Personal opinion

Walking Mumbai’s Red-light


It is 11pm. We’ve just had dinner at Café Noorani near Heera Panna and are now making headway to one of the city’s most menacing locales. Arzai (name changed) is with us. He has promised us a slice of Mumbai’s dark side. I am not keen about the visit, in fact I am very sceptical, not because I am not well-protected, but because the red-light is not the most fascinating place to be. When you see people of the same sexes garishly displaying their bodies as if to be objectified only, a bag of mixed emotions surface. There is anger, there is sympathy, there is hatred or there is either absolute ignorance.
We have decided to watch the red-light from inside the car. It is said that the red-light just gets brighter post 9pm and business is at its peak. We first pass by Falkland Road. The narrow pathway greets you with an unpleasant stench and you don’t know from where it is coming. But the smell reeks of filthy sex, small money, poor women and hungry men.
The stench is augmented by the restaurants, which have their pantries outside. Sweaty men are cooking chicken tikkas and naan for the customers who want to have full of everything today (both sex and food). Falkland Road is also lined with three cinema halls of which I remember Roshan Cinema. Right now it is screening “Golden Girl”- A rated.
On either side of the road, there are small buildings each compartmentalised into small rooms. The doors of the ground-floors are opened while the top floors have iron cages, just like the one you find in elevators.
Interestingly, these cages were built in the mid-1900s on the orders of the police. Girls in the red-light would be dragged or molested by pushy men. At the time, prostitution was at its peek, and men would literally line the doors for their turn. The cages were built on the ground and top floors to ensure that these girls remain within their safe havens and not loiter around in the “tolerated areas” and become victims of notoriety. These cages though of not much use today, still stand rusted but strong in these partially dilapidated buildings.
The women here are freely moving for customers. They are approaching men, calling out to them, making sleazy gestures. Most are dressed awkwardly in tight-fitting clothes, lining their stomachs which have developed a bubble with time. If they are wearing sarees, you wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t cover the upper-half of the body. Plunging necklines, red lipstick and heavily powdered – these women are nothing close to being deceptive prostitutes. It is a mix breed, from ages 16 to 60 to limitless frontiers, from the east (Bengal, Bangladesh, Assamese) west (Gujarat), north (Nepalese) and south (Tamilians and Kannadigas).
You know they are commercial sex workers and they have no reservations about it. They flaunt it, regardless of any appreciation. They are the cheapest of the lot (Rs 50 to Rs 500) and they have no qualms about it.
Enter Foras Road, which is on the other side of Falkland Road, and I feel like I have approached a dead end. It is nothing like Falkland Road. Prostitution is close to redundancy here and cane workers and tall buildings line the road instead. However, few metres ahead, the lanes of Kamathipura speak the same language of Brothels. Kamathipura is split into some 14 lanes, each unique with its own story to tell. Some of these however bear the footprints of residential homes today, as several brothels have now shifted base.
The ride was interesting, but Arzai tells us that there is more to come…he speaks of Congress House. Before I begin, let me give you a briefer. Congress House is located in one of the bylanes of Lamington Road near the Grant Road police station.

Once a beehive of India’s freedom fighters, the Congress House which is an enclave of seven buildings is literally surrounded by a mujra complex. Its only sightings with History are the names of the buildings like Sarojini Sadan, Dadabhai Manzil, Jinnah Hall, Congress Restaurant and Beer Bar.
In 1972, Mrs Indira Gandhi the then Prime Minister had set up a Sangeet Academy at Congress House. The Academy was home to members of the Agra community of singers and dancers who organised dance shows for the royals over 300 years ago.
I am sure she did not realise what it was going to be like today. Since the Sangeet Academy is located close to Congress House and because the National party’s activities are now dysfunctional, Sangeet Academy has become synonymous to the Congress House.
Arzai also tells me that partymen at the Congress House were fond of song and dance (naach-gaana). So, after their days work, a mujra session would usually be called for late in the night… and women would sing and dance to the tunes of tablas and harmoniums. This is how the place went on to become a mujra complex and also flourished with time.
The ambience of a mujra performance is usually unique in itself. It has mirrored walls, huge chandeliers and brightly lit rooms that are filled with drinkers, who splurge money on girls. Well-depicted in movies, these men shower notes on the girls or gift them with garlands of notes.
Over the years the definition of Mujras has however changed, more due to the taste in music.

