Saturday, December 05, 2015

Love Endures

My latest poem is a love story published in the Spark magazine, on the topic of 'Nostalgia'. The protagonists reminisce about their journey together and juxtapose it against the bitter sweet reality of the present. Do read.

Love Endures

Traces of rings left by coffee mugs
On the edge of the folding dinner table
Were wrinkles that told the age
Of their history together
Like rings on a tree

Not all memories are tinged with sepia
His were fuchsia and black and brown

Some, of her eyes, some, of the deep crevices
In the nape of her neck
Some, of that little rivulets that ran down her hand
That he traced with his fingers
Like an astute astrologer

The past was like eddies in a lake
Ripples emanating from a seminal event
From the moment he fell for her
And conversed with her, without her
In a night starrier than Van Gogh conceived

And then the real mixed with the surreal
And the imagined word became the spoken word
And the lips that moved, kissed
Then praised. Then cursed. Then expressed regret.

Roses were given and eternal love was promised
And the brittle flowers were kept in books with care
Lest that promise crumbled apart

But if it were easy, it would not be love
Silences became fissures too deep to overcome
And now he sat on the folding dinner table
Imagining conversations with her
While she sat right across
Sipping coffee in a brand new mug
And leaving behind fresh marks

The old one had become a martyr in a lover’s tiff
A gift, now shattered to pieces,
It had once shared a message in ceramic,
“Love Endures”

Friday, November 13, 2015

Why Everyone Should Try Quizzing

“Quizzing?! That’s not for me. My GK is very poor”
“Who really remembers what year the battle of Waterloo was fought in or what the capital of Romania is?”

I have been quizzing for over twenty years and been goading people for as long to participate in quizzes. It has been one of the great passions of my life and I have always made it a point to preach the good word of the activity to all and sundry. There are always going to be good quizzers. There are always going to be great quizzers. Many choose not to quiz at all because (a) they think they’ll never win and (b) they think this is an obscure activity to be pursued by geeks. That is a pity because when you do that, all you are doing is limiting your ability to participate in a great activity to build mental muscle and enjoy the thrill of solving a puzzle or two. Yes, you heard me right. Quizzing is nothing but solving puzzles.

The formula is pretty simple. Put in a dash of information, add in a hint of mystery, tease your audience with breadcrumbs of a hint, and there you have it … a quiz question. The best of quiz questions are those to which the answers are known. Asking obscure questions does the quizmaster and more importantly, the quizzers great disservice.

Let us take a simple example. Consider this question.
“”The Polyester Prince”, by Hamish McDonald is a banned book in India. It is an unauthorized biography of X. Name X.”

Now one could look at this and wonder how on earth one could solve this. You might not know who Hamish McDonald is, let alone know any book written by him. Look closely and you’ll find the breadcrumbs right there.
(a) Given that the book is set in India, most likely it is an Indian person
(b) The person in question is likely very famous or controversial if the book warranted a ban
(c) The title ‘Polyester Prince’ hints at someone who is famous for their standing in the business of polyester

All of these leads to one possibility, ‘Dhirubhai Ambani’

Note that the problem was solved without ever knowing who Hamish McDonald was and without ever having heard of the book.

Quizzers build on this basic skill and get better. They don’t sit around reading the newspapers from the front to the end of gobble up pages of Wikipedia. They simply hone the skill of piecing together the puzzle from the breadcrumbs of hints a question provides. Anyone can be a quizzer. Everyone should be a quizzer.

There’s joy to be had in solving a question and learning a fact. There’s joy to be had in quizzing. Get over your fears. Try it sometime.

I leave you with another question to solve. Happy quizzing!

“In a 2012 Hindi movie, the closing credits had the following line: ‘We would like to thank Jayesh Desai for the use of X’s Y. Y was central to the movie and probably more expensive than the lead actor’s fees. Name X and Y.”

Thursday, November 05, 2015

A Review of ‘Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights’

My review of Salman Rushdie's new novel 'Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights' - a work of uncommon and unabashed beauty, published in Spark magazine this month. Read on.

A Review of ‘Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights’

Salman Rushdie’s latest novel ‘Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights’ is his first fiction book released in over five years. The enigmatic title is a great way of introducing where the inspiration for the book lies – the total number of nights add up to one thousand and one. Much like the Arabian Nights tales, where allegories fly cushioned on giant urns and flying carpets, Salman Rushdie writes a modern day fable that flits between the real and the fantastic.

The story is interspersed between two worlds – ours, the one of human existence and the world of jinns, the kind that once pleased Aladdin. The jinns though are not the kind that indulge in Robin Williams like tomfoolery. They are serious, supernatural beings with serious, supernatural existence. They possess powers that give them overwhelming superiority over human beings. It is to the great benefit of the humans that they are unaware of the existence of these beings who live in their own little world. They live on for a long, long time and their primary activity is having lots of sex because there isn’t much else there to entertain them.

