Friday, February 16, 2007


From a yellowing printout I found in one of my books just now:

I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eights of it under water for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn't show.

-- Ernest Hemingway, 1958

Poverty And Hardship

If something stirs my heart more than sex, it is poverty. While sex shows its effect below the waist, poverty strikes me just below the forehead. No, I don't shed tears when I see children begging on a traffic signal. If I were the government, I would lock these children up along with their parents and throw the key into the sea. I don't shed tears when I see images of hunger-stricken people in villages: such images only arouse anger, against the government as well the people for allowing themselves to slip into such a situation.

But I find it difficult to contain tears when I see my watchman eat just plain rice, because he has no money to cook or buy sambhar or daal, and he is either too proud or embarrassed to ask for it. Or watching labourers building a house eating, during lunch break, rotis with just an onion. They would be grateful if someone put a few spoonfuls of vegetable curry on the dry roti, but they will never ask for it. Or at the plight of a 10-year-old boy, whose parents are dead and who is growing up in the house of a relative, living on whatever little they give him to eat and wearing the discarded clothes of his cousins. Yet, he has a smile on his face.

I have been fortunate, as many of us have been: there was a warm home and pampering parents. And how we took these for granted! -- the home became stifling when freedom of youth lured us, and parents became villains when they disapproved of girlfriends or boyfriends or did not give you the money for what they thought was extravagance.

But for every one of us who have a cosy childhood, there are 10 others who become pre-mature adults due to circumstances. A friend of mine, who runs a store in the heart of Chennai, had been desperately looking for a shop attendant. The other day, he found one -- a girl who is barely 18. Her father, the only earning member, recently lost his job, so she volunteered. At an age when she should be studying and hanging around in malls, she will be taking the train from the outskirts of Chennai to put in 8-10 hours of work. And rather cheerfully.

That's what makes me want to cry: not the poverty or desperation, but the honour with which one withstands or fights it. It is easy to be a beggar or a borrower in the face of poverty, but divine to make peace with it with head held high. "Doesn't matter if you eat only rice and salt, but never ever spread your palms before anyone," my grandfather, my mother's father, always told me. He had had a tough childhood: there were plenty of evenings when he would be hungry but the meals would depend on the whim of his stepmother. That is why he managed to save a lot of money.

My father's father, who I never met, was happy-go-lucky. He divided his time between teaching English and writing poetry. He also wrote two books, way back in the 1940's, and one of them -- I am told -- earned a letter of appreciation from Mahatma Gandhi. In one of my uncle's house, there is a framed four-column clipping of a newspaper that announced his death. But he had no money: his sons grew up in the households of his rich brothers and were left to chart their future on their own. Those sons didn't face poverty literally, but deprivation, yes. Yet they branched out successfully -- each going on to set up a home which didn't stink of deprivation. But -- as I look back -- the thought of what their childhood must have been makes me sad.

Why did I look back? The other day I was having a drink with a senior IAS officer posted in Chennai. We had a long chat -- as long as four drinks could inspire and permit. He told me his life story. As a small boy in Assam, he went to a small village school where there were only seven students. Four boys, three girls. The school was a hut, and the job of the boys was to collect cowdung, and the job of the girls to apply the dung on the mud ground to make it a floor (as has been the practice in rural India). Only then the classes began. That one of those boys crossed the length of India and came to Tamil Nadu as an IAS officer -- I don't know if it is the story of determination or destiny.

And then he told me about his father. One incident he narrated shall always remain embedded in my heart. The father, when he was young, was working in a city when, one morning, he got the news of his mother's death. Those days you didn't have trains running all the time: there was one in the morning and one in the evening. So he took the evening train. But there was a problem: the train didn't stop at his village. Circumstances, however, can give you extraordinary courage -- even it means jumping from a running train. And jump he did, at the cost of his life, to light the pyre of his mother.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy V-Day!

The day is dedicated to my loving wife, who I love more than she realises, and who spiritedly carries out even my share of responsibilities towards the marriage, allowing me to be the vagabond that I have always been.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Train

Man in the train:
"Trees are passing by
fields are passing by
rivers are passing by
hills are passing by
people are passing by"

Man under the tree:
"A train has just passed by"

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Oh God!

My friend Adithya, with who I spend endless hours discussing God and girls, now has a blog. Since he prides himself to be an atheist, the discussion about God is usually about His non-existence: he will take you right back to the Big Bang theory to prove there is no such thing as God.

Adithya is indeed a Big Bang guy. But he admits there is one downside of being a atheist. "There is no one to talk to when you're getting a great blowjob," he says. God, please find him an object to scream/moan to while he is at it.

That reminds me, why do people call out to God when they approach orgasm? Any guesses?

The Letter

I left Kanpur, my hometown, in August 1994, at the age of 23. I was selected as a probationary journalist by the Press Trust of India, or PTI, in Delhi. Stipend was Rs 4000 during the period of probation -- a handsome amount in pre-globalised India, and the job was supposed to be 'secure'. In fact, most people I knew at the time thought PTI was run by the government of India. "You don't have to look back now," my friends in Kanpur told me.

