Sunday, April 8, 2007

grace kelly and I

Have I ever really talked about my morning ride to work? Such a special time of day... about 8am and the streets are just awakening. I step out onto the street in front of my building and wait for an auto to pull over. It's an interesting little dance... you can't even call it a conversation - that you have to determine that the driver will take you to your destination. Going to work I say "Malad - InOrbit mall' and then if he's willing (which he usually is in the morning) I will see an imperceptable twist of the head or roll of the eye indicating for me to get in... and that was my 'yes'. At night... the autos cluster around the entrance to our glass megastructure... waiting for all the call centre workers to pour out, and when I say 'Andheri West (Vest is more how I say it... in one quick string 'Andherivest') Lokhandwala Circle', usually quite a few are not interested in the shorter fare and shake their head once or grimace a little and look away. It took a little while to learn the language... but I have it now.

So... I climb in and grab my long scarf to make the necessary arrangements so that I arrive looking a little human. It's a fast ride and the good drivers really pick up some speed when they can.The autos are completely open to the wind on either side... so those of us with long hair can end up with quite an afro if we're not prepared. So, twisting my hair into a braid and hooking it under a bra strap, then tightly swathing my scarf around my head... I am able to hold down most of the flyaways and keep it under control. With sunglasses on I always feel like I'm doing a Grace Kelly impression though... and I can't help but feel incredibly 'white' ... sigh :( Oh for that olive skin that lies deep within my genes! ...perhaps I could have a reverse Michael Jackson incident ;)

On the days I wear a salwar kameez then I use the dupatta to wrap around my hair. They're really long though.. and it's almost like a turban has snaked its way off my head and tried to strangle me.... looks a little amusing I'm sure. Unwinding it at the end of the ride is like unwrapping a mummy!

The auto drivers are notorious for not having change. For a 30 rupee ride I can often get grief for only having a 50 rupee note. It's my fault for not knowing the language that I can't argue the point.... I can tell him to go left and right, and straight, and to stop.... and I can say some pretty nasty things about his mother and sister (not that I would!).... but I don't know how to tell him that he should bloody well have 20 rupees change at all times!! I think it must be one of the most valuable things in this city... the 10-rupee note! Don't leave home without it!!

The drive in the morning goes along some back streets that are tree-lined and have dogs awakening, people walking and amazingly... hardly any traffic. We pass businesses and shops that are closed ("Gym and Tonic" anyone?), chai stops, coconut stands and head onto the main Link Road where things are a little more busy... but still distinctly alive with the morning rhythms. One stretch of road is lined with autos getting washed. They glisten in the sun, and some lean to one side as their drivers make adjustments to the tiny engines underneath, the three wheels making it easy to tip over and get to the nuts and bolts of the machinery.

People are washing and shaving on the streets... every aspect of the morning ablutions is carried out in full view. Cars and people all getting cleaned. Water splashes everywhere.

We drive past the mutton and poultry stores.... small vans loaded with 'broilers' the fat and healthy white chickens destined for a short future I try not to think of, are ready to be unloaded. The mutton is of course, goat... and often I will see them milling about in front of the store. It's amazing that they are loose and don't escape. They are all nibbling away at stuff on the streets and appear calm, content and very healthy. Coming in all sorts of wonderful and varied colours, they are some of the loveliest goats I've seen.. and though their future is sad too.... I think they probably have a much nicer life than livestock destined for western tables. Sometimes they are curled up on the side of the street almost like a dog. I swear though... being a vegetarian is one thought away!!

As we see the mall appearing ahead, I tell the driver 'left laner' and he has to brake from the speed he was able to gain on that one little stretch of road. He turns before Hypercity and we drive past all the motorbikes parked along the roadside. 'Bus bus' I say and he pulls to a halt next to the security station at Mindspace and the 10-minute ride is over. Hopefully I have the right change... coins even .... and I thank him in hindi. I often get a shy smile as I say thankyou more than once and meet his eye, and for one more moment I have a little connection. These guys ride all day in the heat and monsoons.. for not a lot of money... and their world fascinates me. Gotta learn the language Jude.... so much you're missing out on!!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

pujas and presidents

S'been forever hasn't it. .... I feel a bit stressed at how much time has lapsed on the blog... but then not a lot has happened really, so I am just going to write some snippets and wing it.

Whatever that sickness was, it got a hold of me and gave me quite a bear hug. A course of the scary Cipro later and I still didn't seem to be getting rid of it.... and everyone at work was getting a bit worried I could tell. I'm not very good at being sick.... no... let me rephrase that. I'm actually *very* good at 'being' sick since I have been so much in my life.... but I'm not good at it around other people... and I tend to just want to hide away, hibernate it out, so to speak. This is a country where everyone helps everyone though... and I'm sure they wondered why I didn't want a lot of attention. Finally though I started to see the other side of it, which was lucky as I was missing a Rather Big Event in R&H history. John Hughes had come to India!

John is the wonderful and remarkable person who, along with his colleagues, founded Rhythm and Hues. He is the president and owner... and has inspired a lot of us in ways he'll never really know. Now that he has this Indian facility - which has existed for 5 years - everyone has been urging him to come and visit, but we never really thought he would. But... the planets aligned and a butterfly sneezed, and he was invited to be the keynote speaker at the FICCI Frames Conference.... so... it was really happening!

I was out sick for several of the 5 days John was here... so I missed out on some of the excitement. At work it was almost too 'exciting'... with the admin team being put into super-high gear to get things ready for his visit. He's a very easy going person and will have wanted nothing special, but it *was* the first ever trip... so things had to be perfect.

