Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Life At 38

I suddenly realised I had to write tonight -- I owe one last post to 2008.

This has been, without doubt, the fastest year of my life. I walked through the weeks and months in a state of daze, not knowing -- or caring -- whether it is August or October. Suddenly, it is now December 31. Where the fuck was I, while the earth was taking its sweet time in making a circle around the sun? I do not know. Maybe I know, but I would rather not tell it loud: after all, this is also the year that made me wise.

Only till last year, I would break my head over where to celebrate New Year's eve. I would look forward to finding entry to an upscale disco where I could drink and dance and party the whole night. Last year, it was the Havana lounge in Raintree Hotel. But this year, I am not even looking at the ads that promise you a good time on the 31st night. I want to spend a quiet evening at home and begin the new year on a perfectly sobre note, as if it was just another day. Isn't this the sign of a wise man who has been there, done that and doesn't want to make an ass of himself anymore by getting squeezed into a faceless crowd of 500 people in a pub?

Perhaps a lot has got to do with the fact that I turned 38 five days ago. Thirty-eight is a scary figure for humans, considering that the average life span is just above 70. In other words, half of my life is over. And what do I have to show for? Zilch. Not even a book so far. Guru Dutt died even before he could turn 40, but by then he had created an empire of movies that will ensure that he remains in public eye for the next 400 years, maybe more.

I am no Guru Dutt, and that is why mortality scares me. It is just a matter of time before would I fade into nothingness. At 38, I just have 20 more years of productive life left, because people usually retire at 58. And considering that I am a journalist and not a government servant, I am likely to make many 'career moves' during these 20 years, all of which might not be savoury, voluntary and pleasant.

But hey, that's where Hugh Jackman comes in. Of late, I've become a great fan of his. He is 42 and is still voted as the Sexiest Man Alive by People magazine. In other words, there are plenty of women still desiring him. Ok, I know I am no Hugh Jackman. But what I mean is there is plenty of hope after 40. And look at Aamir, Salman and Shah Rukh: they are all sculpting bodies at an age when Indian men give up their battle against the paunch and trade their libido with lust.

To tell you the truth, I am actually rejoicing. And that is why I do not want to go dancing this New Year's eve: I am busy building my fortress, from where I hope to rule the world someday till long after I've turned 40. That's when life begins, really. That's the age when women begin to look more gorgeous than ever before, and when men begin to get their priorities right.

And when you have someone like Sean Connery, who still gets signed up to sell Louis Vuitton bags even in his seventies, there is always hope for the next few decades. People like him make you realise that no matter how old you are, you can still look desirable if you want to. End of the day, that's what we all strive for: to appear desirable -- to your own self and to others. So a happy birthday to me and a very happy new year to all of you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dragon In The Sky, Touching The G-Spot And Other Stories: Three Years Of Ganga Mail

This morning, I received a compliment about the poem I had posted on this blog a few days ago. The compliment came in the form of an impeccably-worded email -- something very rare these days in the age of instant messaging. The reader said, "You have touched the G-spot of my mind."

That's when I realised that my blog was still alive, and that it had completed three years of its existence on October 17. Three years is a short time, but for me, the preceding three years were life-changing.

The man who started the blog was lonely and a bachelor, who dreaded getting married but at the same time craved for the company of that someone, who was a prince for the first half of the month and a pauper for the rest, who desperately wanted to write books and become famous and be heard by the world, whose job was so cushy that he envied people who were always on their toes and making work-relating calls.

The man who is writing this post might be a loner but certainly not lonely. He is happily married and has a wife who looks after him so well that he doesn't have to move his little finger. He still lives paycheck to paycheck, but gone are the days when we would have to worry about his next meal or drink. He has a job that makes him say, Thank God it is Friday, because Saturdays are his day-off. He is writing a book that just might make him famous. If not this book maybe the next, or the one after that, but at least the fog has cleared off the coast.

But this is the sad part: The man who started the blog would look for excuses to write a post -- even the joy of finding a lost song would transform into a 1000-word post. The man who is writing this post, however, no longer feels the need to write posts. That's because his experiences in the past three years have made him realise that real stories can never be told. They are not meant to be told. Unless you are packing your bags and going to Bolivia or Namibia forever -- certain that you will never return and nobody would ever find you there. But these days, travel writers go just about anywhere. And considering that almost everybody is a travel writer these days, who knows you will come face to face with your character in far-off Bolivia.

