Monday, July 27, 2009

The King (Of Yoga) And I

Finally, yes finally, I think I can put the hypochondriac in me to death. No more running to the hospital for the slightest of reason. No more Google-searching for symptoms. Whatever will be, will be; and come what may, I am going to return to my full-fledged yoga practice. The days I drink more, I am going to punish myself with five extra rounds of sun salutations. But I am never ever going to neglect my yoga practice, as I've been doing in the past two-three years. I am going to live strong.

These thoughts crossed my mind on Sunday evening as I walked out of the gates of Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, having met the king of yoga, the great B.K.S. Iyengar. He was at the Mandiram to give away certificates to the newly-trained yoga teachers.

It's one thing to chant the name of god or talk about god, and quite another to meet god himself. When you meet god, face to face, all your self-doubts wash away and there you are -- sporting a clean, fresh look, all set to make a new beginning. You realise how impoverished you were all this while.

And if Iyengar is not god then who is: at 91, he doesn't look a day older than 70. He walks around as if he is still 50. He talks with the authority of an Army commander. And he smiles like a child. At 91, you either don't expect people to be alive or expect them to be bed-ridden, completely shrunken, eagerly waiting for death. In fact, by the time you turn 75, you begin counting your days on Planet Earth. That's how it is in India. Perhaps that is why Indian's fall short of Iyengar's expectations: he reserved his admiration for the Westerners.

"In the West, there is still honesty and integrity (when it comes to learning yoga). Indians are yet to open their minds. They have always been afraid of my discipline. They were never prepared to take the hard sadhana," said Iyengar.

You just can't dismiss what he says, for he has seen it all. He has been there, done that. He has been teaching yoga right from the time when even our fathers were not born. In the early 1930s, Iyengar was a sickly boy who often fell ill. But it so happened that he was also married to the sister of Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, the fountainhead of modern yoga. Krishnamacharya, an usually strict teacher, was then teaching in Mysore under the patronage of the local Maharaja, and Iyengar joined him as a disciple in 1934.

Krishnamacharya had another disciple at the time, a poor boy called Pattabhi Jois. At the time, both Iyengar and Jois were terror-stricken by their guru Krishnamacharya, but what bound the guru and his disciples was poverty. They were all poor. They often had no money for food.

In 1936, Iyengar went to settle in Pune to teach yoga. "At the time, you were thought to be half insane if you took up yoga. When I reached Pune, there were barely 10 yoga teachers in the whole of India," said Iyengar. Pattabhi Jois, on the other hand, stayed on in Mysore and founded Ashtanga Yoga, which subsequently became a rage in the West under the name of power yoga, whose practitioners ranged from Sting to Madonna, to name a few. Krishnamacharya, their guru, meanwhile relocated to Chennai. Like a true yogi, he kept a rather low profile, until his son, TKV Desikachar, set up the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram as a way of paying guru dakshina to his father. Krishnamacharya died in 1989, at the age of 100.

By then, both Iyengar and Jois had become world-famous yoga teachers. Jois actively taught Ashtanga Yoga till he died very recently at the age of 94, and Iyengar is still going strong. Now that really makes me wonder about the secret powers of vinyasa. Vinyasa is a dynamic form of yoga in which you keep moving your body in synchronisation with your breath. To explain it to the common man, it is the sun-salutation sequence as prescribed by Ashtanga Yoga.

Whoever practiced Vinyasa seems to have lived unusually long: Krishnamacharya died at 100, and he was mentally and physically agile till he slipped into coma a few weeks before his death. Jois, even at 94, was an active teacher and was perhaps looking forward to a few more trips to exotic islands to teach Ashtanga Yoga when he went into permanent shavasana. And Iyengar, at 91, is still going strong -- and thank God for that.

Iyengar isn't the god of yoga today for no reason. His life stands on two pillars: pain and practice. "Until 1954, I had to struggle. I was teaching in schools and colleges of Pune. But often they would make me wait for hours. At times they would make me wait and then ask me to go home. I took all that humiliation," Iyengar said.

But in 1954, his saviour came in the form of Yehudi Menuhin, the renowned violinist and conductor. He was on a tour of India, at the invitation of Nehru, when he was overcome by a nervous attack -- so bad that he couldn't even hold his violin. Iyengar cured him within a matter of hours, after which Menuhin invited him to teach in Switzerland. "Switzerland was my gateway to the West," Iyengar said. The rest, as they say, is history.

