Maximum City to Silicon City

I’m writing this from a Starbucks somewhere in Bangalore (it’s nicknamed Silicon City because of all the tech presence. Mumbai’s nickname is Maximum City). There’s a group in front of me with a guy who is speaking without moving his head or blinking. He is either taking or giving an interview. Anyway…for the last so many years I’ve always written blog posts (on my old one which is now gone) about life stuff and at one point high fashion because I had a lot of useless info on it thanks to something I was doing. Honestly, it’s more fun to write about anime and such things now, coming back to it after many years…three super cool looking Buddhist monks just took the seat opposite the unmoving man. Do monks drink coffee? They arrived in an SUV so I guess these are some urban variety of monks. Wonder if they are recruiting.

Anyway, at-times I miss rambling to cyberspace about what’s happening in my life though, especially when it gets truly life-changey, so here goes. I’m moving from Mumbai (there’s even a book calling it Maximum City) to Bangalore next month due to a transfer in my work (a big thanks to my friend Aldrean for making those initial days of getting the process started easier). I’ve moved and traveled around a lot both within India and outside it due to many different reasons so this is nothing new. Bangalore is no stranger to me also though I’ve never lived here.

But it’s a bit more significant shifting like this because Mumbai has always been the one place on the entire planet which feels like home to me. It’s my city though I wasn’t even born there. It’s old name is Bombay and it was changed to Mumbai a few years ago. Anyway, not sure why I love this place. It felt like home from the first time I was here for a visit well over a decade ago and I’ve lived here in two instalments for six years altogether. But lately, I was starting to feel a bit left out there. Again not sure why. Nothing changed but I was just sort of done with it for a bit. Maybe the pandemic, don’t know. I’ll never be completely done with it though.

I guess I like Mumbai because it’s a bit like me. Something very old (I’m around 85 inside my own head) packaged in something young, not belonging to any one culture, religion, architecture, geography, you name it. It’s got old churches, ancient Hindu temples, a healthy share of the very few Parsi fire temples and Towers of Silence in the world. But it’s also got the hedonism and sheer materialism of the film and fashion industries juxtaposed against drab everyday corporate existences. It’s got the swankiest of hotels but also the seaside chowpattys where you can have a great time in under a hundred rupees.

It’s got hills and the ocean. It’s even been the hub of the underworld for decades but is still an extremely safe city to live in. I studied there and it never shuts down so it’s got the memories of finishing up assignments in the middle of the night to head to Marine Drive by the sea in Colaba in a tired stupor. It’s got my colonially hungover current home of Bandra and also the Naval base where I had found a very fun and frankly doomed-from-the-start romance. In fact, quite a few memories of misadventures both romantic and otherwise. It’s got me and even though I’m leaving it now I know I want to be back in a few years.

I’ve been spending a few days in Bangalore to figure out a place to stay and for whatever reason I’m ok with the move. Not ecstatic because it’s not Mumbai but it will do. The crowd here is much younger, most are techies (I’m not one), I have more friends here than are left in Mumbai post-Covid, it’s got that traditional South Indian vibes under a very, very posh and modern facade. It’s ok for now I guess. The toughest part of this change was starting to say goodbye to a team I built from scratch since they were given to me pretty raw and had been boss-less a while before me (it’s a total GTO situation…not). I was surprised to see actual tears when I told them I was not going to be working with them anymore (I didn’t cry cause I was supposed to be tough for them but I swear by my last day I probably will). Am still in the process of preparing them for the change but I’m going to miss them. Yet change is a constant and maybe Silicon City won’t be so bad.

Wherever I’ve taken an image from another website I’ve linked the original to the image. The ones without links are my own photos.

The Nicest Thing Anyone Ever Did For Me

This has nothing to do with anime or anything else on my site. Once in a while, I write little life pieces or poetry or something else and just like to post them. This is a story which I cherish quite a bit. It happened a few years ago during my internship while in MBA.

We had a summer internship of two months which for me happened to be in the manufacturing facility of a consumer goods company in the middle of nowhere. I used to stay in a city 60 Kms. from the Plant and travel everyday, leaving at 6 am and getting back around 9 or 10 pm. It was a temp assignment so I just took up a shared room in a women’s hostel.

