Saturday, 31 January 2009

Birds in my backyard

(click to enlarge)

Last weekend the Big Garden Birdwatch, the world's biggest bird survey, celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, took place and here is a list of our sightings;
(at our bird feeders)
Great Tit
Blue Tit
(in our backyard)
Black headed Gulls
Mute Swan
Canada Goose
Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon
Wood Pigeon

Friday, 30 January 2009

Blackcurrant Jam

Yesterday afternoon you interrogated me in your sweet, charming style about what I had for breakfast. When my choice of jam met with your wholehearted approval undersigned ‘yummy’ it brought a spontaneous smile to my lips even though you couldn’t see me across these thousand odd miles.

How delightful it is to put forth your opinions simply and not have to get into lengthy explanations or dogged defense of why you think the way you do. How wonderful to have every ‘yummy, I like it’ be responded to with a smile or maybe a disapproving shake of the head. And how courteous would all our interactions be if we all shared the same enthusiasm for differing viewpoints, as for a new flavour of jam, made with some strange berry or with chunky pieces of fruit. And always accepting that others prefer butter on their toast.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

For Spiderboy, stay happy and stay safe

We often talk about Cambodia. For undoubtedly there must be no person dead or living who has been to Cambodia and then never thought about it again. Cambodia is always there somewhere. Possibly stored and neatly catalogued in some recess of your memory. And then on one grey, melting winter afternoon as you sit with a cup of coffee and look out of the window it resurfaces unannounced. And a small little voice starts to sing, “Lady, lady 3 for 1 dollar.” Thus scattering the catalogue, throwing all neatness off course. Leaving you with a rush of memories that your brain tries to unsuccessfully restore to some semblance of order. And with a shake of your head you wonder how do you deal with Cambodia.

How does one gather all these strands wandering off into numerous directions and reconstruct the web of experiences that is Cambodia. When all the while your mind replays the voice and it’s hypnotic refrain of something, something, something one dollar. And all you want to do is sit in some small restaurant under a gigantic banyan tree with the voice and listen to it going on and on till we are all transported to that safe place which exists only in our childhoods somewhere between before the light is turned off and the prince and princess lived happily ever after.

Thus you move onto other things and other memories but the unresolved question about Cambodia gently nudges you. And you promise to one day gather all the threads and weave together a befitting portrait. But until then you let this little voice of innocence predominate the narrative as it chants on and on that every childhood should be safe and all its memories sweet.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The White Monk

There is a time of the day in winter,
When the sky sags beneath bulging dark clouds
And the sun tussles to penetrate the shroud.
When all at once it breaks out
Shining like the jewel in a burnt black crown
Its rays illuminating this one particular column of windows
Hollowed into coarsely stacked green and concrete
Home to migrants and other flotsam that globalization excretes
Suddenly everything they touch turns golden
The houses ablaze in grandeur worthy of their inhabitants’ dreams
The tip of each bare branch glistens red and gold
The grass, the reed, the water all gold to behold
And then you float into the picture
A white flag ruffling gently in the breeze
A drop of dew as if the fire had burnt only to release,
Adorning a simple white habit, your mouth pale with the season
A monk drifting past, untouched by pageantry
The gilt flakes and shatters,
The clouds start settling in for a long dark night
The golden glow quietly withdraws, signaling a retreat of light
But there is still that fleeting moment when all elements concede
The simple, tranquil intensity bestowed in white.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Opening the bell jar

A little over three decades into my life I finally get acquainted with you, or rather your doppelganger Esther Greenwood. You, much to our collective sorrow, quit the scene aged just thirty. Forty-six years later I observe Esther feeding her wardrobe to the night wind and watching it being ferried off into the dark heart of New York. And suddenly I am nineteen again.

Wanting to crawl beneath the covers and become unrecognizable. And stay unnoticed. In a moment have a million dreams and then watch fear and expectation tear each one into tiny little pieces. Always inside a bell jar under the watchful microscopic eyes being weighed and measured up to some obscure standards.