The jinns are bereft of some human emotions like remorse, empathy, etc. but one among them parts from that ideal and starts a chain of events that form the crux of the storyline. Dunia, the princess of the land of the jinns, falls in love with the 12th century philosopher Ibn Rushd (which is a way of Salman Rushdie playing tribute to the man from whom his family got its name). Rushdie places the story a few centuries in the past and yet draws parallels to the state of modern society. Ibn Rushd is in a battle of his own – a battle of philosophers where his premise of following reason, of questioning the sacred and not having blind faith hits a wall when he comes in confrontation with Ghazali, he of the absolute devotion to God and not shy of using fear as a weapon to convince people to trust in religion. Dunia falls in love with the philosopher, with his face, with his ideas. Putting her magic to good effect, she manages to produce many an offspring with Rushd. The progeny then multiply over the centuries in the world, carrying a little bit of the jinn within them. Meanwhile, both Ibn Rushd and Ghazali go to their graves, carrying on their battle of beliefs beyond the mortal realm.

The story kicks into a higher gear as it moves to the current day. The characters, with their engaging back stories, tumble out one after the other. Geronimo Manezes is a New York gardener who misses his wife and the country he left behind in equal measure. There is Jimmy Kapoor, a graphic artist who lives in New York with his mother and lies in wait hoping that his comic character called ‘Natraj Hero’ (whose superpower was dancing) finds success. This and many others disparate souls have a role to play in the apocalypse that is to follow. After nearly eight centuries, the portal between the world of the jinns and that of humans has opened up and humankind is subjected to a great storm after which nothing remains the same. People levitate, spout lightning from their hands, and a great many such abnormal events kick off, attributed to the bad jinns who are now attempting to subjugate humankind in the guise of fulfilling their past obligations to their masters. Rushdie masterfully converts this into a continuation of the argument of reason versus religion between Ibn Rushd and Ghazali. The world is in dire need of heroes and in comes Dunia once again, to protect her progeny that has spread since the time of Ibn Rushd. To defend the human race, she has to defeat her four strongest enemies – the jinns Zumurrud, Zabardast, Shining Ruby, and Ra’im Blood-Drinker.  How she goes about doing that and how she enlists the help of her progeny in furthering her goal drives the second half of the book. The period of the jinns in the book amounts to, as you can guess, 1001 nights.

As mentioned before, this is Salman Rushdie’s first adult fiction book since the year 2008 and he attacks the storyboard with a vengeance. He masterfully brings in pop culture into the mix, interspersing the story with references to events or personalities that we are familiar with, or using his characters to affect some of the events of our recent times. An example is an allusion to how a jet plane is brought down by a jinn, in reference to the Malaysian airliner being shot down in Ukraine.  It is erudite, but not pompous. The sheer breadth of his references would make a quiz master giddy with joy. Where else can you find a reference to Simple Kapadia, a veiled reference to ‘Anjaana Anjaani’ and David Letterman, shoutouts to Rebecca Romjin and Mickey Mouse within the confines of a story about jinns and humans, being narrated by anonymous narrators a thousand years into the future? The narrative is fast paced as it keeps shifting between time periods and worlds. Rushdie weaves in experiences and references from many cultures and religions in a way that he seems quite adept and quite equipped to do. If anything, the reader would be hard pressed to keep up with the number of oblique hints Rushdie throws to people and events. Despite the immersion in pop culture references, there is considerable depth in the common themes that he explores, be it the philosophical approach that Ibn Rushd takes towards reason and free speech, or the risk of letting dogma rule the roost or the thin boundary between lust and love.

Rushdie’s choice of genre has always been ‘magical realism’, a genre where it is common to accept magic in the rational world. ‘Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights’ is a book where he takes the license that the genre offers and produces a work of uncommon and unabashed beauty, where the writer seems to make no apologies for the world that he lives in or the beliefs that he shares. It might have been years in the making, but the wait has certainly been worth it.

Monday, October 05, 2015

“Khat”-arnak – The Deadly Letter

My latest publication in the magazine Spark is on the use of the hand written letter as a device plot in Hindi movies. Enjoy!

“Khat”-arnak – The Deadly Letter

“Run, Tuffy, run,” you shout at the white Pomeranian tearing across the screen, holding the fate of the sacrificing lovers in his little mouth. This was 1994, before Facebook and WhatsApp and text messaging and SnapChat and Instagram and any other current ways of sending messages was invented. Tuffy was using his gentle mouth to hold on to a good old-fashioned handwritten letter. The handwritten letter has long been used as a plot device in Hindi films. Tuffy was only the messenger. He couldn’t have spilt the beans to Rajesh about Prem and Nisha. No, only the letter could have. (If you don’t know what I am talking about, please hark back to the 90s and watch ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’. For Tuffy’s sake.)