My room was on the outside of the building and I shared it with a girl who was from the same state. I didn’t speak a word of the local language so she was my communication lifeline. Right outside my window was a tiny room where the hostel’s caretaker used to stay. She was a little old lady easily in her 70s and did not speak any of the languages I am familiar with.

We used to communicate through rudimentary sign language but she was very sweet and caring and we formed some weird bond. My roommate informed me the old lady was concerned about my crazy work timings. I’d try to communicate with her whenever I ran into her and mostly it was just smiles and pointing at things. This lady had a little radio on which she used to listen to music in her language, something which was an evening staple for us since the music would float into our room too. I liked it even though I had no clue what anyone was saying.

One random evening I was surprised to hear her playing songs in my mother tongue and was confused what caused her sudden change in music preferences. Then I figured maybe she liked to switch it up once in a while. From that evening on, I would hear the occasional mix of music in my language but never paid it much mind. It was only much later that my roommate was chit-chatting with the lady and came back to inform me she had started playing the new music because she was concerned I might be feeling homesick, posted in a part of the country so far away from where I was from, and she figured the songs might help me deal with that.

I cried at that. Who wouldn’t? This woman had nothing. She earned a bare minimum salary and her kids lived in a village some distance away. Both she and I were away from our homes but she was so concerned about a strange kid feeling lost that she was willing to sacrifice her precious music time listening to things she didn’t even understand just to help me feel a sense of belonging. I’ve always been a loner of sorts so maybe she sensed that. I don’t know. She and I were friends before but she just became so much more for me from that day. There was no way for me to stay in touch with her when I left since she was illiterate so I tried to help her out monetarily (surreptitiously because she would have never taken money directly from me) hoping that it might make her life a bit easier. I don’t know where she is now. Maybe she’s left the planet but I hope wherever she is, she is happy. The kindness of strangers like her has been a huge part of shaping me as a person and of all those instances, hers is the kindest of them all.

The Luxury Knock-off Markets of Thailand

This was a piece written back when I used to write about fashion…feels like another lifetime now. I never did write those Thailand travelogues….maybe someday. I also never took a photo of these stores…oh well.

A couple of years ago, I took a long vacation backpacking/mini suitcasing through Thailand (barely missed the Coronavirus outbreak over there, btw). While there is so much to talk about from that experience and I plan to do subsequent travelogues around it, one aspect really stood out very amusingly for me.
I had researched Thailand quite a bit while planning my trip and in the process had read about the thriving gray and black markets in the country but, since that wasn’t exactly my focus, I didn’t delve too deep into it. Cut to my first day in the country in the beautifully controversial city of Pattaya. After a bit of sightseeing during the day I had the evening off to myself before catching some of the Ladyboy cabaret shows the city is famous for so I decided to go check out the street markets opposite Pattaya Beach. 
You can buy literally anything there from Dragonfruit to a fake Rolex. I was strolling along scanning the shops when lo and behold!…walking past a shop selling local handicrafts I suddenly stumbled upon…a store full of designer items!…or at-least it seemed so at first glance. I froze for a moment when saw the sheer volume of items. Rows upon rows of monogrammed canvasses, since the one I had chanced upon apparently sold those exclusively, with a few fake leather token pieces in the back. I’d read somewhere about the new eco-friendly coated canavs Gucci has recently switched to but this shop actually ended up being the first place where I got to sample what that new material was supposed to look like…or something close to it. I saw the real thing later in a boutique in Bangkok and ended up with new respect for this knockoff mafia. 

The shop of course looked nothing like the natural fancy habitat of designer pieces-it was a temporary structure with bags piled all over. The owner was a paranoid looking man supported by a small group of young women who were happy to show you any piece as long as you didn’t ask too many questions. ‘No questions asked’ anyway seemed to be an unwritten rule of the place.

