‘Pakmodia street, the HQ of Mumbai underworld gangs’

This morning when I heard that a building had collapsed near Pakmodia street, it was a walk down memory lane. As a reporter and lover of old Bombay, I had gorwn up with the tales of crime and underworld.

Pakomodia street, once this name would send shivers down the spine of people when the underworld ruled the old streets of Bombay. People dreaded a phone call or visit from this locality till the 90s. A person was called by ‘Bhai’ or his man meant the worst. The Hussaini building was where Ibrahim Kaskar, the father of Dawood and his family lived when he worked as the head constable with the Mumbai Police. His eldest son, Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, alias Bhai, ‘D’ started the Dawood gang from this street.

In the urban legend of the old Bombay city, Pakmodia was the Head Quarters of D gang. From late 60s, 70s till early 80s, there were there were 3 main gangs, Dawood, Pathan, Karim Lala and Haji Mastan. The Pathan and D gang were juxtaposed opposite each other, even geographically. These were the two ferocious gangs that were violent and controlled initially the smuggling, supari killings and were notorious.

These were situated in Dongri, off Mohammed Ali Road. From there to Byculla boudn ary began much later Dagdi chawl, the den of Arun Gawli. Then from Jacob’s Circle or Saath Rasta, was the domain of Amar Naik. Even today police believe the Pakmodia street has spotter, informers and is the stronghold of Dawood. Families are said to receive calls from Bhai and there is informal exchange of information and business.

Till many years after Dawood fled from Bombay, the room where his father lived was locked. After Idrahim kaskar returned to Mumbai he began staying in the same vicinity. He recalled the childhood memories of living in the old Hussaini building, where his father had a room.

For Mumbai police though this was an area for ‘look out.’ They were tricky days for policing and many a challenging night. “Long back Pakmodia was known as Dawood’s gulli. One of the main gang of the underworld was headquartered here,” Rakesh Maria, the former commissioner of police said in a telephonic call from London. Maria recalled his days of policing in this area, “This was the origin from where Mumbai’s underworld began.” Maria said the location was such that areas were demarcated. “On one side was the Pathan gang and on the other Dawood gang. Ahead was Haji mastan, these were the main gangs.”

These controlled the crime – murders, shoto outs, extorition, smuggling and much later drifted into drugs and major killings.

Veteran IPS officer and former DG of Maharashtra, Arvind Inamdar was one of the first to have gone in this area to bust the smuggled gold. The mention of a building collapse and Pakmodia brought a cheer to his face. “Yes, I remember Pakmodia street. Sometime in 1988, we had raided this street. Gone inside and busted their plans. We seized gold worth Rs 3 crores at that time. It was the first time police had taken such a strong stand,” said Inamdar.

This was the first kind of direct action by police in Pakmodia street, for which the entire team was enthusiastic. Inamdar would frequently parole the area in plain clothes. “I would go to Pakmodia and the entire area in plain clothes as part of my job. In fact one could see spotters. We ensured that whatever action we took, the police would have an upper hand.”

Today, life has changed a lot. Name of Dawood does not evoke any awe or fear. Residents would rather stay away and get on with their lives. Nature too has its way of alarming. Dawood’s younger brother Ibrahim Kaskar who lives in the adjacent building got a rude shock this morning when his building too vibrated as he heard an explosion-like sound when the Hussaini building fell.

Million views or make millions

I’m not sure you have seen this video or not. If you haven’t I suggest you SHOULD. As a journalist I had learnt that one always gets a bloody good story in ordinary life! This video too my friend and co-creator of this YouTube channel #thereport and me got from ordinary life. We don’t track our videos on a regular basis. Sometimes we do, when suddenly we remember we have shot lovely videos, we have a channel and as a small reminder to ourselves we tweet them. the best part is while surfing YouTube this afternoon I read we have received a million hits!

Wow! This is called a video has gone viral, right? We entered this virtual world to make millions, we are to make a beginning nowhere near million, but we have reached the million mark of hits. Now you will not have read of it or heard in any mainstream media. Because we do not lobby with the tech writers who obviously do not do proper research. But the virtual world is tracking it all and also has acknowledged our video. A young girl contacted us Last year on the comments below this video requesting us to allow her to feature the video. She wanted to also feature the team behind this. and that is how we were featured by http://hitpunjab.net/innovative-indian-cutter/ .

Suddenly we had people informing us to give a price for this video, interested vendors wanting to buy this video. And their terms were of course absurd. They wanted us to give away our rights, if you please. Then few portals and online networks wanted to tie-up with us. I bet none of these had faith in both of us when we first embarked on starting this video. What clicks nobody can predict.

We showed the knife vendor the many thousand hits. He was nonchalant for being featured. He is a lesson for how to go about doing one’s work day in and day out, the same routine, at the same time, saying the same thing in the same tone!

The point however is about our channel and the success we have seen. I can say it’s NOT a dream gone wasted. We were called losers because when we were asked about business and marketing plans. And we will never have any. We are two creative and people and as we learnt from our subject we will continue doing what we believe in and that which gives us utmost joy-making videos.

This was what we wanted to do for our city Bombay. To showcase her in smallest manner with details that we see on daily basis. I think the important part here is to do it continuously with no expectations. Of course it is our dream to still make millions online ever optimistic 🙂 There is nothing that gives us more thrill than capturing the nuances of our city. So cheers! Time to celebrate.

A new ride

NMMT bus

Hello! After a long time that i felt i should share my thoughts. These usually i’ve been capturing on either my camera or cellphone camera. With the change of my job, my bus travel has become rather different. I now travel in the air-condition bus AS4 and it most convenient. Except for few stray transit passengers, most of them are regular ones, who have been on this bus for few years. Now yesterday, March 30, as I boarded the bus, I saw some new people. What I didn’t know was they have been regular passengers who have been on this bus for longer while, but weren’t to be seen for few days. As soon as the conductor came to give me the ticket, the lady opened a box of mithai, my abso favourite, kaju katli and asked the conductor to offer me. As I took a tiny piece (Practicing self-control), she said “Take the whole piece.” I asked her the occasion for sharing sweets with us on the bus, she said, “It is my super annuation day.” I congratulated her not thinking for a second it could not be exactly the happiest day of her life. Recovering that it could be her retirement, I asked her what the term meant. Bashfully she told me, “It means I now will retire after working at a place for 35 years.” Another regular fellow passenger sitting next to her told me he knew the meaning and hence did not congratulate her. I actually felt she must be so scared of the freedom and ample time on hand. I reassured her, that the good part was she now needn’t have to board the bus as early as 7.00am!

Just the sound of those words echoed in my ears. “Worked in an office for 35 years.” I told her honestly that I shudder at that thought. I asked her if she will be given a farewell. So she said, “No all that is over last week. They took me for lunch, dinner and I took some on different days, now it is officially last day tomorrow.” When I asked if she was nervous? “Yes I’m nervous, I don’t know if it’s good or bad.” It seemed all so overwhelming to her. Yet, she had remembered to bring 2 separate boxes for the conductor and bus driver.

Today, as I took my seat like yesterday, I faced her. She looked away from me and she was visibly preoccupied. She had worn a golden coloured saree with gold border, a lovely golden decorative neck piece and yes, retirement day was here! I wished her and complimented on her looks. She thanked me and told me “It is mixed feelings. There are tears and cheers, as they say.” That moment i felt if anyone of us were to hold her hand, she would have burst into tears. She thanked the conductor and bus driver doing a Namaste to them. All other fellow passengers cheered her on. It was all so sweet and emotional, I shared this on twitter. It was a very ‘awww’ moment. I found out that Stella worked in the government ministry, I overheard her saying Shipping.

These are the wonderful experiences I will cherish as a citizen of this city..cheers to all.

