#Mumbai: And I Love You So…

There is a romance of the idyllic village.

Not a constant; a fragmented romance. In between the moments of a busy life, we feel it, want it, yearn it. Is it ever real? Or do we just want to get away from it all? An escape. Some of us can make the escape true too – even if, for a weekend. But that is the largest real fragment that is ever offered to us city folks.

Even the largest fragment, the weekend, is often fragmented. It is never a continuous experience. The shards are large enough for us to imagine it romantic; that is all that the weekend offers.

And I wonder.

Do places — the cities vs. the country, make a difference? Do cities consume us differently than the countryside. Is boredom about wanting to do different things or having more time than we can spend? And forget romance; what about love? Does one trump the other?

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There is a love for this city that I cannot let go. If and when we sit and argue — we will list the shortcomings of every place. But that would be such an academic exercise of worthlessness. An exchange of ugly facts; so bereft of emotion! And while facts have their own rightful place, they whither when confronted by love: unconditional love.

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I was recently asked to consider moving away from Mumbai. #WorkFromHome is the new norm – would it be so bad moving to a quiet place?

No, it wouldn’t be so bad. I’d like it for a few days, but, again, I wonder — would it be good forever? For that which has not come to pass, I can only dread. I could romance it even, but, I wonder — would it be true love?

But I have loved; it is within me. Perhaps a chance for the idyllic romance is due.

My love isn’t going anywhere. I am.

The Story of Seventeen Years

Seventeen years ago, when I wrote my first post, without any idea what I was getting into and how how far I wanted to take it – I gave a very short advisory about carrying cash, if you travel to Konkan. The next post came much much later. And then slowly, but surely I found my writing rhythm, which has continued to this day, with all the highs and lows one would expect in any seventeen-year relationship. In a high, there is not much to think of – you go with the adrenaline-fuelled flow. It’s the lows that get you thinking.

You tend to seek the past highs as they were – and try and replicate them. But no high is like the other. The construct, the motivation, the experience, the quantity and concentration of the adrenaline – is all different. It is impossible to make the same concoction again. The lows become lower.

Needless to say, a high, with a different cocktail soon comes over, and you are good to go, once again.

That has pretty much been the story of my seventeen years of blogging. Quite a bit of the writing has been about my thoughts and ideas, but a large part has been about my experiences – translated, protected, or reflected upon. And each experience was a result of an adventure. Those adventures are responsible for most content here, on the blog. And, those adventures happened because I said – YES!

As I look back at the lows of my blogging rhythm, I discover that almost all those times were when I said no to an adventure. For a few, I had good reason, but not for all. But I don’t think the reasons matter – irrespective of the reason (unless it’s about your safety) it’s usually a good idea to say yes. I recently went through such a time when I was called upon to do something that I wasn’t particularly interested in, but I did it anyway – in spite of an utter discomfort. I imagined it would be one off, so I thought, I’d just get it out of the way and be done with it. And I did. Without warning, however, it has set me on a path that I am now very curious about, and I believe I will enjoy it. It has a faded scent of a concoction I have had a long time ago; yet is absolutely fresh (and frightening) and exciting. Where it will lead me, I do not know – and that is the best part of it!

From the “Keep the Faith” Series, Atul Sabnis

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In the last few years, I have done a disservice to my readers, I feel. The frequency is down, the mood is depressing, and the tone is dark. Like the long-high of 2013-15, the time between 2017-20 has been a long low. Yet, many of you have always been here, often silently waiting, perhaps – for the high, that I have been waiting for.

Thank you all for all the love and generosity for all these years!

To Be Alive

Often, I have wished to be young and alive in the 70’s. Those of you have read my posts for a while will know. Recently, I have been thinking, maybe, it was the 60s when I should have been young and alive. I would have lived a life which otherwise, no one had noticed. But what if I would have the chance to work with Anant Mane or Guru Dutt?

Imagine seeing everything in colour but making everything in black and white. The contrast of mossy green or blood red. The brightness of a lemon yellow vs. yellow ochre. The limitation of not seeing the effect of colours in black and white. The absence of digital; and therefore that ability to correct in real-time.

The limitation required imagination. Inherent in that imagination – it required belief – of what is beautiful. I have a few friends who are well-versed in the art of cinema. My on going question is this: How much of a scene is a director’s choice, and how much of it is fluke. How much of the scene is happenstance, and how much ‘extra’ are we reading in? Was the ‘extra’ the intention, or are we, as fans, fanning it?

There is only one way to know. I should have been young in the 60s.

Plus the assumption, that I would be involved with the film industry. Too much to ask? Ah, well, we are imagining here; why limit it?

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But here we are in 2020s. Technology is much superior than that was available in the 60s. Or, the 70s. I can create a criss-cross of a bamboo wall or a library of books, adjust contrast, and manage exposure, and make a few other 100 adjustments. That’s easy. With the right software.