But there is one land you can always migrate to and safely tell all your stories. And to travel there, you don't even have to leave your desk. The land is called fiction. It would be silly to waste your time and energy to write a 1000-word fiction for the blog, especially when the blog is read, off and on, by people you are out to fictionalise. It would be as foolish as trying to commit daylight robbery under the nose of a policemen. This should be like stealing two drinks from an already-opened bottle of expensive scotch and putting some water back into it so that the owner never quite makes out that his drink was stolen.

There were many things I had wanted to write about in the past few weeks, but working almost non-stop for 14 hours everyday -- first nine in the office, from 3 pm to midnight, and the remaining five, from 1 am to 6 am, at home working on the book, there is little time to get into the mood for blogging. I wanted to write about my recent trip to Delhi, where I once again aimlessly roamed around Connaught Place after several years, about the trip to Kanpur, where stories are always cooking, about the Manohari Singh's show in Chennai. Manohari Singh was the music arranger for R.D. Burman and the saxophone player for top composers like Shankar-Jaikishen and S.D. Burman. At the show, he played the saxophone -- just as he had done in the original recordings -- for many old hits presented by an orchestra from Calicut. As the finale, he made a solo presentation of Gata Rahe Mera Dil, the song from Guide in which he has played the saxophone -- the one that comes immediately after the mukhda.

I also wanted to write about the fluffy dragon I met in the sky while on my way to Delhi. But since pictures speak better than words, I didn't feel compelled to write anything. Here is the picture I took. Watch it carefully. Who knows, you might be able to spot your dream.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tell me, will you please?

Tell me, will you please?
That afternoon
when you ran your finger on my chest
what were you scribbling?

Were they circles of satiation
or triangles of guilt?
Or spirals of confusion?
Tell me, will you please?

Maybe you were signing your name,
or writing mine,
or maybe his.
Tell me, will you please?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

For You

Making love

Wave your magic wand,
turn us into stones.
So that we get embedded
in the walls of Khajuraho.
We can make love in peace
for another thousand years.
The sun would not flinch us
neither would the rain,
and no ugly human
to cry, “What a shame!”
They would only gape and wonder:
“Does this pose have a name?”

Thursday, August 28, 2008


"Her surprise was understandable: Mughal Sarai, even though its name gives off a whiff of history, was unlikely to interest anyone unless you have routinely passed its railway station during childhood – a time when you are reading about the Mughal emperors and when names of places inspire larger-than-life images. But Banaras, barely ten kilometers away, is a different planet. Technically, I was standing by a colourless river in a small town in Uttar Pradesh, watching people go about their business. But the moment you identify the river and the town, the earth under your feet becomes worthy of worship. Unlike other places whose history is measured in years, Banaras has defied time: its history is as enchanting as, and entwined with, that of the gods.

If only history had provided mankind with a TV screen and a rewind button to watch what was going on – at exactly the same spot you stood on – on a certain date you clicked on. I pretty much doubt if Banaras would look any different if I were to scan footages through the centuries, but I would certainly have kept pressing the pause button to look out for certain characters – Goswami Tulsidas, who wrote the Ramayana for the layman; or Trailanga Swami, the pot-bellied naked saint who is said to have lived for three hundred years, most of which he spent in meditation either by floating in the river or sitting by its banks; or Allan Ginsberg, the Beat poet, who roamed the ghats in search of god. It is a different matter that I wouldn’t have recognised any of them. The only person I would recognise in Banaras was Ram Ratan, and he was now waiting – impatiently, as ever – for me."

(The picture, taken by me last year with my 1.3mp Motorala which is longer with me, was lying forgotten in a folder)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


The status message of a friend on my g-talk list:

A woman needs a reason to cheat, a man just needs a woman.

