Sunday, September 28, 2014

Durga Puja - Mumbai Pandals

Finally my favourite time of the year is here – Durga Puja! I am not Bengali but I belong to the city which is the second most famous city in India for witnessing the grandeur of Durga Puja. Unfortunately for many years now I haven’t had the chance to be part of the Puja celebrations of Kolkata or Cuttack but if you think I have missed out on the fun, you are wrong. Durga Puja in Mumbai may not be as extravagant as the two main cities, but it totally manages to capture the authentic spirit of celebration and splendor of the festival.
Pandal hopping is almost like a tradition when it comes to Durga Puja and Bengalis, Oriyas and a lot of non east Indians also take this tradition very seriously during the five days of jazzy celebration that falls during the last days of Navratri. Here is my list of 10 Pandals you have to visit in Mumbai, when in Mumbai for the shankh, dhuan, bhog and many more things!

1.     Shivaji Park, Dadar -  Shivaji Park's Bengal Club Durga Pujo in Dadar West, Mumbai is one of the oldest puja pandals in the city. The area was declared silent zone some years back hence the puja is not as grand as people would expect but the escence of tradition hasn’t faded a bit. The programs are usually done in mid day and the food court is something every person would relish! There are also artisans from West Bengal selling handicrafts here. And if you are a photography enthusiast, do visit the area before the puja; almost all main Durga Pratimas of the city are made right opposite the park. These craftsmen toil for almost 3 months and make the grand murtis. Most of the craftsmen are from West Bengal and they also use the scared mud from Kumarthuli – Yes it is the authentic Durga Puja experience.
2.  Lokhandwala Durgotsav – This Durga Pandal s one of the ostentatious pandals in the whole city. Organized by Abhijeet Bhattacharya and Times of India, this is the best place to see a number of stars humbled down by the power of Goddess Durga and rejoicing during Dhunochi Naach.

3.  North Mumbai Sarbojanin Durga Puja – This one is organized by the Mukherjee Family. The venue is open to public 24X7 and a lot of celebrities come here to seek the blessings of the Devi. If you happen to go there early before the puja people flock in, you would see people like Rupali Ganguli with flowers and checking arrangements. (I went at 7:30 in the morning twice!) And when there, be sure to have the bhog and leave! The location was changed last year from Lions Ground, Santacruz to Tulip Star Hotel Santa Cruz.

4.  Powai Bengali Welfare Association, Powai – This pandal has been known for its creative themes for years now. The Pujo Pandal is huge and witnesses the largest footfall. This pandal is specially known for its Dhunochi Naach Competition and the dhol beats that accompany every ceremony during the Puja. This Puja Pandal in Hiranandani is one not to be missed spot during Pandal Hopping.

5.  Notunpolli Sarbojonin Durga Pujo (Bandra Durga Puja) – This is yet again an old Puja Pandal originally started by Shakti Samanta, this Pandal at Linking Road is more of a people’s pandal than star studded pandal, despite of its glorious past. You are a fan of folk or soulful music, this should be your adda. For past some years Actress Shushmita Sen has been a regular here and yet again the food is what makes this Pandal a must visit.
6.  Vashi Sector 3 – New Mumbai Bengoli Association Durga Puja – This durga puja is comparatively new, but happens on a very grand scale. Their Pratima is the tallest in the city usually  Last year they had gone all green with the celebrations with 22-feet high idol will be made out of straw, jute, bamboo and clay sourced from Kolkata. They have the most musical event too during the Puja. From bands to well known singers, you would find them there. So music fans, you know where to be this Durga Puja.

