Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Aadhe Adhoore

ये आधे अधूरे सपने, ये आधी अधूरी मुस्कान
एक आधी अधूरी हरक़त, कुछ आधे अधूर अल्फाज़
चले पड़े थे एक पूरी रात के आधे अधूरे सफ़र पर
उस दूसरे किनारे की कुछ आधी अधूरी तलाश में
आये, और चले गए तूफ़ान, कुछ नए और कुछ पुराने
कुछ बिताये, कुछ बीते पल, सब आधे, कुछ अधूरे
पर कुछ बात तोह है उस जिद्दी ख़ुशी में भी क्यूंकि
हम रहे हमेशा आधे ही, उस अधूरी मंज़िल की फ़िराक में।

Monday, November 05, 2012

The Wall

(and a somewhat coherent attempt at explaining the flimsy reasons for its untimely existence.)
I find it rather strange to note that most of the people I know or claim to ‘once’ have known have either spent some time abroad, are planning to, or are staying over there right now. You will realise how spooky (read uneasy) it can get for a person like me if you manage to reach the end of this personal rant. These are the people have had the chance to experience an alien culture and value and belief system that are so fundamentally distinct from ours that they are bound to arouse curiosity even in the most indifferent of people. They have been able to cross over to the other side and find out for themselves what the hoopla is all about. Do you think they have some interesting insights to share with us? Some myths to bust or reaffirm? Grass is always greener on the other side, right? What can we learn from them not by way of imitation but through comprehension and assimilation? Granted, some of these people are pretty much ignorant of the singular nature of their experience and have reduced their good fortune to planning on buying an Audi. (And this is when I am not even trying to sound condescending.) But I am pretty sure even their sub-conscious has registered the obvious and I am willing to bet that that natty bastard is smug in the secret knowledge of it.

We all grew up in a country that has been ‘trying’ to shirk off the burden of its colonial past. But since it has always been in the process of doing so, without quite managing to pull off the feat, I believe this colonial hangover has imbued us with a vague longing for western ideals and culture – those bastions of modern civilisation, forward thinking, secular progress, and (often unsustainable) development. Most people, realising the inherent complications that the fulfilment of this particular desire entails, have come to exact satisfaction not through a pound of flesh but by means of weekly ‘trips’ to the now ubiquitous malls and multiplexes, ordering their pizzas and tacos in English even when the cashier is perfectly well versed in the vernacular, and splurging obscene amounts of money on Levi’s jeans and P.T. shoes that the guys on the other side call sneakers. Others have assimilated into their lives some of the very pertinent (and not so relevant) lessons that such an exposure, vicarious or otherwise, should teach us. They talk of liberty, equality, and brotherhood. Fewer still are the people who have managed to translate this vague yearning into concrete reality. They swear to the fact that their experiences have opened up their minds and helped them grow into more mature individuals. This is all very good since it helps them sleep peacefully at the end of the day. Isn’t that what ultimately counts as important?

Afflicted by a chronic case of indecision and conflict in almost every aspect of my life, I have been, however, unable to determine which way my loyalties lie. For instance, I consume literature and all sorts of media in English, find it difficult to express the most intimate of my thoughts in Hindi, and know more about western demographics than the intricacies of the Hindu caste system. And yet, I look upon malls as ‘modern melas’, treating them with suspicion for being the torchbearers of capitalism, and insist that consumption is evil. On someone’s 25th birthday, I had enunciated the relevance of the various ‘ashrams’ in our lives, as if the well worn Hindu grooves of studentship, marriage, and late-life detachment make perfect sense to me. You are probably going to say that assimilation has always been the hallmark of our civilisation and that I am proceeding along the right track. I shouldn't have any problems as long as I try to analyse everything through the lens of reason (which, I must confess, is definitely a very western construct.) But this is where I must digress.

My dilemma is exacerbated by the realisation that I have had just about enough of every kind of vicarious experience. One is likely to agree, right? I masturbate to videos of strange women I have found on the internet, I claim to love someone who lives 10,000 miles away, and, hell, I am dictating my thoughts to the tantrums of a language that wouldn’t make sense to nearly 90 of the 100 people living in this country. Second hand goods make me feel like I am aping blindly. Is it even possible to comprehend what lasting impression something as complicated as an experience, a place, or a culture can have on you without knowing it first hand? No winder, this, that in the presence of such duplicity, I feel like I have donned the garb of an impostor. And the one thing that I have tried doing consciously all my adult life is to keep myself from being pretentious. Which brings me to what triggered this diatribe.

