Thursday, December 05, 2013

Milk and Cigarettes

Cigarettes. Only last evening I had promised myself to buy milk,
instead of this despicable poison.
“Enough, no more,” they had heard me say.

But when the shadows started looming around the margin of the twilight,
I found myself making my way back to that trusted vendor of viles.
His betel-red teeth broke into a smile as he quietly slipped a pack of Gold Flake into my hands.
Money exchanged hands, a tired ritual weighed down by another kind of shame.
Shamefacedly, I looked around the corner to check if someone was looking;
only fellow culprits met my guilty stare and I shuffled my feet left and right
before sending their way one of those fake greetings I had once known, but forgotten.

In the silence of my own company,
the faces on my wall have started jeering once again.
“We told you so.”
I rubbish them with a peremptory wave of my hand, rudely affirming my own existence.
“I am stronger than you”, and saying so,
I light one up and inhale.
As my scarred lungs soak up the filth and the black tar spreads its tentacles into my veins,
the shadows begin to blur along the edges, while the voices are turned down.
As a smirk peeks around the corner of my lips,
an uneasy peace is brokered between my uninvited guests and I.

“Tomorrow, I will buy milk.”
So renews my dance with myself.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Beauty in the Beast

In this selfish world of vested interests,
I find in you a better person to be.
You make me need you more,
Even though I burn green in envy.

Two parts ripped asunder,
In the feud of myself with me.
I can tell my better self to listen;
What of the honest one? He refuses to be.

Every night I struggle against myself
Letting you know nothing so you don’t hate me.
My tormented soul weakens and sides with The Devil:
A part still relieved you’re too far away to see.

When in morning my reason dawns,
I write down these words; but do they listen to me?
I clamour to be better to deserve your love
But we wonder if the voices shall stay to be

In this conflict of overlapping identities,
There’s still that truth that claims its special place.
My love for you is strong and fierce
Though it is tainted by the sin of jealousy

I languish each day in a desperate hope
That my beauty can see beyond the beast in me.
So tonight, yes, I love you.
But only if you can find in yourself to let this be.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

There Will Be Blood

“Diseases desperate grown
By desperate appliance are relieved,
Or not at all.”

Monday, November 04, 2013

Gasoline will be free.

It was around three years ago that I watched a documentary — Fuel — on our, and more specifically the Americans’, addiction to oil. An email that I circulated among a few friends at that time has prompted me to share those thoughts with a wider audience. What had started off as an innocuous review, and therefore still reads like one, grew into something that tried to make sense of the debate in its wider, more wholesome, context. That was the disclaimer. Now comes the boring part.

Produced and directed by the environmental activist Josh Tickell, and released in 2008, Fuel traces the history of a single man’s crusade against the oil problem. Although focused on the American economy and the role it has played in aggravating the fallout of the oil crisis, I found the debate to be quite pertinent for any person who has made an effort to take stock of the situation.

Oil is a problem. It taxes ordinary citizens to subsidize multi-billion dollar oil companies, entangles people in costly wars and complex foreign policy, and, of course, threatens the long term stability of the planet itself. But the question that bothers most of us is – Can one make a difference?

Josh comes off as an emotionally motivated romantic who jumps headfirst into this holy war just to make sure that his new home in Louisiana looks the same as the place where he grew up — the scenic Australian Outback. Not surprisingly, the initial half of the movie comes across as an advertisement for the most popular (and feasible) alternative — Bio-diesel. But there is more to it than just that. It explains the environmental fallout of crude oil processing (Fractional Distillation – the process used to obtain petroleum products from crude oil – generates a lot of hazardous carcinogenic waste products, the disposal of which might seem as problematic as radioactive waste) and the long term effects it can have on native flora and fauna — genetic mutations, reduced fertility rates, unpotable drinking water, the whole shebang.

For those who don’t know, bio-diesel refers to a vegetable oil— or animal fat-based diesel fuel that is typically made by reacting vegetable oil or animal fat with alcohol. Most diesel engines can run on bio-diesel without any major modifications. Moreover, current performance and emission standards of most diesel vehicles are at par with those running on petrol. Bio-diesel’s available, it’s clean, and it can be grown in your kitchen garden. If these reasons are not enough, how about bio-diesel being much cheaper than petrol? So why is it still the ‘alternative’, the outcast? Political will is one thing, social will another, but economics is what really drives the system, isn’t it?

