Monday, March 30, 2009

Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye

Something I first read way back in 1992. A poem by Leonard Cohen. Chanced upon it again, after almost 17 years. Looks like it's a season of departures and reunions:

I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm,
your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm,
yes, many loved before us, I know that we are not new,
in city and in forest they smiled like me and you,
but now it's come to distances and both of us must try,
your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.

I'm not looking for another as I wander in my time,
walk me to the corner, our steps will always rhyme
you know my love goes with you as your love stays with me,
it's just the way it changes, like the shoreline and the sea,
but let's not talk of love or chains and things we can't untie,
your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.

I loved you in the morning, our kisses deep and warm,
your hair upon the pillow like a sleepy golden storm,
yes many loved before us, I know that we are not new,
in city and in forest they smiled like me and you,
but let's not talk of love or chains and things we can't untie,
your eyes are soft with sorrow,
Hey, that's no way to say goodbye.

-- Leonard Cohen


Holding hands,
we walked into the arrival hall
smiling faces, welcome hugs
You'll like this place, you'd whisphered.

Now I look carefully:
tearful faces, farewell hugs
and you said I'll like this place?

You cheated me, my dear
When you held my hand, I thought
we were stepping into the arrival hall
But this is the departure lounge.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


In 2001, immediately after I moved to Chennai, my daily evening routine would be like this: I would get out of office at around nine in the evening, buy a quarter bottle of rum on the way back, come home and make some rice and daal in the rice-cooker which my parents bought me, and then sit down with the rum to work on my 'novel'. It was a plot I had been nursing for a few years -- and which I still do -- and every evening, I would write a fresh opening. I was so obsessed with the opening paragraphs that I never got around to digging into the plot which, till date, remains a virgin.

After the night's writing, I would eat the rice and daal, still steaming hot, and read Somerset Maugham. There were nights when I would be so drunk that I would indulge in this quirk: I would look at the back cover and keep gazing at Maugham's hypnotic eyes, hoping they would come alive and give me some insight into the art of writing. So desperate I was, to be able to write well. The effort didn't pay off.

In October 2001, on the eve of Ayudha Pooja day, I sent my first three chapters along with a synopsis to a publisher, by courier and all, and a few weeks later, got an email saying they were pretty much packed for the season and would not be able to entertain my manuscript.

Now, as they, say, whatever happens, happens for the good. The other day, I found a copy of what I had sent to the publisher -- yellowing A4 prints, tucked away in a clipboard. I knew they must be around somewhere, but had never bothered to look. Then, the other day, looking for some old issues of GQ magazine, I found them. Reading what I had written almost eight years ago, I realised why it was rejected -- simple because it was written eight years ago. Even if the publishers, in a rare moment of gullibility, had decided to publish it then, I would have disowned the book today. So bad it was -- the art of telling a story in those three chapters. But at the time, I had thought of myself as a junior Maugham, who couldn't have been wrong. I had cursed the publishers when I got the rejection email.

This evening, I went through the yellowing printouts once again and decided to start the story afresh. I can do it now. There is a world of difference between the me of then and the me of now. Back then, I drank rum. Today, I drink whisky. Back then, I was a reporter. Today, I can tell stories. Back then, it was my burning ambition to be a published writer. Today, I have a book scheduled for publication.

Yet, there is something in that old manuscript which I will like to retain or which I will have to retain, for the simple reason that I cannot better it. It is those opening paragraphs. Which I wrote and rewrote week after week, drinking the rum and waiting for the rice and daal to be cooked. I am not saying it is a flawless piece of writing per se, but it is a flawless beginning as far as my 'novel' is concerned.

How come the opening became flawless when I found the rest of what I had written as crap? The answer is in rewriting. Rewriting is a ego-puncturing exercise, an exercise in self-education: each night, it tells you what a fool you've been the night before and that you can do better. Maybe, Somerset Maugham's gaze helped, after all.

Friday, March 27, 2009


Now this is true friendship. Not that I didn't know. Three days before I wrote about my friend Sanjay, he had already written a poem to mark our reunion. And I didn't even know he had written it till last evening. Here goes:

Bondhu bollo, amar aathtirish (38), tor aathchollish (48)...
hotath pechhon phire dekhi, shey ekhono aathash (28)...
aachhe ekhno shei bhalobasha,
premer shei unmadona,
dekhi, ekhono du chokher kone chholchhol korche, duto chhotto chokher jol...
"Akhono tumi ki colourful ?" jigesh kore bondhur bou,
"Na, akhon aami black and white" -- kanchapaka chule aar gopey haath ghuriye bollam...
shotti, bocchor gulo kokhon jano beriye galo,
chuler rong bodle galo,
chosmataro power berechhey,
kintu, shey to bodlalona,
ekhono rod jola dupure
she roilo hoye aamar jiobner Ruby Ray...
monta akhono chhute beray shei maya mriger pechhone,
Hemantor gaan..."mon haralo, haralo mon haralo", ekhnono monta gun gun kore gaye...

A translation :

That day , my friend said, I am now 38, you are now 48...
Suddenly I looked back, he was still 28...
the love still lingered,
flames of friendship, still burning,
I could see, two little drops of tears, in corner of his eyes,
"Are you still colourful," asked my friend's wife
"No, now I am black and white," I pointed to my greying hair and moustache.
The years just passed by even before I could realise,
colour of my hair changed,
power of my spectacles went up...
But he never changed
Even today in this midday of my life
we remember Ruby Ray,
and our hearts still chase the illusionary deer
That Hemanta Kumar's song, "I lost my heart somewhere," the hearts still sing.

N.B. Ruby Ray is the muse in a famous Bengali song, Mone pore Ruby Ray, sung by R.D. Burman. The tune was also used by him for Meri bheegi bheegi si in Anamika.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My Friend Sanjay

Part of my youth made its journey in an aging Fiat, whose number plate began with the letters 'DIB'. The car belonged to Sanjay Basak. When I first met him, I was 27, he was 37. The place was Delhi. The year 1997.

