Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Lost Post

A short, impulsive trip to Kerala has materialised into fond memories, a mild fever thanks to the freezing cold in the train, and a few CDs of Salil Chowdhury's music. The memories and the music are trying to overpower the fever and the aches as I write this.
I don't know what is it about Kerala that draws me there every now and then. In the past five years, I must have spent more number of days in the state than many of my Malayali colleagues have on their visits home. If I had my way, I would spend my retirement there, perhaps in a single-storeyed house in Alwaye or a cottage in Wayanad...
That's how I began a new post last night, and went on to write some thousand words -- on Kerala, Salil Chowdhury and, of course, myself -- before I lost the text while trying to format it. The first two paras could be retrieved because I had IM-ed them to a friend. The rest is gone. It was not meant to be published, I guess.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Bought the latest issue of National Geographic yesterday. The cover story, Love -- The Chemical Reaction, has plenty of food for thought. The online edition of the magazine gives only a gist of the story, so love specialists might have to buy a copy. But I shall quote the blurbs, which should suffice for the lay lover:

Love and obsessive-compulsive disorder have a similar chemical profile. Translation: Love and mental illness may be difficult to tell apart. Translation: Don't be a fool. Stay away.

Studies around the world confirm that passion usually ends. No wonder some cultures think selecting a lifelong mate based of something so fleeting is folly.

Novelty triggers dopamine in the brain, which stimulates feelings of attraction. So riding a roller coaster on a first date is more likely to lead to second and third dates.

If dopamine induces romance, according to the article, a hormone called oxytocin leads to long-term attachment. So if you are looking for a lasting relationship/happiness, you need plenty of oxytocin. And if you run out of it, there are ways to produce it. Here's how, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher: "Massage. Make love. These things trigger oxytocin and thus make you feel much closer to your partner."

My conclusion: if you seek a permanent place in your partner's heart, the route to take is through the genital. Give him/her good sex and the two of you will live happily for ever after.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Moving On

It seems to be the season of moving on. The season of consigning the present into a dustbin labelled 'past' and walking into the embrace of the future, the prospective, the would-be. Overnight the route that people had taken to reach their destination is being reworked: just like security agencies would rework a VIP's route in the event of a bomb threat. The idea is to prevent casualties in case of an explosion.
But it is not just the fear of explosion which makes two people part ways. Very often, it also happens when the promise of an explosion turns out to be a damp squib. Whatever it maybe, people break up. They move on. Someone moved on yesterday, someone else is moving on tonight, and tomorrow morning, a few more people will change the status of their lovers from 'is' to 'was'. It is the season of moving on.
The sad part is that the process of moving on always leaves behind a residue in the form of a broken heart. Only one heart. The other heart is intact, ready to be given away to someone else. The broken heart takes a while before it mends itself and hesitantly offers itself to someone hopefully more considerate. But the fear of breaking again always lurks.
Even sadder is the fact that only till the other day, the two hearts beat together. They knew it beat together because they felt it -- she, when resting her head on his chest while watching TV; he, when resting his head on her bosom while reading a book. "My back is hurting... after we get married, will you press my back every day?" "Yes my puppy." Or: "You know, after we get married, I'll make the dinner and you will make the breakfast. Lunch we will have out." "Ok, you cook the dinner, but I will help you. I will chop the vegetables."
Somewhere down the line, love gets chopped off. She has probably found someone who has told her: "Darling, you deserve a Thai massage. We will fly down to Bangkok every weekend." Or he has probably found someone who tells him: "No way my baby, you are a man, you are not going to cook. I will cook for you -- breakfast, lunch and dinner. Okay?"
But this change of heart does not happen simultaneously, and that is the saddest part about a break-up, about moving on. Because usually it is only one heart that wants to move on, the other clings on. It clings on till it has been kicked, trampled upon, spit at -- but it still clings on, hoping for a reversal in the change of heart. But it never happens, and people move on.
At times, it is the desperate willingess to be kicked at, trampled upon and spat at that quickens a break-up. Ask the other person to fuck off and chances are he and she will tamely come around, but then, it is only the brain that can be so manipulative and not the heart. The heart forces you to make last-ditch attempts -- to say all the right things, to cook all the right things, to buy him/her all the right things. But those right things, by now, irritate him/her. So people break up. And they move on.
But, like a coin, break-ups have their funny side too: him absent-mindedly calling her "Sweetie", the nickname for his old girlfriend, even though he calls the new one "Baby"; her calling him "Ashok" instead of "Vikaas" just when she is approaching orgasm.
The funnier part is the lines people give to their lovers while moving on. Some do it in a fit of rage, some break the news pleasantly over coffee, and some just stop communicating. In the end, the language they convey it in is the same: "Well, er, umm, well, you see, well, now how do I say it, but you see, it is just not working. It was good as long as it lasted. Come on, we have sweet memories of each other. But we need to move on."
Part of the lines which he or she dishes out while explaining the 'moving on' is also likely to be hired from the prospective lover. Where else can you draw courage to end a relationship that was supposed to have lasted your lifetime? What a sham! If I were someone watching all this from heaven, I would have warned the victim beforehand: "Dump him/her before you are subjected to those we-must-move-on lines."
But then, I am not up there. Am down here, as part of the people who break up and who move on. And from here, that is Loveland, you witness the funniest. I know someone who unceremoniously dumped his long-standing but subsequently long-distance girlfriend, telling her, "I still love you, and you know that. But you know what, things aren't the same. You are no longer the same when I first knew you, and you know that. So why can't we move on and just be friends."
He had the courage to say this because he was hoping to run into the embrace of a new woman who he thought to be the true love of his life. They went around for some time before the so-called true love decided to run off to a long, long distance. And before crossing the ocean, she gave him almost the same lines he had given to his old flame, but in a refined manner: "... It is up to us to see the best in people and make our way. Some affect us positively and some not. But when we see something that beguiles/delights us, I think we push ourselves a little more. See the world thru brighter colors maybe or at least cherish the moments we share with them. As all things pass, so do people. They too move on and so do we."
Someone, certainly, is up there. And I am glad He is there.
But no matter who causes it or what causes it, 'moving on' is a painful process. If I were in charge of affairs (pun intended), I would declare it as a medical emergency which requires general anaesthesia. When you are put to sleep, you are with someone, and when you wake up, you are with someone else. You are spared the pain of the transformation.
There are, however, certain relationships which are beyond 'moving on'. Simple because those relationships are forged only after the people concerned have 'moved on' several times in their lives before bumping into a kindred spirit. And that's a relationship I raise a toast to. For there are no complicated lines to give here. A simple one would do: "You and me. Me and you. By the Ganges. Forever." Bliss.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Child