Kashmir, the turning point in my life

Zojila3

Way back in 1987, I was a scatter brain, not confident, had a track record of not being efficient in handling money and was dyslexic. I however was into outdoors, sports and always a trekker. By then, being a member of Youth Hostel Association of India, I had walked with a broken foot in Chandrakhani Pass, Himachal Pradesh, Kalsubai peak, highest in Maharashtra, Matheran and places in Western Ghats . Listening to the options, was absolute music to my ears. One was Pindari glacier and the other, Unbelievable! A 15 day trek to Ladakh. The YHAI office was just opposite to Charni Rd station, I promptly ran to Bombay Central station and checked out on Jammu Tavi tickets. It was as I believe the Universe had come together to conspire to ensure I go to Kashmir.

This trip is special and will always be. Many incidents, memories of my life are a blank slate today. However, this trip, a turning point of my life is etched permanently in my memory. I first booked my tickets and then took permission from my parents. My father surprisingly agreed. (He was comfortable with me going alone, never with anyone else). Mother and I have never ending issues, she let her elder daughter travel and stay in a hostel, but never me. Had it not been for my father, she would never have allowed me for this trip.

Please understand these were pre-historic days compared to today’s internet, advanced days. Ladakh was the northern most tip of India and we from coastal Bombay had NO clue of what such cold can be. Thankfully a second cousin and lived in Jammu, as her husband is from the renowned Camalin Dandekar family owned a factory and were well-versed. The family was relieved, there was ‘some’ contact. I only knew from the brochures which told how you should get acclimatized to ‘altitude’ and such basic things. I was excited, firstly was to go alone and most of all to Kashmir. Nobody could believe my parents had agreed to let me. I vaguely recollect the only things I heard from general janta was “watch your wallet,” “Kashmiris are cheats, you will be fleeced” and such. These were their experiences and I was not interested in listening. I did go to libraries and read up on Ladakh in books, magazines and newspapers – yes, there was NO Wikipedia or Lonely Planet then. And loads of information and tips given by the J&K tourism centre at World Trade Centre.

Being a student, I was on hand-to-mouth-subsistence money, which meant second class travel and one long journey. Though Jammu Tavi was superfast as I recollect. I had stayed  at my cousin’s for 2 days and we had booked my ticket for Srinagar on a state transport bus of J&K. On hindsight I think the only one sensible  thing I seemed to have done, was to take my student’s identity card. I can’t tell you what wonders it did to me in Kashmir. My experience changed my life forever. I had decided to stay only at state tourist homes. This tip was given to me by the J&K tourism people. They had said i’d get good discounts, not knowing I would get up to 75%.

Wherever I stayed thereafter in Kashmir I was given a discount. Wait, moreover wherever I ate, I was NOT allowed to pay. My secret to look ‘not alone’ was to show i’m waiting on somebody. I would walk in looking confused, I’d see foreigners or tourists and take a neary-by table & sit by myself. Remember i was just 18-19 years old then. Whenever i was asked if i was waiting for someone, i’d answer in affirmative. But I would end up in a tricky situation at the end of the meal, because as i’d remove cash to pay, the Kashmiri uncles would just not let me pay. At every restaurant the owners would say, “you’re an Indian student who is alone.” They would either take token money after persistence, or most often refused to let me pay. There was something good in them that made them feel protective towards me. Their eyes would shine that a ‘girl had come from India by herself.’ “You are a guest of Kashmir” and they would ensure I was even dropped by one of their staff or family members.

These uncles would speak to me and asked how my parents had allowed me to come to Kashmir. Now let me explain, in 1987 skirmishes had just begun, there were intense anti-India sentiments. I being starry-eyed Indian who believed Kashmir should remain united with India. However, this opinion changed nearly in the middle of my trip. Never one to be scared, I loved to debate I’d have engaging conversations with Kashmiris and army officials. As part of our trek, we were made to travel short distances in army trucks or lorries, that’s how most traveled in Ladakh, back then. That uncle said he was proud of my parents to have shown faith in Kashmiris. He said, it was their pledge that I would be sent back a changed person and my story would be different. (I always knew my story would be different).

I vaguely recollect that it had rained for four consecutive days in Srinagar and the city was shut, all vehicular movement had stopped to and from Ladakh and other highways. There were protests and some talks of army action. In the midst of all this I was absolutely besotted and judge me for being ‘filmy.’ I did all touristy things like riding a horse and going on the route where Bollywood films were shot, in Pehalgam. Problem was, my horseman was so dead gorgeous I couldn’t get my eyes off him, I vaguely remember him mumbling Shammi Kapoor and Sunny deol. Yes I was a young college girl from Bombay, who had come to the Himalayas highly influenced by, Shammi Kapoor’s Kashmir ki Kali and Dil Deke Dekho and who found every Kashmiri handsome and beautiful. I remember seeing blood-red cherries, like never before. We’d get yellow ones in Bombay back then.

After a short break i was to join Sonamarg, where our base camp was. I swear now when i look back i was so god damn ill-prepared, all information i had got was from asking around, the information given by the 2 aunties at YHAI was so brief, 1 would have thought, the journey was a B’bay-Pune one.

I’ve vague memories of the base camp and girls sleeping in a classroom. I don’t remember anything but waking up at night shitting and puking. An army doctor was called on the day our trek as many like me were ill. Our trek was kicked off by Farooq Abdullah the CM. I gave my camera to some members of my group from Orissa and cursed i was laid in bed. Oh! did I mention, we had no flannel, thermals, enough warm clothes or sleeping bags back then? There was no twitter where one could call on friends to give their jackets and stuff. I had one huge rug sack, trekking shoes, gloves, sweater and jacket. None which could help me survive a winter in Pune, forget a summer in Kashmir.

The army doctor came visiting the camp and told us the water was contaminated and many of us had got gastro. Frightening. That was the time I remember missing my dear Girgaum and Bombay. Wonderingif i’d taken the right decision of going on that trek. I somehow made friends, it wasn’t a difficult task, but the way I was told to be careful, as if i should suspect every Indian of being a cheat. Almost all were helpful, friendly and yes nobody was a cheat. There was a mix, some college students, many working, some turned out to be Income Tax inspectors who were in the same trekking batch as mine. This small group took me under their protective wings and ensured I drank black coffee, ate biscuits and walked few steps every day to regain strength.

Our delayed trek began. We got feedback that due to the heavy rains and blockades rest of the groups were returning to the base camp. Tempers flew around and our trekking batch decided whether we traveled in trucks or lorries we should move. We had to wake up at unearthly hours to get on the Zojila pass. Most of the memories are blur, but I remember Drass, because we were put in a school there. The windows had NO glass and was killer cold, we were happily told it is the coldest or second coldest place on earth! At night when we’d go to the toilet, we could hear sounds of the wind, the urine would get frozen in that cold! It all seemed eerie. No I don’t want to remember, the way we we were put up by YHAI, no wonder they charged us so less. The toilets, less said the better, to shit between wooden planks at a height that one could faint. Yes, the best part was we got to see places at subsidised prices, we met new people, it gave us confidence and we trekked on some beautiful and difficult paths. I do hope we haven’t contributed to the environmental degradation.

The whole terrain of Kashmir and Ladakh is distinctly beautiful. And yes, my SLR with film rolls were with me. That was the best part, I’d stroll around with my camera and met some wonderful kids and people. I had to ration the films because they needed to be developed and printed. Most of all the fear of my photographer father at home who would scrutinize every frame. I couldn’t waste a single frame, forget the roll.