I remember the first time I noticed him. I was standing with a bunch of fellow reporters at the Parliament House annexe. Some meeting of the Bharatiya Janata Party was on. I saw a boyish-looking man, rather dashing, walk past along with a woman journalist. He ignored our group.

"Isn't that Sanjay?" asked one of the reporters in the group.
"Yes, who else?" said another.
"Then why did he ignore us?"
"Don't you see he has a woman for company? If he had stopped to say hello to us, he would have had to introduce her to all of us." Everybody laughed.

A few days later we were formally introduced. We must have met at the BJP headquarters, immediately after the 3 o' clock press briefing when reporters interact with each other socially over tea and snacks. That very moment, somehow, I knew we were going to be friends: I saw a bit of me in him, and a bit of him in me.

That was the time when the BJP was at the doorstep of power, and L.K. Advani had just embarked on his biggest rath yatra ever, and he was to tour the entire country on his motorised rath in a span of two months. The BJP had opened its purse strings, and journalists wanting to cover Advani's trip were being flown to whichever town or city they chose to report the rath yatra from.

If I had an editor who was kind, I could have easily travelled the length and breadth of the country at BJP's expense, that too by air, and that too when apex fares were unheard of. But my editor was anti-BJP then (only to do a U-turn a few years later) and, moreover, a hard taskmaster, who would rather see me generate special stories from Delhi than faxing a rehash of Advani's statements.

But I found myself on the plane to Calcutta once Advani began his tour of Marxist Bengal. It was unprecedented -- the leader of the saffron party taking his rath right into the red country -- and my boss relented. On the Indian Airlines flight to Calcutta, I had another reporter as co-passenger. That was Sanjay.

I distinctly remember being struck by the humidity of Calcutta the moment we stepped out of the airport. That was my first visit to Calcutta in 10 years. The last I had been there was in 1987, as a 17-year-old who was neither a boy nor a man. I also did not know then that nine years hence, Calcutta would be my hometown-in-law and that the same Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose airport would be almost my second home in that hometown-in-law.

My only hope in Calcutta back then was Sanjay, who knew the city like the back of his hand. But that sultry night, we tamely followed the local BJP workers to a hotel in College Street where we were to be put up. The room was air-conditioned, thank God. So lit up our cigarettes and opened our drinks and went to switch on the AC. That's when we found out that what seemed to be the AC was only the facade of an AC -- merely a showpiece to give an AC-look to the room. Fortunately, we also found out that quite a few reporter-friends from Delhi had also arrived in Calcutta and were staying in adjacent rooms. We called them over and had a party of sorts.

The next morning we drove down to the city of Burdwan (or Bardhaman), where Advani was supposed to arrive after touring Orissa and other parts of Bengal. Instead of waiting for him to reach Calcutta and make a speech, we wanted to catch him in action. We drove all day, first to Burdwan and then beyond: the idea was to run into his motorcade and then follow it back into Burdwan. It was a cloudy day and I remember stopping to buy a few bottles of beer and stopping again at a roadside dhaba which, obviously, served hot rice instead of hot rotis.

It had begun to drizzle by the time we left Burdwan behind and went ahead in search of Advani's oncoming rath. It was still raining and we were on a highway in the middle of lush green fields when we came face to face with the motorcade. It was Advani's secretary who was at the deck of the rath at the time. The moment the last of the cars had passed, we U-turned ours and followed the rath yatris right up to the PWD rest house where they were making a brief halt.

At the rest house, Sanjay and I caught up with the BJP guys from Delhi whom we knew. They were so gratified to see us (and also by the public response they got in Bengal) that they decided to let us stand behind Advani as he made his grand entry into the city of Burdwan on his rath. Trust me, that was the most adrenalin-pumping moment of my life. It is one thing to be a superstar and be mobbed by fans, but this was a different ballgame. Imagine people lining on the road for hours in the drizzle just to get a glimpse of you, and once you show up, they behave as if they've seen God. They cheer, they cry out, they throw gifts at you. Since we stood behind Advani, we were also part-recipients of the adulation, albeit by default.

When you are an actor, people know that you can at the most entertain them. But when you are a popular politician, as Advani was at least at the time, they believe you have the power to rewrite their destinies. They can do anything for you.

Anyway, the BJP did not last long in power. But my friendship with Sanjay did. It almost did not, actually. Months after I moved to Chennai in 2001, I got an e-mail from a common friend Palash, who said, "Sanjay has blood cancer." I was shattered. I did not have the courage to call Sanjay. I chose to drink myself silly for two nights. What would I tell him if I called him, "So buddy, you are leaving?"

Fortunately, it wasn't blood cancer. Sanjay recovered. I met him during my subsequent trips to Delhi, and privately, we would go down memory lane: the kind of stuff we did together when I was in Delhi too, the car with the number plate "DIB" being the vehicle to pleasure-hunting. The pleasure-hunting was not always pleasurable: one night the car repeatedly broke down while we were on our way to a date of sorts. Two new-found women friends, supposedly respectable but -- till then -- unknown to us, were waiting for us at their home. No mobile phones back then, and the car kept breaking down and I had to push it each time it stopped. Fortunately, the car gave no trouble starting when we eventually escaped from those women, upon discovering that they were not so respectable after all, and found a sizeable crowd from the neighbourhood waiting to confront us at the parking lot.

While our individual adventures were runaway successes -- his more incredible and durable than mine -- our joint adventures always ended as comic failures. The last time I met Sanjay was on the eve of 2004 elections, when we took the train from Delhi to Kanpur and then took a car to follow Advani's rath all the way to Ayodhya (yes, Advani again!). At the hotel in Ayodhya, we invited a French journalist to our room for a drink: she had been accompanying us all the way from Delhi, and one could see she badly needed a drink. Just when she had put her feet on the bed and was beginning to savour her drink, others started trooping in. What was supposed to a be a quiet evening ended as a party of sorts.

So that was the last time I met Sanjay, exactly five years ago. And now, on my recent trip to Delhi, I met him again. But not before I almost lost him once again. Exactly a year ago, while I was in Jolarpet in connection with my book, I got a call from a friend that Sanjay was in a critical state. He had, apparently, contracted a strange kind of malaria during his stay with naxalites in Chhattisgarh and doctors in Delhi had given him only 48 hours to live. I instantly called up Palash, the common friend who had told me about the blood cancer episode years ago, and asked him to find out more and keep me posted. I was certain that I wouldn't see Sanjay again.