At the supermarket
a child tugged at my trouser
thinking I was the father

First nervous, then it smiled
I knelt, patted the cheek
and no longer it was meek

It explored my pocket
and played with my pen
with all its fingers ten

Then the mother yelled
"Sammy! Where are you?
Here I am looking for you!"

The child changed hands
angelic eyes fixed on me
as I sat there on my knee

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Ghost Catches Up, And Now It is Mine

Skip this if you are not into the Hindi music of the 1970's/80's. There is nothing for you here, and you can save yourself the trouble of leaving that obligatory comment, "Nice post." But if you are one of those who believes that music binds our past to the present and makes the two inseparable, you may read on. It won't take you more than five minutes.

I am cautioning you because this is a post I am writing solely for myself, just to express -- and overcome -- the joy that has gripped me for the past three days. And when you suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, even the silliest of reasons can numb your senses with so much joy that you find yourself unable to write. Silly because it was as simple as finding a CD and a particular song in it; numb because of the song's anaesthetic effect. When I woke up from the numbness this evening, I realised this is my the most favourite song, surpassing everything else I have heard in my lifetime.

Flashback. 1981. A house in my neighbourhood displayed a poster for the film that would be running in the nearby theatre. Walking back from school, every Wednesday, we would notice the next-change. One of the posters I hazily remember. It showed Rekha holding a little lamb. The title of the film was Mangalsutra. For the next seven days we saw the same poster. The reviews were coming from classmates. I remember one of them saying, "Beta! Yeh daraavni picture hai (Boy, this is a horror film)!" A few weeks later, one of its songs came on Chitrahaar.

Chitrahaar, and not cricket, was the religion those days. Because there was no live cricket then, only highlights. And India was yet to win the World Cup. So Chitrahaar ruled. For the benefit of those who don't understand, I must explain what Chitrahaar is, or was (do they still show it?). It was an assortment of film songs shown on Doordarshan every Thursday evening. Homeworks were set aside during that half an hour, and the ultimate punishment for not studying was not to be allowed to watch Chitrahaar. On Holi they showed Holi songs, on Raksha Bandhan they showed bhai-behen songs, on Christmas they showed 'Christian' songs -- even a Christian wedding would do. One staple Christmas song was Sanjeev Kumar singing for his sweetheart on the occasion of the wedding of his Christian friend, "Manchahi ladki agar koi mil jaye, apna bhi iss saal shaadi ka iraada hai (If I find a girl of my liking, I also plan to get married this year)."

So one Thursday the Mangalsutra song came on. It was a suhaag-raat (first-night) song -- something obvious to even a 11-year-old then. Rekha was coyly romancing her new husband, the hero, who I did not like because he was not Amitabh Bachchan or Jeetendra or Dharmendra. He was a new face, who did not look like the traditional Hindi film hero. But there was something unusual about the song: the mukhdas were followed by a puchhh! -- the sound of the peck they planted on each other's cheeks. That was not the only reason why I registered the song: the tune was soft and catchy too. So Chand banoon main, raat bano tum was registered in my mental record book and left forgotten to gather dust. I never thought of the song again. Not even for once.

Twenty-five years later. 2006. I am on a Bhupinder trip. The beauty of Aawaz Di Hai Aak Ek Nazar Ne (Aitbaar) had made me discover the silkiness of his voice. In this song, Bhupinder, along with Asha Bhosle, casts a spell -- an expression misused so often that it has become a cliche. Aawaz Di Hai aroused the investigator in me and I began hunting for more of Bhupinder -- his rare stuff. In the process, I stumbled upon the dust-laden file in my mental record room. The Mangalsutra song came back in a flash, Chand banoon main aur raat bano tum.