[An important titbit that came to attention was that Rudolf Diesel had initially designed his diesel engine to run on vegetable oil! Mostly used to run heavy machinery that cannot be powered by electricity or petrol, the success of the diesel technology made a multi millionaire out of Diesel, but its use of vegetable oil also threatened the monopoly of Standard Oil — a company founded and owned by one of the most stereotypical of all capitalists, John D. Rockefeller.]

Henry Ford designed his Model T to run on ethanol — a bio alternative to petrol that is made from corn. Launched in 1908, Model T was the first automobile affordable by the burgeoning American middle class. The success of Model T (it was considered so revolutionary that Aldous Huxley partitioned human history into Before Ford and After Ford in his dystopian novel, Brave New World) meant that Ford’s ethanol captured nearly 25% of the oil market, ringing alarm bells at Standard Oil. It was around this time that Rockefeller started lobbying for an amendment to the US constitution that would become the Volstead Act of 1920 or the National Prohibition Act. By making the production and distribution of alcohol (including ethanol) illegal in the USA, a death blow was delivered to Ford’s ethanol dreams. Yet, he continued to manufacture ethanol alcohol-compatible cars for the next 12 years, before eventually giving up in 1932. A year later, in 1933, the Volstead Act was repealed. Plagued by claims of monopolizing the energy market and interfering in government affairs, the US Justice Department broke up Standard Oil into 34 independent companies. Around 88 years later, two of the largest factions of Standard Oil — Exxon and Mobil — merged to form one of the largest corporate conglomerates in the world, Exxon–Mobil.

Way back in the year of 2017
The sun was growing hotter
And oil was way beyond its peak
When crazy Hector Johnson broke into the refinery
And the black gold started flowing
Just like Boston tea

Though its production might have already begun to level off and some hope that “people will run out of demand before they run out of oil”, Americans seem to believe that they can keep consuming oil without ever running out of it just because they need it so much. They consume 25% of the world’s output even though they constitute just 4.5% of its population and have a measly 2% of its oil reserves. There is no way they can drill their way out of this, even if they set up rigs that go 15,000 feet below the sea level — a feat that is technologically more superior than putting a man on the Moon.

Of course, the current oil crisis is not the first one. In 1973, the Arab member nations of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries or OPEC imposed an embargo on the United States in response to its support to Israel during the Yom Kippur War. The embargo was withdrawn in March 1974 only after Israeli troops withdrew from parts of the Sinai Peninsula. But not before oil prices all over the world had sky rocketed — another proof of the kind of influence oil wields in determining the geo-politics in the Middle East.

Fast forwarding to the present, US policy over the last few decades has sought to replenish its oil coffers by looking at options beyond its boundaries. The debt incurred due to these endeavours runs to nearly 3.5 trillion dollars. The only way to deal with it is to either declare bankruptcy or find oil elsewhere. The US seems to have opted for the second option. Since Iraq has second largest oil reserves in the world, it doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out the real motivation behind the Iraqi invasion. Till date, no weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which ‘threatened’ the security and integrity of the coalition states, have been found in Iraq. However, huge multi-million dollar conglomerates have already set up shop there. It would appear here that by making huge donations to the government and handpicking the people with power, the big oil companies (Exxon–Mobil, Chevron Texaco, BP etc) are dictating the American energy policy. If the situation is that bleak and if the leaders of the world play poker, what alternatives are left to choose from?

When the Mounties stormed the palace of the Saudi family
They held them up for ransom
Without disturbing their high tea
But their getaway was shaky
They stalled in the Riyadh streets
Cause you can’t make it very far
When your tank is on empty

The second half of the documentary discusses alternative fuels and their pros and cons. It begins with a tour of the European nations (like Germany and Sweden) who have taken into account a long term view of the energy crisis and have subsidized biofuels (thereby making them much cheaper than conventional fuels) in order to prepare themselves for the future. But the alternative does not exist in an economic or political vacuum; it is argued that the large scale corporate farming of soybean (the chief ingredient of bio-diesel) is leading to deforestation of huge tracts of lands in the Amazon, robbing indigenous population not only of forests but also of land to grow food grains.