But the humiliations carried forward -- at least for a while. In London, Iyengar walked six miles to and fro to teach Menuhin, and was referred to as a 'slave' by many people. Today, he seeks to make light of the insults: "From a slave I became a slave-driver."

But here's what I will actually remember Sunday evening for -- perhaps for the rest of my life: TKV Desikachar was mentioning about an Army officer who had begun to suffer from vertigo after practising the headstand. "I told him, 'Look, the muscles of your neck have become stiff with age, and if you practise headstand, then..." Desikachar had barely finished his sentence when Iyengar roared in: "Age is an enemy. It confines you to a certain frame of mind, whereas the purpose of yoga is to help you get out of that frame of mind and go far beyond. I was practising yoga non-stop up to the age of 75. At the age of 80, I fell from a scooter and I could not even lift my hands. My students thought my life was over. That was the time when I thought, 'Should I continue or not?' If I had stopped, it would have meant that I had surrendered and lost faith in myself. But I combatted my problems, I combatted my fears. How could I give up something that I had been practising for 70 years? Today, even though I am 91, I can do a headstand for 30 minutes, and trust me, my legs won't oscillate even for 30 seconds."

Moral of his story: either you let age and adversity defeat you; or you defeat them with the strength of your mind and body. The choice is yours.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Mr McCourt And I

Now this is really strange. Only last evening, I went to Landmark, the bookstore, to buy myself some books -- something I had not done in a long time. Of late, I've only ordered books online, but the convenience of using your credit card from home does not match the pleasure of walking around a bookstore and looking for books to pick: you don't get the atmosphere. The atmosphere, I strongly believe, plays a big part in kindling one's ambition to become a writer.

When I walked into Landmark, I had three particular books in mind: Angela's Ashes and 'Tis by Frank McCourt, and the revised edition of my all-time favourite, Hemingway's A Moveable Feast (one of his grandsons has 'restored' the original version, in the belief that Hemingway's fourth and final wife had distorted the unfinished manuscript after he died).

McCourt's books I possessed till a few years ago, when I happened to lend them to a friend who simply drifted out of my life, along with the books, that is. I wanted to get those books back into my life. They had helped me every time I felt angry with the world. Angela's Ashes I read only once and did not want to go back to that: the humour only enhances the gloom the book chronicles. But I still wanted it in my collection -- for record's sake. 'Tis has its share of gloom too, but you can see a man sailing cheerfully through it, even though he never really sails out of it. It's been the Bible to me for many years -- I have looked up to it when I have not been able to write and I've sought solace in its pages when I felt ignored by the world.

It is also true that the book would not have been such an inspiration had I not been aware of McCourt's life-story: even after a poverty-stricken childhood and a youth riddled with uncertainties, life was still not kind to him. He remained, for over 30 years, a mere school teacher who taught English and creative writing in various schools and took a modest salary home. Lady luck smiled on him only after he turned 66, when he published his book, Angela's Ashes, which went on to win the Pulitzer. At that age, most Indian men consider themselves to be a spent force and are waiting to be taken to their graves. But for McCourt, there was no looking back.

His life has been a shining example of the old saying which has been done to death in Hindi films -- 'Bhagwaan ke ghar der hai, andher nahin' (In the home of God, there might be a delay, but never darkness).

Unfortunately, I did not find any of McCourt's books at Landmark yesterday. I did not even find the revised edition of A Moveable Feast, which was understandable because the book has just been released in the West. So I picked up five other books and checked out.

This afternoon when I logged on to the Time magazine website soon after I walked into office, I noticed a piece mourning McCourt's death. I found his death more strange than shocking: precisely at the moment while he was breathing his last in New York, a great fan of his living miles away, in south of India, was actually scanning the shelves of a bookshop to find his masterpieces. Had I found those books, I might have possibly earned the distinction of being the last person to buy his books while he was still alive.

Actually, I did have a chance of earning that distinction: I only had to approach the help desk. But as a rule, I like to fish for my own books rather than seek help from one of the guys who can barely tell between a horse's mouth and ass. The charm lies in hunting for your own book in a bookshop.

I am not at all sad that McCourt is dead. I am, in fact, rejoicing that he managed to savour the success of being a celebrated writer for a good 13 years before he died last Sunday at the age of 78. I am also rejoicing the fact that he wrote a masterpiece called Angela's Ashes: but for the runaway success of this book, Mr McCourt would have gone to the grave unnoticed along with his story-telling skills.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Commentator Asks, I Answer

Here's a comment that came late last night in reaction to my post on being a spiritual guru:

Some questions for you.

