Myriad Images at a Mumbai Barber

Hair Cutting - Rs. 20.

It seems like it is time for my quarterly haircut. How do I know this? Well my raven-coloured hair have grown into a uncontrollable mass of cellulose, which in their moist uncombed state are taking the shape of an ecosystem more diverse than the Sunderbans.

Pali Hill, Bandra, for all its amenities, is filled with barbers the likes of which charge large amounts of money. Alas, this is a burden my light wallet cannot take. I am forced, like an economic migrant, to commute to meet my hair hygiene needs.

A glass store front, rimmed with wooden blue welcomes me. Etched in red on the glass are the styles and fashions the 'Hair Cutting Saloon' deals in. Barber shops in India come in various avatars viz. the corner nahee [barber] who sets up his unpolished mirror and rickety chair under some tall tree or a puccha [brick] barber establishment that employs several such masters of the trade. Scissors, brushes, stainless steel blades, and circular foldable plastic razors are the versatile tools of their trade. Inside men wait patiently on worn-out rexine sofas, hiding their faces behind a local newspaper or a glossy gossip-spilling film magazine. As I enter the men make space for me, bunching up together almost by reflex and one of them hands me an old issue a film magazine.

Stylised posters of popular Bollywood actors and screen starlets adorn the walls. Barber shops often become tiny Meccas to Indian film culture and the sense of style derived from Bollywood or the local cinema. If a film becomes a 'super hit' fans want to emulate their favourite stars' hairstyle. It is a place for music and entertainment as well. No shop is complete without an old pocket TV in a corner or a grungy loud cassette player or a small portable transistor radio.


My turn finally arrives and I am lead by the smiling wrinkled man (who I assume is going to be my barber today) to the chair. I prop myself up sloppily on the chair and stare into the mirror right back at myself. The barber chair is old and is a cross between a "lazy-boy" recliner and a dentist chair. Parallel mirrors have this magically quality of affixing me with a sense of wonder. Myriad images of me, my barber and everybody else in this tiny colourful room give me a sense that I am part of something big, a momentous occasion when a man and his sharp tools are going to rid me of some excess dead tissue. I am woken up from my day dream by tiny droplets of water sprayed from a mobile dispenser. The barber observed my long hair for a moment and then softly whispered into my ears,

"Sahib aap ko dandruff ho gaya hai."

[Sir you seem to have dandruff]

I nodded in the affirmative. He continued talking to me as he now tried with some difficulty to comb my hair into some shape,

"Sahib apko kaise baal katana hai?"
[How do you want you hair cut]

I looked at him sullenly through the mirror as I said,

"Bhai sahib sab kuch kat lo, bilkul gunja kar do"

[Brother, cut it short - real short, just short of making me bald.]

Thirty minutes later, I emerged from the shop satisfied - a presentable man .

[Cross Posted on METROBLOGGING Mumbai]

'Seasonal' Greetings

As the seasons change the festivals change too and incidently so do the greetings.
Here's Wishing you folks a very
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Merry Christmas from India !!
[A banner underneath read "POUR OUT YOUR LOVE "]

Entrepreneurial Enchantment

The Tilt is Intentional.

The first time I set my foot in the narrow people strewed lanes of Mutton Gulli, better known to most as Chor Bazaar, I had a fever and a pathogen induced delirium that one associates with such increased body temperature. Yesterday, when I re-visited Chor Bazaar, I realised that my mental confusion and fluctuating consciousness on that occaision was not a side effect of my fever but had merely set in atmospherically in the entrepreneurial magic that weaves together one of the world's most enchanting bazaars.

In the last few months I have come to realise, partly through my blog and the eyes of my camera, the beauty that surrounds me; a beauty that charts common people and even though we drown ourselves in it everyday we seem to miss it and it is all there pristine, waiting to be discovered by a little effort on our part. Yesterday, in search for this beauty [which I miss throughout the week in my insulated office environment] I trudged through some of South Mumbai’s entrepreneurial nerve centres - from Crawford Market through Zaveri Bazaar through Abdul Rehman Marg to Bhendi Bazaar ending my quest some distance away in Chor Bazaar. The result in pictures [as usual] and some words, but mostly pictures is as follows.

[This old lady dressed in differrent cascades of blues rest her eyes and weary feet on the pavement]

Some People Play with Fire 2
[Brass blacksmiths guide molten metals into shapes we can use. Some people play with fire every day.]

Some People Play with Fire
[Sparks fly and the mercury soars but people do not forget to smile.]

No it's not Gold it's Bread.
[All that glitters is not gold - these are not gold bars but loaves of bread.]

[It's a hard life but people adapt and bear the load.]

