A morning at Marine Drive

Making the most out of quick work trips is an art. I’d like to say I’m rather good at it. In the first week of January, I made an overnight visit to Mumbai for a meeting. I was fortunate, since the meeting was in Cuffe Parade, to be out up at the quaint old-world Sea Green Hotel right on Marine Drive.

Bombay, especially the central and southern parts of the city, is a big part of my growing up years and always has the effect of sending into a wave of strong and happy nostalgia. Marine Drive and Worli Seaface are those iconic places in the city that are on every Bombaywalla’s list of favourites. Mine too.

The Queen’s Necklace is regal and sweeping, its panoramic view and feel having the effect of slowing down your heart rate and making you open your eyes wider as you feel your face ease into a broad smile. And so I found myself waking up in eager anticipation early enough to get in a morning stroll along Marine Drive before I needed to leave for work.

From eager fitness enthusiasts, to cavorting canines. From excited shattering tourists to practiced office goers who looked like they had just stepped off the train and were catching their moments of calm before plunging into the madness of the day. And lovers, everywhere. Young couples lost in themselves, their backs to the world, their gazes out at sea. Exchanging gifts and silences. Sharing conversations.

A city of love, a city of excitement and noise and energy, and of poignant silences too. Bombay, it’s impossible not to love you.

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Ruminations on blogging, looking out to 2016!

Why do we blog? Because we have something to say, perhaps. Or a lot to say. Or something we think only we can say. Or because we want to find words to express what we think and observe.

Why do I blog? My blog has been as much a journey into myself as a documentation of what I see and do. It’s been an exercise in self-discipline or a mechanism to unravel and see patterns in the complex and intertwined conversations I have with myself.

I’ve also used my blog to set goals for myself and monitor them. Fitness, self-discipline, my journey in dance, travel targets and even career goals have found mention on this blog. New year resolutions too (2012-1, 2012-2, 2013) have been made and then assessed here. The blogosphere has been my confidante, my sounding board and my shoulder to cry on board, but it has also been my gauge!

Despite my blog’s pre-eminent place in my life, I haven’t written a lot on it this past year. A little over a year ago, I realized my posts were crossing several distinct themes. So I re-arranged my blog thematically, hoping to make it easier not just for visitors, but for me, to understand my own blogging behaviour. It’s been interesting to see that posts with a personal take are most visited, followed by those linked with my work in urban planning and policy.

Today, I’m at a crossroads and wondering where to take ramblinginthecity. Should it continue to be a personal exploration or take on a more knowledge-based position? Should I open it out to more voices or hone my own voice to be more powerful and much sharper? Should more academic content be on it at all, or find a new space elsewhere? Lots of questions!

As the first month of the year draws to an end, I can see 2016 is going to be the busiest and most exciting year I’ve ever had work-wise. I do hope I’ll be able to take my blog along with me on my new adventures. I fear it will be hard. I fear it will drop off on the wayside. But if it’s really come to occupy that space of the voice-in-my-head, I’m confident it will find new and interesting connections with my life! To another year of blogging……..

Kolkata’s delights: Eclectic Fairlawn Hotel

I’d only been once to Kolkata before, a long time ago. And I’d been dying to go. Our team at work had been engaged in a field study on auto rickshaws in Kolkata and a consultative workshop in December was the perfect occasion for us all to go in an engage with the project a bit more.

My colleague Manish, who is never satisfied with the usual run-of-the-mill stuff, bullied us all into booking what he called “a quaint heritage property on Sudder Street”. It’s only when we got there that we realized this was the famous Fairlawn Hotel. With its interiors painted a bizarre green, its walls cluttered with newspaper clips, photographs and paintings, and its rooms full of eclectic curios, Fairlawn is a sensory explosion indeed!

We spent quite a few amused and excited moments recognising famous faces, including Patick Swayze and Shashi and Jennifer Kapoor (who apparently spent their honeymoon here!), several photographs of British Royals (I’m not they ever visited though!) and some very detailed water colours of Fairlawn that I particularly liked. Fairlawn’s infamous owner Violet (Vi) Smith, who was well known as a talented racconteur and host, passed away at the ripe old age of 93 only in 2014! One could see, standing there in those rooms full of atmosphere, that Fairlawn had seen some really interesting times! The building, I gather from news reports online, is over 200 years and was inherited by Vi from her Armenian mother. Through its history, it has been a home, a barracks and mess for Canadian airmen during the World War II and finally, a hotel that was a must-visit for foreign visitors in Kolkata for years. Vi’s daughter Jennifer runs it now.

Amid our busy work schedules, we managed to sneak in some crazy pictures of ourselves in Fairlawn as well as some moments of leisure chatting while standing in its historic corridors.

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Manish and Persis lunching in the outdoor area of Fairlawn’s restaurant, a popular hangout for the hip and cool young of Kolkata

 

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The dining area….green is the signature colour of Fairlawn!