Every time I come across people I know regaling the converted with tales of places they have been to, people they have met, and insights they have come across as genuine, I feel the walls closing in on me very quickly. There is a strange sense of unease that originates without reason, pretends it has one in the vague longing I talked of earlier, and soon prevents me from listening to anything. It’s spontaneous, untamed, and very effective. I keep hearing; the words go in, and make sense. I even mumble all the right things at the right places. But I fail to relate to them. Things would have been manageable had this status quo been the norm. But the same discomfort assumes the guise of a guardian whose only duty is to protect me from the wiles of these second hand narratives. It whispers into my ears, “You can’t know them and there is no way you can ever be a part of them. You will always be an outsider looking in. Why let yourself be tortured by others because of this unfulfilled craving?” These real or imagined voices compel me to maintain my distance from agents of social evil, like awkward telephonic conversations, ‘trips’ planned by friends, facebook, and practically every other form of social interaction. I sequester myself from all kinds of contact and communication, deeming myself to be safe in the ignorance of my isolation, although I know better.

I concoct this fragile peace and seem to depend on it for my sustenance. It is, I guess, the easier way out, the way of an escapist. I wish I could categorise my feelings as envy or jealousy, but such emotions have a sharp sting instead of this dull ache that has found home in me. An ache that is aware of the price I have to pay for this delicate truce. Conscious of the things one loses in the fire. As another brick in the wall is quietly pushed into place and I feel one of my turns coming on, I wonder whose interests my self-appointed guardian is looking after. I don’t build the wall, no. but I keep myself from tearing it down and that, dear strangers, makes all the difference. When it comes to the tricks our mind plays on us, it is all smoke and mirrors.

[And here's a more roundabout way of saying exactly the same thing.]

Friday, September 07, 2012

Where is my Red Pamphlet?

The opulence of this place is suffocating. It is a world inside a world, barricaded from the filth and the dust outside by men and women who must return to the filth and the dust outside at the end of the day. We are spoilt for choices. There is enough food here to feed a village and yet we sniff at it, scowl, and move on. Make no mistake, I am not a communist weeping over the death of a dream. I enjoy walnut brownies. (I ate one too, although I had trouble managing a fork. It would crumble to pieces before I could bring it to my mouth. A telling sign, perhaps of what my life in this world would be like.) But the excesses lavished on this gathering are a bit too much for my taste. I realise, much to my consternation, that I have seen people die of hunger while I am wondering what "hummus with pita bread" is supposed to be. Life is never without a sense of irony.

People can get used to anything. To having the doors of their cars opened for them. To the company of light music softly floating down ghost jukeboxes hidden from view in the labyrinthine, immaculate washrooms. To mineral water and generous helpings of pineapple for dessert. Getting used to is not the difficult part. (She tells me I must be more open to new experiences. Well, I have never really been able to explain to her my fears. Better safe than sorry, you see) Soon, they begin to expect their asses will be wiped for them. They will turn up their noses, make a face, and sport a grimace every time the stench gets too strong. The excesses and the opulence become a fact of their privileged lives and they are loathe to relinquish this vantage point. Why should they? This life is good. Hell, it has good manners, paper towels, and caesar salad.

That is when I stop empathising. Fuck, that is when I begun to ignore. (For empathy is too loaded a word and whoever knows the heartache of a lover spurned without having suffered herself.) I see but do not notice. I hear but do not listen. So run away. Don't let the comfort of these cynical words turn into an excuse for inaction. For time is running out and there is no place to stand. The voices are closing in and they are murmuring strange, dark, tempting secrets in my ears. They will have my soul and I won't even know it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


I drink her in
Licking every last drop greedily and,
Take her along as I
Stumble through
A whirlwind tour of my own life.
There are the relics from the past and
The future propped on shivering columns.
But all this time,
While she looks around,
Amused, relieved,
(I can't discern the glint in her eye)
The question still remains,
"Why are you here, again?"

Saturday, August 18, 2012


Push, push, and further still push them all away.
Edit out all those guilty, wretched faces, one by one,
Carefully, painstakingly, meticulously, scrupulously,
Like that faceless man in an empty room
Who mechanically runs his pen through
All the words accused of sedition emotion and
Strikes at the still throbbing heart of life.

Push, push, and further still push them all away.
Until the last of love has trickled down
And the bowl lies empty where once it
Brimmed with light, and conversations, and light.
Lick your dry, chapped lips clean of all laughter
As the piercing loneliness of solitude begins to
Settle down into the dull rhythm of your days.

