A working girl’s Bandra

Abundant pubs and cafes, quaint churches and a whole lot of shopping: these are just the few of the things I didn’t quite experience while living in Bandra. A working girl’s Bandra is slightly different from the picture we usually see, and it looks something like this:

At the start of the year, I lived as Paying Guest near Hill Road, famed for its cheap shopping, something that I never had a chance to sample. I did, however, watch other people, hoards of them, enjoy themselves as they shopped for brightly coloured tank tops, outrageously kitschy flip-flops and the infamous ‘Being Human’ tee-shirts, on my way home from work. This was my life in Bandra, enjoying the sights of what other people experienced, and I’m not complaining, it was invigorating in its own way. I’d head out every morning to take in a heady floral fragrance emanating from the pretty little bungalows all around only to be slapped in the face by the fumes of an auto rickshaw zooming past. “No problem, enjoy the moment” I’d say, and smile and walk on.

On the short walk to the main road, I’d encounter charming dogs being taken around usually, not by their ‘master’ but by their dog-walker. Being a dog-fan, these little guys (or girls, it was difficult to tell without proper inspection) would make my day as they passed me by with a goofy grin on their face, tails wagging happily in the air while sniffing every inch of the sidewalk in a crazed fervour. That was of course until I’d inevitably step into some dog poo and have to go back to change my footwear, resulting in me being late for work. “All worth it”, I’d tell myself.

On my way back from office, if I wasn’t watching the frenzy of Hill Road from the backseat of the cab, I’d watch the well-groomed little old ladies and the chivalrous looking old men as they leaned on each other and made their way to church with a quiet dignity. There was always an intrigue about the looming edifices of churches, these sacred houses of God that gave off an air of old-world beauty. More than just places of worship, churches in Bandra seemed to be communal hubs, thriving with the spirited activity of their inhabitants.

Other communal hubs that I missed out on were the ubiquitous cafes and restaurants that plague Bandra like a friendly virus. I did make it to a few of them over weekends but there were too many to take in all together during my short stay. I did notice that though numerous, each cafe usually managed to maintain a different vibe, whether it was the clientele, the food, the service or the decor, they all seem slightly differently, yet gave off this ‘Bandraness’ about them that was hard to define and noticed mostly only by ‘non-Bandraites’.

When not at a cafe, my weekends would be spent either at Pune, or hidden away in my room at my ‘PG accommodation’, another Bandra institution. Many friends had advised me against staying in a PG place owing to the “overly-strict landladies”. “They’ll keep a curfew, they’ll pry into your private life and most importantly, no boys will be allowed to visit you!”. My parents, on the other hand, thought these to be the best reasons to have me stay as a PG. Not really bothered about either side of the argument, I took up a place that suited me best because of its location, the facility of an all-day maid and gave me two of the cutest dogs in the world as roommates. I was one of the lucky few who didn’t have to stick to a curfew, my landlady did however, go into my room whenever she felt like ‘tidying up’ and there were strict rules for using the kitchen. Even though I had my own room, it didn’t feel like I had much privacy, yet I stuck to my place. At the end of a long, tiring day, it was nice to have a ‘home’ to come back to and fellow PG girls will understand the importance and bliss of such a feeling.

Looking back on my stay in Bandra, it feels like it might’ve been slightly uneventful and I might’ve not experienced all that there was to experience there. However, I did see a lot of interesting sights that will always make me want to go back, and in that way, I’m glad to have experienced a different yet intriguing working girl’s Bandra.

Also posted on: A Girl in Mumbai

Unpretty Days

No matter how confident we appear, how high our heels are or how shiny our hair is, there are days in every girl’s life when she feels ‘unpretty’. Societal conditioning often leads us to believe that we must achieve this ‘perfect’ body image that has been placed in front of us in adverts, magazines and on TV, in order to get ahead in our jobs and get with the ‘right’ men. So, on days when the pressure is too much, when a boy hints that he doesn’t like your hair or when another girl sneers at your new dress, we bring out the ice cream tubs, put on baggy sweatpants and curl up in bed, unwilling to face the cruel world outside. For a few lucky girls, these days are a rare occurrence, but for most of us (I hope, because I really don’t want to feel like the only loser who goes through this) these annoyingly depressing thoughts get us down periodically. I think the worst comes when our ‘time of the month’ decides to clash with these days of ‘unpretty’. Bloated stomachs that feel like giant bouncy castles, tired eyes that seem droopy and faces that look like blown up balloons are too much for anyone to handle! I usually deal with this by re-watching Bridget Jones for the millionth time and fooling myself into believing that Colin Firth and Hugh Grant are not unachievable dreams.

