Saturday, 28 February 2009

A love story

Our poverty is indeed very precious to us. We can’t share it, show it, or discuss it. For we love it so much. Almost to distraction. So much so that we cringe when a film shows a child jumping into a shit hole even though manual scavengers still continue to operate in our cities. As proof of our undying love we give them a special name and house them in a special place far away from our national conscience.

So much so that we look right through the beggar child tapping on our car window at the traffic light. And calmly continue typing there are no child beggars in Bombay for an article that would go on to get published in a national magazine. And people will buy the magazine from child hawkers at the same traffic light and read these words. Thus reassured maybe even smile as they look out at the cars lined up mile upon mile in a never ending traffic jam. And in the airconditioned comfort of their car they’ll coolly ignore the gentle tappity tap on their window.

Our love is so strong that we concentrate not on how to alleviate poverty but elevate it with rallying calls of ‘garibi hatao’ (remove poverty). We are bashful like a young teenager in love and almost turn red at any mention of it. So, our love call is never ‘garibi dikhao’ (show poverty) or ‘garibi batao’ (talk about poverty) but always ‘garibi hatao’. Ours is not the absence makes the heart grow fonder kind of love. But the out of sight, out of mind kind. Given our reticence on opening up about our relationship maybe our new love call should simply be ‘garibi chupao’ (hide poverty).

Wednesday, 25 February 2009


Mavis, Mavis, Mavis you wrote it down for us. You said, ‘Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.’ But we wanted more. In fact, once we began we wanted them all. Starting with The Moslem Wife and ending with Henri Grippes we had to, we needed to read them all. All at once. How could we not? Our inner Gollum mesmerized by the beautiful words, the startlingly accurate descriptions of our solitude, even the smallest thought that inhabits the deepest recesses of our mind, makes us lust for more. For how did you?

How do you know us so well? For aren’t we all in exile. Eternal tourists adrift between choice and circumstance wandering through cities and life. Strangers in strange lands and sometimes strangers in our own homes. Fighting in great wars. The great wars of the world and the wars within. But what astonishes us is how could you encapsulate it all in words. So concisely, so precisely.

Among all these questions and answers you simply write, “Make a wish.” So we too echo the words, “We wish - we wish - but first we must know what Marie has wished for us.” And that only Mavis can tell.

(Afterthoughts on books: part 3)

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Monday, 23 February 2009

Nice Post

Scott Adam’s in an amazingly incisive moment of clairvoyance wrote, ‘There are two kinds of people in the world: the bright attractive people like yourself who read Dilbert books, and the 6 billion idiots (Induhviduals) who get in our way.’ This combined with his other prediction that ‘Internet capacity will increase indefinitely to keep up with the egos of the people using it’ brings us to the ruling edict of an increasingly connected world too stupid for its own good- four simple alphabets placed next to each other- N-I-C-E.

Nothing is beyond the dominion of NICE. It is all-pervasive, non-judgmental and non-committal. Photographs of your friend’s drunken soirĂ©e uploaded on Facebook - nice pics!!! Photographs of human deprivation on some flickr photostream - nice pics!!! Arundhati Roy’s latest rant against Indian polity - nice article. Inane blogpost filled with juvenile humour - nice post. Documentary on Bergman’s art of filmmaking on youtube - nice. Trailer of Karan Johar’s latest offering on youtube - nice. In a world filled with NICE every human effort can be brought down to appeal to an Induhvidually arrived at level of mediocrity.

But heaven’s forbid if you ever feel the urge to ask, ‘Why is it nice?’ If ever confronted with such an emotion it is best to take a deep breath and work on Scott Adam's strategy for thriving in a future full of Induhviduals - ‘Harness the stupidity of Induhviduals for your own financial gain.’ That would indeed make all the absurdities you have had to put up with seem nice.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Fee, fie, fo, fum

Aparna says you are hilarious.
Gwen says you are hard to understand.
Lakshmi says you think you are a subconscious genius.
Ainara says you cheered me up.
Barbara says you are a good memory for me.
Ingur says you were always special.
Namrita says you are like jam on otherwise boring bread and butter days.

And I say,
I’m just average, common too
I’m just like him, the same as you
I’m everyone’s brother and son
I ain’t different from anyone
It ain’t no use a-talking to me
It’s the same as talking to you.

Actually that’s what Dylan, the other Dylan, Bob Dylan says.

Doing nothing

When conversation begins to flag, as it often does in these too-besotted-with-the-superficial times, they look towards the one unaffected by it all and begin probing.

They often start by asking, ‘What do you do?’ One doesn’t even exhale before replying, "Nothing". They then say, with a mixture of fake concern and affected censure, not sure of which emotion to pursue, “Then how do you pass the time?” And one smiles and answers, “I sit at open windows. For sanity must be preserved.”