Push, push, and further still push them all away.
So that the guilt of having failed finally surrenders to
The pain of having a thorn gutted in your side
Where it sits still only to turn every so slightly everyday.
And as light begins to flounder in a sea of darkness,
You realise you’re failing still, falling still,
But now, there is no one to let down, except yourself.

Push, push, and further still push them all away.
Until the memories confined by exuberant photoframes
Begin to decay into a state of utter disrepair,
Decrepit like a neglected mansion in the woods,
For there is nothing to nourish them back to strength
Apart from the, ah, cloying sentimentality of nostalgia,
Held ransom by the vague outlines of your umpteen fears.

Push, push, and further still push them all away.
So that the empty walls of your severe room
Occasionally cramp your soul as well
And your feet, when they wander in the direction of comfort,
Made so appealing by the noises drifting downstairs,
Get confused, nay, lost in a maze of insecurities
And come back to where they were.

Push, push, and further still push them all away.
Until your tiny window is stripped bare of all beauty
And the silent accusations lose their teeth but
In doing so become a state of being.
Until your peace is botched with vile, stubborn stains –
But is the only way you can look yourself in the eye –
And your detach-ment is complete.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Joined together at the Lips

Joined together at the lips,
He can see his reflection in her eyes.
Closer, closer, closer still he squints into them;
A million mirrors.
Lips swollen with longing,
Straining to break free once again.
Smooth lines are fringing his face for
The frowns are all lost in the throes of passion.
A gentle music lines the edges of their embrace now and
There is the hint of a little poem in his eyes.

“I will sing you a Story”, he says.
“Silly man”, I would tell him. “Stories are not sung anymore.”
He would sulk a little at this realisation for
Sometimes his world is too delicate for truth.
But she would smile a mile and cradling his head in her neck say,
“You are my song and my story, darling”.
He would look at her through big, believing eyes and
Sleep the night away living that dream.

They have so much history to sift through;
One would think they’ve been joined together at the lips for ages.
Oh, the cloying sentimentality of their words!
Their wretched worlds!
It would put you off were it not for their feverish earnestness.
Life imitating art in its morbid fascination or
The other way round? Stupid games of love and lore.

He was ugly and she owned no tiara
But there is such loveliness in tragedy,
Like an innocent teardrop on the most worldly of cheeks.
Such ugliness too, I tell you, that one doesn’t know what to believe
Anymore than the pulp novel I bought from the footpath yesterday.

“I am going”, she says, “and I don’t want you to come”.
He nods his head in agreement for
The distance has leached him of all his emotions.
You might find him kicking and screaming,
In the silence of his solitude,
Desperate to feel something else.
He cannot read their words, so many millions of them,
Without dying a hundred deaths.
Without knowing his greatest fears.
Without being shamed by the worst of his Days.

The face has begun to fade away and
The lips have been robbed of their blush.
The memories have started to blur around the edges,
Assuming the all too familiar hue of perfection.
Too immaculate for their own good.
Would flaws be an escape?

He catches the drift of a song,
He doesn’t even need to listen
For she had done all the singing. . .
All he does is cry these days, the spineless sod.

A lump in the throat chokes his heart as he pours over her letters
And tonight, looking away into the distance,
Like a poet whose verse is too clichéd,
He decides to put them away.
He has had enough.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Monsoon Express

I opened my eyes
And looked up at the rain,
And it dripped in my head
And flowed into my brain.
— Rain, Shel Silverstein
The season of dreams in my country is drawing to a close. Eyes pregnant with expectation are trained skywards, scanning the heavens for a sign that will tell them that the long, exacting summer has been finally laid to rest. But the monsoons are not so benevolent. They do not let me into their secret garden so easily. Just like the temperamental lover you can neither live with nor stay without, they will make me grovel and beg, and when the hope in my eyes is laced with indignity and surrender, they will overwhelm me with their love, winning me over completely. Yet again.

The last few weeks are always the most difficult. Months of tormenting heat have parched the leaves by now. The grass is shrivelled up and yellow, stunted by submission. As temperatures soar all over the country, conversations seem to dwell on just one subject – the tantrums of the impending rains. News shows talk of people dying due to the prolonged heat wave, perhaps hoping that the plight of their poor countrymen will somehow convince the favourite Gods to change their minds. Politicians, having themselves assumed the role of Gods in certain parts of the country, assure their supplicants that there is nothing to worry about while they frantically consult more knowledgeable people at night regarding weekly weather forecasts. My mother, sitting rather comfortably in her air conditioned room, complains about the 48 degree days while the help sweats it out in the kitchen.