Priceless! But you can never tell when 'temptation' masquerades as 'reason'.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

By The Cherwell

A poem written by my wife, Shuvashree, during her recent visit to England (the picture is taken by her as well):

As we glided down the river path
Lush green grass on both sides we passed
The soft beam of the evening sun
Warming our faces under a bridge we passed

The flowers swaying in the moist chilly breeze
As varied in color like the rainbow that peeked
The smell of the woods inhaling deep
We brushed the light drizzle from our sleeve

As I lay back on the cushioned plank
In level with the water like a raft
I looked to my right and what do I see?
A little duck struggling to keep pace with me

I closed my eyes to seal the beauty
That around me was abundant and free
When again I opened my eyes to see
A group of ducks was floating alongside me

Under a pretty bridge once again we passed
The blue eyed Punt girl in English accent said to us
Magdalene Bridge off the River Cherwell it was
Punting downstream in Oxfordshire we were.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

16 Points About Me

Time was when I would sit in front of the computer, and eventually find something to say. Not that I had nothing to say: just that I would wonder which of the thoughts needed to be shared most urgently. I would sift through them while sipping my drink, and finally decide what exactly was churning my mind at the moment -- it could be a Sahir Ludhianvi song, or some childhood memory suddenly gushing up decades later.

These days, thoughts still run around in my head, but the urgency to share is no longer there. Most of the time I find telling myself: "So what? Who is bothered to read what I have to say about it?" That's dangerous for a writer: if the ability to think is his heart, the urgency to share is his lungs. The two have to function together. Sharing his thoughts is his breathing -- if he doesn't share, he dies. It is the fear of death that has made me sit here at 2 am, so that I could share something. But what do I share? There's nothing to share. Or maybe there's so much to share. As of now, I will sign off by sharing a few personal details -- trivia, thoughts and takes. It may or may not interest you, but it is the question of my survival:

1. I write with my left hand and wear my watch on the right.

2. I could be the laziest person on earth -- I type 1000-word stories/posts with the index finger of my left hand. But then, what is the hurry? The idea is to savour your thoughts, not gobble them up. Your mind dictating you words is different from your biss dictating you a letter.

3. I laught at -- and feel sorry for -- people who, against the 'My ideal match' entry in their Orkut profiles say, "Already married to him (or her)." What a lie!

4. I love my wife. I need to say this (and I really mean it) because some of you will misinterpret my previous statement. Yes, I do love my wife, but even she would laugh if I suggested that we are an ideal match. It is the things that we don't like about each other that bind us end of the day. In any case, I would get bored with an 'ideal match' sooner than the sun rose. But at times, you are compelled to use the word 'ideal', or else what will people say?

5. There is nothing called an ideal match because what is ideal today might be not-so-ideal five years hence. After all, it was a wise man who said that grass is always greener on the other side. Actually, even a child knows that. In the initial days, you are blind to the greenery. After that, you pretend not to see the greenery. But finally, you say, "What the hell! I am gonna hop over." And then you hop over, only to find the previous stretch of grass greener. But too late. Tch! Tch!

6. I have immense respect for people who respect greenery -- be it on this side or the other side. They are the ones who have their cake and eat it too -- and you should envy them rather than bitch about them.

7. Maybe you envy them, that is why you bitch about them. Didn't another wise man say something about grapes?

8. My favourite actor today is Akshay Kumar. As a child, however, I loved Sachin (Geet Gaata Chal), then Rishi Kapoor (Hum Kisi Se Kam Nahin) and then Amitabh Bachchan (the list is endless).

9. I love Shakti Kapoor.

10. I love women (which man doesn't).

11. I love sex (which human being doesn't, though they'll say stuff like, 'But sex isn't everything.' Come on, give me a break).

12. I am crazy about women who hide their sensuality behind their glasses.

13. Women whose names begin with 'S' have mattered to me the most. Even now. Initially I thought it was a coincidence, but now I am convinced it is cosmic conspiracy.

14. If anyone supplies me with videos of all the studio recordings of Kishore Kumar and R.D. Burman, I would instantly lose interest in sex and spend the rest of my life watching those videos and converting people into watching -- and liking -- them.

15. Me, me, me. You must be wondering how selfish I am -- to be only talking about myself. But then, isn't this my blog? Similarly, isn't this my life? If you want to fit in, fall in. No arrogance here: there are times when I too give up being who I am in order to fall in line with you. End of the day, it is the matter of convenience, something like 'Your place or mine?' And you make such a choice not out of awe or kindness or coercion, but purely out of selfish reasons.

16. Stupid is the man who believes that he has successfully tricked a woman into the 'Your place or mine' situation. A woman makes up her mind long before a man's thought process would have even started rolling. But then, she chooses to let the man feel like a king. Do you still wonder why I like women so much?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The City That Is Chennai

I have been living in Chennai for more than seven years. But it is only now, since the past three months, that I have begun to understand the city better. All these years, my job with a Sunday paper, which was eager to be representative of the whole of south India rather than just Chennai, kept me insulated from the city. By and large, that is. Whatever little exposure I had was through the TASMAC bars, where I saw low lives on a high. Rest of the time was divided between home (where I entertained friends), work and travelling. I rarely read the papers: I coudn't be bothered what was happening in Porur or Thiru Vi Ka Nagar. To me they were as distant and irrelevant as Latin America.