I instantly google-searched. The song actually turned out to be Raat banoon main aur chaand bano tum (Let me be the night and you be the moon). Bhupinder and Asha Bhosle. Music: R.D. Burman. Lyrics: Nida Fazli. The hero, who I hadn't liked then, turned out to be Anant Nag, who I like now. But. Where do I find the song? Google didn't help here. It wasn't there on raaga.com, smashits.com or musicindiaonline.com. Google did throw a result which showed what looked like the cover of a LP record. The name of the record company I hadn't heard of: INRECO. And nowhere it seemed to say how I could get hold of it.

The more the song proved to be elusive, the more determined, rather obsessive, I got about listening to it. Last Sunday, I scanned Music World and Landmark for a VCD of Mangalsutra. No luck. I went to the music section of Landmark, looked for movies under the alphabet 'M'. No luck. Scanned every R.D. Burman and Bhupinder and Asha Bhosle. No luck. Fuck! I went through the compilations. Just in case. My eyes fell on a familiar CD cover. INRECO!

Who says perseverance does not pay off? But in this case, I think it was also the obsession. It had reached such heights that RD's ghost took pity on me and quietly placed the CD there before I began searching further.

Raat banoon main aur chand bano tum
deep banoon main aur jyot bano tum
kuchh na sunoon main kuchh na kahon tum
aao baahoon mein aao...(Puchhh!)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Road To Literary Awareness

You are what you read. You might have all the thoughts, the ideas and the imagination. But none of these are going to crystallise and shape your mind unless you watch, up close, how the crystallisation takes place. You have to watch the masters at work. It is a different matter that you will never quite master the art of crystallising because it is a never-ending, life-long process. But watching them will make you richer, nevertheless.

That way, my literary journey is that of rags to, well, not riches yet, but certainly middle-class. I grew up believing that Khushwant Singh is the greatest living writer. A collection of his writings was the first book I ever bought. To tell you the truth, the first books I ever bought were the improve-your-will power, improve-your-word power types. Mr K Singh came a little later.

But once I discovered him, I was gripped: a Sardarji who could laugh at himself, who wrote the way one talks, whose writing was so easy to understand. And so much masala in his stuff: the women with their breasts and bottoms, the sex, the gossip, the private side of the rich and the famous. The book, if I recall it right, was called Not A Nice Man To Know.

The second book I bought, courtesy a review I read in India Today, was Dom Moraes' Never At Home. It led me to his My Son's Father, which is perhaps the best of his prose. (I got the two books signed by him when came to Chennai shortly before his death). Suddenly Dom was my hero: nobody could be better than him. Then Naipaul came into my life, through An Area Of Darkness. I was quick enough to buy A Wounded Civilisation. Another hero added to my gallery. Shamelessly I discarded Khushwant Singh -- perhaps the only Indian writer who has more words written about him than he has himself churned out. Bit of an exaggeration that, but you know what I mean. His prose, as I rediscovered, was written with a mix of everyday Punjabi and Hindi, albeit in Roman letters. Fun to read, but nothing to imbibe if you are looking for the craft. And it was the craft I was looking for then, because I aspired to be a writer. And I also strongly believed that if books are to be bought, they should only be non-fiction. Fiction, according to me then, was false, where the writer was just taking you for a ride.

Ironically, it was Khushwant Singh who got me hooked into fiction. I read Train to Pakistan, and reread it. Then I happened to pick up Salman Rushdie's East, West. So far, I was in awe of writers, East, West made me jealous. My road to literary awareness had suddenly found a bylane. Graham Greene, George Orwell, Maugham... they all had put up stall on that lane.

Another bylane opened up after I read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. And yet another with Salinger, who directed me to a big road in the company of Jack Kerouac. From there I branched off to travel-writing: Naipaul again, Dalrymple, Bill Bryson (how does he manage to write like that?!)...

That's how it all began. Today, there are plenty of lanes and bylanes still to be discovered, but I at least know where they are, and I have the choice whether to go there or not. What matters is I am finally on the road. Where the journey eventually takes me, I do not know yet.

P.S. If you are wondering why I wrote this, I will explain. Today is a holiday and this morning I was scanning my shelf to pick something I hadn't read in a while. That's when these thoughts came to my mind. And these days when stray thoughts come, I instinctively... well, you do that too, don't you?

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Sort Of Life

Exactly five years ago, on this day, on a foggy night, I boarded the Tamil Nadu Express in Delhi, clueless about what lay ahead of me. All I knew was my destination: Chennai. I did not know a soul there and the only address I had was that of my new office.

In the train I tried visualing my life in the city. Food was the easiest to visualise: images of idlis sprang up instantly. I tried visualing my would-be colleagues. Nothing concrete came to my mind: they ended up looking like the people who were travelling with me. When I thought about a house, I could only imagine a window opening to a coconut tree. When I visualised about sex, I could see Silk Smitha biting her lips and beckoning me.