Dusty windstorms are often the vanguard of the first tropical showers. The monsoons, realising how they must put up a spectacular show in order to impress the faithfully devoted and have them keep their fingers crossed the next year, herald their arrival with thunder and pandemonium in the one of the most extravagant displays of authority and arrogance. As tree branches grumble, threatening to snap and shed their burden of responsibility, and windows rattle alarmingly, minions are instructed to bar them, lest they let in the dirt and grime of the streets into the clinical confines of plush ‘3BHK’ apartments. I remember my sister shouting for help as she frantically tried to grab the clothes drying on the terrace before the rains could deprive them of the crisp sunny smell that makes the rigmarole of washing worthwhile. Further down the road, yellow and blue barsaatis are blown off the roofs of makeshift huts, leaving one to wonder whether Nature is indeed the greatest leveller.

The fanfare subsides after an exhausting exhibition that might last a few hours. What follows next can only be described as subliminal. The heat and dust of the summer months is dowsed by the first few apprehensive raindrops. The dried and cracked mud is stripped of its obscene cover by the winds who have gotten tired of the baggage they have towed so far away from the seas. The raindrops fall, at first with much trepidation, but soon two old friends renew their love and they gleefully bathe the earth in their freshness. As I sit beside the window, munching on some pakodas, I wonder if there is word for the smell that has assumed control of my senses. I am at a loss for it has become a physical entity and it is possible to taste it in my mouth or feel it on my fingertips if I care to reach out for it. I breathe in greedy lungfuls with the hope of saving some of it for a rainy day.

There is enthusiasm and hope in the air. The raindrops are cautiously trying to trace out abstract patterns in the happy puddles that seem to have sprung up everywhere while the steady breeze is doing its best to deter them from doing so – both of them constructively engaged in game of search and destroy. The leaves now glean and shine in pride of their new rich covers, dancing in rhythm to the howling of the wind, while the drainage pipes groan under the weight of this sudden onslaught. The distant skies are coloured grey, with a dash of red, and the stagnation of my country’s summers has been washed away without the slightest hint of a protest. The streets are abuzz with activity – people running helter-skelter, trying in vain to escape being drenched; loners peeping out of their pigeonholes to get a low down on this natural spectacle; little boys dancing on the roofs, topless and carefree; and lovers shyly sharing the quintessential hot cup of tea under the chaiwalla’s tin roof.

But unlike most fairytales, this one has a sting in its tail. The romance of the first few days perishes in the wake of overflowing drains and sewage clogging the roads of haughty metropolises. Some people will probably tell you that in my country nothing comes without a price. Photographs of half-submerged buses and cars, people trudging alongside them through knee-deep waters with a very grim expression on their faces, littering the front pages of newspapers across my country seem to validate that argument. As municipalities struggle with choked storm drains, multi-coloured raincoats are dug out of old steel trunks for kids who will probably end up ditching them on their way home from school. In the remote and exotic North-East, the mighty Brahmaputra has breached its banks and submerged over a thousand villages. As little boats scurry over muddy waters with the villagers’ meagre belongings, Ministers from the national capital make an aerial inspection of the flood-affected areas, thinking of ways to scam the citizens out of yet another relief fund.

Over the next few months, the rage and intensity of the initial outpour peters down to a daily drizzle in the afternoons or evenings. Instead of fighting the country’s erratic rains, people have made their peace and learnt to take them in their stride. The markets have been inundated with a zillion varieties of that most Indian of all fruits – Mango. The rivers look plump and healthy, waiting patiently for the filth from the cities to invade their mythical sanctity, and civic authorities have finally managed to get the drains in working order. Displaced farmers in Bihar and Assam are returning to their homes and with the floods having given their lands a fresh lease of life, even they have a reason to smile. The rains have washed through several months of grumpy moods and sullen nights. It has become customary to feel upbeat, even if only for a while.

The story of the Monsoons is somewhat like the story of my country, where senses and sensibilities are constantly overwhelmed, and then subjugated. But at the end of it all, if one is left wondering what will be in store the coming year, they have done their bit in making our lives a little interesting and infinitely more unpredictable. As our cherished dreams are shattered and mutilated beyond redemption in mundane everyday struggles, the monsoons replenish the reservoirs of our hope and give us the strength to face those very battles once again. After all, if it were not for the heat and dust of my country’s summers, would we know how to appreciate the spectacle of the rains?