I visited all the places one needs to in Leh and nearby towns, villages-Lama Yuru, Hemis, in fact saw Dalai Lama as he had come to launch the Hemis festival and went around drinking Tibetan tea, their food and was well acclimatized. And till now I haven’t highlighted one main point, we never got more than three ‘lotas’ of hot water to bathe. It would mostly end up getting ice cold, that’s another story of going on treks. In Leh for the first time we had the luxury of paying Rs 5 or 8, requesting some hotels to allow us to bathe in hot water. In 1987, Rs 5-8 was a lot. The whole road journey made me feel I’m in one dream world, in my Never Land. It was straight out of films, as I had expected. The beauty, the colours of the terrain, the trees, the greenery and most of all the grand Himalayas, all exquisitely sensuous and beautiful.  I was just too overwhelmed. By then our trekking group had become fairly big.

We met some interesting people too. Some medical college students from Bombay, who seemed strange. They had brought millions of pills for everything. They’d show off big time, scream that every bottle of water-whether straight from the melting snow stream to a bisleri was contaminated and had to be purified. So they’d jump, screech, pull out some pills pop them in their bottle see the fizz, count upto to some number and drink. While it seemed fascinating to them, it completely alienated them, not that they were keen on being with the rest of public. Even when the whole batch moved, they would move together so when a small group of us decided to go to Amarnath, i was shocked to hear this medical group had shown some interest.

Finally, many of us, mainly from Bombay and Pune decided to go to Baltal. The IT inspectors did some sweet talking with the army officer at Baltal and we got to stay at the army station for few hours. Me being the youngest, one inspector spoke to the army officer to let me sleep near the coal burner. It was a HUGE copper vessel with a chimney and coal burning at the bottom. It was the warmest memory of this trip.

Most of the members of those who had initially said they were interested, turned around after walking a few metres. The army officer told us that the official road to Amarnath had not opened till then and since i ended up being the only girl in the group, he sent two sentries to protect our group. All this was told to me much later. We had to wake up on a chilly morning and started trekking by 6.00am.  Now, if you have seen Tarey Zameen Par then one will know what I am saying. 20 people will walk on a path, will not trip, no stone will give way under their feet and they will be able to walk without any problem. The 21st person, that’s me, will be THE one who will trip on a stone, slip in the mud or water and yes this happens even today. Now imagine this on a mountain full of snow, where we had to make a path, with no proper footwear to walk in snow, i was living Lucy Balle.

On the way we saw a baba in white, Muslin cloth in that snow & cold. He looked completely doped out, who walked like a charged bull and then after a while saw him walk back. I mean in times of buses and ponies/horses which human walked up & down Himalayas as if in times of Vedas? They need a better purpose I thought. That Baba was the only other human apart from us whom we’d seen the whole day. We reached around noon and nobody was there except our group. While all walked to the shrine, I slipped from one end to the other and had to be caught to ensure I didn’t slip down in the valley. It was just like slabs of ice piled up. As i’d heard and read, a drop of ice kept falling from the ceiling making formations.

In some time I realised my feet were swollen and one member warned me I had would be victim of frost bite. Soon some match sticks were lit to warm my feet, I sat barefoot with few men scrubbing my feet and after nearly four weeks I recall crying that I was a young, college girl who for the first time was out for so long in the most unbelievable circumstances. Then the men told me all girls had backed out and I was the only one who had climbed with them. And the fun was about to begin on the descend. I was fed gluco biscuits and within an hour we were back on our feet. The walk back was a mini shock-there was a land slide and the road seemed unrecognizable, we spotted a fox and the sentries showed us how the path we had made had got covered in some areas.

The last two days were interesting. I met a Sikh volunteer who was recovering from the 1984 riots, he described his horrifying experiences. That was first time I met somebody who had survived the Sikh riots. Some termed him crazy, but the fact was his experiences were real and they had left him scarred permanently. I think he was brave to volunteer to be with strangers, meet youngsters who may have given him a reason to live and hope for. He needed help and he had chosen his path-trekking, as a way to reach out. That was brave. All said their farewells and I began on another three days of travel back to Srinagar and Jammu. Again a time to be on my own, but this time with treasure of experiences to shar.

I owe a lot to Kashmir for this trip, it made me a new person, a new woman altogether. The small attention the locals took to protect me was touching. Due to the political environment, they ensured, when the bus stopped for passengers to go out and pee, the men in the bus would send the women from their families to accompany me. They took care never to leave me alone. This kind of hospitality I have NEVER encountered in my entire life before or after. It spoke immensely of the faith the Kashmiri had in themselves and more so in a stranger girl from a land they didn’t like.

Seeing the young army cadets who were sent to Kashmir to fight in the tough terrain, it irked me to learn they were seen cheap labour. To face death and be treated in this manner, before one’s life had begun, it taught me the first lessons of management, which I experienced in life much later, However, I was lot more prepared to fight than these young men. Their spirit brought immense pride.

The Kashmiris would discuss with me about college, life in Bombay, impact of films and most of all the politics. I was too young, may be my vision was tainted, but they never disrespected or rejected it. They didn’t rubbish my idealistic view. They allowed me to learn a lot about their lives and they let me into their world to see the bitter truth. I learnt a lot of real history being with them for a month than I’d have learnt in history books or through our biased media. Yes, I am part of that very media, but no denial it is biased. I used to write every day or 2 days to my parents on inland letters. Letting them know I’m fit and safe. When I returned, most expected me to tell some sob story or was cheated. To their shock my story was rather new. They of course refused to believe and not that I cared.  It was like I found my true self, I had found my course of life and swore never to stop travelling.

I began believing in myself, because till then I was never given a reason to. My experience taught me to have faith and most of all it taught me to travel on my own. I learnt to be comfortable in my own company. I developed a habit for going to Himalayas, nearly every year & I admit i love these mountains more than humans. I also learnt to live in a new place, meet new people, speak to strangers who don’t know my language and who may even dislike the place I come from. They still welcomed me warmly and that was an eye-opener.

I knew one thing for sure, I’d return to this beautiful place again. I went back in 2007, to Ladakh, but this time in luxury. I can happily say, i observed not an inch of difference in the topography, it was beautiful as ever. The colours of the soil are as violet, red and brown like before, the cabbages greener than I’d ever seen. The saag (vegetable grown there) greener than the spinach we eat, cherries redder than our blood, small apples that are juicy and tasty, the fragrance of Kashmiri saffron that can drown you and most of all the Himalayas standing majestically towering over you…one circle of life completed after 20 years, taking me back to the place that changed me forever, Kashmir.

Catch a Rainbow

rainbow

In the last nearly 25 years of my professional life as a journalist, I realised one important thing, I didn’t ever want to get lost. I was and still am passionate about writing and more so, NEWS. If anything turns me on the most, it IS news. But there is more to life and I never wanted to lose that and along with that, the need to have fun anytime and anywhere. It may sound slightly exaggerated, but i always live with that spirit.

Most Indian news organisations have developed a pattern to kill individuality and their staff having a life. Basically because most bosses have none, or their lives suck real bad. Those who do have fun are interns, new comers and the culture simply erodes and eats into you. We aren’t encouraged to take holidays and moreover to publicly say you enjoyed your holidays. The office ensures that feeling is killed instantly. So here I was, wiyh my life’s mission to travel, in such volatile environment. Now, by rule I’ve taken two holidays a year- 1 small and 1 big holiday. I basically work for my next holiday. This nomad, bohemian spirit was encouraged by my parents. But that lessened as I climbed the ladder of designations and with them came unnecessary burden of taking on other people’s responbilities. Holidays became rare and the duration even shorter. Initially it depressed me, but i realised through work I still travelled across the country side. The subjects also i wrote of took me to tribal areas, increased interaction with villagers and went to places away from main cities. I  soon realised I am a rainbow chaser and catcher.