Today, it is five years in Chennai. Five years in the office. Five years in this house. Lucky me. Five years is a long time for luck to sustain itself in one go, and time is approaching when luck will tell me: "Now you take over. I'll come back later." Sure Lady Luck, I will take care of myself when you go, but do come back soon. I cannot wait to have you back in my arms.

I cannot decide whose embrace has been more delightful: Chennai's or Lady Luck's. But in these five years, both have given me enough material to write my own version of Henry Miller's 'rosy crucifixion' trilogy, Sexus, Nexus and Plexus. 'Rosy crucifixion' was the death, at age 33, of one Henry Miller and the ressurection of another.

I can identify with him in the sense that the man who took the train five years ago died the moment it arrived in Chennai. All his friends died too: they are today mere 10-digit numbers in the mobile phone directory. The man who walked out of the station was a stranger to the world -- homeless, friendless -- and waiting for his canvas to be peopled. And then the people came. Some left. Some remained. Some more came. Some more coming.

I just shut my eyes to took a quick mental trip down those five years, looking for people who have mattered to me the most -- people who sustained me, shaped me, tolerated me. A strange coincidence: the names of most people whose faces shone in the dark alley begin with 'S'. I can't help listing them here, in the order of their appearance in my life.

S, the Solid. Friend from day one. Remains a friend and will continue to remain so. We call each other 'buffoon'.

S, the Master. Excels in the art of editing and the art of drinking. Spend too many evenings with him and you will need to learn the art of living.

S, the Rabbit. My support system for a long, long time. Went away suddenly one day, I don't know why. Never told me why. I feel sad.

S, the Virgin. Never said 'I love you', but loved each other in our own ways. A short but memorable relationship. Now happily married.

S, the Naughty. Taught me the art of kissing. She thought I did not know how to kiss. Maybe I did not.

S, the Boss. Grace, beauty and kindness personified. My confession box. My truest friend. Makes life obstacle-free.

S, the Goddess. Gave me many sleepless nights. A good friend now.

S, the Glam. Known each other for three years but seems thirty. Walks in and out of my life, but is never out of my thoughts. Not even for a moment.

S, the Obsession. My biggest weakness. Loves music. Loves books. Loves writing. Loves stationery. Loves pens. If only she loved me!

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Sanity, I think, is the line that divides passion and obsession. Passion can lead to creation, but obsession usually leads to destruction. Fortunately, obsession has the tendency to destroy itself before it becomes dangerous enough to destroy the obsessor.

But then, the human mind isn't a thing to be analysed in such a scientific manner. In fact, science does not even recognise the existence of the mind. But if you, for a moment, consider that mind was made up of matter, then, in that, case, a non-thinking mind would conform more to scientific analysis than a thinking mind. Come to think of it, a non-thinking mind is nothing but matter. Like a vegetable.

A woman, while in college, falls madly in love with a classmate. She is so obsessed with him that she pierces a needle into her wrist and writes his name in her blood. The very thought of his absence makes her lose her apetite, and his presence makes her want to jump up and touch the stars. Then one day her father discovers the affair. One scolding and two slaps from him and she returns to her senses. She tearily marries the man of her father's choice but once she is married, she lives happily ever after. The boyfriend becomes an 'ex-lover', someone to be avoided like plague. In other words, the obsession destroyed itself before destroying the girl's 'future' -- something science and the society would agree upon.

Now take the case of a woman who is capable of thinking and whose father is in total contrast to the evil dads you see in Bollywood movies. Since this woman has a mind that thinks, she manages to juggle effectively between her studies and her love. And then one day, the love leaves her. And since she has a mind that thinks, she does not take the extreme step of plunging a needle into her veins and writing his name in her blood, but her obsession is no less. In fact it is worse, though it escapes the attention of the society and also her father: she lights up the remnants of the cigarettes stubbed out by him and smokes them just to get the 'feel' of him, she pulls the T-shirt left behind by him over her breasts again and again just to get the 'feel' of him, she makes it a point to read the books he read, she makes it a point to remember the lines he mouthed, she clings to the lyrics of the songs he liked.

The next indicator of the obsession is her wanting to hear bad things about the lover. If you tell her, "Oh, that fellow! He is a sunnovabitch. A cruel bastard," she will immediately agree: "Yes, yes, that is why he is out of my life." But don't believe her. She, in effect, means: "He is still not out of my life, even though I have made peace with his absence." In any case, Freud has said that the more you express your hatred for someone, it only means you want his or her attention.