Post Script: Love received a fresh lease of life today. This one is for you. Again.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Coffeewalla

It is lunch hour in Electronics City, Bangalore and the place is literally swamped with customers. There is hardly any room to stand, let alone to have a peaceful meal and relax.

Patrons have spilled over, onto the adjacent street, much to the delight of the neighbouring cigarettewalla, where horns are being honked in a manner that is unmistakably (and unforgivably) Indian. I narrowly avoid being run over by another zealous cab driver as I cross the road. Scores of smouldering cigarettes fashion an addictive haze of nicotine that hangs dotingly like a poisonous cloud over our heads. I squeeze through the crowd thronging the cash counter and wait for the Coffeewalla to finish haggling with a eunuch before informing him of my meagre and humble needs.

“Ask Chhotu, you know, my second assistant. He is in charge of the kitchen supplies. He will know if there is any half litre packet,” he tells me absentmindedly, directs me to the third-in-command, and then goes back to managing the cash counter. I don’t think he is very trustful of the eunuch.

Unlike most Hindi movies, Chhotu is not some kind of a misnomer and indeed refers to the youngest worker in this run-down, albeit efficient, establishment. Behind a glassless opening in one of the walls, he is deftly serving sambhar and rice and I feel a bit nervous about disturbing his steady rhythm. The heat in the kitchen is suffocating, made all the more unbearable by the strong odour of the umpteen spices, a generous smattering of which flavours almost all staple south Indian dishes. A blast of hot air greets me as the stove under the ‘coffee–cauldron’ is turned on and I can feel beads of sweat lining up against the collar of my shirt. This is no romantic setting but that is hardly a concern for any of the cooks or the workers. Mostly dressed in grey or blue (it is hard to tell which one) shorts or ‘mundus’ and grimy vests, they go about their business with mechanical efficacy.

“Err, Chhotu, aadha litre milk packet hai kya?” I ask him, trying to hide in a corner at the same time, lest he decide to take me to task. These people don’t take ignorance of the vernacular very lightly.

“No half litre packet,” he replies curtly and goes back to ladling several multi-coloured liquids into an equally large number of small steel bowls. I sigh dejectedly and make my way back to the hostel. My place near the serving counter is quickly engulfed by a sea of eager customers.

I don’t drink tea. I don’t drink coffee either. But I do have a weakness for milk and that is how I came to know the Coffeewalla. He is the proprietor of a diner – Café Corner – that serves south Indian food, along with bucket loads of tea and coffee, in a busy corner of Electronics City. Apart from breakfast, lunch, an early dinner, and beverages, there are vadas, idlis, and samosas to be had at any given hour. (I would suggest staying away from the samosas.) Given its close proximity to that factory of information workers known to most people as Infosys, Café Corner does not know lean business. If it’s not the IT clones, dressed smartly in expensive shirts and trousers, every bit the arrogant pricks that their privileged status commands them to be, blue collar workers from the nearby construction sites or the staff that actually runs the offices in Electronics City can be found milling around its premises from the time it opens shop at 7 in the morning till the shutters are pulled down at 8 in the night. And as long as the rivers of tea and coffee keep the sleep deprived hydrated, there is always milk for the health conscious. *Cough*

Despite the fact that a significant faction of his clientele are Kannadigas, the Coffeewalla speaks Hindi fluently. I suspect he is equally proficient in English too. I am, on the other hand, ashamed at my own ignorance of anything but the Kannada numerals. Even in that department, my know-how takes a serious beating half way through. I have never had to buy more than 5 cigarettes, after all.

“It’s been two years, Sir. You should learn to at least ask for directions”, he had once advised in a big brother fashion. “You won’t even know how to get home otherwise.” He had looked quite serious and so I had nodded gravely and asked him how to ask for milk in Kannada. Obviously, more important things needed to figure prominently on my list of priorities. For my benefit, he had written down the words in English, spelling them phonetically, and had made sure that I got the pronunciation right. If only adults could learn new languages as easily as children.

The Coffeewalla, sans his ample beard. A business meeting, perhaps.

One evening, I had come across the Coffeewalla struggling to kick-start his antiquated Yezdi Roadking. It looked as if the lumbering leviathan had begun falling to pieces even before he had acquired it from his Mama ten years ago. Even its registration number – CNA 1077 – seemed to belong to a state that had been overwhelmed, and subsequently subsumed, by the whims of Indian bureaucracy and petty politics. But no one had been able to convince him to ditch that mechanical abomination in favour of something more faithful and reliable. Over the years, I have learnt that reason doesn’t stand the slimmest chance against emotions and sentiments.

