Thursday, April 24, 2014

So many lifetimes needed to finish all the love stories... So many parallel life times... 

Monday, April 21, 2014


I am a writer. Which means I am pretty much never at a loss for words. Not when I am upset, not when I am sad, not when I am overwhelmed, not when I am angry.

When a writer says that - I am never at a loss for words - most people take that to mean a constant and easy access to a vast reservoir of active vocabulary. Sure, it may well mean that. But it also means something else. It means - I ALWAYS know what I am feeling. Always. Whether its a strange kind of depression or a peculiar type of exhilaration or some forbidden sexual desire or a moribund fantasy - I don't think I have ever heard myself say "I don't know what I am feeling". Since I am a person of words, I can always put my feelings into words. 

So now I am stumped. 

I don't know what to feel. 

I have been humming a strange cocktail of songs inside my head for the past few days. And together they add up to... well, nothing. 

There is Chand Roz Aur Meri Jaan Chand Roz by Kishore Kumar. And Maana Teri Nazar Mein by Sulakshana Pandit. And Kaise Sukoon Paaun by Talat Aziz. One talks about waiting it out, one talks about it being too late, and one talks about a sense of animated anticipation.

What do they mean together? Nothing. 

And in between it all is a soft heartache (heavy) and a gentle wistfulness (light). 

And there is a sense of being held. 

And a sense of being released. 

Amid it all, there is an overwhelming sense of the passage of time. And paradoxically, its own stillness.

A stillness which is restless because there is something I am meant to feel - and when I close my eyes, it is there. But then I wake up in trepidation, and it is gone.

And I don't know any more what I was supposed to feel.

If I don't know what I am feeling, then I don't know who I am. Because I am defined by the way I feel. Not by the way I think, not by the way I act, but primarily, by the way I feel. 

So hello stranger. You seem lost. Hope you find your way. Soon.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A panic write for a film school submission

Rajat sits alone in a room.

Rajat is happy.

He is remembering his walk in the woods with the girl. He just calls her the girl. She has a name but he doesn’t like to use it, as that is what everyone calls her. And for him, she is special.

She laughs at him when he avoids taking her name. He says he would give her a nickname just for his personal use except this is 2013 and that would be considered seriously corny.

The girl smiles. Says a nickname would be nice. They walk on in silence. It’s a beautiful day. Blue skies, green grass, birds singing. And the monthly bills haven’t come yet.

Rajat is holding the bills now. It was a good walk while it lasted.

Now Rajat is thinking of the second thing that happened earlier today. That was good too.

His best buddy Amar met him in the cafeteria. They talked. They discussed walking out doors for a smoke. It was so difficult just having a quick smoke these days. Walk the corridor, take the elevator, walk out of the building, find a corner, light up and then the blackberry pings and you need to crush it underfoot and rush back up. Sigh.

Then Aman looked at his watch. Said oh no, it was already 9:45 and he was late for an appointment.

Rajat is now puzzled.

The girl had looked at her watch during the walk too. And exclaimed that it was 9:45 and she needed to go back inside and finish her work.

But Rajat was walking with her before he went home, changed, carried his duffel to the car, drove to the office building, hit the gym, finished his work out and was having a juice at the cafeteria before showering and going to his desk.

So how could it be 9:45 then, and then again?

Wait. Now Rajat remembers another thing that had happened today.

He was running on the treadmill, the sweat running down his back. He was tiring. The lactic acid forming in his calves. He lowered the pace of the machine and started to slow down. But the gym hand – couldn’t call him trainer, he was just a helper but he behaved like a trainer – walked up to him, raised the machine speed and said, pointing to the clock: 15 minutes more? Ok? Right up to 10a.m. And he pointed at the big clock in the gym. Which said 9:45a.m.

Now Rajat is confused. He is no longer happy.

He looks at the bills in his hand. The first is the water bill. He unfolds it and stares at it. The amount is Rs. 945.

Rajat looks around wild eyed. He checks the walls to see if they are padded. He checks his wrists for a tape, his ankles for restraints.

He gets up and opens the door. Peeps out, wary, hesitant.