At the end of the day, such a woman is left with a lasting sense of longing. Nothing can ever compensate for the absence of the man she had wanted to possess but could not. I do not know why I wrote this. Maybe I know. Maybe she knows too.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


Clocks and calendars can give you the time and date, but what marks the passage of time? Many things you can think of -- such as the grey spot on your chin, a few more greys on your sideburns, the tyre around your waist. But the most defining markers, according to me, are children. And this struck me this evening, when I was out drinking with a colleague in one of the dirty bars (will write about them in a subsequent post) that are attached to Chennai's booze shops.
I have a strange relationship with this colleague. When we are sober, we make minimum and polite conversation. But once we have downed two drinks, we are like long-lost brothers. I have occasionally been the recipient of drink-induced, affectionate kisses from him. But this evening we were stark sober when we pulled the plastic stools closer to the rickety table and ordered our drinks. The drinks were on him this evening because he was happy for some reason -- a reason which would not find any relevance here. In any case, he is always a great host. Just the other day, he had invited the entire department for his son's first birthday party. On the menu was both: mutton biryani and chicken biryani. Even a fussy meat-eater like me had hogged.
So there we were, sitting at the rickety table and waiting for our drinks. Time for small talk. He started.
"You know, today very tiring day, pa! I slept at five in the morning, and then I had to go to the school for the parent-teacher meeting. Stupid thing!"
"School?" I asked, "is your son going to school?"
"Yeah man... He is terrrible pain!"
"How old is your son?"
"He is four now."
Four years! That shook me. I was still imagining the boy to be a toddler. I mean it was just the other day we went for his first birthday party. Which means three years have passed. Three whole years without even my realising it! Maybe I had realised it through my own devices, but presently the passage of time was striking me like a hammer.
"But when was that birthday party?" I asked, unable to hide my bewilderment.
"That was 2003. Eh, what man, you don't remember?" Today the son is four. Which means three years have been added to the age of everyone who had attended that birthday party. I was 32 then, now 35. The colleague was 29 then, now 32.
Come to think of it, that's how we measure our ages once a child is born. In any case, once the child arrives, your forget everything else, even your year of birth. From then on, the calculation takes place like this: If my son is 12, then I must be 32. If my daughter is 20, I must be 45. If my son is 30, I must be 50. And so on.
And a child's arrival changes the dynamics of human existence in other ways too. A 32-year-old man becomes a 32-year-old father. And a 25-year-old woman becomes simply a mother. And a 50-year-old woman, whose yoga abs might make even a 15-year-old jealous, becomes, in one stroke, a grandmother.
In short, your children are the ones who eventually make you realise that you are ageing -- a fact no one, quite paradoxically, is ever willing to accept. Should one, then, have kids, or should one not? I really do not have an answer to that. Maybe you, the reader of this post, has an answer.
Personally, I love kids. I adore them. And I get along supremely well with anyone below the age of 10. But then, I would hate to be the father of a 10-year-old, even though it would have been biologically possible to be so had I married at the age of 25. Without a wife and a child, I am today 25 at the age of 35. And I have inspiration to be childless at 35: V.S. Naipaul, one of my favourite writers, chose not to have a child because he thought it would interfere with his writing. He took the decision after he saw, during a literary trip, Graham Greene losing it after receiving a telegram from home which said that his son was not keeping well.
In other words, no child, no tension. And no child, no ageing. No one is there to mark your age, rather your progressing age. But is that what you really want? As in no one to tell you how old are you, and that whether you have become a father or a grandfather? I do not know. But I think such reminders are also necessary so that you behave your age and not act like a 25-year-old at 45.
But then, when have die-hard romantics recognised age? Or age barriers, for that matter?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Piece Of The Moon

New look, first post. And it would be wise to begin with a resolution: no more cribbing. I have cribbed in the recent past -- about the rains, about loneliness, about mysterious seductresses tickling your mind but refusing to lift their veil.
The rains are gone in any case, and as for loneliness, it is just the way one chooses to think: one can be terribly lonely even in a crowd of hundred, and be joyous in the emptiness of a home. As for the veiled seductresses, well, they can keep the veil on. True, the veil adds to their seduction quotient, but they can't play the voyeur all the time, standing behind a tinted glass from where they can see what is going on inside the room, but the man inside cannot see who is on the other side.
So I removed the tinted glass from the window to let sunshine in. And since then, my online home looks like Sunil Dutt's dwelling in Padosan (the female neighbour). For the benefit of those who haven't seen the movie, Sunil Dutt and his buddies (who include Kishore Kumar, Mukri and Keshto Mukherjee) live on the first floor of a house which directly faces the balcony of the first floor across the street, occupied by Saira Bano. Their eyes meet across the street and they fall in love. Their love deepens when she hears Sunil Dutt sing, little realising that he was only doing the lip-sync whereas the songs were actually sung by buddy Kishore Kumar.
But in Hindi movies, once you fall in love with the hero, it is politically correct for that love to fructify. And it always takes a little while for that love to fructify, hence the three-hour long film. A depressing thought just occurred to me: apart from Saira Bano, all others you saw in Padosan are dead. Kishore Kumar was the first to go, then Keshto, then Mukri, then Mehmood, and finally, Sunil Dutt. R.D. Burman, who made the movie immortal with his music, is gone too. All so soon.
Anyway, the idea is not to be depressed. That's my resolution. On to sunshine seductresses. So there I am, shaving in the morning when the seductress yells out from the balcony across: "Hi there!" I peep out. She waves animatedly and shouts: "What you doing?" I point to the lather on my face. "Oh, shaving, carry on. Buzz me when you are done." Then, later in the morning, when I am adding songs to my playlist, another shout: "Hey, you there?! I thought I will say Hi before I go to work." I go to the window. She is standing in the balcony in her bathrobe, towelling her hair dry. Fullscale conversation begins.
"What khudoos? Don't want to pay me any attention, eh?" she asks, working the towel. Khudoos, in Bombay Hindi, means an irritable old man.
"I don't pay attention to ghaatis," I reply with a wink. A ghaati, in Marathi, means a woman who is not sophisticated. In other words, a bumpkin. In Delhi societies, such women are called behenjis.
"Aaila! You called me a ghaati?!" She throws the towel at me. The wet towel succumbs to gravity midway and falls on a passerby who growls, "What are you two upto?!" We run indoors and open our doors again in the evening.
We sit at the edge of our respective balconies and chat for hours, often till the sun rays actually begin to stream in through my window. Kishore Kumar is always there to playback for me, if the situation ever calls for a song, including the one which made Padosan famous, Mere saamne waali khidki mein ek chaand ka tukda rehta hai (There is a piece of moon living in the opposite window).
Chaand ka tukda. A piece of moon. Suddenly the song makes so much sense. It is so refreshing to see a glowing face after months of struggling to figure out mysterious faces behind a veil.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Old Thoughts, New Process