Life is strange. Sanjay lived. Palash died -- in an accident -- just a few months after. And it was Sanjay's turn to give me an account of Palash's funeral.

When I met Sanjay two weeks ago, I felt as if I had never left Delhi. Only that the bag of his anecdotes/escapades was now so full that it was on the verge of bursting. He is 48, after all. But am sure Sanjay's bag is made of stretchable fabric -- he can easily squeeze in two dozen more personal anecdotes that are bound to accumulate in the next ten years. And maybe then he will retire?

But it's not just my admiration for his ability to charm woman easily that sustains our friendship. There is a lot more, which can be seen if only one scratches the surface. So here is your chance to scratch the surface. You will not only understand my friend Sanjay better but also me and my love for him. Meanwhile, here's the two of us, in a picture taken on March 14:


You must meet my friend Sandhya, the karmic bum.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Playboy, Anyone?

Someone just left this message on my Orkut scrapbook:

Require young playboys.interested age between 20-30 and height above 5'5" can mail their details with their contact number to revert back.
Experience atleast once.
Earning 25000 per day.

Kriya, I regret to inform you that I've long crossed the age limit.

Those Days

Wrote this three years ago. Don't know what made me go back to it today.

Wife And I

Very often, and especially of late, I find one particular question thrown at me. The people who throw the question are mostly friends, well-meaning ones at that. And the question is: "Does your wife read your blog?"

The answer is yes.

By the time I finish writing a post, it is usually three or four in the morning, and when I wake up, wife would be already at work. I call her up the first thing and even before she can make the routine queries ("Did you have the tea?" or "Did the maids show up?"), I beg her to read the post I'd written the night before and give me feedback. Really, when it comes to family and friends, you have to beg to be read. As the day progresses, my wife finds time to read my posts, and the verdict, invariably, is: "Bhaloi hoyechhe, bor (It reads well, dear husband)."

When I tell those well-meaning friends that my wife does read my blog, their next question is, "And she does not say anything?" Perhaps they expect that each time I write a post, I am actually tied to the bed post the morning after and spanked brutally.

Quite a few of them admire me for showing the courage to write what I write. Once, in the presence of my wife, a fellow blogger-cum-friend commented: "I must say that you are really courageous." To which my wife said, "It has nothing to do with his courage, it's just that I am cool." Touch wood. I know women who -- had they been my wife -- would have smashed the laptop and the modem so that I could never blog again.

But my wife, instead of being an impediment to my blogging, discovered the power of blogging herself. Today, she has a pretty impressive blog and a dedicated fan-following. Our styles might not match, but we both work hard when it comes to writing a post. The only difference is that while she writes during the day, I write only at nights. And while she tells stories, I sell thoughts. To each his own.

In any case, I am what I am. The train called Ganga Mail began its journey long before I got married, and there is no reason why the train (of thoughts) should change its course just because I am married now. Beliefs are beliefs: you stand by them, irrespective of your location or gender or marital status.

But at the same time, just because you believe in something does not mean you are obliged to follow it in real life. For example, I believe smoking is bad for health, yet in real life, I end up smoking two dozen cigarettes a day. So there doesn't have to be a connection between me, the blogger, and me, the person. As a blogger, I am like the neighbourhood chaatwallah, who sells paani puris to spice up other people's evenings but is himself never seen partaking of any of his own paani puris. But does that mean a chaatwallah never craves to have paani-puri at all? And if yes, what does he do? Does he eat his own stuff on the sly, or does he walk over to a fellow chaatwallah to satiate himself?

No easy answers to that. But then, whoever said finding answers is easy? This blog has been searching for them for long, but in vain. In a world full of hypocrites, answers are bound to be elusive; and as long as they are elusive, this blog is going to thrive.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Song Of Silence

Smoke wafting up from my fingers
Scotch waiting at the elbow
We sat in the gentle glow
feasting on silence

She bared her soul
I bared mine
And yet
we had not spoken a word

We held hands, hugged tight
kissed passionately
And yet
we had not touched each other

Desires burned
fulfillment glowed
as we sat listening
to the song of silence.

Blogging And Dreaming

...So that night when it suddenly began to rain soon after they had ended up doing what they shouldn't have, considering that she was another man's wife, he was surprised as well as relieved. Do you hear that? It's raining," he whispered to her. She didn't respond. She lay clinging to him, absent-mindedly drawing invisible geometrical figures on his bare chest. "Do you hear that? It's raining," he said again. This time she looked up at him shyly, her face glowing in the darkened room. She smiled at him and nodded. They locked their lips and bodies once again and rolled over, trampling upon the guilt-bug that was lurking on the bed.

The Guilt Bug is the first short story I've ever attempted. If at all it can be called a short story, that is. It's barely 1,500 words long, and ends rather abruptly. But am glad that I wrote it because now I know I can do it, having made several false starts -- in the last 10 years -- for novels that have remained in my head.

The first few paragraphs of Guilt Bug were also meant to be the opening of a novel I've had in my head for a long, long time now. They were written exactly five years ago, in a hotel in the small but charming town of Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. I was on a two-month assignment to cover the 2004 Lok Sabha elections in the state, and Rampur was the last town on my itinerary.

The hotel, if my memory serves right, was called Delite. One cloudy afternoon, after roaming the town on a cycle rickshaw and getting people's views on the contest between two women, actress Jaya Prada and the widow of the former nawab of Rampur, I retired to the hotel and sent the boy to get a quarter bottle of whisky. After pouring myself a drink, I switched on the TV and began watching the news. The breaking news of the day was the mad scramble among sadhus to take a dip in the Ganga. It was an auspicious day, I gathered from the news, and hence the scramble.

Suddenly it struck me: "It's an auspicious day. Why don't you begin your book today?" So I switched off the TV and reached for my notebook and wrote these lines. Somehow, I couldn't proceed beyond the point when the two characters make love and crush the guilt-bug lurking on the bed. I had the basic story in my head, but I found myself impotent when it came to fleshing out the skeleton. So I left it at that and returned to the election campaign.