Brazil ranks as the top exporter of soybean in the world and is faced with a dilemma — allow widespread (and profitable) destruction of the rain forest to continue, or intensify conservation efforts. Conservative estimates claim that in the last 40 years, close to 20% of the Amazon rain forest has been cut down — more than in all the previous 450 years since European colonization began. Blairo Maggi, the governor of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso and owner of Andre Maggi Group (the largest exporter of soybean in the world), has made environmentalists squirm in their chairs by saying — “To me, a 40 per cent increase in deforestation doesn’t mean anything at all, and I don’t feel the slightest guilt over what we are doing here. We’re talking about an area larger than Europe that has barely been touched, so there is nothing at all to get worried about”.

The Fuel Vs Food debate ignores the fact that conventional fuels like petrol and diesel are worse off than biofuels like ethanol and bio-diesel. The entire process of making petroleum products from crude oil is highly inefficient. So much so that for every unit of energy that is put into production, only 0.8 units of energy are eventually obtained in the form of end products. In other words, the amount of energy required for producing petrol is actually less than the energy contained in petrol. On the other hand, biofuels score highly in this test — ethanol contains about the same amount of energy as is required in its production while bio-diesel contains 3 times the number. And yet, as I had come to expect, that is not the complete picture as corn and soybean are grown in huge mono-crop farms where large amounts of fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals are used in order to enhance productivity. Often, these chemicals seep into the water table and pollute the entire catchment area. Not to mention that some countries, like Brazil, allow deforestation to make space for such farms. So is our production of bio-fuels just as environmentally catastrophic as fossil fuels?

Perhaps, the answer partially lies in the next generation of biofuels which can be produced largely from waste products or run offs from other kinds of industries, such as fisheries or poultry. In a sustainable society, waste must equal fuel. Recently, algae have been used to convert waste biomass into biofuels by using the carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. This process of conversion is quite similar to how oil was first produced on Earth. The production of biofuels from algae does not reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide, because any CO2 taken out of the atmosphere by the algae is returned when the biofuels are burned. They do, however, potentially reduce the introduction of new CO2 by displacing fossil fuels. Various other fuel alternatives like biomass, trees which have exceptionally high growth rates and can be planted on marginal land, wind turbines, and solar panels might also become economically sustainable in the near future, provided they get the required institutional and governmental support.

We do not live in an age of revolutions anymore. They are far too disruptive. At the same time, individual will can lead to collective consciousness and ultimately result in sustainable change. Energy efficiency and conservation start right at our doorstep and are the cheapest and quickest ways to deal with the energy crisis. Oil is going to become such a scarce (sacred?) commodity in the future that we don’t even know what the next war is going to look like. Is it too late? If not, what can one do? Despite some answers lying in the future and several lessons biding their time in the ignored past, what is important is that we consume with care. Reusing those plastic bags might be a small gesture. But when several such gestures get together, they might have the desired impact. Was it Gandhi who said, “When the people will lead, leaders will follow”?

Friday, October 25, 2013


Hydraulic fracturing or fracking involves accessing oil and natural gas deposits deep below the earth’s surface by injecting pressurised fluids into a horizontal bore. The fracking fluids create fractures or fissures in the crust and free the trapped oil or natural gas which can thereafter be extracted. The horizontal bore, which can extend laterally for 3,000 to 5,000 feet, provides a larger surface area for the escaping gas, and is one of the key innovations that have made this process economically feasible. The jury is still out on whether fracking has adverse environmental consequences. Proponents argue that if done carefully the technology can be used to access hitherto inaccessible deposits, thereby prolonging our addiction to oil. Critics point out that the fluids used in the mining process can contaminate groundwater resources and lay agricultural land barren. (This is an informative animation that I came across that explains the process in greater detail.) Although the technology was developed in the late 1940s, its use became commercially viable only recently. As of 2010, it is estimated that 60% of all new oil and natural gas wells were being hydraulically fractured. The New Oil Landscape places fracking in a broader socio-economic context, and proved to be quite insightful. It is the sum total of my knowledge on the subject. Needless to say, I am not aware of the academic debate surrounding the technology.