Looks matter. Especially when you have, at your disposal, the tools that can make something look the way you want it to look like. Hence the new look. Yes, you aren't reading anybody else's blog. It's me -- the guy who writes about women, sex and R.D. Burman.

Newspapers and magazines, when they don a new look, are obliged to explain to their readers why they are doing so. They just can't change their looks on whim. The eye of the reader, after all, is used to a certain format, which is the identity of the paper. The blog, however, is not and can never be a newspaper. For the sole reason that a blogger is not accountable or answerable to his audience. The readers can either take him or leave him.

But as a newspaperman I feel I should explain the new look. Had I been a software guy, I would have created a dream template. But I had no option but to choose from the dozen or so templates that are offered by Blogger. There were two problems here: one, the neighbour's template always looked better than mine; and two, I felt as if I was being forced to alter my thought process as per the requirements of the template.

The template you see now is called Minimalist. To me it means freedom -- less of me and my template, and more of my thoughts. And this freedom is only possible because of friends who suggested this template, friends who worked on it. My ignorance about codes only made me impatient with them while they worked, miles and miles away from me. I lost my cool, they lost their temper in return. To them: a big thank you and and a bigger sorry.

So welcome to my new-look blog. The Thought Process remains the same. Only that it has acquired more elbow space. Keep returning, then, for more on women, love, sex, Pancham and everything that touches your life and mine.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

An Inheritance Of Shambles

Name: Bharatiya Janata Party
USP: Party with a difference
Builder’s name: Lal Krishna Advani
Vote-catcher: Atal Behari Vajpayee
Spokesmen: Krishan Lal Sharma, K R Malkani
Muslim face: Sikandar Bakht
Highly respected leaders: Sundar Singh Bhandari, Kushabhau Thakre
Firebrand leaders: Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharati
Ideologue-in-chief: K N Govindacharya
Agenda No. 1: Construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya
Aim: To come to power.

That was 1995. Now let’s look at the party’s bio-data in 2005, in a laterally inverted form... Full story.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Burying The Bitch

Walking home one night
I spotted
a pair of shiny eyes
a puppy:
lost, looking lost
I brought it home

For two years
she shared the flat
1 o' clock lunch, 7 o' clock reunion
she shared my burdens
as we tried reading
each other's eyes

This morning
the bitch died
I buried her silently
now I am angry, without solace:
why did I get her home
in the first place?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Celebrating Pancham

Loving a musician like R.D. Burman in a city like Chennai, which has a music and rhythm of its own, can be a lonely exercise. I mean they have heard his music and all that, and they like it too, but there aren't many who seem to share your passion. Thank God the city has Baradwaj Rangan, whose understanding of RD's music is the same as mine, if not better. And now there is Neelima, known in Blogdom as Akruti, who is more of a rival than a friend: each of us seeks to gain the upper hand by springing a Pancham number that the other might not have heard of. So far, neither of us has won, but we keep sending each other song files anyway. Then there is R, who loves Pancham just the way I love him.

That way, life isn't bad. But today, January 4, is a bad day: in Hindi you would call it manhoos (inauspicious). Exactly 12 years ago, we got the news that RD, or Pancham, is dead. But every fan will tell you that he is still alive. In fact he is getting more alive every passing year. In that sense, this is a day to celebrate. And I am going to celebrate by taking break from work and running across the road to Musicworld to buy a couple of his albums. I know I wouldn't find a dream album, but I can at least dream up an album which has the best ten love songs composed ever by R.D. Burman. Best, according to me. Love, because that's me.