I felt very emotional when I first saw him.... gave him an enormous hug. Even though I knew we didn't have much time to talk right then... and may not get to, there was something about seeing him at this office that meant so much to me, it gave me quite a lump in my throat. I wasn't to know that that was really just the beginning.

So.... as I said ... I was out sick for quite a few days.... but 'dragged my sorry ass' in to work on the afternoon of the last day of the conference to go to the company meeting. Of course it was a super-special one with John in attendance and everyone in really high spirits. John made a great speech.... had us all laughing and on the edge of our chairs feeling very proud of the office here. I know I was holding back tears at the things he said... and I could see how heartfelt his emotions were. Many questions were asked and when he went over his amazing life story of how he found himself in this industry and the founding of R&H... I think we were all like little children around a campfire listening to a great storyteller. Of course when the introductions were made and people had to sing or dance - John was a great sport about it. His choice was to sing a chinese song that he sings for his children. It was fantastic... and the crowds went wild! Very good... I wonder if they will see this tradition starting up in LA ;)

I hadn't just come in for the meeting because Vani had said we were all going to a Bollywood 'extravaganza' that night. Serkan, Burcin, Jane and I headed off in a hire car to the lovely Renaissance Hotel at Powai Lake where the conference was held. Oh my....what a view! The hotel and its grounds look towards a cityscape across the lake, and at night it twinkles and sparkles as cars drive along the waterfront like little networks of fireflies. I was mesmerized.

We sat outside in the heat and watched a rather amusing and *very* unprepared presentation that signalled the end of the conference. The one thing I did enjoy was a dance academy that did number after number to the latest Bollywood hits. Man... talk about *stunning* women and men... and holy crap could they move! The costumes were a bonanza of colour and mirrored sparkles and it was truly a feast for the eyes and ears. Our problem was ... we needed a feast for the stomach too! By 9:30pm we were famished. It didn't help that they had a huge buffet all at the ready that wasn't going to be served until 10:30pm and the smells wafted over us as we sat and watched. It was too much to bear! So we headed in to the hotel to look for restaurants. We found several including one that served a buffet, and though we didn't really need something that large so late at night... we were ready! Serkan even had 5 desserts :) Though we hadn't seen any Bollywood stars, the food was bloody good and the magical view and dancing had been a lovely break from all my days of sickness.

The next day was John's last at work. He had been meeting with each department seperately to meet everyone and answer questions. We had the lighting meeting in the screening room, followed by group photos. I could tell how much he was enjoying it all. People are so responsive here.

At the end of the day Vani had organised a puja at work. The priest I had seen at the temple way back on Valentines Day, had come to perform the long and somwhat solemn ceremony. Anyone who wanted to participate was invited to sit at the back of the room. Jane and I were asked to come, and we sat cross-legged watching Vani and John going through the many ministrations of the quiet and trance-like ceremony. There were so many flowers and the room smelt wonderful... and as the priest tore them up and gave Vani and John the petals for the three of them to throw onto the images of the goddess, I felt myself floating away on the monotone chanting of the mantras and the sweet scents drifting through the room. Even a cold stark office building can be made into a little piece of heaven here in India! Only my stiff knees and slouching, aching back brought me back to reality... and as John was given an apple and flowers, and drank curd from his hand, I hoped that perhaps we were near the end of the ritual.

As the tika powder was applied and the formal ceremony was over, it was time for the rest of the company to join in. I looked behind me and realised the room was crowded. One by one we were handed the tray with the burning flame on it to wave slowly in front of the goddess.... it felt very calming and meaningful, though I don't know what or who I was thinking 'to'. India gives us extra things to strengthen us though... and having been so sick, it did feel nice to be part of this small ritual that was so colourful and full of flowers and fruits and foods.

Each person knelt down for their blessing or prasad... they prayed in their own individual way and received the tika and a small amount of water in the palm to drink. Then... the thing I knew they were all excited about... a bright orange ladoo. This is to me, a special Indian sweet... they are so saturated in colour and are moist and sweet and kindof fall apart as you bite into them. Hehehe... pretty mouthwatering. Worth finding and trying if you can! They always make me think of the old lady in the movie 'Water'.... all she wanted was a ladoo... that was all.

The priest recognised me from the visit to the temple. He was to prepare an astrology chart for me... which I still have to go and hear about. But he was chuckling and clucking away to the others in the room as he looked at me. I asked what he was saying... apparently I have gotten fat since he saw me last time (boo!) ... he also said I will get married in India. Well... that's easy for him to say.... if he can suggest where to find this likely lad who doesn't care about the hands of time or the colour of skin, then I might think he's onto something ;)

~ ~ ~ ~

On that last evening we all went out for dinner with John. It was a local restaurant we all like, not far from work. Aryans serves tasty food and is comfortable and has a good atmosphere.. though don't go if you're in a hurry... they take a l-o-n-g time with the food ;) It was all the managers and Jane and I... and though many of us were tired from a long week, I think everyone enjoyed it. It felt good to be sharing dinner with John again after so so long. There was one surreal and quite delicious moment where I listened to all the managers discussing very indepth concepts of astrology with John... I wish I hadn't been feeling so yukky, it was very nice to let the conversation wash over me. Several of them have read or are reading Shantaram, the book that is totally engulfing me at the moment. I can barely bring myself to finish it... but it's the most amazing book I think I've ever read. It was so good to talk about it and know others had similar thoughts. I'm nearing the end of the book now.... exhausted as if I'd been hiding behind rocks and watching everything right in front of me. I don't know how it's going to end... don't want to know. But it makes me love this city more and more and gaze in wonder every time I step outside the door.