Software will never, however, substitute imagination. To think contrast. To think colour in black and white. To know how light plays.

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To be alive, is not to wish you were alive in a decade. To be alive, is to create the decade, when you are alive.

Inland Schizophrenia

We have a WhatsApp group.

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Classmates. Living a peripatetic life. Non-linear overlaps across the length and breadth of India, in varying time slices. Born early seventies, all of us. Gen X. Gen X is a fancy name for a generation that didn’t have access to technology. Obvious. This Gen was supposed to build the technology. So, in our early days we were dependent on the technology that the Baby Boomers used.

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Letters. Post. Mail. (not email). In India specifically we had Inland letters and Postcards. 25p and 15p respectively. If you had to write a really long letter, you had to shell out 50p for a postal envelope. But, we had to be careful, there was a weight limit. That’s when we discovered onion sheets – extremely thin paper. We could now stuff more sheets in the 50p envelope than before. We weren’t quite smart then, we used to pay a fortune for the onion paper pad, to save on postage. Go figure.

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Times have changed. Classmates grew up, and are doing well in their lives. If we feel like meeting out friends, we just hop on to a flight in the morning, spend a day with them, and return in the evening. We have WhatsApp, we have video calls, and such (which our generation built, mind you). We now live in a world of hyper-connectivity. Just the other day, mates from Goa, Dubai, Mumbai, Pune, and Surat met one evening. Easy-peasy.

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Indian Inland Letter India Post Rs. 2.50

The 25p Inland letter is now Rs. 2.50. I have taken it up upon myself to write letters to my friends. Notwithstanding the WhatsApp group. It’s not easy. But writing letters is muscle memory. It’s all coming back, no thanks to the changed format of the new expensive inland letter. All my letters start by asking my friend – what do I write in this letter, given that we already know everything that is going on in our lives. What should be the purpose and content of the letter? And as my out-of-practice trembling hands ask this question, an answer emerges. Purpose and content in this context don’t matter much. It is the intent, and the sense of sending you something tangible – is what matters. WhatsApp messages get deleted every night – to save space. Their nature is transient. A paper and scrawled ink is forever. When we are no more (like the deleted WhatsApp messages) these letters are an ounce of us that will be with you forever.

I should know, I have letters from dead people. And they are a part of me. And a part of them is with me.

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I have an old briefcase full of letters from all of my friends, from the early 80s. It is one of my most prized possessions. May the briefcase become a suitcase. May there be many more letters. May there be many more fragments of our lives in each other’s lives.

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Some gratitude is due. To my teachers and friends. I may not be the best letter-writer, but I understand something of structure and format and choice of words. Here’s a big thank you to all my teachers for helping us learn how to write letters and follow know the rules. To break a rule, you first have to know the rule. Here’s a big thank you to all my friends for helping me to learn how to break those rules.

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PS: I really, really wanted to use “peripatetic” – Happy now.

Thriving in the Traffic

Traffic jams are frustrating, to say the least. That place, with all the rear red lights, as if lasering with personal malice, directed at your eyes only. The incessant honking, and you honking back just to relive a bit of frustration, just in case that works. Perhaps, the evening traffic jams are the worst ones – when you just want to reach your destination — usually home. Relax, and be with your family. Traffic jams just add to the fatigue of the day gone by.

There cannot be anyone, obviously, who can say that they enjoy traffic jams. In any sense of the word.

Except for these guys.

They’re selling roasted peanuts in tightly packed spires, inverted white cones, ready to temporarily satisfy the hunger of the traffic-jammed, or perhaps the traffic-damned! Rolled up for Rs. 10 or for Rs. 20, dodging the adventurous drivers who are busy changing lanes, for no discernible advantage, but perhaps, for a sense of gratification. Their business model has been fine tuned now, it has been over a year since the Metro construction began.

They know which day of the week, which hour of the evening, at which point, the traffic is at a standstill. They have been smart enough to price these welcome cones of delight that requires minimum exchange. They have the exact change available and are able to dish out the cones and the currency, before you shift from neutral to first. They even have their inventory stocked along the divider, for Mondays and Fridays, when the snail-pace is especially pronounced.

There are, as you may have now realised, people who like traffic jams. Come to think of it, they must be praying for the jams and the continued slow pace of the Metro construction. Four hours of navigating dead slow cars on this damned and cursed highway, is a boon for them. The unfinished Metro pillars are their altars, now.

That’s the industrious face of grit, determination, and opportunity.

Salaam Bombay!

All’s Well: Places and Spaces

In this instant; right now; as you are reading this – could you tell me who you are?