Not that I go to a place to specifically see a rainbow, but i’m like a bomb spotter. Bang on, I feel I am close to nature and I tend to see, feel and smell things around me. And for this, one need not go to some distant lands. Often it is common sense, which I gathered reading and talking to villagers. A drizzle with thr clouds giving way to the sun, or a short spell of rains with the sun smiling in the background; look up, wander around and you will see a trace of rainbow. I can recount from college days that i’ve spotted a rainbow in Girgaum and have wanted to share the utmost pleasure with others around. And let me tell you i’ve got disappointed that people in our cities have lost the ability to enjoy small pleasures, plus they snigger at those who do. It is an inexplicable joy to see a rainbow. Recently I saw this Rainbow on my way to the gym in the evening. I again wanted to share this moment when i saw a young boy looking forlorn. I just looked at him and said “why don’t you enjoy looking at the rainbow?” He must’ve thought i’ve lost it and asked ‘where?’ This was the best part, as I told him “just look above you.” The young boy went crazy with joy. He mumbled ‘shit’ for not spotting something that was so obvious and had there been no puddles, he would have jumped about.  He promptly called his friend on the cell to share it. And i was glad for once someone else shared my joy.

My rainbow stories are plenty. I realised, I didn’t have to go on a holiday to enjoy such simple pleasures. Travelling way inside in Vidarbha on the train, as i missesd my dear Bombay, for the first time in my life i saw a full rainbow. Wide as ever and I could see all the colours-VIBGYOR. My absolute favourite place is Khandala ghats, the ever green spot to catch rainbows, same with Sanjay Gandhi National Park and most of all, the Himalayas. In peak December winter at Gulmargh, as i struggled to walk through calf-length snow with a friend, suddenly i saw faint streaks of a rainbow. Like i said, only if it excites you will you understand my extreme joy. It is simple pure and immense happiness, similar to seeing any sort of wildlife.

This year, in the initial days of showers, some friends posted pictures of a double rainbow. Now i admit that’s something i haven’t ever seen. And it is my aim to see a double rainbow once in my life. I am sure very soon i will be able to see a double rainbow. I’ve made myself a promise That I will continue my pursuit of chasing rainbows in this city and around. So what if underneath that beautiful coloured arch often there is slush, dirt, lakhs of homeless or sewage. The truth is, that rainbow still signifies beauty and hope. And both I will hold dearly, something so nice this very city has taught me to believe in..

Weight-loss-a-lonely-journey

NK1 (1)

In 2005 I got a second jolt of my life! I had developed deep vein thrombosis, which the doctor said was another sort of heart attack. Thankfully it was averted. One can get a heart attack with heart arteries clogged, while other with leg veins clogged. I was devastated. It began with, “why me?”

This was the second jolt, because first was the cause of most of my ailments. I began suffering from permanent amoebic dysentery, from early 90s, when I used to go to Marathwada every 3 months, after the Latur earthquake. I was eventually put on steroids which made me a bigger, fatter Neeta. Diet control, boiled foods, all failed. From binge, went onto indifference and finally watching what I ate, but was TOUGH.

Believe me this was all a mental turmoil, physical just the beginning. I was a whole new girl, unrecognisable to self. Born thin, waif, I never knew being fat. Yes, I was flat-footed, lazy (running is for my sister’s types). I’m crazy for adventure, love it. Will go to far-off distant lands on my own, go bald, but running, ain’t my kind of fun. I was an athlete because I played basketball and a Javelin thrower at state level.

I didn’t want those days back in my life. Yes, I was fit and all. But everything was time-controlled by a stop watch and moreover I had achieved beyond what was expected of me. All accolades were for my sister, according to my school I was a nothing. So to prove a point I ran despite excruciating pain, considering I never wore corrective shoes. (I never developed an arch on my heels). My feet are flat and pain, especially at nights. Today I wear comfortable footwear, with inserted arch in every shoe, tad late.

I got recognition, won medals, name appeared in newspapers and I felt like I’ve achieved enough, as I’d shut up people. By then my addiction was daily reporting of shoot outs, encounters, killings, political upheavals and news. This professional life was of odd-time eating, drinking. Because of the kind of places I’d spend maximum time-courts, mortuaries, public places, hospitals-I had to control my bladder. This too took its toll on my health. The doctor said here began many problems.

Post diagnosis, doc asked me to stop everything, including my silly diet and just go on brisk walks. Back to timings, huh. Believe me I do NOT fear anything, except ill-health. And this SHOOK me. Nobody wants to look after an ill person. I had lost balance on my feet, had gout, so I first underwent acupuncture and regained the balance. Began early morning brisk walking. Then, I was eating high proteins and calcium, but at wrong times and consuming very less water. So went on water therapy immediately. I began drinking one and a half litres of water as soon I woke up, before brushing my teeth and consuming 3 litres within afternoon time. I still do.

In this time my weight fluctuated tremendously. I cared a damn. Honestly, if anyone tried to tell, (which was all the time), it wasn’t helping. Till then I was defiant. The more people asked me to lose weight, I wouldn’t. One main problem then, I loved my body. However it may have been, I was comfortable with the fat, I could see my tiers naked and yet not get depressed. That is very nice for us women, but a mental block for losing weight. I still do love my body, now even more.

Then with my 2 other friends we started our early morning walks. They both stopped. So began with two more. This was fun. We began exploring our part of Bombay city, taking pictures. We bust a foreigner druggie encroacher on Siri road, had millionaire Adi Godrej as company, saw Peacock, admired trees, fauna. There was fun element in whatever we did. Come rain or shine we walked. Then one by one we began enrolling at gyms. I am ANTI-gym. I don’t like enclosed places. Body odours are a BIG put-off for me. So the motivation wasn’t much. Ask me to walk and I can do so, the whole day. I actually lost 4 Kgs in Paris eating cheese, having wine, just walking everyday.

So I had to force myself going to the gym. New place, strangers, I am NOT good at it. Somehow as a journalist I am a different person, I can talk to just about anyone, apart, I am different. I don’t like intrusion, I like to observe, sit by myself, happiest in my company. Worse I dislike is people like ghosts hovering behind me-Sales staff or people looking above my shoulder. Father says, he too hates it, we’d prefer standing face to face and talking. So there began a tedious journey of self-motivation.

I had to shake myself up every morning. I first joined a sad gym in Girgaum. The arm-pits of trainers would STINK. When they’d stretch over me it was HELL. Then imagine the diabolical combination of BO + perfume! Aaaargh.

It was a small place with politics like in our Parliament. Then I got malaria and the owners refused to refund money or extend membership deadline. I stopped going to this gym. Anyways they were more ‘gharguti’ (domestic) would switch off aircons to save power, very down market. So resumed walks. This time began walking on the steep slope of Malabar Hill. This walking on slopes is very good for hips.

See, walking was a dedicated time for myself. Here at the gym I didn’t feel so. Then I joined a new gym, at Saifee Hospital. Much better, but I’ve a HUGE mental block about gyms. I wasn’t losing weight, even remotely. Oh and besides the other deterrent being, the pathetic music in gyms. I’ve exercised to love songs. And did I mention that bloody crappy machine called treadmill? I want to shoot in the balls of the person (has to be a menacing man) to have made this machine. There’s a quote that says, “worrying and treadmill are alike. You keep doing and it takes you nowhere.”

There at the gym I’d see a foreigner, South Asian anorexic lady, running an hour on the treadmill. The Gujju uncles would fight that they’ve also paid and why is she monopolising the machine. (Deserved it). These are the reasons I HATE gyms. But the view to this gym is to die for! I just LOVE, as I exercise I look into the Arabian Sea. ONLY for this view I would pull myself out of bed, out of the house and go as if I’m doing a favour to this universe.

I tell the world I go to the gym and I exercise for that one odd hour. Then some of us started our own aerobics and here began some new fun. Still got bored as I found the environment was very casual in morn sessions. So I just changed my timings and began going in the evenings. There are lesser people, more fun and serious about gym. Yes, the body aches at night, but it has become a habit.