Then one day, just the other day, I came across those handwritten lines -- a piece of paper neatly folded and forgotten inside a notebook. Life was pumped into the flattened, bloodless bug and the remaining story was written in about two hours. I had intended to make the story longer, but that night I was running short on patience and alcohol. So I decided to wind it up as quickly as possible, and therefore, the abrupt ending. I was more eager to see if I could actually write a story -- from the start to finish. And I was glad that I could finish it -- so glad that I actually sent the story to New Yorker magazine. In my mildly drunken state, I believed I had written a gem of a story. Thankfully, the sun always rises sooner than later to sober you down. So the story got published instantly the morning after, without any evaluation, in my home publication called The Ganga Mail.

But come to think of it, it isn't a bad story that I've written. Really. When I read it a couple of times after writing it, I could actually visualise the couple in the bedroom -- the unsaid words creating the atmosphere more than those said. It's actually a minor achievement for someone who, till five years ago, didn't know how to proceed from point A to point B in a story without losing his own interest or making his reader lose interest. But then, five years ago, I did not blog. Blogging helps. Imagine a bunch of kids tugging at the trouser of an old man, "Grandpa, grandpa, please tell us a story." The old man pauses and clears his throat and begins, "Ok, once upon a time, there was a king..." And the kids sit in rapt attention. Blogging is a similar throat-clearing exercise. It teaches you to synthesise your innermost thoughts and translate them into words and tell a story that people will listen to.

Someday -- hopefully someday soon -- Guilt Bug would be a full-length novel. Since the story breeds on human unhappiness, it shouldn't be difficult to expand its length. Unhappiness is something that is not difficult to find at all: it is as common as the air we breathe. If anything, it is happiness that is elusive: you only find it in communist countries like North Korea or Cuba, where you are told, "Better be happy or else..." Come to think of it, most of us live in imaginary dictator-ruled communist countries, where you have to appear to be happy all the time, where even raising an eyebrow can be considered an act of defiance and attract censure. But raising an eyebrow is also the first step towards freedom, and I hope my novel raises a million eyebrows. As of now, though, the novel is only a dream -- only that the dream, this time, is not beyond touching distance.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Drinking In Delhi

Location: Roshanara Club, North Delhi.
Occasion: Twenty20 match between Roshanara Club and Teachers, the whisky brand.
Result: Since Teachers was a participant as well as one of the sponsors, whisky flowed like water that evening.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Guilt Bug

"You know something," she said, "whenever it rains all of a sudden, something good happens to me."


"When the postman came with the appointment letter for this job, it had just rained that afternoon."

"And you started believing in it?"

"No, wait. Not just that. Many years ago, dad was in hospital. He had a heart attack. We were in Chhattisgarh then. There was only one small hospital there, a government hospital. Doctors said the only way to save him was to fly him to Delhi. How we managed to get into the plane is another long story, but the moment we landed in Delhi, it began to rain. And doctors in Delhi refused to believe that he had had a heart attack. He was perfectly fine."

"And you started believing in it?"

"Don't make fun of it," she playfully punched his arm.

So that night when it suddenly began to rain soon after they had ended up doing what they shouldn't have, considering that she was another man's wife, he was surprised as well as relieved.

Do you hear that? It's raining," he whispered to her. She didn't respond. She lay clinging to him, absent-mindedly drawing invisible geometrical figures on his bare chest.

"Do you hear that? It's raining," he said again. This time she looked up at him shyly, her face glowing in the darkened room. She smiled at him and nodded. They locked their lips and bodies once again and rolled over, trampling upon the guilt-bug that was lurking on the bed.

When he woke up, he found her arm around him. She was wide awake. Their cheeks were touching and her big, beautiful eyes were fixed at him. The gaze, at any other time of the day, would have made him feel smug. But right now it unnerved him.

"You are up already?" he asked.

"I didn't sleep at all."


"Because I was busy looking at you."

"Come on," he blushed. "What's the time now?"

"Wait," she said and reached for her mobile phone that was lying behind her. In the process, she let him have a good look at her breasts, something that she had refused outright the night before. She had made it clear that she would remove her clothes only if the lights were off, or else he could forget about the whole thing. So they had spent the entire evening in near darkness, guided by the dim light emanating from the next room. But now, bare under the streaming sunlight, she made no attempt to cover herself.

"Seven-twenty," she said. As she checked the time, he couldn't help notice that the phone showed fourteen missed calls. She pressed the key to find out who all might have called her, and they all turned to be from one number, identified as 'Hubby.' From the corner of her eye she noticed he was watching, and she quickly pressed the 'exit' button and flung the phone away.

"Why didn't you answer his calls?" he asked.

"Because I didn't want to. That's why I kept the phone on silent mode."

"But won't he be worried? You've been missing for the night."

"I want him to worry. I have lost count of the nights I worried about him."

"So you want to get even with him."

"Yes, can't I?"

"Using me as the tool?"

"Shut up, I love you. If I had to sleep with someone just to get even, I would've done that long ago. Do you think there is any dearth of men?"

"I didn't mean that way."

She now pulled up a sheet and covered herself. He got up and walked, naked, to the door to collect the morning's newspapers. The only other flat on that floor was mostly locked, so there was no problem opening the door a little while naked and stretching the hand out to pull in the small bundle of newspapers. He got seven newspapers, one of them being the newspaper he worked for. A part of his job was to read through the other six papers the first thing in the morning and find out if his paper had missed any news and then scan his own paper to look for errors.

He slapped the bundle next to her. She lay there motionless, her gaze fixed at the ceiling. He didn't feel like indulging her. He put on his clothes and went to the kitchen to make tea. In the fridge, he found three eggs. So while the water boiled, he chopped an onion and two green chillies and made an omelette. And while the tea leaves infused, he toasted four pieces of bread. He carried the breakfast tray and placed it on top of the pile of newspapers. She was still looking at the ceiling.

"Look," he said, "I have never done this even for my wife. Do you mind getting up and having this?"

"Why, do you think you are doing me a big favour?"

