Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Robin is the One

The Robin is the One
That interrupt the Morn
With hurried – few – express Reports
When March is scarcely on –

The Robin is the One
That overflow the Noon
With her cherubic quantity–
An April but begun –

The Robin is the One
That speechless from her Nest
Submit that Home – and Certainty
And Sanctity, are best
(The Robin is the One by Emily Dickinson)

Wednesday, 15 December 2010


Who lives in Charlbury one wonders. The train is stalled somewhere between Oxford and some-place-in-Cotswold. The train manager makes the solemn announcement. The one that ends with apologies. Outside the carriage window stretches the polite landscape– the rolling hills, fields ripening green and gold, honey coloured houses with grey roofs, blue sky with puffed up white clouds, some horses, more than some sheep and that tree maybe single or sometimes maybe in pairs but always large and magnificent.

So, where are we? Glancing at the name of the station as the train came to an unceremonious halt the eye had caught the words Charlbury. This is Charlbury one says. Who lives in Charlbury? What kind of people? What are their lives like? And the mind wades across Tess of the d'Urbervilles, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Far from the Madding Crowd. It takes in Emma’s Highbury and even the gentle ladies of Cranford. But a small voice says that was then, this is 2010. And then another voice says but back home when a name like Devli or Peepli comes up (when one is inside a train or zipping by in a car towards Delhi or Bombay) one says, “My Godness! Look at it. It’s like some place out of a novel by Premchand!” And everyone nods sagely for that is that. These few words clearly bring forth not just the life and struggles of the people but even the worry lines on their foreheads. And the crinkle in the eyes that one gets by looking often towards the sky– in hope and in despair. One can even call them by their names– Anandi, Budhia, Ramprasad, Hori, Dhanpat, Bholi. Nothing has changed. Neither the physical setting, nor the people, neither the struggle of their day to day life. One almost blurts out what year is it?

But here in Charlbury- who lives?

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Work in progress

As I sit working on my last farewell ride a voice from nowhere comes up and says,

You’re searching, Joe,
For things that don’t exist; I mean beginnings.
Ends and beginnings—there are no such things.
There are only middles.*

*In The Home Stretch by Robert Frost

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Winter bird

The winter bird is contemplative.
Unlike the bird of spring,
or even the bird of autumn
it is much less inclined to sing.

In winter there’s isn’t enough daytime to spare,
but all the time in the day to reflect. Winter is a time to prepare

For the ecstasies of spring
The headiness of summer, the enchanting rain
The mellow pleasures of autumn
Till winter comes visiting again.

And the winter bird sits down to comprehend:
Does a circle have a beginning? Is the beginning also the end?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Don't leave your room

Switch off the cell phone, turn off the television, unplug the radio, shut down the computer, pack away your books and simply wait. How many minutes did you last? How many minutes could you spend alone in your own company? Is it true that we crave social contact? Is it really necessity that keeps us ‘connected’? Incessantly seeking the company of another human being to reinforce the fact that we aren’t all alone.

Or, does this need for constantly being bombarded by words, images, and sounds reflect something else? Thoreau said, “I believe that men are generally still a little afraid of the dark, though the witches are all hung, and Christianity and candles have been introduced.”

In an age when even misanthropes become social media addicts, have we all become comfortable moving with the herd? Is it the end of solitude?

Or, may we try something different.

You do not need to leave your room.
Remain sitting at your table and listen.
Do not even listen, simply wait,
be quiet, still and solitary.
The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked,
it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
--Franz Kafka, Senses

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

I Am!

I am! yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest—that I loved the best—
Are strange—nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil'd or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

(I Am! by John Clare)

Thursday, 28 October 2010

With nostalgia

Suddenly you are missing Bethnal Green Road. The salwar-suit shops, the off license 24-hour grocery stores, the English Premier League odds scribbled in chalk marking what kind of a reception which team will get tonight from the dedicated fans, the half kilo bhindi and everything else. Imagine!

What could induce this acute sense of nostalgia, you ask. A slice of bad pizza, a conversation on the ‘poor PR’ being done by the guys behind UID, and the general sense of moroseness that descends when one is trapped in a shopping mall that is trying to be Oxford Street, London or Soho, New York anything but Pushp Vihar, Saket. Possibly. Or maybe it is the passing reference to graffiti in East London that someone mentions reading about in the inflight magazine as the plane soared to 30,000 feet.