Today, looking back, I realise I have only been looking back. Even more so after shifting to Chennai from Delhi six years ago. It is a different matter that my friends are no longer there. Maybe they are there, but I don't know where. Perhaps I lost them to technology. For a very long time, I stayed in touch with them through the post. During my early years in Delhi, my routine would be like this: get back from work and -- since I had no functional kitchen; and take-away joints were unheard of -- pick up two apples and two bananas for dinner along with four Gold Flake kingsize cigarettes. I would have the fruits and then, with my fountain pen, write letters to my friends. The next morning I would drop the envelope(s) into the red letter-box.

And then I would get their letters -- some sent them to home and some to the office address. From the handwriting on the envelope, you knew who it was; and the tearing of the envelope gave you enough time to prepare your mind about what to expect.

For the past 13 years, I have been preserving most of those letters. They were all put into a red bag I had got from the Orissa stall during the trade fair in Pragati Maidan. Volatile girlfriends tore away quite a few of them, but the important ones survived, including those written by male friends. I chanced upon the bundle while I was clearing out my shelf 10 days ago before shifting to the new house.

I am inclined to quote from a letter written to me in March 1997, by a friend in Kanpur. He wrote the letter to me barely weeks after he got married. I am taking the liberty of quoting him because we are now so separated by time and space that I am certain he is not going to read this. The basic idea, however, is to highlight how innocent and simple life was ten years ago, when people took the pains to communicate rather than communicating for the sake of it just because their is Yahoo messenger or Googletalk or Orkut or, simply, the mobile phone.

My dear Ghosh,

... on my side, it is dull time now because S has gone home and I don't know where to find solace (don't suggest me for drinking cos she has asked me not to). Dear, it is for the first time I am so near to a girl, a real gem at that. Unlike all those chicks we used to see all around us, she is a great amalgamation of decenty, beauty and ignorance (she is not great in studies, and I like it).

The best thing I like about her is that she doesn't talk too much (a rare thing in her species). There are no ego hassles and I love obeying her. She looks so pretty while scolding me in bed for silly things. Our physical relationship coundn't have been better. I never knew the act is so pleasurable and satisfying. Ghosh, you know I have never hidden even the most bare thoughts of mine from you, but it now seems that those golden moments of ours (mine and S's) should not be opened even to you.

As far as our Shimla trip was concerned...



I recall laughing when I read his letter in 1997. But in 2007, his words made me cry. Were the tears because of the years lost, or the fact that I don't see V anymore, or because of his honesty that is so rare today?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Home And The Universe

So I am supposed to pick up the book lying closest to me, go to page 123 and write down sentences no. 5 to 9, right Atul? And then I am required to write a few words/lines describing what they mean to me.

In my newly-arranged shelf, the book closest, at the moment, to me is The Words -- The Autobiography of Jean-Paul Sartre. The passage goes like this:

At a later time, the transpositions and rotations of triangles reminded me of the gliding figures on the screen. I loved the cinema even in plane geometry. To me, black and white were the supercolors that contained all the others and revealed them only to the initiate; I was thrilled at seeing the invisible. Above all, I liked the incurable muteness of my heroes. But no, they weren't mute, since they knew how to make themselves understood.

Now, what this means to me. Only a madman will seek to derive meaning out of Sartre: some works are like pieces of art encased in the museum. The idea is to look at them and marvel. If you wish to discuss the art, do so at your own risk. But having just shifted to a new house, I can relate quite well to sentence no. 3: To me, black and white were the supercolors that contained all the others and revealed them only to the initiate.

For six whole years, as I described in the previous post, I lived in an apartment that had a hall, a bedroom and a kitchen. A small bathroom was attached to the bedroom, and a small balcony to the kitchen. That's about it. But to me that meant the universe. It had the warmth of the universe. Reclining in the hall and smoking a cigarette, I always felt a part of the moving world, and whenever I wanted, I could escape to my privacy without being isolated.

At an arm's length was Planet Music: almost everything created by R.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar and Salil Choudhury. And if, while still reclining, I stretched my legs apart, one would touch Landmark and another Crossword -- about 200 books in each shelf. At my elbow would be the mobile phone -- my connection to the real world; and in the front, the laptop -- my connection to, who else, you! And if the eyes got tired, I would look at the green coconut leaves poking into the large window. Occasionally a squirrel would lose its way in and quickly retreat.

Today is my fifth day in the new house. No, I don't miss the old house: whatever is gone, is gone. Maybe also because I carried along the portable part of my universe immediately: the internet was the first thing to become functional, even before the movers and packers had delivered the last of the cartons. But still, during the first few days, I felt as if I was staying in a hotel, even though I shifted within the building. Being on the top floor, the noise of the neighbours is cut off. The same street looks strange from the balcony. The windows overlook most trees and houses, rather than having the leaves poke through them. And yesterday, I considered using the mobile phone to call my wife who was in the kitchen: my voice was refusing to carry through the huge hall.

Today, however, the place looks somewhat familiar because I arranged the books. (Arranging the books merits a separate post because there was so much I discovered). And in a few days, I might begin to consider this as my new home. For the lay observer, I have progressed a step further in life, moving from the bachelor's pad to a house that is three times its size.

But the size of your home does not determine the size of your universe. In fact, the two could be inversely proportional. But then, this is obvious only to the initiate.