And then they all mumble. And fiddle with their handkerchiefs or whatever it is that has replaced handkerchiefs in these times. Ah! The cellphone. They fiddle with their cellphones. And mumble and stumble out of the way. And one can in peace resume the contemplations while sitting beside an open window. And do nothing.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Aan de Amsterdamse grachten

Acrylic on canvas

Along Amsterdam’s canals there are gingerbread houses some crooked and iced white. The smell of amaryllis, little whiffs in the air. A bicycle hand painted red and yellow with plastic lilies and roses trailing from its basket. Orange cap and an orange balloon against a blue sky. An infant riding back saddle with his hair blowing in the wind. The peozenboot, carrying stray cats to a happily ever after. Grey clouds and pink clouds and brilliant blue skies. Van Gogh and tulips and sunflowers and their vision of perfection. Where the coots and the ducks come home to roost. Cows and hens and windmills tin glazed and painted blue and white. The music of church bells. And a million lights dancing upon the water in step with its tune.

Along Amsterdam’s canal there is beauty that brings a smile to the eyes and a song to the heart.

As Wim Sonneveld sang,
Aan de Amsterdamse grachten, heb ik heel mijn hart voor altijd verpand...
I have pledged my heart forever to the canals of Amsterdam…

(For Barbara and the thousands of Amsterdammers who sang along on a beautiful night at the end of the Princengracht concert accompanied by dancing fairy lights .)

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The dragon and the firefly

To the dragon
Said the firefly,
Who burns brighter
Is it you or I?
I breathe fire
Said the dragon in reply.
But only in books while
I light up the night sky.
So the story goes
The dragon lost to a fly.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Liberation Pub

A few men descended on a pub in Mangalore and mercilessly beat up the women. They definitely need to be dealt with, as any civilized society would deem fit. However the more important question that isn’t being asked is how and why were the television cameras (as is always the case) on hand to record this barbaric act. And why didn’t the attackers get arrested immediately.

If this was a well-rehearsed theatrical performance to garner recognition for a little-known outfit in an election year then those who are exalting pub culture and failing to distinguish the sane arguments against it from the act of a handful of men are putting up a well-matched performance albeit in the other extreme.

The truth is that in this ‘new improved’ India the narrative is increasingly being dominated by “extremists”. All arguments are either or. And accepting one aspect means you can’t disagree with another aspect because the dialogue is never nuanced. You are for women’s liberation and you support their right to drink and thus by default you favour pubs and the distinct culture they represent. For those who naively believe that a pub is just a place where anyone can have a drink and not a whole range of wide - reaching and deep cultural impact need to examine the ideas they choose to support more closely.

Going to a pub and drinking is a lifestyle choice that we make. But by no stretch of the imagination can it become a sign of freedom or emancipation for humans, let alone women. Living in London has been the best advertisement to de-sell pub going and all the other unwanted baggage that comes along with it.

Some voices of sanity in India are warning us to pause and look where we are headed before we spiral into a nightmare only to wake up covered in our vomit and piss and probably not in our senses because of all the binge drinking the night before to realize that we’ve been stabbed in our guts.

And as for women and their freedom hopefully we’ll allow all women the right to choose what they want even if it means not supporting pubs and drinking alcohol. For surely that’s what emancipation is all about.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Lets meet up for a cup of coffee

Sometimes my recurrent nightmares meet in the daytime over a cup of coffee. Seems they have a lot of catching up to do.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Feeling lonely?

They often compare loneliness to the stranglehold of a multi-tentacled beast. But all the while all around me I see companionship in it's various avatars bringing it down one tentacle at a time.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


Their mother started painting so that she could keep company with their father who used to study till late in the night preparing for his exams while they slept huddled in their quilts dreaming about fairies and other folks of the faraway tree. So her art is about flowers, snow covered pretty landscapes and mothers and daughters.

His mother paints because that is the only thing they let her do and the only time they let her be herself. She is free to choose the subject, the context, the colours, whether to draw a line here or simply paint over everything in broad, bold strokes of burnt sienna.

Her daughter plays ‘Do Re Me’ on the piano, the little fingers press down one key then the other and she marvels at how can such a little one know so much. And how simple notes can produce music so profound.

You draw Durga with her ten arms riding a tiger in a pencil scrawl and with wild, mad strokes of black paint the thoughts that run in your not yet teenaged mind. And we openly applaud your art while silently stand in awe of the maturity of your ideas.

Life gives meaning to art even as art gives meaning to life. And thus the circle gets completed and starts all over again.

Monday, 2 February 2009

My moment of Zen

The snow keeps falling gently brushing across bare branches, empty benches and the ruffled feathers of the birds.

First one, then another and then another one. One by one the birds arrive slipping and hopping on the snow and I savor my sublime moment of Zen.

We all will die. Eventually. There it is now said. Come let’s get on with the living.

In pursuit of happiness. As the Zen saying goes, when you seek it, you cannot find it.

Or as Eastern philosophy calmly proclaims happiness and sorrow are like the form and its shadow. You can’t pursue one without meeting up with the other. Ascribing good or bad are value judgments not intrinsic qualities. So, why celebrate this one and deride that one when both are an inevitable part of living. And life is about living. And doing.

Or as Kabir says,

Maya Mari Na Man Mara, Mar Gaye Shareer
Asha Trishna Na Mari, Keh Gaye Das Kabir

(Neither illusion nor the mind, only bodies attained death
Hope and delusion did not die, so Kabir said.)

The point being life itself is transitory. So why elevate its minor distractions and spend an entire lifetime chasing shadows. Why not just simply be. And watch the snow falling gently brushing across bare branches, empty benches and the ruffled feathers of the birds.