Saturday, November 28, 2009

Moksha

Worn out shoes. Half smoked cigarette. Borrowed socks. Faded Jacket. Dirty Jeans. Chipped spectacles. A mindful of questions. A teacher in my soul.

I guess I'm on my way to salvation. Wait, where was I going again?

PS - It was beautiful here. You should have seen it. Also, remember - Every revolution gets exploited. But don't worry. The Maidan remains in our hearts.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Psst, Susie!


Every son must one day become his father. Well, almost.

Nobody likes us "Big Picture" people.

Tum bilkul pagalaith insaan ho!

When in doubt, deny all terms and definitions.

Someone must have vomited out of that bus window. Nobody has bothered to clean the muck that still clings to it.

I can't answer this question. It's against my religious principles.

[Dog Pic] Kya main bina wajah ke bhaunkta hoon? [Car Pic] Toh aap bina wajah ke horn kyun bajate hain?

H: Why does the snowman have a hot water bottle on his head? C: He's committing suicide.

Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?

Yakka foob mog. Grug pubbawup zink wattoom gazork. Chumble spuzz.

Loosen up. Breathe in more. Here is a great place to be. But keep your head above water.

It's mind over matter. I deny, I itch!

Welcome my son. Welcome, to The Machine. What did you dream? It's alright we told you what to dream.

Look, I am trying to send a girl I know into deep space. Perhaps you could suggest something?

Remember, we do not live in age of revolutions anymore.

H: Tiger tummies are solar cells. C: Yeah, right.

What could be the best way to hold your bladder?

Susie, I hate you. Drop dead. Calvin.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

A Moment of Clarity

There are times when your wind is sucked out of you when you’re looking for it. Not when you’re unaware or looking in the other direction. What can be said then? A moment of clarity? Hope this one lasts.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

All the Missing Heartbeats


Disclaimer: Turned out way more abstract than intended.

“I am missing heartbeats, Madame”, he said in his usual laconic style, much to the surprise of his unlikely companion. A look of un-dawning comprehension on her face made him to add to the all-conveying remark. (Though it hardly served any purpose, as she found out soon enough).

“Not that I am complaining of course. I have often skipped them in less careless moments and swallowed an odd one every now and then (in not so careless ones). But I am bit concerned now. My years are advanced (I don’t look the part, na?) and that gets me all worked up, you know. These greying, falling hairs and the failing memory. Before too long, I will be gone. All these heartbeats – I wonder where they are. I wish I could have at least saved them up in a jar or something like that. It would have been my museum of broken beats. Out of rhythm and isolated from one another. Still alive, but only just. A tin can of olive oil would have been just perfect. A gusty wind bellowing the sails of a ship on its cover. Don’t you think? An old man’s tool for retrospection when his grey cells begin to fail him. Ah, memory! How I thought it would never desert me. But I am talking words right now. You tell me. What’s bothering you these days?”

Akanksha had been quiet today. She feared that she understood less than what she didn’t. (But wasn’t that always the case?) So she swayed on her feet, shifting her petite frame from one side to another, and made weird noises every now and then, as if her intellectual capacity was somehow linked to her bowel movements. He had, however, been his brilliant self – unconcerned, absorbed, rude, intellectual, and arrogant – just the way she wanted him to be. He had grumbled while rolling his cigarette and had smiled when he finally got to smoke it.

“Didn’t you have a notice board for all those skipped heartbeats? A thumb-pin on it for each of them missed or skipped? I recall several colours and faces on that board. You never got around to giving me all the details though. I might not be too good with numbers or dates. But I remember conversations pretty well. And by the way, why would anything bother me? Someone has been putting ideas into that big head of yours. I am quite happy and content ji.”

The premature grey streaks in her hair belied her age. However, and he wondered often if that was true, not her wisdom. He did not fail to notice, either, how simple she looked. No makeup to botch the unmade eyelashes. No fancy colour ruining the dull shine of those softly pink lips. No mascara or kajal masquerading as a grace for eyes that did not need any. “She has been brought up well, this girl”, he thought. He smiled at the thought and coughed a bit before speaking.

“Yes, I do remember that. But although you remember my words, you confuse the context, darling. And I agree the difference is subtle. I appreciate your confusion. Those pins were for all the worthwhile things in my life. Days, dates, events, people, and kisses. Milestones in an adventure, slowly unfolding in front of open eyes. Yes, I had my fair share of all of them. Hey, I still have my eyesight intact……I can see you shaking that head in that very condescending fashion. Can you stop smirking? Please? The board is still there….do you see it in that corner of my room? Yes? Good. I want you to take it with you when you leave today. Ok?

I have lived a life in each one of them. What? Oh, what else? Those darned pins! If I were you, I would do well to make sure that I have scores of those pins on my board. For you can go on eking an existence for eternity. But when it has all come to pass, the crux, the gist of it, it’s there on that board. And if you don’t have enough of those pins dotting your life-scape, in varied colours, textures, shapes, and with so many different flags, you begin to realise it was just not worth it. That’s what I think. You tell me. What’s bothering you these days?”

He had mastered the art of being elliptical without sounding evasive. Akanksha had just gotten used to it by now. It came to her as second nature. It would have been terribly difficult to suffer him otherwise. Suffer, mind you, and not endure. So deftly ignoring any uncomfortable questions, again, she decided to ask some of her own – precisely why the reason why she was enduring his capricious mood.

“Tell me more, O wise one. What are these heartbeats you talk about then? Not the time you had that massive heart attack I am sure. (Dirty looks from him ensue). Not even that lady after which you made my folks name me. Oh, or can it be? Is it Akanksha? Mom?”

“Don’t be this foolish young lady”, he snapped. “It doesn’t befit you. And what is much more important, it does not befit me. To even think of it. Stop butting your head against a wall. It is not going to do you any good. You’re not going to wring out any scandals from me. Not now. Coming back to your stupid remark, I can’t have anyone stealing my heartbeats that easily. Not when I know I am not going to live to see my 40th year. But all this wisdom does indeed come in hindsight. Anyway, where was I? Yes, those heartbeats. As I said…well….or did I? Oh, whatever. These damn beats. I don’t even to talk about them. You tell me. Why are you bothering me anyway?”

“Huh? Didn’t you agree to have me here today? Don’t you go about making lame excuses. I deserve something better than that. And no matter how grouchy you act today, I am not leaving without your abstruse answers. Trust me on that one.”

“Fine. Have it your way then. Don’t tell me later I did not warn you. Well, I lost them all the while. They say I am dying now. I have been dying all this while. I missed them each time I was happier than I should have been. Each time I loved more than I was loved. I lost so many of them when I met Him. In dreams and for real. There were times when I was tested, and failed gloriously. Several gone down the drain each time my ship was raided by pirates or sunk by marauders. When I was alone when I should not have been or when I climbed too high on my pedestal of ideals. Times when I glowed in the warmth of success and smiled too much or hoped too much. And also times when I was flying in and out of clouds, insomnia, reality, and perception. But surprisingly, I lost them while I was enamoured by Knowledge, the single most captivating of all my love affairs. I still believe the docs got it all wrong there. It’s not possible, no? You’re shaking your head again…..

It was all involuntary, you must understand. Even when I gobbled them whole, it was more often than not in reflex. A heightened state of existence, working for and against me alternately. I would have been a bit more careful had I known they would run out too soon. Not that I am complaining of course. I don’t have any regrets….just look at my board. I just wish you could have been wiser for all that I have been through. Decide what’s important for you. Existing or living. Heartbeats or thumb-pins. Often, you will gain both. Sometimes, as I have come to realise, you can lose more than you win. But, but, but, looking at how things are going for you, I don’t think you need all that gyaan. Not from a doddering shaky senile old man anyway. You tell me. What’s bothering you these days?”

“You really get a kick out of all this, don’t you? Distorting reality and crafting a dream world to explain your inadequacies? Your thumb-pins were your heartbeats. They are all the same. Giving them different names won’t suffice to undermine the failures or advertise the successes. You should be giving proper due to why you got what you got.”

“I would have thrown any other person out of the room by now. But you’re my weakness. And I guess you already know that. Well, there comes a time when fact coalesces into fiction. You start living your dreams while reality fades into sub-conscious. However, until that time arrives, you need to distort, this reality as you call it, in order to stay sane and alive. Beats, pins, or whatever name you give them, you need to make a choice and stick to it. I made mine. You don’t find me complaining. I knew it all along. And they tell me I am dying now.”

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Unfaithfully Yours

Dear K,

If you are reading this, it means I actually worked up the courage to mail this. So good for me. You don’t know me very well but if you get me started, I have a tendency to go on and on about how hard writing is for me. But this, this is the hardest thing I ever had to write. There is no easy way to say this so I’ll just say it. I met someone. It was an accident. I wasn’t looking for it. It wasn’t on the make. It was a perfect storm. She said one thing, I said another. Next thing I knew, I wanted to spend the rest of my life in the middle of that conversation. Now there’s this feeling in my gut, she might be the one. She’s completely nuts in a way that makes me smile. Highly neurotic. A great deal of maintenance required. She is you K. That’s the good news. That bad is I don’t know how be with you right now. And it scares the daylight out of me. Because if I am not with you right now, I get this feeling we’ll get lost out there. It’s a big bad world full twists and turns. And people have a way of blinking, and missing the moment. The moment that could have changed everything. I don’t know what’s going on with us and I can’t tell you why you should waste the leap of faith on the likes of me. But damn, you smell good. Like home. And you make excellent coffee. That’s gotta count for something. Right? Call me.