I set myself simple goals. I must be able to climb the stairs of Charni rd bridge, like myself looking into the mirror and fit in my old clothes. I can now run up the stairs without panting, I look thinner, I admire myself more and clothes altered! By August I’d finished 1 round of alterations, by Diwali I’d finished 3 rounds of alterations, spending few thousand rupees. But I made a promise that I will NOT buy new clothes unless I lost weight. More than weight, I’ve been losing inches. I weigh same since last December. The fact is, I get bored easily with exercises and I DETEST cardio, but it is the best for weight loss, moreover for building stamina. So my afternoon trainers have ensured that my schedule is modified. At our gym every 3 months our weight and inches are measured, which is also a major motivation.

Like de-addiction, even to go to a gym is self-motivational, no option. Biggest motivation, last week, I made my first purchase of Red HOT pants, 2 sizes smaller.

The pain, shame & gloom….

These thoughts that i had written during the Bombay riots in 1992-93. A lot happened during that time..visions that i still see, events that are vivid. My niece’s wedding was on Dec 6, 1992, when a BJP leader from Pune was ecstatic, “Yes, we did it padli amhi Babri Masjid..” I could feel the chill on my back coz i could envisage the events that would unfold in the next few days. Days? Seems the thread is broken forever..

i will be honest-i had NOT expected riots that would ruin a good community feeling for the rest of our lives…that Bombay was forcibly converted to Mumbai.

My father, sister & I left by train for Bombay the very next day & it was shocking- had to pull down shutters, fm Kalyan people had begun throwing stones at the trains, delays & people rushing wt fear in their eyes when we did reach VT. As we neared Girgaum there was not a soul on the streets..reminded me of the dark window days of Indo-Pak war.

I have a friend-Altaf, who’s name is a give away. So less said the better..it was tough for his family too that was uprooted from their home in Tardeo..life was not the same for all for few months. Years after normal life was restored, the Shaikhs could not put up their name plate! Apart from that being followed, prowlers making anonymous calls at midnight, 1.00am to create rift, threaten me, telling my father ‘keep that girl who goes out indoors…” there was nothing lesser than a war in Kolhatkar household. Where my beliefs, activities were not approved by most…

1.

The air is tensed & the skies rage with hues of fires
Little children, youth & adults are gripped in a mania
Reason, is visibly absent
All perform ‘acts of duty’ with utmost loyalty
For whom? As inexplicable as the acts of violence
Ironic, you see hatred more on faces of those who pulled down the Masjid
Revenge for whom?

They have sent fear down streets of ‘Bombay’
No bearded man or a burqua lady is being spared
Men are forced to pull down their pants
witnesses ensure there’s no one circumcised!
Majority indulgences in thrills to satisfy their sadism
Scared they will be out numbered soon

Is this the triumph of any religion?
Who are these victorious soldiers?
What medals should be conferred on them for merciless murders?
Children have died, women raped & riots on the streets
Arson, shooting and houses destroyed as clouds of smoke blur the horizon
Sounds of swords, bottles and tube lights ring in the air

Are we the same peace-loving Indians? Is this democracy?

2.

‘This is just the beginning,’ warn the hardened Hindus
The quiet tolerance has disappeared
They smirk devising heinous plans
These frenzied have become the voice of majority
But most civilians are mere mute participating in a vicious game plan
Do they realise they are being used?
A chill is sent down our spines as the commissioner orders shooting a baker’s family
While in the suburbs a politician is cleared of carrying arms & explosives

Blame game has begun whilst a gangster has initiated a new terror chapter
A blanket of fear has covered the faces of common people
Bombayites witness one of their worst nightmare
While our government turns a blind eye to all destruction
Gory visuals leave all benumbed, sadly not shamed
The world watches Bombay change from cosmopolitan to communal

3.

The war continues..Now even the middle class has taken to looting, killing & using force
Unfulfilled desires surface, as the rich too grab from the muck
Confusion surrounds the goals & motive for rioting, people look dressed for some Halloween
Except no sweets are asked at the door, they break-in to spread terror

Anger, pain, and isolation have embraced the scary souls
Haunting memories make them shiver
Lights are out in mohallas where all whisper in fear
Nameplates are missing from doors & many tip toe towards nearest city exits

The homeless huddle in clusters & cries of children echo across the over-crowded stations
Platforms have disappeared under sea of humanity, all look in stunned silence
Only heads are visible-caps or burquas, many have still retained their lost identity
For many the journey of migration to safety has begun, destination still unknown

4.

Are these crackers heralding a New Year or gunshots & blasts?
Shimmering sparkle have set the streets on fire
The epidemic of religious frenzy has spread wildly
Humanity has been thrown in a whirlpool of pain
Most have been uprooted, is this a war?

The markets are closed & goods vanished
Only ashes remain on the ground
Hunger is the last worry on their minds
Fathers are prevented from going to work,
Police arrest thousands from only one community

Leaders cry for strong action but the administration fails to deliver
Is this the city I was born in?
Everyone seems to have joined hands to claim their share of ‘power’
These are plain chess moves & the reins in the hands of conspirator
Madness continues as even noble attempts to restore peace seem superficial

The culprits are at bay, but rest live in a world of suspicion, hostility & revenge
All have been used & abused, but the conspirators sleep well
The crack is now evident, they have succeeded in dividing us
All we can now do is plaster & paint,
But we will never be able to hide our shame

5.

My journey on the BEST began being seated on the last row
My serenity was broken suddenly by loud sounds of laughs and loose talks
The hooligans rushed to squeeze next to me What was the excitement?

After many days this travel was possible
The bus was full as my eyes searched for rescue from the taunts & jibes
Ahead sat a lonely man isolated from the rest
His beard was a give away, my saviour was right there!
He among the few had still not shed their respect

his fa� ‘ o����s uprooted from their home in Tardeo..life was not the same for all for few months. Years after normal life was restored, the Shaikhs could not put up their name plate! These are my thoughts…

1.

The air is tensed & the skies rage with hues of fires
Little children, youth & adults are gripped in a mania
Reason, is visibly absent
All perform ‘acts of duty’ with utmost loyalty
For whom? As inexplicable as the acts of violence
Ironic, you see hatred more on faces of those who pulled down the Masjid
Revenge is for those who saw their place of worship crumble

They have sent fear down streets of ‘Bombay’
No bearded man or a burqua lady is being spared
Men are forced to pull down their pants
witnesses ensure there’s no one circumcised!
Majority indulgences in thrills to satisfy their sadism
Scared they will be out numbered soon

Is this the triumph of any religion?
Who are these victorious soldiers?
What medals should be conferred on them for merciless muders?
Children have died, women raped & riots on the streets
Arson, shooting and houses destroyed as clouds of smoke blur the horizon
Sounds of swords, bottles and tube lights ring in the air

Are we the same peace-loving Indians? Is this democracy?

2.

‘This is just the beginning,’ warn the hardened Hindus
The quiet tolerance has disappeared
They smirk devising heinous plans
These frenzied have become the voice of majority
But most civilians are mere mute participating in a vicious game plan
Do they realise they are being used?
A chill is sent down our spines as the commissioner orders shooting a baker’s family
While in the suburbs a politician is cleared of carrying arms & explosives

Blame game has begun whilst a gangster has initiated a new terror chapter
A blanket of fear has covered the faces of common people
Bombayites witness one of their worst nightmare
While our government turns a blind eye to all destruction
Gory visuals leave all benumbed, sadly not shamed
The world watches Bombay change from cosmopolitan to communal

3.