“You remember I told you I was writing an article about Café Corner for a magazine? I needed to ask you a few questions. Just so that I can get the facts straight.”

“Is that an advertisement?”

“No, not an advertisement. Just an account of how things work here. It is not a big deal, actually.”

He hesitated for a moment but then instructed Chhotu to try his luck with the Roadking. Chhotu, who had been loitering nearby with his eyes brimming with hope and expectation, was only too eager to oblige. As he initiated the monkey routine and started jumping up and down on the bike, well, I got some of my ‘facts straight’.

It doesn’t look like it, but the Coffeewalla has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Commercial Art from the Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath. His dense, but neatly trimmed, beard and gigantic physique belies the artistic spirit that must lurk somewhere underneath the rough exterior.

“Then why don’t you draw or paint?”

“What am going to do? Paint hoardings and billboards for a living? Besides, I am rather short tempered. I can not work for someone. Even in college, I was always getting into trouble. I chose to start a business so that I could be my own boss.”

“So how long have you been living in Bangalore?”

“I came here around 21 years ago in… what was it? 1990? Yes, in 1990 to do my BFA. This business is relatively new. I bought it just three years back. I brought all my workers from the old place.”

Thereafter, of his own accord, he proceeded to tell me about all the different places where he had apprenticed before landing this lucrative deal. I remember just vague details now as I didn’t have a paper and pen on me at that time. Down the 1st Main Road for 10 years, 5 years near the Police Station. So on and so forth.

“Where were you before all this?”

“In my village, of course,” he said matter-of-factly and looked at me as if I had committed sacrilege. Anglicised twerps like me often fail to make the most basic of all assumptions.

Today, after lunch, I made my daily pilgrimage to Café Corner. I was running a little late and the office going crowd had thinned out. The Coffeewalla was counting wads of cash. Despite all his claims to the contrary, business was good. As I approached the counter, he greeted me with a smile.

“Did you have your lunch?”

The question had become some sort of a ritual. We both already knew the answer.

“Yes”, I reciprocated the smile. “I have had my lunch.”

“Good. And no cigarettes today? You are becoming a good boy. Students should not smoke.”

I believe we share a unique bond. The big brother analogy is not entirely unsubstantiated.

Post Script: As I was buying my cigarettes tonight, I was cribbing about rising prices to the Cofeewalla. His two cents: "You should stop smoking. Expensive habit. Look at me. I sell thousands of cigarettes everyday, but I don't smoke. Write this in that article of yours. It's important that you mention it."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Today and now, the rains seem to have taken my city hostage.
They have washed away from the streets all the vestiges of
The Day’s footprints – muddy, cheap, fashionable, or smart.
Everything looks virgin and fresh, waiting to be cleansed by
The angry, overcast skies once again. There is a merry breeze
That has travelled all the way from somewhere I don’t know.
It has brought with it the flavour of spices and condiments
From unknown lands and it assails my senses in that friendly
Manner that tells me I am home. Finally. I measure my steps
As I walk back, slowly getting soaked in the familiarity of the
Place, humming a tune to myself, allowing you a smile since
You had been so in love with it. And me. The room beams
To greet the spring in my step and I laugh back in abandon.
The light’s almost gone now and so are all the spare details.
There is an almost ghostly glow here – the bluish white kind
And I have begun to naively presume it couldn’t get better.
The soft tippity-tap on the ledge outside reminds me of you
And makes me wonder what it would be like if you were to
Think of me right now. But this is not the time to wallow in
Plight or longing and I let a little bit of life wash over me too.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Zen Koan

Visit for a lot of cartoons and a little of Zen.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Stars hide your fires! / Let not light see my black and cheap desires!
Several films, Shortbus and 9 Songs to name two, have sought to ‘de-eroticize’ explicit sexual scenes and depict them as some kind of a happenstance in the broader context of the plot. (More specifically, what I am referring to here is un-simulated sex in mainstream cinema and not just a sleazy B-grade flick meant to titillate). Unfortunately, however, I have often found films like these to be lacking a sound storyline in the first place. As a result, ironically, such misplaced noble intentions have only served the purpose of turning them into some glorified form of soft pornography. Truth be told, I have seen porn movies with a better tale to tell. Therefore, it was a welcome respite when I read some rave reviews about Shame.