Unfaithfully yours,
H

PS - Attributed to Hank Moody, the male lead from the overtly sexual American TV drama, Californication. The letter is addressed to the love of his life, Karen. In order to learn new interpretations of the phrase "love of his life", you'll have to watch the show.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Persistence of Change


The journey proved to be tedious, and certainly a lot more demanding than expected. Shlok was visiting his parents after three years. A lot of water had passed under the bridge during that time and he was apprehensive of what they would make of it. However, in spite of the concerns, he looked forward to losing himself in the familiarity of the place. That was reason enough to endure the revolting smell emanating from the compartment’s toilet and the bawling kids (to indifferent parents) on the lower berths. The couple had tried engaging him in an insipid conversation and he had very deftly manages to spurn all their advances, much to their disappointment.

He still travelled in sleeper class, though he could now afford the luxury of the AC compartments and their pretentious denizens. Somehow, the lack of refinement kept him on his toes. Reminded him of where he came from and what he had set out for. And as always, he kept to the upper berth for most part of the journey, sleeping through most of it. Sometimes, when they would catch his fancy, he would listen in to snippets of conversations happening all around. Other times he would try to read something or leaf through old letters and postcards. The lush rustic countryside and the regal Aravalli ranges on the way back had been wowed over several times. They failed to interest him now.

What seemed like an age back, Shlok had left home with no clear idea as to why he was doing so. College was over and had left behind several unanswered questions in its wake. Not to mention the insecurities and fears that they brought along as baggage. Plagued by an indecisive mind, he hoped to find the answers to at least some of them before it was too late. In this quest, he had given preference to action over planning and thought over action. Several wise people had shaken their heads and suggested some other approach. But a whimsical temperament had made sure that all advice fell on deaf ears. It was not that he did not give a damn. He tried not to.

His parents were a silent witness to everything that went on. But him being so far away, they thought it was all probably just hearsay and hoped that Shlok was more in control of his senses than it was appearing to be. Like they had decided to close their eyes, and were willing everyone else to do the same. Sometimes, they would make a big issue out of an arbitrary decision that he took. But sooner or later they would mellow down, afraid of distancing him in the process. All healing would come naturally is what they had thought. Or so they had planned.

So while other people of his standing became successful and their mothers gloated over their burgeoning salaries, Shlok took up odd day jobs that prevented his from doing so. And while his friends found their soul mates and made marriage plans, he indulged in every vice under the sun. Drugs, brothels, alcohol, the works. For no apparent reason than to try all avenues of hope. And hope is often a dangerous thing. It would have been perhaps better had he got addicted to one of them. That would have necessitated a drastic response and a fresh start. But he never did. So the questions lingered behind. And so did the ghost of the person he once was. A mind boggling potpourri.

The means changed and he took to travelling to remote locations, spending whatever he would save from his meagre earnings. Sometimes he would set out with nothing more than a towel in his backpack. A desire to suck the marrow out of life, as Thoreau might have said, and leave it devoid of any trivialities. He stayed at ramshackle hotels and often fell sick during the course of his escapades. The destinations changed but the travelling continued. He thought that if he visited places were no one knew about him, he would be able to put things in a different perspective. But all this had continued for so long that he had begun to doubt whether such a state was essential for survival anyway. Hence the trip back home. In order to touch base with himself once again.

As soon as he stepped onto the platform, he was swarmed by a flurry of coolies. One of them, bent double with age and wisdom, approached him with dignity and asked, “Beta, samaan pahucha doon bahar tak? Thak gaye hoge safar mein”. The sincerity of his voice, coupled with respect for his advanced years, warranted an equally decent response. “Nahin Kaka, abhi apna samaan nahin uthaenge toh aage kaise kaam chalega?” The old man laughed to this and lumbered away. The entire station had been freshly painted. In betel red and cream. Perhaps they chose these colours in order to hide the paan stains that soiled almost every corner. Perhaps they were just being innovative with their choices.

Soon it was the turn of auto wallas to try their luck with him. But Shlok was in no mood for the luxury of a comfortable ride. He managed to find a square inch of space in a shared tempo and initiated the last leg of the journey. The hoardings had changed. Some new political mafia had come into power and proclaimed the greatness of their leader. Some dubbed Hollywood movie fought for screen space with the latest Bollywood one. Fresh parks and statues had sprung up all over the city, an indulgence it found itself hard pressed to afford. But while the exteriors had become gaudier and flashier, the guts continued rotting in silence. The drains flowed over happily each time it rained a tad too long and the tempos swerved menacingly to avoid the bottomless potholes. Loafers still lounged in the Sun near the Gandhi statue opposite GPO. “People change a lot faster than places”, he thought.

On a whim, Shlok asked the driver to stop two stops before the scheduled one and decided to walk the last kilometre. The road had been freshly dug up to lay sewage pipes and the deluge last night had ensured that he would have to hop-skip-jump his way back. Suddenly, their house loomed large in front of him, almost as if in some B-grade Bollywood horror flick. The road in front of it was fresh and black. A high ranking government official, who had started living close by, ensured that there would always be policemen hanging around. One of them was taking out a golden retriever for a walk. Everything was pretty much just the way he had left it. The only thing that seemed out of place was him. For a moment, he felt uncomfortable entering his own house. Would it accept him the way he was now? Had he changed too much? Too much for the worse? Would they understand what he had been through? What did he go through anyway? His fight had not been any bigger than any of theirs after all.

Knowing very well that he had no need to, Shlok rang the bell. He decided to pretend the part of a guest until it was decided otherwise. The familiarity of people is more easily lost than the familiarity of places. People change faster than places after all. Akanksha had taken the day off to greet her son. She came out to see him. Ritwick had long ago retired from active duty at the power station where he had worked like a drone for 35 years. He was sitting in the veranda, reading the morning daily. Seeing both of them after such a long gap, Shlok felt a sudden surge of emotion. His mother seemed to have aged 5 years in the past three. He could not be so sure about his father. He touched their feet, more to regain his bearings than to seek his blessings. They seemed satisfied. For now at least.

The days at home were just as he had expected – painfully lazy and blissfully lethargic. In weaker moments, he confessed he could get used to that. Other times, he just tried to indulge himself, preferably without any remorse for doing so. He did not try to meet any of his friends. No one knew he was visiting anyway. Not that many of them cared now. Conversations were few and had a habit of dwelling upon touchy subjects. For the first few days, all three of them reached an agreement and refrained from discussing the obvious. But Shlok knew that it had to happen sooner or later. So a week later, over dinner, he touched upon the issue.

“I have decided to explore my options for a couple of years more.”

“Don’t you think you have explored enough? What are you looking for anyway? It’s high time you settled down. Only today, Mrs Sinha was asking about you. I did not know what answer to give her”, Akanksha said between mouthfuls of egg curry she had prepared for Shlok.

“Ma, I can’t be worried about your inability to provide answers to Mrs Sinha. I have my own problems to sort out. I can’t be the way you would like me to be. Like it or lump it.”

Ritwick had hardly spoken a word to Shlok since the time he had come back. Apart from dinner and lunch, they had not spent a minute together. Both of them had accepted this as a necessity to avoid any arguments. However, today, he too decided to speak out his mind.

“There are only as many problems that you think about. What’s the matter with you anyway? You took to drugs, we paid for the rehab. You take up jobs beneath your education and yet we remain quiet. Woh sab to chhodo, you have been visiting brothels. Kuch to sharam karo! Sometimes I get the feeling that my only son has been ruined beyond redemption or reproach.”

“You have changed so much Shanu. I can hardly recognise you anymore”, Akanksha muttered between sobs. Shlok just looked in some other direction, seething with indignation.

“Will they never understand? Or am I trying too hard? Have I been looking through the wrong looking glass? Won’t it all come to pass someday and won’t they all get to laugh about it? Somebody tell me that all this effort has not been for nothing.”

“I don’t know Ma. If you think I would be the same even after all these years, I am sorry to have disappointed you. When parents give their children the right to a proper education, they must be ready to respect their ability to think independently. I am sorry, but I am not the same Shanu anymore. It would be better if you accepted that fact and respected its existence. That way we would all be better off.”

Ritwick almost exploded on hearing his son justifying his actions as something routine and expected.

“Change can be accepted. But not if it comes at the cost of integrity and stability. You have wandered far enough. And enough exploring, as you put it, has been done. Bahut ho gaya ye sab. You should now think about what a decent person your age should be doing. Hum tumhare lakshan aur nahin sahenge ab.

“Papa, I had never asked you to do so. As I have said before, I will find it hard pressed to lead a life the way you have imagined it for me. All this time I have been trying to find my bearing. And until I have done so, I will do all the exploring I need to.”