The war continues..Now even the middle class has taken to looting, killing & force
Unfulfilled desires surface, as the rich too grab from the muck
Confusion surrounds the goals & motive for rioting, people look dressed for some haloween
Except no sweets are asked at the door, they break-in to spread terror

Anger, pain, and isolation have embraced the scary souls
Haunting memories make them shiver
Lights are out in mohallas where all whisper in fear
Nameplates are missing from doors & many tip toe towards nearest city exits

The homeless huddle in clusters & cries of children echo the over crowded stations
Platforms have disappeared under sea of humanity, all look in stunned silence
Only heads are visible-caps or burquas many have still retained their lost identity
For many the journey of migration to safety has begun, destination still unknown

4.

Are these crackers heralding a New Year or gunshots & blasts?
Shimmering sparkle have set the streets on fire
The epidemic of religious frenzy has spread wildly
Humanity has been thrown in a whirlpool of pain
Most have been uprooted, is this a war?

The markets are closed & goods vanished
Only ashes remain on the ground
Hunger is the last worry on their minds
Fathers are prevented from going to work,
Police arrest thousands from only one community

Leaders cry for strong action but the administration fails to deliver
Is this the city I was born in?
Everyone seems to have joined hands to claim their share of ‘power’
These are plain chess moves & the reigns in the hands of conspirator
Madness continues as even noble attempts to restore peace seem superficial

The culprits are at bay, but rest live in a world of suspicion, hostility & revenge
All have been used & abused, but the conspirators sleep well
The crack is now evident, they have succeeded in dividing us
All we can now do is plaster & paint,
But we will never be able to hide our shame

5.

My journey on the BEST began being seated on the last row
My serenity was broken suddenly by loud sounds of laughs and loose talks
The hooligans rushed to squeeze next to me What was the excitement?

After many days this travel was possible
The bus was full as my eyes searched for rescue from the taunts & jibes
Ahead sat a lonely man isolated from the rest
His beard was a give away, my saviour was right there!
He like few had still not shed their respect.

A roar that Isn’t

When I first started covering politics in early 90s I encountered a politician, who almost whole of Maharashtra then and later for some odd reason half the nation, had begun calling, Tiger, alias Sena Supremo Bal Thackeray. Also, known as ‘Balasaheb.’

As a journalist I had many an encounter and even close shave with this leading politician of Maharashtra. A powerful political personality. The first time I called Matoshree, residence of Thackerays, I wasn’t prepared to hear, “Jai Maharashtra! Me Balasaheb Thackeray boltoy.” His Nepali aide, Thapa knew my colleague and me and would tell us when it would be a good time to catch ‘saheb.’ I was taken aback to listen to the politician answer the phone himself. The first thought was he was very accessible, immediately followed with how come they didn’t have an operator and what about his security? Today, there are security walls and one never gets to talk to him, forget meeting him.

At that time i requested an interview but didn’t say ‘Jai Maharashtra,’ being a humourist, moreover someone who at that time had grouse against media was quick to say, “Now why is your tongue twisted, when on other occasions you don’t spare a chance to pull us down…” but was prompt to give an appointment. Many interactions began from then on made me think of his split personality. For me, who was not new to Bombay’s nuances, history and politics, BT the name spelt communalism, divisive and someone who aped the CPI, was backed by Sharad Pawar to ensure Congress is put on back foot.

I’d grown up hearing stories of their gundagiri of Shiv Sena in Girgaum. That was also when the CPI leader and sitting MLA Krishna Desai was stabbed to death. This turned the tide for two political parties-While CPI went downwards, Shiv Sena rose. The talks in Girgaon kattas would be ‘Marathi manoos’ being threatened, the Tamilians and South Indians coming from outside to take over jobs of local people and how Sena and Saheb were the hope for Marathis. This ‘sons of soil’ politics garnered much interest across the nation, an issue that would rule politics even in the next generation.

Stories of Thackeray never died down. In 1984, when the rest of North India burnt, the Sikhs were butchered, here a delegation went to meet BT. Leaders within Sena do say off the record money was exchanged, for protection. We know not one Sikh was touched in Bombay. These stories hold credence because much later as a return favour, Sardar Kulwant Singh Kohli was made the Sheriff of Mumbai in 1997.

By 80s the Sainiks had begun taking stalls, spaces as Shakhas. Their reputation was enough to scare many a Mumbaikar. The Shiv Sena set-up was a complete replica of CPI. By the time I quit Times of India to pursue post graduation my dear city,Bombay was mauled, murdered and literally every clothing of hers was torn, exposing her completely and making her vulnerable. Here stood the politician who always wanted to rule Bombay, without contesting elections. He watched his own city burning, how could he? He supported pulling down of a place of worship, called Muslims names, used the worst possible slang, supported riots and said nobody should be spared. All this for Hindu power! Then Marathi manoos was forgotten.

Yes, my ideology and perception of this leader I had conveyed to my editor, the late SP Singh, who appreciated my opinion and ideology but cautioned me not to let it affect my reporting. In fact SP persuaded me to read Samna. When I had said I didn’t, he said, “padha karo yeh akhbar neeta. 90 pratishad karmanook hoti hai, aur bahut khoob, sirf 10 pratishad khabre hoti hai, lekin who aisi hoti hai, ki baki ke aqbaro mei nahi milegi.” He was right, a visionary may be? Today, we like it or not, Samna editorials dictate the news agenda for national channels and yes even English news channels. The cartoonist has the intelligence, nerve and the humour, except he chose a path that didn’t integrate this country.

Thackeray would stick to his word and gave the most fiery interviews. He hated the guts of the then Aaj Tak. He loved SP Singh, but also would get angry that we addressed him as ‘Bal Thackeray.’ Yet Thackeray had instructed all his Sainiks that they should install a television in their Shakhas and watch Aaj Tak to get more informed and learn Hindi! Thackeray never let go of any chance to taunt my colleague and me, publicly. He always accused us of creating a rift between Sena and BJP, but I always wondered why he would never spew venom at us.

Those were the days when Thackeray’s family was in media for all wrong reasons. First Jaidev for shooting birds with a weapon and Raj for the Ramesh Kini murder. At that time I’d gone over to their bungalow Matoshree and interviewed Uddhav. My first ever close-shave with the politician was on that day. After finishing Uddhav’s interview I was led then by Damu Kenkre, famous Marathi theatre personality. He was spearheading the opposition to Jaidev in Kala Nagar. Thackeray was leaving for his farm house and he saw the cameraman and assistant. What seemed like an informal talk soon turned into a public spat. He spoke of finishing them, Aaj Tak and me. For some odd reason I was not scared and was firm. I asked him what has happened and if we were in the wrong we would apologise, but first I must know the cause of his anger. Let me tell you it was eerie, four gunmen pointing guns at me and my team, two tagging the umatic recorder trying to yank the tape out. He spoke angrily and accused us of spying, spreading malicious information and h was livid. Behind him with the gate slightly ajar stood Uddhav who kept signalling that he shouldn’t be dragged into it. When Thackeray said I was being misguided by Damu, who was his every night drinking partner. I told Thackeray he should confirm with his son that I first went to their bungalow and interviewed Uddhav. By then the old man suddenly cooled down. He asked me for the first time exactly what I’d done. After I told him, he gave expletives to his son. (Something I’d noted mentally, for future). By then Thackeray cooled down and snapped at the guards ordering them to stop touching our equipment. Thackeray apologised for his anger and spoke at length saying the Marathi tabloid Mahanagar was after his family and peace of mind. It was a whole new experience about how short a fuse Thackeray had and yet apologised when he realised he was in the wrong.

Damu anna meanwhile had panicked and gone to his house to call some very senior political editors of Marathi newspapers. He was scared for my life and finished the interview ushering me to go quickly to my office. When I returned the calls made by the seniors I was informed, “Welcome neeta, you are now a true journalist now that Thackeray himself threatened you.” This incident did make me realise a few important points. The father-son equation, also the fact the next day it was Uddhav who mentioned the incident at length in Samna, told me who was running the show at this newspaper. All of this would become clearer years later to come.