There is a big wall clock on the corridor wall. Rajat collapses just outside his door.  The clock says 9:45.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Itni Shakti Hamein dena "Data"

The past few days I have thought intensely about two, apparently disparate, things.

One is friendship.

And the other, emerging trends.

The first has occupied my mindspace because these are fragile times. And when I am fragile, my friendships are the rock block that I lean on. Even inside my head when I do that, I feel stronger.

I took a flight some days back to a friend. I took flight, literally. Ran away from that which was too difficult, too complex, too overwhelming, to a simpler, more solid place. The place that doesn't move. Leaning into a friend's chest and crying one's heart out: that may be a simple right that we relenquish over a period of time. We learn to let it go as we grow up, and as we grow apart, but it is still nice to know that one could do it if one wished. It makes the surfaces we stand on less wobbly.

Speaking of wobbly - the othe thing I spent a lot of mindspace on lately, was research, data, popularity charts, trends. What works? What appeals? What cuts across? What hits the sweet spot of number one status? This was obviously borne out of my work and its attendant ceaseless pressures to retain some statistical superiority over other similar but competing products. And that ground is pretty wobbly too. Not just for me, but for all people I know.

We all talk in numbers, not sentences. Letters, not wholesome words. Fractions not completions. Our world, a supposedly creative world, is filled with slivers and shards like TRP, GRP, RAM, TAM, AMT, ILT, FGD... we throw these at each other like drunks throwing punches and rattle of numbers and fractions and letters and look knowledgably at each other, not for a moment stopping to think that this isn't even langauage. Its a fragmentation.

When we ride the crest of these letters and numbers our punches carry a swagger and we feel complete as human beings. We don't question it. In fact we derive our entire sense of self from it.

But then invariably, everyone, at some point, experiences the trough. The questions arise then. Is this genuine? Is this valid? Is it compromised? Is it reliable? We turn even our consumers - the audience, the listener, the viewer - into pure statistical data. They are no longer the heart broken teenager who cried as a song played on the radio, the misty eyed housewife who sighed at the hunk on TV, the jolly old man who laughed out loud and spat popcorn when the comedian did his antics on the screen.

No we don't just reduce ourselves, we reduce them too. We reduce their entires lives, minds, hearts to fit into the square centimeter space of an exel sheet cell. And then, depending on how that cell behaves, we either gloat, or we gloom.

Introspection such as this tends to come with the gloom. Naturally. Who questions success? Who stops to ponder when the numbers inch towards the high mark, when by point space decimal point, our existence is justified, our passions ratified, our entire being validated?

But just like I found myself revisiting friendships when the ground beneath my feet shook, just like I found myself reaffirming the gold standard in my heart, I do think now its time to commit to the gold standard even at work. To shed the yoke of letters and fractions: the gilded cage of statitistical highs that hide all the creative lows.

Even when I ride the crest, which is after all - statistically speaking - but a matter of time , its good to avoid the seduction of those letters and numbers. They can be soul destroying after a point. And I do hope I will come back here, and recommit to that, even when like the Sirens, the numbers are singing to me, and drawing my ship in....

No, let us speak in words now. Simple, and heartfelt, like a song on the radio.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Loneliness is a grey word. Filled with sadness.

It is not a sad word simply because of its dictionary meaning. Its sad because it carries on its stooped shoulders a series of failures. In friendships, relationships, communication. In intent, involvement, committment, effort.

The word loneliness speaks of failed endeavours. It speaks of aborted attempts because those who are by themselves by choice, don't use the word 'lonely'. They say they are solitary.

Hence, lonely instantly becomes a loaded word. Crippled with multiple fractures.

It is a cliche to say one can feel the loneliest in a crowd. That of course is true. And to be expected, considering a crowd cannot relate to you intimately, personally.

What is said seldom is that the more one's heart is filled with love, the lonelier one can get. The sheer contrast between the outflow of emotion and the paucity of receptacles in which to pour it in, renders one frighteningly alone at times.

A forgotten smile, a missed call, an unanswered letter, a break in eye contact, a lack of warmth in a return hug, loneliness is heralded by a menagerie of foot soldiers.