With nothing to add to this brazen disrepute of his authority, Ritwick prohibited Akanksha from dissuading their son. They finished the dinner in silence and Shlok retreated to the privacy of his room having done that. The next morning he announced his decision to leave for Nagpur by the week’s end. Aknkasha tried to persuade him from doing so but her attempts were thwarted by her husband’s will and her son’s pig-headedness. Shlok could not comprehend why she spent the rest of the week complaining about her back ache and the absence of discipline at the school. The night he was supposed to leave, Shlok forbid both of them from accompanying him to the station. “It would be too much trouble”, he reasoned with them.

Between tears, Akanksha managed a line which cut through the painful conversations that they had. Or those that had been meant to be had.

“Shanu, humare liye toh tum log hi sab kuch ho. Jo bhi karo, apna khayal rakhna.”

In another world and some other time, Shlok might have laughed it off as melodrama, hugged her, and taken his leave. That night, he just nodded and left for the station. Just before boarding his compartment he smiled. A betel stain now decorated a previously clean corner on the platform. “Maybe places change too. And with them, the way people think about those places.” Thinking thus Shlok shook his head, boarded S13, flung his bag on the upper berth, and proceeded to do so himself.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Passage of Time

With the end of a designated time period at any place comes an overwhelming desire to dissect the time spent. An urge, if you may, to analyse the developments that took place and find out the reasons why mistakes were committed in a fashion they were. A craving to thank those who were integral in the process of growth and a willingness to forgive all those who stood in its way. Today, I stand on a threshold (a precipice would be more appropriate term though), fearing what lies beyond and wondering at how I landed myself in such a precarious position. As I prepare myself for a new phase in my life, with new people and new ambitions, I can not help but look back at the last 4 years and think about what went the right way and what went wrong. This is an effort to bridge the gap between thought and understanding. An effort to comprehend rather than to just state facts. An effort that is more personal than anything that I have written in quite a while. An effort to learn from the past rather than just ignore it. An effort than needs your patience rather than appreciation. I hope you can bear with me for a while.

My stay at Gandhinagar bore the burnt of cynicism from the very start. The feeling that I was meant to be part of something bigger than what came my way had soon found its way to the bottom of my gut. What turned out to be even more injurious is the fact that I inculcated a sadistic attachment to it. No matter how hard I tried to root it out, I always failed to muster enough motivation and courage. This parasite fed on almost all my talents. Or so I believed at such a time. The place became a part of me rather than me becoming a part of her. In desperation, I began to think that the war had been lost before the battle had been fought.

There was an almost desperate urge for recognition, its definition being highly conventional and orthodox. Having tasted success in a dilute form earlier on in life, I had come to expect it, almost with a certain degree of arrogance. Again, success here has highly conventional connotations. Having being denied that, I sort of went into a state of denial. I rejected myself as nobody, hardly capable of achieving anything that I dreamt of. However, the arrogant Me always thought that I was chucking it away, even when I was capable of otherwise. This irony must be understood properly. I tried for nothing, expecting myself not to be capable of it. At the same time I believed I COULD have changed things. I tried to find poetry in tragedy and the consequences of this sad effort were both endearing and disastrous. Perhaps we can discuss them one at a time. Yes? I can see you nodding in agreement.

On the personal front, I became more confident of myself. I began to discover things in me that had previously been either unknown or subdued. I developed myself in a fashion that was alien to the previous me. At least in some ways. I read more, saw more, wrote more, and listened more. I became more attuned to what went on around us and how I could do something about it. Some people have the habit of calling this change unnatural and forced. But I see this as a gradual development of my mental faculties which is only as forced its physical counterpart. In short, I can only say that I matured and became a better person (not to mention that my confidence gained a tremendous boost in several spheres). I just hope hope hope that is true. I am too afraid to accept the other story. My friends probably bear testimony to this belief. I have been lucky enough to not be deserted by any one of them when I needed them. That, I guess, speaks a lot about what kind of a person one is. In case these personal developments were predestined to occur at such a time and place, then so be it. I have nothing more to add.

But there were some unwanted penalties in the process. My professional, or more precisely academic, life suffered a heavy blow. I succumbed to an image that belied what I really was. Grades suffered and I could find older reports jeering at me like unwanted skeletons in one’s closet. Time and again, I lamented over the losses but surprisingly did little to improve the situation. Thought gained precedence over action and planning over confidence. The worst thing I did was trying to find excuses for my sorry state of affairs. So while after much tribulation and suffering, even though I did manage to understand that they key to salvation is taking responsibility for all the errors in one’s life, I never managed to muster the courage to do so. And for once, I accept my shortcoming. My flaw. Would I be willing to go back in time and script a new page in my history book? I am not too sure about that. Time has a way of getting back to the same point in the present, no matter how hard you try to change the past. It’s just what lies beyond that holds any hope.

Those who know me would agree to the fact that the past few months have been difficult. I found myself in the same position all over again, albeit after a gap of 4 years. I broke in places I did not know existed after all these years. More often than not, I thought about giving up. Again. I owe it to my people for helping me weather this episode. And just their faith and trust warrants that I fight it out this time. That I stop playing the part of a tragic hero and get on with life. Most importantly, that I give my best shot at whatever I do and then wait for things to fall in place and my ducks to line up in a row. There is no other way that a life can be lived and enjoyed. One can not have everything one desires. Moreover, looking too far ahead into the future only makes you squint a lot more often, an expression that is so much like distaste.

While returning back, all I have to show for the most formative years of my life are bits and pieces of paper. Everything else has been discarded for fear of throwing up an unwanted episode, some undesired memory, or a painful decision. The entire period seems to have shrunk to the space between a notebook, some receipts, extravagantly coloured Post-It notes, playlists to suit all of my moods, a handful of postcards, an assortment of passport size photographs, some deliciously inane scraps of paper, and some insanely huge letters. Memories are a wonderful thing if you don’t have to deal with the past. Because if you have to, they have the tendency of turning into a baggage. The “residual desire”, as one of my friends puts it, becomes too enticing to conveniently move forward. Its time I realized that events, people, and incidents are all like milestones in our lives. If we keep harping on them, there is no way to move beyond. I hope the enlightenment lasts long enough.

As I script an end to this monologue, I hope the journey has not been just bad. I hope that there are some people out there who are not only happy for me but proud of me. I hope that their belief in my wasted self gives me the strength and motivation to fight this new war and emerge triumphant at the end of it. I hope that it proves to be the guiding light in my life and prevents me from losing my way again. More importantly, I hope I have given them more reasons to be happy about then I have given them for disappointment. I think I am a selfish person. But I feign concern so that the few people I value think otherwise. This is the only way in which I fool them. This is the only way I deceive them. I hope they don’t mind. I am indeed sorry for any cause of grievance I gave you in the short time I did know you. And thus, I rest my case.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tasting the Smell


The parched Earth receives an honoured guest,
An exacting summer has been finally laid to rest.

We got the first shower of the season here last night. It was, due to lack of better words, an amazing feeling. I felt the happiest in ages. Like the rain had somehow washed away through several layers of grumpy moods and sullen nights. Like it did not matter whether you had a reason to smile or not. Like it was customary to feel upbeat. No matter how many times you have experienced them, the Monsoons never fail to make your life exciting with the umpteen tantrums that are such an essential part of their story. You always look up at them just like the kid who collects pebbles on the seashore. You plead, cajole, beg, and when you have finally given up on them in a fit of anger, they make their appearance, just like that moody lover you can neither live with, nor stay without.

The strong winds just before the showers had already suggested that the much awaited rains would finally grace Gujarat with their presence. It was an arrival much delayed and overly debated. The sun was beating its hammer on the anvil with a hitherto unknown fury. Months of tormenting heat had by now parched the leaves. The grass had shriveled up and turned yellow. Even the squirrels had taken refuge somewhere. The usually chirpy and upbeat Ashok Bhai at The Galla had said today in desperation, “Bahut time ho gaya hai. Ab to barsaat ho jaani chahiye”. I had merely nodded my head in a sagely fashion, looked up at the barren skies, and meekly agreed with the prevailing opinion. Having made my ignorance on the subject public, I had quietly exited the scene. But as they say, all’s well that ends well. The Guest of Honour almost always makes an appearance in style.

I had rushed out, quite unlike me, to witness it first hand. Just about when the winds had gotten tired of the baggage they had been towing from the Indian Ocean. “To hell with protocol”, they finally muttered under their breath and let go of it. The raindrops fell. They were a bit shy at first and treaded the ground with much apprehension. The dried mud was stripped of its cover. Bit by bit. Soon enough, however, both the friends had made their acquaintance and the raindrops gleefully bathed the earth in their freshness. The smell of wet earth proved to be a great mood-lifter. In the strictest sense of the term. It was a physical entity then. You could taste it in your mouth and feel it on your fingertips if you cared to reach out for it. I breathed in lungfuls with the hope of saving some of it for a rainy day (no pun intended here).