Thackeray has many sides, which many admire and will tell us proudly. Yes, he is tremendously witty and political, it was always evident, he has far better news sense than many in his family and within the party. People who revere him dislike that I don’t. I’m told, “he has done a lot for Marathi manoos and Maharashtrians.” Is it? Point 1. In 70s it was a Marathi cause against South Indian and specifically Tamilians. Later the anger was directed to UP Bhaiyyas and Biharis. Guess the targets change with times. Point 2. Sena fights for Mumbai city. The ones who burn buses, break property on every bandh are just who in Mumbai? May I enlist their names? Shiv Sainiks, who are left in the lurch, just by the way, when NO Thackeray family member goes to bail them out, get them occupation. The sons-of-soil sadly has forced them to stay as destructors. Point 3. Ramesh Kini was a Maharashtrian, lower-middle class head of a small family. He stood up against a landlord who wanted to evict at any cost. Kini resisted, he refused to quit, so an underworld Marathi gangster was given the supari to kidnap Ramesh Kini and bump him. The landlord is a buddy of Raj Thackeray. So Marathi manoos loses over blood kin? Ramesh’s wife Sheela another Maharashtrian, didn’t give up.

Point 4. Thackeray’s humour was always directed to mock those who opposed him and his family. Take the case of Sheela Kini, Pushpa Bhave the female advocate who stood rock solid by Sheela’s side. Thackeray always made fun of these 2 women. At public rallies, in animated style he would mimic them and make complete mockery of their hard fight. This is wasted humour, political leadership that is divisive, that denigrate women and and disrespects democracy, which he publicly is proud of, is to be denounced. I’m not bothered about the Thackeray’s place in history, his contribution, that he may have often spoken the truth, for me what is important that he has instigated communal feelings, mocked women and abused the ‘Marathi manoos’ ideology for his benefit such a person.

I have spoken to many Sainiks through out my career, the very first Corporator in whose chawl room Thackeray would hold meetings. I am sure many such have seen his good side, that’s what Don Corleone was to his devout followers, a Godfather. Here is Saheb for sainiks. I write this when he is alive, because as a basic principle i don’t write anything against those dead. It is recounting history….

My tryst with the King of Pop

The death of Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, brings back memories of his visit to Mumbai nearly 13 years ago. I was in my third job with a Hindi news channel — a music lover, but definitely not an MJ fan — and was given the daunting task of covering his stay in Mumbai.

Jackson was to perform on November 1, 1996, at the Andheri Sports Complex as part of his History world tour. Raj Thackeray (now president of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) had floated an organisation called the Shiv Udyog Sena, and being a fan of MJ, roped in event company Wizcraft to get Jackson to perform in Mumbai.

Raj was still a part of the Shiv Sena at the time, and close to his uncle, Sena chief Bal Thackeray. Raj received tremendous flak for the event, but Thackeray senior stood by his nephew.

On October 30, 1996, MJ was to land at Mumbai’s Sahar airport in his private jet. For days in advance, I had been pursuing people closely connected with the event, one of them being a man who was to provide MJ and his troupe with vehicles.

Along with the contract that he’d signed came a nine-point letter listing out conditions. The man was given a specific time frame within which MJ would have to reach Hotel Oberoi, now the Trident; there was to be no lapse. Part of my assignment was to cover trial runs of the vehicles prior to MJ’s landing, and these would take place at odd hours, from the wee hours of the morning till late at night. Eventually, my efforts paid off and the man allowed me to take a video of the contract he’d signed for the event.

Waiting for Jackson to arrive was thoroughly entertaining in itself. Lakhs of people had thronged the airport to catch a glimpse of him. Before he landed, I moved around trying to catch hold of all people I knew, so that we could get a closer glimpse of the King of Pop.

Among the celebrities and dignitaries present there, I remember actress Sonali Bendre clad in a nine-yard sari and a Maharashtrian nathni (nose ring), standing with an aarti thali to welcome MJ, along with Raj Thackeray, Sharmila Thackeray and innumerable politicians who were there to receive Jackson.

When he landed, Gajanan the cameraman, Irshad the assistant and I went around trying to get fresh visuals of the frenzied mob calling out to Jacko. Outside, Raj had organised a performance by a troupe of lezhim dancers with dholaks, and they wore traditional Maharashtrian clothes. They danced even as cars whizzed passed them, little knowing that they would soon have a ‘moonwalker’ in their midst.

Suddenly, an Air India employee I knew called out to me from the cordon around the lezhim dancers. He screamed in Marathi that MJ was at the centre of the formation. This was my moment as a journalist, exclusive footage: I was pulled inside the cordon and suddenly found myself standing next to a person white as snow, with pink lips and a hat, toggling his black glares at me in greeting! I stood stupefied and realised the pink lips weren’t those of Madonna — it was Michael Jackson himself.

This assignment raised my stature in the eyes of close relatives, who wanted to attend Jacko’s show. Being part of the so-called vernacular media, we were not considered eligible for free passes; however, we got entry passes for the entire camera crew, along with strict instructions. There were no cell phones at the time, only pagers and telephones.

However, I was thoroughly in demand for the numerous requests I got, asking for passes. Businessmen were willing to pay five times the cost of the most expensive ticket, which was Rs5,000. From that point on, my life wasn’t the same.

I was on duty round the clock. Girls thronged the Oberoi to catch a glimpse of the pop star, and I hovered nearby for a dekho. MJ was ensconced in the hotel’s Presidential Suite and later left his autograph on one of its mirrors. We were heard tales from the hotel of how he slept under an oxygen tent, and there was a lot of secrecy surrounding his lifestyle. During his short stay here, life in Mumbai centred around MJ and his “stories”.

Constables from the Mumbai Police complained that their lives now revolved around controlling frenzied fans outside the Oberoi. Facilities provided to them were even more basic than today: they subsisted on vada paav and sometimes did not go home despite being on duty for 48 hours straight outside the hotel. Local celebrities, meanwhile, did not leave any stone unturned to get that coveted pass and invitation to a dinner hosted in Jackson’s honour.

On the day of the concert, I was to reach early because we were categorically told that the crew needed to check their equipment, we would have to undergo security checks and finally would be allowed to shoot only 1.14 minutes of footage! The organisers would then give us some extra visuals to use as fillers for the story. It was a daunting task, and as someone who was not a fan of MJ’s music, all this contributed to putting me off.

But, I admit, I stood in stunned silence when the King of Pop MJ made his grand entry. I’ve seen innumerable shows thereafter in India, and I admit I never saw anything like it. MJ was brought down a crane amid a cloud of artificial smoke. There was thunderous applause and screams, and I feared that someone in the crowd might just suffer a coronary. I actually found myself tapping a foot to the music, and a colleague said to me, “You don’t like his music, Neeta, but look at you enjoying it.”

Suddenly, MJ pulled a girl from the crowd and for the next 10 minutes, we saw them clinging to each other, as if transfixed. Later, when she stepped off the stage, she told me it had been a dream come true for her.

Prelude?

I decided to get on to this blogspot stuff (don’t ask me the nitty-gritties) as one news story of mine (mera number akhir mein aya) made more news than I’d ever imagined!

On March 25, 2006, the newspaper i work in, DNA (Daily News & Analysis-latter half is often missing) published-along with some other newspapers- that the Mahrashtra govt had once again given a green signal to the Peddar road flyover.

RECAP – Yeah i didn’t much care for government’s decision, coz we-as in Bombayites-had seen it five years ago how the govt declared we needed a flyover at Peddar road in order to curb traffic & promptly left it in limbo. immediately after the announcement, India’s Nightingale, Bharat Ratna, as in Lata Mangeshkar-urf-Lata ‘didi’ screamed stop press! She was upset, the traffic noise & air pollution was causing her pain and she would lose her voice if the darn flyover came across her flat!

