Friday, 25 July 2014


“The wanderer in Manhattan must go forth with a certain innocence, because New York is best seen with innocent eyes. It doesn't matter if you are younger or old. Reading our rich history makes the experience more layered, but it is not a substitute for walking the streets themselves. For old-timer or newcomer, it is essential to absorb the city as it is now in order to shape your own nostalgias.”
–Pete Hamill, Downtown: My Manhattan
Walking past Chelsea Park I come upon a dragonfly on the sidewalk. The translucent wings shimmer in the sunlight. It is a great blue darter. Or, rather it was. All speed and agility and yet, lying motionless on the sidewalk. Just remember death is not the end.

A girl shouts. The children are playing football today. The two teams are composed mostly of girls and a few boys. It is interesting how in USA football is a girl’s game at the junior level. As is hockey, the one played on artificial grass.

Hockey always reminds me of K. Super-talented K: a hockey player, singer-guitarist, and poet; possessing other talents that I am sure I am unaware of. Most recently we met at a French bistro in West Village. The second act to take the stage was a trio– two young women and a young man each with a guitar and the gift of a golden voice. “Perhaps one day we’ll be watching you”, we said as we paid the check and hurried towards our dinner date. The act had only sung one song. Yes, I did wonder what it must be like to watch people leave while you sing so sublimely.

Which naturally brings to mind the tender, melancholy of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’– ‘Fare thee well, O Honey, fare thee well’.
They are serving two kinds of soup. A steady stream of people, many pushing carts filled with all their worldly possessions, come up to the table and then walk away slowly sipping from plastic cups held tight between two hands. For a few moments the carts and the burdens they carry are forgotten on the wayside. A couple of young men their eyes red from lack of sleep, hair in disarray too pick up a cup. They aren’t homeless. It is the economy, stupid. 

An old man is talking while two young women with blue clipboards are jotting down notes. Someone laughs. The sky is clear blue. A man walking his pug goes whistling by. For an instant this could have been a picnic in the park, but it isn’t.
We had decided to meet at a street corner. It is only fitting as for years that is how it has been. Always meeting at places where two paths converge. Where the paths began was immaterial. What mattered was where they met and where they went on from there.
Walking back home, a flash of red and yellow in a window catches my eye and I walk right in, into a gallery in Soho. The exhibition is titled "Miro–Calder". A lifelong friendship formed in Paris and continued across continents consisting of lots of exchanged letters and postcards with playful drawings but not a word on the art movement, or about what they were working on.

Perhaps the reason why their friendship stood the test of time.

On 7th Avenue an elegantly dressed woman wearing dark glasses, probably in her late 60’s seems to snap out of her reverie. She looks up, spots me and smiles. I am not quite sure she smiled at me even though at that moment no one else was walking behind me.

On 16th street I climb up the stairs of High Line Park. I know it is a bad idea. Two lines in single file are crawling slowly in opposite directions. Most are tourists. The rhythm is altered. Most faces wear a familiar expression– you know how it is, we’ve all been tourists at some point in time. Many seem to be placing this city before their eyes over the one reproduced countless times in pages of books and on our screens. Some in the abandonment that comes from being a stranger in a strange city for a short time, openly stop and stare inside apartments rising up on both sides of the park. Curiosity is insatiable; especially when one is standing before something one felt certain one knew well since forever.

Stuck in pedestrian traffic, unable to maintain my regular pace I surrender to the inevitable.
The windows of the building on the east end of the street are burnished in gold. The sun is rising in New Delhi.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Wanderer–Seekers

Present time: morning

The taxi driver is Pashtoon and we are exchanging directions in Urdu. The concierge is Dominican. The building manager is Ukrainian. The neighbour sharing the lift is from Tokyo. The cable guy is Jamaican. The hair stylist is from Korea. The shop assistant’s mother is Kenyan and father is Indian (he recognizes my accent and so proffers this information). At the grocery store the checkout clerk is Colombian (she’s sporting the national team’s T-shirt). The old couple walking ahead of me, trying to reconnect their youth with the ever-changing cityscape, is speaking Italian.

Not even half the day has passed. Yet wanderer-seekers that we are, and so here we are. 

(Please note: not once did anyone say, ‘where are you from?’ but during the course of interaction the information came up in some way, as in the case of the taxi driver who overheard me talk in Hindi and so started speaking in Urdu or the neighbour who said that he had just moved from Tokyo.)