I saw the shop and immediately knew I’d found something to keep me occupied for the rest of the trip as a side-project (apart from everything I had planned to do of course, which was a whole lot). At first glance, it’s actually pretty hard to tell if the bags are real or not. They have Louis Vuitton down to an art and it’s only when you inspect the bag closely that you realize it’s a fake. They’re sold at a price point starting from around 1000 THB for an average-sized handbag and around 300 THB for a SLG. Of course, price varies based on how popular the original design is, how closely the bag replicates it, and how hard of a bargain you can drive. 
I found these shops across Pattaya, Krabi, Bangkok and Phuket with quality pretty consistent throughout. It’s not a legal business of course and if you are found in possession of these fake goods at the airport they will be confiscated but it doesn’t prevent almost every street market in the country featuring such stores in multitudes. Unfortunately they would not let me take any photographs of the merchandise and I did not care enough to bargain with them for it but I did visit every store I could find to try and understand the business. In each store, there would usually be multiple attendants and someone would be keeping a close eye on you at all times. Because of the legality aspect it was also pretty common for me to walk in on tourists in the backs of the shops with open suitcases, piling in pieces with nervous smiles at having found a “good deal.”
But here’s what’s off about this market. The first and most hilariously obvious example of just how commercial the intent of the whole thing is, without any understanding of what the originals really stand for, came to me in the form of a row of handbags in one of the stores. They featured the classic woven Bottega pattern with the words ‘Bottega Veneta’ neatly emblazoned in golden hardware on them…the exact opposite of the subtlety the brand is unique for. 


And then there is the quality. The bags are at that price point for a reason. The moment you hold one, you can tell the difference between the canvas of an original LV and the plasticky cheaper material used here. It looks almost the same but once you touch it you can tell it’s harder, stiffer and just feels off. It’s the same story with other brands as well. The pieces may fool you at first glance but if you are a regular user or someone who handles them often, you can easily tell the difference the moment you look closer or actually hold one. And if that’s not a giveaway then as soon as you open the bag you are bound to know. You may come across some pieces here and there which try to get the lining right but most often it’s just cheap material. They may monogram it but it still feels rough to the touch. Also, the hardware is light metal which you can tell will tarnish and discolor pretty fast.


From all my morbidly fascinated touring of these stores (I was doing other stuff too I swear but couldn’t resist walking in whenever I saw one of these) I realized that what they offer is a fascinating range between trying to get things exactly right (as in the case of the Gucci canvas) to absolutely not caring what they’re making as long as it looks designer. Apart from the Bottega bags I came across loads of SLGs and bags in designs the brands never produced in their history. There were many wallets and pouches which were a common design across brands. The people who sell them to you are also equally unaware and disinterested in what they are selling and can often get impatient and rude….though probably in that aspect they are rather close to many authentic luxury buying experiences (cough *Chanel* cough).
The purpose of this market is to give its clientele something they can show off. I couldn’t find some of the more complicated bags like the Lady Dior-though the Book Tote and the Saddle Bag were plenty along with sundry others in the Dior Oblique monogrammed canvas. Monograms form the majority and what isn’t monogrammed usually has a brand name or logo prominently featured on it. This isn’t a place for the sophisticated but a quick fix for those looking to find something they can show off to their friends. It can still be a pretty surreal experience though and if you are ever in Thailand do go check these out (hopefully they’ll survive what’s going on in the world now). 

How to Survive an Art Exhibition

Note: I’m moving stuff around from old blogs and…a lot of it is cringe and I’m totally ok just leaving it in the drafts out there but some I figured can be salvaged. Anyway, this was something I wrote long back during a phase of life which required me to attend quite a few stupidlypretentious art exhibitions.

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Art is a complex thing. A very complex thing…or so they say. It takes a true eye and an experienced mind to understand the intricacies of artwork which lays bare an artist’s soul to the world….or so they say.

Now, I am a conflicted person when it comes to art. Coflicted because I’m not sure I really get it. I mean fine, when it’s something like a piece from the Renaissance or a well-done sculpture, sure I can see the exquisite beauty of it, the finesse and amazing precision of each brush or chisel stroke and appreciate how much effort and skill must have gone behind the creation of such a fine piece. But dangle something like this:

in front of me and I’m lost like an Inuit in Turkey holding driving instructions in Japanese.