Expectations are of course a precursor to loneliness. And yet how possible is it to lead an entire life without expectations? To feel warm gushes of affection and caring without being burdened by some sort of behavorial context, some sort of ease at being able to predict other people's responses and reactions?

We all can't be Sufi in the interactions we engage in, in the relationships we forge, in the love we feel. And anyhow, the Sufis were probably the loneliest of them all...

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Casteism of Revolution

Ever since Anna Hazare started fasting, and the Indian media started feasting, I have been trying to identify what exactly I feel about this entire phenomenon.

I have finally realised that I don't feel any one specific emotion. What I do have are a series of observations, culled out from my reading of the papers, what social network sites have thrown at me, and what I have gathered from conversations around:

1. The first is a sad one. It is a realisation that casteism is completely, deeply embedded in our psyche. We have a Brahminisation of everything, even mass protests. There are those who have been leading crusades for worthy causes for decades (and it is a sad truth that their voice has often gone unheard), but it is bizarre that those people now are churlish about the success of any movement that they are personally not responsible for. They have become the 'Brahmins' of protest work. They cannot let the 'lower castes' i.e. urban middle class, the media, corporates, apolitical citizens, take over this mantle. They feel affronted. Yes, it is true that for decades on end, it was only those with leftist leanings and deep roots in activism, who actually took up causes and fought for rights. They gathered in bunches of a few dozen, were often scattered with rubber bullets and police lathi charge, they came from humble backgrounds, they dressed humbly, they worked with the underprivileged and they tried to get their voices heard, often resulting in frustrating failure. Post partition right up to the early 2000s, mass India slept. We were uncaring. The middle class was scared, the influential class was apathetic, the media was state owned and the judiciary not yet this proactive. Yes, it is true that in those dark decades, when India completely lacked any community conscience, any citizen vigilance, there were only these 'left oriented groups' who tried, and tried hard.

It is odd however that today when the supposedly 'crass right wingers' at developing a conscience, instead of applauding them, this same bunch of leftist protest workers are dismissing them. It is almost like a pre determined judgement: if you are are well off, you cannot be committed. If you believe in private enterprise, you cannot contribute to nation building, If you are the media, your intent cannot be right. If you are part of the establishment in even the smallest way, then you cannot work at improving the establishment in any way.

This "I'll be judge and I'll be jury" mentality baffles me. It seems petty and unmerited. If the establishment perpetuates a wrong these people scream 'self serving'. If the establishment works at improving itself, they shout 'sham'.

It genuinely reminds me of the old Brahmins who would not let you in their fold, no matter how hard you tried.

If this is not the Brhaminisation of Protest work, what is? It is true that a lot of people threw in their lot with Anna Hazare with scant understanding of the Lok Pal bill, its nuances or the road ahead. It was amusing to read the status updates of 20 year old kids who thought Jantar Mantar was a picnic spot with a cause. But it was all amusing in an endearing way. It was nice to see people moved, even if they weren't going in depth into the problem. At least its a start.

The sheer petty cynical dismissal of this movement by the 'hardened ground workers' so to speak was deeply disappointing. It appears almost that they are shocked and upset that a movement NOT started by them should have acquired momentum and visibility. They cannot accept that free market India could possibly have developed a sense of social duty or citizen rights. Unless your politics is left wing, your cause cannot be real, they seem to be saying.

2. My second observation is a happier one. It is that Rakesh Om Prakash Mehra should be an extremely proud man today. More than half a decade after Rang De Basanti, it is clear that his movie actually made an impact that goes beyond a fad. When the candle light vigil at India Gate for Jessica Lal took its cues from this film, then too there were cynics who said this is 'pure tamasha'. The fact is that Manu Sharma did get prosecuted. And today, it is still true that people in this country have realised that they can make a difference. They can make the government accountable. They can make the establishment answerable. Movies have a power. And if they use that power to influence more than clothing and bedroom habits, its is commendable.

3. Having seen the media stoop to its lowest, crassest depths, having felt embarassed at being a part of this shrill hysterical and often vapid outlay of content, I have also realised that the media has it really bad both ways in this country. If they don't cover your protest then they just don't care. If they do cover your protest they are just looking for sensational bytes and a free tamasha. Somebody please explain how the media in this country is supposed to be doing good if everything they do is seen as self serving?