How are you able to quote verbatim the conversations you had with others here? Don't thoughts like these come: What will their reaction be to know their casual conversation has been analyzed and posted?

Scotch laden as most of your posts are, made late in the night, does it knock your head when you read the posts next day in uninebriated state, like, "What crap I have written?"

I am glad the commentator asked these questions. It gives me the chance to clarify a few things, and also share a few things about my blogging/writing.

The first question is how I am able to quote verbatim the conversations I have with others. It's simple: you only have to keep your ears and eyes open. When you come home and tell your wife or mother what happened in the office or in the college, don't you repeat verbatim what you've heard? When you gossip or bitch about a person, don't you mimic his or her words verbatim?

As a journalist, you are self-trained to listen and remember. As a writer, it becomes second nature to listen and observe and take mental notes. It becomes part of your job. That is why writers rarely have a boring moment. There might be superficial boredom at times, there might be moments of frustration or loneliness, but they are rarely ever bored or blank. Every moment in their life is a conscious or subconscious exercise in material-collection. Even family members become potential characters: their characteristics, mannerisms and conversations are stored away in some corner of their minds for future use.

The question is how verbatim it is. Well, it doesn't have to be an exact reproduction, as long as the sense is conveyed and the truth is not distorted. It is easy to invent a conversation or a quote, but that is simply not done. It is malpractice, unless your work is strictly fiction. But since this blog is about facts and not fiction, the quotes are always real and as verbatim as possible.

Question no. 2: Does it ever occur to me what those people will feel if they realise their casual conversation has been analysed and posted?

Yes, it does occur to me and that is why I don't name names and try to mask the situation if necessary. Moreover, I don't write offensive stuff about people I quote, neither do I run them down. I only use their point of view as a tool to put forward mine. As for analysing a casual conversation: well, that's my job. People are their real selves only during a casual conversation, and that's the time to get into their minds. If I were to announce at a dinner table, "Look guys, I am going to analyse and write about every word that is spoken here," each one would immediately don a mask.

Above all, it is the privilege of being a writer to analyse conversations or events and write about them. And as a blogger, you also have the privilege of having a platform to air your views. I have earned these privileges. And no one is stopping you, dear commentator, from recording your version of the evening. All you need to do is sign up with Blogger or Livejournal. It would be heartening to get a view from the other side of the dining table.

Question no. 3: Scotch laden as most of your posts are, made late in the night, does it knock your head when you read the posts next day in uninebriated state, like, "What crap I have written?"

Oh yes, there are occasions when I wonder, the next morning, what crap have I written. So much so that I feel like deleting those posts. What holds me back from deleting them is a simple logic: my blog is like a public park where entry is free of cost. Anyone can come in and spend how much ever time they feel like. They can admire the plants, spit on them, do whatever they feel like. So why worry so much about the crap that might be lying around? If the visitors had to pay an entry fee, I would have perhaps worked extra hard to see that I don't write crap. Or may be I would have not written at all.

But let me assure you, dear commentator, that what I write or how I write would not be any different even if I were to sit in front of the computer at nine in the morning with a cup to tea instead of a glass of whisky. I could still be writing crap.

Ah, nothing beats writing late in the night, when the whole world is fast asleep and when there is a glass of whisky sitting by your elbow, urging you to stay up and think hard. Just one sip and you find your thought process unlocked. The writing flows. But here, I have a confession to make: the first three or four paragraphs of my posts are always written without the aid of alcohol. I write them stark sober.

It's like this: I am very lazy by temperament, and as long as I know there is sufficient booze at home, I show no hurry in making a drink. For making a drink involves getting the bottle, getting a glass, getting the water and so on -- things that are best postponed. In the meanwhile, I start writing my post. There are several frustrating moments before I get a satisfactory first sentence, and then a satisfactory first paragraph. The battle somewhat eases off with the completion of the first para, but the struggle continues till I have written another two or three paras. That's when I feel like taking a break and get up to make a drink. But by then, the tone of the post has already been set.

Alcohol merely helps to resume the writing with vigour. It unlocks your thought process and makes you passionate and emotional about what you are writing. It gives conviction to your thoughts and lends you the will-power to finish with articulating those thoughts no matter how long it takes. This is also possible without the help of alcohol; but alcohol, somehow, helps you with the turn of phrases. I mean, when you are mildly drunk, you are no longer inhibited and you let your thoughts flow out like a river. Haven't you seen shy and reticent men becoming passionate poets after a drink or two?