I become like all other nineteen year olds who have the one thing in common. They tick the box next to female whenever life puts forth a seemingly simple question. After all the questions have been asked and they have been analyzed, categorized and put in their place; they grow up. And still everything remains unchanged. Even the air inside the bell jar.

Some of us smash the bell jar with our bare fists clasping for fresh air and watch our wrists blossom red. And so, depart. While others suck the staid air and go on. And on. Despite each getting harder by the minute to take breath. With a gasp I now search for the third kind.

(Afterthoughts on books: part 2)

Could you please turn down the volume?

Dedicated to those fortunate Indians who enjoy the unbridled privilege to protest and get heard, as and when they choose to.

You are just over sixty in human years and even if you’ve had a dog’s life you’d still be nearly nine. So, stop acting like a petulant child. And please turn down the volume. Just because things don’t go according to what a few of you, the corpulent and self-indulgent few, desire doesn’t mean life is unfair. Or everyone is out to get you.

How you forget you aren’t the only one. There are others too deserving of attention and care. For with 6 billion children one does need to prioritize. And well, to be quite frank you are much better off than most. I mean those of you who put up this dreary display of hysteria every few days. All sound and fury that signifies nothing. Could you please give us all a break?

You are so hard to please. If we shower our love and say look how you’re growing up to be beautiful and civilized. You sulk in your corner and shout between freely flowing tears, “No, I am ugly and uncouth…you are blinded by your rosy tinted glasses.”

And if we say you are dirty and pathetic but no matter we still love you and think you’ll turn out to be ok. You throw a tantrum and wave your arms and stamp your feet and screech, “You know nothing. You don’t even live my life. See how far I have come in such a short time. Look how everyone wants to be my friend. And wants me to play with their toys.”

You want two mutually exclusive things at the same time, all the time. This safely classifies you as neurotic. So, now we understand how to live with you. You’ve already cried wolf once too often but still refuse to realize there is no boogieman under your bed. It’s all in your head. And you simply refuse to be polite. Ah! Tiresome child. How about giving someone else amongst the billions of you the mike.

For a start, could you tone down the hysteria and please turn down the volume. The world is trying to find some peace.

(I thought of giving links but there are too many to put down; from being the first country to ban Satanic Verses to protests over cricket matches to coverage of Mumbai blasts and not to forget the mindless frenzy over Slumdog Millionaire plus the usual burning of effigies, smashing buses, disrupting trains, calling for bandhs and throwing chappals inside the Parliament. Amazingly the transcript never changes neither does the intensity of hysteria. Nor the volume level.)

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Incredible India!

Or, Facebook status update now I am going to adopt an Indian beggar girl!

It’s barely forty-eight hours since you left the airport and checked into a South Delhi hotel. And you begin flooding our inboxes, our phone and our facebook pages with growing louder by the minute screeches of ‘India is truly incredible’. We assume you find the people, the colours, the sights, the sounds, and the smells incredible. Or the squalor sitting right next to the affluence unbelievable. Or maybe you’ve chanced upon Tehelka and are amazed to read how two disparate mindsets coexist and despite all advancements in communication still find it impossible to comprehend each other. But then you follow it up with ‘I am going to adopt an Indian beggar girl’. Well, we should have known better. For, you aren’t a perceptive observer or an expat out to earn a quick buck or even a mere tourist. You sir, are the saviour we have been waiting for.

Or at least it seems that’s what you assume you are. Now that you have arrived you immediately proceed to find the first beggar child you see, preferably a little girl and begin to not only feed her hot croissants and soft rolls from the hotel breakfast trolley but also hollow dreams. In your infinite stupidity and immeasurable insensitivity you follow every impetuous whim that takes root in your head. Without even pausing to access how your actions will impact your own life let alone the life of the little child. For you sir, are too enamoured by your own goodness and the greatness of your vision.

And it is, to be honest, so easy on the conscience to be good and great and visionary in India, especially when you are there only for a few months. Talk to a beggar, feed a handicap, go to the Hanuman temple on Saturday, visit a dargah and finally get a picture clicked in an auto posing as a kitschy Bollywood star. We all know the drill by now. Well done sir! Hope the demons in your head are satiated and you can sleep in peace tonight.