Things have changed. Today I have a job that requires me to go through a lot of city copies. Suddenly, I realise that Chennai is not just about T. Nagar Or Adyar or Besant Nagar or Nungambakkam. It is also about Porur and Thiru Vi Ka Nagar and Royapuram and Nanganallur. I also realise that it is not just about labourers drinking in a TASMAC bar and Page-3 aspirants raising their glasses in an upmarket pub. Between the two varieties of highs, there are many lows. Such as people dying -- by way of accidents, murder or suicide. Not a day passes when I don't come across a news that invloves either of these.

What depresses me most are the accidents and the suicides. Usually, readers tend to brush aside 'One-man-killed' kind of news, especially if the victim is faceless and doesn't belong to their neighbourhood. Ditto for suicides: why on earth should you bother about a 45-year-old woman killing herself in north Chennai?

But then, the story behind every such death is the story of you and me. A family of four -- parents and two young sons -- was driving on a pleasure trip to Mahabalipuram when a drunk driver coming from the opposite direction turned their car into a mangled coffin within seconds on the East Coast Road. The family hailed from Indore, and they had been coming to Chennai for the past 13 years to treat a heart condition of their younger son (who, incidentally, topped the CBSE exams in Madhya Pradesh this year). This year, the doctors gave the boy a thumbs up, and the relieved family took off for Mahabalipuram in celebration, little knowing that they were embarking on their final journey. The sad part is one of the sons (not the one with a heart condition) survived. I say sad because I believe that in such extreme cases, a single person should not be left alive to cope with a tragedy that will haunt like a terminal disease. But then, many would see the practical side of it -- that each one of us has his or her life-span already written out. Destiny, basically.

And then the case of a class 12 student, who had just finished his board exams. One day, during his vacations, he returned home after meeting a friend and found the lift not working. The same morning, someone in the apartment got stuck in the lift and the glass window had to be broken open. So when the boy pressed the button and saw that the lift was not coming down, he peeped through the broken window of the door to take a look. The descending lift smashed his head. When the class 12 results were out, he scored 70%-plus marks -- posthumously. Destiny can be cruel, but so cruel?

I don't know, though, how much of a role does destiny play in suicides. One young mother, whose daughter could not get admission into a decent kindergarten school, committed suicide. The woman did not have the money or the influence to get her daughter an admission, so she preferred to leave the girl motherless, unable to bear the sight of other children going to school while her daughter stayed home. She hanged herself.

But the most common way of committing suicide in Chennai is by self-immolation. It is so common that the moment you read about a suicide, you know it is self-immolation. It is really getting on my nerves, so much so that this evening I didn't even bother to read the story when I saw a colleague typing a headline, 'Woman sets herself afire a month after marriage.' If someone is being burnt forcibly, I can understand, but why roast yourself alive? I still haven't figured why. The idea of committing suicide is to free yourself from the burdens imposed on you by this world, and the quicker the death is, the better. I still can't understand why people choose to take such a long, painful route to death. If you think death frees you, then at least die in a manner so that you are carried to the pyre with a smile on your dead lips -- the smile of being freed from this life. Why put your loved ones through the torture of seeing you being burnt twice?

But then, that's how it is here. And it is very depressing, I tell you. Exactly a month ago, one morning, I got a call. The caller informed that my driver, Suresh, won't be coming because his parents had committed suicide. I was half-asleep when the call came, and by the time I was fully awake and understood the gravity of the situation, the caller had hung up, having fulfilled his duty of informing me. For long I wondered if should call my driver on the mobile phone that I had given him. My heart said I should call him up and extend every possible help, but my head said I should leave him alone: he would call in case he needed me. Eventually I decided to call, but the call refused to go through. That evening, when I went to work, I learnt the details of his parents' suicide from the crime reporter: a man and his wife in Royapuram had committed suicide by burning themselves because they felt their son -- my driver, that is -- was not taking proper care of them.