Here goes the list (listen to them sometime guys, you won't regret it):

1. Hum Tum Hum Do Raahi (Yeh To Kamaal Ho Gaya). It's a Kamal Hassan movie released in 1981. S P Balasubrahmanyan has weaved magic.
2. Jeene Ko To Jeete Hain Sabhi (Yeh Vaada Raha).
3. Mausam Pyaar Ka (Sitamgar).
4. Tu Mera Kya Laage (Oonche Log).
5. Aapki Aankhon Mein Kuchh (Ghar).
6. Roz Roz Aankhon Taley (Jeeva).
7. Ek Hi Khwaab (Kinaara).
8. Raat Banoon Main (Mangalsutra). Amazing song. Not popular, but a gem. Bhupinder and Asha.
9. Poochho Na Yaar Kya Hua (Zamaane Ko Dikhana Hai).
10. Jalpari (Saagar). The background music that plays when Rishi Kapoor, from behind the bushes, watches Dimple bathing. Must listen.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Throw The Publishers Into The Bin

I had always suspected that it happens.

Write a reasonably decent passage or a poem and show it to a friend and ask: "Do you think this is good enough to get published?" The reply is likely to be: "Nicely written and all, but you see..." If the friend likes to be blunt, the reply could be: "You call this a poem?!"

Now steal a passage from, say Henry Miller or Salinger, and show it to the same friend, saying you have written it. "Do you think this is good enough to get published?" The replies are likely to be more or less the same.

Now take another of your own pieces and show it to the same friend, saying: "Look, how beautifully Henry Miller writes! This passage is so awesome that I jotted it down, here..." The friend is likely to say: "Brilliant. Really awesome. If you write like this you will have publishers queueing up."

Today, my suspicion was confirmed after I saw the latest issue of London's Sunday Times, whose top story screamed: "Reject! Booker winners get tossed in the slush pile."

The paper recently sent out the opening chapter of V.S. Naipaul's 1971 Booker-winning In A Free State to 20 agents and publishers. Only the name of the author and the names of the principle characters were changed in the 'manuscript'.

But it only got rejection slips.

One agency apologised saying: "In order to take on a new author, several of us here would need to be extremely enthusiastic about both the content and writing style. I'm sorry to say we don't feel strongly about your work." The other replies were on the same lines.

Rejection slips poured in similarly for Stanley Middleton's Booker-winner Holiday, whose opening chapter was also submitted by the newspaper to the same set of publishers and agents.

To me, the scoop is of far more importance than the petty sting operations carried out by our TV channels from time to time. The channels only show men taking a few thousands rupees in bribe, which is commonplace in India. They never go for the big fish.

But when a book that has won the Booker gets rejected by publishers, what message do we get? That the publishers go only for big names even if they churn out trash? And that talented writers get trashed even if they turn out something that matches the calibre of a Booker winner?

If the judgment of seasoned publishers can be clouded, can you blame your literarily-illiterate (if there exists such a term) friend for finding your piece unworthy of publication?

But there is a ray of hope emerging from all this. Publishers in India are now going to be pretty careful, in case a newspaper or TV channel tries to pull off the same stunt here. In their eagerness to be fair and objective, they might even end up considering manuscripts that are average. So guys, I am going to try my luck.

Modern-Day Sahir?

This evening when I got back home, I thought of writing a post on R.D. Burman, since his death anniversary falls on January 4. Now I am no authority to write on him, but then, the blog gives you the opportunity to indulge in that sense of importance. But what new to write about RD, I thought. He has composed most of Bollywood's best songs till date. He has set to music the lyrics of Gulzar, of Javed Akhtar, of Majrooh, of Anand Bakshi, of Gulshan Bawra, of Yogesh, and so on. Then, for a moment, I wondered: has he ever composed the music for Sahir Ludhianvi's lyrics?

I thought hard, and the answer turned out to be 'no'. The senior Burman has, in Pyaasa at least, but not RD. Then I thought harder and the answer came like a flash, as if in reward for thinking so hard. There was a movie made in the 70's called Aa Gale Lag Jaa, starring Shashi Kapoor, Sharmila Tagore and Shatrughan Singha. Music: R.D. Burman. Lyrics: Sahir Ludhianvi. I, like many others of my generation, had seen the film only on Doordarshan: we had missed watching it in the theatres by 15 years.

No one but Sahir could have written the lyrics for a movie like this: the story of a skater who falls in love with a rich man's daughter. It's while skating they sing the famous Kishore-Lata song Waada karo nahin chhodogi tum mera saath (promise that you won't leave me ever). Then circumstances make them make love and they end up have a child. The rich man takes his daughter away, and Shashi Kapoor is left to tend to the child, who turns out to be lame. He is bitter about losing his love, but nevertheless is content seeing her in the child.

As the child grows up, Shashi Kapoor, in Kishore's voice, sings a heart-wrenching song for his disabled son, Ae mere bete, sun mere kehna, chahe dukh hoe, hanste hi rehna (O my son, listen to me, smile ever in sorrow). The film has another popular song, Tera mujhse hai pehle ka naata koi (I think we have an old bond). Only Sahir could have written these songs, the importance of which I did not realise during the Doordarshan days. But today I sat thinking, replaying these songs in my mind, and also the songs of Kabhie Kabhie, yet another testimony to Sahir's genius.