Don’t fret, I cannot either. I’d imagine no one can. For if we were put in a spot with question like this – we’d only select a convenient label that is handy, shove it in your face, and say: this! Go away, don’t ask me any more questions. And then, many months later comes that Tuesday. It’s late in the morning, you are home. No one around you; you are cooking eggs in a way that you would never Instagram. It’s almost like it is in the movies, but it is definitely not. The eggs? Oh, they are as un-Instagramable as ever; that is perfect. But you aren’t in a wood cabin overlooking a lake or a river and by yourself, while birds are chirping and the movie-like artificial ambience is of peace.

Mostly, you are on the 12th floor of a road-facing noisy flat or in room No. 7 of chawl that intentionally denies private space.

In a city.

That happy, lonesome Tuesday late morning.

There is incessant honking by those who want to use a feature of their vehicle or the never-ending cackle of gossip and argument. The city offers no respite. Therefore we seek, the mountains of Ladakh or the beaches of Goa. Or an equivalent place.

I wonder, then, if it is places that offer the answers that we seek, or spaces?

Arches

The effort that we make to know ourselves on a beach in Goa is fungible. It is equivalent of an evening in local train in Mumbai going back home. The evening is the same. Are we mistaking places for spaces?

A wood cabin overlooking a lake in the middle of the forest is the same as a dilapidated concrete building overlooking a traffic jam.

If you take a moment to think about it, it is just material.

In Between Imagination and Reality

The last post was almost two months ago.

Interestingly, in these last two months, I have had the most to say. To write, I mean. But, as you have observed, [or have not] – I haven’t written here at all. We often imagine certain dreadful moments; I do, at least – and then, some times, those events actually occur. They are nothing like you imagine. And in between dealing with how those events occur and how you feel cheated, the event passes by. There’s a life lesson in there, somewhere.

But good things happen too. And we would have imagined them too. And just like the dreadful things, they are nothing that you imagined. Reality is the better cousin of imagination. There’s some healthy rivalry and teasing going on. Reality and imagination. Reality, mostly, winning. We are mere spectators to their act.

You find solace, where you wouldn’t expect to. Not what you imagined, BTW. Reality wins again. Not by a huge margin, though. What you had imagined about friends is true, too. We’ll call this a tie. Life’s surprises never cease. If only we would keep the door open. I am glad, I kept the door open.

These are things that no one can teach you. And while I have been hungry for a teacher, I have had to make do with makeshift teachers. Students are also teachers. Someone who is wading through the muck of life can hardly help you get across. But, they can do one thing: they can hold your hand, and help you move forward together – sharing the uncertainty; living the same fear.

SS, JR, PM, MD, GKMR, NP, and MB.

LearningMate Founders

Thank you for being with me in between the ever narrowing and broadening spaces of the gap of imagination and reality. While we lamented the lack of mentors, I think we did good for each other. We are better because of the shared scrapes on our knees and elbows; and sprained ankles. But our shoulders are strong – and that is what matters; that is what mattered. We sought mentors, but little did we know, we had each other – always – unqualified mentors. And we are better because of that. My reality is trumping my imagination, now. Only because of you all.

May we all shorten the space between imagination and reality!

Teachers’ Day is for Teachers

Happy Teachers’ Day to all Teachers.

In these days, when a meaning of a word can be stretched far from its actual and intended meaning, even the meaning of “teacher” has fallen victim to Unspeak. It has now come to mean any and every person who is responsible for anything that we learn.

That’s not a teacher. A teacher makes a conscious commitment to nurture and develop young people to do better. The act isn’t incidental nor accidental. It’s a deliberate choice that requires a dedication to continue “teaching” for a lifetime. I don’t disagree that we learn from people who aren’t “teachers”, yet, if we were to ask these people to do what they do, day in and day out, we’d probably not get the answer we think we will. The attitude, the patience, the rigour of a teacher is different from a person from whom we learn.

It is not that these non-teachers are seeking to be acknowledged on this day. It’s us. We are expanding the meaning of the word and the purpose of the day to make it inclusive. Very inclusive. Perhaps it is our laziness. To take time to think of our teachers and be grateful to them, specifically. Open the gates wide enough, and we could pretty much include every person we met, for we have learnt something from every person we met.

Irrespective of whether that person intended to teach us.

We could thank the others on all of the 364 days of the year, but that would take effort, to think of who it is we are grateful to, and for what purpose. It’s a lot of work!Teachers’ Day is a good blanket that covers it all. And one message, which includes, “… to all the people who have taught me along the way…” covers it all. While we may learn things from people, I am not sure if everyone intended to teach us.

This day is in celebration of those who have made it their life’s work to teach – who have held their patience for years together, while we fumbled and fell. They picked us up time and again, without judgement and urged us on towards success. They loved us without discrimination, and we went on ahead in life while they stood in the same place, awaiting the next generation, and did the same with them. In return they get a paltry sum, but their biggest payment is in our happiness and success.