And so, while the drinks are being sipped and the forks pick an indifferently diced cucumber now and a mercilessly torn rocket leaf then. The mind has already passed the Regent’s canal, has crossed the tube station and is walking straight down Bethnal Green Road towards Brick Lane. No, not the Brick Lane of the novel, or of the film based on the novel. More like Brick Lane of the Saturday nights- of the impossibly asymmetrical hairstyles, people spilling onto the pavement along with their drinks, the music, the organic food, the vintage cloth stores and yes, even the graffiti. Ok also, Brick Lane of the daytime where a slice of 1980’s India is preserved in the form of brass decoration vases, Manipuri and Bhangra dance dolls, the smell of rose incense and Mohammad Rafi (or Mohammad Aziz) songs blaring from what one hopes are Phillip cassette players. Where one goes to in the futile search for the “perfect” curry. That mythical thing every Londoner can almost taste but not quite grasp.

All this is nostalgic now! You might argue: It's never safe to be nostalgic about something until you're absolutely certain there's no chance of its coming back.* And one might say: Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity.** Why should nostalgia always be equated with longing, when sometimes it is merely reminiscence; a pleasing reflection, a fond evocation? Something that gently lifts you up. You may end up hanging in a limbo but admit it- isn’t the view great?

*Bill Vaughn
**Robert Morgan

Monday, 11 October 2010

The fading

Moments turn into minutes, days stumble one into the other, months
into years, and time, it is said, has passed. We say life has moved
on. Not realizing time and life are two independent entities. Mutually
exclusive. Rarely does one care for the other.

Rain falls on Bombay. This is Bombay with its ancient banyan trees and
chawls with pots of hibiscus flowering red and yellow on the
windowsills. And corrugated iron sheets hiding from public view the
gaping hole in the earth that will, in some days and months, turn into
a gleaming steel and glass monstrosity. Slowly, over days and months,
it will rise from the hidden depths. However, time will not wait. It
will lapse.

Shaded by umbrellas, small and inadequate, against the monsoon
downpour, there will be life, or something like it. And maybe at some
moment, on some given day, it’ll summon the courage to softly ask,
"But what is the meaning of it all?” Time will most likely not reply.
Life will try to catch its fading reflection rippling in a pool of
rainwater. Or maybe it will simply sigh. And pass on.

Friday, 8 October 2010

I dreamt I was a butterfly

I dreamt I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke.
Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a
butterfly dreaming that I am a man? - Chuang Tzu*

*Chuang Tzu's butterfly dream is a Taoist parable on the interchangeability between appearance and reality: Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. (2, tr. Burton Watson 1968:49)

Transformation of Things proves that differences between things aren't absolute. Most meanings we seek in this world are bound up in apparent contradictions.

You can read more about Chuang Tzu's dream here.
And about how chasing butterflies is so much more than what the eye sees here.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Best advice ever

Mind your head. The rest will follow.

Strolling the streets somewhere between Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water I had an epiphany. It was the same feeling that I had had almost three decades back under the neem tree in 10 Turner Road, Kanpur. The summer sun was out and about on both the days. Back then it was unbearable. Now it seemed pleasant.

I was so much older then, I am younger than that now.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Laughing at the sky

When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky - Buddha

Thursday, 19 August 2010


It is already Thursday! There is much to be done. Things to do– lists, yes there are multiples of them in a futile attempt to arrive at the best possible way to do everything in the least possible time. Prioritise. How can one do that? Wont it mean placing greater value on
one thing over the others? But they are all things that need doing, and each on completion will lead to a certain sense of fulfillment and other things to do. The choice isn’t simply between vanilla and strawberry. Though you may argue even that isn’t so simple sometimes.

Then there is the rain. It has been raining continuously for two days. How can one do anything but watch it rain? A river flows beneath the parked cars. Wouldn’t one like to find out where it goes? Shouldn’t that be on one of the lists? The sparrows are settling down in the balcony. There is much to “chee chee” about before they are all comfortable; organized according to their pecking order. Then silent and still they will watch the worst of the rain pass by. Time to pick
up the camera. But for the light.

And then while sorting through all these sensory impulses one looks back at the screen and there is Patti Smith reading from The Waves by Virginia Woolf. After replaying it three times one goes on to hear Dancing Barefoot because that’s how the mind works. Then the book Street Haunting is picked up and after reading a few lines from the first essay one starts to recollect the gulls swirling around the dome of St Peter’s at 10:30 at night. Such poetry. And one instantly whispers, “Send a philosopher to London; please God no poet!”*

A truck carrying construction waste blows its horn. Somewhere a house of cards collapses. Is this the butterfly effect?