The whole idea of drinking alcohol is that it lifts your spirits. So why not record your thoughts and emotions when your spirits are in an uplifted state? Certain emotions are completely dormant -- and therefore unknown to you -- without the aid of alcohol. I have a friend who has many qualities, but I never thought of him as a singer. He is a guy who would rather rescue a woman from the clutches of a rapist and earn her admiration rather than impress her with his singing. One night, he drank up an entire bottle of red wine I had got from Pondicherry. Lo behold, he had become a singer! I can't even begin to tell you how good he sounded: he should have been singing at Chennai's Margazhi festival. But in real life he happens to be a journalist who ekes out a living by editing copies and giving headlines. So that's what alcohol can do to you: it can bring out facets which you are not even aware of.

But then, it is important to know the difference between alcohol lifting your spirits and alcohol numbing your senses. Any seasoned writer would realise when exactly his senses are beginning to get numb: he would instantly stop writing and return to the piece only the next morning.

So to say that my pieces are Scotch-laden is factually wrong. It is fun to write while you are drinking, but impossible to write while you are drunk.

Anymore questions?

Friday, July 17, 2009

In Search Of A Sex Toy

Last night, I pulled out a book I had not touched in years from the shelf when a picture fell out of its pages. It was a picture of me smiling at the camera along with half-a-dozen bikini-clad Chinese girls and half-a-dozen bare-chested Chinese men on a beach. The picture shows us standing around a young man, a member of that young group, who is buried neck to toe in sand. The mischievous group had given him a generous pair of sand-crafted breasts and also a long penis. Once their masterpiece was over, one of the girls found a twig and inserted it into the penis with the flourish of a mountaineer planting his flag on the peak of Mount Everest. Then they all formed a semi-circle and asked me to take a picture, and then one of the girls took my camera and asked me to join the group.

Memories instantly wafted back to that pleasant February afternoon. The year was 2003. Location, an island called Pangkor in Malaysia. We had come there after spending a week in Kuala Lumpur. After two nights at Pangkor, we were to go to the historical town of Malacca. When I say we, I mean a small group of journalists from various Indian cities. It was at Pangkor that I started bonding with Mr K.

Mr K was an established journalist when I arrived in Delhi as a probationer in 1994. Tall, handsome guy with a commanding voice; but very polite and gentle. He was still not past his prime, but his love for alcohol had just begun to nudge him downhill, at least in the looks department. He was very kind to me, almost like a father figure. I enjoyed his indulgence: he was a big guy after all. When I decided to quit the organisation, he advised me not to. "Rolling stones gather no moss. You have been here for not even two years, and you already want to leave? Don't ever make that mistake." These were his exact words. But I had made up my mind to make that mistake.

Fortunately, the mistake turned out to be the best career decision that I've ever taken. Within a matter of months, I began to run into Mr K again, this time, in the corridors of Parliament House. We were now fellow reporters, covering the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha for our respective organisations. Things were no longer the same: we now only smiled at each other when our paths crossed. And that's how it remained till I left Delhi.

Nine years later, we met again, in Kuala Lumpur. The old warmth had returned within a matter of seconds. Perhaps because I was the only person in the group he had known for long, and vice versa. Basically, we made each other feel at home. But considering that he was much older and once upon a time was a father figure, we couldn't have headed for a thigh-slapping drinking session right away. There was still an air of formality as long as we were in Kuala Lumpur.

The air began to dissolve during the journey to Pangkor. The very first evening, we separated from the rest of the group and carried our drinks to the beach and sat on the sands, staring at nothingness. It was impossible to tell which was the ocean and which was the sky. It was all dark and silent. The only noise that was made came from a white couple which was frolicking on the sands, not very far from us. They were tickling each other and laughing. And the woman was scantily dressed.

"What if sand gets into her cunt?" Mr K asked, looking at me mischievously. The question turned out to be the leveller. We were now buddies. We sat on the sands till midnight, discussing, among other things, sex. As far as I remember, we discussed only sex. When sex is discussed over alcohol between two men, the bond that is created is so strong that they can happily lay down their lives for each other.

Mr K and I became inseparable after that night. Sex was often the subject of our discussions. Looking back, I can now see why. When a man is on the wrong side of forties and his love for alcohol overrides every other interest, talking or fantasising about sex becomes more pleasurable and practical than real sex. The mind is willing but the flesh is not capable enough. And in such a situation, if you have a partner who is still in her thirties or early forties, well, one doesn't know whether to sympathise with her or with you.