"Not a favour. I am just being nice. Now please get up."

She sat up, holding the sheet tightly around her throat so that it didn't come off.
"What's this fuss about? I have seen you naked. Now what's the big deal?"

"Oh, shut up! You haven't see me naked."

"I have."

"No, you haven't."

"But I have."

"Ok, whatever. Where's the ketchup?"

When he got back from the kitchen, she was not there on the bed. He heard water running in the bathroom. He lit a cigarette and drank his tea. But hers was getting cold, and that was now irritating him. He rarely made tea, not even for himself, and now that he had presented an entire breakfast on the tray, she chose to go to the bathroom. Couldn't she have gone to the bathroom before, or a little later? When the bathroom door opened, she emerged fully clad, just like she was the evening before, and sat in a corner of the bed in a dignified manner.

"Could you pass me my plate, please?" she said. She smelt of his soap.

"But the tea has gone cold."

"Oh is it? Don't bother, I can't drink it hot anyway."

"Are you sure?"

"I told you, don't bother."

"Are you pissed off about something?"

"Pissed off? Whatever for? All men are the same."

"All men? But what did I do?"

"You did nothing. When did I ever say you did anything?"

"But you sound angry."

"Not at all," she said, as she took a bite of the bread and omelette. "Why should I
be angry? You men are the same."

Since she was fully clothed now, he suddenly felt like disrobing her and making love to her once again. But he didn't have the courage. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, in a ladylike fashion, eating her breakfast. He tried arousing her by placing his foot on her right shoulder and ticking her ear with his toes.

"Hello! What do you think you are doing?" she snapped at him, shaking his leg off. "Can't you see I'm eating?"

He felt a bit embarrassed and withdrew his leg. "I am sorry. Just that I was overcome by affection."

"Affection, my foot! All you men want is sex."

"Why do you keep saying 'You men'? I don't know about the other men in your life, but I certainly was not keen on the sex part."

"Oh yeah? And you want me to believe that?"

"I swear on God."

"You don't have to say anything. I know what you mean. I know you men."

"You are getting me wrong," he said.

"I'm getting you right."

"But what did I do? Did I do or say something to piss you off?"

"Nothing. It's just that I love my husband."

"Then why didn't you take his calls? He kept calling the whole night"

"That's a personal matter."

He saw her off at the elevator and said, "Bye, Meenakshi." Only last evening, she had told him, "Get used to calling me Meenu."


We lie almost every day. You, me, all of us, even those who claim that they never lie at all. If you are wondering how, then this is how it is:

"Hi, how are you?"
"I'm fine."

Only after answering the question do you realise that you have just lied. You are not actually fine. You had a fight with your spouse. Your child is unwell. Your job is on the line. You are worried about money -- where is the next instalment going to come from? You are unable to find a match for your daughter.

In short, there is something that makes you feel miserable sometime or the other. And yet to smile and say, "I'm fine." What a lie. When I have this how-are-you question thrown at me every morning and evening, especially after I sign on to g-talk, I wonder if I should unburden my mind share the trouble that's weighing me down. Then I realise, what's the point? The other person will just be nice and patient with me and make sympathetic noises, and that does not really solve my problem. So I end up saying, "I'm fine, what about you?"

We are all people with problems. That's one thread that binds humanity -- problems. It's not surprising, therefore, that Paris Review, which has published some of the best anthologies in the world, also came up with an anthology titled, People With Problems.

What sets apart one human from the other is how they deal with their problems. Someone's child dies and he becomes a mental wreck or turns to god; while another recognises that death is inevitable and till such time it comes to claim you, life has to go on. The latter, in my eyes, is a true yogi, because he recognises facts and does not take refuge in false faith.

Kabir Bedi is one man I admire. I have never written about him in my posts, but if there is a man I would like to be, that is Kabir Bedi. There are many men who are tall and handsome and well-sculpted, but this man is also erudite, charming, suave and has a philosophical air about him. Shobha De, in her autobiography, made fun of this philosophical side, which she believed was assumed. But I, as a lay viewer/watcher, believe that this is the side of Kabir Bedi that illuminates his persona and makes him so irresistible.

Anyway, coming to the point. The other night I was watching clips of Riz Khan's interview with Kabir for Al Jazeera channel on Youtube. One must watch the grace with which he answers the question about how he dealt with his wife's and son's death, one shortly after the other. Without losing any of his charm in front of the camera, even though one could see his eyes quickly travelling back in time, he effectively drives home the point that one has no choice but to accept the fact that life goes on.

I think the thought of mortality is the biggest source of unhappiness. And when I say mortality, I don't our own mortality, but that of our near and dear ones. That's something that keeps us on our toes throughout the lifetime, even though we know we can do zilch about it. The thought of poverty is the second-biggest source of unhappiness: what if I am left with no money tomorrow? What will I eat?

And when the combined fear of mortality and poverty grips you, then you are as good as dead, unless, of course, you understand that life must go on and you must make the most of it as long as you are breathing. Most of us do that, actually, but only instinctively and not with a sense of awareness. But then, if you start doing things with awareness and not instinctively, then you become a yogi and are no longer a mere mortal.

Come to think of it, it is the acknowledgment of the simplest things in life that distinguishes a yogi from a mere mortal. The yogi knows that nothing is permanent -- not life, not money, not relationships. He knows that everyone has to die one day, including the near and dear ones. So why get worked up if they are dying? It's like the last day at college: people have to part ways, because you can't stay in college all the time. If anything is permanent, that's you, your own self. And if you keep digging into it, you will find God. And once you find God, does anything else matter? Suddenly you find yourself on an elevated seat from where you watch the world like a theatre. At times you are so moved by the plight of an actor that you come to his rescue and perform a miracle. That's a yogi.

The mere mortal, as in the bhogi, knows these things too. But he, like an ostrich, refuses to acknowledge them. He somehow believes that he is entitled to be insulated from the vicissitudes of life, so he runs from temple to temple, asking for infinite money, infinite fame, and infinite addition to the lifespan of people dear to him. And when he realises that nothing is infinite, he is heartbroken and crushed. He becomes a person who has a problem. Like you and me.