The next morning, I looked for more reports. One English paper had invented a 'brother' for Suresh, called 'Ramesh', and said the two sons had ignored their parents so much that they were forced to take the extreme step. The Tamil papers went a step ahead: they said Suresh and his 'wife' had ignored his parents. I alone knew the truth, and also got to know the truth that goes into police press releases and the copies of crime reporters with fertile imagination.

The truth is that Suresh's father was a drunkard who was extremely bitter about losing his job as a loader after an accident. And that drunken night, he perhaps feelt slighted by some inadvertent gesture of his son, so he took the extreme step along with his wife. After a month's absence, Suresh is back in my life, as if nothing has happened. But his parents must have charred his youth in some way or the other. Or else, he wouldn't look 42 at 24.

Then, another report. Two labourers, one old and one young, have a verbal duel. The younger one says somthing nasty, which the older one takes to heart. Eventually, the older man douses himself in kerosene and kills himself, unable to stomach the insult. Whoever said the poor didn't have dignity? Perhaps that's their only wealth, which they don't earn easily.

Some weeks ago, the paper carried a story about a man who, for decades, had preserved Mahatma Gandhi's sole autograph in Tamil. The man, 84-year-old Seethapathi Naidu, had got the autograph in 1938 when he was a 14-year-old boy. Gandhi was then touring Nagapattinam to collect funds for flood-relief in Bihar. Seethapathi found no takers for the rare autograph all these years till the story broke, after which the Tamil Nadu government acquired the piece of paper to showcase it in the Egmore museum.

On Monday, Seethapathi was suddenly dead, not because of old age, but because he had committed suicide for not being able to live his life the way he wanted to. And how did he die? Self-immolation. Gandhi surely wouldn't have approved of it.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Friend Palash

There are times when I entertain morbid thoughts: what if someone whose number is stored in my phonebook -- someone so close that I could dial his number anytime I wished to -- dies? Should I delete the name, knowing that he is no more? Should I keep the name stored, for old time's sake? Or should I deliberately ignore to delete it, in the hope that the name would once again flash on my phone screen someday?

I don't know what I am going to do with Palash's number. Maybe I will just let it be: why bother to delete it when it hardly occupies any space? Or maybe I will delete it: every time I go to the entries under 'P', I would come across his name and get reminded that he is no more.

How can he be no more? I spoke to him only two days ago. And yesterday, when I saw him on G-talk, I wanted to message him asking if he would like to see a poster showing me modelling for an upcoming inter-department badminton tournament organised by my office. But then I thought, why bother him with my vanity.

This morning, Palash Kumar was news. He had become the journalist to be killed in a road accident near Alwar in Rajasthan while driving to the Sariska wildlife sanctuary along with his wife Manisha and their four-year-old daughter Mallika.

I first met Palash on April 1, 1996, the day I joined Asian Age in Delhi under M.J. Akbar. Palash, barely in his mid-twenties, was the deputy chief of bureau, having been promoted to the post after a successful stint in lawless Patna. I remembered seeing his Patna-datelined stories before joining Asian Age, and now I was meeting him in person. Initially, he was snooty, not wanting to mingle with a junior who has just joined. Eventually, alcohol turned out to be the leveller. Every evening, I would give him my share of Rs 35, and the peon would soon return with two quarter-bottles of Old Monk rum: one for him, one for me. Thus began a friendship, and also the tradition of reporters pooling in money to send the peon to get the booze before they started filing their stories.

After work, I would often land up at Palash's place. He would insist that I come because he knew I was hungry. Hungry not literally, but hungry for home-cooked food. So he would feed me with steaming rice, arhar ki daal and ageing pickles that came from his home in Lucknow. In North India, pickles are treated like wine -- the older they are, the better they taste. Then one day, Palash married Manisha, yet another colleague, and soon after, I came to Chennai. The countless days and evenings I had spent with him became part of a mental album.

After coming to Chennai, I thought Palash too would turn into a friend for record's sake. But the bond cut across the Vindhyas and there was never a moment when we were out of each other's lives -- be it the birth of his daughter or my own marriage in 2006. That year, on my way to Kanpur for Diwali, I spent a night at Palash's place in Delhi and caught up with all my former drinking buddies. We took lots of pictures (Palash is in blue kurta) and stayed up all night listening to Kishore Kumar and Palash's favourite, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. That was the last time I saw him.

And the last I spoke to him was two days ago. He told me he wanted to shift to Chennai and asked me about the job scene in the city. I gave him a couple of numbers, and told him that things should work out and that we will have a lot of fun in Chennai.