I attended one and it was less like a typical Mujra and more like a dance bar -this one is at the Congress House. The entrance has a old board which reads Sangeet Academy. As we enter, we have male and female gazes on us. People stare from floors above and are suspicious about the unregulars around. However, unlike Kamathipura and Falkland Road, the girls are extremely beautiful. Lustrous black hair, milk like skin and designer or expensive sarees…yes, this is not exactly the red-light, this according to Arzai is where mujras or kothas take place. The girls come from Agra, UP and Delhi.
When I attended one of the mujras sessions, the feel of the original Mujra is devastatingly tweaked. There are mirrors, tabla players, a singer and bling-bling lights….all apart but the musicians are stationery, they just sit and watch.

The music comes from blaring speakers and these pretty looking north-Indian damsels dance to the tune of Bollywood remixes. Two guests are sitting in the centre and they have in their hands several bundles of Rs 10 notes.
One of the guests tries his best to get hold of the girl or touch her, but all that he can do is pat her on the waist. He pats her twice on her waist and then gets no more of it. According to Arzai they don’t sleep for a pittance. Each of them make a maximum of Rs 50,000 per day, only by dancing and…wow, I say. The girls remain confined to their homes during the day and only work at night. Their day begins at around 3pm and goes on till 4 am.
Incidentally, they don’t work as prostitutes but naachne wallis instead. If they sleep, it is for the master who feeds them enough so that they don’t shift loyalties. Once they are his, the are salaried.
I move out in 10 minutes. It is not the best performance, but the thumkas, jhatkas and eye expressions can be a treat for any man, both inviting and sensual.
Well, this is some slice. One dark, one light, one monetarily exhausting and the other financially tempting…This is a slice of “red-light” Mumbai


Pic: Courtesy The New York Times
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Ranting

Cartoons that were idiotically boxed in my childhood

Eight years…uhhh…seven..hmm six… no, I think eight is right.
Yes, its been eight years since I sat animatedly to watch cartoons that ran on my idiot box. I must have been 14 and yet I was still obsessed with Tom and Jerry, Flintstones, Jetsons, Scooby Doo. Today, I realise that age is getting on me (22 being close on heals), I try best switch my remote — err..before a midlife crisis — to the POGOs or Cartoon Networks of our times from my daily Sitcoms and news trash, but, to my dissapointment all I get to see is some Japanese cartoons (Shing-chang, Pokemon, Doremon and all that jazz), which I personally feel is NON-SENSICAL TRASH dumped to a lull group of X-BOX and Play-station obsessed kids.

Yes, I do miss some of my favourite cartoons and am sad that none of it is being fed to the present generation and beyond. And so, this overtly magnanimous ego of mine…deflates…refuses to switch to cartoon channels for now, but instead opts for the better option to vent my cartoon woes…Ah…well you know…MY BLOG…My beshtest friend…
So here it goes, the list of my favourite cartoons that were idiotically boxed in my childhood (in no lovable order)


DUCKTALES

Uncle Scrooge McDuck and his three great-nephews Dewey, Huey, Louie were the most loved foursome among my friend circle. We used to love the cartoon to the core and most of my girl and boy friends would specially drop by to my house daily, only to catch up with the next episode together.
The most fascinating element in this Walt Disney production was the GOLD ELEMENT..yes..wait I am getting there… I loved watching Uncle Scrooge swim in his “gold coin-pool” hidden in the circular round locker inside his dollar-signed office building.
Scrooge was probably the richest duck in town, but woah, the greedy uncle wanted more, so the cartoon script was a twist from the Bollywood one-linerA total paisa dekh tamasha dekh (original being Paisa phek tamasha dekh).
Well, most of the times, the episodes were all about shielding Uncle Scrooge’s wealth from the Beagle Boys and the devilishly beautiful Magica De Spell. It was an out an out chase for the “big-bucks”.
Uncle Scrooge, who hated his naughty little great-nephews in the begining of every episode and constantly cursed his nephew Donald for making him their foster parent, virtually made them participants in his “save my money game.” So, in the end they were one big happy family, saving us kids aka my friends a beautiful smile.