The answer to all our problems is simple: break free of all attachments. According to me, happiest is the man who has no family or friends or relatives, and who lives on the pavement and fills his stomach with the bread thrown at him by a passerby. He is a man without worries: he has no bills to pay, he has no family to feed, he has no one to shed a tear for and, above all, he has no fear for death.

Most of us fear death not because we are scared of dying (because most often, death doesn't give us a chance to think), but because we wonder how our near and dear ones would react if we were to die. We worry about how they are going to cope with it, and therefore we are scared of dying.

Ah, why such morbid thoughts. Let's talk about the state of elevation and happiness. And some of these could be achieved if you read Paul Brunton's A Search in Secret India. In the book, written in the early 20th century, Brunton narrates his encounters with many Indian saints, including Ramana Maharishi. And almost all of them told him the basic thing: "Before you seek answers to other questions, first look into yourself and find out who you are."

Now that makes life so easy. Who are we? If you think hard, the first answer that comes to your mind is that we are mere toys at the hands of a bigger, unseen force. And that unseen force has the power to fuck up our lives at any point of time. But till such time the unseen force decides to do that, why not live life to the fullest -- that's the only thing in our power. And once we exert that power, we just might bring the unseen power to its knees. In that sense, it is not really a lie to say, "I'm fine."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


"Naukri ke interview ke liye aaye ho (have you come for a job interview)?" asked the Jat autorickshaw driver, as he dropped me in front of PTI Building on Parliament Street in Delhi. I nodded: I had cleared the written test, and was now going to appear for the interview that would decide my future. If selected, I would be joining Press Trust Of India, the country's top news agency. More importantly, I would be living in Delhi, the so-called Mecca of journalism. "Koi nahin, ho jayega tumhara (don't worry, you will get through)," the driver said rather seriously, as if he was friends with the board members.

The interview got over. I had no clue whether I was in or rejected. I came out and bought a cigarette lighter from a hawker who had spread out his wares next to the building. Before lighting the cigarette, I looked at the lighter suspiciously, wondering whether it would last more than a couple of days. The hawker read my mind. "Not to worry," he said, "if you have a problem, bring it when you come here next time." Next time? I did not tell him that there might not be a next time.

But I was back in Delhi within weeks, this time for good. And that morning, when I had a quick smoke before I reported for work at PTI, the blue cigarette-lighter was still working. It is amazing that I should still remember the colour, even though that's the most irrelevant feature of a five-rupee lighter.

Thus began the journey of a 23-year-old man from Kanpur, in a city which belonged to no one in particular, but the high and the mighty belonged to it. Till then, Khushwant Singh was my god. I had read a bit of Shobha De: or did I read about her? I had a copy of Naipaul's An Area of Darkness, but never got down to reading it. Till then, I had not had a woman boss, and dreaded the thought of having one: blame it on small-town mentality. I had never seen a woman smoke or wearing short skirts, except in the movies. I had never seen men and women -- rather boys and girls -- putting their hands around each other and walking on the streets. I smoked less than 10 cigarettes a day, and drank once in a blue moon (each time, I only threw up). I did not suffer from hypochondria. My parents were young then: father was 50, and mother 42. The year was 1994. I landed in Delhi with a blue VIP suitcase, packed with a dozen shirts and half a dozen trousers -- all stitched by the neighbourhood tailor.

My maternal grandparents lived in Delhi, so place was not a problem. And my grandfather was a cool person in many ways: he dug out one of his old ashtrays and gave it to me. Twenty-three years before that, he had given me my name. Then my grandmother: she would stay up all night till I got back home so that she could re-heat the food. But their affection was smothering me. After playing the son for 23 years, I did not wish to spend my days in Delhi playing the grandson. I wanted to be free. Fortunately, I knew someone in Delhi. She was my age, and her kindness matched her beauty. In hindsight, I think we were in love with each other, but at the time, she was being just a friend, rather a mother. Holding on to her fingers, I explored my Delhi. There was not much time left: she was to leave in a few weeks.

One Sunday afternoon, we went to Priya cinema in Vasant Vihar. I think we went there to watch Lion King: remember Elton John's Circle Of Life? That's one song that still makes me cry. Anyway, it was that afternoon I got the first -- and the last -- culture shock of my life. I saw girls and boys loitering about hand-in-hand, and I also saw the girls smoking. Even traditional-looking salwar-kameez-clad girls were puffing away, as if it was the most natural thing to do. What turned me on was the assertion of freedom -- "If the boys can smoke, why can't we?"

Suddenly I wanted to be a part of that taboo-less, liberated world, where the women wore the I-don't-give-a-fuck attitude on their bindis. But I was a newcomer to the city, that too from a conservative town like Kanpur, so how do I get such women to people my small world? I took the easiest way out.

There is a Shiva temple in Connaught Place, on Kharak Singh Marg. One afternoon, after my shift in PTI got over, I went to the temple and prayed: "God, get me some of those women -- the kind I saw at the cinema hall the other day. Do you think it is fair that I should always be stuck with girls who only have marriage on their minds?" It was the most casual prayer I've ever made to Shiva, trust me. I really didn't mean it. It was a prayer made due to a momentary loneliness, more for the fun of it because you know gods are not going to take it seriously.

But Shiva, being the large-hearted god that he is, decided to shower me with extraordinary kindness. Suffice to say that life was never the same again. But what surprised me was the swiftness of my transformation: one Sunday I was at the cinema hall with a sense of longing, and two Sundays later I was there again, with a sense of belonging, holding the hand of a young woman and watching Keanu Reeve's Speed.

That was also the starting point of other transformations. Egos crumbled, attitudes changed, education began. Today, as a man of 38, I feel like telling that 23-year-old man from a small town, "Serves you right!" Because at the time he dreaded the idea of taking orders from a woman, but eventually ended up spending 10 out of the 16 years of his professional life so far reporting to a female boss. Today he hates it that he does not have a female boss -- just look at the transformation!