For all the others who helped us learn, we’ll celebrate it all through the year.

There is a sanctity to this day. Let it remain Teachers’ Day.

A Broken Letter

Everyone knows everything about everyone else. As it happens. Information age and all. Instant ka zamaana hai. Almost everything. From the important to the trivial. Fact that my friend bought a new house and the fact that another friend over-ate last Saturday.  You don’t miss a thing.

Most of us, moved a lot, during our childhood. Given our fathers lived a peripatetic life. Armed forces, Government, Banks, and such. A couple and three decades ago, nothing was instant. Except for coffee, perhaps. We had to resort to old-school (those days it was the best tech available to us) and used to stay in touch through letters. I was recently surprised to know that they still teach letter-writing in school. I wonder if the kids write letters other than scribbling make-believe content to imaginary friends. Even recently, a friend was lamenting the loss of all these sweet old-world charms; ironically on an instant messenger. Being a sucker for sentiment, I shared a letter (not the contents; just the back of the inland-letter he had sent me, way back). Emotions gushed, much emojical sentiment was shared and received.

Another friend caught on to it. Hey, do you have any letters that I wrote to you? I’d like to share them with my kids, show, how we communicated when we were young. Of course, I said, I have a few. I wondered, however, if he’d actually share the content of the letter. We laughed-out-loud emojically.  Share them with me, I’ll see what I can share. I started shuffling through the semi-organised pile of withering envelopes, inland covers, and pages torn from notebooks. I find three of his letters.

One letter, not in any particular pile, sits in the box, with not a care for the world. It’s in a decorative envelope, addressed, but no postage stamp on it. My handwriting. Stuffed, with neatly folded pages. Yellowed by twenty-nine years. I recognise it. I am not sure I want to open it. I know it is about fifteen pages long, back-to-back; that’s thirty pages worth of a letter. It was meant to go where it was supposed to go, but I never let go of it. Letters that don’t get sent, don’t live a life. They don’t die, for they never have lived. They just don’t live. It’s not an unfinished letter. It has been completed, signed. I gingerly open it. It starts to break in my hands. Folds that have not been opened for almost three decades are now sharp cuts where once there were folds. It’s broken. Yet, it does not fall to pieces. Something held the letter together. And I started reading it.

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It slowly comes back to me. I knew where I was sitting. I remember the time of that night. I sense all that I sensed then. It’s painful. It’s raw. Ironically, it is satisfying. In retrospect, it is always easy to justify something. And even if it wasn’t so intentioned, I was writing this letter to myself. To be discovered thirty years later.

Who knew, a broken letter had the power to mend so much.

Running Behind

It isn’t working out. Present continuous.

My July commitment, of a post a day has failed as of the middle of this month, and I am lagging behind. Seven days. Six, if this post ever gets published. The saving grace is that I have not been lazy. I have been busy on Twitter, Facebook, and oh-so-busy on WhatsApp.

Amba Ghat, MH, India

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I even started reading a book. Then, I saw the comments of the folks who reviewed, wrote blurbs, and praised the book. Almost all of them were people I disagree with from an ideological point of view. 20 pages into the book. I am reading it, but I am not. A question lingers: If those that I essentially disagree with have endorsed the book, isn’t it obvious that I will disagree with what’s in the book? I linger on a paragraph. I am not reading it, I am seeing it. My eyes don’t dart the way they should, when I read a book. They hold a focus. It’s a form of slavery, I say to myself. To trust in reviews and endorsements. Reviews and endorsements by people who hold a common view, somehow, tell me of what to expect. 20 pages done. I wonder if I should just shelve it. I continue lingering on that paragraph.

Best case, I will learn something new. Worst case I would have gone through a few hundred pages of propaganda that I am already aware of. Should I pick another one from my unread shelf?

I have decided to read the book.

With an open mind. Books are ideas. They may be good ideas or bad ideas. Yet, they always inform us. Books are not good or bad for the ideas they present. They may be good or bad in the way they are written. There’s no such thing as a bad idea. Come to think of it. Ideas have a purpose and a content. Those may be at cross-purposes with each other. Not all ideas work. But ideas are to be celebrated. Even if they have no standing or a life. They have to be celebrated for what they offer and the story that they tell of the human progress.

Always chase an idea.

A Corrupt Artist

The Man in the Red Shirt, Ajanta Caves, MH, India

Humanity will survive even if every politician, every bureaucrat, and even the last common man is corrupt, to the core. The day the artist mortgages her soul to evil and greed, there will be no hope left. When the artist holds a mirror stained with corruption — and tells the rest of us, this is who we are, doom is imminent.

A corrupt artist is the indicator of the dawn of darkness.

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But, how will we know, when such darkness is destined for us?

