the 'Fist' & the 'Pacifist'
Though my soul may set in darkness, it shall rise in perfect light,
I have loved the stars too fondly, to be fearful of the night.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Pather Pachali : Our Song of the Little Road

Our pride aside, it is not really surprising that sections of the West reacted the way they did to "Pather Pachali" (or "Song of the Little Road"). The poverty stricken, dreary lifescape of rural India - must have been an unpleasant shock to many Western viewers/critics.

If one watches the movie today, 50 odd years since its release, the characters embroiled in a life or death battle (literally) for shelter, a square meal - does come as a jolt. In fact when I re-watched the movie a few months ago, to be honest, I sometimes cringed. The world of ipod's, high speed broadband and square mile malls, begs disbelief of lives steeped in penury, of the oppression of existence and of aspiration blunted by destitution.

However, having said that, Francois Truffaut's comment, "I don't want to see a movie of peasants eating with their hands" is a reflection more of his insensible insularity than of the movie.

Pather Pachali - The Song of the Little Road is a metaphor for man's rite of passage. The way the world you know starts to give away. Roots begin to stealthily putrefy life. Life incarcerated by inertia. One has to give it all up and move. Leave in order to live. To abandon all you know and to clutch at the unaccustomed.

Its the story of all our lives, the family who left the village for the city. The son who went to America, and the one who came back. The migrant who crossed the border. The peasant who gave up the till. The man who donned the workers uniform, and the one who relinquished it for ever. The family who moved to the leafy suburb, and the one which moved to the loft conversion down town.

Some Journeys are aspirational while others are escapes. Often there is only an one way ticket available.
Journey's heralds new beginnings, but they also often... shut the book.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

In the morning I thought of money. Money & money matters. Mutual fund NAV’s. Bloody fund managers. The sensex. Clinical depression. Sting. [Tina adds - Sting had Clinical depression].

In the afternoon I thought of Wild Strawberries. Trois couleurs: Bleu. Juliette Binoche. The pristine sugar cube in the black coffee. The Apprentice. Advertising. Satyajit Ray. The whistling train. Summer Holidays. BOAC and BAA. Qantas. Rain man.

Hence QED.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The world is far more incestuous than we think it is. I get to know of her, through friends. Information which is... unsolicited most of the time, but gratefully accepted all of the time.

I saw her in the car park a few weeks ago, she and her partner were waiting for the valet to fetch the car. I waited awhile to see her. She is still terminally pretty, but there are no pretenses anymore - the world now knows how old she is, and she has a very strong hunch.

It's always the skin; young skin has an oneness of color. Age is like a time veneered artwork, evident in promise but compromised in vigor.

I looked at her; the stunning smile on a face which I knew had once been more beautiful. The poignancy I think lay in the realization of time and age - mine foremost. What my mirror routinely concealed - manifested itself in a dimly lit hotel car park.

I have always admired snakes, the way they shed their skin. Definitive departures and shiny new beginnings. Simple and almost evolutionary. We humans, make heavy weather of it – dry skin, scabs, warts, wrinkles and falling hair. Dross and decaying, dead habit almost.

On the way back home that evening, I pulled out of pigeon holes - all those hurriedly aggrandized memories. The caramelized laughter and the fiery piquant fights.

Stephen Stills, had once said in an interview to 'Rolling Stones' magazine - "There are three things men can do with women : love them, suffer for them, or turn them into literature".

To you, I have done all three. Unfortunately, none too successfully.

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Monday, April 16, 2007
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd;
Labour and rest, that equal periods keep;
"Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep;"

- 'Eloisa to Abelard', Alexander Pope


Monday, February 12, 2007
Post it

Read my VisualDNA Get your own VisualDNA™

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Thursday, February 01, 2007
Blood Alcohol Labels.

He felt like having a drink.
Strong stiff ones. Like pretty maids all in a row.
He wanted the buzz. The heightened sense of everything.

The live band, cranks up the drum microphone.
Weaving traffic like colored ribbons in the breeze.

All roads lead gently downhill. Cars lurk like ghosts at every bend.
Every turn takes you home. To share your bed with sleep.
Like a fly in a whirlpool.

Like a sticky traffic signal he thinks of her.
Weak. Amative. Green.
He pushes hard, fast and faster.
The night breeze like hornets in a tunnel.

Floyd on the stereo. A melee of then, now and never.
He squares up for a fist cuff.
I am the champion of the world he says.
The gambler frowns on the odds.

He cusses and he waits.
Calls them out, one by one.
He digs his heels into the night.
No footsteps. No silhouettes.
He spits into the cloud of dust.

The bells toll.
"Last drinks! Last drinks!"