Never mind that the country you have fled to make easy money in India is going through a crisis of its own. Has suffered the harshest consequences of what it’s like to discriminate against humans of a darker shade than white. Or has made others suffer the consequences of not being white enough. Or how such passion never made you act impulsively when you were there. Or how you didn’t find the beggars somehow endearing enough to randomly distribute fresh rolls. But we understand sir India does that to you.

For what is the point of fucking up in London or New York if a few months in India can’t make everything better. Your life, your conscience and yes not to forget your bank balance. But maybe we’re being too harsh on you. For, you do intend to visit all the nightclubs, the amazing malls (with their decent selection of cheese), look for the purest (and incredibly cheap) grass you can find and do those ‘truly incredible’ trips to the Himalayas, Goa, Rajasthan, and Bombay. We all know the drill by now.

So come lets roll another joint. And get real. We’ll not judge you provided you leave the little child alone.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

A year in the life

(click on image to enlarge)

How should we measure a year?
By months, hours or memories held dear.
By what could have been and what became
Or maybe that shouldn’t be the aim.
A year is, a year was
With all its beauty and its flaws
Ours, your and mine
So, lets not categorize it, nor define.

Friday, 16 January 2009

The Red Rose

It is probably some year at the end of the last century. Evening, a pleasant Delhi evening. The kind we often had before Delhi became this ugly, smoke filled, bellowing monster devouring all pleasantness from life. She, you and me are walking back from Kamla Nagar after the usual stroll to "kill" time.

A creature comes upon us bearing a red rose. Or is it a gigantic cauliflower. While he tries to offer it to me she berates him, in her inimitable fashion. It is a long, extremely eloquent diatribe. Flustered and frustrated he blurts out, “I don’t understand your British language.” And throws the flower and goes away. It is a red rose. We collapse beneath the burden of our irrepressible laughter.

How young we were. How unimaginably cruel we were. And how completely, unquestionably happy.

(For Bulbul and Nidhi, hope the latter still holds true.)

Thursday, 15 January 2009

The exceptional

And we believe all our experiences are singular.
Yesterday a young girl pushed her hair behind her ears and smiled while looking at herself in the shop window just like I do ever so often.
A child chasing pigeons in Victoria Park fell and mirrored the expression you make in this faded photograph from some thirty years ago.
The sunset we went ecstatic over in Goa has found it’s way on this flickr photostream tagged beach sunset.
The lovers tiff we had some ten years back is being replayed even as I type, on the park bench outside my window.
These words I write, this thought, this sigh have been a part of countless singular experiences.

Now that’s truly exceptional.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Going back to C/22

It’s January and winter in Delhi. There is no hot water on the second floor. You either can go to the ground floor or forgo the idea of a bath altogether. You choose to forgo. For, it’s cold and foggy and you have just come back from home. And then there is a shout. C/22 phone call.

First one than several voices till it’s an incoherent cacophony and you can vaguely make out your name or the room number. Wrapping yourself in a shawl and slipping on the trademark hawai chappal over your socks you rush out blindly. For, you know if you delay even for a moment the call will get disconnected and so will you from the warm, comfortable world you left behind when you caught the train back to college.

At night well after the 10:00 PM deadline you sit huddled over an illegally procured electric heater cooking Maggi with onion and tomato in the background a discussion rages on about anything and everything. The latest hit film, the course load, a special meal enjoyed at home, the general elections, or how one is horrified to realize that parents too have had sex, the proof being our presence in this world. Nothing is out of bounds for we are eclectic and free.

As the hours progress, so will the need to converse, to discuss, to reconnect, to slowly get back in the groove. Some will choose to talk away the night, others tired by the long journey or simply of it all will retire to their rooms and you at last will sit together with your mate and speak of things you can’t talk about in front of the others. Thus the world inside C/22 will once again become warm and comfortable. And you will feel welcome and at home.