Nimbu Pani - Lemonade.
[Sweet cold refreshment is never far]

(Cathing up on the daily news )
Wheels of Commerce
[In the commercial capital of India the wheels of commerce never stop]

[A dazzling array of bangles at Null Bazaar.]

Road Signs
(Now you know what happened to your grandfather's car)
Empty Chairs.
[ A atmosphere of dejection - like two old people in a doctor's waiting room.]

Did you say Junk
[In a city that wastes nothing, everything has a market as long as you are willing to pay something for it. Junk is a word that does not exist. If it has a use it will be used to its maximum.]

Oh fair Maidans of Mumbai !

No ones there

A patch of green in a sea of grey - the overpowering smell of green grass .
“Oh sweet chlorophyll where am I ?”
There are very few places in the city that can boast of green as their predominant colour. Pheroza Pink may be but green is very rare. What am I referring to here ? Well its the fair green Maidans of Mumbai. ….. there is no spelling mistake here and no disrespect meant to the many fine maidens of Mumbai……what I am talking about is the open green spaces that have survived this city’s onward run towards mass concretisation.

At the Crease More Cricket
[A Game of Cricket at Oval Maidan.]

Oval Maidan for one: square metres of undisciplined grass and the odd cracked make-do cricket pitches. People of various age groups and of various proficiencies playing the Indian games of games-cricket. Then there are the avid fans of the game that sit there, sometimes in the bellowing sun, watching the lanky bowler swooping in to bowl from the Rajabai Tower end. All this, much to the delight of the peanut-wallah, who sells his salty wares in odd cylindrical cones of rolled up paper for tarnished two rupee notes or shiny five rupee coins. There is also Shivaji Park, which is famous for much the same reason [read cricket] and infamous for the odd political rally and the traffic jams that one associates with the same.

Venus On The Rise
[Venus on the Rise at the Royal Western Turf Club. A Winner he was]

The Maidan I visited on Sunday is so posh that it is not even considered to be the maidan- the Mahalaxmi Race Course, officially known as the Royal Western Indian Turf Club (cough cough …), which off late has been associated with a hot air balloon and an eccentric Indian tycoon with too much money and loads of free time. I had the free time but not quite the money but I still landed up there for the races. I have never been to the races before. As a matter of fact, I have never been to any competitive sport that involves men or animals trying to get from point A around to point A again in the shortest possible time frame. All I know about horse racing is from the movies. Therefore, I imagined it to be a snooty event, where the women were all decked up in their best pearls with funny ostrich feathered hats, sipping apple martinis; and the men I thought would be smoking cigars and drinking bourbon. I am sorry but my imagination sometimes gets the better of me. The Mahalaxmi race course is divided two enclosures-one costs Rs 25 and the other section which is a dinner jacket affair, the entry here is more or less hereditary. Mahalaxmi is definitely one the city’s ever decreasing alveoli, the old woody trees breathing in all the smoke for the lot of us.

[The K.C Adeshir Cup, the winner gets this.]

Old World.
[Circa 1945 sorry correction 2005. ]

[The World ceases to matter]

Vivid expressions, avid hand movements and a sea people greet me. It is like the trading floor of the Bombay Stock Exchange, only it is Sunday and we are no where close to Dalal Street. White washed stalls on high pedestals line the rectangular quadrangle. Punters on high beach chairs shout out the odds and the crowds respond shouting back, waving their Coles Race Guides with swift movements of their hand. I am getting restless-where are the horses ? In search of the young stallions I go. A television set [was broadcasting live a race] with men sitting around it biting their nails and watching with the concentration of four year olds enjoying the Sunday morning cartoons. I was expecting to see some Sea Biscuit action but scanning the course there were still no ghodas [horses] in sight. I frown and look to my neighbour- he seemed more than energised and steadily swayed in his place, cringing his teeth together, mumbling a number over and over and over again.

“Come number 6, you can do it, Number 6, Number 6.…. Yes number 6.… 6!!!”

There I am leaning against the white picket fence on the edge of what is the race course, hoping to see a race horse or at least a couple of them, with some trippy pagal [mad] guy standing next to me, mumbling the number 6 like it was going to bring him some kind of spiritual salvation. Then all from nowhere, accompanied by a long stringent ecstasy induced shouts from behind me the horses galloped by spraying small outgrowths of grass into the air.

Too Close to Call
[A Sprint for the finishing line. If you choose to enlarge the picture by clicking on it - you would notice that none of the 12 legs are on the ground. ]

[Number 6 here incidently came last much to the dismay of the guy next to me]

Let your camera be your ticket to the high life. Tired of the aam junta I tried to cross over to the Rich & Famous side of the race course.

Guard [pointing to the camera],“Boss, Aap photographer hai ?”