The Abbot and the black heart.
"Its time" they say.
Time for a hand brake turn.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007
Beyond the Middle Place

Hotel rooms, amidst the measured queen size bed, the table lamp and the basket of fruit, have their own passive life.

When I first arrived in Somerset, for months I was at this hotel, unremarkable in every regard except one. It had a large framed print of "Lament for Icarus", the print itself was of average quality. Uneven colors, and not particularly well framed either.

It's a Victorian Nude of course; Icarus lies dead by the sea after his flight to freedom ends in disaster. He is tended by nymphs who hold him and lament his unfortunate death.

Daedalus, imprisoned by King Minos, devises wings built out of feathers and held together by wax, as a means of escape. His son Icarus follows him in flight. Once in the skies, Icarus, apparently convinced of his abilities of flight, gains altitude and the sun melts his wax bonded wings. The young man falls to his death in the sea.

The months I stayed in that hotel room, at times I stared intently at the print, at most other times was oblivious of its existence. On sleepless nights, with a village in slumber beyond the window, Icarus and the lamenting Nymphs often came to life.

No magic realism, no emerging characters, no talking nymphs.

Like a ghost beyond the horizon.

After sleep, after blinding light.

After the fear of heights and the depths of the sea.

A place to rest your head.

The afterglow of life. Beyond the middle place.

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Sunshine Happiness

A fantasy calendar girl, with backlit hair.
A Colored morning on the church pews.

On a shallow sun afternoon, I built a fort.
Familiar strangers and unaccustomed silhouettes.

Beer on the beach, at the high tide bar.
Two rupee boat rides on the lazy blue.

Sunshine happiness, I knew you one winter.

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Friday, January 05, 2007
From Coast to Coast

They say if you have seen one beach you have seen them all. On the 31st of December 2005, I was by the Arabian Sea at Daman, the southern tip of Gujarat. Exactly a year later I was at delightful Pondicherry on the Coromandel Coast by the Bay of Bengal. A journey of 1200 kilometers in 12 months, almost diagonally across peninsular India.

There were stopovers of course - the confused and cosmopolitan Geneva, officious and idyllic Bern, the icy winds up the Matterhorn, opulent St.Moritz and the quaint stamp sized Liechtenstein.

And as I stood at the Pondicherry Promenade, the warm sea breeze crawled through the fabric of my clothes. The sea smothered the rocks and rose like salt crusted sprays in short-lived revelry.

It doesn't matter where you were, in doesn't matter where you are coming from. You just pause, see the sea, feel the rain, goggle at mountains and keep walking down that winding road towards the bend around the corner.

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Friday, December 15, 2006

"We had to cozzy up in the old gymnasium...

dusting off the mandolins and checking on the gear.
She was helping out at the back-stage...
stopping hearts and chilling beer.

Yes, and her legs went on for ever.
Like staring up at infinity
through a wisp of cotton panty
along a skin of satin sea.
Hot night in Budapest. "

Tull, Crest of a Knave, 1987

I dont know where I have been, but I am coming back.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006
If you stare at the sky long enough, the lights will go out.

The fist & the pacifist is closed till further notice.



Monday, August 14, 2006
Smoke on the water. Fire in the sky.

On saturday the week long Geneve Fete drew to a close. It had rained all evening, the fireworks display by the lake, which officially signals the end of the fete, appeared to be a no show.

At about 9:30, the rain petered down and I made my way towards the lake. I was near Cornavin Station when the fireworks display began. The roads leading to Quai Mont Blanc were cordoned off for vehicular traffic. And suddenly there was a mad rush - people sprinted down the road towards the lake side. It almost felt like one of those disaster movies, when the monster makes an appearance at a crossroad, and people run in the opposite direction.

The Quai was packed. The fireworks were splendid. Gold spangles lit up the night and then slowly melted into the river. Spiraling globes of blue and red, burst upon the sky for a glorious memorable moment and then allowed the darkness to slither back in. The geometric shapes and seemingly random patterns of light, burst upon the night, as the thousands who had gathered looked on spellbound.

The reflections of the fireworks on the lake - created awry images of brilliant light. The hotels which line the lake, had guests out on the verandahs, taking in the spectacle. The fireworks extended their imagery to the shut windows, lighting them up like neon signs on a boulevard.

I looked around at the people around me. There was a sprinkling of locals, those who had driven into town, and people like me, who had come from distant lands. Couples held each other close, families huddled together. And the children in prams, were not sleep and cranky anymore.

And suddenly, almost magically, under the night sky lit up by fairy lamps - Gay men kissing each other, didn't bother me. Neither did the Arab tourist with his retinue of wives and children. The war in Lebanon, felt like a story concocted by the media.