I also came across a movie — Promised Land — that portrays fracking in a negative light. It stars Matt Damon and Frances McDormand, both gifted actors. Initially quite excited by the questions raised (I always enjoy watching the evil plans of big corporate conglomerates being thwarted by ordinary people), my enthusiasm was somewhat subdued when I came to know about the controversy surrounding the financing of the movie. Apparently, it has been backed by some subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian oil cartel, which has vested interests in delaying the development of fracking (Most of the oil deposits in the Middle East are conventional ones which stand to gain if fracking proves to be environmentally disastrous). Although, the financier claims that the backing was provided regardless of subject matter or genre, one is forced to wonder. The movie itself is not spectacular and I watched it only because of aforementioned reasons.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Swabhimaan gone wrong.

Language and, as a corollary, ideas are notoriously susceptible to miscued interpretation. They wear the garb of the times in which they thrive. If that were not the case, so many of our overtly idealistic revolutions wouldn’t have come to a painful and disappointing conclusion soon after their genesis and Che Guevara might still have been alive to share a cigar with Castro. Wishful thinking, I guess.

On the eve of Gandhi’s 144th birth anniversary, a rather similar, illustrative construction comes to my mind – Swadeshi. In the context of an increasingly globalised world, where identity is the price one pays at the altar of development and modernity and where slogans like “Bada hai toh behtar hai” have become commonplace, even acceptable, what does Swadeshi mean? What are the philosophical, cultural, and economic constructs defining the essentially political ideas of ‘deshi’ and ‘videshi’? Without Bapu to conveniently clear the air for us, this simple word has been repeatedly hijacked in the name of personal and vested interests, with interpretations ranging from political and economic isolation (à la mode North Korea) to a source of nationalistic pride and self sufficiency.

Although wide ranging, our understanding of Swadeshi is deeply entrenched in our somewhat circumscribed comprehension of nationalism, for a Swadeshi spirit that bans the use of everything foreign, big or small, however beneficial it might be, and irrespective of the fact that it impoverishes nobody, is a narrow reading of the idea. It leads to ‘tunnel vision’ that severely restricts the scope of what can be accomplished through a more open interpretation. But just how tricky the situation is can be gauged from the fact that the expression was first used in 1905 by social activists to unite the various protests surrounding the Partition of Bengal. Given that Bangladesh is now deemed to be a separate nation (and, often, a nuisance due to the constant influx of immigrants), do Bangladeshi goods come under the ambit of Swadeshi or do we consider them to be foreign?

At its core, Swadeshi implies restricting ourselves to using goods produced by our immediate neighbours, with an eye on protecting the home industry. In a nation fractured along several lines like religion, caste, and class, it was meant to inculcate a spirit of brotherhood amongst all its citizens. This philosophy, having influenced the ideas and opinions of a majority of Indian leaders primarily through Gandhi, also guided the direction of trade and foreign policy for several decades after independence. However, the single-minded devotion to protection of domestic industries discouraged competitiveness and bred complacency. Assured of a market for their inferior goods, the public sector had no incentive to innovate or develop competency. All investment in research and development was centralized and private enterprise was severely inhibited because of the restrictions imposed by ‘License Raj’. As a result, instead of kickstarting the Indian industrial engine, an over emphasis on self sufficiency had exactly the opposite effect, that is, an increasing reliance on imported goods resulting in products that grew more and more inferior with each passing manufacturing cycle. The success of Japan, through alliances between the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and the informal industrial agglomerations called keiretsu, and Korea, through conglomerates known as chaebol, in revitalizing their economies while managing to protect the domestic sector show just how contingent implementation can be on interpretation and context.

One might loathe accepting this reality, but India, or any other nation state for that matter, no longer exists in a social, economic, or political vacuum. We influence our neighbours just as much as they influence us. Their culture and traditions mould and shape our practices and customs. Their crises spill over our borders and become the origin of a proxy war that can last for decades. The traditional image of villages as self-contained units that are capable of meeting all their needs might not hold water any more; after all, there is no way to definitively determine what constitutes as need what constitutes as want. Villages, cities, and nations alike have become part of a vast network that is consumptive and productive in equal measure. Thoreau might have pulled it off, but most of us have become utterly mired in a cesspool of excess consumption and wasted resources.

The world is constantly engaged in a struggle to renew itself and hold onto the past. When one cares to look at it that way, regret and nostalgia are equally futile. Therefore, there is a need to reclaim notions like Swadeshi and Swabhimaan from jingoists and rid them of rhetoric, selfish interests, and their unnecessary historical baggage. We must cast old ideas in a new shell and rejuvenate the debate surrounding them so that in light of fresh ideas, like sustainable development and networked economies, our understanding of them is not merely a reflection into the past, but a peek into the future as well. I guess that is what Bapu would have wanted.