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Persis, all ready for our workshop, in the hotel’s breakfast room

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Post-workshop goofiness! Ming vase? Ooh la la!

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And the Bankura horse too!

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Lovely water colours, my favourite wall art in Fairlawn

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Another one…

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The upstairs living room where Vi held court

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The stairs going up to the rooms

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Outside the rooms, hangout space

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The goofy selfie- Moi, Persis, Manish and Shamindra

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Grins in the mirror

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Nostalgia for Republic Day celebrations of yore

On the lawns in our residential complex, an excited crowd gathers for the Republic Day celebrations. Several commercial establishments promote themselves. Free pizzas and burgers, discounts on coaching classes and real estate ads. One corner has a line-up by the talented child artists of the colony.

Centrestage is the bunched up flag, waiting to be unfurled. And when it is unfurled by a senior citizen known to us all by sight, the crowd cheers and claps. Then takes selfies. Several moments later, someone remembers that the national anthem is yet to be sung. Voices pipe up. Many of us join with gusto. Kids shuffle. People slouch. Others stand cross legged. One mother walks right across the lawn in the midst of the anthem to fuss over her child.

I have to say I was shocked. And then I stood there mentally reprimanding myself at how out of tune I am, how old world, how judgmental. Yes, the world has changed. Standing at attention to the national anthem is no longer a measure of your patriotism. Heck, you don’t even have to know the anthem by heart any more! Following up the anthem with Honey Singh numbers is absolutely fine. Who wants to listen to those boring ‘desh bhakti’ songs three times a year? ‘Saare jahaan se achha?’ Again? Why?

I’m filled with nostalgia for the simple celebrations of yore. Nothing commercial. Standing together and singing simple tunes that everyone could join into. Kids showcasing a multitude of talents. People of different classes joining in. Simple sweets, usually laddoos and small samosas, being distributed to everyone. People dressed smartly, even traditionally. A genuine sense of community.

Of course, those who turned out to celebrate together today are also upright and patriotic citizens who love their country and work hard for its development. What then does this mean, this giving up of the rituals of patriotism that served us well for decades? What does it say about us, our creativity, our attention to detail and our sense of occasion when Diwali and Lohri and Republic Day are all celebrated in the same way?

I don’t have answers to these questions. But I do have the questions.

And they burn inside me…… As I raise my children into young adults, as I make important decisions about my future and theirs, as I experience the tremendous social changes that mark the India of today. And I wonder, what’s the connection between what we do and what we are.

 

 

Today’s food experiment: Pancake Tacos

So much when you cook and before you can say ‘Jack Robinson’, it’s on the kid’s blog :)

theamazingud

Our breakfast this morning was an innovation by our mother and it evolved from the constant demands from me and my sister.

Pancake Tacos: Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • Milk (as required)
  • Apples
  • Any cheese
  • Butter/Olive oil

Method

  1. Put everything except butter/olive oil, milk, apples and cheese in a bowl. Stir and add milk until the batter flows back into the bowl when you tilt a ladleful. Leave the batter to rise for an hour.
  2. Peel and chop apples finely then set aside
  3. Heat pan and spread butter/olive oil on it.
  4. Put a heaped ladleful of the batter on the pan move the pan until batter is equal everywhere.
  5. Put a lid on the pan until one side is cooked.
  6. Then flip it and on one half put the cheese and the apples. Then carefully put…

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Housing the homeless: Understanding demand can help create robust housing strategy

Homelessness is a concern in cities across the world, both in the more developed Global North and in the Global South, where poverty and inequality are of urgent concern. Yet, from my broad readings on the subject, the connection between homelessness and housing appears to be tenuous in the eyes of policymakers. And increasingly, in the modus operandi of NGOs as well.

Let me explain. While it appears rational that the response to the problem of homelessness must be an attempt to increase access and supply to affordable housing, responses to homelessness are nearly entirely focused on addressing its manifestations. Soup kitchens, temporary shelters, education and healthcare interventions, usually spearheaded by NGOs, are some examples.

The gap in housing policy has been bothering me for a while, but I was emboldened to write about it today after reading my friend Carlin’s piece that frames these concerns rather directly. She posits that India’s ability to provide shelter to the homeless will hugely contribute to the success of the much-feted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Her piece focuses on Court-directed pressure on Indian State governments to build homeless shelters. However, my sense as a housing expert is that there needs to be some thinking around other housing options for the urban poor. Unless there are housing mobility choices available for city dwellers, income notwithstanding, a discuss focused on the building and management of night shelters seems to be a piecemeal and unsustainable solution.

There are gaping holes in what we know about how the poor, homeless included, make housing choices. We know even less about what would their ideal choices be. Because of these gaps, good intentions often translate into poor policy.

Governments find it easy to promote supply-side interventions like homeless shelters or even rental housing, something that has appeared more aggressively on the agenda of late. The Government of India’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation recently brought out a Draft Urban Rental Housing Policy, which recognizes the homeless as a “vulnerable” group to which social rental housing supply should be directed. In Odisha, the State government is exploring the construction of rented accommodation for informal sector workers, particularly in construction.

