Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I Am One

Today, October 17, my blog turns a year old. More appropriately, I turn a year old as a blogger. When I had started, Diwali was round the corner. So it is now. I remember about the Diwali because after writing the first few posts, I went home on my annual vacation to Kanpur. And in Kanpur, I would go to a cyber cafe to see if anyone has commented. One night, cuddled inside a quilt in the Kanpur chill, I had a dream: 35 people had commented on a certain post. In the morning I rushed to the cyber cafe: "0 comments".

My first post was about God. It was about things I wanted to say but could not have written in my paper. The next few posts were poems, rather amateurish, reflecting my state of mind at the time: women, women everywhere but not a woman to .....

I am not leaving the space blank so that you can make wild guesses. I have left it blank because I myself did not know why I wanted a woman: To have sex? To be my wife? To be a live-in? To be just a girlfriend? Maybe I was used to having one around all the time, and now the absence of one needled me.

After getting internet connection at home, I had withdrawn myself into a virtual cocoon where emotional and intellectual gratification were unprecedented, but physical gratification was nil: I went to bed alone after making love to online lovers. Life went on like this for one whole year. Occasionally, a flesh-and-blood lotus would sprout, but would remain at the centre of the pond where my arms could not reach. I fantasised about them by writing poems such as Dream and The Kiss. These two poems were written in Kanpur, in a diary borrowed from my father. They were written for a dimpled beauty.

The stay in Kanpur was blanketed in dreams and fantasies and desires. Reality staged a return in Chennai, where the cocktail of loneliness and music made sentences flow night after night, resulting in lengthy posts that stand testimony to the search of a man who didn't quite know what he was searching for. Maybe some attention. That began to trickle in too, gradually, in the form of comments. I can never measure the gratitude I owe to my initial commentators. They had finally ended the drought of "0 comments".

By now, blogging had become an obsession. Whole day I would wait to get back home, pour a drink, recline on the mattress and switch my laptop on. And long after the world had finished its socialising, mine would begin. With a drink in hand, I would begin circulating, striking conversations with beautiful but faceless people, who I knew only by their exotic Yahoo IDs. In between talking to them, I would be writing a post, and occasionally would Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V a few paras to one of them -- just to seek their opinion. Then they would sign off, one after the other, and I would return to finishing my post, lonely as before.

One year of blogging is not a very long journey, considering that there are bloggers who have been around much longer and are more prolific. But my journey has been highly eventful, considering how seamlessly my personal life had weaved into the virtual. No pseudonym, no mask; standing bare in a theatre peopled by stangers. No links to the morning's newspaper reports, no editorialising, no sermonising; just the truest account of my life. If someone cared and showed interest, some of the pain that went into the writing was compensated for.

In journalism they say: You are as good as your last byline. The same is true for blogging. You write every night for months, and your readership steadily climbs up. But you stop for a while, and the readership climbs down as steadily. This happened to me in February this year. I was in peak form as a blogger, stewing in a heady concoction of loneliness, alcohol and music, when Rishikesh beckoned. As I prepared for the Rishikesh trip, mother fell ill. When someone, even if she is only 56, is a heart patient and a diabetic, a trip to the hospital can make you imagine the worst, and I was presently packing, in a great hurry, for Kanpur. Still I took my yoga mat and pants along, just in case circumstances permitted me to travel Rishikesh for the yoga festival.

Mother recovered. Perhaps because I finally made her a promise that must have tempted her to hang on: "Ok, I will get married." And off I went to Rishikesh, with dreams of making out with a Swedish or Danish yoga enthusiast. In between yoga classes, I spoke, on the phone, to my would-be-wife. Sitting on a bench by the furiously-flowing Ganges, I would speak to her for hours. Yet another conquest, I thought. In the end, she conquered me. For once, I did not complain. I was calm, totally peaceful. So peaceful that in the month of March, I wrote only one post, By The Ganges. And for once I had written a post for myself. Most readers, in any case, had stopped coming to my blog because of my long absence.

I had to start all over again. But this time with innocuous, neutral subjects such as pens and, even, Chennai. The readers returned in greater numbers, thanks to Desipundit (the site is now closing down). But you can't ignore your instincts for long, so I wrote about sex too (and I consider this post as one of my best and most honest, if not the best). But the cake was taken by the account of Mani Ratnam's shoot for Guru. The post earned me unprecedented readership and even today, four months later, about a dozen people come to my blog every day to read it.

