Saturday, June 28, 2008

I lead a double life

MINT, the Wall Street Journal's partner newspaper in India, interviewed me recently. The story appeared today. It's called "I lead a double life", and it is about five people, each of them juggling an offbeat passion with a regular career. I was one of the five. They figured I was a good subject, since I have a mainstream consulting career as well multiple tourism businesses.
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This is the photo that appeared with the article. For once, I look like a "successful banking technology consultant". And what's more, I look suitably entrepreneurial, don't I? The kids running next to me are guides on the 'Mumbai Local' tour.
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This is what the article said about me:
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From 9 to 5, Deepa Krishnan, an IIM Calcutta graduate, is at her day job, as a successful banking technology consultant. But after work, she lets her passion for history and architecture take over. “I found most tourists in cities were given cookie-cutter tours. They were actually clich├ęd and unimaginative impressions. I thought I could be more specific with my city tours through proper story-telling, and create a cultural mosaic that people can identify with,” says the 39-year-old Mumbaikar. Krishnan organizes city walks in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai through her three websites: www.mumbaimagic.com, http://www.delhimagic.com/, and http://www.filtercoffeetours.com/.

But for Krishnan, the toughest part about being in a job and indulging her passion was learning to negotiate the grey zone between family, work and passion. “When my daughter was little, I had to set my ambitions aside. I had to choose not to do this as my family may have suffered, but now that my daughter is 14, I can juggle both. In fact, my daughter and mother also write for my blog,” says Krishnan, who sometimes works 12-14 hours a day to stay on top of things.
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Just for the record, when my daughter was little, I had absolutely no ambition for a second career, or for anything offbeat. I hadn't even heard of responsible tourism. So the "I had to set my ambitions aside" is poppycock. What I said to the writer was that its easier to find time for multiple careers when you don't have a young child; and that I wouldn't have done it when my daughter was younger.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Naming of a House

- By Janaki Krishnan

Naming your child is no longer brain-racking, since there are readymade lists available in the market. But finding a suitable name for your own house still remains a personal domain unconquered by marketers.

In my native Kerala, where a Brahmin house is called a muttom, naming a house is easy. A house on the eastern side of the road or temple is Kizhakke Muttom (East House), and the one to the south is Thekke Muttom (South House).

But it is not always that simple. For most people, the name of the house reflects their dreams, aspirations, principles and leanings - social, emotional and religious.
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My grandfather, a lover of trees, named his house Thoppil Muttom (The House Among the Orchards). At Thoppil Muttom, the luxurious growth of trees - coconut, mango, jackfruit, arecanut, chikoo and orange - would actually hide the very existence of the house in the centre. It was like living in a green forest. Of course, he could also have named it after one of the perennial Himalayan rivers, because the well in the compound never ran dry, and was a regular source of water for neighbouring houses even in the driest years.

The urban scene has its own interesting variations. In Chennai, my daughter lived in a building named Oyster Opera - perhaps the owner considered it a precious pearl along the Besant Nagar beach!

Several houses and buildings in Bombay have names that reflect their owners' glory. In Matunga, our landlord Maganlal Popatlal Shah built three buildings, and gave them to his three sons. He made sure his grandchildren would remember him, by naming the buildings Magan Vihar, Magan Nivas and Magan Kunj !
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An emotional attachment to one's place of birth is natural - but very few people who come to Bombay are able to go back to live in those surroundings. No wonder one of my relatives in suburban Goregaon named his home Bilwadri House, in honour of the presiding deity in his village, Bilwadrinathan.

Housing societies where people of all communities live prefer secular names. The complex of three buildings where I now live is called Tribhuvan Society (Three-Buildings Society). The Air Force Quarters at Sion has named its two buildings Engineer and Mukherjea, presumably after some meritorious officers, to ensure that their memory remains alive. A residential building near Sion Fort has called itself Sahas (Courage) - perhaps indicating the owner's willingness to fight against all odds!

Since ultimately, what we all desire is a happy, healthy and peaceful life; the real winners in the popularity contest are names like Shanti Kunj, Paradise, Sukh Sagar and Anand Nivas. I am sure there's one of these names in your neighbourhood!
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(Published in Hindustan Times HT Cafe July 29, 2008)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sago Story

I finished my meeting in Nariman Point by 12:30. I was starving, but the next meeting was in Worli at 1:00. There was no time for a sit-down lunch, and I really didn't feel like eating the usual vada-pav or bhelpuri.

"Let's stop for a minute at Babulnath", I told the driver. I had Dave Farsan Mart in mind.