The point is, we could all use a little pick-me-up on days when we’re down, so here is my list of top five empowering songs to play when you’re feeling ‘unpretty’ 
1) Unpretty – TLC (c’mon, you saw that coming!): These three ladies from back in the day got it right with the video and the song. Perfect for going from down and depressed, to hopeful and contemplative about your own perception of the ‘perfect’ body image.
2) Beautiful – Christina Aguilera: The pop princess of yesteryear’s appeal to believe that “you are beautiful, no matter what they say” actually feels sincere and it’s somehow comforting to know that a girl as stunning as Ms Aguilera also goes through this harrowing ordeal of self-doubt.
3)  I am not my hair – India Arie: This is such a nostalgic and beautiful song! Ms Arie sings it right when she says it’s not about her hair, it’s what’s inside that matters. So, don’t worry about the pouf, or the frizziness or even the flat head days, wear your hair down in defiance or scrunch it into a carefree bun. If they don’t see you for the awesome person that you are, they aren’t worth the pain.
4) Daughters – John Mayer: Okay, so I know this song has nothing to do with body image but isn’t it wonderful to think that a bad boy like John Mayer is trying to figure women out and appreciate them for just being themselves? It gives you this unnatural hope that John Mayer type hotties will love and cherish a girl blessed with a ‘good good heart’. Now that, certainly picks me up 😉
5) Put your records on – Corinne Bailey Rae: This is such an all-round feel-good song! The video is brilliant in itself, filled with warm tones and comforting images. The young Ms Rae doesn’t sound preachy, she sounds optimistic, encouraging and just down right helpful when she sings “you’re gonna find yourself somewhere, somehow”.
There you have it, a small list to help you feel better on ‘unpretty’ days. This is obviously just a temporary solution, the sooner we learn to love our bodies just as they are, and the sooner men learn to do the same, the better we shall all be. Don’t you agree?

Five starter tips for students going abroad

The prospect of studying abroad can seem quite daunting to many of us. Students can spend endless hours online looking for tips, tricks and guides to survival. The important thing to remember is to keep all the finer points of the soon-to-come experience in mind and welcome it with open arms. Think of all the new friends you’ll make, new sights you’ll see and the new learning you’re soon to have. To help you cope with the initial stages of studying abroad, here are a few starter tips to keep in mind:

1)    Be social
During the first few weeks of college, everybody is usually very friendly and social since everyone’s looking to find their clique. Chances are that your classmates, hall mates, etc will invite you to several gatherings and outings. Try to be adventurous and accept as many invites as you can (and want). The initial stages are the easiest to get to know people and find friends. While you’re abroad it is more important than ever to have a strong support system, a group of friends who are there to look out for you and make your experience more fun. Students abroad often suffer from bouts of homesickness periodically and it’s imperative to have friends who will get you through those difficult days. And who knows, if you’re lucky like me, you’ll probably meet some amazing people and find a few new best friends.

2)    Get involved
Your university is bound to have a range of societies and clubs ready to take on freshers. You might even have a societies’ fair during induction week where all the societies on campus will put up stalls and encourage you to join them. Make sure you go to the fair or at least read up on all the different societies, you’re certain to find a few that take your fancy. From bungee jumping, to Harry Potter appreciation, to the Indian society, they cover a whole spectrum of interests and are a great way to meet new people, network and unwind after a long day of studying. Membership is usually a nominal amount that covers you for the entire year and gives you access to all the society’s events. So, get involved with your favourite society, it doesn’t take up much time and it makes for a great escape from the daily grind of studies.