There were happy puddles everywhere. The raindrops carefully trying to trace out abstract patterns in them. While the strong breeze doing its best in order to deter them from doing so. Both of them constructively engaged in game of search and destroy. The leaves gleaned and shone with pride in their new rich covers while the drainage pipes groaned under the weight of the sudden onslaught. The distant skies were coloured red for some unknown reason. The hostel corridors were soon abuzz with activity. People running helter skelter. Some running to grab the clothes hanging on the lines, while some peeping out of their pigeonholes to get a low down on the natural spectacle. Some of us were wise enough to rush to the terraces, topless and screaming. While the most inane of our variety hung around near the balconies, trying to wring a poem out of the entire melodrama.

It ended almost as soon as it began. But the few minutes it lasted, it seemed as if the world was at its peace with itself. The feeling was contagious and it caught on to me. Hung on to me like a stubborn child. I smiled and stood in the balcony for a few minutes, still trying to save some vestiges of that saundhi mitti in my nicotine marred lungs. When I finally reached the conclusion that it was not physically feasible, I returned to the confines of my mustard walls. But the Monsoons had one final surprise waiting for me. For they had decided to paint my room in a rich hue which was just the same as the one I had been trying so hard to save in my lungs. I thanked someone inwardly and set out to tell you about it.

PS - The title owes its existence to Miss Lyme. Khush?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Pigs on The Wing

If you didn't care what happened to me,
And I didn't care for you,
We would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain.
Wondering which of the buggers to blame
And watching for pigs on the wing.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Crazy Diamond

Very Important: In case you haven't heard Shine On You Crazy Diamond, don't think about reading this post. But, But. You can read this post while listening to it. Not hearing to it. Listening. Get the hint?


I have been listening to Shine On You Crazy Diamond since (which implies on repeat) last night and I actually thought of a story for that song. It primarily dwells upon an alien invasion which overpowered the one on Earth with their superior music. The face-off starts with the aliens challenging the earthlings with a lovely synthesizer sequence, followed by a painful and surreal guitar riff. It is as if they don’t want to subjugate us but simply can not help doing so. The regret in the music is almost tangible and you can feel it on your finger tips if you reach out for the vibrations. The guitar often cries.

There’s a strange console music (one generated by computer consoles) playing in the background all the time, signalling the arrival of someone far superior to us, both intellectually and technically. The paradox of having to do something without even wanting it in the first place is very well represented by the twin sounds of the weeping guitar and the haunting background score. The score is coming from somewhere far away. Light years away. Then there’s the sound of water flowing down in ripples (if you care to hear closely). Music, from primordial times, which has somehow been lost to senseless slapping of electronic guitars and electronica. The entire experience is not overbearing. It’s soothing. Mellow. The aliens finally arrive in their majestic spaceships.

There’s silence for a few seconds. Then we are challenged to combat by a guitar solo. A sign of power. One. Two. Three. Four. We reply to the challenge by intimidating them with the sounds of drums and an impoverished guitar sequence. The aliens call us to a jugalbandi session in order to win freedom and we accept, not realizing that the battle had been lost no sooner than it had begun. The jamming starts and we put up a tough fight. The war cry is oft repeated and put to good use by the extra terrestrials. Sometimes it’s them on top. Sometimes it’s us. Both giving each other the respect that is deserved, and commanded. But, in the end, they are all over us.

Why do we lose? The lyrics come to the rescue. The alien invasion respects the one here but confesses that it has degenerated beyond redemption and must be overcome. That is the only way out. It’s a submission that’s amalgamated with respect. Somewhat like the one between Porus and Alexander. Porus fought bravely and lost. But he was respected as a fellow king by Alexander. The guitar sequence just before the lyrics start almost talks to you and tells the story of a flawed genius. A genius whose tale had been lost in yellowed pages, none being able to tell fable from fact. The snigger just then might be us, still not ready to accept to what is staring right in our face. Hence, the inevitable downfall.

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun / Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky / Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light / And well, bask in the shadow of yesterday's triumph, and sail on the steel breeze.

Come on you boy child, you winner and loser, come on you miner / For truth and delusion, and shine! / Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!

The stand-off ends with them aliens going back in their spaceships to where they came from. The sound fades away into empty space, with the earthlings eventually accepting their submission with a blues number on a saxophone. It is only fitting that the less advanced of the civilization goes back to its African music roots and signs off with a saxophone sequence. We are done for here. Long love Martians!

So long, and thanks for all the music.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Burn after Reading



A bit about the people. Ritwick stood on the edge of the bridge, with Shlok as a silent companion some distance away. Both of them were leaning over the railing and trying to look brave staring down. For the first time since they had known each other, it seemed as they were enjoying their silence more than any form of conversation. The banter seemed unnecessary and futile right now. Almost as inane as its name implied. The hush approved of whatever was going through their minds. Or whatever was not. The stillness in their thoughts was in sharp contrast with the lovely breeze that tried to push them over the edge. The sun had already set, leaving a dull orange haze in its wake. It spread across the sky in lazy artistic strokes, becoming darker every passing second, and subsuming all other colours with it. Birds and bats were returning to their nests and seemed pleasantly surprised at the unexpected visitors. Smugly satisfied thus, they flew past, suddenly fluttering their wings a tad too excitedly in an attempt to unsettle the unlikely couple.

Now something about the local marvel. Due to some bureaucratic hiccup in the unbelievably efficient government machinery, the construction of the bridge had been stopped just when the other end had seemed within reach. Probably the river had dried up too soon (because of the dam some distance ahead) and the thoughtful engineers decided there shouldn’t be one over a desiccated bed. Whatever happened, the result was what came to be known as “The Broken Bridge” – a somewhat normal construction that ended somewhat abruptly. A derelict signpost at the beginning of the structure and a pile of concrete served as grim reminders of incomplete contracts and satiated pockets. The unfinished project had now become a favourite hunting ground for lovers, dopers, alcoholics, and just about everyone else. As such, police raids were not uncommon. Neither were thefts and muggings.

Back to the setting again. The drop to the unending expanse of mud below was sheer and steep. One could not stand on the edge without feeling a bit dizzy. Although the river had disappeared a long time ago, it had left serpentine trails in the mud in order to remind the visitors of its presence in a time not so long ago. They now served as makeshift roads for drivers who were a bit too adventurous for the normal takeaways. A lone jeep was making use of one the trails, very close to the horizon, stirring up a dirt storm in it wake. Lights blazing, it appeared ready to take the plunge and jump over the edge. The jeep seemed to be the object of attention for both Ritwick and Shlok. They looked at it for sometime, then at each other, and finally smiled, nodding their heads in silent agreement. Yes, both of them were thinking of the same thing. The scene was poetic enough to be the finale of some abstract movie. Not a painting. Not some random poem. A movie it needed to be.

An unlikely company. Undeterred by secondary human presence, a couple came to the bridge at about this time. It seemed as if they had walked the distance. The fellow was sweating a lot and looked like he was in the mood to complain. He was frustrated and sore. It looked like he had dressed up for the occasion. Quite a bit. But now, wet patches under his armpits graced his designer shirt while his red sneakers were dusty and almost brown. The lady in question just smiled serenely and probably tried explaining to him that it was worth the effort. She was fair, very elegant and wore a faded yellow T-shirt with bermuda shorts. A strange form of intelligence shone in her eyes. Hers was the kind of beauty that made you jealous of the stupid bloke who had been lucky enough to have her. You could be satisfied by just looking at her. Shlok sighed inwardly. Ritwick not so inwardly.

At the first sight itself, it had become apparent that there was no pretence in their boldness. They just did not care. So Shlok looked at Ritwick and hinted about giving them the privacy that they deserved. But Ritwick seemed to be in a sour mood himself and decided to stick around. He was not going to let others spoil his moment at the edge. Not if he could help it.

And now the masala. The fellow seemed to have calmed down a bit and was tracing his fingers through her lovely hair as she leaned back. The wind caught a whiff of her smell and carried it to where Shlok stood. She smelt delicious. Like a baby just bathed by its mother. Wet and innocent. They were hugging now. Shlok tried to resist staring at this amorous couple but gave up doing so. They did not mind, he eventually decided. He was softly speaking something into her ears and she was smiling while nodding her head. The earrings jingled in appreciation. The eyelashes blinked in sarcasm. And the eyes shone at the prospect of a scandal. She was not looking at him but through him, as if her sight could pierce through flesh. As if its insight was something tangible. The lone jeep caught her attention as well and for a moment her forehead was lined with furrows. But then she was herself again – smiling, nodding, jingling, and listening. He, on the other hand, had ceased to inspire any observation long ago.

Then in a swift smooth motion, she brought his lips to hers. As if taking control from him. And they kissed. It was not the embarrassed kiss of lovers hesitant about their intentions. But the passionate kiss of two people who knew what they were doing. He had his eyes closed. But she had them open, as if she wanted more; not just satisfied by the taste of his sweat on her lips. For a second she glanced at Shlok and in that second it appeared that she was proving a point to him. That she had taken the plunge and chucked all the inhibitions circumstances had imposed on her. There was the slightest smudge of a smile on her lips as she looked away, and locked her lover in an embrace. The world had shrunk to the space between their arms.

