Thursday, 28 January 2016

Sipping at the Sea Lounge

Sea Lounge at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai

I have had a love affair with Sea Lounge (at Taj Mumbai) ever since I was at Jamnalal Bajaj. As a part of the curriculum at Bajaj, we had group discussions that would last for hours, and those occasional times when I missed my last bus to Grant Road and decided to hang out with friends till the first bus left at 5:30 am or so the next day. Those were the times we would spend hours drinking kona coffee at Shamiana with all the money we could gather among us and animatedly arguing over some subject that I no longer recollect. Each time we expected to be thrown out in an hour or two but the waiters never got mad at us, never stopped us from going there, even though 4 or 5 of us would share only one coffee and completely abuse the idea of refills.

When one of my professors invited me to meet him at Sea Lounge for a 30 minute meeting as he was catching me between meetings, I felt as though I entered heaven. Even though we mastered the midnight coffee at the Shamiana, going to Sea Lounge was a whole different deal. That short meeting sitting by the windows of Sea Lounge is forever etched in my memory. I left for US soon after graduating from Bajaj and when I came back for the first time after 5 years, one of my first visits was to Sea Lounge and this time, with enough money to buy myself a gin and tonic.

Even now, whenever I want to be by myself and think, I go to Sea Lounge. It somehow reminds me of the distance I traveled and yet keeps me grounded. This evening I found myself wanting to sit at a place where I could put a structure to thoughts floating around in my head and my feet automatically took me to Sea Lounge. I knew that it was a good sign that a window seat was open.  I sat there as though it was my living room and sipped on my Fresh Lime Soda as I wrote. Once they realized that this is all I was going to have, there were no waiters hovering over me asking if I needed anything else. I was left alone so that I could travel into my own head and write uninterrupted for over an hour. And even though I contributed very little to the bottom line by my Fresh Lime Soda, the treatment was the same as they gave everyone else. As I left, a young man opened the door and thanked me profusely for being there. It’s amazing how memories from way back when still stay with us even after all these years. It’s even more amazing that the staff at Taj remains the same making everyone feel at home, no matter what their purse size. That’s why it’s a place where I never feel alone.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Here.. Now

The evening of December 19th. Around 9 pm. We were all on our terrace in Indiranagar, Bangalore having an INK holiday party. The railings around the balcony were decorated with lights, a large star hung from the Christmas tree naturally peeking into our balcony. The fake Christmas tree that I brought from home also claimed its spot in the corner with colorful lights, fake snow flakes and very real ornaments. At the center of the balcony, the DJ was playing music. Everyone had a beer or coke or water in their hands and we all feasted on very non Christmassy snacks from Adayar Anand Bhavan - muruku, spicy peanuts and the omnipresent potato chips.


Sush & Gowtham
Sushmita’s fiancĂ© Gowtham was there being queried and put to test by the entire team. I think that he passed the test with his unbounded admiration for Sush. When Sush was up at the mike, a few notes with tasks were passed on to her by her Secret Santa and she was obliged to do what the notes said. She was asked to sing and she surprised everyone with a couple of numbers from “3 Idiots”. When she was asked to propose to someone other than Gowtham, she turned to Abhi and said “Abhi! Can you please do something for me all night?”, and before Abhi could jump with joy, she added, “please keep singing all night”. We all loved our Sush’s sense of humor. 

Then, we had our secret santa presents exchange and had to guess who gave it to us. I was truly touched by how much thought and time went into each present that was given. After the exchange, we all gathered around to listen to Abhi singing while Harsh accompanied on guitar, in yet another display of surprise talent. With our alumni Anson, Nirupa and Sim, we are ready to launch the INK Band 
J. As our stomachs growled in anticipation of the pizza (yep! Another Christmas staple), the singing continued. 

Abhi & Sush
Abhi & Harsh
Vaibhav, Meghna & Sush
Swetha, Sush, Arnav & Harsh
Nandini, Arnav & Sush
There was a moment, when the world stopped for me as I looked at all the young faces that surrounded me. Sush and Gowtham, starting a new life and would be off to USA; Vijji and her husband yet to have their first wedding anniversary, Swetha with her pregnancy bump entering a new phase of life; Vaibhav chatting with his friends who joined him at the party; Harsh and Abhi singing; Rajat sipping wine chatting with Divya; Dipti and Nikhil reconnecting with everyone; Nandini walking around making sure that everyone is taken care of; my son Arnav, Meghna, Praddy, Pranav, Godwin, Nischay, Yamuna, her friend, and all the others – spread across the balcony; Ranjit displaying his dance moves, and the rest of them talking to each other animatedly. We raised a toast to Anu, Elizabeth and Srimathi who weren't there. 
I looked at each of them carrying their own dreams, desires and destiny. Each of them may move past INK for a different opportunity, better pay, relocation, marriage, a personal situation or whatever the reason may be. And I missed Sheena, Ram, Shalini, Anson, Deepti, Nemo, Erum, Sim, Nirupa, Priyanka, Nina and the entire NBO team – all those who were once a part of INK, now pursuing their own dreams and paths. I thought of our tough times, mistakes, upsets that we might have caused and all the things that I wish we could have done better. For a moment, I had a lump in my throat when I thought of all those who were part of INK and not with us today and also of all these youngsters who might be somewhere else and join us in the future. And then I realised that we all take a piece of INK with us as we write our futures apart or together. In that frozen moment, all I could see was a bunch of dreamers, idealists and nurturers taking a pause from their busy lives to just enjoy the moment.  And in that moment, my upsets, regrets, fears disappeared and I let that still scene be stuck firm in my heart. I am truly blessed to be here… now. 