When I got the news, I was in a shopping mall, pampering myself with a new pair of sneakers. I had woken up in the morning feeling unwell, and the more I thought about it, the more unwell I felt. My hypochondria eventually drove me to a nearby pathology, where I signed up for a master health check-up. They took my blood, and then asked me to come again exactly two hours after lunch. So those two hours I spent in the mall, when I got the call. Two things came to my mind. I thought, what's the use buying expensive clothes and shoes whe you could die any moment? And I also thought, here I am, fussing over minor aches and pains, and there, a perfectly healthy man has just had life snuffed out of him!

But before these two thoughts occurred, something else flashed in my mind -- something that happened so long ago that even Palash might have forgotten about it, leave alone me. Sometime in 1997 or 1998, a colleague had invited Palash and a couple of others for lunch. The colleague's mother happened to be a palm-reader, and she cautioned him against a serious accident. I was surprised that this small episode remained stored in my mind even without my being aware of it. In the coming days, many more anecdotes about Palash are going to surface, and I would relive them silently.

P.S. To go to Palash's blog, see my friend's list.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Moving With The Times

They say old habits die hard. I don't quite agree. Man is like malleable putty: needs and circumstances mould him into any form in no time. And suddenly, the recent past becomes so distant that you wonder: was I really like that?

For example, till the age of 35, I was single and footloose. Then, two years ago, I embraced marriage like a long-lost friend. Suddenly, the comforts that came with marriage blurred the thrill and the uncertainties of bachelor-life. As if I had been married for years.

Then, two months ago, came a change on the work-front. Today, Sunday Spin belongs to the long-lost past; it is Sunday that I look forward to: will I get an off? Times are fun.

For seven long years, that is from the age of 30 to 37, I had a job that required me to work only three days a week. Rest of the days, I contributed very little to the society -- only to my laziness and ego. My mother, whenever she called me, would customarily enquire: "So where are you now?" I would anvariably answer, "Home." And then she would say, "Why are you always at home?" My wife, whenever she would order a piece of furniture or something that needed to be delivered, would tell the salesman: "You can send it anytime. My husband will be home."

Now I hardly see my wife, and barely talk to my mother: I work from 3 to 12 in the night, and sleep from 3 to 12 in the morning. In the remaining six hours, my vices and virtues fight for space. The vices always win. But I am not complaining. As I said: Times are fun. Every single day is an event: you look at your life as if that is going to be the lead but invisible story of the day in the paper.

Journalism is not rocket-science, but when you put together a paper every evening, it is like launching a rocket every single day. The fun part is when you've launched the rocket: when it's time for the champagne. We, however, make do with Old Monk rum, bought from a bootlegger in Guindy post-midnight. Though we do have champagne for company -- in the form of a woman whose name starts with 'ch', which should ideally be pronounced like the 'ch' in champagne and not as the 'ch' is Charminar. She had to correct people so often that she was eventually christened as Champagne. She can outdrink men, which she rarely does though, and still not get drunk. May her tribe increase.

It seems quite selfish to me that one launches a rocket and then gets back home alone and nurses a drink. The team gets stressed together, and together it must destress. So omelettes are made at two in the night for a colleague who does not eat chicken. Another colleague is sent out, at 3.30, in search of cigarettes. And till the cigarettes come, another colleague fills up water-bottles and stores them in the freezer for quick chilling. All this while, the playlist on the Windows Media Player would have barely crossed the half-way mark. The night is still young. At times, the sun wakes up even before we realise, and we know it is time to sleep -- in order to launch the rocket again the next day.

One can always stock up the bottles and the food and the packets of cigarette. But that's like a plan. The fun lies in the uncertainty of the situation: can we do it or can we not? Most ofen we do it, and that gives you a sense of success. As I told you, Times are fun.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Of Kittens And Blogging

When I was a child, we had a cat. Every evening at six, when it was time to get milk from a nearby vendor who milked his buffalos, we would find it sitting at the gate. At the sight of the milk-can, the cat would jump up, tail at 90 degrees, and would follow us to the kitchen, crying "meeaow, meeaow", till she was served with some of the milk. After some time, she gave birth to five kittens, and soon we had an army of cats waiting at the gate at six. Whoever got the milk would be followed by six upright tails and the collective "meeaow, meeaow." The milk would be served, and the mother cat, by the virtue of its size, would reach the bowl first. But the kittens would soon get in between, and the mother, after taking a few sips, would move away, letting them have the milk.