The sorry departure and just a hint of philosophy. Ritwick and Shlok mutually decided that they had enough. They tip toed their way back to the bike and started on their way back, leaving the lovers still entwined in, well, love. The area around the dried river bed was pockmarked with ravines and scrubland. The trees and bushes were a dull shade of green because of the dust that had settled permanently on them. There was a strange brown haze that hung in the air. It dulled everything with its suffocating presence. Restricted vision. Prevented thought. It was hard to take away one’s mind away from it. But if one tried, one could find beauty in the stunted shrubs. Find hidden patterns in the ravines and listen to them telling stories of floods that gave birth to them. But only if one made the effort to look beyond the permeating dirt. If and only if.

Riding back home, it seemed as if too much life was running through their veins. Too much of it going to waste. The stillness in thoughts had been somewhat replaced by the tiniest question. Well, several tiny questions in fact. All of them connected. All of them vague and futile. Where they looking too far ahead into time? Was this vision of the future somehow preventing them from making the best of now? Was it preventing from appreciating the wrong kind of beauty? Were they making a dash for the wrong finish lines? Would it help if they too shed their inhibitions and risked it? Gave it a try just once? Not a long time back, Akanksha had chided Shlok for romanticizing and dramatizing everything. “You think too loftily”, she had innocently remarked. If it was a personal obsession, why then was Ritwick suffering from a similar turmoil? Even if just for those few moments. Something can not be wrong with everyone. Not everyone can lust after the same sinful (or was it simple?) pleasures.

Back in his pigeonhole, Shlok smirked at the irony of the words that were exploding from a house nearby. They hung in suspended animation and mocked his thoughts as subtly as possible.


Oh, it's a mystery to me
We have a greed with which we have agreed
And you think you have to want more than you need
Until you have it all you won't be free

Society, you're a crazy breed
Hope you're not lonely without me

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I Dream of Electric Sheep



Shlok Deepankar walked back to his room. No, he strolled back. His gait seemed relaxed, almost bordering on what cynics would call lazy. The setting sun had painted the sky a bright crimson. The pale white crescent had not yet made its presence felt. But he was not in the mood for romantic musings right now. He had enough for one day. A random book had triggered the wildly erratic thought process. Threads had gone out of control and had necessitated a trip to the cafeteria. A lonely, deserted cafeteria. It kind of reminded me how all of us actually lead our lives. We think we are surrounded by all sorts of people. Feel safe in their hustle bustle. But in reality, it’s just a farce and when the push comes to shove, we must find ourselves alone. Swim against the tide. And fight our own wars. Now that he trudged back, the mental overdrive seemed to be slackening. A toothy grin greeted all those who loitered by, much to their ill-suppressed surprise. Who was this person?

The subtle ambience of Shlok’s room greeted him with open arms. He could not resist smirking. He had been derided, often ridiculed, for his civic sense. It did not conform to the standards of a boys’ hostel. But the aptly aimed sarcasms merely ricocheted off the thick skin he had acquired over the past four years. The spick and span bed sheet had stayed on, despite telling glances from more seasoned hostellers. So had the table lamp. He switched it on and glanced at the neatly stacked novels on his study table. Doctor Zhivago. The Godfather. Shantaram. Hitchhiker. Mocking Bird. Rest. This led to a spontaneous, almost guilty, peek at the dusted editions of Tannenbaums and Deitels lying inconspicuously in the same room. A pair of shoulders was shrugged and some decisions were repented over. Life then continued at the same snail pace.

The semester had already drawn to a sorry conclusion. In line with expectations, plans had been shelved. Decrepit time tables jeered like skeletons in one’s closet. Shlok made a point of making a face at them and then slamming the door shut. A session of customary mourning usually followed. Letting it out always helped. When the scattered remains of wasted opportunities had been gathered and safely stashed away in some nondescript corner, Shlok looked around. It was time for a smoke. Ritwick, his partner in crime, had left for home for the last time. But today, he was in the mood to light up alone. So he did.

As he did so, he decided to play Floyd. He had been holding back from listening to any of their Music. It did things to him. Strange inexplicable things. He had not wanted any of that. But today was different. The random book and the ensuing trip to cafeteria had already ruled out the possibility of any constructive work. Moreover, he wanted some inspiration. Some silver lining. The smoke got to his mind instantly. The words were in perfect tune with his mood…

From morning to night I stayed out of sight
Didn’t recognise what I’d become
No more than alive I’d barely survive
In a word...overrun

He flicked the ash. It seemed to have a mind of its own and the light weighted particles flitted in and out of the yellow light like moths drawn to the flame of a dying candle. When they were tired of all the games, they flopped down on his table in exhaustion. He blew them away and smiled as, this time, they disappeared without a trace. Even the smoke came to life and flew around the room, exploring all the nooks and corners like a curious child. It clouded his senses faster than it usually did. Floydian melodies, combined with the intoxicating influence of the first smoke, hit him like a sledgehammer. There were goosebumps and he decided to relent for the first time in several weeks. He decided to be weak. He tried reigning in the tears, but the voices told him otherwise. So he did not and they, in turn, made his eyes look almost poetic. Like the ones in a water colour painting. The ones brought to life by a struggling artist.

Look at him now
He’s paler somehow
But he’s coming round
He’s starting to choke
It’s been so long since he spoke

He heard someone knock on the door. For a second he contemplated getting up to get it. Then realizing the state he was in, he decided otherwise. This war was his and if he let anyone into his mind now, it would mean staying this weak even after. So he got up and lied down on the bed. Ignoring the hammering on the door. The words were still floating in the air and seemed to mind their own business…..

And with these words, I can see
Clear through the clouds that covered me
Just give it time then speak my name
Now we can hear ourselves again

Against all regulations and rules that he tried to adhere to, Shlok decided to dream. He saw sheep. Yes, electric sheep. So many of them. All looking alike. They were jumping over the fence of a barn in order to graze the grass in the meadow that lay beyond. They bounced along, happy in each other’s company. Unmindful of the sheep that had stayed back. Or were too afraid and weak to jump over the fence. He could see the want in the eyes of the sheep that stayed behind. Even in the dream. They looked at their fellows grazing gaily, lost in the pleasures of the world and oblivious to everything else. It was almost pathetic to find them this way. So pitiable and full of self-loathing.

But then he saw something else. Something unnerving and encouraging at the same time. Amongst the ones that were still in the barn, there was a group of sheep, no electronic sheep, which stood out. They had refused to follow others not because they could not, but because they chose not to. On a casual glance, they seemed like a bunch of haughty arrogant electric woolies to Shlok. But this was his dream. And so he decided to draw closer and observe them a bit more closely. It was then that he found that they were neither haughty, nor arrogant. They were original! They had decided to swim against the stream, even if that meant ridiculed and jeered at. Even if that meant not being able to graze the lush, delectable grass in the meadow that lay beyond. Even if that meant being isolated not only from others, but also from each other. Even if that meant facing failure, as the other electric sheep had come to define it. In time, the others would realize. That not only does the grass on the other side always seem greener; but that one must always find oneself on the side less green. As of now, they were content in their solitude, silently biding their time.

When Shlok was done with the dream about electric sheep, he knew he would be okay. Stronger, better. And yes, okay. With a sigh, he adjusted the pillow under his head again. And drifted into a dreamless sleep.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Alphabets and Underscores



Ritwick lay stark naked on his bed, the sweat persistently clinging to his body. The fan was idle. He hated the noise. It distracted him. Disillusioned by the silence, however, he stared at the ceiling and then his chest. In quick succession. The ceiling was devoid of any features except for the lone lizard that was chasing itself in never ending circles. Bored by the monotony of its uninspired regularity, he had found solace in the fact that the hair on his chest had somehow begun to trace an abstract Ganesha, and felt better because of it. It made him believe that he could be a better man. Better, yes, and special. Made him believe that he could resist the temptation to give in and the tedium that would entail.

A lone beam of sunlight suddenly managed to evade the fortification Ritwick had set up and lit up the dust motes in the room. Earlier, they had been dancing around in the room, happy in their conjoined obscurity. Now, they scurried about in mid air, ashamed at their sudden nakedness and the immediacy of its unfamiliarity. The abruptness of the intrusion upset Ritwick. It reminded him of the ease with which a lone thought had suddenly made him so restless and weak. So he got up to tame the rage of the sun by means of the thick curtains in the room. Having successfully done so, he even switched on his table lamp to prove this point to no one in general. He flopped down on the bed and closed his eyes. This time he did not try to sleep. It had started with him meeting her the last time for the last time….

Akanksha had looked singularly sensual wearing the nose ring. And the mole on her exposed shoulder had only served to arouse him even more. A few wanton curls got caught in the gentle breeze and streaked across the skies like black thunderbolts in a summer storm. She seemed mellowed and quite, hardly a shadow of the playful thing he wanted to remember her as. He remembered that her lips had quivered when she said “Hello”, as if weighed down by the enormity of that meaningless word. The word itself, having fallen off the edge of her lips, had left the slightest smudge of lipstick on her face. He had thought about wiping it away for her. But had decided otherwise. It was not yet time.