& me

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

At TED2015 in Vancouver

At the TED2015 Hosts dinner with Chris Anderson on Sunday

After hours with Amanda Palmer on Monday night

Monday, 9 June 2014

Walk the view

The view from the apartment

I am blessed with very generous friends. When I was in San Francisco recently, my friend Gautam offered his beautiful apartment in San Francisco to me to have some “me time.” I had a long list of things to do – walk to the Safeway on Marina, which played a central character in Armistead Maupin’s books, have dinner at Greens, walk down crooked street, enjoy the nightlife on Fillmore, Union, Chestnut etc., etc., The moment I entered the apartment, I was transfixed by the view. I could visit every place I wanted to just by looking at it. I did not step out of the apartment for the first two days. I made one bowl of brown rice,  another bowl of chana masala and bought eggs, sour dough bread, lot of fruit and yogurt. Along with the home made pickles made by our super talented niece, Sangita, I was all set. I could have spent a week or even two weeks just drinking in the scenery, writing, reading, and just thinking. I would sit quietly and let my thoughts crowd my head. I watched my thoughts move by, and at times a certain scenery would click and I would tuck it away in my memory.

After a couple of days, I realized that I did not do any of the walks that I had planned, or visited the cafes and clubs. I was so enamored by the view that I forgot to do all the things I had planned. It is so easy to forget that I needed to get down to the street level and walk to burn the calories to stay healthy. It was so easy to be carried away by the view that I had to discipline myself to go downstairs and walk the view. I understood why my friend Gautam would have this amazing apartment and not live here on a daily basis.  Instead of just having a room with a view, he is choosing to walk the view.  He is at a startup in Milpitas.  So, it makes sense to live in south bay and come back to this view over the weekend. Moreover, he gets to share this view with all his friends and family. It is such a great gift that he is sharing with everyone.

I realized that this is no different than what could happen in companies as well. When the leader is having an aerial view of the company, they might fool themselves  into thinking that they  have a clear view of the workings of the company but unless they come down and walk the work place, they might miss all the necessary details.

Gautam did come by one evening, treated me to the most exquisite dinner at Dosa, showed me his stash of wine and port and went back to work while I learnt how to walk the view as well as watch it for the rest of the week. On a couple of evenings, I invited my friends and most of the INK Fellows in the bay area for an after-dinner drink so that they could enjoy the view as well. On the last night of my stay there, I sipped the contents of a small glass of port and watched the city lights and the scenery beyond, thankful for the quietness that surrounded me as a soft blanket. That beauty, that quiet and mostly the ease with which Gautam handed over his precious pad to me, would stay with me forever.

The view from the apartment



Thursday, 5 June 2014

Me time

I love collecting people, and as the curator of INK, my days are filled with meeting very interesting people. Even though I love every minute of it, on a periodic basis, I have to shut all human contact and go into some serious “me time.” And there are three ways in which I love to have this “me time.”

First is, alone time in familiar surroundings, once a month or so, on a weekday, I stay home. I drop off Arnav at his school bus stop, say goodbye to Rajat as he leaves for work, and ask our household help to leave early. I go for a long walk and then come home and sit in silence. No phone calls, no email, no talking to anyone. I may watch a show that I taped, have lunch, snack. There is no set time for anything. I eat when I am hungry, read or write when I feel like it and just have a totally quiet day. Arnav gets home around 3:30 pm and I resume my routine, get online, respond to calls, sit with Arnav as he does his homework etc.,

The second way is to do the same when I am traveling. This practice started when I was working at American India Foundation. I would be in India for close to 2 weeks, days filled with meetings, travel across India from metros to mini villages – staying with family, cousins, friends, or shared quarters. Typically, my day would start at 7 am and end at midnight. I would cram as much as possible because I was greedy to meet as many people as possible. I was completely captivated by the generosity of strangers, ability to form a family based on common passion and the beauty of the landscape as we traveled by planes, trains, and automobiles across India.  On the last day, I would come to Mumbai and stay at the Taj Gateway. My colleague’s brother used to work there and he would get me a discounted fare and a room on the 9th floor that overlooked the Gateway of India. On the last day of my trip, I would enjoy a clean, hot shower, total silence with a “do not disturb” sign, room service dinner, which would typically be spicy veg biryani with a side of sliced onions with lemon, salt and pepper, and raita. Even now, when I travel, I always make sure that there is one day at a hotel or a quiet apartment where I spend a day in silence at the end of my trip.