Why I am reminded of the story, I don't know. Actually I had wanted to write about something else.

It was a night like this, about two years ago, when I was wondering what to blog about. Suddenly, an idea: why not about idlis! So I started writing, as my wife sat next to me, forced to do her own thing. When I finished and asked her to take a look, she was already sulking: she was taking the flight to Bombay in a few hours and here I was, blogging about idlis!

For many, many months after that, I was told time and again what an insensitive husband I was -- blogging when the wife is leaving the next morning. Blogging, for her, was a waste of time, though she never said that in so many words. All she would say was: "I can understand if you are writing an article or your column, but blogging?"

But then, I was addicted. One small idea and I would weave a thousand words -- something I would never return to read myself. It was alcohol that primarily made my fingers type. And perhaps the urge to show to certain people that I had things to say and that I had the courage to articulate them. Basically, to impress them.

As a journalist, I was used to reader response. But when people begin to respond to your innermost thoughts, especially in a favourable way, you tend to get addicted. So the blog became my favourite toy. When not writing a post, I would keep checking my mailbox for comments. When there were no comments, I would go to Statcounter to look at the number and the nature of hits on my blog. If nothing else, I would simply stare at my profile page, wondering if the number of 'profile views' would ever touch the 1000-mark, or the 2000-mark. Basically, addiction.

After about a year of being married, I got rid of the addiction. For the better or worse, I do not know. But there is one thing about blogging: it unclogs the arteries of your brains and trains you to be a better writer. It makes you realise that you too can write effortlessly and why did you not write all this while. In other words, it prevents your thought process from getting constipated.

But I hardly blog these days. By and large, because of other preoccupations, but there is also a practical hurdle. I rarely find the laptop free during my creative hours. My wife sits on it, and she is blogging!

It all began with a contest announced by The winners were to get a cash prize of Rs 10,000 -- a sum that would have seen us comfortably through a brief holiday we had planned on a shoestring budget. I would have raised that much of money in a single month by simply abstaining from smoking and drinking, but that's where men are different from women. Men think of 'me', women think of 'us'.

Thus, the doors of her creative energies were unlocked and out came one post after the other. I never knew I had a wife who could write. I would watch in amazement as she sat in front of the computer with a determined look, adjusting her specs every now and then and typing away. She would write in the mornings, in the evenings, on Sunday afternoons -- whenever she could. Only once I tried rewriting her copy, and I could see she did not approve, and I let it be, but with a murmur: "Look, I am a writer, I know what works best." But then I thought, who is the real writer: she or me? She wrote with determination when she had to, and nothing would stop her. Whereas I wrote only when inspiration supposedly struck. If only I shared her determination, I would have finished my long-pending book by now.

The more she wrote, the more response she got. Addiction was waiting to happen. And unlike me, who is far too lazy to respond to commentators (or at least to individual commentators), she responded individually to every commentator. Individual interactions followed, and soon the addiction had firmly gripped her.

The prize money never came (for whatever reasons), but by now she had become a professional blogger. And till date she remains one. And while I post a blog once in about two months, she had already shifted gears from writing prose to poetry, winning even more admirers. And while I still have only an online relationship with my readers/fellow bloggers, she has gone ahead and met, or at least spoken on phone, with those who share the blogspace with her.

Today, I am familiar with almost everybody who blogs on, because a lot of our bedroom conversation centres around that -- who wrote what, who left what comment on whose blog, and so on. It is almost like her going to an office party and then narrating me the incidents -- who said what, who did what, who was cosying upto who, etc. How much I love all this -- I almost feel like the cat who steps aside to let the kitten drink the milk.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Farewell And A Beginning

This Sunday, the column which I have written for nearly three years will appear for the last time. Some readers will miss it, even then only for a week or two; while some others will say, "Good that he is gone! How could he write stuff like that!"

Anyway, I will miss my column and my paper, at least for a while. Seven years in the same place can bind you as well as bore you, and there comes a time when you have to make a choice. Still, the paper has given me a lot more than I could give it, and I shall forever be grateful. Yesterday, I went to a store to buy a handbag -- Valentine's Day gift -- for my wife, who had suprised me the night before by placing a pair of party shirts under my pillow. As I signed the receipt, the man who had swiped my card said, "Bishwanath Ghosh, Indian Express. Right?" I was taken aback a bit. "I read your columns, sir." Just when recognition was coming even from people who ran shops, well...