The two days at Pangkor flew. And long before, we were on the road to Malacca. Kuala Lumpur was vibrant, pulsating with high energy; Pangkor was peaceful; but it was Malacca town that I was looking forward to because of its historical significance (it was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO just last year).

We were put up in a first-class hotel called, if I remember it right, Equatorial. The balcony of my 12th-floor room gave a fantastic view of the sea. And the girl at the receptionist desk was one of the most beautiful I had seen in Malaysia, or perhaps anywhere else. Tall, dusky, sharp-nosed, with eyes that smiled with a hint of naughtiness: she was the ultimate my kind of woman. Spread out on the bed of my room, I kept recalling her face when the phone rang. It was Mr K. "Why don't you come to my room for a drink?" he asked.

Mildly sozzled, we went out for a walk on the streets of Malacca. It was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life, though it is somewhat blurred by time now. I remember walking on a road flanked by low-rise,old buildings and palm trees. The strong sea breeze gave off a whiff of history: but for the swanky cars parked by the pavement and the pulsating music emanating from the night clubs, this road could have belonged to the 16th century and Mr K and I could have been Portuguese soldiers out to have some fun after a hard day's work under the tropical sun.

We walked into a nightclub but moments later walked out. I wasn't sure about the rules. It is best to go to these place if you have a local for company. The fear of being fleeced was very much alive in me because only months before, I had been stripped of fifty pounds -- yes, fifty pounds -- at a so-called striptease joint in London. Now, fifty pounds is not a small sum: it is a substantial portion of an average Indian's salary. If I had got an eyeful, I wouldn't have lamented the loss of the money. But I didn't get to see even a cleavage.

That evening, I was strolling around Soho, a place I had fallen in love with during my stay in London. I had often walked past these so-called strip-tease joints, where women sought to entice you, "Five pounds, five pounds, sir, just five pounds, come, come, come." Till then, I had resisted my urge to go in and take a look, but that evening, I don't know what overcame me. I found myself stepping into one of the joints.

"How much?"

"Just five pounds, sir."

"You sure? No hidden charges?"

"Absolutely not sir," the slut said, pointing to a notice pasted on the wall. "Look there, you only have a buy a glass of beer. Another five pounds. But that's mandatory." Five plus five is ten: not a bad deal at all to see at least a couple of women take their clothes off. I was shown down the stairs that led to a dingy hall in the basement. I took a table and the beer arrived. I had barely taken a sip when the bill arrived as well: sixty pounds!

"Why sixty?" I asked the slut who brought the bill.

"That's the hostess charge, sir."

"But I don't have the money."

"In that case talk to the manager, sir. Please come this way."

The manager -- may she rot in hell -- pounced upon me. "Gentleman, this is a licenced club. If you don't pay, we will have to call the police."

"But I don't have the money."

"Give me your card," she thundered.

I gave her the visiting card of my newspaper.

"No, not this card! I want your credit card."

"But I don't have a credit card."

"Damn! Show me you wallet."

Fortunately or unfortunately, I was carrying only fifty pounds that night. The slut-in-chief took them all away. She pretended to be enraged and asked me to get out. When I walked up the stairs to freedom and once again smelt the invigorating air of Soho, I realised I hadn't spent even 10 minutes in that joint.

Stripped of all my money, I walked back to the hotel. I went to bed hungry. It was too late in the night to have a meal without parting with another twenty or thirty pounds, which I simply couldn't afford considering I had just spent fifty pounds for nothing!

The fears returned to me at the night club in Malacca. Maybe they were completely unfounded, but I did not want to take a chance. I was at the fag end of the tour and running short of cash. In any case, Mr K was not the sort who would have liked to dance. We walked back into the silence of the night and hailed a cab. We decided to go shopping to the Tesco mall -- till then, I hadn't seen a mall as huge as that.

Once there, I couldn't resist buying a couple of shirts. I also bought an economy pack of three briefs. I was down to my last 30 or 40 ringgits. At the checkout counter, I noticed stacks of various brands of condoms. I bought a couple of packs of the 'Madonna' brand, just for the heck it. I had no use for them, but still I bought them, only because this was foreign land and I didn't have to look over my shoulder while buying this symbol of sin. In India, a 10 gram pack of condom often weighs a 1,000 grams, thanks to the burden of embarrassment that accounts for the remaining 990 grams.