Geneva calls itself - the city where people meet. And for fifteen minutes, those thousands of people, with different languages, religions and color of skin, magically and almost in the most serendipitous kind of way, came to embody the essence of "The United Nations" much more than a building across town would ever be able to.

P.S. Across the lake, Montreux, is known as the Swiss Riviera. In 1971, while Frank Zappa was strutting his stuff, the Montreux Casino caught fire, casting a pall of smoke over Lake Geneva. This inspired Deep Purple's classic song "Smoke on the water, Fire in the sky."

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Monday, July 10, 2006
No Cakes and Ale : Part Deux.

The way our founding fathers envisioned the Indian nation, the way the Indian people have voiced their opinion - it is clear - that we as nation will judge our self by the extent to which development filters down to the most marginalized, by the empowerment of the most deprived and by the extent to which those furthest from the mainstream benefit from the fruits of the Indian Union.

Sensex pole vaulting to 10000 plus levels, the testing of a nuclear device, Marks and Spencer opening shop at the neighborhood mall - these are only the highlights of our growth as a nation. Let us not be self-deluding to believe that this alone typifies growth or are even its primary indicators.

The rural and urban poor do not cast their vote based on Infosys setting up a state of the art facility, neither are they swayed by India winning points over China at Davos.

The parameters of the average Indian are crystal clear - land reform, access to infrastructure, access to education, social empowerment, and access to livelihood options.

Not a single opinion poll commissioned by media houses, print or television, based out of the metros - predicted the BJP loss at the center. Urban India was doing well. We had Lindt on supermarket shelves and American sedans in our garages. The disconnect between urban and rural, forward and marginalized was so palpable - while we were basking in the warm sunshine of India Shining, India in the villages voted in anger.

Let me gets some facts straight here,

1. Higher education is obviously not the only great leveler, primary education must be strengthened and its reach widened. It should reach villages, and families which have so long been outside the net. There isn't an argument about that, is there?

2. Like all policies, the execution is flawed, and the purpose is very often defeated. But does that mean we do away with the initiative altogether?

3. Successive generations which have benefited from reservations should be excluded from any further dispensations. A system should be in place to enforce the same, and be executed efficiently. (Very idealistic I know, not for once overlooking the inherent corruption and inefficiency).

Keep aside vote bank politics and populism. (The narrow ends of small men).

What's the driving concept behind reservations? It attempts to empower those who are intrinsically marginalized.

I don't get this - if the concept of reservations per say is the bone of contention. Why wasn't there a nation wide protest against the women's reservations bill? Why wasn't there nation wide protest, when some state governments reserved seats in panchayats?

The answer is simple - it didn't affect the urban middle class. It didn't impinge on our world of Multiplexes and H1B visas. It didn't affect Marine Drive, Connaught Place, Park Street or Brigade Road. Hence, it was not a hot button for the media. In fact we nodded our heads in appreciation - India was taking affirmative action. Reservations were good.

But reservations in our colleges and universities - that's evil. How could you reduce seats in the colleges and universities where we aspire to study or send our children to study someday? How can you take away our prospects of MNC jobs and fast cars? How can you be seen at the same clubs as we do? Will your son study with my son at St.Xaviers - that's preposterous!

That is unfortunately the crux of the problem - we the urban middle class, have chosen to live in a sanitized bubble. Disconnected from the real India, out of sync with its real problems. This is new imperialism. We are the new "us" and they unfortunately are still the "them".

P.S. This is the much delayed follow up to the previous post. I received comments/emails but couldnt get down to replying to them individually. Apologies. Hope this post responds to most of the comments. Cheers!


Monday, June 12, 2006
No Cakes and Ale?

I am not one for opinion rants. But that precedent will unfortunately have to be broken. Yes, the thorn in the flesh is the whole Reservation shindig.

To start things of, Yes I support Reservations. And yes I think they should be caste based.
Which caste blocks should be included and the extent of the opportunity pie is something I would leave to experts.

I think the protesting students and the whole "do away with reservations" voice, is missing a very important point. Large sections of society - the backward castes for example - have been traditionally deprived of education, livelihood options and other social opportunities. And their lack of access to opportunity isn't a product of them having less potential or less ability.

Centuries of dominance by upper castes by way of education, livelihood options, governance and policy making - has ensured that the backward castes have remained only on the fringe of growth and empowerment. With such divisions, with such anomalies are we an equal society? If we are not an equal society, how can we expect one and all to compete on merit?