Meanwhile, Ritwick had shifted his frame one foot to another, trying to ascertain his stance on them. He wanted to be with her. But he was not sure of anything else. Or what that would mean. The only thing he was certain of was the alarming regularity with which his insufficiencies plagued his relationships with the few people he deigned to talk to. The morbid desire to turn his life into one long dream sequence. The vehemence with which he had begun to detest the conventionality of a routine existence. The apprehension and nervous was palpable. Yet both of them chose to ignore it. It had hardly been a month since they had confessed their feelings for each other through some awkward modes of communication. The novelty of the entire thing had fascinated them. More him than her. And in a time when everything else seemed to be going against plan, her un-proclaimed affection became the bubble that shielded him for life’s disappointments and claimed control over his consciousness. What he did not know was that it made him soft as well.

Ritwick had been unable to fathom her thoughts that day too. Even when everything necessary had already been said and done. Her feelings had always been the crossword puzzle that was just a bit too complex for his mental faculties. And her subtle signs, if any, were wasted on him. Just like her sarcasm. Both of them felt for each other in surprisingly different ways. And expressed it in even more contrasting ones. But what he could tell was that there was a nervous excitement that hung around them like an adoring cloud. It was evident in the way he found her face very simple and graceful. Graceful, not beautiful. It was evident in the way he found her stealing a glance at him when he was pretending to be lost in thought. It was evident in the way he loved her while trying to distance her from him at the same time. As if he wanted her that way but knew it could not be so. There was a certain common longing in the association. But he attributed it to the freshness of their romance and made himself believe it would lose its sheen with time. Exactly like the cynic in him would have him believe. Ritwick. He was like putty when it came to tragedies.

Looking back now, he could tell that she too was a romantic who had been so far trying to pass herself as a cynic. She was a lot like him. Akanksha. The signs had begun to show. He could tell that. But unfortunately, with the gradual telling of a lie, he had begun to believe in it too, while she was probably just getting there. So while he pondered over the temporary nature of their relationship and its pitfalls, she longed for him in a manner that had previously been alien to her. “What if their relationship consumed them? Left space for nothing else?” thought he. The temptation to give in and strike a compromise with life had become too overpowering to be ignored as a passing emotion. Failures, if any, would only precipitate the downfall of their ambitions. What with love being there to save the day. It was almost as if he had started fearing something being too good for his own good.

Akanksha and Ritwick. They were these two weirdoes who had come together in order to feed on each other’s excesses. They were proud, arrogant, and ambitious. But with a twist that was unique to both of them. Unfortunately, they were hopelessly in love. Ritwick was afraid that with time, both of them would pull each other down. Keep each other from becoming what they could be. He feared that it would be easy to get lost in the meanness of routine when love is all you have. And it becomes all that you desire. He knew, what with his indecision plagued mind, that it would be too easy to give up. And then repent over it when it all too late.

But this was only the good part. What he was really apprehensive of was the fact that, fearing such consequences, he would distance himself from everyone (and everything) important and begin to revel in his misery. Again. And that too at a time when she had just begun to teach him that it was not imperative that it be that way. The more he thought about it, the more he believed in it. Her memories would suffice. The scars would have surfaced anyway, had he lingered long enough. He knew he had it in him. The ability to poison anything beautiful and glorify the pain when it has shrivelled up and withered away. So he wanted to leave before the venom began to creep into their alliance. He felt selfish thinking so. Now when he knew she needed him more than anyone else. Now when he knew that a lot of alphabets that needed to be said had been replaced by underscores. Now when he knew that he had begun to find happiness in her and not himself. These were the first signs. Telling ones too.

But while he wallowed in self pity, he wished that perhaps it could be worked out. That they could learn from each other’s excesses instead of stumbling because of them. The hope made him weak. It was a sickening feeling. So, Ritwick opened his eyes and resumed his fascination with his Ganesha. However, when even the holy one failed to capture his interest, he tried to find whether he could cloud his senses with smoke. But none of this helped him take his mind away from what it had decided to dwell upon. So, he began writing her a letter. In his mind. Still stark naked. The sweat still persistently clinging to his body.

PS – The phrase Meanness of Routine is attributed to Krishna and the Horny Hippo. Thanks.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Post Cards

A Post Card came off my wall today. All on its own. It just fell off as if it had been waiting all along to retire from its service. I thought about putting it back, amongst its more illustrious siblings. Then thought otherwise and shelved it in the already cluttered drawer. Maybe it did not want to be there in the first place and had been waiting for an excuse all this time. To start afresh. To grace a more elegant wall.

Sign of things to come? Perhaps when we have to leave, we are indeed ready to leave.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Island

You came back to haunt me and I realized, that you were an island and I passed you by. You were an island to discover.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Guilt/Repentance

Do we repent over the fact that we caused it to happen? Or do we feel guilty about it being the cause of our unhappiness, and worse still, jealousy?

~~~

I think I feel bad about feeling bad.

Pronouns Used:

It: A seemingly innocent incident. One thing led to another. And now it has caused an entirely unexpected chain of events.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Implicit

I do not understand half of the things I say, but they sound so horribly cool that I do not complain to myself.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Smile for Me

I rushed into his room to give him the good news. He smiled and tried to be happy for me. But I saw through the guise. Didn’t he realize his sham was so predictable? One of us had deflated like a burst balloon.

~~~

He rushed into my room to give me the good news. I smiled and tried to be happy for him. Could he see through my pretense? Didn’t I realize my sham was so predictable? One of us deflated like a burst balloon. Yet again.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Orange Sky

Sometimes, sometimes, my mind is too strong to carry on. When I am alone. When I am unable to throw off the weight of this crazy stone. When I want to lose all care for the things I own. Yes, it's a long road we have to walk on.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Modernity Vs Tradition

They say India is nation where tradition is fighting for space with modernity. They say we have been able to strike a balance till now. I wonder. Then I catch myself doing this.

Every night I soak a fistful of dried amla in a glass of water. In the morning, while bathing, I use it as a, well, ayurvedic shampoo to wash my hair. But then soon after, I use a fancy conditioner to make them smell decent. I wonder how long the balance will last.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Feared Intimacy

so many dreams, so many whispers, and so many anecdotes -
some invigorating, few inspiring, while most insanely inane.
shared, narrated, told, then retold - means ever so varied -
often through a mindless silence, or indulgences in vanity.

will they run out of them, having done so over and over again?
silence, shared in light and dark, become ever so intimidating?
will the quaint little nuances, growing into inexplicable causes
of hatred, poison the novelty in their character and stifle them?

they fear formalities and niceties turning something pretty into
a marriage of convenience. a secret paranoia and insufficiencies
ravaging the palace of cards; with it all its ideas, all its hopes.
will ambitions then be murdered at their altar of question marks?

the beauty of the moment seems tainted by this feared intimacy;
the friends and the lovers, though, still revel in their cynicism.
they give up more pieces of the puzzle than they can take back,
yet, without letting go, i fear, they would never be able to know.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ishwar Allah

Ishwar Allah, tere jahan mein nafrat kyun hai, jung hai kyun
Tera dil toh itna bada hai, insaan ka dil tang hai kyun

Kadam kadam par sarhad kyun hai, saari zameen jo teri hai
Suraj ke phere dharti hai, phir kyun itni andheri hai
Is duniye ke daaman par insaan ke lahoo ka rang hai kyun

Goonj rahi hai itni cheekhein, pyar ki baatein kaun sunay
Toot rahe hain kitne sapne, inke tukde kaun chunay
Dil ke darwaazon par taale, taalon par ye zang hai kyun

Ishwar Allah, tere jahan mein nafrat kyun hai, jung hai kyun
Tera dil toh itna bada hai, insaan ka dil tang hai kyun

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Pink Chaddi Campaign


In response to the recent acts of moral policing by cadres belonging to Shri Ram Sene, a Consortium of Pub-Going, Loose, and Forward Women has been formed in order to send some love to Shri Ram Sene this Valentine's Day. A campaign, The Pink Chaddi Campaign, has been launched for the same reason. Here's an official version of what the campaign is all about.

What is the Pink Chaddi Campaign?
The Pink Chaddi Campaign kicked off on 5 February 2009 to oppose the Sri Ram Sene. The campaign is growing exponentially (1,300 at this point in the Consortium of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women) and that is not surprising. Most women in this country have enough curbs on their lives without a whole new franchise cashing in with their bully-boy tactics. Of course, a lot of men have joined the group as well. Here is they want you to do with the Pink Chaddi Campaign - Join in. Be imaginative, have fun and fight back!

What can you do?
Step 1: It does not matter that many of you have not thought about Valentine's Day since you were 13. If ever. This year send the Sri Ram Sene some love. Send them some PINK CHADDIS. Look in your closet or buy them cheap. Dirt-cheap. Make sure they are PINK. Send them off to the Sene.

The address to send the package is:
The Pink Chaddi Campaign,
C/O Alternate Law Forum,
122/4 Infantry Road
(opposite Infantry Wedding House)
Bangalore 560001
Contact Person: Nithin (9886081269)

If you don't want to mail it yourself, you can drop it off at the Chaddi Collection Points. They will be collecting across the country through this week and sending the packages on February 12. More information about Chaddi Collectors in your city soon on their blog: http://thepinkchaddicampaign.blogspot.com/

If you are in Delhi,
Bring your packages to
Nisha Susan
C/O Tehelka
M76, M-Block Market
Greater Kailash 2
New Delhi

LAST DATE OF COLLECTION FOR DELHI: 11 February

And If you are in Mumbai,
Ashwini Shetty (99833075013)
C-Wing, Lake Pleasant
Phase-2, Lake Homes
Powai
Mumbai
(Hand it over to the security guards in Mumbai)

LAST DATE OF COLLECTION FOR MUMBAI: 11 February

PS - In case it is very tedious to find Pink Chaddis in your closet, the guys at the campaign say any colour would do. All that is needed is the spirit!