4. My fourth observation is closely connected to the first one: why is it that in our country we cannot accept that the prosperous can well be responsible for socially relevant / developmental work? Does this country have no scope for something like the Bill Gates' foundation? That man is a rich man and he is genuinely committed to the causes he supports. Why this complete cynical dismissal of corporate India by those involved in grassroot work? Why can't the two co exist? Why does one have to live in an LIG flat, take the bus, wear only cotton and chappals, to prove one's committment? Why can't making money for oneself coexist with wanting the country to be clean and well governed? If somebody joined the Jantar Mantar protest by driving down in his BMW from his posh gurgaon flat then he needs must be a 'fake'? Why?

5. This next observation is the mirror image of the previous. While there is no reason to automatically suspect the intent of the well heeled, the hysterical support that Anna Hazare got from a lot of screechy social networkers had me quite perplexed. Especially some of the people whom I know quite well. These are people who evade their taxes, abuse their position, use their influence, with absolutely not a hint of guilt. If they work for the media they demand press passes with impunity, even when they have no desire to cover the event, if they work in finance they learn new tricks to make a bigger blacker buck, if they work in education they allow kids papers to be marked by their spouses or siblings, if they work abroad they launder money. And all such and sundry were making loud, almost innocently oblivious, comments about 'weeding out corruption'. It's almost as though it doesn't strike them that they too perpetuate the same malaise. Every single day. With every single decision that they make. To them, clearly, what they do is convenience. What Kalmadi and Raja do is corruption. Hello, India?

6. My last observation: let us assume for a second that the cynics are right and Anna Hazare wants the publicity. Where is the dichotomy between wanting to do good solid work and wanting to be lauded for it? Why does every committed social worker HAVE to be self effacing? What if Anna Hazare has ALSO pandered to the media, both now, and before? Why is it necessary to therefore instantly doubt his intent? Why can't seeking personal glory co exist with wanting to bring about real change? Why does Anna have to be some sort of saint? What if he wants to be remembered for this work? How is that even a point worth raising during the debate?

All in all, much has happened and I think two clear things emerge: firstly that citizen vigilance (even if it lacks throughput, even if it lacks total comprehension) is definitely here to stay. If people can do a bit but not a lot, that is still a beginning. Everybody cannot dedicate their lives to causes. That doesn't make the little that they do, suspect. Secondly, a free market economy can and must co exist with clean transparent welfare governance. India needs to come out from the strangehold of both the corrupt politicians and businessmen, as well as the holier than thou jhollawallahs.

So bring on the next picnic at Jantar Mantar. We will transform India, one picnic at a time.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Stuck at 20

It was exactly a day like this. The sun hadn't come out fully, and the grey, melted butterscotch ice cream feel to the sky was warm and chilly at the same time.

Actually, why say it was exactly a day like this. It was this very day in fact.

December 9th. Fifteen years ago.

I was exactly a month away from my 21st birthday.

And pretty much around this time, mid afternoon, I finally stepped out of the National Heart Institute for a cup of tea, after a harrowing morning. I relaxed for the first time and thought of taking a small break before going back in.

But I didn't get the chance to finish that cup of tea. Because somebody from the staff of the hospital came out to call us.

It was exactly around this time, on exactly this date, on a day exactly like this one, fifteen years ago, that my father died.

And while I have done a fair amount of growing up in the past fifteen years; while in many ways I can feel each day of each week and month of each year etched upon my heart, my mind, my soul and my face, I also realise that some little tiny bit of me just got stuck there. At twenty.

In the chilling afternoon stillness of a cold December day.

In the coversations we were yet to have, in the poetry we were still to read, in the jokes we were still to crack, in the books we were yet to exchange, in the plays we were still to watch, in the music we were yet to share. In the lessons that I learnt so much more slowly, more painfully, and more harshly from life. Because I didn't get a chance to learn them from him.

Miss you baba. Incredibly acutely, considering its been fifteen years.