Coming back to the desk and everything else it encapsulates one catches sight of the work to be done. And the lists. Multiples of them. Ah! But it is only Thursday.

*Heinrich Heine. More about this soon.
You can watch Patti Smith's performance here.
Or read Street Haunting– the complete essay here. Go on try it. It's only Thursday.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Tread lightly

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle– Albert Einstein

Watch what your hand brushes past. That curled leaf is an origami nest housing the single egg laid by the female giraffe weevil. The mother has thoughtfully injected a chemical into the leaf, so that its tissues undergo a cancerous growth and the larva when hatched gets sustenance.

Watch where you put down your foot next. The water running across the trail houses tiny monsoon crabs. Soon they will get busy burrowing into the soil, bringing in oxygen and keeping the cycle of nutrients flowing. But right now they watch you closely (almost sizing you up) for a split second before scurrying to safety.

Don’t come too close. That is not a dead leaf. It is the master of camouflage– the blue oak leaf butterfly. Its underside mimics a leaf perfectly down to the midrib. Would you believe that its upperside is a vibrant indigo?

So, please tread lightly. Here miracles abound. The tarantula has built trap doors out of silk thread, another spider is mimicking an ant as it goes out to hunt them, and another is weaving a fine web between the branches of the Kadamb tree– diversification and
specialization are the hallmarks among spiders too. Then there are the trees, the birds and maybe even a pair of eyes watching steadily.

Every mushroom, every termite, every falling leaf– every breath that is taken in and every breath released demonstrates a miracle. So, tread lightly and don’t forget to keep your eyes and mind open.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Take birth on Facebook and die in the pages of mainstream media: The short and irrelevant life of protest movements in urban India

Let me start by saying: I have nothing against “we the people” ensuring that errant citizens are brought to book or forced to comply with the laws of the land. That is worth commending. But I’d just like to add a caveat: Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at others.

Meaning, dear fellow citizens first learn to wear the helmet, drive in lanes, not jump traffic lights, not unnecessary blow the horn, not over speed– you know follow basic traffic rules, (that you are required to be aware of to get a driving license) before trying to force autos and taxis out of the roads. That the recent attempt to keep taxis and autos off the road in Mumbai failed miserably, no matter how people like us choose to spin it, is an entirely different matter.

Which brings me to the more important point. Autos and taxis aren’t the "villains” and autowallahs aren’t “chors”. The fact that the problem was framed in these terms is the reason why the solution offered was inappropriate, if not downright silly. In another India, educated (and might I add civil) citizens would first attempt to understand what does public transport mean? Then go on to wonder why don’t we have good public transport and instead have so many autos and taxis on the roads in our cities? Then find out who are these people who drive these autos and taxis, where do they come from, and why do they leave from wherever they have left?

When we have asked and sought answers to these questions we would (I hope) not come up with "protests" that only widen the gap between “us” and “them”. Instead we would concentrate our energies in ensuring that the real errant citizens obey the laws of the land and the real “chors” are bought to book. Okay, maybe simply start a social media campaign and get enough “likes” to make it to the pages of the mainstream media. But at least then it wouldn’t all have been so vain.

Meanwhile an educated and enlightened take on auto-rickshaws and the life of those who drive them can be found here.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Upon meeting old friends

Recently we had a reunion. It was an almost unplanned coming together of old friends. Each had been busy in their own world, getting on with life, doing the best they could- being as unobtrusive as they could. There were no grand achievements to boast about, or pictures to brandish as proof. That we could once again come together for a few moments was enough.

But most importantly, no one said, “You haven’t changed at all!”

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Wild flowers

A thrush, because I'd been wrong,
Burst rightly into song
In a world not vague, not lonely,
Not governed by me only.
(Having misidentified a wildflower by Richard Wilbur)

As I wander'd the forest,
The green leaves among,
I heard a wild flower
Singing a song.

I slept in the Earth
In the silent night,
I murmur'd my fears
And I felt delight.

In the morning I went
As rosy as morn,
To seek for new joy;
But O! met with scorn.
(The Wild Flower's Song by William Blake)

The good Will of a Flower
The Man who would possess
Must first present
Of minted Holiness.
(The good Will of a Flower by Emily Dickinson)

Monday, 9 August 2010

Measure for measure

A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimension.*

*Oliver Wendell Holmes