3)    Be inquisitive
Considering that the main reason for studying abroad is, well, ‘studying’; aim to get the most out of your education. Professors abroad generally tend to be quite informal and open to discussion about the subject they’re teaching. Go ahead and be a bit of a geek, ask questions and get all your doubts clarified without any hesitation. After all, you are paying a lot for this degree so you should make sure it’s worth your while. Developing a good rapport with your professors is also a good way of networking. The job market abroad is still pretty tight so if you’ve done your bit and let your professor know your capabilities, he/she is more likely to go the extra mile to help you out with the job seeking process post your degree.

4)    Get the complete experience
Studying abroad is not just about the classroom experience, it’s so much more, it’s about experiencing a new life. Use your spare time to explore and find the route less travelled. Sample the local delicacies, learn about the local culture and consider chatting with the cab drivers/ shopkeepers about their way of life. Get to know the local students and discover how different/similar your lives are. It’s these little things that’ll eventually turn into unforgettable memories you’ll reminisce over later and hopefully make your studying abroad one of the best experiences of your life!

5)    Don’t forget to call home
It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of things when you’re abroad. There will be a lot to learn and a lot to experience. Enjoy your time there but be a responsible son/daughter and make sure you don’t for get to call home often. Sending their kids away for studies or work is usually a harrowing experience for parents so they’ll appreciate being updated regularly about your new life. Getting an economical calling card/ phone plan is simple, easy and it’s bound to give your family some well-deserved peace of mind!

Note: The author enjoyed studying abroad for a Masters degree in Marketing at the University of St Andrews, UK.

"Dip, dip, dip"

The night began at 1am. 
“Alright”, I said over the phone, “I think it’s time to go.” 
“Yeah. Did you take everything?” she asked. 
“Yup, I got my towel, camera and a change of clothes.” 
“Perfect, let’s go!”. 
We met up at the end of the hallway and looked at each other with mad excitement. 
“This will be fun”, I said grinning from ear to ear. 
“I can’t believe we’re doing this! Have you called Lizzy and told her we’re on our way?” she enquired. 
“Yeah, she’s expecting us. There are a few others there as well.” 
We walked out of our university residence hall and towards Lizzy’s place. The road to her place had no street lights, adding to our fear and excitement. We felt like silent ninjas moving unnoticed in the night. Every swaying tree made a magnified sound, giving us a start once in a while. After 15 minutes of walking in anticipation, we reached her place. I looked up at her window, there was a light shining through and the distant sound of laughter was echoing across the place. We walked up the stairs to her apartment, the music and laughter getting louder and louder with every step. 
“Girls, you’re here!”, she greeted us with open arms. Following the customary hellos and hugs, we walked in to her living room to find a few of our classmates sitting around the dining table, playing cards and sipping wine as the music blared in the background. 
“Hi guys!” 
“Anuja, Veda, you’re here!”, came the warm greetings. 
We settled in, me with beer, Veda with Coke, and played silly card games almost forgetting that this was just the prelude to the night. 
At 3.15am, Lizzy announced that it was time to leave. We picked up our bags and the group walked out of her compound. We began making our way to our destination, Castle sands, one of three beaches in St Andrews. As we got closer to the beach, we noticed other drunk revellers walking in the same direction. It didn’t seem like early hours on a weekday anymore, it felt like a drunken Saturday night. It was 10 minutes to 4am now and we were nearly at the beach, there were hundreds of us there. From university students to media reporters to the police, everyone was trying to find their way down to the beach. We joined the queue next to the castle ruins that would get us on to the narrow stairway leading down to the beach. 
I could feel the adrenaline pumping fast and knew the others were feeling the same way. We pushed, shoved and finally made it to the beach. The sea gleamed magnificently under the moonlight ahead of us. All around us there were people getting ready for the ritual to follow. There was a big bonfire some way off throwing light on the proceedings. A few fire-eaters amused the crowd on the other side. We kept out eyes glued to sea, checking the horizon for the sign we were awaiting. 
“Okay”, said Lizzy, “So, it’s Veda, you, Dan, Rebecca, Stan and I who are in right?” 
“Yup”, I replied. 
“Well, it’s nearly time, let’s strip.” 
On her command, we disrobed. Veda and I were undressed down to shorts and tees, the cold wind hit me all over, catching me in the throat. I gulped a few times and rubbed my shoulders to try to adjust to the weather. I turned to my right to find Lizzy in a bikini, the girl had guts. It was nearly 5 now and I could feel that the anticipation level was at an all time high all around. 
“Let’s move closer to the water”, Veda said and we all followed. 
“It’s almost time, let’s link hands and form a chain”, Dan commanded, so we did. 
The first rays of the sun shot past the horizon and reached us. 
“Now!”, someone roared and we began running towards the water. My feet protested as the first wave of the freezing cold water reached them but I continued to run. We were waist deep in the water now, I could feel the sharp rocks under my feet more clearly than ever. And then it happened, a huge wave covered us from head to toe with the freezing North Sea. We screamed and shouted, initially in shock but a moment later, in joy. “This is brilliant”, I thought to myself. Veda and I grinned at each other and splashed some water about. 
“Okay, it’s done. The curse has been removed, let’s head back.”, she said. We linked hands again to steady ourselves again and made our way back to the beach. 
“I can’t believe you guys did that!”, said Stephan as he handed us our towels. 
“It was brilliant, it was amazing!” we replied. 
We looked at each other and said in unison, “Let’s do it again!” and laughed. We stood on the beach watching hoards of other students run into the sea and out again. The warm sand underneath my feet gave me some perspective and the cold suddenly hit me again. 
“Let’s go again now.”, shouted Dan and we obeyed. 
Once again, I could feel the rocks cutting through my feet and the icy cold water persuading my body to freeze but we pushed on. This time some of us tripped on the rocks, getting nicks and cuts that would hurt really bad the next day. But for now, we were enjoying the moment. Dan came over and decided to dunk Veda and my heads below the water. “Dip, dip, dip”, he shouted as he pushed our heads down. A few moments later we made our way back and wrapped ourselves in our towels again. We continued to shiver and watch the revelry around us for a while. 
“Alright”, said Lizzy, “let’s go again one final time!” 
“Are you mental?”, asked Stephan in disbelief. 
“We must!”, I replied and we were off again for one final dip. We got back out of the water and noticed the sun was charging on in its mission to rise now. 
It was time to go home and everybody concurred. We pushed, shoved and made our way up the narrow path as hundreds of students continued to walk down to the beach to do the ceremonial St Andrews May dip. Veda and I said good bye to the others and hailed a cab. The ride back to the hall was a silent one, we were too tired and in awe of what had just happened to talk. We got out and began walking to our rooms. 
“That was amazing”, she said. 
“It was brilliant”, I agreed. 
We grinned and went to our own rooms. I didn’t bother to shower, I didn’t have the energy to. I just managed to get out of my wet clothes and collapse onto my bed. 
“Brilliant” I thought again and I went to sleep. 