I live in urban India, which is a pretty dolled up version of the country, low on the real problems and high on the post-liberalization glam. But yet, I do not know of a single forward class working as a domestic help in my building or as a facility staff at my workplace.

Independence means nothing, nor does a booming sensex. The backward classes at independence were atleast a century behind everybody else. We raised the tri-color at red fort and said - we are all equal now, start running...run like the wind!

It doesn't work that way! Even if they ran like the wind, they started a century behind the start line anyways.

I have worked with the Chinese, and boy is their English funny. This in spite of the Chinese government over the last decade pumping the largest sum of money - not into technical education, nor medicine, but yes English. This is probably the first generation of Chinese who are actually learning English in school. Obviously they don't match up to us yet, because our education in English is already 3 or 4 generations old.

Yes of course, with seats being reserved, a large number of students with apparently "more merit" will miss out. It's sad. But that unfortunately is the cost we will have to pay as a nation.

A backward step? Maybe. But only so that we can give the fellow Indian who has fallen behind, a helping hand.


Friday, June 09, 2006
I met her today.

Glenary is not what it used to be. The mall is crowded and chaotic. But yet in November, Darjeeling is sharp and pleasant.

At midday the muted sun and the wispy white clouds, mists over the cerulean. The world it seems has a renaissance master manning the lights.

The Kanchandzonga makes an appearance at its own whim. The interplay of - light and the passing clouds, on the canvas of pristine snow. At once - a tinted penumbra and then suddenly a mellow incandescence. Gray shadows and off the palette shades.

Almost, natures own son-et-lumiere.

I never thought I would say this - she finally looks her age. The smile though, is still full of zest, and her hair, dark and intriguing. The only thing which has changed - for the first time I think, she needs me. It isn't a happy feeling. It makes me queasy and sad.


Monday, May 22, 2006
The world is painted in water color. Our lives are in Oil.

The sky, the blue bleeds into the light gray, the light gray coalesces into the deep. And then there is the citrine sun, which spreads itself into everything and nothing. No lines, only swathes. No colors, only hues. No finalities, only Intermediates. No satiety, only permeations. No endings, only transitions.

Lives are in Oil. Births and Deaths. Friends and Enemies. Marriages and Divorces. First Dates and Last farewells. Blinding light and dark tunnels. Stark colors. Disparate ironies. Love and Hurt. Flamingo red and burnt sienna. David and Goliath. Truth and Lies. Yours and mine.



She always said, I was weak. She always said I could never take a stand.

I never believed all of that.

I took great decisions at work. Under pressure I solution like a man on fire.

It just happened a few minutes back, we had a resource utilization issue. My manager was perplexed, lines on his forehead, he was pouring over the figures. I saw the problem, I figured the end, and I had the mean. It's normal. It's so natural. It isn't even an effort. I just "see" the solution. No lengthy deliberations, just a clear clear mind.

But now, as far as life goes - I think she was right. I never did take a stand. I followed the straight and narrow. I wallowed in the perplexity. I savored irony. I celebrated inaction. Self deludingly believed the middle path to be the hgh ground.

In retrospect, the work days were never twelve hours plus, the clients' demands were never that worrisome. The next role change was never that critical.

I realize now, I was never a workaholic. I realize now, I was just a refugee.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Objects of Interest (?)

The Gandhara Art exhibit at the Indian Museum is a favorite haunt of art college students. With satchels by their side and drawing pads on their laps they sit there sketch the Buddha for hours at a stretch.

I am not much of an artist, but I like watching the artists at work. The way they use their pencils to fix dimensions, the way their hands sweep over the paper, and how rarely they use an eraser. As they sit intently concentrating on their work, the towering Buddha looks on.

My personal favorite though, has always been the Egyptology exhibit. The Mummy occupies the center of the room and is surrounded by a host of instruments. Instruments that measure moisture, relative proportions of various gases and the like.

One weekend in November, we went to the Museum. I bounded up the stairway to go see the Mummy and the intriguing little instruments, with fancy dials and thick glassed meters. She didn't know what all the fuss was about.

The stuffed reptiles across the floor repulsed and intrigued her at once. The dinosaur display was grand - creatures from a lost world filled up a first floor room. We weren't in a hurry, we lost each other in the bigger rooms, fought over going to see the ornaments display - I asked her to make a choice, ornaments or textiles? "Both" she said, and strode into the Ornaments section.

After an inordinate time at the Ornaments Section, we walked past another room, which jar lined shelves. Brown orbs suspended in murky water. We walked in.

The jars in a row, displayed the evolution of the human fetus. The first one - an elongated sphere no larger than the palm. The shape, "A Prolate Spheroid", that's what they are called. The odd shape and form, did not suggest anything mortal. The murky solution, in which it was suspended, made it look strangely morbid.