Today, at 38, sitting in the laidback and yet far more agreeable city of Chennai for the past eight years, I can see many more transformations. New egos have taken over, and new attitudes formed. But it was in Delhi that this boy became a man. This Saturday, I am returning to Delhi on one of my twice-a-year visits. But this time, for the first time, I am going there solely to meet the boy whose face I still see in the mirror every morning. I also know where to find him: he would be loitering around in the inner circle of Connaught Place, window-shopping with a woman. If he is not to be seen, he must be hiding in a bookshop called The Bookshop. Many of the books I own today were bought by him from that shop.

Monday, March 09, 2009


A friend/colleague of mine, Janani, has these things to wonder about women. Yes, one woman wondering about other women:

1. Why do they keep saying cho chweet, cho cute?

2. Why are they so finicky about not repeating their clothes often?

3. Why are they such nags?

4. Why are they so inquisitive?

5. Why do they have a huge lexic budget?

6. Why do they pretend that they don't want to talk about sex?

Answers please.

Saturday, March 07, 2009


I have a friend, Priyadarshini, who wants to share five thoughts about men:

1. Why do they keep their wallets in their arse pocket?

2. Why do they shun responsibility/commitment?

3. Why do they only speak the truth when they are drunk?

4. On the road, why do they drive faster when a woman overtakes them?

5. Why are they obsessed with breasts?

Any answers?


The title of this post: now that's one subject that fascinates me a lot. I am sure it fascinates a lot of other people as much as it puts off many others. But what is interesting is that you never know who is fascinated by the thought of adultery and who is not. Most often, those who publicly treat the word 'adultery' like a contagious disease are the ones who take sips from the sinful potion on the sly. While those who keep plotting or dreaming of illicit sex, actually never gather the courage to indulge in it. And it is so much fun when you read their expressions: their eyebrows say something and their eyes something else.

Now, why am I writing about this subject tonight, even though I am too drowsy to even keep my eyes open, thanks to the two injections I received on my butt a few hours ago for a throat infection? That's because I want to take some load off my chest so that I can sleep in peace. Thoughts about adultery -- as a subject, I mean -- have been fermenting in my head during the last few days after conversations I had about it with a couple of friends -- both happen to be women. The conversations, in both cases, began with my posts on Shivani and then one thing led to another and in the end, I found a hand-grenade lobbed at me in the form of a set of questions: "How can one think of another man or woman while being committed? Doesn't commitment mean anything? And if you have to think of other men and women, why get committed in the first place?"

The answer, my friends, is simple. It is only after you get committed that the thought of other men or women crosses your mind. When you are single and footloose, the word 'other' is redundant and meaningless: all you are looking for is someone who could suit you the best in the given circumstances. Only after you make the commitment that this demon (maybe angel, in some cases) called adultery pops its head into your cosy tent.

So the argument -- that if you can't keep a commitment, then don't commit at all -- holds no water. Because when you make a commitment, you do so with the best of intentions: you have no clue at the time that, five years from now, you might be cursing yourself for having made that commitment in the first place. At that time, commitment must have felt like a secure palace, with the passage of time, it just might become a prison. You suddenly envy the people roaming freely outside.

What do you do then? Walk out of the prison? Many people strongly believe that if you can't keep a commitment, be honest about it and walk out, but don't cheat. If only it was that easy. If there is a small hole on your wall, you don't desert the house and build a new house, do you? You merely get a mason to plug the hole. And then, you go on to live happily ever after.

Adultery, according to me, does not have to be always about getting physical and making things messy. It can be about fixing that little emotional hole in your life. And masons are never hard to find.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Goodbye Shivani, See You Again

So that was Shivani. I am not going to write about her again. I will let her take a break so that she can resurface later, maybe a few months or years from now, as the soul of my next book.

But it was fun while she was around. Even though she was my own creation, I was myself obsessed with her for the past three or four days. The obsession shall continue -- but in the form of undercurrents rather than waves.

Many thought Shivani was really some woman who had borrowed my blogspace for one evening. In fact, the editor-in-chief of a US-based woman's online magazine asked me if she could reproduce Shivani's post. I would be lying if I say I didn't feel flattered. Many others suspected it was me but didn't know if they should ask me. Some went ahead and asked me if it was me, and I told them the truth. Though there were some people -- most of them close friends and regular readers -- who knew from the beginning that it was me. And then, there were a couple of them, the dimwitted ones, who thought it was my wife who was masquerading as Shivani: well, nothing could be farther from the truth and more hilarious.

The wife can be your best friend and your biggest support-system and the only person you ultimately want to see happy in this world. And all the writing you do and the hard work you put into it is only to make her feel proud at the end of the day. But she can never be your inspiration while you are writing -- simply because she is your wife.

Inspiration comes from unchartered territory, and that is why it is called inspiration. And when I say wife, I don't mean my wife: I mean wife, in general. I should have actually used the word 'spouse.' It is better to clarify such things because often, when you write a post, you are usually seen as the protagonist rather than the narrator.

True, there is often a very thin line between the thoughts of the protagonist and the narrator; but there are times when the narrator uses certain details to embellish the story. However, it does not necessarily mean that those details belong to his real life. But then -- for example -- if I write that I made love last Friday evening, I am likely to be asked things like, "But weren't you at work on Friday evening? Then when did you have sex?" or "Oh, so that is why you went missing for an hour that evening. And you said you were going to get some sandwiches." My previous post happened to have these lines, "No one at the workplace thinks I am creative. They think I am a lazy, foolish day-dreamer. I even get pulled up for that at times," and I had at least four colleagues coming charging at me, "This is a false allegation. What made you write all these things?"

I have discovered that adopting a voice is a more liberating way of telling a story. You can plunge into the innermost crevices of your mind and write whatever you want to and, when confronted, can walk away saying, "But that's fiction." Once you explain that, no one pauses to think that fiction and fact don't live in water-tight compartments and that they are actually entwined.