The next morning, while the rest of the gang was taken out on a sight-seeing tour of historical Malacca, Mr K persuaded me to go shopping with him. He needed to pick a few things for his family (we were to leave for Kuala Lumpur airport in a few hours). Once again, we were out on the streets, this time under broad daylight. We went to the nearest mall.

"Is there a sex shop around?" he asked a security guard. The guard pointed to a shop. It was indeed a sex shop. The female attendant, who was clearly not used to having customers that early in the morning, treated us like privileged customers.

"Yes, sir?"

"Well, I am looking for a sex toy. You know sex toy?" Mr K said, seeking to explain his need by holding an invisible object between his thumb and index finger. I pretended to be invisible.

"There, sir," the attendant said, pointing to the shelf. Mr K carefully examined the dildos showcased. Half of them were too small for him, and the remaining half too big. "I want this size," he kept telling the attendant, showing the space between his outstretched index finger and thumb.

"No sir," the attendant said, "as you can see, we don't have anything of that size. I am so sorry."

"Is there any other sex shop in this area?" Mr K asked. The attendant smiled and gave him directions. As we walked in that direction, Mr K apologised to me: "I am sorry I asked you to come with me. I know you are getting bored. But what to do, this friend of mine has asked me to get a sex toy. It's for his wife."

At shop no. 2, Mr K faced the same problem: most of the dildos turned out to be too big. There was a small one though, but far too small for his liking. "Don't you have something of this size," he said again, indicating the space between his stretched out thumb and forefinger. "No, sir, I am sorry," the attendant, this time a male, said.

At shop no. 3, the only dildo available was so big that Mr K didn't even consider holding it in his hands. And that's when I realised who he was dildo-shopping for actually. If it was really for a friend or friend's wife, he wouldn't have been so finicky about the size. For him, every milimetre seemed to matter as he went around rejecting the dildos.

I was now on the verge of losing my cool with Mr K: we had only an hour before leaving for the airport, and here he was, trying to find the perfect dildo and pretending that it was for a friend. I finally told him: "I think I will get going. I will see you at the hotel." He was visibly upset. "Fine, you go ahead," he said, before proceeding to ask a passerby, "Excuse me, is there a sex shop around?"

I didn't wait to see the passerby's reaction. I walked back to the hotel, taking long strides. One group of journalists was already at the lobby, waiting to check out. I next met Mr K at the airport. His face was shining with happiness. Had he finally found the dildo of the right size? I did not want to ask.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Day I Become A Spiritual Guru

At times I miss my writing days when every Tuesday night, I would sit in front of the computer to write my 650-word column called Sunday Spin. Most nights, I would be clueless what I was going to write about. But something had to be written, for the deadline was Wednesday morning. As I would sit staring at the blank screen, an unseen force would hold me by the finger take me for a walk into a wood full of ideas -- some ripening, some half-baked, some ripe but not to my taste, some still sprouting. Depending on my mood that evening, I would pluck one and get back to the keyboard.

Something similar happens when I sit down to blog. There are times when I have a thought which I feel strongly about, but I feel too lazy to articulate it: it can be tiresome to build a beginning and a middle and an ending for an idea that can be expressed in just two sentences. And then there are times when my mind is fresh and the flesh willing to write 2,000 words, but I have no clue what to write about. You think, think and think. Finally, an idea arrives, but along with it comes floating the faces of people who you know are going to read it. The moment you notice a hint of disapproval on those faces, as if they were saying "Oh, how boring!", you abandon the idea and pour yourself another drink and go to sleep.

Anyway, thanks for putting up with the previous two paras. I was only clearing my throat, so that I could decide what to write about -- it is a pleasant night and I got home early and I have half-a-bottle of Scotch waiting to be finished and it would be sin not to write. And now I know what to write about.

Last evening, I happened to have dinner with a small, warm, sophisticated set of people. Their faces glowed with material prosperity and inner happiness. Needless to say, it was sheer joy to be with them. These people, after all, knew the Art of Living. The conversation was dominated by a young, cheerful doctor hailing from Punjab, who began every second sentence of hers with the words, "You know what Guruji says..."

She was brimming with wisdom and happiness, but there was only one thing in life that she was not really kicked about -- her stay in Chennai. Somehow, she never got around to liking the city and its people even after living here for five years. I, a resident for nearly nine years now, tried to reason with her. I told her that there were things about the city which even I didn't like, but on the whole the city has been very kind to me. But she had made up her mind. "I am just about tolerating it because I know my stars are bad at the moment," she laughed. Before I could pin her down, she had already started off, "You know what Guruji says..."