Monday, 12 January 2009

In Memphis, Tennessee

An absurd hen in Memphis Tennessee
has decided to take up rooster duty.
She stays awake all through the night
and starts clicking before first light.

She needs to keep London time
Looking for what I write sometime.
So, no more dreams or welcoming sleep
Well as you sow, so shall you reap!

Now who will tell this silly hen
there are more civilized ways to make amend.
A talk, a letter, maybe a little note
is enough to keep good sense afloat.

But this hen is rather stubborn I am told
won’t listen, won’t learn till she’s lost all hold
over her precious little sanity, her slighted dignity
for she is too caught up in mere futility.

Ok I’ll be the one to proffer advice.
Sleep, it’s not worth the sacrifice.
Hell may break loose; she’ll rant and curse.
I have done my good deed even if she doesn’t reimburse.

Sleep silly hen, there’s more to life.
Hurt egos are a minor blight.
May you find peace in your dreams
because your waking life's devoid of it, it seems.

Friday, 9 January 2009

A footnote

You said that you met him on a pleasant summer morning. And I guessed it was this meeting that had brought this radiance to your face and not the fresh mountain breeze. You had just stepped into your office, you continued, and there he was. Hard to miss in his crisp khadi kurta and dhoti, a dignified old man, you assumed quite correctly, in his eighties waiting in line. You asked your assistant to let him in before the others because I know you still defer to quaint traditions of respect and humility.

As he walked into your chamber some strange impulse made you bend down to touch his feet. And when you looked up you could almost see tears in his eyes. You apologized for making him wait, you said, even though you as always had come on time. He needed a favour and he had come to you because he knew your late father, in fact admired him, and had heard good things about you. You were embarrassed and immediately said it was no favour but just the job you had been sworn in to do. It was something for his recently widowed niece. A ration card or some such official document.

Then you called for tea and talked with him about days and people too astonishing to be believable. Of children struggling to uphold their dignity even before they learnt to write. Of nineteen year olds swifter than a leopard in a blink melting into the night. Of disguises and camouflages so realistic that you could fool your own reflection. Of networking and organizing hundreds in an era before cell phones and facebook. Of men and women holding their bodies as shields while lathis broke on their backs but somehow their spirit never died. Of a time so fantastical and a people so glorious that you thought you had surely read about them in some book.

At this point the others interrupted emphatically. You should write about him. It’s such a marvellous story and Republic Day is just around the corner. Or wait it would be more suited for Independence Day. Did you take his picture?

You kept silent and gave a rueful little smile. After a while you said the man had only one regret. He had wished a blow had felled him some sixty years back. At least then he would have died in hope. And not become a relic, something to be dusted and polished twice a year and paraded before an indifferent crowd. Or worse forgotten and left to languish. Merely a marvellous story. Not even a footnote in history.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Of cats and countless tears

Last night you reminded me of an astounding era from some years back. That ended with a mother and child hugging and crying. In fact, you spoke of a lot of weeping and an incessant shedding of tears. On the phone, by the windowsill, in the company of family and some in the dark, deep recesses of the heart. Oceans of tears, ebbing and flowing with the passage of the moon across the sky. Of days eclipsed by misapprehensions and other such pointless illusions. And all I could recollect was cats.

A ground floor apartment abandoned with its door unhinged and windowpanes shattered. With forlorn trees swaying to a distant demonic beat. Shedding leaves; the falling twigs echoing deep within the marrow of the bones. Chilling the spine, freezing the blood. The conniving moon and the wily shadows and their unmentionable intrigues and conspiracies.

And, of course the cats. Perhaps twenty or thirty or maybe more. A countless number of cats. Cats jumping out from every alcove, every corner, every gap. Astounding, unimaginable, incredible numbers of cats. Cats disappearing into the shadows and jumping out of the shadows ever renewed.

Yes, that’s all I could recollect. Cats and their meows echoing through a vacant, forsaken house.

Dear Anonymous

You come in the dead of the night. At least it is night for us. But who knows what time zones are followed in the nether world. You come silently perhaps reassured by the late hour. Or made confident by your anonymity.