Today, the readership does not matter so much to me, in the sense that it is no longer a life-and-death question. There was a time when I took my ranking on Indianbloggers very seriously. It varied from no. 10 to no. 25. Occasionally it was no. 40 or 50, and once it even jumped up to no. 3, thanks to the Mani Ratnam post. But the website seems to be down, and I don't really care anymore. What matters to me more now is the luxury to write night after night, especially when I know that it's a luxury I can't afford anymore. I am no longer lonely after all, because I now have a wife. But then, having a wife does not mean your search has ended, especially when don't know what you are searching for.

So what am I trying to say? It's simple: my wife has a smile that is so genuine and cute that every night, I am forced to postpone the search to the night after. And the night after. Meanwhile, out of habit, I happen to write a post apropos of nothing, such as this.

Hey, wait a minute, this post is not for nothing: this is my first-anniversary post, and I got a legitimate reason to write it only because of Atul, who tagged me. Thanks Atul.

Wonder how it will be when I meet Atul and other fellow bloggers. But at the moment, I would like to meet R, my mysterious yet a good friend who had insisted that I start a blog in the first place. R, you listening? I know you are (the smile smiley).

Friday, October 13, 2006

Nineteen Years Ago

My watch says 7.40 pm. If I go back in time, this very moment, by precisely 19 years, I would find myself in Kanpur, as a 16-year-old, who has just got home after loitering with friends in the post-Durga Puja and pre-Diwali spirit.

The intervening period between the two festivals is the most joyous for any school-going boy: one holiday has ended and another is about to begin. And if the school-going boy happens to be an adolescent, nothing stokes the freshly-acquired attraction towards the opposite sex more than the evening, autumn air.

So there I was, back home in time to follow the routine: study for a while, watch the 8.30 pm news on Doordarshan while having dinner, watch the succeeding serial (those days they were worth it), study for some more time, and go to sleep.

The TV was switched on. Those days the top news was necessarily about the IPKF operations in Sri Lanka: "10 Indian soldiers killed", "3 Indian soldiers killed", "5 Indian soldiers killed"... after a point it became routine. But the death of Indian soldiers had to be priority, so even on the evening of October 13, 1987, the first headline was about the IPKF operations. The subsequent headlines were about politics and this and that, and finally: "Playback singer Kishore Kumar is no more."

Air was sucked out of my lungs. How can Kishore Kumar ever die? Only a few months ago, I had seen him in Kanpur. He had come to the city, as the guest of the Indian Air Force, to perform at the Green Park Stadium. My parents thought there would be stampede at the stadium, and that their favourite son might die, so they didn't let me go (I would never forgive them for that), but they had no reason to stop me from going to the nearby Air Force ground, where Kishore Kumar was being felicitated the evening before the show.

A local orchestra (belonging to Prashant Chatterjee, about who I've written in a recent post) was belting out popular Kishore Kumar songs while the singer himself was sitting in the front row of the audience along with wife Leena and sons Amit and Sumit. After a while, as a consolation to the crowd that had gathered, Amit came to the stage and sang a couple of songs, Yaad aa rahi hai and Yeh Bombay sheher haadson ka sheher hai.

Then the compere announced that Kishoreda would himself come to the stage. I could not believe my eyes. I felt what a sadhu would feel upon sighting God after 15 years of meditation. Kishore Kumar, dressed in a maroon kurta-pyjama, announced that he would sing Zindagi ek safar hai suhana... (Andaaz). One had expected him to only sing, but he danced as he sang -- a man who had had two heart attacks. After he finished the song, the compere came to get the mike but Kishoreda turned him away: "Nahin, ab mujhe mood mein aane dijiye (now let me get into the mood)." Then he went on to sing Main hoon jhumroo and, along with his son, Yeh dosti hum nahin todenge (the original he had sung with Manna Dey).

I vowed that evening that once I start earning, I would go to Bombay to watch a Kishore Kumar nite. But the dream came crashing within months. Same thing happened with my other idol, R.D. Burman. He came to Kanpur in 1991, the year I had lost the last of my classmates to various engineering colleges and was branded a "bad student" by my utterly middle-class parents, who now wanted me to study even harder. But I silently told them "Fuck you" by spending my time with India Today and Indian Express and Sunday and Society instead of the Brilliant Tutorials course material. Anyway, I missed R.D. And he died within two years. Another dream dashed.

I took my revenge shortly after by filling up my rack with cassettes of Kishore Kumar and Pancham. A lot of those cassettes remain at home, serving to activate the tear glands of my mother. I have, meanwhile, switched over to CDs.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Bye Bye Malgudi, Hello Mysore

October 10 is R K Narayan's 100th birth anniversay. My tribute to him:

Under the overcast sky, the green of the paddy fields looked as dense as the grey above — so picture perfect that I could have tried my luck with National Geographic if I was not standing at the door of the train. In fact, when a hill appeared in the backdrop of the lush greenery, I did turn to fetch my camera. But I found my path blocked by the suitcase of an elderly fellow traveller who announced with an apologetic grin, “Mysore is coming.”