[If the tone of this article has come across as preachy, then I have failed to convey my thoughts. In an effort to save them from just the kind of misinterpretation that have been going hoarse about, I will reiterate that I did not intend to sound opinionated.]

An edited version of the article appeared here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

O Captain! My Captain!

“If you cannot be a poet, be the poem.”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Strange Dilemma

Image from Abstruse Goose.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Division Bell

I stumbled upon my stash of Floyd last night.
“Hello, Old Friend”, I blurted out to him,
“We never got a chance to finish our conversation.”
“Strange indeed, dear boy”, he says to me, “that our paths should cross again.
For I had almost decided to give up on you
And the rest of your lot.”

The silence was a little awkward for, you must agree,
I had been caught in a tight spot.
It was a tad unnerving to hear his familiar voice
On the most desolate of nights and
When one has grown used to the silence of one’s days,
Every word seems hard fought.

Having waged a long and protracted war against them
I was quite afraid of uncomfortable questions.
About what’s and where’s and how’s and who’s
Of past and present and future and what not!
Every answer I could muster seemed laced with danger
And thus with a dejected sigh I resigned myself to the onslaught.

He saw me twitch; he must have seen me squirm,
For he lights up his pipe in that irresistibly cool fashion
(Which, by the way, always reminds me of my younger days
When love was new and battles zealously fought)
And as the toxic rings work their lethal magic, I hear his voice:
“Relax, old boy, you still need to learn to loosen the knot.”

I shuffled my feet left and right
Knowing not what the hell I had landed myself into
But, as you would know, old friends have a way
Of settling discreetly into each other’s silences
And presently I found a sense of calm descending over me
When only a moment earlier I had been so distraught!

As the night slowly ambled past us both,
In each other’s company we grew, ah, comfortably numb.
He spoke of life, while I droned on about love;
Memories from rusted, old trunks we must have dug out.
When the morning saw us become strangers once more,
We shrugged our shoulders, indifferently, like men must,
For out there, we have appearances to keep
Even when untold terrors pervade our thoughts.
And when I lost his friendly face to the hour of the dawn,
When I learnt the price I would pay for my fears,
I realised to my surprise:
He had asked no questions; not a single answer had been sought.

Friday, May 31, 2013


Such is the way of the world
You can never know
Just where to put all your faith
And how will it grow

Gonna rise up
Burning back holes in dark memories
Gonna rise up
Turning mistakes into gold

Such is the passage of time  
Too fast to fold  
And suddenly swallowed by signs  
Low and behold  

Gonna rise up
Find my direction magnetically  
Gonna rise up  
Throw down my ace in the hole

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Scenes from a Lonely Dinner

Ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention, please?
Ah, much better.

Tonight, we won’t be serving our excellent pinot noir,
for we fear that inebriated conversations,
piping to the rhythm of the soft tinkle of delicate cutlery
and held captive by four courses of the finest Italian cuisine,
often result in confidences being shared too easily and
inhibitions being shed at the slightest hint of
a touch;
one slip is all it takes for
this night of loneliness to culminate in a crescendo of muffled moans and suppressed sighs.
And while restless lips, looking for some semblance of escape,
are drowned in desire,
the morning after stands a silent witness to
an ancient shame
as shadows of the night,
who had morphed into one,
quietly slip away into the
anonymity of the light.

We shall not have some half-famous and already forgotten rock band
distracting our troubled patrons from their errant thoughts
or their murmured vows of silence —
thoughts that have now begun to run haywire in circles,
in turn
struggling, strangling, and stimulating.
Our well-trained busboys will refrain from making any offhand remarks
that might unwittingly provide you with an insight
into the human condition that has so far escaped your keen intellect
and, what is even worse, prevent you from swallowing
that peaceful pill tonight.

In anticipation of lengthy conversations with oneself,
and considering the glazed look in the umpteen eyes that scan this weary space,
we have suitably dimmed the lights in this singular establishment
so that the other distressed faces here,
stuck in a world of isolation and
creased by concerns, real as well as imaginary,
are ultimately lost in the swirling haze of smoke and loneliness
and are alienated beyond redemption,
denying you of the guilty comfort
that is often found in ignorance and the mock familiarity of ordinary company.

