I was soooo nervous … never sang cold in front of 150 people … and no music or anything… and I started in a much higher key than I should have. My voice was wavering, my face went red…. and I had to muddle through as quickly as I could. That moment when you realize you’re singing it too high and there’s nothing you can do... is - an - ugly - one!! Blegh. Oh well…. what can you do! Haha. Afterwards I realized I should have sung a Maori song from New Zealand… that would have been so much more interesting for them! So we had to go through a lot of peoples' ragging…. all the apprentices and some new animators and coordinators as well as us from LA. It took a LONG time. We finished about 7:15 and there was cake and food for all the anniversaries and birthdays.

The night’s fun and hilarity really began when I headed out with Imran, Kunal and 5 others :) Of course it also indulged my favourite new addiction…. riding on the back of bikes. And the fact that there were 8 of us on 4 bikes made it like a great little gang… zipping in and out of traffic together, calling out… playing games of catch… it was really fun. We headed over past the apartment to a fun parlour.. and I did something I have avoided doing since I was 15… bowling! There were about 4 lanes… we took up two with two teams of 4 and proceeded to laugh our arses off. I can truly say that this is not my calling in life… I will not be a bowling hustler any time soon …hehehe. I could win the prize for coming last however! It was fun though :)

After the bowling, we rode over to one guy’s house for table tennis. It was set up in the garage-type area of the apartment building… and we wiped the dust off, tied up the broken old net and then played very loose versions of table tennis. Really fun… also something I have not played in a long time. I am so impressed at how well these guys are able to enjoy themselves and let people of any level take part. It’s all very encouraging, uncompetitive and in-the-spirit-of-fun. Not the do-or-die kind of thing I see in the US all the time. We had ordered Chinese food and while we waited we played the most fun and silly game using a table tennis table I've ever seen! Imagine this if you can…. all 8 of us in a circle around the table. The two people at either end have the two bats and start to hit the ball to one another. As soon as the ball is in play, the one who hit it hands the bat to the next person who has to hit the next returned ball and hand the bat on again. Everyone is running around the table in a big circle and if anyone doesn’t hit the ball in time, or hits it out, doesn’t grab the bat or something, they’re out! This means the group gets reduced fairly quickly and people have to run faster and faster to get from one end of the table to the other in time to hit the returned ball. It is really fun and just has the whole group laughing and yelling.

Food arrived to our famished group and we went upstairs and sat on the floor and devoured the tasty noodles and chicken and rice. I was so impressed at the communal clean-up effort… guys sweeping the floor and everything! Afterwards… it seemed the night was over …but no! We got on the bikes (midnight now) and although it was really chilly we decided to go to the beach. I hadn’t yet been so it was a great idea to me. They rode past my nemesis – Rice Boat – the restaurant that made me so sick in my first week… hehehe.

We turned down a side alley… with the roads empty and this cool gang of Easy Rider’s yelling out to each other from the backs of their metal steeds, I couldn’t help but feel like I was actually in the Wild West for a moment. It was quite magical. We parked at the end of a cul-de-sac and walked down some sandy steps to the water. It was the beach alright! The tide was high and the waves were angry. Big surf rolling in and crashing on the sand right in front of us… as if in a challenge. I dared them to a skinny dip…. no takers! On each side of us were giant jagged rocks so we couldn’t walk anywhere, but standing there and just watching the waves was really mesmerizing. Every 4th or 5th one would actually crash from one end of the beach to the other - chopping in a violent way, and with your eyes closed you could hear the sound move from one ear to the other most dramatically. It was really something. Everyone enjoyed it. We stood for quite a while… especially as it was much warmer at the beach than inland.

Got home around 1am or later I think. It was a great evening. Such fun people… able to make really enjoyment from simple things. It’s hard to put it into words.

So…. another monster post… but I think we’re up to date now. For the most part. I just need access to the Net to be able to actually post this… hehehe.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just read it through twice. Better than a book!