I was wondering how to translate such intensity into words when someone, suddenly, made it easy for me. As I sat staring at the blank page, wondering what to write, a message arrived -- a comment for one of my posts. The commentator turned out to be a fellow blogger. I clicked on his (I presume the gender to be 'his' because the blog profile does not specify anything) ID. His post -- his first and the only so far -- jolted me out of the mattress. I suddenly saw a modern-day version of Sahir -- the Sahir of Aa Gale Lag Jaa combined with the Sahir of Kabhie Kabhie. If you think I am being over-enthusiastic in my reaction, why don't you judge the post for yourself? Here it is.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Old Confessions, New Resolutions

When the clock struck 12 last night, I was wrestling with words in the silence of a deserted newsroom, trying to write a headline for the story about L K Advani's resignation as the BJP president. I knew the clock struck 12 because crackers began to burst outside. No hugs, no kisses, not even the mandatory drink: only two Cadbury's Eclairs handed out by an engineer who was thoughtful enough to have planned some kind of a symbolic celebration.

Eclairs can be addictive: you have one and you would want to have another. And another. Bad for your teeth, but good for your innocence, or whatever little of it is left inside you. So I went out looking for the engineer. Fortunately, he was there on the corridor. I extracted two more toffees and went to the balcony. Sparklers were lighting up the sky. Bikes could be heard zipping past. More crackers.

I got back home stark sober. The last time I had spent the New Year-eve in office was 11 years ago: a freshly-minted sub-editor dutifully doing his night-shift. Since then the coin went place to place, and I can barely recall a New Year morning when I could remember how I got home the previous night. But this year I was at work out of choice: I did not feel like celebrating. There was nothing compelling for me to put on the mandatory black and hit the dancing floor. At 25, you just need an excuse to drink and dance, but at 35, you need a reason. And the demise of 2005 was certainly not a reason to celebrate. What was wrong with the year that it had to go?

But go it must. And -- like Rajneesh said in one of his discourses, which I happened to read this morning -- one must never cling to the old. Just let it go. But the problem is with memories: they, unlike the years and the people, refuse to go away. And I am carrying a bagful of memories of 2005 into 2006.

For me, 2005 was a year of obsessions. Obsession with yoga, to begin with. The sun would be well past its noon position but I would still begin my day with 12 rounds of sun salutation, or surya namaskar. Google-search yoga poses: just to marvel at the ease with which they do it. Buy yoga books: again to marvel at the achievement of those poses. Today, apart from the lives of Kishore Kumar and R.D. Burman, yoga is another subject I can write on without the aid of any reference material. How much of a yogi that makes me, I do not know. Practice might make one perfect, but man is never perfect enough to practise what he preaches.

2005 also, miraculously, pushed some of the most beautiful minds to my doorstep. I say minds because because I have only seen their minds: they have refused to let me see anything else. But who cares, the minds are beautiful enough to make me want them to be beside me when I watch the sun of 2035 set. I don't think any of that will happen, but they have certainly shaped the course of my journey from here till 2035. When I will look back at them, I will look back with a deep sense of gratitude that one reserves for mysterious benefactors; and also with a sense of loss, because I would have wanted them to come along. That sense of loss would be similar to the one you experience when the pet dog or cat dies. Dogs and cats are not humans, so their deaths do not qualify for the wails and the chest-beating reserved for the demise of a human being. The owner of a pet must grieve silently, or else the world will think he is out of his mind.

Any journey must have a starting point. And the journey of a human being, since he is capable of thinking, has many starting points. At any given point, he has the choice of abandoning his old starting point and choose a new one. Victory is in sticking to a course for as long as possible. I have made resolutions in the past -- some were silently made, some were written down, but none adhered to, for the simple reason that I was never accountable to anyone. But today when I jot down my resolutions, I am committing myself to Blogdom and its inhabitants. The inhabitants need not care what resolutions I make or whether I am sticking to them, and ideally, they should not care. But when something goes 'online', which is today's parlance is the equivalent of getting published, you are bound to be a little more careful about sticking to what you have said.

2005 was also the year when I bought more books than in any single year. Forty-six, to be precise. One of them was magician David Blaine's autobiography, Mysterious Stranger. A lot of people might dismiss Blaine as a man who does crazy things -- such as standing on a 90-feet pillar for 36 hours or getting self-imprisoned in an elevated glass cage for weeks -- for the sake of publicity. But I genuinely think the man is only seeking to prove what our yogis have proved centuries ago: the human mind is more powerful than anything else. And Blaine doesn't invent quotes like our New Age gurus: his book is peppered with the time-tested ones. Two of them which gripped my imagination:

"I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something he would die for, he isn't fit to live. -- Martin Luther King Jr.

"When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute -- and it's longer than an hour. That's relativity." -- Albert Einstein.

At the end of the book, Blaine's give his Dream Manifesto. And that would be my resolution for 2006:

- Never overindulge.
- Have few extravagances.
- Resist addictions.
- Respect all life.
- Remember that a mistake is a mistake only when you fail to learn from it.
- Accumulate knowledge. Listen. Read. Observe.
- Visit the ocean.
- Try to interact with all different types of people from all walks of life.
- Wonder and be amazed.
- Love and respect those close to you.
- Learn to love yourself.
- Pursue your dreams and goals with passion. Our potential to create is limitless.