A Fresh Start

That would usually mean leaving behind everything of the past, and starting with a zero, as Tracy Chapman says.

One might say it’s a rejection of all that exists, leaving it all behind, and seeking all that is new, better, and preferred. But even in this fresh start, there is always the presence of the old, even if it is as just a building block, from which you take flight. You don’t just drop everything.

Or, there is no new thing in a fresh start, it’s just looking at the old in a different way; in a way that offers a different perspective to serve a different purpose.

A fresh view, perhaps, rather than a fresh start.

Better, For You

Four years ago around this time, I wrote a post about an apology from a Leograph. I had to follow up, the next day with another apology for saying Leograph instead of Leogryph, which is the correct word, which I intended. The apology was due, because a post blitzkrieg was upon my readers. And the quality of the writing was in doubt. It would be prudent to apologise in advance. So, I did.

More, later.

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Since that day, I haven’t picked up a challenge that would require me to work hard. Life’s been good, so to speak. Life is usually shovelling challenges our way — why create new challenges? Nice, peaceful mantra. June 2014 was the last time I created a challenge for myself. This month is an anniversary of sorts. It just so happens that in June last year, we had a school re-union, and most of us met after over three decades. Details here.

We decided to meet again to celebrate the anniversary of our first re-union after 30-odd years. Go figure. It just so happened that the exact dates were a weekend. So it would be perfect. Weekend of 9th June. God is gracious with the calendar. But God’s grace stopped, at giving us a weekend on the same date. In school, we attended classes together, spent time together. We had a time-table. To be clear, we all had the same time-table. Now, no more. We all, now, have our own time-tables. Ah! The scheduling conflicts we go through. A nightmare.

Then, Magic!

Last-minute confirmations, and we swelled twice the size that we imagined. Forty-somethings being teenage-somethings. Husbands, wives, kids in tow; I can say that there was utter confusion. Mostly, the actual kids were confused, seeing their parents being teenagers. In a way, I am happy that kids saw their parents in a different light. I won’t bore you with the details. [Wink-wink]

Us @ Uttorda, Goa

The conversations are unlimited. Tea is flowing like beer; same as beer which flows as water. The beverage doesn’t matter – and the conversations invade the deep night. No more names, no more roles. Friends, husbands, wives, kids – – it becomes one big family.

I usually talk too much. But there are times, when I watch from the sidelines. While I rarely go to the sidelines, it’s a moment of epiphany. Their love, their respect. Leaning on the railing watching them, I say to myself: I have to be better. I am not bad, mind you. But I want to be better. Not because I have something to prove or I seek acceptance. Just that being with you all wants me to be better, for you. I have nothing to prove to you all – because you have accepted me the way I am. Yet, a part of me, is asking questions: how can I be better for you? Not in relative terms, but in absolute.

One year ago – I was happy that I found you all. One year later, the emotions are different. Yes, today the floodgates have opened. Late-lateef. All my friends from school are as crazy, or more, than I am. But without ever declaring it, we have genuine interest in each other’s life.

We push each other to be better. No, we never said it in that much detail.

There’s value in the unsaid; which we derive from the said

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After four years, I am taking up the challenge of publishing at least one post everyday, this July. I cannot guarantee the quality of the July posts. But I will write. One, everyday, next month.

I will be better, for you.

Coming Of Age

When does one come of age? What age, i.e. I believe that questions does not have a definitive answer.

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I consider myself fortunate that I grew up surrounded by books. But the books I grew up with were not mine. They belonged to my father. My sister and I were allowed spaces in that library to keep our books. I do not know if he intended it, but that was our education of books; not their content, but their upkeep. We were, if you are wondering, allowed access to his library. And there was a theme to the books he read.

Eventually, I grew up. I chose books that were very different from the books in his library. Our library, now. I was grown up enough to buy my books. I was never a rebel. It was the influence of a combination of the books I could afford and the influence I was under. My books were welcomed in his library. I was flirting with atheism, and a book by Dawkins found a place nearby his Upanishadic texts. On weekends we had good conversations of the books that I was stuffing in his thematic library. Lovely conversations.

It’s been 17 years, and now they are only ghosts of conversations. Now, my sister and I are the sole heirs of his library. That’s the best thing he bequeathed to us.

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In Bullet Time

I just finished reading a book called Nationalism by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Gurudev was an articulate person. He had a power over words, which he used, not with dominance, but with love, care, and sense. Gurudev’s ideas about nationalism are incongruent with my own acquired beliefs. But, it matters less. It was, to say the lest, an enjoyable read. What he believed in, he has expressed so well, with so much conviction; as you read the book, you cannot feel anything but respect. I have an ideological difference from his POV.

This post is not about that.