To make a long story short, most modern art makes no sense to me and hence art exhibitions by default don’t either. Unfortunately, in today’s world of “contemporary” chic, you’re not cool or even eligible for commenting on artwork unless you can come up with at-least five different perspectives on the sublimity and depth of something that looks like the aftermath of a chimpanzee’s meal. I am sure it’s all wonderful and I just don’t have enough depth to comprehend it but yeah I just don’t get it. So I came up with a lot of random and completely useless advice to survive an art exhibition if you happen to be like me i.e. required to attend but don’t know the first thing about what to do there:


Step 1: Dress to Shock


Sounds complex? It’s really not. No, this does not mean you can leave modesty at the door. This simply means that if you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb-don’t show up in jeans and a T-shirt. Unless of course you do it ironically or the T-shirt makes a statement. Anything to do with the world’s thousand on-going crises is fine or anything which no one in the room will be able to understand. Japanese is in, by the way. Of course, if you are classy you can always do something demure or suave but then all of this is anyway not for you so get lost please.

If you’re not the casual type or the event demands a bit more effort, the second best option is something I like to call Dressing like an Artwork. Remember that neon top you bought at that sale and woke up the next morning asking yourself why? Or that jewellery your friends claim can solve the weapons crises of several small nations? Or the hat your mom wanted to borrow to use as a lampshade? Well, this is where they all come in. Mix and match, baby. You’ll fit right in, at-least with the radicals who claim no one gets them. They won’t get you, so you’re automatically cool.


Step 2: Attitude


Now, this depends on the clothes. If you’re doing the jeans and T-shirt thing, regardless of gender, act like you don’t give a damn in the world. That’s why you’re dressed like that at a formal do. Because you don’t care what the superficial mortals around think of you. You’re concerned with much larger issues like how you’re going to sneak your scooter out before anyone in the group of snobs you’re hanging out with sees it. Unless of course you can pull the apathetic thing to that extent, in which case they might mistake you for the artist.

The demure thing is the demure thing and suave I leave upto your best judgement. However, if you’ve followed my advice and dressed like an artwork, it gets tricky. You can do the treat-everyone-like-crap, I-hate-the-world, no-one-gets-me, but then you run the risk of going home alone, ending up friendless, or in case you’re married, getting a divorce notice the next morning. So, here’s the deal. Be nice. Smile a lot and DON’T TALK. Act preoccupied and when you see an artwork, like you’re seeing things in it no one else can see. Try a small knowing smile to go with the whole. When someone asks you for your opinion or what you think the artist had in mind, give them that little smile, glance back at the painting with a small sigh, give your head a little shake and walk away. Do not, I repeat DO NOT open your mouth. They might think you nuts but at these things better crazy than “ignorant and uncultured.” Oh, and try to avoid staying at one place for too long to prevent encounters of the afore-mentioned kind as much as possible.

Step 3: Know Thy Artist

So you’ve got the clothes and you have the attitude. Now, artist. At the very least, find out their name. If you are going with someone you need to impress like your boss or a group of friends from office, google the name and read at-least three different pages, no more, no less. Find out basic style, family background, key low-points of their life, failures and you’re set. Boss: “Hey, what do you think of that little bit over there?” You: “Well, you see, the artist’s dog got the flu when he was ten. I think this reflects the pain he must have felt seeing the poor thing sniffle its way around.” Boss: “Very sublime indeed. And that little bit there?” You: “That’s from when his cat ran away.” Boss: “Amazing! You’re promoted!”…yeah no, don’t say shit like that.

Of course if you don’t have any pressing needs to be cool and impressive and are just accompanying a friend or wandered in because there was still an hour’s time to kill before your movie in the theater next door starts, read the name on the board and remember it. If someone asks you about the artist, here’s your reply: “I am a naturalist. I think knowing about a person creates perceptions which can damage the flow of the natural essence of the work itself. I don’t like interference with that flow, to contaminate it would be criminal. Artists are just the means, they don’t matter. It’s the work, which is right in front of you, then why bother about the vessel?” Say it like you mean it.