You too probably, in this time and age, use google to go searching for me in the virtual world. Perhaps because you can’t confront me without your deceptions, your facile disguises. Or maybe simply because reality is too blindingly bright.

In an earlier age too you would lie through the skin of your teeth. Your lips would tell one story and your eyes another. Perhaps you assumed I was gullible. Just because I always kept my expression neutral and my eyes blank. So, relentlessly you have and almost certainly will spin and weave your web of lies in the dark.

There is possibly a point somewhere in these words I write. And vampires may also make good friends. But somehow I can only think of how much I prefer the company of birds.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

London in winter

They said you would hate London in winter.

The skies pouring down rain and gloom.

Nobody stopping by to say hello.

The days depressing and gray.

Now I wonder what else did they have to say.
(All Photograph by Anvita Lakhera.)

Monday, 5 January 2009

Happy, Birthday

It was my birthday. And in celebration the day walked straight out of a Bergman film. No, not the kind for wearing straw hats and slicing open the persona. Or the kind to go searching for wild strawberries in the autumn of life. But the kind that would seem perfectly art directed for accepting washed up knights and their squires. Or for making carriages disappear into the fog of a Scandinavian forest. In short, the right kind of day to mark the end of my 'biblical age'.

But there was no crucifixion waiting for me. Nor mobs or hangmen. In fact, nobody and nothing marked this passage. Except the day. The perfect day. And then they arrived not hordes of strangers baying for my blood but a monkey carrying a banner possibly bearing good wishes. And a little gondola in Venice sailing on a blue strip possibly hoping for my return. And the birds in the trees and the flowers and the green hills of Tuscany. And the Coot with a stern reminder of a promise made and not yet fulfilled.

So, I invited all of them in for a glass of wine and some cake. Then as the hour was getting late one by one they excused themselves promising to return someday. And so I had another happy birthday.

Sunday, 4 January 2009


A letter or should I say a mail
An electronic communiqué
A bridge,
No, maybe a gap
Unfathomed, unfathomable
Or maybe it’s an illusion
There was no bridge
There is no gap
Just seamless congruence.
From end to end.

The lonely farewell

Guilt for life?
Or is it?
She came late and we were getting late -
Should it have been this way?
Could it have been any different?
Why am I always the one left with the guilt?
Guilt for life –
Or is it just the fleeting, momentary kind.

It’s always me stuck here
In the middle.
Whispering lonely farewells.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

A little note from Spain

Ainara sent this drawing from Spain in response to this post about a deceptive female gadfly.

And this one refers to something I wrote sometime back about something that somehow never gets done.

Thank you Ainara.
The things that separate
Are often measured in miles or hours
Imagine the delight as they evaporate
Touched by a thought we can share as ours.

A note to begin a year

And thus, quite appropriately the year ended with a postcard from a friend who had had the honour of walking with hope, even though only for a brief moment. It was all we got and sometimes that is enough.

So, while most planned parties, debating the choice of wine or venue, life as always had the impertinence of interrupting with bad news. For what do we know of Israelis except that a handful dreadlocked ones can be seen ever so often in the remote reaches of Goa, Manali or Jaisalmer. And the Palestinians are even more obscure. Yes, we have read Joe Sacco and some of us have even ventured as far as Edward Said but how does that change anything? The fireworks will light up the skies, nevertheless.

It could be five sisters killed while sleeping maybe even dreaming about the new year in Palestine or Iraq or Afghanistan. Or in another time and age in Russia or Germany or Poland or Cambodia or Somalia. Oh! Just pick any country anywhere in the world, does it even matter? Ghosts aren’t too fastidious about nationality they only treasure their proclivity for haunting the conscience. Sometimes it’s all that the living are willing to concede to enable them to rest in peace.

In the midst of all the noise and the smoke we received the postcard. A simple note from some insignificant spot on the globe where crime is unheard of, the roads have no red lights and a people measure their gross national happiness. So that hope can live and maybe even look ahead to another year.