7.  Ram Krishna Mission, Khar – This is the peaceful, authentic and totally dil se desi Durga Pandal. The Kumari Puja, where an eight year old girl decks up as goddess Durga on Ashtami and is worshiped happens only here. And afternoon bhog – this is the place to be! Location - Ramakrishna Mission Marg , 12th Road, Khar (W).
8.  Thakur Village Durga Puja – This Puja Pandal is a foodie paradise and has the largest non Bengali visitors after the Balkanji Bari Pandal.
9.  Gowalia Tank Pandal - The Bombay Durgabari Samiti, which organises Durga Puja at Gowalia Tank is the city’s oldest Puja Pandal, prefers being low-key as compared to other pandals in the city. With a footfall of about 3000 people on saptami and ashtami this is not even very extravagant but the Pandal prides itself on its homely feel. Unlike the other major Pandals of the city, here the food is strictly vegetarian and does not contain onion or garlic. Being in this Pandal is an experience in itself.

10.All the other small Pandals of the city! – Maa is everywhere and every place is as welcoming as you can think of during Durga Puja. So if you haven’t been part of Durga Puja celebrations yet, this year try and experience the divine aura, you surely would not be disappointed. The best time to visit a Durga Mandap is during Sandhi Puja, the auspicious time between Ashtami and Navami, which this year is on 2nd October 8:00 AM.

Happy Navratri to all and Happy Durga Puja.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Missing (Part 14)

This is the fourteenth part of the short story that I am writing in collaboration with nine other bloggers on Blogadda. Our team is 'Tete-a-ten'. You can read the previous parts here:onetwothreefourfivesixseveneight, nineteneleventwelve and thirteen.

Mumbai Central Station

Why me? What had I done to deserve this? I couldn’t stand up for myself, couldn’t save my self; how will I ever be able to stand for what I want! My life is a waste and now I will be the reason if Fanny becomes the victim also.
A storm of thousand thoughts raged in Cyrus’ mind while he sat in a quaint corner of the station, oblivious to the rest of the moving crowd of the Mayanagri. His face - shadowed by a lull that puzzled a lot of his co travelers from Delhi to Mumbai; his heart - bleeding for what had changed his life in no time; his anger - over the people who no longer deserved the species name – homo sapiens and more than anything his anger about the biggest loser he had turned out to be in this small life of his. 
Were it not for the missed calls and a constantly buzzing phone, his lamenting trance wouldn’t have broken. Cyrus wiped the solitary tear off his face and unlocked the mobile phone. Messages and missed calls from the only person in the world who understood him, perhaps even better than his mother. 

Dr. Sneha Phadnis was not just a friend and meant a lot to him. She had taught him to be strong and brave. He had let her down and now the fear of showing a defeated face was what bothered him, every time he saw her picture flash on the phone. But it was the thirty two missed calls by Fanus that broke his deliberate ignorance and compelled him to get a hold of himself.
In the hustling bustling city of Mumbai, no one had the time to stop and stare at a lost soul, let alone notice a new comer to the forever busy realms of India. Cyrus walked out of the station and silently stood at the side of the station road, hailing the uninterested autos. After about seven failed attempts he did manage to get an auto but when asked about the destination, he was as clueless as ever – another failure trait! He finally decided to go to Juhu Beach, the area most non Mumbaikars know about Mumbai. The Autowalla (as people of Mumbai lovingly call the auto drivers) sensing the newbie vibes decided to test his own fortune and took a long route, a route via a place called Vile Parle.
Cyrus was drowning in his own thoughts, while clinging to the nonchalant treatment the city gave to the people who are not really a part of it. People were busy in their bivouac of life; traffic, overfilled busses, cacophony of honks, the familiar smoke and dust – it was just another city like Delhi for Cyrus but the difference being, he didn’t know anyone here and no one knew him. Cyrus was totally lost in his thoughts when he suddenly noticed a young girl lying on the ground, wailing. ‘Lying on the ground’, ‘Wailing’; images of his own misery flooded his mind and numbed him for a moment. Incoherently, he asked the auto guy to halt and ran towards the kid, his actions happening on their own; he was in some kind of trance yet again.
“What happened dear? Did someone hurt you? Who did what to you? Why are you crying? Who was the bastard?” Cyrus asked with urgency.
 “Bastard!” Roohi Dutta looked at Cyrus like he had done some Capital Crime. She stopped crying all of a sudden and said, “Uncle, did no one ever tell you that is a bad word? You should not speak bad words ever! Mama says so”
A small, feeble, but a genuine smile spread across Cyrus’ face. “Sorry dear. I will never say that again. But why were you crying?”
And like she remembered something evil suddenly, her eyes brimmed with tears yet again. “I tripped. I fell and hurt my knees! And Papa also didn’t come. He broke his promise again.” And her sobs resumed.
“Stop crying! And tell me where is Papa and what promise did he break? And why…” rest of Cyrus’ words was drowned by the honking of the auto.
 “You have an auto! Where are you going? Wait I will do what Papa forgot. I am a big girl now!” Roohi said this and ran towards the auto. An elated Roohi commanded the driver to take the auto to Juhu Beach. Cyrus asked the auto driver to do so, and was bewildered by the spirit of the little girl he had just met. Innocence in its pure form; innocence that someone will always try to ruin; innocence that he had lost and would never regain.
“So whats your name”she asked.