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Having read that book, I discovered that there is a point of view that is discordant with mine. Then came the question. Do I accept it or reject it? This problem of binary will be the death of us all. David Weinberg, in his book “Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room” — I know a really long title, talks of the nature of debate, among other things:

“A conversation like this is possible when each of us has freedom of expression and no one is required to change.”

While I study Nationalism, Gurudev’s perspectives have informed me. I respect his views. I do not entirely agree with them. And, as I study more, I am willing that my perspective may change.

May I read more books!

Write Side

One thing’s for sure. This blog is not what it used to be.

I have yet to decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing. But I am sure, that it is a different thing. My audience has changed. That is a very good indicator of the change. Those that used to read this blog do not read this blog anymore. Different people seem to find meaning in this blog and the posts. And that is a good thing, do not get me wrong; I am not complaining.

I wonder, if it is ever a good idea to lose readership. Most authors will disagree with me. I would also disagree with me. Loss is never good. Yet, when I think of losing an audience, I cannot help but wonder, who I am losing. I was once a writer of some style. [Bear with me, while I shower my own accolades on myself.] I am no more a writer of that style. I am a writer of this style. If you can call it a style, i.e.

The advantage of not being a published popular author is working for me.

Maybe.

Conversations with Ghosts of Past

“You aren’t online as much these days,” he said. I detected a note of regret in his voice. Wishful thinking on my part, I thought — there’s so much online these days, no one’s going to regret my absence. He’s just making an observation.

I nodded my head in agreement; smiled just enough so that it could qualify as a smile.

“It’s a bit boring, you know, to keep reading your old stuff.”

“I know the feeling, I have done a lot of reading — all my old posts. There’s not a lot, but there’s enough.”

“You are not just re-reading the posts. What are you searching for?”

“Who,” I said, looking away from him to street. There were so many people on that street. I wondered what they were doing, moving about, talking, walking. Some standing. All of them going about their lives. It seemed so strange, suddenly. Strange strangers. I’ll use that in one of my post.

“And did you find him,” he asked, stirring his coffee. He did that a lot; stirred his coffee, before every sip; I was almost sure of that. It could be irritating, if not distracting.

“I recognise shades of that person. He seems somewhat alien. It’s like … I was perhaps infected with that alien DNA a while ago, and as I read the posts, some sort of recognition causes green and blue neon-like pulses to emit through the screen and connect with a part of me. Just a part of me. It’s there, but it does not bind.”

“Why”

“I don’t know. Maybe I am a million galaxies away from that DNA. Or some million light-years away or something like that, there’s a connection, but it’s weak.”

“Too much of Netflix-binging?”

“Yes, mostly time-travel,” I said. A real smile, that would have almost qualified as a laugh.

“I know you don’t travel as much. I mean in this time/space construct; needless to say. Not time travel. You aren’t even capturing time, so to speak; you have stopped taking photos. Right? And you have stopped writing. In short, there is no movement, there is no new experience. Is that why there is no new documentation? Are you falling short experiences to describe? It’s perhaps not as simple as that, but I have to ask you – is it as simple as that?”

“Not having “experiences”; is that also an experience?”

“Doesn’t the mind hold a million times more possibilities than the real world,” he asked, not really meaning what he asked. He was perhaps interested in my mind. The possibilities in my head. I heard him but I wasn’t there.

Voices, with amazing clarity whooshed in that empty coffee shop.

You deserve more than this.
I’d rather be talking with you.
I like being with you, but…
I love you.
This is a great evening, I’ll cherish it forever.
I wish it were different.
Why didn’t you say something then.
If only…
I hope we can meet again

“My mind is full of regrets,” I said, “not necessarily mine. Not my regrets. And I may have a few. But my regrets are overwhelmed by the regrets I hear from them. Every regret was a possibility, come to think of it – it does not matter whether it was mine or theirs.”

*

“Write about them, then, those possibilities,” she pleaded.

She was grace. Unlike him who constantly stirred his coffee. She was a possibility. Looking in her eyes, then, I was reminded. Everything is possible. I don’t recall the new-age music that was playing in the cafe; but I heard:

Like a tunnel that you follow
To a tunnel of it’s own
Down a hollow to a cavern
Where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving
In a half-forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble
Someone tosses in a stream

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind.

~ Sting – Windmills Of Your Mind

I looked deep in her eyes. I did not blink. I was afraid, if I looked away, she would be gone, just like him. And I wasn’t prepared for who would be sitting with me next. I continued to stare in her eyes. I did not look away, but I knew that the strange strangers were looking at me. There’s something about a gaze.

“What a lovely pattern on your coffee,” she said, with so much of love and affection.

Patterns. Repetitive. Predictable. I am living those patterns. I look up, she isn’t around. I want to say something.

*

There is no Barista in the cafè.

*

No people on the street.

*

I walk out.

