Monday, July 8, 2013

The Thinking Man

How many times do you think in love?

After the first few years of my being born — when I was thought capable enough — I was told to think. “What do you think? What do you think you should have done? Were you thinking at all? Why don’t you think before doing something?”
I don’t think I’m the only one to have been interrogated thus. If conversations and television is anything to go by, then this is representational of all of us, all through life — it’s cyclical. Heck, even I’ve thrown these lines and variants of them at others. I’m guilty, and I can’t shirk the blame. There’s no way I can, even if I would love to.
It took me ages to learn how to think. I’m still learning. But what of those who don’t think...

You don’t think about music... you just feel it.
You don’t think about being in the presence of the majestic Himalayas... you simply experience it.
You don’t think about the gushing sound of a flowing river... you just sway with it.
You don’t think about running to your safe zone/person when you need to hide from the world... you just run.
Thinking before jumping off a plane for a sky dive doesn’t result in jumping... NOT thinking about it, does.
You don’t think about removing your hand in case something’s hot (pls note... something, not someone!)... you just remove it.
You don’t think about clenching your fists when something makes you fiercely mad or happy or sad or excited... you just clench your fists.
Most importantly, you don’t think before you love someone... you just fall...

But you usually do think a zillion times before you say “I love you” to someone.

So, if for all the important things in your life you don’t need to think, or rather, you shouldn’t think... why do we learn to think at all? Doesn’t that just hold us back?

Rodin's Thinking Man in Paris. Photo courtesy:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Summer Cleaning

(Photo courtesy: Priyanka Singh; Model: Datri Sodha)

Nandini sat folding, unfolding, refolding the little piece of slightly yellowed, rectangular paper. Her trembling hands trying to get each fold right and equidistant. Matching the corners and edges each time. It was important that the folds be just right. She was an architect. She liked symmetry. She needed symmetry. Things had to fall into place.

Behind her, the clock tick-tocked on the wall. The once bright yellow wall paint now cracked and coming off around the ceiling and the corner to the left of the clock. Nandini didn’t like to look at that wall, even though the large window on it looked out into the society’s beautiful park. The visage was always colourful. The society’s caretaker was fond of flowers and had strategically planted the trees and shrubs, so that there would be blooms of different hues all through the year. Nandini didn’t notice the white jasmines, pink, white, blue and purple lilies, and the bright orange marigolds that lined the boundary, the bright yellow of the amaltas trees breaking the otherwise green lush. She sat with her back towards the vibrant summer palette. Her ears shut to the chirping of birds and children alike.

Even the time on the clock on that wall was perpetually wrong. She never looked at the clock either; it was just there. She never quite figured out why she never got rid of it, she thought, as her fingers worked that piece of official paper. First fold. Tick. Second fold. Tock. Third fold. Tick. Hard-press the crease. Tock. A small little square. As tiny as the plastic hand of the baby doll kept atop the cupboard across the floor from where she was sitting. Raghav had bought her the doll seven years back—their first week anniversary. Nandini had LOVED it. It was so lifelike—bald head, crinkled, chubby hands and feet, wide, dreamy eyes, a cooing mouth. She had tended to it as if it were her own. Now only Raghav looked after it. That was pretty much the story of every little thing in the house that they had lovingly built together.

They loved kids. Unfold one. They’d tried for their own for many years. Unfold two. The reports lay strewn around her. She was summer cleaning. Unfold three. The doctor had said she could never become a mother. Some operation had gone horribly wrong.

Raghav’s jacket lay crumpled on her lap, as she finally opened the rectangular paper down to the last fold for the first time in seven years. A single tear trickled down her cheek and on to the receipt from the abortion clinic. He still had it. The date was a week—to the day—before their parents had miraculously approved of their relationship. If only...

(Writer's Note: This was my first attempt at fiction. Feedback, criticism, suggestions are most welcome :-) Thanks for reading!)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I must! And I will! Travel.