“Uh huh, Cyrus and yours?”

“Roohi Datta”.

Roohi went back to admiring the meandering roads of her city, while Cyrus was lost in his thoughts again

But maybe, just maybe – he thought – it wasn’t all lost. If this small girl can be happy, if he can make her smile by fulfilling her wish, he could do that for someone. New city, new beginning! He had heard and seen this happen in movies, but maybe he could make this happen, he could change someone else’s life, be strong this time, do good and help people now; maybe this was his second chance. He didn’t know where his thought train was heading but before he could reach a conclusion, they reached their destination.
Juhu was just like any part of Mumbai, overcrowded and noisy but the only voices that mattered to Cyrus was the calming symphony of breaking waves and the vibrant laughter of Roohi Dutta. He was happy due to this stranger and knew nothing about this stranger. He giggle at the situation and his giggle with the visage of the jubilant kid was framed by yet another stranger.

Ramada Hotel, Juhu.

Tired after her day long work, but still satisfied with doing what she loved, Jennifer was lost in her thoughts - her wonderland filled with the moment she had managed to capture of the city of Mumbai. She callously browsed through the hundreds of pictures in her camera reliving every moment, till she saw one of the pictures that had a man and a kid; a man looking exhausted, lost and clearly concealing something with a feeble smile and kid satisfied and happy with what she had. She had a weird feeling about the click, but didn’t waste much thought over it and went to sleep, a quick nap to dream about her next photo destination.

After 2 Hours
I have seen this girl somewhere very recently! – Jennifer thought, starring as the missing girl’s photo that was on the top of her news feed on Facebook. She knews that face! It was the weird photo. She fanatically checked her clicks of the day. And when she fond it finally she cross checked the smiling face and the missing face. That’s her! She knew it. But she still couldn’t believe the girl she photographed some hours back was actually missing.
She dialed the number, given with the photo, with urgency but the number was switched off. She messaged Tara on Facebook, Tara who had originally posted the missing photo, but even after half an hour there was no reply. Why was she not able to get through to the Dutta! She paced in her room fanatically.


My team and I are participating in ‘Game Of Blogs’ at #CelebrateBlogging with us!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One Day

Twinkling eyes, Aiming high

Innocence sings of her spirit bright

One day I will touch the sky,

One day with stars I will fly

- This used to be my dream too, now my world is not that of Gravity but of Matrix (Bad Version). This kid on Kuala Lumpur Tower kept posing with displays of world’s tallest towers, and reminded me of my ancient dream of becoming an astronaut. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Tryst with Malaysia Airlines

Hello My Beautiful Readers! I am finally back from trip to Malaysia courtesy Tourism Malaysia and Blogadda. And before you ask, yes I travelled via Malaysia Airlines and I am safe and sound, and more than anything happy, content and would love to travel with them again! I am sure a lot of you are wondering if the 2nd part of my statement was true or sarcasm. It is completely true!!! And well this very doubt and confusion is the reason behind this post of mine. For the first time ever I will be writing a post completely dedicated to an airlines cause “they are worth it”. Here is my account of from fear of the MH to the delight of the MH.