The subsequent jars had more evolved fetus - the spheres flattened further turning almost cylindrical. The features began to make an appearance. I turned around to show her the appearance of tiny hands and feet - but she wasn't there. I looked around the room, and then into the verandah outside. She was standing there, with her back to the exhibit rooms, looking at the square patch of sky.

I stopped. Should I say something? Should I be an extra bit chirpy? Should I say I understand?

I walked up behind her, felt like holding her close. A part of me wanted to ask her "Why?" But that was another life. That was their story.

There will always be a part of her I wont know, a part of her I will never touch. Movies in which I won't star.

"Hey, wanna go and have a beer?"

"Yeah", she said.

We turned to leave.


Friday, April 28, 2006
The Homecoming

The taxi rattled and stopped. The driver mindful the engine might not fire when the lights change, started it up again. It stood, it rattled.

Abeer settled in his seat, drifting in and out of sleep. He moved away from the window, the draft of rain came in gasps like a spray of cool nettles. The streetlights - spheres of distorted illumination hung like ghosts in the falling rain.

The last time, he had spent the whole trip back from the airport making an inventory of all that was new, and trying to recall all that had gone. He remembered some, while others escaped all attempts at recollection.

A new housing complex, where a paper had once stood. He had pointed it out to Deborah, and then the place had been left behind. Now, he didn't try and seek anything out. It was dark and the rain hung like a haze over the road, there was no Deborah to show anything to. No scraps of the past to be glued to a page marked 'now'.

Did Deborah think of the old mill? Or the other things he had shown her on the drive home? Maybe she did, maybe some house or office in downtown Houston, reminded her off their vacation in Calcutta. It was a romantic notion, but he doubted it. His eyes were heavy with sleep again.

He remembered the afternoon they had driven to Galveston, to meet her parents. He owned a pickup and was too drunk to drive. She had parked the pickup in the sun and he had had a terrible headache all afternoon. The glare of the sun on his face, his eyes in a squint...

The taxi rattled, heaved and tumbled through the rain.

As he opened his eyes, to peer through the murky windscreen, he knew that the taxi had left the wide avenues of the By-pass, and was now slithering its way through the narrow lanes of Lake Gardens. Abstruse lanes which suddenly opened into wide roads, when you half expected a dead end.

The taxi drew into the drive way. The luggage was duly heaped at the edge of the stairs, and he stood and looked around, the house seemed pretty much as he had left it. The garden looked de-weeded, and there was a new postbox under the soffit. A cream coloured box with the words 'Chatterjee', painted evenly in black letters. He paid the taxi driver, giving him a tip of thirty odd rupees, his Non Resident status making it almost incumbent upon him to do so.

He stood under the Portico awhile longer. The rain had become a trickle, the driveway was a map of muddy water pools. The sky seemed clear and the night wrapped him in a comforting coolness.

The many vacations here had merged seamlessly into one single memory, a memory of now. The rest of his life...a memory of everywhere else.

The Marigold beds were bare - it was the Monsoons. He paused for a moment longer, a smile passed his lips at the thought of Homecoming and all its romantic allusions. He picked up his bags and crossed the raised step into the house.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Their Story...

"Actually doing it is very different". Smoke twirled in an upward spiral.

"I was young... I had thought about it, I had known men and all of that. But this was the first time... that romance and flirting had a physical meaning. I was in a room with a man - he was around me. It's a new experience - you are feeling things for the first time".

I listened. Their coming of age story, perhaps?
I knew them both, but now I listened as if I had tuned into the radio. Attentive but not involved.

I looked down from the window, cars glided through the rain, following orderly geometric paths. A two way street - friends going partying, a doctor rushing to a patient.

Everything seemed to be part of a Perpetual Motion machine. The cars barely stopped for more than a few seconds, even when they paused - the passengers - Closed arguments, arrived at conclusions, shared secrets, confessed to the truth or kept their silence.

I turned around. She had stubbed out the cigarette.

"I felt this with him for the first time. He must have felt it with someone else... for the first time. That someone else, with yet another...maybe it was you?" She looked straight at me, almost expecting an answer.

Life is always changing - like a kaleidoscope gone awry. Unpredictable and myriad, yet strangely orderly and ordained.

I thought of the two ancient men on the battlefield. One a reluctant warrior and the other an all knowing charioteer. To me - both teachers.

"Prepare for war... in peace.
Be at peace in pleasure and pain, in gain and in loss.
Be at peace in defeat and victory".

I walked towards the couch where she was sitting, and reached for the pack of smokes. I smiled "No... it wasn't me".