I am looking at the brighter side. The compulsion of writing a weekly column, which remained as fresh as a tomato would without refrigation, was distracting me from bigger things I dream of. My dream is to produce grains of fine rice, which needs no refrigeration and which tastes better with every passing year. Books.

In the past two weeks, two events happened that have shaken me up and strengthened my resolve to work on the books that I have planned. One, the evening I spent with Saeed Mirza -- the director of films like Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai and Saleem Langde Pe Mat Ro, and the unforgettable serial called Nukkad. He has just written a book, Ammi: Letter to a Democratic Mother -- a book that I recommend to all. He shows you the real India.

That evening, we met him at the adda -- an informal gathering of selected people that happens every time a writer is in town. Mirza, still dashing in his sixties, sipped whisky and smoked as he held forth on the birth of his book. The book has been published by Tranquebar Press, which will also publish my travel book (as soon as I finish writing it). I felt rather proud when my publisher introduced me to Mirza as, "He is one of our Tranquebar writers."

Mirza's book is primarily the result of his travels across -- literally -- the length and breadth of the country and meeting the common man. "I have a house in Goa, and often while driving from Bombay to Goa, I ask the driver to take a detour. So we get into the interiors of Maharashtra, then to Andhra Pradesh, to Tamil Nadu, to Kerala, to Karnataka, and then to Goa. So what should take three days takes three months," he said.

When I managed to find him alone to sign a copy (which he signed as "In friendship -- Saeed"), I told him how my mother, my brother and I were enraged when, way back in 1984, our father took us to the theatre to watch Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai. "What a boring film," we rebuked my father. Saaed laughed. "Well, I spent Rs 12 lakhs to make the film, and I earned 48 lakhs. So if you go by the ratio, it made more money than Om Shanti Om!"

I asked him a few questions casually, at which he said he needed another drink. I went and got his glass refilled. But by then, other people had gathered him. Meanwhile, the heady cocktail of single-malt and the conversation with him had my head spinning with ideas. I headed home to work on my book.

Event no. 2: my meeting with one of my idols -- Paul Theroux, the great travel writer. Anyone who has written books like The Great Railway Bazaar and The Old Patagonian Express needs to be worshipped with garlands and incense sticks. This morning, I attended a workshop he held for aspiring writers, and in the evening, listened to him at Landmark, the bookstore, as he spoke about his journey as a writer. Needless to mention, I also got my entire Theroux collection signed by him. And how beautifully he signed them, unlike most busy writers who just scribble something as a token.

After I finish writing this post, a challenging task awaits me: writing about Theroux's visit -- my farewell piece for the paper, to appear next weekend. I would like share a couple of tips Theroux had for aspiring writers:

1. Write long-hand: that gives you enough time to think and rethink your thoughts.

2. Get a job and get away from home. At home, your folks won't take your passion for writing seriously. In other words, travel.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

A Song

A few minutes ago, I was talking to my wife who is visiting Calcutta. While we were speaking, I could hear a Bengali song playing in the background, on FM. It was sung by Asha Bhosle, and I was so captivated that I looked for it. Here it is:

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Thanks to the new policy of, it is not possible to download songs from the site without the consent of the uploader. So, does anyone have this song? If yes, will you please mail it to me? Books and songs are two things I like to possess -- and not borrow.

Friday, January 04, 2008

My New Year Gift

Dear readers, I wish you a very, very happy New Year. I know I'm late in wishing you, but that does not take away from the sincerity of my wishes. You mean the world to me -- without you, I am nothing.

Here's a small gift for you -- a song from Biwi O Biwi which is very close to my heart. On the screen, it is sung by Randhir Kapoor who, in spite of his limitations as an actor, managed to bag some of the best songs ever made in Bollywood. Behind the screen, it was created by Kishore Kumar and R.D. Burman; and both of them were at the peak of their careers at the time.

Another thing: this is the voice of Kishore that I am a fan of -- from the pit of the heart, loud and clear. And the lyrics aren't bad either. In fact, they are good: they give you so much food for thought. Please listen to it, and enjoy.

P.S. Just as I was writing the post, I realised today is R.D. Burman's death anniversary. So the post is a tribute to him as well.

Waqt Se Pehle = BI...