The good life.. coffee, beach, serenity!
(Juara Beach, Pulao Tioman, Malaysia)

I’ve been on my dream (well, almost!) vacation since the past two months (well, again, almost!). I quit my job of five and a half years to take time out and travel. I took the plunge and I haven’t looked back ever since. And it’s been every bit as fabulous as I thought it would be, and sometimes in the most unexpected of fashions.

A few years back, when I was drifting a bit at my job, my editor had asked me “What do you really want to do?” I thought for a micro-second, and answered: Travel and get paid for it! His answer: I want to lie on a chair in Hawaii and smoke a cigar. When you have something more serious in mind, let me know.

I never went back with a “serious” answer.

Around three years later, when the plunge towards self-discovery has been taken, a few wonderful trips made, and “serious” thought to my ultimate goal in life paid, I finally have a serious answer: Travel and get paid for it! I kid you not. 

The end of the world? It did seem like it! (South China Sea)

I realize that I am not the only one with this dream. In fact, over night-long drinking sessions, coffee meets and telephone conversations this very same sentiment has been voiced countless numbers of times by too many people that it may form a sizeable chunk of the employed and even a part of the unemployed populace. But the difference between them and me is that I now know that THIS is IT! My life’s goal. It’s not a whimsical wish. Not a dream. Not an item on my bucket list. Travelling is what I was born to do. I don’t care how I travel, where I travel, when I travel, with whom I travel... as long as I am travelling. Well, don’t get me wrong... travelling does not mean continuously be on the road...I like a relaxing sojourn every now and then and DO NOT want to be zipping across the globe without experiencing anything at all (my recent trip to Malaysia made me realize that this, too, is possible! But more of that in another post.).

I know I must visit new places. I must meet a lot of different people. I must be constantly amazed. I must walk around
The coffee lady who taught me how to
make this beautiful paper star!
(Milan, Italy)
ruins and imagine the most fantastical stories that happened there and people who must have lived there aeons ago and then drift off into thinking I was one of them. I must change my mind in the middle of a trip and end up at a place I hadn’t even heard about. I must savour each and every delectable taste that this world of mine has to offer. I must know the history of these fabulous places not by reading about them or drooling over pictures others have taken, but by sitting and listening—fascinated, open-mouthed, and wide-eyed—to a person who was a stranger just 10 minutes ago right there on ground zero! I must bombard random people with my questions, sometimes with the danger of getting thrown out (more of that later, again!). 

Falling in love with a roving musician? (Venice)

I must fall in love over a riverbank or the edge of our books. I must have my heart broken when I leave, only to smile again because of that guy in the next table at the cafĂ© the very next day. I must live in the moment and breathe in all the air at all the places in this world, dig my bare feet into the wet sand as the water splashes against my entire body and the waves pull me towards the vast ocean. I must relish in that panic when
Spin on a bull's testicles for good luck! (Milan)
I’m just about to give in to my urges to let go and sink, especially when I don’t know how to swim, or hang over the edge of the mountain, and slightly make a tilt in favour of gravity, when I know not how to fly...well, physically, at least. I must be alive when I know that every atom in my body is dancing to the rhythm of the world that is not just the one around me, but the core that moves this entity we call the universe. I must make friends with the stars (the celestial kind!). I must break into a dance when I feel the rhythm that just makes me want to dance (okay, so I do that already. But not always! I swear!). I must see, live, experience, everyone and everything and everywhere! I must. And I will!

I know it! I don’t know how. But I know it!

Days when working in a cargo ship and travelling across the seven seas was an economic option are not around anymore. I know. I checked. A year back, desperate to do anything to set sail, quite literally, I checked with some cargo ship companies, and turned out, if I wanted to travel with them, a trip from a Mumbai port to an African port would cost me more than INR 12 lakh! And this was over and beyond the work I was expected to do on deck! Oh, how I ached for simpler and wallet-friendlier times.