Ladies and gentlemen, you wear the scars of a million battles with dignity.
Your disdain for emotion and mere existence is matched
only by the relentless assault of your own conscience
and, in keeping with the timeless tradition here, we welcome you all tonight
to the company of your own solitude
and a heavenly ride through silence.
Thank you for listening.
Bon appétit.

[Image: Nighthawks by Edward Hopper]

Thursday, April 25, 2013


[Image from A Softer World.]

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Long-distancewalla

A conversation with M about the rarely discussed pitfalls of a long-distance relationship that turned into a story.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

The Jabberwock

A conversation with Jai Arjun Singh about life, the universe, and everything.
Okay, maybe not that comprehensive.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


धाएं सी आवाज़ के साथ एक गोली तमंचे से निकली और दिमाग का धुआं करते हुए रफूचक्कर हो गयी। इस घातक वार के बाद भी जनाब ज़िंदा तोह थे ही। बेदम सी आवाज़ में उन्होंने पूछा, “आख़िर इस मर्ज़ का नाम क्या है?” बम के गोले सी गरजती हुई एक और आवाज़ ने फ़रमाया, “महाशय, यह ज़िन्दगी है। इसकी न कोई दवा है, न कोई इलाज। अब तोह आप बस दुआ की ही ख्वाहिश कीजिये।” आज कल हुज़ूर दरगाह के रास्ते में एक कोने में पड़े रहते हैं। वह लोगों से दुआ की भीख मांगते हैं, और लोग उन्हें फ़कीर समझ दो-चार पैसे देते हुए आगे बढ़ जाते हैं। कल शाम बाज़ार में मुझे मोहतरमा दिखीं थीं। ईद का मौका था और वोह कुछ सहेलिओं के साथ सेवईं नौश फ़रमा रहीं थीं। हमने भी उनके पीछे-पीछे अपने होंठ मीठे कर लिए। भाईसाहब, आपको क्या बताऊँ! क्या लाजवाब सेवईं थी। अली अहमद की दुकान का पूरी दुनिया में कोई मुकाबला नहीं है। आह, पर मैं कुछ कह रहा था। हाँ, तोह मोहतरमा और उनकी सखियों को अपना आदाब अर्ज़ कर मैं दरगाह की तरफ़ बढ़ चला। रस्ते में मियाँ भी मिल गए। हालत देखने लायक थी। पर ईद के दिन उनका भी कुछ हक़ बनता था। मैंने कहा, “मियाँ वैसे तोह मैं उपरवाले में कुछ ख़ास यकीन नहीं करता, पर आपको देख कर तीन-चार बार मैंने भी सिफ़ारिश कर दी है। उन्मीद है की शाम रहते गडरिया वापिस ज़रूर आएगा।” यह सुनकर जनाब हाथ जोड़ कर मेरे पैरों में गिर पड़े और पागलों के माफ़िक ज़ोर-ज़ोर से रोने लगे। मैंने अपनी जान छुड़ाई और दरगाह की ओर हो लिया। उस शाम उनके के नाम की एक मन्नत मैंने भी खिड़की पर बाँध दी। शायद कोई तीर निशाने पे लग जाए।

Friday, February 01, 2013

Silent Helpers

Most of the time I prefer to lead a silent life, away from the public glare. Which is not to say that I consider myself to be some kind of celebrity who needs to keep away from media scrutiny. It is just that any kind of attention makes me uncomfortable and awkward. I have never been able to convince myself that I could deserve it and, failing to do so, I feel naked in my own clothes. So much so that I often avoid the company of close friends just because they happen to be the center of everyone's attention and curiosity. This tension is undefined and yet to so real that I prefer the garb of fiction in order to disguise my private emotions, lest someone see through the facade and I am unable to hit the eject button in time. This brief detour seeks to convince the reader that what I am about to say does not come easily to me. For it dwells somewhere in the vicinity of that vague line which distinguishes attention-seeking from story-telling.