Step 2: Send the Pink Chaddi Campaign a photograph of the package.
Tell them how many chaddis you are sending out and inspire other women in other cities. You can either mail the information to freelancehabba (at) gmail (dot) com or you can mail it at their facebook address.
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=49641698651&ref=mf

Step 3: On Valentine's Day do a Pub Bharo action. Go to a pub wherever you are. From Kabul to Chennai to Guwahati to Singapore to LA women have signed up. It does not matter if you are actually not a pub-goer or not even much of a drinker. Raise a toast (it can be juice) to Indian women. Take a photo or video. They will put it together (more on how later) and send this as well to the Sri Ram Sene.

What happens after Valentine's Day?
After Valentine's Day we should get some of our elected leaders to agree that beating up women is ummm... AGAINST INDIAN CULTURE.

For right now, ask not what Dr VS Acharya, Home Minister of Karnataka can do for you. Ask what you can do for him. Here is his blog. http://drvsacharya.blogspot.com

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Through the Looking Glass

They sat in silence, viewing the world through their individual looking glasses, and contemplating on what greeted them on the other side. A smoke had been shared just a moment ago and both of them had kept themselves busy trying to blow rings at each other. But now, when just the smell lingered around, they did not know what to do with their hands or minds. While Ritwick lay on the bed staring at the wall above, Shlok smiled goofily as if a long lost memory had suddenly found its way through an unknown recess. The duo seemed to be walking through the same corridor, albeit in different directions, peering through each keyhole at leisure, picking up lost pieces, and trying to recreate something that had happened a long way back in time. Surprisingly, not even a trace of worry distorted the expression on either face. It seemed conspicuous by its absence, and they did not talk about it, lest the unwanted guest make a sudden appearance.

There was just a hint of a breeze and the curtain on the door quivered when caught in it, the yellow flowers on it appearing to be daffodils “fluttering and dancing in the breeze”. The ceiling fan was idle and two of its blades formed a smiley that conveyed its sadness at being singled out. The radio-clock played an instrumental number from an unknown Satyajit Ray flick that seemed to have been made for the occasion. Ritwick hummed along, oblivious to his pathetic attempt at impersonating the tune, while Shlok tried his best to ignore him. A solid rectangle of light filtered in through the lone window in the western wall. The window seemed to be greeting the sun’s dying rays, politely bending them to suit its own whims. So what bathed the room was not a fiery white, but a mellow mixture of yellow and red, almost maternal in its feel. The motes danced around in the pale yellow radiance and traced out abstract patterns while doing so. Needless to say, the room on the terrace was almost perfect for imaginary afternoon philosophical sessions. And so they did. In other words, I made them do so.

“We do not believe in consequences anymore.”

Shlok propounded this while still smiling goofily and so the effect of the observation was lost on Ritwick. Ritwick, in turn, continues staring at the wall for sometime before giving his two cents.

"For the record, I believe you have copied that line from somewhere. However, I will ignore that for the time being. I understand your need to temper your actions with purposiveness. For some time now, I have feared that my actions do not have any consequences. Sometimes, I almost detest it when people like me, people who have been more fortunate than so many others, trivialize everything in life. Everything has to be associated with being cool, hip, fun, and all things cooler. I guess you have only taken this abhorrence of carelessness to a higher level. Didn’t you say something about deciding that whatever you do has to have a certain purpose or consequence to it? But does that mean we deny ourselves every other pleasure in life just because of its inconsequentiality to others? I will confess that I do not propose a solution to this problem. But my instincts still shriek that a balance can be struck somewhere in between. Can’t we be selfish and selfless at the same time?”

Shlok stifles a chuckle and stops staring at the wall above. Instead, he occupies himself for sometime by observing the two lizards on the western wall, the one with the window. They had emerged out of their secret lairs early (the sun had still not set) and seemed to be engaged in a furious round of courtship. Somehow, their love and hate relationship seemed to symbolize everything that was going on in his life as well. Finally, when Ritwick had started fidgeting at his indifference, he carefully crafts his reply and tries to make it as abstruse as feasible.

"Consequentiality is definitely a way out. The efficacy of all actions lies in their impact on others. Didn’t we read about Gandhiji’s talisman in our NCERT books? Weigh our actions and see how they affect others? I think the idea is to detach your self to the extent where you may love all, and enjoy all. There is neither pain there, nor unhappiness. You might say why bother about all this. But to me, the otherwise is tantamount to cheating my purpose. I am afraid, my friend, that there is no middle path of indulgence. You can be either happy or sad. Indifference is the best lie that we craft for ourselves. It helps us in getting by that sense of guilt that’s innate in all of us. It helps us in believing lies like ‘we can be selfish and selfless at the same time’. It helps us in ignoring the consequences of all our actions.”

Ritwick looks at Shlok as if he had been slapped for breathing too hard. However, he regains his senses and finds something to say.

"Isn’t that taking things a bit too far? It is a liberating experience to give in to our weaknesses sometimes. Not everyone can be a Gandhi or Amte. Not everyone can be a Mahatma. You are becoming increasingly inflexible in your thoughts and actions. Why don’t you experiment more often? Not just with relationships and people, but with your ideas and opinions as well. Just let it go and enjoy being weak for some time. I have visited those lands and it was a welcome experience.”

Shlok smiles serenely and says, “That’s how I have come to look at things. I am afraid that retracing my steps is not a luxury that I can afford. But we are talking nonsense. I must not make you think anything. What about love and girls? What’s your take on them? I know you are not homosexual.”

Although Shlok had raised this subject as a mere diversion, he knew that Ritwick’s understanding of the subject would bring him one step closer to comprehending what went on in his friend’s mind. Ritwick, on the other hand, was oblivious to all such underpinnings and plunges headlong into his narrative.

"Do not blame me for philosophizing, I know that’s you forte, but I guess getting to know about love is more important than being in love. The rush that you get out of anticipation can hardly be matched by fulfillment. I fear it becomes a downhill ride from there on. I even read a piece about this in that zany tabloid that people call a newspaper – The Times of India.”

Shlok can not come to terms with Ritwick’s understanding of ephemerality. Trying to think several things at the same time, he looks out the window. The sun has almost set and soon the mosquitoes would be swarming the place. So he gets up and switches on the bulb, the artificial equivalent of the orb which had just breathed its last. As he proceeds to close the door, Ritwick continues his line of thought.

""Do not get me wrong, but I find it hard to believe that something as fascinating as love can actually last long enough. I believe that the phase we call ‘being in love’ lasts for just one-eighth of our lifetime. Let me put this in a more familiar perspective. It’s merely a three hour movie in a day long extravaganza. What do we do with the remaining 21 hours? Mope about how we wasted every other opportunity chasing that one dream? Look for something better in all the remaining places? Believe me, but it’s most important to find what makes one really happy. I think it’s the only thing that can turn the 3 hour movie into a day long festivity. It’s the only thing which can make other experiences complete, and make them last. Everything else falls into place then. But most of us never get there in one lifetime. So it’s a bit of a predicament, like everything else.”

"So, if I have understood you correctly, you do not believe in the entire concept and would rather stay away from it?”

It’s not that simple. It’s not just black and white I presume. Normally, people end up falling in love mostly due to lack of choice. In a perfectly normal relationship, without any labels mind you, they end up giving each other so much of themselves that even the prospect of staying apart seems an impossibility. On the other hand, giving up more, without adverse repercussions and without altering the very nature of the chemistry, appears just as unlikely. People are often consumed by the other person. Love, and a lifetime of it perhaps, seems the only way out. In a way, it is the malaise and the cure. And we never read the symptoms right. So it doesn’t matter if I believe in it or not. Doesn’t matter if I want to it or not. There is no running from it. It will end up coming back to me. For better or worse I do not know.”

"That’s an interesting line of thought. Love is due to compulsion eh?”

"Please don’t make it sound derogatory. It is one of those things I still want to believe in. And you are making my entire understanding of it sound profane.”

"Not at all. Your thing about losing a part of ourselves to the people we love is quite intriguing. Because the only escape from that is detachment. And hence the paradox you see. Love seems a way out. But would you risk it? Would it prove to be your undoing? The realization that your happiness is inextricably intertwined with that perpetual fear of misery.”

"So what do we do Shlok? Do we deny ourselves the fleeting pleasure for fear of the pain we might have to endure later? Do we do that and isolate ourselves from even the momentary blip of happiness? I understand that is painful to be possessive about things that have the downside of not lasting forever. But does anything really last? Is it easy to let go? These things might be better understood if viewed from a different perspective. Because the one we posses is grossly inadequate. And so I go on for now. I cling to my possessions, thinking that some of them can last. Baah. But I am rambling again.”