Dave is pronounced Duh-whey, in case you didn't know. Farsan is the Gujarati word for tea-time snacks. Dave Farsan Mart is a little hole in the wall outfit, but God, their farsans are delicious. As usual, there were people at the counter, buying stuff by the kilo.
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I bought myself a plate of sabudana vada. Well, I say plate, but really, it was a cup. With two piping hot vadas, and a pale green chutney. By the time I got to my next meeting, I was smiling a happy smile.

These days, I've been having a rather passionate affair with sabudana. My maid makes brilliant sabudana khichdi for breakfast. I'll post photos here, soon as I find them. They're here somewhere on my PC.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Woohoo, I'm on national TV!

This morning NDTV 24 x 7 covered Mumbai Local, a new tour that I launched this season.

It is a tour with a difference - because it takes tourists out of the comfort zone of private cars and airconditioned buses. On the Mumbai Local tour, tourists get an inside view of Mumbai by going on our iconic red BEST buses, black-and-yellow taxis, and of course, our famous local trains. The tour starts at the Gateway of India, and covers all the "must-see" places in the city - but in a way that's guaranteed to show you the "real" Mumbai! To round it off, it includes tea and snacks at Swati Snacks, where tourists get an introduction to Mumbai's special brand of fast food.

The guides for this tour are special too. They are a group of teenagers, from Akanksha Foundation, who we trained for 3 months to do this tour. Akanksha helps children from disadvantaged families, several of them from small chawls and slums. I've been supporting Akanksha through donations, but I figured asking Akanksha kids to become guides on this tour would be a better than just offering financial help. Here's a tour in progress:

The two girls on the right are guides. They both come from poor families, but have completed school, and are now in college. I want these teenagers to show visitors the city as they see it everyday – home to both the rich and the poor, alive and vibrant, and constantly on the move. I'm hoping that seeing the city through the eyes of these young guides will give tourists an insight into the true spirit of Mumbai.

For the guides too, the tours are an opportunity to meet people from different parts of the world, to learn new things, and to see the world a little differently. There are five guides - four girls and one boy - the tours give them an opportunity not just to earn pocket money or supplement their family income, but also to learn how to handle a wide range of situations. They are growing increasingly confident with each tour, so I am personally very happy.

NDTV interviewed me as well, and I spouted some nonsense about the tour - I didn't fumble, thank God. They told me later I was "a natural". I should've dressed for the interview, of course, instead of showing up in my oldest T-shirt and cargo pants. I thought I'd play it cool, you see? So there I was, on national TV, faded Tshirt, streaked kajal and limp hair, and looking like a small sized blimp. Sigh. So much for playing it cool. I don't dare post a photo, but the video is here on the NDTV site.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Spotted in Chor Bazaar

I went to Chor Bazaar today, and spotted a couple of shops selling old coins. Among the most common coins were the "ONE ANNA" coins of the East India Company.
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I don't know a thing about coins, but I figured they were fake (note the variations in the Om symbol). Besides, the coin in the centre has 1939 minted on it. I thought the Company Sarkar was abolished in 1861 after the Mutiny? We asked for the price of a single coin, and the man said Rs 50.

The other interesting thing I spotted in Chor Bazaar was brass milk cans. This photo is from a set of three cans; I was tempted to buy all three and turn them into interesting planters for my potted ferns. Asking price: Rs 1200 per can. Should I have bought them?
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Another store was selling metal armour (who buys these things anyway?) I stood for a minute and looked at the design of the armour. Are those trousers? How do you pee if you wear these, for God's sake? Or maybe battle is about holding it in while you slash and cut your way through to the nearest toilet.

All in all, Chor Bazaar is quite interesting. I keep discovering new things every time I go there.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Yep. It's raining in Mumbai!

This photo is for my cousin Anjali, who lives in Ohio now. She gets nostalgic about Mumbai sometimes, and makes intermittent attempts to come back.
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The floods are crazy these days, Anju. All it takes is a little rain for the flooding to begin.
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Do you remember when school closed because of floods? Did you go ever go walking from school to home in a flood? I did once, and the highlight was that I found a dead cockroach floating in the water under King's Circle bridge, and totally freaked.
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During yesterday's rains, I saw this woman walking - she had such a look of disgust on her face that it brought back those cockroach memories! As a matter of fact, I can still see the floating wings in my mind and that bloated brown body...aaaaaaaargh I'm freaking out again already!
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Anju's parents are on their way to India this month, after several months in the US. So this second photo is for them.
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Welcome back to Mumbai! The Rain Gods are waiting for you!