Step 4: Know thy Lingo


Essence, metamorphosis etc. etc. Learn them and use them. That’s what the net’s for. And then use your brain. Make up stuff, make it sound exotic. Also, talk to intelligent-looking people and try and get their take on it. Then, as soon as their back is turned, memorize it. Mix this with a bit of imaginative use of words and a little will take you a long way. Art is done by humans for humans and it’s very likely that the people with you are equally, if not more lost than you are.

And finally, if you follow all this and don’t get chased out with sticks or have your posters hung on gallery walls to warn against allowing you in, you have learned the art well. Cheers!

The Grief of a Pandemic

This was something I had written on my old blog on 25th May, 2020. It’s almost two years since then…1.5 I guess but strange how today is really not too different from what that day was except my location is flipped now. I was writing about the events of today and felt this belongs here too. The boyfriend mentioned here is long gone though and perhaps that’s the happiest thing about this post.

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I had a Eureka moment today. I am currently in my hometown with my parents and have been since before the lockdown. I had come here for a vacation and then the virus started to spread so ended up having to stay back. It is definitely better for me to be here right now than the city where I live and work, which is badly impacted, and I’ve been grateful for it every single day. 


However, as the days have progressed I have also been feeling a sense of growing anxiety which was not corresponding to being surrounded by loved ones at a time like this. And I was judging myself very harshly for it, feeling guilty about not being in better mental shape. 


Yes, of course there is a lot of uncertainty and bad news everywhere but I just felt that, not being in the middle of the impact zone, I should be doing better than I was. But reasoning and judgement did nothing to help me deal with it. 


Finally, I woke up today and found myself lacking the mental energy to even interact with my family and, without realizing, ended up spending more time in my room than with them. I still couldn’t figure out what was going on till I came across this article from HBR and the answer finally clicked into place. That was also when I realized that spending the day in my room was me subconsciously trying to recreate the solitude of my other home.

https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief?referral=03758&cm_vc=rr_item_page.top_right

I would often wonder why my parents don’t seem as impacted or stressed out by this situation as I am. After reading this I understood why. Not a lot has changed for them-they are still living in the same home they always live in. Yes they can’t go out as much but the familiarity of everyday existence hasn’t been impacted much. 


For me, on the other hand, everything changed completely without any warning. Over here, I’ve been living like a nomad. I had packed only three dresses, none of which I can wear around the house. So I’m wearing the few things I had lying around over here plus a few my Mom has kindly let me borrow. Work is different-things I was supposed to do are just no longer happening anymore.


I don’t know when and if my life will ever return to what it was pre-Covid. My friends are far away and I fear for them. I left my boyfriend at the airport thinking I’ll be seeing him in a week’s time only to have that week stretch out to nearly three months…with no idea of how much longer it will be. My home, my environment, and my life are all far away and I don’t know what shape any of it will be in when I go back. I don’t know if I’ll go back to the same city. I don’t know if I will be able to keep my job or if they will take a call on that.


Basically I don’t know anything and I’m a fish out of water over here. Of course, I am nowhere amongst the worst impacted but that doesn’t take away the fear of becoming one of the worst impacted, whether in terms of me or a loved one catching the virus, losing my livelihood or the general paradigm shift this will leave behind on the way we live and work. 


So then why did this realization help? It helped because it finally gave a name to what it is that I am feeling. I am feeling grief. Grief at the loss of my “normal,” grief at the possibility of loss, grief at what the people around me are going through…just many layers of grief. Having a name to it helps me understand it. It helps build defenses against it. It helps me compartmentalize what is a real concern and what is just a hypothetical situation. 


We are all feeling varying levels of grief and the only way around it is to recognize it and build a defense around it so we can come out of this with our sanity intact. It is important to recognize what is an actual concern versus what is just your mind spiraling into a negative pattern. What is going on may last a few months or many but preparing yourself mentally to deal with it, in accepting it and defining a new temporary normal will go a long way in ensuring you are able to cope.