Among other, more sane options, get a corporate job that pays a LOT of money; invent a muggle-version of the floo network; become the secretary of some super high-falutin’ CEO; do super yoga and perfect out-of-body travelling; get married to uber rich guy; fall in love with a wandering musician has also been suggested!; become a flight attendant; turn back time, not bunk classes, study real hard, become smart, do research and go to conferences; better yet, invent time machine!; transmogrify into an aeroplane; ooooh, become pilot and fly planes!; swap places with S’ dad; kill only friend who is living this dream, get full-body plastic surgery and take over her life! *evil genius laughter in the background, accompanied with thunder and lightning

It's okay to stand alone when you know why you're where you are! (Milan)

There is the more obvious option of travel writing. Yes, for all those who’re thinking, finally she’s come down to it, well, I can say one thing: it ain’t easy! No, ironically it’s not that there isn’t enough work. Surprisingly, there is a lot of work. Alas, the past month and a half has made me realize that I have no discipline. Ahem! Yes, I’m admitting to it! I haven’t been able to sit ONE day to write out ONE piece about the places I’ve been to. Just because I have had no one to crack the whip on me. Sad. Very sad. But there it is. I can churn out a piece in 20 mins once the panic button’s been hit, but tell me to work at my own pace, and there will be no work at all!

Anyways, many deliberations and debates and furious conversations with myself later, I have not, yet, hit upon an answer. But as I said, I will travel. I will make it work for me. I might not know how, but I will figure it out!

Wish me luck! I’m going to make my dream happen! I’ll leave inter-galactic travelling for the next life, for now, or, maybe not! :-)

Endless possibilities. (Photo courtesy: Sharmistha Deb)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Love in a Metro: Valentine’s Day special

Have you heard of I hadn’t, till about a couple of days back when my colleague wrote about it for the V-Day issue. It’s a dating website for those who travel on the Delhi Metro.
As much as I believe that every bit of help is much appreciated in one’s quest for true love, I have to admit that I do find the idea a tad bit ridiculous. Having said that, have you ever noticed the lover’s alcove in the Metro? It’s the juncture between the women’s compartment and the second bogey. I know I tend to insert romanticism into everything, but I do believe that the government’s decision to reserve the first compartment for women has added some spice to the love life (lives?) of the modern Indian Metro traveller.

You must have seen it. Couples standing and longingly gazing at each other—the girl in the first compartment, while the guy plays the balancing act—one foot on the “border”, the other on the “general” side. Very a la Veer-Zaara, or any other cross-border love story. The division is like the forbidden line you’re not supposed to cross. But then, your loved one is on the other side. How can you give in to societal pressures and be separated from your lover for a whole 20 minutes?! Down with the government for having put up such barriers in the path of true love. After all, you can’t just leave your lover to his/her antics, while you go in search of a comfy spot, can you!

It is thus that, such an unintended voyeuristic pursuit (I swear!), I have been able to identify the different kinds of love stories that have been playing out in front of me (I spend a LOT of time in the Metro, obviously!). Here are my humble observations:

There’s the deeply in love: the one where the guy and girl stand really close right at the juncture of the two compartments, whispering sweet nothings to each other, accompanied with the occasional laugh. This is also valid for the newly-in-love couples.

The flirty love: where the girl’s bobbing between standing right next to the guy and stepping a couple steps away every now and then. You have me, but you don’t.

The budding love: the guy stands at the juncture, the girl stands near the last door of the women’s compartment with her friends. Many looks are being exchanged, and even an occasional short conversation. More often than not, the guy’s eyes will be full of entreaty to the girl to walk over to him, but the girl won’t comply. This is more like a power game, no?

The discreet love: where the couple’s standing glued to the Metro wall, both facing forward, but hands occasionally holding each other. This has another variant, wherein the guy stands firmly ON the border, while the girl stands a couple of steps away—both stealing occasional glances at each other. No verbal conversation.

The steady love: guy stands casually on the juncture, while the girl stands right next to the two last seats, or even sits down should it be empty. There is a steady flow of conversation between the two, which is neither hushed nor infused with frequent laughter. A continuous smile, maybe.