More needs to be known about the demand side of the housing market. The choices and preferences of the urban poor must form as much a part of the housing strategies of Indian cities as those of middle- and high-income home renters and buyers (research on the latter is thin as well!). This is one of the essential first steps towards achieving a functional urban housing market.

The ‘odd and the even’ – the other benefits!

sitanaiksblog

So today the 5th of January, I got to work in my odd numbered car, and it took me 10-15′ or so less than usual. I have the privilege of working part time and flexi-time. So the ‘odd-even’ formula has  not had me scrambling for solutions to commuting problems.

For those unfamiliar with the term that has become part of the our lexicon of late – Delhi recently achieved the distinction of the ‘most polluted city in the world’ and the State Government took a decision to implement a policy of ‘on the roads, only cars with odd no. plates on odd days and even on even days’ for the period of 1st to 15th January. They did this around 10th of December and in the 20 days to the New Year,  build up was interesting (hmmm!!) and showed up the petty side of many players. While the print media…

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My Christmas in 2015

Udai’s Christmas was very exciting this year! Check it out…

theamazingud

My Christmas this year was an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. My family and I went to visit my mother’s friend’s house. Kimberly is my mama’s friend from work and she with her mother, Jean, and father, Wilson, invited us to their home in Mumbai to celebrate Christmas.

The Noronhas are Catholics and so began my experience of an actual Christmas. My previous Christmas experiences consisted of getting a tree inside the house, going to sleep jumpy on Christmas eve, then waking up on Christmas morning and opening my gifts. This, however was a different experience maybe not so much because of the things I did, but maybe because of the way I did the things and the mood of the event.

These were things we did-

  1. We set up the tree and put a lot of decorations on it. Unlike the tree back home this tree looked extremely good. We also…

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2015 in review, from WP

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 35,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 13 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Remembering Geeta Dutt, missing daddy, enjoying the melancholy today

It’s her birth anniversary today. Geeta Dutt, whose voice influenced me deeply in my growing years, teaching me that its not the perfect tone and pitch but the soul that makes good music. I spent hours on end listening to the collection of Geeta Dutt songs we had on cassette. There was a small cassette player that I would use, not the larger music system that stood in my parents’ bedroom, where Hindustani classical music would play in the early hours of the morning and through the long evenings as well. The little cassette player was mostly left to my use and Geeta Dutt ruled the roost here. I remember the play-stop-rewind-play routine we used to pen down the lyrics of all her songs. Considering I had hardly any Hindi on me at the time (we lived in Bombay and I was fluent in English and Marathi only), I wonder what sense the words made to me, but I loved them nevertheless.

Geeta Dutt’s melancholy numbers appealed to me the most. I’m listening at this very moment to ‘Mera sundar sapna beet gaya‘, from Do Bhai, Music by SD Burman. The song is in Raag Bilawal and Annu Kapoor reminded me this morning, as I tuned into his radio show Suhaana Safar with Annu Kappor on my way to work, that the song was Geeta’s (she was then Geeta Roy) first solo break in 1947. Other favourites continue to be ‘Koi door se Aawaz de, Chale Aao..‘ from Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam (1962, Music by Hemant Kumar, Lyricist Shakeel Badayuni) and ‘Kaise koi jeeye‘(1964, Baadbaan, Music also by Hemant da) . The desolation and desperation that Geeta Dutt could bring into her voice left everything else far behind and took me, even then when I was not yet ten, into a very different world. A world where only emotion mattered.

Annu Kapoor signed off this morning’s show with the immortal ‘Vaqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam‘ (1959, Kaagaz ke phool, Music by SD Burman, Geeta Dutt was in her prime in Guru Dutt’s movies!). As Geeta Dutt’s voice came through over my car stereo, the tears began to flow. I remembered sitting on daddy’s lap as a child, my ears glued to his chest, hearing him sing along to the stereo. I would tilt my head to watch his face as he sang. His eyes shut, a smile on his lips, his face resplendent with peace and joy.

In his time, my daddy would have put modern day Bollywood fans to shame. When he was young, he used to watch the First Day First Show of as many Hindi film releases as he could. He could tell you not only the actor, producer and director for nerly every film released through the late ’50s and early ’70s, but also the music director, lyricist, playback singers, and many stories peppered with gossip about the affairs, the tiffs and the saucy politics of the Hindi film industry. But when the music played, he would not speak. He would be totally immersed.

In the last few weeks of his life, daddy would ask me to sit next to him and sing. And he would too, as much as he could. He told me the best thing he did was encourage me to learn music. He told me that my voice gave him the deepest possible pleasure.

He left us so many years ago, but the gaping hole he left behind will never be filled. No wonder the melancholy in Geeta Dutt’s filled me with a deep personal pain this morning. A pain I did not fully understand as a child, a pain that now fills me with despair but also tinges my moments with the sweetness of nostalgia.

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