Mysore is one of those places like Siberia: you’ve always heard about it, but you never really see anyone booking a ticket to get there. For the lay traveller, the city is on the itinerary only when a trip to Bangalore permits enough time. It was hardly surprising then, when, 90 percent of the passengers on the Chennai-Mysore Shatabdi Express detrained in Bangalore.

Mysore is also a city whose mention — particularly if you have never been there — conjures up some image or the other in your mind: it could be colourful silk sarees or the smoke emanating from a sandalwood agarbatti or just a soap. But as I sat in the nearly-empty train presently pulling out of Bangalore, the faces of two elderly men floated in front on my eyes every time I tried to visualise Mysore.

One is 90 years old, while the other would been exactly 100 if he were alive.

Read on


Those who have bothered to wonder why I was not blogging for a while, the following piece -- my latest column for the paper -- should explain:

These days, very often, I feel like a two-year-old, letting off loud wails as I am pinned down by four people and a fifth trying to empty a bottle of bitter medicine down my throat. A two-year-old possibly can’t read the label on the bottle, but I can: “Happy Married Life”. I can hear the person holding the bottle telling me: “Don’t fuss. Once you gulp it down you will be fine. It is for your own good.”

They had said the same when they made me a sacrificial lamb, dressing me up like a groom, five months ago. And who are these people, anyway? They don’t have individual names but collectively, they are called “society”. They had said my life would become stable, but I can see myself heading towards mental instability.

After 35 years of living like a compulsive vagabond, whose social responsibilities were confined to the triangle of I, Me and Myself, it isn’t easy at all to find a fourth dimension added to life. There are times when I am sitting at home, trying hard to write, when I am gripped by a sudden irritation: “What’s she doing here?” Then, after gathering my thoughts, I answer myself: “Oh, she’s my wife. She is going to be staying here too.”

That is, when I get to write. For years I have been a nocturnal writer, whose brain cells came alive only five hours after sunset, when I would switch on my laptop, stare at the screen for a while and start typing. These days, when I switch on the computer, the wife asks: “Are you going to blog or write for the paper?” When I say blog, I am given a look which says: “When will you get a life?” When I say I am going to write for the paper, the look that is given to me says: “Couldn’t you have written that in the office?”

The point is she never translates those looks into words; instead, she silently waits for me, with dinner and all, till I finish. Which makes me even more irritated. But then, irritation is not the solution, adjustment is. So of late, to begin with, I have cut down on my blogging. Wonder what next. Anything is fine as long as I don’t reach the other extreme: becoming hen-pecked. But the symptoms, to tell you the truth, point towards that.

The other night, after work, I went for a drink with a colleague who has been married for quite some time now. I have gone drinking with him on countless evenings, and most evenings, he would want to get home after a point. “She has prepared the food, I have to eat at home,” he would plead.

I would brush aside pleas with liquor-inspired wisdom: “You are a writer, a poet. You are an individual, not someone’s husband. Doesn’t matter if you don’t eat at home one night.” We would finally part close to midnight.

But the other night, we were barely into the second drink when I began looking at the watch. Wife had already called twice, first to ask: “Cabbage or cauliflower?” And then: "Rice or roti?" I rushed him through the third drink and, as we were walking towards the parking, we noticed a Malayali restaurant, Tharavad. “Let’s eat something,” the colleague said. “Not today,” I pleaded and hopped into my car.

The next day the colleague forwarded me a joke: A lion had thrown a party exclusively for lions. They were drinking and dancing when they spotted a mouse dancing too. The host lion roared: “Only lions are invited. How did you dare to come?” The mouse replied: “Before I got married, I was a lion too.”

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Music Menu on Ganga Mail

Atul has tagged me, rather I should say he has handed a child his favourite toy. Thanks, Atul. Here I go:

Your favourite lyricist and the lyrics you remember the most:

Yogesh. Kai baar yuhin dekha hai, yeh jo man ki seema rekha hai... (Rajnigandha).

Your favourite song on friendship

Humko to yaari se matlab hai... (Andar Bahar). Suresh Wadkar and Shailendra Singh sing for Pancham.