In another time: late 1990’s. 

The phrase is ‘melting pot’. The thesis is assimilation. The lecture is in demographics. We are talking about India and the multiplicity of ethnicity and languages. But the reference point is New York City where the term was coined– in my opinion unarguably the most multicultural of all cities– the poster child for humankind’s insatiable wanderlust, the inability of members of our species to stay put in one place since time began. The reason why civilizations rise, grow... and fall.

But we are talking about India and the one thing that India to be truly multicultural *must* surmount– the caste system whereby accident of birth determines not just what you can do but also what kind of life you can live and  even what thoughts you can entertain. For young girls the first and harshest lesson in the stranglehold that is patriarchy.

Once again the barrier with its endless trappings is being praised. The consolation is that every civilization in free-fall reaches the break point from where there is nowhere else to go but to rise up again.


In another time: first decade of 21st Century. 

The MNC boasts of employees from 50 nationalities. But this is Europe and this multiculturalism is uniquely European– you know the kind where it is okay for people of a certain persuasion to play in the World Cup as part of the national football team but not okay for their community to build buildings or wear clothes of a certain distinct style. Consider the irony: nations once ruthlessly imperialistic, now "fear" cultural invasion.

Also as is often the case, this corporate multiculturalism, like most other things corporate (and/or imperialistic) has a financial motivation (i.e. tax breaks).

Present time: late evening

It is a rhapsody in blue.

There are sounds of the street, the sounds of the river and the countless tongues spinning forth tales of the day at close; the weekend has just begun. A lone Robin is singing too. Unrecognizable phrases and dialects interspersed with snatches of familiar words hang in the air. 

With my arms open wide I collect these voices and piece together a collage of melody. What once seemed unrecognizable is now a free-flowing, flawless rhapsody. 

So many words, so many different ways to arrive at the same meaning. Perhaps the reason why human beings have always been the wandering–wondering–seeking kind.

Friday, 11 July 2014

A something in a summer's Day

As slow her flambeaux burn away
Which solemnizes me.

"A something in a summer's Day
As slow her flambeaux burn away
Which solemnizes me.
A something in a summer's noon—
A depth—an Azure—a perfume—
Transcending ecstasy.
And still within a summer's night
A something so transporting bright
I clap my hands to see—
Then veil my too inspecting face
Lest such a subtle—shimmering grace
Flutter too far for me—
The wizard fingers never rest—
The purple brook within the breast
Still chafes its narrow bed—
Still rears the East her amber Flag—
Guides still the sun along the Crag
His Caravan of Red—
So looking on—the night—the morn
Conclude the wonder gay—
And I meet, coming thro' the dews
Another summer's Day!"
– Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Upon seeing the nth shot of feet/food/selfie...or peonies

"I am wondering what became of all those tall abstractions
that used to pose, robed and statuesque, in paintings
and parade about on the pages of the Renaissance
displaying their capital letters like license plates.

Truth cantering on a powerful horse,
Chastity, eyes downcast, fluttering with veils.
Each one was marble come to life, a thought in a coat,
Courtesy bowing with one hand always extended,

Villainy sharpening an instrument behind a wall,
Reason with her crown and Constancy alert behind a helm.
They are all retired now, consigned to a Florida for tropes.
Justice is there standing by an open refrigerator.

Valor lies in bed listening to the rain.
Even Death has nothing to do but mend his cloak and hood,
and all their props are locked away in a warehouse,
hourglasses, globes, blindfolds and shackles.

Even if you called them back, there are no places left
for them to go, no Garden of Mirth or Bower of Bliss.
The Valley of Forgiveness is lined with condominiums
and chain saws are howling in the Forest of Despair.

Here on the table near the window is a vase of peonies
and next to it black binoculars and a money clip,
exactly the kind of thing we now prefer,
objects that sit quietly on a line in lower case,

themselves and nothing more, a wheelbarrow,
an empty mailbox, a razor blade resting in a glass ashtray.
As for the others, the great ideas on horseback
and the long-haired virtues in embroidered gowns,

it looks as though they have traveled down
that road you see on the final page of storybooks,
the one that winds up a green hillside and disappears
into an unseen valley where everyone must be fast asleep."
– Billy Collins, The Death of Allegory