Her devotion was admirable, considering that she never, for once, forgot her Guru's words even at the dining table, where there was so much else being discussed. As I sat there, twisting my fork in a small heap of noodles and listening to her, I could feel myself being gripped by a new ambition. Of becoming a new-age guru. It was a realistic ambition, I realised. Not something like becoming the Prime Minister of India. I am 38, and the next four-five years I could devote to learning the Gita and the Bible and the Koran and the Vedas by heart. I would persevere till I reach a point when shlokas sprout of my mouth every time I exhale. And then I would design a dress for myself -- slim-fit saffron T-shirt and blue denims. Why can't a guru have a sculpted body and why can't he wear jeans -- if his target audience is the gym-going, jeans-wearing variety?

For that matter, why can't a guru smoke or drink -- although in a strictly controlled manner? Why should a guru always ask one to give up? Isn't giving up like forcing yourself to run away from something you desire? For someone who smokes 20 cigarettes a day, the real test of will power would be to stick to just, say, two cigarettes a day. Giving up means giving up, which means surrender, which means defeat. Victory is when you crack a whip on your habit without completely denying yourself from its pleasures.

So my followers would have to strictly adhere to the two cigarettes-one drink rule. The rule will be broken only once a year, on Shivaratri, when they can drink and smoke all night and dance to the chants of Shiva. The idea is to let them have fun: when being the resident of an ashram or gurudom becomes akin to serving life sentence, the guru's teachings wear themselves out to be mere slogans and you rarely end up implementing them in your life. So what will my teachings be? I will come to that later. My mind has suddenly gone back to last night's dinner.

So there was this doctor, as I was saying, the really cheerful soul who never forgot her Guru's words even for a moment. At one point, though I don't quite recall what was the subject being discussed, she suddenly interrupted the discussion, "You know what Guruji says? Guruji says tolerance is not a virtue. Because when you tolerate something, you are merely keeping quiet and seething from within. Instead of tolerating, you should love. That's what Guruji said."

In that case, why was she merely tolerating Chennai and not loving it?

Now, that's the problem when you hang on to the literal meaning of your guru's words. You fail to imbibe the real sense. In order to imbibe the wisdom of your guru, you need to be wise enough too. A fool going to a guru is as good as a dog going to the theatre. That's precisely why you see a lot of rich people feeding the poor: their only purpose is to get richer. They want God to take notice of their act of kindness and bestow them with more wealth. But that solves the purpose of the benevolent guru who is concerned about a bunch of people who would have otherwise gone hungry.

It is a different matter that these rich people often end up feeding the wrong kind of poor: people who don't want to move their ass and line up in front of temples to get free meals. If they really want to earn good karma, all they need to do is find out which of their staff is most needy and hike their salaries or give them a bonus. The really needy is often the one who is rich in self-respect and never lets it be known that he or she is in dire straits.

If I were to become a guru, which I intend to someday (the saffron T-shirt-blue jeans variety), I would not give my followers advice which I know run the risk of being taken only on face value. The list of millionaires who have sought refuge in the feet of some guru or the other is so long that you can no longer count them on your fingers, but how many have given up their wealth to the poor and retired to the Himalayas? On the contrary, they are using their new-found 'spiritual power' to devise strategies to multiply their wealth. What a sham.

My 10 commandments, as a spiritual guru, would be as follows:

1. Accept that death is inevitable: anybody who has been born has to die one day. The only question is when. Once you make peace with the 'when' factor, you have beaten death as well as the gloom that comes with it. Treat death like a girlfriend who just happened to knock at your door an hour before she was expected. Would you turn her away? No. You are most likely to say: "Oh, that's early! Am still in my pajamas. Anyway, now that you have come, please come in."

2. Maintain you mental equilibrium at all times: treat sorrow just like you treat joy, and nothing in this world will ever shake you. You will become invincible. The sages have said the same thing since time immemorial, but you never listened to them because you thought sages are old men completely out of touch with reality. Therefore, I have been born to reiterate that point to you -- and you better listen to me.

3. Be kind to fellow humans, no matter who they are. You will need the kindness back.

4. Help the needy. Now, don't rush to the nearest traffic junction and hand out your hard-earned cash to those buggers, I mean beggars. That way, you will only be contributing to the fortunes of a cartel that needs to be put in front of a firing squad. Instead, hike the salary of your maid or driver by Rs 500. What does Rs 500 mean to you when you spend Rs 2,000 for dinner in a decent restaurant? But the hike you give your employees will make a huge difference to their lives.