Books have always proven to be faithful companions to me ever since the time I gained a conscious control over my interests. I credit my father for developing this habit early on by indulging my rather expensive taste for hard-bound Reader's Digest volumes (much to the consternation of my mother) and the rather affordable affinity for Tinkle Digest comics. And even if old editions of National Geographic from the libraries of Geological Survey of India were initially poured over solely for their breathtaking photographs, I know now that conditioning, positive or negative, does not happen overnight and almost always leaves you clueless when it finally reveals its true form. Thus, suitably introduced to the private intellectual life, that I had often heard and still fantasize about, beginning to take shape inside of me, I made my peace with this imaginary, albeit a little lonesome, world. With age and years, several gracious mentors have guided me in the direction of new pathways and, although apprehensive at first, I have always felt obligated to them in my lonely hours for encouraging me to explore uncharted territories. That being said, I have never considered myself to be a very well-read person — I often binge on books and then enter a long lean period where hardly any reading gets done. My conscious/rational mind has proffered several reasons for indulging this delusion/reality. “Perhaps I am surrounded by readers who are much more voracious than I am. Maybe I am genetically hardwired to be self-deprecating”. I don't know. Conceivably, all one needs to do is hark back to what I said earlier about being afraid of attention in order to make sense of this anomaly. The truth is, that is not what I wish to write about today.

As another brick silently and vehemently slides into THE WALL, I look back at the last two years and realise how completely I have come to depend on these silent helpers every time I desperately crave for a moment of peace in the turmoil that threatens to engulf my life even as I write these words. Whenever I have ‘felt’ severely depressed, due to reasons real or imagined, I have picked up a book as a last resort for the sole reason of wishing to lose myself in the mythical land of cancerous cells and malignant tumours. In the recent past, words, both written and read, have helped me escape the pungent realities of my life, even if it is for a few days or hours. In the absence of a warm hug, a loving kiss, or a reassuring pat on the back, they have been the only solace on the darkest of days. Trying to hack away at the myriad layers of the cosmic onion or grasping the implications of seemingly innocent synaptic connections across neurons, I have felt a sense of calm descend over me. Through these vicarious quests and in the comfortable seclusion of my solitude, I have explored unknown worlds and felt myself grow just a tad wiser. With the insignificance of my existence illuminated as a blip on the cosmic timescale and my comprehension of ‘the self’ subjected to a ‘paradigm shift’, I have felt myself drowning in that holy water, content and calm.

Ironically, even though my closest and dearest acquaintances have pledged their blind support in helping me fight this protracted war, it is these random strangers who have made any kind of headway in accomplishing that task and helped me find some semblance of peace and respectability. If I were completely honest, I owe it to them for sharing my deflated hopes and mutilated desires. And though my aversion to divulging details of my personal life on a public forum rankles greatly, I also know that to deny my helpers my gratitude and respect for helping the lifeboat stay afloat would be akin to a form of dishonesty I am even more uncomfortable with. Of course, there is hardly anything here that you haven't heard before through the medium of similar metaphors and similes. But I had never claimed I had anything original to share. All I needed to do was say my piece. Were my ship to sink tomorrow, I would know my conscience to be clear.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Humour me, you old grump. What do you live for these days?

Hold on. What about your dreams? More importantly, your desires?

You fucking slacker. You want her life, no? You’re drowning in it.
So it seems.

But she’ll hate you for it. I wouldn’t even want to look at you.
Not more than I hate myself.

Doesn't that drive you insane? What’s in it for you anyway?
The thrill. Mostly the tragedy.

I’d say you’re a lost cause. But then again. Do you even love her?
That is the predicament.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Chasing the Phantom

You never identify yourself with the shadow cast by your body, or with its reflection, or with the body you see in a dream or in your imagination. Therefore, you should not identify yourself with this living body, either.
— ADI SHANKARA (A.D. 788-820), Vivekachudamani

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Ugliness in Death

Where do you desires go when they die?
When they are all mottled up and shrivelled,
Mutilated beyond redemption;
When we have confused them with our needs
And made them vital to our survival?

Do they hide in the recesses of our dreams,
In the yellowed pages of a long forgotten journal,
To be the waning life force of hope and ambition,
Only to make an appearance on a sunny day?
Or do they become the remnants of an emotional baggage,
Abandoned in the face of tears, dejection, or reason,
That keeps dragging us down into the depths of despair?

Does hope gasp for breathing space
As the graveyard of longings comes to be littered
With the tombstones of our failures?
If they had ever found refuge in our benevolent minds,
Who nourished them like their own,
Do we wish on a false star by hoping to stay the same?