One of the few movies I have come across that struggle to deal with the theme of sexual addiction, Shame is unapologetic about its graphic, and almost always unromantic, portrayal of the sexual act. Often nightmarish, it can be best described as a story about neurosis and dysfunction. The protagonist, Brandon, leads a secluded private life in New York and can’t seem to stop thinking of women. Or fucking them, for that matter. He indulges this strange addiction because he must, not because he enjoys doing so. Contrary to expectations, he still hasn’t come to accept it and his innate sense of guilt continues to torment him. His self-loathing manifests itself in his distance from people, even his own sister. As if afraid to be known, he is cold towards his co-workers, prostitutes, and strangers. His fanatic obsession is slowly depriving him of any recognizable human impulses and making him incapable of ordinary human contact. It’s quite obvious why he wants no witnesses to his fall from grace. He loves no one and wants no one to love him.

“We’re not bad people. We just come from a bad place.”
The ‘status quo’ is disturbed when “Sissy”, a neurotic, albeit carefree, aspiring cabaret singer comes to stay with her brother for a few days. As her presence brings Brandon’s darkest desires under close scrutiny, his rage against his own shortcomings surfaces in various forms. In a terse scene, desperate to grant some semblance of normalcy to his life, he dumps his stash of pornography, including his computer, in the garbage bin. Sissy is a witness to these trials and despite needing her brother more than he needs her, tries her best to comfort him. But Brandon is in a world of his own, more afraid than ignorant of her advances. It is suggested that a shared experience in their common past somehow damaged the two siblings. But, as might be appropriate, we never get to find out the hows and the whys.

I have often wondered if dysfunction in the private and emotional lives of such people translates into some kind of a morbid fascination with order and functionality in their public and professional lives. For instance, Brandon lives in an apartment that can only be described as sterile and excels at his work. He is zealous about cleanliness, ferociously cleaning the germs from the lavatory seat with toilet paper, before using the stall to masturbate. Perhaps, he has none of the distractions that trouble the ordinary family man. Aren’t serial killers supposed to be extremely methodical and scrupulous as well?

The title of the film might comes across as intriguing as Brandon finds himself succumbing to self-pity and disgust more often than shame. His is a story not so much about Crime and Punishment as it is about Addiction and Humiliation. But there is a close-up of his face towards the end that, in my opinion, captures the essence of his most private emotion. At a cheap hotel, he is having sex with two women. At the same time. But there is no concern with the movements of his lower body. Or his partners, for that matter. The close-up restricts our view to his misery. As he is about to have an orgasm, instead of pleasure or relief, there is pain and suffering writ large over his face. This is the burden that he must carry everyday. His cross to bear. The shape of his shame.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Roads to Reality: We’ve got a Problem.

Noted astrophysicist, cosmologist, and popular science author, Carl Sagan ends his book The Dragons of Eden with the following lines: “The universe is elegant and intricate. We wrest secrets from nature by the most unlikely routes”. Even though the subject matter of the book deals with his speculations on the evolution of human intelligence, this series of articles, should it manage to succeed in its aim, should serve the purpose of highlighting the veracity of his words. The fabric of the cosmos does present the human intellect with numerous challenges. As we unravel its umpteen layers, the excitement of having solved a mystery can be said to only marginally exceed the frustration at encountering new questions. In this mythical quest for secrets, as hope trumps disappointment, the cycle of discovery keeps reinventing itself as one puzzle replaces the next.

In my last piece, I had tried to illustrate how the element of uncertainty is embedded in the very fabric of quantum mechanics (QM). It is not of the kind we encounter in classical mechanics, where trusted laws can help us determine with absolute certainty which way a tossed coin will land. Uncertainty in QM refuses to reveal its secrets beyond a certain ‘probability wave’, or more precisely wavefunction , that predicts the likelihood of the occurrence of an event. It is only when we interact with the system, with the intention of measuring some of its property, that this haze of multiple possibilities clears and assumes a definite outcome.

Mathematically, this evolution can be said to have two distinct stages. In the first stage, the probability wave of an electron (or some other fundamental particle) evolves over time – smoothly and gradually – according to Schrödinger’s equation. The second stage is when we make contact with the observable reality, causing the electron to snap to, let’s say, a particular position, thereby ‘collapsing’ the wavefunction. And therein lies the heart of our ‘problem’.