It’s been a year since the May dip but we still discuss the day fondly and frequently. What an experience it was, adventure, fun and tradition, brought together in a uniquely St Andrews way!

PS: Some names have been changed.

And now we have posterous

I think it all started with AIM. You’d get on it if you were ‘cool’. Then you had to move to MSN to be ‘cooler’. Post that, your were pretty much a ‘loser’ if you weren’t on Yahoo and later Gtalk. At this point, the ‘super cool’ kids joined Orkut and you were obviously one of them so you jumped on board that. A brief dabble with Hi5 must’ve followed. Then came the short tryst with MySpace. By this time everyone was on everything so everyone was kind of ‘cool’. But things obviously couldn’t stay that way, so in came the mother of them all, the era of Facebook. There were rumours that random people couldn’t send you friend requests here, you had to actually know the person. “You should join”, they said, “We offer you privacy”. So, we jumped off the Orkut bandwagon and there we were, happy. While we were doing this we were also encouraged to blog, so we did. Someone somewhere felt the need for microblogging because long posts were a waste of space and voila, Twitter showed up. The ‘cool’ kids were quick to adapt, the slower ones are still trying. “Forget microblogging”, someone else said, “Let’s be snobbish about blogging”, cue Tumblr. Oh also, let’s not forget the ‘cool’ professional kats who joined LinkedIn and networked to new heights while all this was going on. And now we have Posterous which is still spreading its wings like Quora. What will happen here? Will this be the next internet phenomenon to enthral us all or will it end up as another social experiment full of inactive accounts? Let’s find out.