*

This world is empty of humans.

***

PS: Above post is all imaginary. It never happened. It’s a ghost story. None of my friends were involved in this story.

The True Letter

“Bhai!” (Brother; no blood-relation, but what we feel about people is stronger than a blood-call)

I always love hearing his voice.

Hey, how are you, I asked.

“All good man. I am sorry.”

Huh? Why?

“I haven’t replied to your letter” [A physical letter, written on paper, paid for with postage, to be delivered by a postman]

That’s alright. I have received one from you.

“I know, but I never replied to your reply to that. I want to reply. I want you to know that.”

She had written a letter to me once. On an unruled Inland Letter. There was a lot of space in between the lines she wrote. Maybe she was helping me read in-between the lines. I wasn’t as smart then, also, I thought I was in love. I just saw the empty space between the actual lines, beautiful handwriting, and well, you know what. She also wrote of how she had good intentions to write to me, but, she reminded me that, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I thought I’d re-quote this to my brother. Thought better of it.

That’s fine. I know you will reply. Soon.

“I don’t understand why I don’t write. I have the stationery. I have the will.”

You are, perhaps too focused on writing a proper letter.

“Meaning?”

You don’t need to write a full letter, you know. Just write a big ‘HI’ on the letter and post it?

“Meaning?”

*

Rest of the conversation was of various other things. And while I did give him an answer for his last question, I wondered, what was the “Meaning?” What does a letter mean? To me?

Doing an about-turn and looking within yourself is a difficult thing to do. We rarely do it. It follows, that we have lost (or are losing) the art of looking within. That evening, I turned.

It’s just so nice to receive a personal letter. A small little envelope, with your name inscribed on it in, fat, thin, curvy, thick, elegant, scribbly handwriting. It’s your name. Then follows your address. Whoever sent you the letter knows exactly where you are. The letter comes home. We aren’t having a conversation while I am commuting or when I am down on the street for a late afternoon for a chai and a cigarette. [Statutory Warning: Smoking is injurious to health].

A letter comes to where you are. Home. And then you open the letter. It may be a single page, or pages and pages stuffed in that reluctant envelope, ready to burst at the seams. It’s never the same as having the letter-writer in front of you, but it is the closest. I know, many folks think voice is the closest, but I think otherwise. Written words are. See, letter writing (pen and paper) is not the same as typing on a keyboard. Our thoughts are racing, our pen-in-our-hand cannot keep up. So, we often slow down out thoughts. If you have ever received a multi-page letter, you will know what I am talking of.

The first paragraph is exquisite. Your friend has sat down to write the letter, slowed down the thought process, and the best of her handwriting shows up. One page down. Now the excitement of Oh-I-have-so-many-things-to-share-with-you, takes over. Scribbly text takes over. Spelling mistakes. Scratches. She sees her own handwriting. Slows down. It repeats. Somewhere, the weight of the paper comes into consideration. No more pages! But I have so much more to say. A-ha! Margins! Let’s flout that one rule we learnt in school.

There’s more character to a letter than any other form of communication. Except of course, when we are having coffee together, at the same table.

To write a good letter, we need to be in denial, however; in these times. We have to deny ourselves an instant response. We have to let go, of a response, if that is what it takes. There is sheer pleasure in writing a letter. We have to move away form the instant gratification of the double-blue-tick-mark of WhatsApp and learn to yearn for a postal delivery. For something tangible. For something that’s forever.

*

Take your time, Bhai. Send me that letter when you can. What matters not is that it’s a postcard or an overstuffed envelope for which I have to pay extra postage. What matters is that I get it. You know it, there’s a joy in receiving letters. You have experienced it.

Spread the joy.

Happy Republic Day

Happy Republic Day, to all fellow Indians.

This day that year, we got our own Constitution. It is the Supreme Guide. That Supreme Guide provides us ways and means to amend the Supreme Guide itself, if we think that the Supreme Guide is not helping, or lacking. Laws of society have been codified for thousands of years. In all the thousands of years, they have changed according to how society has changed.

“It’s a stupid law. I won’t follow it.”

I have heard the above statement often. It’s a gift that we live in a democratic society. I agree that many of the rules and laws are archaic, stupid, even, and they are not applicable given how society has evolved. I feel, however, violating law because you do not agree with it, is not the right way to protest. Frankly, it is counter-intuitive. Given that we have a dynamic constitution, we can change the law. But therein lies the inherent problem. We do not want to struggle to get the relevant laws in place. I often do not celebrate the freedom struggle anniversaries; mostly because I feel that I have failed those who got us independence. I do not know, how we got set in comfort of the “static quality” of independence.

Independence is always work-in-progress. Our Freedom Fighters were lucky, if I may say so with due respect, to able to point a finger at someone and say – I want to be independent of you. And they struggled, and we are now a free country. That was 1947. Three years before we became a Republic. We are now in 2018. And 1947 and 1950 have to dance together: an independent republic.