Although, in all of this, the guy’s position seems to be fairly constant, no? :-P

Oh, and there’s one other kind, the contentedly married love: now this is completely different. These are two very practical individuals who would rather stand comfortably in their respective compartments, well knowing that since they’ll have to get together anyway after the ride is over, they might has well enjoy these 20 minutes of solace with their brethren.

Happy Valentine’s! ;-)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Untitled :-)

Oh what would it be like to make love to you,
that flows with such feverish fervour.
What would I not give to lie under,
as every sensual wave hits me like a new awakening.

Every nerve, every atom of my very being comes alive,
just feeling your delicious softness over me, under me, through me.
Like an extension of my own pulling away,
or am I an extension of you?

No, wait! That’s just my mind playing tricks,
because you’re there, and yet, here I am.
I can’t help but be blown away by your force, passion, beauty, grace,
so soft that I can bend you at will — mine! So stolid that I can’t help but submit — yours!

The fire embers that fly and get lost in the wind — no, not fireflies that light up again, but the tiny flecks that escape the wooden fire —
are testimony to our symphonic overture.
The errant sparks give themselves to the universe after that orgasmic burst of a moment,
but the flame burns strong, bright.

That’s us.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
you to me and me to you.
But no one will ever know — our secret.

They will never understand your moan and my sigh,
your teasing playfulness and my longing gaze that consumes you into its very depths.
Pity. They’ll never know the fantastical spectacle that fire and water create.
They won’t because they’ll never care to see what lies under my downward shy eyes.

Sasi Restaurant, Kasol, Himachal Pradesh
18.45, 8.10.11

A different life

It’s a different life,
the one I dream of.
It’s like the rolling clouds over the verdant hills,
beautiful as they are, stark white across a clear blue sky,
still nothing but air to hold when I stretch out my hand.

It’s a different life,
the one I dream of.
It’s like the high from a joint, rolled up in a scroll.
The elusive bliss from the seamless nothingness beyond,
a neverending chase for the ethereal je ne sais quoi.

It’s a different life,
the one I dream of.
It’s the one born out of the reflection from my tears.
The thoughts unleashed like the walled river released from its bounds,
its gushing, rolling stream giving life to uncountable saplings on a desert plain.

It’s a different life,
the one I dream of.
It’s the walk on a wonderfully chilly winter morning.
Question is... is it the road that goes endlessly on, melting into the horizon
or is it the one that goes winding up to a doorstep... the doorstep I otherwise call home?

Sasi Restaurant, Kasol, Himachal Pradesh
14.30, 8.10.11

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When is it enough?

I am not an activist. I am as lazy as they come. I like the finer things in life more than I like roughing it. I keep searching for a purpose in life and want to be part of something bigger, but as I said, I am too lazy. I have a lot of opinions...on things I know a little about and even on things I don’t know anything about. I will probably leave two people to fight things out between them, than interfere. I am not an activist. But I wore a black band for the first time in my life for two days—protesting the arrest/detainment of Anna Hazare. The black band was to protest the curbing of one’s right to protest, and not in support of Anna Hazare and the Jan Lokpal Bill.

On a recent Saturday, a combination of Anna Hazare recounting the freedom struggle on one of the reality music shows in the morning, followed by going for ‘Rise of the Apes’ in the afternoon left me pensive (and yes, I am aware of the unlikely combo). So…during a particularly unrealistic sequence when the apes were wreaking havoc on London while they fight for their freedom, my mind wandered back to Anna Hazare, his anecdotes from the freedom movement, the current state of governance, the rampant corruption, the general chaos in terms of the future, and I thought—when will it be enough?