Well, meanwhile we had a flyover across Mohd Ali Road, as in the lovely JJ flyover was built with scores of cars flying on it. Sadly the faint voices of majority Muslims were silenced with city’s need for flyover & development. There were political parties that also brought in religion and nationalism as an argument against the Muslims. Muslims silenced their fears and opted for hope of a better & smoother future. That was only partially true, except that now when u fly across the bridge at JJ, one can say ‘salam walekum’ to all the residents & ask what’s cooking in their homes!

A similar story or more nearer is the example of residents staying across the Sion flyover. Most can jump into their houses if they attempted…new feat, say wot?

But here we had a lady whose voice is most precious to us, no doubt, but that’s a separate issue. She threatened she would lose her voice due to a flyover. So our state govt had got into action…which is? Just sit back and let the events unfold. Somewhere along BJP had made to believe that the Democratic Front govt would not get re-elected in 2004. But they did..so once again the same CM, Vilasrao Deshmukh and the newly appointed state public works minister gave a green signal to this impending project. Meanwhile, Lata’s sister Asha threatened to settle down in Dubai. She told this to Times of India & then she did a U-turn and coolly denied it.

Phew! Now cut to the present- On March 25, I was asked by my editor to get the reaction of Lata Mangeshkar “come what may, I don’t care by evening i want it.” He asked me to pick my note book & rush to her residence at Prabhu Kunj. My heart just sank & making a face I turned away. I was NO cub reporter that I was being asked to go to Mangeshkar’s house…then i just called the one & only Indu who i just bank on for anything to do with films… If i’m blunt..Indu’s icing on the cake! She was like..”u know me na neeta, I’m not in sync with Lata types…” (I just luv her) but she suggested I go to her boss’s cabin & take the screen world book which have all the names & nos of film personalities.

Now begins my true story…At 4:17:48 pm, I called on 2351…landline of the Mangeshkars..the younger sister Usha answered. After I introduced myself she just rattled off like a Dombivili fast local…she merely voiced her angst & ire at the minister who had taunted the ‘BIG people.’ She was interrupted twice by her ‘didi.’ I finally overheard her saying “stop this banter i will only talk to the person.” She said “namaskar !” & for a full second i was voiceless…tongue-tied & struggled to speak..she immediately said “me Lata Mangeshkar boltey,” in her girlish voice. (can’t blame the men to melt).

Till that moment i was expecting things like “sorry I can’t talk,” “why have you called us to bother us,” etc, etc. I was even prepared for ‘didi’ to change her voice, (as she’s known to change her voice & say “lata didi is not at home”)….I NEVER imagined that the nightingale/singing queen would talk to me directly!

Regaining my composure i re-introduced myself. After a small pause she chatted & told me how life would become painful with the flyover. I asked her if i could I publish this & attribute to her (quote) & she said “You must write. All people need to come forward and take stand on this, no one individual can do anything. I will talk to the chief minister but we will have to bring a stay order on this flyover & we will need to consult our lawyer first.”

She even asked me if i had spoken to her lawyer Mohan Jaykar (yaya same…husband of Smita Jaykar). I told her that he was on some case in the Supreme Court & he wasn’t answering my phone, but i had smsd him. Ms Mangeshkar then asked me to pass on her message to her lawyer. I asked her if she wanted Mohan’s number, and she promptly said, “Me kashala karu tyana phone, tyana sanga mala phhone karayala.” (Why should i call, ask him to call me). This call with Lata didi lasted for 5.13 minutes. After which i spoke to Veena Singhal (president of Peddar Rd Residents’ Assn) & Milind Deora for their reactions.

On March 26, DNA carried Lata Mangeshkar’s news on the front page. But wait, Subhash K Jha, the most trusted lieutenant of the Bollywood world also had a scoop…Lata didi told him she would leave Mumbai city & go if the flyover came up. Meanwhile i smsd mr Jaykar & informed “that Lataji wanted him to speak to her.” Next four days were a roller coaster ride for Mr Jha & Yours truly. People insinuated things about me. Accused me of fabricating the quotes & story…but i liked the true Bombay spirit shown by listeners. People said, “Didi we will help you pack your bags.”

Sorry…this letting out one’s ire has NOTHING to do with her singing, talent & god given talent. NO one has doubted all of it. I’m distressed that of the lack of bond that the person showed as regards to the city that made her successful & gave her everything. Sad that many elite people in this city are selfish & don’t wish to give back anything to Bombay. Hello, weren’t these the very people who will criticise the likes of Medha Patkar??? Accused her of stalling projects & rest of the elite are quiet on Lata?

As the reactions began coming in regarding Lata Mangeshkar’s news, madam suddenly got an attack of amnesia, so typical Bollywood…she put ‘Henna’ to shame! She just sent out faxes from her true friend, politician’s office…outright denying she spoke to any media person! Outrageous… yes considering that it was none other than the Bharat ratna who has lied…she has stature, respect, was on a pedestal in all the eyes of all Indians….but why after four days deny something that did happen?

i’m a journalist. I had a few questions…why did She not fax, instead of using Raj Thackeray’s off? A billionairess doesn’t have a fax machine? Is she being supported by the politican in this issue that concerns thousands of Mumbaikars?? No one wrote about this but the letter has been stored by many of my colleagues…

I’m paid as a journo to report truthfully & i’m committed to it. I have a job & i’m clear i will report correctly rather than publish half truths for the sake of keeping good relations with anyone. i retrieved my call list from the computer & got a print out. Our sweet tele operator, Raju…He saved my reputation! And my notes…well, my dirty old habit of writing down while the person talks has helped me tremendously. I spoke to few lawyers who said hand-written notes are admitted & even sent to handwriting expert. As a rule i save my notes for at least 7 years.

My bosses didn’t bat an eyelid, altho the reporter was already rolling her big fat eyes at me saying she was just alerting me that ‘didi’ was going on record to deny her conversation with me…hahahaha..what should i say?? Her politician friend’s close aides asked me why i had published an article depicting her wrongly, how could Lata didi lie?

Excuse me? What does it take for some big personality to lie? I strongly believe that it takes a lot to speak the truth! I asked, “Why? Isn’t Lata a liar? She is if she feigns ignorance of speaking to me even after giving me an interview.” Its a matter of my reputation, credibility & reportage. Her denial simply means she has labelised & maligned me for reporting truly…oh the next thing i know is I’ve insulted a Bharat ratna…didi…how could i bitch about her? How have i spoken such ill of such a great personality…Some gossip that was spread -i’m happy.

I want to kick ass…one needs guts & courage to stand up for what one believes in & sadly NOT all humans have it. We have time & again seen how renowned & highly talented people have screwed their reputation publicly..whether it is owning up to an alleged murder of an ordinary citizen/an affair, financial/professional problems or simply sticking to what one has said. A social/environmental/political issue is not everybody’s cup of tea. More so the issue here is to do with Mumbai city’s project.

Can development can be stalled for one person? Do we forget the project-affected people in our poor rural areas that are left homeless & without any rehabilitation? And here we Bombayites suffer day-in-&-day-out waiting for minutes to get a clear road from Lotus cinema onwards down Haji Ali uptil Kemp’s Corner. All because there is no flyover…Peddar road is where the rich people live- including the one who objected…

The story did create waves in the city…i got many a friend & peer calling me up & congratulating me…some colleagues bitched & sniggered, my bosses were proud of me…but really speaking the interview with Lata was something that just happened by fluke. It was sheer timing of the news…just that ‘didi’ & her fans, devout ones especially should realise that this is my job & profession. I love news & can smell it ahead….