I think to myself-I do take photographs and that technically qualifies me as a photographer [though not a photojournalist]. I nod in the affirmative and he lets me through. Lets face it horse racing in its Indian avatar is an angrezi [English] hangover and like other English sports it has its traditional quirks. Races horses are first paraded around like a scene out of Passage to India with an Indian adopted colonial feel to it. Once the parade is over they are herded in the starting enclosure and then the commentator takes over guiding the hypnotised crowd with his baritone voice stressing on each word as he spits it out giving an over emphasised tone to the proceedings.

At the races
[Some'games of chance' require research. The parsi couple in picture seem to take their research very seriously. ]


Side Food Note : If you plan to spend a Sunday at the races do not leave without trying the Turf club’s heavenly smoked chicken sandwiches. Gulp it down with some Mumbai signature Raspberry Palonji Soda.

That’s my meandering post for the week. Heres to all of Mumbai’s green spaces.

So long and thanks for all the oxygen.

Trivial SoundScape - On a train in India.

I'm taking a break from my usually scheduled programming to bring you something new - audio. Not quiet podcasting but sound all the same. Very exciting !!

"The soundscape I'm presenting is typical of a long distance trains in India– where footmen go from carriage to carriage to selling everything from 'sonpapri' to 'garam samosas' to 'newpapers' and 'tinkle comics'."

Listin & Enjoy. I picked this up from Soundtransit and is originally recorded by Maksim Shentelev. If this pans out well I'll try and bring you guys more sound and voice.

The issue I'm having with this is that it starts playing on its own - Any suggestions.

Gilbert Hill, Andheri, Mumbai.

A Bombay Winter

Fans of the 1977 movie classic, Close Encounters of the Third Kind would remember the strangely menacing mountain that for much of the movie is the centre of much alien curiosity. Yes I’m talking about the Devil’s Tower, Wyoming, USA . Devil’s Tower, from what I can understand from Wikipedia, is a 1267 feet (386 m) Monolith (or more technically an igneous intrusion); which in plain people speak is a giant column of sedimentary rock sprouting out from the earth. It is a hardened magma plug from an extinct and long eroded volcano. Definitely a place I would love to visit.

[Devil's Tower : A picture Henk & Anna on Flickr]

I don’t know how many of you Mumbaiwasis [people of Mumbai] know this but our very homely suburb of Andheri is home to a baby cousin of the Devil‘s Tower - Gilbert Hill.

[I would have tried to get you a better picture but many sides of the hill were simply inaccessible]

Wikipedia Says
Gilbert Hill is a 200 foot (90 m) (the height of a 10 storey building) monolith column of black basalt rock in Andheri, Maharashtra, India. The rock has a sheer vertical face and was created when molten lava was squeezed out of the earth's clefts during the Mesozoic Era about 65 million years ago. During that era, molten lava had spread around most of the Indian states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, covering an area of 50,000 km². The volcanic eruptions were also responsible for the destruction of plant and animal life during that era.

Gilbert Hill was interestingly much bigger but sadly urbanisation and constant quarrying has eaten away at the edifice of this monolith. The hill has incidentally been declared a National Geological Monument. The hill is home to two temples and is accessible via a steep staircase.

The hill is closed to the public between 12 noon and 4 p.m. I for one, did not know this so I hung around the base of the hill talking to some kids, who live in a slum nearby. Children provide a great outlook of a community- you can tell a lot about where society is going by talking to the children growing up in the society in question. These kids were sharp, inquisitive and very witty. Talking to them was quiet enthusing

Twinkling Eyes
[The children were fun to talk to and we had a long conversation mostly on Bollywood and their love for a computer game called Need For Speed. Their favourite actors were Salman Khan and Sunil Dutt. They explicitly mentioned that they don't like Shahrukh Khan.]

Gilbert Hill, Andheri
[The temple priest on Gilbert Hill]

School Girl in Blue
[She was smilling a minute ago but now is more pensive]

The hill was a quiet reflection of Mumbai, an oasis of green on a 90 metre high plateau of solid rock, surrounded by the man-made sprawls of concrete. The temple priest sat in his chair, the peaceful environ summoned him into a deep sleep. In front of him lay compartmentalized the prasaad.-a prasaad of coconut water, tiny cut coconut and sugary delight. The low flying Brahmani kites adjusted their flight paths as they shrieked past just above head just as a gentle sea breeze blew in the opposite direction. It was as if I had left the city that enveloped me on all four sides; it was just me, the temple priest, the cheery school girl, a few lazing crows and many fearless kites. It was a pleasant 20 minutes of casual thought watching the city around me.

Gilbert Hill

[Gilbert is not the only monolith I've visited. Here is Sigriya Rock in Sri Lanka. If you wish you could read about it here]