SCOOBY DOO

Scooby doobie Doo WHERE ARE YOU? You got some work to do now…. hmm…I can still sing the song for you. I have fond memories of this cartoon in particular, especially because it was one of mine and my brother Saby’s most loved cartoons. We were one of the biggest fans around, probably because its eerie feel and prudish spookiness and the silly ghost-busting brigade i.e. Shaggie and Scooby Doo followed by Freddie (who was always on the driver’s seat in the Dream Machine car), the hottie Daphine and Velma (intelligent, smart and daring of the lot), excited our ghostly sensibilities.
I remember Saby play Freddie and me Welma, to add to the romantic touch, my brother’s pupply-love would play Daphine. We would re-run the entire show daily after watching it, that was the extent of our craze. It was fun, how we would keep guessing who the real ghost was till the end of the cartoon, though often it was more than obvious. Yes, but Scooby Doo had a standard story line which would end by unmasking the mysterious ghost.
The most adorable characters of them all were Shaggie and Scooby Doo the hungriest of the lot. They would salivate on burgers and ice-creams and the scooby snack ofcourse.
The “Dream Machine” gang would only have to feed scooby snacks to Shaggy and Scooby Doo to persuade them to disguise and confront the ghost face to face.
Somewhere in between we also had Scooby’s nephew Scrappy Doo but well he did not fit the bill or for that matter the “Dream Machine team”.
This Hanna Barbera production was such a big hit, that the cartoon was followed by two Hollywood movies, one a sequel to the other. There have been several versions of the Scooby Doo cartoon ever since…but none could beat the original. Interestingly, the original run was in 1969, i.e. over FOUR decades ago, but good cartoons die-hard and so has Scooby Doooo..

CAPTAIN PLANET

“With your powers combined, I, am Captain Planet?” Yes, Captain Planet…this is the only action cartoon I never had qualms about watching with the boys. The script goes like this….five ordinary people are gifted with the rings of elemental power Wind, Water, Earth, Fire, Heart by the Earthy Spirit Gaia. These five come from different parts of the world and unite to form the “Planateers” who have been destined to Save Planet Earth.
Individually, their Earthly energies helps keep away the enemy from harming the environment, but, when the enemy overpowers, they combine their energies by placing their rings forward and calling out to our very own CAPTAIN PLANET. And as the song goes, Captain Planet…He’s the hero, gonna bring pollution down to zero. However, Captain Planet is weakened when he comes in direct contact with pollutants.
The beautiful Earth Spirit Gaia protects these planateers and regularly briefs them on the next environment-protection assignment while also informing them about the doers of such crime.
Gaia is my favourite, because she was absolutely mystical. The best part about this Ted-Tuner production was that it was fun yet informative at the same time. It helped young kids like me become more environmentally concious.
Yes….The Power is Yours….

TOM AND JERRY



Tom and Jerry nahin dekha to kya dekha. Yes, this cartoon cannot “just” skip your mind. Originally created by William Hanna and Joesph Barbera for MGM Productions, Tom and Jerry is the story of a blue-grey housecat (Tom) and a brown mouse (Jerry). Supposedly living under one roof, Tom and Jerry replicate the real-life enemity between mice and cats. But what it offers, is out and out non-sensical, hysterical, power-packed comical violence dramatically toned with endless battles and chases. The mouse triggers, the cat is triggered and the never-ending chase continues…unfortunately poor Tom never manages to catch the menacing Jerry. In one or two of the cartoons they patch up and vow friendship only to become fierce enemies in the next. Interestingly, Tom also dies is more than three of the cartoon shows, but, again, he never really dies, he comes back to haunt lil Jerry.
All cartoons however run high and dry without other characters who help make it big, Spike (the bulldog) and his sone Tyke, Quacker, Mammy two shoes (the African American housemaid – known for kicking Tom out of home often), Nibbles (the little orphan mouse), the gold-fish are some of these.
My favourite cartoon from among the series is The Night before Christmas.
I AM A LUCKY ONE THOUGH, I don’t need cartoon channels to view re-runs, I have my prized Tom and Jerry video cassette-collection, which I turn to whenever I need to lift my mood. And don’t be suprised….the first Tom and Jerry Cartoon was screened in 1940…and the series alone have one seven Academy awards. So, you know that no one outgrows watching the cartoon, and no other cartoon has been able to beat the Cat-Mouse duo.