And the third kind, which I love the most, is to stay in someone’s home surrounded by comfort and beauty when no one else is there. There are so many people with “idle capacity” homes and I am the sole beneficiary of their idle capacity. My God parents have an apartment in cannon beach, a friend with an apartment with a view in San Francisco, friends with a farm house outside Bangalore and another one with a home outside of Montreal. I collect quiet spaces and have the generosity of friends who allow me to make it my space. This alone time in an already inhabited space makes me the happiest. There is a lot of beauty surrounding me and I don't need to worry about basic survival items and I get to make myself at home in a totally strange yet familiar place – so much so that after a day or two, I feel as though it is my own.  There is something amazing about making something mine and then walking away from it. I don't like owning too much and am way over my head with one home in Bangalore and another in the bay area. The way each person chooses to build the space and what they do with it, gives me a unique insight into them. It has become almost essential for me to have “us time” with family and friends and “me time” alone, each giving me the strength and perspective.

May be this is why Airbnb is so successful because there are people who are willing to share their space. Can you imagine what a wonderful world it would be... if you had a couch in every corner of the world available to you and all you need to do is give a small thank you gift in return?

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Morning Musings: Powai, March 13, 2014

March 13, 2014
Padmavathi Temple and Powai
Sunrise in Powai

I was at the Renaissance hotel in Powai, as we were hosting an INK Salon at FICCI FRAMES conference. When I walked out in the early hours to go for a jog, I saw the sun rise over the Powai lake and saw the IIT campus at a distance. Nostalgia took over me and I decided to go to the campus for a walk. I took an auto and arrived at the main gate of IIT Mumbai. As I did not have an alumni card, I had to wake up a friend of mine who was faculty, to talk to the security to let me in.  It felt wonderful to be in the campus. I walked past the new H10, home to many more girls than the old H10 that I once occupied and that had now been demolished. I jogged to the stadium grounds, ran about 4 laps and continued jogging on the main road till the end of the campus where the dorm built by Nandan Nilekani stands.

Me and Varun
As I was jogging back, I remembered that my nephew, Varun, was in the Masters program, on a deputation from Indian Navy. I called him and he came over to the campus to meet me. We walked to the other end of the campus and he took me to the Padmavathi temple in Powai. He told me that this was a centuries old temple. I could not believe it. With a waterfront view and tall trees, the temple compound was serene and beautiful. I can see how this place is meant for quiet meditation. I was on this campus for over a year (many moons ago, I admit) and thought that I walked every corner of the campus. But, I did not know the existence of this temple. I loved this role reversal where my nephew was teaching me about a place that I thought that I knew well.

I am all prepared for the future, where my teachers are perhaps not even born. And those that are born are at least half my age and definitely twice as smart.  

Padmavati Temple, Powai



Friday, 28 February 2014

Morning Musings: February 25, 2014, Mumbai

One of the things that my friends in US comment about India is the obvious disparity existing side by side. You see an upscale skyscraper and a slum right next door. It feels as though you can never escape the poverty.

                      

Then, there is the moral dilemma of what the rich must do for the poor, who live right next door. Why do we let this side-by-side contrast exist? Have we become blasĂ© to the scenery that surrounds us, when we walk past it every day? I was confronted with this question within myself when I went on a walk in Mumbai where I walked past tiny homes as well as huge apartment buildings side by side. I observed the people coming in and out of the small homes kludged together with corrugated metal sheets. A lady walking out of a toilet, a teenager hanging over the flimsy balcony chatting with an aunt downstairs, kids walking out to go to school with parents in tow – if I took away the condition of the housing or the clothing that one was wearing, they could have been in any neighborhood. None of them were sitting around moping to be living in these conditions – they were all working, moving about their lives making the most of it. Sometimes I wonder what keeps a person living in a small house spare the rich that spend more on the petrol in one day than the poor person’s entire monthly salary.

As I walked by these homes and the large apartment buildings, I could not help but feel a sense of beauty in this obvious disharmony. Why should only those who can afford it inhabit a wonderful place by the sea? There is some poetic justice in sharing the view with those less privileged as well. Since you live next to each other, the one in the small home might not feel the urge to torch the sprawling buildings next door, merely out of neighborly grace.

I found another option that could make up for the disparity in a lady I met on my walk. I noticed a group of children gathered around her with their notebooks. I stopped by and asked her if she was running a school here. She is Mira of Navjyot foundation. She said that she comes there every morning 7:30 to 8:30 am to help local kids with their homework and other questions. She said that the NGO does not need money but they need people to donate time to join her every morning.



As I walked away from her and her volunteers being surrounded by kids, I was left with a sense of hope knowing that the neighbors care.

I feel that the obvious disparity that exists could depress me, but the efforts to bridge the divide certainly left me with a deep sense of hope.

Get Involved with the Navjyot Foundation: Contact Mira Mamnani 
[ Phone: +91 9004390819, +91 9819421398, +91 2226409348; Address: 52, New Silver Home, 15 New Kantwadi Road, Bandra (W), Mumbai 400050 ]

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