Best song portraying life’s emotions; about life, full of life

Yeh jeevan hai, is jeevan ka... (Piya Ka Ghar). Kishore Kumar, the voice of this song, sang it for his elder brother Ashok Kumar several times when he sat in a dark room (people were too numb to remember switching on the lights) mourning his wife Shobha, who had died that day.

Which song are you humming today?

Aap ke kamre mein koi rehta hai... (Yaadon Ki Baarat). It really begins with Kishore's humming. Actually been humming the Bengali version of it, Bondho dwaare ondhokare thaakbo na, also sung by Kishore and Asha.

One song which brings tears to your eyes

Main har ek pal ka shayar hoon (Kabhie Kabhie). Sahir-Khayyam. Wrote a post about it long ago.

A song which gives you hope, reason to try again and again, a reason to say that life is beautiful

Har koi chahata hai ek mutthi aasman... (Ek Mutthi Aasman). I would rate it one of Madan Mohan's best. Listened to it several times once upon a time when my fling was having a fling with someone else.

When you want to be with yourself, silent and content but with music, with song would that be?

Dard-e-dil, dard-e-jigar... (Karz). A song best enjoyed through headphones, or else you might miss the little embellisments in Laxmi-Pyare's lavish orchestra for this number. Listen to the reverse roll of the violins when Rafi says, Purdah giraya aapne. As if curtains are really rolling down!

If you have to express your love for someone with a song which would that be

Tera mujhse hai pehle ka naata koi... (Aa Gale Lag Ja). Sahir-Pancham combo.

Five songs which you listen to the most

Raat banoon main aur chaand bano tum... (Mangalsutra). A Pancham gem.

Aawaz di hai aaj ek nazar ne... (Aitbaar). Bappi at his best.

Poochho na yaar kya hua... (Zamane Ko Dikhana Hai).

Bachke rehna re baba... (Pukar).

Mere liye soona soona... (Anand Aur Anand).

Monday, October 02, 2006

Durga Puja

Vijaya Dashami day: About twenty years ago, on this day, this very moment, I would have found myself among the huge crowd at the community ground near my home in Kanpur, watching the end of the 10-headed paper-and-bamboo Ravana.

After Ravana was reduced to ashes, the crowd would rush out, leaving behind 30-40 families, the Bengalis, who would now wait for the arrival of the shanti jal (holy water, though literal translation would be 'water of peace'). Shanti jal is the water collected after the idol of Goddess Durga is immersed, and in the case of Kanpur, shanti jal is also Ganga jal.

Eventually the party which went for the immersion would return in trucks, and the priest would sprinkle the water with mango leaves. Sweets were distributed and people wished other, touched the feet of the elders, and went home. From the next evening, till Diwali, Bengali families would visit each other, often unannounced, to, well, eat. The menu usually would be an assortment of sweets and salty snacks. If the host was generous, there would also be ghughni -- chanaa masala.

I don't think that happens anymore. At least you don't go to anyone's home unannounced: now there is the telephone over which you could either get invited or invite yourself over. In any case, cable TV has cut out the dependency on neighbours for evening entertainment/timepass. You now live in a self-contained world where everything is available with a press of the button -- even dinner. And what is the point going overboard with celebrations when the kids are no longer kids but have become the new generation, scattered in various cities and living in their own self-contained islands and celebrating Puja in their own way?

But some things don't change. Like the weather. No matter how hot it gets during the day, there is a mild chill in the evenings. And just before the sunset, the air is fragrant and smokey, dhuan dhuan. That's when you know Durga Puja is round the corner, and that the festive season, which would last till the year-end, has begun. The fragrant air brings in, more than anything else, plenty of memories and the reminder that once upon a time you were a kid: wasn't it just the other day, when we spent entire days at the neighbourhood pandal, and in the night went pandal-hopping?

One of the chief attractions of Durga Puja during my childhood was the 'orchestra' -- a local orchestra party would present latest Hindi songs, and those days you didn't have the synthesiser, so there was the piano accordion and quite a few violins. My earliest memories of watching an orchestra dates back to 1977. An ageing ex-Air Force employee called Prashant Chatterjee, hugely popular in Kanpur at the time, was performing at the same community ground with his team. All the Kishore Kumar songs, including those from Hum Kisise Kam Nahin, were sung by a young, bearded, bespectacled man called Abhijeet Bhattacharya. Today, the world knows him as Abhijeet, the singer. Last Saturday, when I was making the front page, I saw a UNI picture of Abhijeet and Sanjay Dutt posing before a Durga idol in Mumbai. My memories went back 30 years and I front-paged the picture.

I wonder what has become of Prashant Chatterjee. I pass his house every time I visit Kanpur, but I am too scared to find out.