On the face of it, Shivani's story is fiction. Yet, it is a real story -- the story of countless women. Most of these women don't even realise they have a story to tell, so busy they are playing out roles alloted to them by destiny. Throughout their lives, they keep other fires burning, without realising that the fire inside them died somewhere along the way. They are pretty yet faceless, they shout at their children when they watch TV all the time and yet they are voiceless. The idea behind Shivani was to give them a face, a voice.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Come Home Every Night, Shivani

Ah, Shivani. So you’ve come. I always wonder why you never come a minute before or a minute later. You come precisely at the point when I sit in front of computer, in the faint glow of the lamp, the glass of whisky at my elbow, and I am just about to lift my finger to type. That’s when I feel your warm breath on my bare shoulder, and I turn back to see your face, that mischievous smile which asks me silently, “So what are you going to write tonight?”

The man inside me tells me, “How can you write when the woman of your dreams is sitting right behind you – so close that you can feel the warmth of her breath and even smell her hair? Go ahead, make love to her. Run the back of your palm on her glowing cheeks, run your fingers through her hair, play with her nose, caress her neck. Go on, just go on. She’s yours.”

The writer inside me tells me, “She’s yours. That is why you must not touch her. She is your creation. She is a piece of art. A perfect piece of painting. Do you want to use the painting as a paper plate? Let her be. Let her just watch while you write. If you want to make love to her, do so with your words.”

But the man inside me protests, “It’s my words that have created her. She’s my character. I can clothe her or disrobe her, it’s my choice. What does it matter to you?”

The writer inside me reasons, “Have can you make love to your own character? Does the doll-maker decorate his own modest home with his dolls? No. Those dolls adorn mantelpieces of other homes. You may have created Shivani, and you have done a good job. She is indeed a dream woman. But once you have created her, your control over her ends. She now has a mind of her own. You can now make her do only what she wants to do.”

Well, did you hear that conversation Shivani? Am sure you hear it every night. Then why don’t you ever say anything? Why don’t you ever do anything? Why don’t you ever make the first move and end this nightly debate? Why don’t you just pull me to the bed that is right behind us and make love to me and then force me back to the chair and make me write till day breaks and I turn around to find that you are no longer there? Don’t you think I will write better that way? I’ve read somewhere that creative people love sex. Now don’t laugh at me, Shivani. I don’t want to have sex because I think I am creative. I want to have sex only to qualify as a creative man. No one at the workplace thinks I am creative. They think I am a lazy, foolish day-dreamer. I even get pulled up for that at times. But if you make love to me, I can maybe boast to them about it, and then they will discuss me in the lunch-room: “Wow, he actually slept with her! How did he manage that? He must be truly creative.” And then I will show them the stories I’ve written.

Trust me Shivani, I am not a bad writer. They will like my stories. I may not be a great writer, but I can tell a story as honestly as I can. I know you know that, and that is why you are here every night, to watch me over my shoulder as I write. Am I not right, Shivani?

So come every night, Shivani. I have so many stories to tell you. I want you to read them when they are fresh out of my head. I want you to tell me if they read fine. I know you don’t talk while you are with me, but from your facial expressions I can tell whether I am on the right track. But there will come a time when I would not like you to be around – that will be when I tell the story about how I fell madly in love with you. I would not like you watching me type that story: I would feel very conscious.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


And then Maya told me:

"You know BG, the thing is, we are never happy with what we have. But then, it is the unhappiness that moves the world."

Monday, March 02, 2009

My Alter Ego

Thirty years ago, we went to the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad, where my twin brother got lost. Finally, I have found him.

My dear lost-and-found brother, please don't steal this post at least.

A Letter To Shivani

Wish I were a woman. I've been blogging for more than three years now, and none of my posts, even when featured on Desi Pundit, managed to attract more than 20 comments. But Shivani makes a guest appearance on my blog and I get 24 comments in just over 24 hours.

Thanks Shivani, do come more often. This time, you merely said that you see your inner self every time you stand naked in front of the mirror. Next time, maybe you can describe what exactly you see in the mirror. Not for my benefit: I've see you naked a million times, and you've seen me too, so no big deal. It's just that I want to see your descriptive powers. You've told your story well, but if you had described things with a little more clarity, maybe many of the commentators would not have admonished you -- asking you to get a life and all that. Clarity, my dear, clarity.

I know what you go through every single day. You belong to the population which is happy and yet not happy. I can relate to it because I too belong to that population. In fact, everybody belongs to that population. On the face of it, a millionaire who has breakfast at the Taj and then proceeds to play golf with his buddies before flying off to Mumbai or Delhi for lunch might seem to be the happiest person on earth. He has everything at his disposal that a human being can ever ask for. But ask him and he will tell you how worried he is all the time -- either about not losing his millions or how to make them grow into billions.

Your story is no different, Shivani. On the face of it, you have everything that a woman can aspire for -- a good husband who takes care of you, two kids who make you run around but still light up your day, you have a car and a driver at your disposal to take you where ever you want to, and I know for a fact that you recently placed an order for a Louis Vuitton handbag. Many women must be jealous of you, but I know for a fact that you are not happy. And that's because you've lost this precious thing called yourself. If you lose a diamond pendant, there can always be a replacement, but when you lose yourself, it often takes decades to find that self. By then you are a grandmother, and your job is to make the best rasam or mango pickle in the world.

What surprised me was that the men and women who admonished you -- a woman who is barely 40 -- actually compared you to their own mothers. The typical mother, the Nirupa Roy-type, who only makes sacrifices all her life. They hardly saw you as the present-day woman who might be feeling suffocated in the luxuries that life has to offer. If you go by most of the comments your post has attracted, you should be grateful to God for being provided with several square meals in a day and a bathtub to soak in (and also a mirror to admire yourself). Typical Indian mentality, I must say. A man, no matter how happily married, can fuck around and still get away with it, but a woman, if happily married, must mortgage her happiness to her husband and be grateful to him for having given her the good life.

Most people, surprisingly, have not spared a thought about the turmoil you must be going through. You never really wanted to marry the man you are married to, did you? You married him only because you wanted to be an obedient girl. If you had run away then, maybe with another man, the same set of people would have called you a slut. But you were a dutiful daughter, so you married the man they chose for you. And once you married the man, you became a dutiful wife. Once you had kids, you became a dutiful mother. But I know there are times when you wonder, "Why does the woman have to be dutiful all the time?"

That's how the world is, Shivani. That's how it is to women. Learn to live with it.