 

Mine is a big country. As a democracy, all are allowed to do and say what they want. So, it is difficult to understand the idea of India. With all the voices in the ten directions. And all the voices are allowed. I understand, how we may come across as a confused nation.

But, come, watch us celebrate a festival. Any festival. We promise you, you will be more confused than you were before.

Happy Republic Day to all my fellow Indians.

Love is Wabi-sabi

It’s easy to fall in love. An irresponsible chemical reaction is all it takes, and we say – I love you. Of course, there is no guarantee that the same irresponsible chemical reaction has occurred in the you of the “I love you.” Given the voluminous literature of romantic tragedy, it is safe to say that one chemical reaction does not cause another as desired. That’s the first problem.

Overcome that, and you have two irresponsible chemical reactions happening simultaneously. Bliss! We have an I love you and we also have an I love you, too. Such a lovely feeling that is, everything seems so bright, vibrant, sweet, and in place. Yes, it’s great.

Then, millions of years of training takes over. This and that. Black and white. Good and bad. Like and dislike. Almost all of evolutionary classification starts its slow game. It begins with small requests. The requests then come in earnest. And a few shades later become demands. Now you realise the irresponsibility of that chemical reaction; it over-rode all this classification that’s now playing the game. What begins, is the process of fashioning a personality of your choice and liking. A small iron chisel, lovingly thumped by a wooden mallet, finely carving out a sculptor’s imagination on a life.

“I love you, if only you would [insert desired change]”

Nayak Nayika. c. 11th CE. Hinjalgarh (Mandsaur). State Museum, Bhopal, MP, India

Nayak Nayika. c. 11th CE. Hinjalgarh (Mandsaur). State Museum, Bhopal, MP, India

Begets the question then; are we to trust the native irresponsible chemical reaction that tripped us and threw us in love? What are we to do when we feel betrayed by this instinctive chemical reaction? We could accept that the reaction was wrong; a mistake and walk away. Mostly, it seems, we insist that the reaction was almost right and start changing what we once loved; what was once pure. Iron chisel. Wooden mallet. Lover becomes sculptor. With no time to love.

Relentlessly sculpting, he makes a great work of art. Just like the sculptor has imagined it. It’s perfect. It’s shiny. It’s sophisticated. It’s unreal. It’s unattainable. It’s not human.

To partly accept, is to not accept. Love is pure Wabi-sabi

The New Year Threat

So, The Bum has threatened to write a post. The Fine Balancer has threatened to write x times a week. Or something like that. Shiver me timbers! Not sure who exactly threatened, what. But threats have been made. To no one in particular. Needless to say, I use the word threat dramatically. I learnt that in the writing school that I did not attend. Can a threat be a threat if it is not directed towards someone? Let me explain: If I say, “Watch out!” or “Don’t you dare!” – is it a threat? Oh, it could be. Apparently, there’s something called an empty threat. That amuses me to no extent.

Oh, Happy New Year to all of you. Am a week late, but, it is the thought that matters, no? Never mind; I met someone today.

We got introduced, online, due to an unfortunate circumstance. Which involves another person, who, was with us when we met, today. The unfortunate circumstance is another story; I am not ready to talk about it, yet; haven’t properly dealt with it. What I am ready to talk about , is that we finally met. In flesh, i.e.

I have missed people, like those I met today. Yet another friend, who is one of the smartest people I know, once told me, that I was doomed, because I was cursed to live in mediocrity. I asked him, why? He told me, that I do not belong with the people I spend my time with. Being the smart person he said that I was, I asked him, not even you? He fell silent. That’s the problem with smart people. The really smart people are modest. [Read the second last paragraph, of the post that has been linked, before you read further.]

In meeting with an old friend and a new friend, who challenged me to think about a few things before I could finish a coffee, I discovered myself. While you may see me very comfortable and confident in a place where I am in control and am a director; I prefer a situation when I am challenged. It is definitely not comfortable. Twitching in my seat. In my head.

We are not ourselves when we know who we are, we are our own true selves when we do not know who we are. And we know that.

Nah! I didn’t say that aloud. Mad or what? Then, we left the coffee shop.

Rest of it is all humour. Nerdy, perhaps. SK, sorry for being such a snob, but you gotta agree, the event was a bloody damp squib, and I did make some interesting points. CB, loved meeting you, hope we find many more reasons to get together. It was a lovely evening.

*

In the end, our final challenge as humans, is how we challenge other humans as an intelligence. We shall not allow the nature of a medium to decide our response. We shall not allow an ideology to define a friendship.

We will, hopefully, replace an argument with a conversation. Thank you SK & CB for today.

We will listen.