Taking a stand
What will it take for me and all those like me—who are still living their regular lives with the India Against Corruption banter in the background—to get out of comfort of our daily routine and take a stand? And by taking a stand, I don’t mean shouting “Anna tum sangharsh karo, hum tumhare saath hain (Anna, continue your struggle. We’re with you)”. I mean taking an ACTIVE stand like those who are working and fasting with Anna Hazare. Now, to be honest, I am occasionally a sceptic and a cynic. Do I believe that everyone’s got an altruistic motive? No. Is everyone in the campaign clean? No. But I do think, like many others, that the sentiment that has been created by the protest is an immensely healthy change from our previous “chalta hai (everything goes)” attitude.

However, taking a stand doesn’t mean wearing Tricolour bandanas and wristbands and taking flags while you ride down the road at dangerous speeds, and blatantly flouting traffic rules. That’s just an insult to the concept of taking a stand.

In the two weeks since that Saturday, and a week since this “movement” started, I have been truly moved to take a stand once—when Anna and his supporters were “detained”. I didn’t do much. I’m not moved to great shows of protest easily, so I did what I still think is an elegant (and admittedly convenient) way to show my protest. I wore a black band on my arm from the time the arrests happened till the time the confirmation came that Anna will be leaving Tihar Jail. Then, to satisfy my curiosity and check out the Ramlila Maidan energy that I’ve been hearing so much about, I headed out there on Monday—Day 7 of Anna Hazare’s fast. (Check out the slide show if you’re interested in the images and my reactions to what I saw there, or click here.)

Ground check
To be honest, I wasn’t moved by any feeling of nationalism because of being there. But the marked change in the way people responded to each other did move me indeed. Considering the huge crowd, all the jostling, there wasn’t a single cross word, or impatient sigh, unintentional elbowing was follow
ed by instant apology from both parties, elders were treated with utmost respect, people going out for a sip of water would return with several water packets for everyone (without being asked to!). THAT was what I loved. (What I didn’t love was the absolute filth outside the Maidan.)

What matters?
This post isn’t about discussing the merits or demerits of the Lokpal or Jan Lokpal bills, but about what moves us to react and how we react. Honestly, I think the movement wouldn’t have picked up this much momentum so soon had the government (or Delhi Police, if you’re buying the official story) not arrested Anna Hazare and Co. That’s where it hit people the hardest—when their right to protest/expression/dissent was under duress. They threatened to take away our voice and THAT was unacceptable. Plus, the Anna Hazare camp has appealed to reason rather than sentiment, which would explain the mass participation by the middle class and above.

Over the past week, the media has made it impossible to move past Anna Hazare. Is that a good thing? Maybe not. There are other things that are happening too, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. This is an important movement and should be given its due. And considering our propensity to let the media guide our attention, at least there is no way our focus can waver at the moment.

Anna Hazare is the face of the movement, and not the movement itself. People are not on streets because of Anna Hazare. They are there because the issue he has raised has tapped into a groundswell of discontent that already existed among Indians irrespective of caste, creed, economic background…political and bureaucratic background might have been an exception though. As long as people realize that and remember it even after this frenzy of a movement is over, all this would have been worthwhile. The “Anna team” has to realize that blackmailing the government on the back of Anna Hazare’s failing health and the impending violence that might happen if something happens to him is not the right way. There HAS to be compromise on both fronts.

When it matters to me
But what of those o
f us who haven’t taken up the cause actively yet? I will and can speak only for myself. I don’t know. I know had Anna Hazare not been released, I would have been moved to take a more active stand than just wearing a black band. That’s because the government’s action threatened to affect ME. So basically, that’s what it boils down to… When it affects me. That’s when it will be enough.

That's probably why Irom Sharmila's protest against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act isn't as popular as this one. Or Medha Patkar's (and don't roll your eyes at this) Narmada Bachao Andolan hasn't garnered consistent fervour of this kind. They are just not enough for me (or us?) to not care about my job and walk down Rajpath with a candle, shout out slogans, bug every official I can till my voice is heard. I am yet to reach my breaking point, which, in my opinion, is not exactly a good thing. I admire those who have gone out of their way to work for a cause bigger than their personal circles. It’s something I aspire to do, but there is time yet, I suppose.