5. Never do a good deed for selfish motives, such as earning people's blessings, earning God's kindness, etc. Instead, think of the smiles that your gesture will bring on the faces of that needy family.

6. Don't be angry with people or ridicule them. They must be acting under circumstances which you could be in tomorrow.

7. Respect women.

8. Never have sex with them just because you know they cannot afford to say no to you. That's a crime. Earn the 'yes', if you have to.

9. Respect the elderly. Never laugh at them or ignore them thinking they belong to the past. Remember, it is just a matter of time before you too become old. You are a fool if you believe you will stay young and dashing forever. Such people do not deserve to become my disciples.

10. Don't give up vices, but control them. Giving up is altering your own self. Certain activities become vices only because they begin to control you. Why don't you control them instead? That would be true victory.

So there I am, already a new-age guru. Minus the saffron T-shirt and a committed band of followers -- at least for now.

Thursday, July 02, 2009


Sitting on my desk right now is Chronicles, the autobiography of songwriter-singer Bob Dylan. I purchased it online and it arrived this afternoon, but it looks like I will have to wait till Saturday, my day off, to start reading it. To tell you the truth, I know who Bob Dylan is, but I have never heard him or his lyrics. I know some of you are laughing at me, but what to do, I grew up in Kanpur, where one never dug deeper than ABBA or Boney M.

But there was one occasion, a few years ago, when I've had a brush with Bob Dylan, in flesh and blood. Yes, in flesh and blood. I had a dear friend, with whom my friendship was more than just platonic (actually, there is no other way). And during an afternoon together, I discovered that she had a name for each of her breasts. One was christened Bob, and the other Dylan. Needless to say, I more than made up for my ignorance about Bob Dylan.

But that episode has nothing to do with my ordering Dylan's autobiography. The other day, I saw the book with a colleague, and happened to read the first few paragraphs. I instantly liked it and decided to possess it. That's one thing am proud of and can boast of. You will never find me asking, "Can I borrow this book, please? Shall return it to you in a week's time?"

If I like a book, I would rather possess it. So I logged on and ordered the book. And yes, that's how I decide if a book is worth possessing (and perhaps reading): by going through the first few paras. If they make me turn the first two pages out of curiosity, then that's my kind of book. Lolita is a brilliant example of that kind of writing.

It is always fun -- and also enlightening and inspiring -- to read autobiographies. Because they tell you how the famous person you are reading about was, once upon a time, no better than what you are today or were till yesterday. He or she is just as human as you, only that he or she had the doggedness and determination to make it big enough to be able to write a salable autobiography.

In fact, I spend a lot of time at the biography/autobiography section of bookshops, hoping to latch on to the life story of someone I admire. For long I had been wanting to buy Timebends, the autobiog of Arthur Miller, the celebrated playwright who was also the husband on Marylin Monroe. I had been looking for it ever since I read The Plain Girl, a slender gem of a book. But the bookshops never had. Not even after he died a couple of years ago.

Finally, I went to Amazon and ordered the book, which turned out to be a disappointment because it lacked the energy of the novella I fell for. When I read a book, I read it more for the craft than the content, and the autobiography did nothing to boost my admiration for Arthur Miller, the writer, and not the playwright.

When it comes to personal writing, Henry Miller is what I would want to be. While Arthur was feted as a talented playwright, Henry was treated as an outcaste in his own country, the US, which had a ban imposed on his books until the 1960s. But once the ban was lifted, Henry Miller more than made up for the lost years. He became an icon.

It is easy to sneer at Henry Miller for the explicit content in his works, but it is so difficult to be him. Merely injecting words like 'fuck', 'cunt' or 'prick' in your book or making it overtly sexually explicit does not make you a Henry Miller. In order to be a Henry Miller, you need to have balls, not just a prick alone. And the balls are never going to be strong enough if life has been too easy -- when you have never had to worry about when or where the next meal is going to come from. It is the uncertainty of the next meal that makes your balls and brains knock-proof enough to be able to dish out delectable prose.

So I would tamely settle for Dom Moraes' My Son's Father. If at all I ever feel important enough to work on my autobiography, his book would serve as the template: it wouldn't quite drill a hole into your heart, but it would at least caress you gently with the edge of a knife and keep you going till the last page.