OK… I LOVED MANY MORE, BUT THESE WERE FOUR OF MY FAVOURITE. I have decided to pen only this much before you get bored any further. But, I cannot do without mentioning them, so here it is
Johnny Quest, Flintstones, Richie Rich, The Jetsons, Tale Spin, Swat Cats, Alladin, The Little Mermaid, Pink Panther, Popeye, The Perils of Penelope Pistop, Top Cat, Cat Dog, Courage the Cowardly Dog… I think this should suffice, Poor little kiddies are missing so much these days


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Politics

STILL HOPEFUL

It was my first oppurtunity as a voter, I was excited that I would no longer be a mute spectator but a participant in the government making process. The whole “responsibility-towards-the-Nation” thing had seeped into me to such an extent that I personally went an applied for mine and four of my other family members’ names in the electoral list early in August 2008. I wrote about exercising voting rights in my blog, in magazines, in the newspaper I work etc. My cousins mocked at my excitement and found my reasons to vote very lame.
However, somewhere post the attacks the energy of participation dwindled. I did not want to preach, i did not want to ridicule, I did not want to act…I simply did not want to do anything. I was neither an optimist nor a pessimist, I simply did not want to do anything.
Come elections, working in the news room did some good to me. The daily reports from our political reporters, editing those copies and news packages gave me a brief idea on whom to vote and not to. But since I simply did not want to do anything, i did not bother to check if my name had come in the electoral list…instead I moved on… speaking to friends on the poor state of political affairs in the state, the wannabe PMs, the daily menacing smses from PRs of political parties.
“What a sham,” I thought.
To add to this, Congress MP’ Milind Deora was standing from my constituency. What a sham again? My family has been a Congress supporter for decades now, but, hey, Deora’s “indispensable work” as he claims in the last 5 years did nothing to magnetise me. I did not wantto vote him.
But somewhere, the feeling of parting with responsibility was making me guilt laden.
again but I wanted the Congress, less because of my family ties and more because i wanted Dr Manmohan Singh.
Unlike Advani, he may not seem to be a “desperate seeker of power” but his sombre approach to accusations from the Opposition is electrifying. I agree that during Singh’s reign security has been at loose ends, but I also know that if we have the BJP worse is expected. Despite BJP’s Hindutava agenda, Godhra and Babri Masji as track record big corporates still vouch for BJP… Again such a sham?
However, I was a little let down by Congress’ very poor weapon to attack their OPPOSITION…that is “Kandahar”. The Congress should have realised that every government has its own set of problems to tackle. If BJP had Kandahar, then the Congress had 7/11, 26/11, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi serial blasts and more. If BJP released a terrorist, Congress failed to tackle the terrorist…By digging up Kandahar to counter-attack their “failed to act on terror” flaws, Congress did not only behave prudishly but also dissapointed several of its voters….who were expecting some strong war of words…and war politics…perhaps they could have spoken of how Manmohan Singh’s government tackled the Global Recession. That was a remarkable feat…
Unfortunately, India for the last decade or so has been sitting on the lap of uncertainity. And the government is not doing better any to reassert this claim.
Sometimes I strongly feel that I want Manmohan Singh more because I don’t want BJP to come to power. So I voted for Milind and so I want Singh badly. But I am still hopeful that Congress realises its flaws and works on core issues that are affect the nation instead of building allies outside the country. I voted….I voted because I am STILL HOPEFUL

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Love

And it was good

The romantics made rose of it,


The little-jewels made gold of it,


The flirts made a mock of it,


The animals made hunger of it,


The cartoonists made potrayals of it,


The psychos made craze of it,


The strong made weak of it,


The haters made venom of it,


The drinkers made relief of it,


The instruments made music of it,


The foodies made taste of it,


The doctor made treatment of it,


The scientist made subject of it,


And This girl made love of it…
And it was good

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