I suppose one could hide in a corner,
Like a moody dog who jealously guards his bone,
Casting a suspicious eye on his own reflection,
'Til the effort of playing sentry to our hearts
Wears us thin and we scoop out the last bit of dignity
Into the cup of surrender,
To be served at a moment's notice
To the demons of self-pity.

I suppose one could learn to forget,
Try to heal a damaged self,
Even beguiling it into knowing respect...

I suppose one could keep waiting on that miracle.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


चार-तीन कुछ छंद पढ़कर, हाय, भटक गया मैं भोला भाला,
गंतव्य समर्पित कर चुका हूँ, बन गया हूँ मतवाला।
विचलित मन है मेरा अभिशाप, तन और धन का भी बोध नहीं,
रीत जगत की भूल चुका हूँ, शरण तू ही है, मेरी मधुशाला।।

अलग अलग पथ बतलाये सबने, पर खाली रहा मन का प्याला,
भूला-भिसरा मैं थक-हार के, जा पंहुचा अपनी मधुशाला।
अवश्य, मदिरा के प्यालों का जी भरकर सेवन किया है मैंने,
परन्तु हर बार मेरे प्रश्नों का उत्तर देने से रही कतराती मधुशाला।।

'और पिए जा, और पिए जा', उकसाती रही मन-मोहिनी साकीबाला,
तोह फिर उसके मादक कर कमलों द्वारा क्यूँ न मैं चखता हाला?
षण भर प्यास शांत हुई जो ज्ञान हुआ परिस्थिति की विषमता का,
अब हार मानकर छुपा हुआ हूँ घूंघट में मैं तेरे मधुबाला।।

मदिरालय में कब से बैठा हूँ, सखी तोह प्यार जता कर चली गयी,
असमंजस है - 'और, और' की रटन लगाऊं या छोड़ चलूँ मैं मधुशाला।
स्वयं विवश हूँ, मंत्र-मुग्ध हूँ, अब तोह बस कर इतराना, साकीबाला,
वश में तेरे सब लुटा चुका हूँ, रहा न कुछ अब देने वाला।।

दूर खड़ी एक विचित्र मृगतृष्णा सी लगी हमेशा मुझे मधुशाला,
'आ आगे' कहकर हर बार होंठों से हटा लेती वह मेरा प्याला।
निराशा के इस घनघोर तम में वोह भूला विश्वास कैसे ढूँढू मैं,
और भी हैं पीनेवाले, उनका मनोरंजन करती है अब मेरी मधुबाला।।

समझ में आया है अब जाकर कभी नहीं था मैं पीनेवाला,
कुछ पल दोष तेरे सर मढ़कर बूझ गया मैं गलती अपनी, साकीबाला।
पर हिम्मत रही न कि बढूँ मैं आगे, न साहस है कि फिर जाऊं पीछे,
अंतिम जाम है, होंठ से अपने अंकित कर खिसका दे विष का प्याला।।

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ek Harqat

तुम्हारे एक इशारे पर ज़िन्दगी पर लगाम सी लगा थी हमने
ठहर गयी, थम गयी, अफ़सोस ना सूझा, हम भी रुक गए।
मोड़ पर खड़े हुए हम तुमको नए फ़ासले तय करते देखते गए;
दिल को बहलाते रहे कि साथ हमारे भी चलोगे कभी।
(उफ़! क्या नज़ारे थे। आख़िर आरज़ूएं हम में भी बेपनाह थीं।)
फ़िर लोग जो हमसे आगे निकले, उनसे ज़िक्र क्या करते?
आख़िर तुम ग़ैर भी तोह ना थे।

चाहत हमेशा रही कि चाल तुम्हारी भी थमे ज़रा, रुक जाएँ कदम
पर अलफ़ाज़ होंठ पर आते-आते दम तोड़ देते थे।
(और फ़िर तुमने भी इशारे कभी समझे थे कहाँ!)
हालत ऐसी है कि इस ठहरे पानी में सिर्फ़ आंसुओं से लहरें मचलती हैं
ख्वाहिशों के मकान भी सुनसान खंडहर बन कर डूब चुके।
तलाश है एक हरक़त की, शायद तुम पुकारो, कोई आवाज़ दो कहीं से;
आख़िर चलना मज़बूरी हमारी भी है।