The quantum mechanical description of reality is clueless about this collapse. According to Schrödinger’s equation, wavefunctions do not collapse. It is simply a convenient add-on that helps theory agree with observations (I have come to believe physicists often do that). Since the cat is never observed to be both dead and alive, the explanation safely posits that the act of measurement causes the wavefunction to relinquish its state of quantum limbo and usher one of the possibilities into reality. But what is so special about the act of observation that causes this choice to be made? How are the different possibilities converted onto an actual, sharply-defined outcome? This dilemma is what’s known as the Quantum Measurement Problem and forms the core of several contending interpretations of QM that seek to explain what has so far only been observed.

Werner Heisenberg, who, along with Neils Bohr, formulated the Copenhagen interpretation, provides some particular useful insights regarding the nature of quantum reality in his book Physics and Philosophy. He writes, “Reality is in the observations, not in the electron.” This view is embodied in the Copenhagen interpretation which claims that a wavefunction is merely the mathematical embodiment of what we know about reality. Before we observe the electron, it exists in a ‘coherent superposition’ of all possible positions, snapping out of this haze when we measure its position. In this respect, the collapse is nothing more than the change in our knowledge about the whereabouts of the electron. What goes on behind the scenes, strictly speaking, lies beyond the scope of physics.

Crudely translated, this would imply that the cat is to be considered alive and dead at the same time! Naturally, this worldview, even though quite popular, does not sit well with a number of physicists and, yes, philosophers. Detractors question why fundamental physics should so closely be tied to human awareness. If we were not here to tinker around with laboratory equipment, would wavefunctions never collapse, or better still, not exist? Can bacteria or ants not be observers of quantum reality and a change in their ‘knowledge’ be associated with the wavefunction collapse?

For several years, the Copenhagen interpretation of QM held sway in scientific circles. But its primacy was challenged 1957 by an approach formulated by Hugh Everett that subjects our classical instinct to another major upheaval. (I seem to be getting into the habit of saying this. But, well.) The many-worlds interpretation (MWI) denies the occurrence of the wavefunction collapse. Instead, it views reality as a multi-branched tree, where each possible quantum outcome is realized. The concept of the universe is enlarged to include an infinite number of ‘parallel universes’ within a larger multiverse so that anything that can happen actually does happen in one of the innumerable versions of our universe. In one universe you are reading these words while in another you are waiting anxiously for the grand gala opening of your first play. It’s all happening out there!
Needless to say, I have only scarcely begun to realize the impact that this can have on our understanding of not only science but widely disparate disciplines like philosophy and spirituality. What if I were to put a gun to my head and pull the trigger? Would I be able to pull off this ‘quantum suicide’? If MWI is right, there will be a copy of our universe where I am alive and well. Should that mean my consciousness is, in essence, immortal? Quacks have been quick to jump on this bandwagon and have sought to use MWI to give credence to the idea of a soul that defies death and simply changes its ‘vessel’ as it hops from one universe to the next. Maybe that is how our ancestors tried to comprehend the strangeness of the universe we inhabit. Who knows!

But physicists are not in the business of mysticism and they have never really liked playing with odds. Some promising steps have been taken in the direction of separating spirituality from science through work on the phenomenon of ‘decoherence’. Decoherence provides an explanation for the appearance of the wavefunction collapse by postulating that much of the quantum weirdness of large objects ‘leaks’ from large objects because of their interaction with their environment. In other words, it is the framework which tries to explain how quantum uncertainty morphs into the well determined outcomes of classical experimental physics and our intuitive understanding of reality. MWI, with its decoherence updating, can prove to be an encouraging direction in the evolution of quantum theory.

Through the course of this debate, I have tried to emphasize how the resolution of one conundrum often leads to the genesis of a new one. When Newton tried to describe the ‘music of the spheres’, he could have scarcely imagined a world in which reality is neither deterministic nor viewed as a single unfolding history. Nevertheless, standing on the shoulders of such giants, we have been steadily hacking away at the myriad layers of our cosmic onion. As our intuition grapples with what is revealed to us, we will continue to reconsider our definitions truth and reality. The implications are exciting and manifold. But, as I will attempt to elaborate on in my next article, we must be careful enough to view them through the lens of reason and scientific analysis. One must sift through all the hoopla and take care to not be swept away by the wave. Doing so, we will realize that science does not undermine the beauty of the stars. Instead, it makes even larger the canvas of their mysticism. After all, it was Bohr who said, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it”.

Note: For the sake of simplicity (and to avoid making this article too tedious a read), I have discussed only two of the several contending interpretations of quantum mechanics. Interested readers can, obviously, choose to further this understanding. The following Wikipedia page should be a good starting point:

Images from and