Frankly I was super scared while leaving from Mumbai and my friends also joked saying we would be praying for you. After boarding the plane the thought did linger for some while but as soon as we were in air they started serving the dinner. 3 hours waiting in the airports had surely made me a hungry giant and the food was delicious and filling unlike a lot of plane’s food that I have tried in the past. While I sat there enjoying my fill of chat, rajma rice & palak paneer and irresistible gajar ka halwa there was there was a guy who started with the happy birthday track and a couple of crew members joined him. Apparently is was part of Malaysia Airlines’On Air celebration thing, which I was completely unaware of! Don’t know if any other airlines does it but Malaysia Airlines sure has On Air celebration for Birthdays, Anniversary and for Be Weds and Newly Weds.

Anyways post all the sweet vibes, I decided to sleep cause it was past 1:00 IST and I had a long day in Kuala Lumpur next morning starting 7:30. Do the maths people – KL is 2:30hrs ahead of IST!!! I got 4 hours sleep max but rest assured it was a peaceful one! Comfy seats and snuggly, warm, thin but effective blanket – it is bliss for a girl who dozes off in the super bumpy seat of her office bus :P (that is me). The flight reached KL on time and so did I in one piece! Oh yes, I had forgotten all about my fears from the minute the dinner had started!
While coming back to Mumbai I along with my two blogger co travelers, reached the airport again 4 hours before the flight. But this time our wait was neither boring, nor tiring and nor did it makes us hungry. We were given access to Golden Lounge and Plaza Premium at Kuala Lumpur Airport. Golden lounge was awarded Asia’s Leading airline Lounge in 2011 and looked super lavish, while Plaza, though comparatively small was equally cozy yet grand, if not by area – by feel. We had decided to have our lunch at the lounge and it seemed like the right decision when we looked at the gourmet spread in front of us. The buffet had flavours - Indian, French and Malay, and the shameless sweet indulged devil in me totally relished the deserts. The lounge also had free flow of drinks like tea, coffee, soft drink and fresh fruit juices for non drinkers and range of wines, champagne, beer and cocktails otherwise. It also has a sports bar – So all the football freaks and tennis fanatics like me, you ain’t gonna miss a match when at airport! We also came to know there is a children section at the lounge where kiddos can play and enjoy, though we couldn’t see that area. Other than that there is massage facility and foot soaks aka 'kilat' massage. If only our flights were delayed, we would have enjoyed that too. But MAS - on time as usual.

Since I had come early for check-in I had chosen a window seat for myself and to my luck, no one had taken the seat next to me. The dinner was to be served half an hour after the take off and I chose to engage myself with Maleficent – The Movie. Remember it had just released? They had it on the entertainment menu of the plane along with X Men – Days of the future past. Along with the recent releases, they also had over 50 more movies to choose from. Hmm 5 hours 2 movies and MH Gourmet to relish with apple juice! Wondering what MH Gourmet is? MAS gives you the option to upgrade your food options even in economy class. For the current menu check THIS out! And I had ordered Chicken Cordon Bleu – which was not just fresh but super yummm! And the lemon meringue tart – fresh crispy and ok just take a look at the pictures.

Didn’t realize when it was time to land because I got so caught up with my movies and apple and orange juice. You could also have wine btw! Anyways, I reached safely and in a MAS plane which was also a defining moment in my Malaysia Tour. It is unfortunate that MAS has gone through 2 tragic accidents in the recent past but nowhere has the quality of the Airlines wavered. The flight was neither bumpy nor did it let my mind wander off to scary lands for a minute. MAS also has very suitable timings from India to KL and vice versa, making it the best option for travel to Malaysia. MAS has always been known for its services and I have no doubt about the ‘why’ part now. The totally stand by their words – ‘Our commitment is to serve’, after all 42 years of hospitality can't go unnoticed, can it?