Shlok shifts around on the bed and turns to face Ritwick, who is now sitting upright on the carpet.

Keats gave us two important thoughts: ‘Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder’; and also ‘Ignorance is bliss’. As long as we our sufficiently ignorant, we tend to stick to the pretence that meets the eye. The idea is whether we wish to be joyous in our ignorance. If that be it, then I have nothing else to say. If not, then maybe you should ask yourself whether you want to continue this slumber of never ending dreams. It’s more comfortable then, isn’t it? To be asleep and be fed with an imagery of permanence: your dollops of utopia?”

Ritwick racks his brains in order to comprehend Shlok’s discourse in its entirety. When he fails spectacularly in doing so, he does what only he could – come up with an example of Shlok’s philosophical ramblings from popular fiction.

It’s like the Matrix isn’t it? We are happy as long as we are in this make-believe world of the machines. But as soon as we are granted freedom from that slavery, we realize how the decision to break free was not as easy as it had seemed. Cypher’s actions capture this dilemma very effectively. Once he has seen the ‘real world’, he wants to return back to his matrix. To his well paying office job. To his fancy dinners. Ignorance is bliss as you say.”

Shlok couldn’t help smiling at this unlikely analogy. He tries to weigh it against his own statement. But then decides against it. Both of them had had enough for a day. And it was beginning to show.

"Yeah, right. Somewhat like The Matrix. But I guess its time for dinner. And I can hear your Mom calling us downstairs.”

As is expected out of such conversation, both the pseudo-intellectuals dwelled more upon the questions which were never asked. Nothing substantial is expected to come out of the conversation. For what Morpheus called the “real world” tends to downplay dreamers like themselves. In all likelihood, they will go back to living their lives in a manner which would be the exact opposite of their ideas and opinions. But change can only come in minute quantities. We do not live in an age of revolutions. They are a thing of the past. The very fact that this conversation dwelled upon a subject like this is, is an improvement. I am sure they will work something out.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Annus Horribilis


As a new year dawns on the horizons of our lives, so do new aspirations, new resolutions, new ambitions, and the most important of all, a new hope. In a time when our reason is being held hostage by non-stop, barbaric, commercial free television drama being played out in broad daylight for the convenience of everyone, hope is probably the lone thread that tethers our confidence in clichés like love and peace. For as Andy Dufresne rightly said, “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies”. The task at hand, therefore, is not to set aside the last twelve months and forget about them. But rather, to learn from what happened then, so that we can effectively manage the tensions and conflicts within, hoping all the while that reason will prevail and the madness which has gripped our consciousness will come to an end.

In the past twelve months we saw fanatics from both the sides of the fence falling over each other. So while cadres from Bajrang Dal and VHP attacked villagers in Orissa for having converted to Christianity, terrorists struck with impeccable and brutal precision at the very heart of the country, striking down not only the poor and helpless but also the rich and mighty. And while old division lines became much prominent, new lines were drawn for reasons both selfish and petty. For the Bombay that our forces defended with spirit and gumption in November was the same one that Raj Thackeray and his goons from Maharashtra Navnirman Sena had sought to purge of the “bhaiyyas” only a short while ago. For while the MPs from the Telangana Rashtra Samiti resigned from their posts to demand the creation of a new state, ULFA militants set off a series of bombs in Assam to send a similar ultimatum to the government. Even Nature wreaked havoc in the Indian heartland and Bihar saw several millions of its inhabitants wading through waist deep waters, scouring the horizon for dry land and respite. But that is not where the buck stopped. The relatively stable domain of economy took a fall because of the global meltdown and the great Indian middle class became a victim of an uncertain future. The domino effect the Wall Street recession hit India hard, with jobs becoming scarce, firms asking workers to stay back at home for several days a week, and the BPO sector laying off thousands of employees.

No wonder that the past twelvemonth has been eliciting comments like “Thank God it’s over” from all and sundry. But was 2008 the annus horribilis indeed? Would matters be simpler if I were to list down years that were just as bad, if not worse? For a nation that has only recently celebrated 60 years of independence, the contenders for this dubious distinction are a plenty. Each one of 1984, 1966, and 1948 can vie for this honour with remarkable ferocity. For each one of these years was peppered with murder and violence, riots and rebellion, and uncertainty and distrust. However, it is only expected that a bias or prejudice will creep into any choice that we make. For instance, for a secular Indian no year was more nightmarish than 1992 or 2002, when the pogrom against Muslims was executed with utmost finesse and impeccable coordination. Indian citizens of the Sikh faith must be having the darkest memories from 1984. This predicament is only expected because India is not Sweden or Norway where everyone speaks the same language, follows the same faith, and no one is very poor. Never before has a single political unit been carved from such diverse and disparate parts. Moreover, because media tends to be biased in favour of spectacular, dramatic events, the citizen tends to do so too. As a result, many of the less visible sufferings of the even lesser visible people are conveniently ignored and forgotten. For even if the fidayeen had not attacked Bombay and Thackeray’s hooligans not taken law into their own hands, millions of Indians would still not have access to proper sanitation or civic amenities. Any choice that we make, therefore, must either take into account all these factions, or risk being labelled either parochial or broad.

Who is to decide, then, which year has been the most horrible of them all? Is it even feasible to do so? Will time throw up a new contender each passing year? As an unlikely democracy and an unnatural nation, India had always been destined for a bumpy ride. To compound the grievances, in its eagerness to make rapid strides towards development, India has neglected the fissures, factions, and tensions in its own society. These splinters have drifted so far apart that even in times of national calamity they find it hard to suppress their sectarian affiliations. Noted historian Ramchandra Guha remarks that “for India to remain united and untroubled would be a miracle. For it to be democratic and free of conflict would be doubly so”. Reflecting upon these troubles times, Ashis Nandy, a renowned sociologist, says “in India the choice could never be between chaos and stability, but between manageable and unmanageable chaos, between humane and inhuman anarchy, and between tolerable and intolerable disorder.” No wonder that I have been able come up with so many nominations for the dubious honour of annus horribilis. But does that mean India is doomed forever? Is there no way in which its chaos can become manageable, its anarchy, humane, and its disorder, tolerable?

In a society that is being torn apart along various lines, it is very important to seek out the breeding grounds of hatred. India remains a nation where legend, myth, history, tradition, and culture often overlap. Sometimes, Indians can not tell one from the other. What prompts the annihilation of innocent people in the name of God or regional diversity? Why new division lines continue to be drawn on some pretext or the other? The answers to these questions won’t be easy to come up with. However, it is essential we try to resolve these perpetual problems in light of reason and rationale. Even if the solutions prove to be detrimental to many of the notions we have adhered to most of our life. As the bureaucrats deliberate on methods of settling the variety of disputes, the cycle of violence rages on, varying in intensity and form. As it does so, new hostages to history are spawned, ensuring “that the future generations are taught new wrongs to set right” and even older wrongs to avenge.

Reference: Outlook (January 12, 2009)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Boy Who Never Told Anything

This is about a girl I knew not so long ago. That she had the ability and not the craving to be happy was what I’ll always remember about her. Needless to say, it was she who wrote this and not me.

* * *

The arm beneath her head was falling asleep and she wiggled her legs a bit. She always slept with her legs thrown about in gay abandon as if they were breaking free from the shackles of being prim and proper the whole day. There was a slight chill in the air and the blanket felt warm against her body. There was some grit on the sheet. A full moon was smiling cherubically, her battalion of stars fading in the glory of her pale light. Sleep was a few groggy breaths away so she turned to lie on her stomach, propping up her elbows so she could look at the moon better. She smiled at the imperfect circle it was today. One side looked slightly worn down as if the sun’s fury had melted her to make the stars.

Thoughts often rummaged through her mind like inquisitive children. Poking through the carefully stashed away memories, their grubby hands undoing the covers she had draped them in. Sometimes those fingers tickled up a laughing anecdote. She had read about people smiling into nothingness. The first time she did it herself she self-consciously shrugged her shoulders. But then some people, some weird little things often made her mouth dance into a crazy little curve, those laugh lines giving her a look of wry abandonment. He used to find her laugh lines infinitely attractive. She didn’t even notice them before he mentioned it. And now each time she looked in the mirror, she made it a point to smile, just to see those lines crease around her mouth.

Thinking of him saddened her, her spirit suddenly weighed down by her heart. And with nothing better to do, she reached out for her journal, flipping through its pages, covered in her scribbles. Pages of doodles and psychedelic designs. No matter how many dogs and flowers she started off with, she always managed to end up making concentric circles – an indication of her eddying thoughts? There were realms of angry outpourings, strings of quotes, cuttings of interesting ads and passages of mundane nothings.

Her journal. Her closest friend, her stubborn conscience, her cruelest critic. Often uncomfortable around her closest friends, she managed to talk to this inanimate book with unnerving enthusiasm. With fierce loyalty. With unbridled passion. She carried on rummaging, reading a quote, seeing a long-forgotten picture, some calculations of her monthly expenditure gone awry. The stars were beginning to fall asleep. She felt peaceful. The hammering of her mind was gently soothing itself into slumber. With a smile she hummed a silly tune.