The letter has always served as a simple yet effective way of subverting what would have been a normal story in a Hindi film. No matter how simply and clearly a letter is written, its purpose is usually to confuse and confound and get either the sender or the recipient in trouble.

Take the case of Nirupa Roy in the movie ‘Amar Akbar Anthony’. She is down and out with an illness and is riddled by guilt that Pran has to spend all his income to cure her. So she writes the suicide note which she leaves with her children and goes on her mission to end her life. All hell breaks loose. She who doesn’t want to live gets crushed under a tree, loses her eyesight and is very much left to live on. Pran, who does want to live, takes his three children away from the goons trying to kill him and promptly loses them to give rise to, “Amar, Akbar, Anthony”. The only one to benefit from this letter was Manmohan Desai, who used that two paragraph letter to his advantage. Why Manmohan Desai, even Sanjay Leela Bhansali made sure that when he wanted a twist in ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’, Ajay Devgn catches Aishwarya Rai reading love letters written by Salman Khan.

Of course, it is not all doom and gloom. Think of a letter in a film and the first thought that comes to mind is a love letter, not a suicide note. Sooraj Barjatya, who directed both ‘Hum Aapke Hain Kaun’ and ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’, must have been traumatized by a postman in his childhood. To extract his revenge, he made sure that letters in his films were delivered by a dog and a pigeon respectively. When Bhagyashree sends her first letter of her first love to Salman Khan in ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’, the pigeon (Handsome. Yes, that was his name) must have put down some terms of his own. No letters were seen in transit in that movie after that.

Sometimes, these letters have the oddest of set up for being exchanged. Consider the movie ‘Lunchbox’. Capitalizing on the rare mistake that the six sigma efficient Mumbai dabbawallahs made, a relationship formed on letters was initiated in the movie between an accountant and a neglected housewife. The film should have been titled ‘Letter with butter’. Talking of mistakes, when the postal department does commit a mistake, confusion ensues. In ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’, the letter gets delivered to a neighbour with the same name.

Some of the silliest plots come from the silliest of mistakes made in writing these letters. When we were taught to write a letter in our 3rd standard class, the first thing our English teacher mentioned was ensuring there was a To and a From. Clearly, that was not the case for the person who wrote the letter in the movie “P.K.” and turned Aman ki Asha into Aman ki Niraasha for the Indian Anushka Sharma and Pakistani Sushant Singh Rajput. It was equally silly of them to believe the letter was intended for them, but then we wouldn’t have the oddest love triangle involving an extra-terrestrial now, would we?

No one expects Hindi movies of being compliant with logic, but even the most hardnosed Bollywood fan would be scratching their head as to how a one-year-old can read a letter! Or a two-, three-, four-, or five-year-old. But Anjali, that little girl in ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ who was entrusted by her mother at age 8 to get the other Anjali back with her father (Rahul, you must have heard his name!), was also left eight letters by her mother before she died. The expectation was that each letter was to be given to her on each of her birthdays. If she wrapped up great life lessons in her letters, she didn’t set it up such that they would be private for her daughter. Even her mother-in-law would have learnt a thing or two.

The use of letters in Hindi film songs has also been exemplary. Consider ‘Likhe jo khat tujhe’. A brilliant song where the letters metaphorically become flowers and stars. If the lyrics of the song are anything to go by, surely, those letters must have been a masterclass in writing. The subject of letters can also get googly-eyed NRIs all mushy and teary when Pankaj Udhas sings ‘Chitthi aayi hai’. I can aver that many a reverse brain drain happened on account of that song. Perhaps Rajendra Kumar wasn’t entirely sure of what effect his letter would have on Vyjanthimala in ‘Sangam’. So he followed up a love letter with a word of caution serenading her with “Yeh mera prem patra padh kar ke tum naraaz na hona” (Please don’t be upset after reading my love letter.)

Times have evolved and movies like ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’ involve e-mails while movies like ‘Mujhse Fraaandship Karoge’ show the protagonists using Facebook. But there is nothing like a letter to stir up the pot (or the plot in this case). I’ll rest my case with an example where the Big B is involved. In the movie ‘Muqaddar Ka Sikandar’, Sikandar (a.k.a. Amitabh Bachchan) tries to profess his love to Kaamna (a.k.a. Rakhee) through a love letter. Because Sikandar himself is illiterate, Vishal (a.k.a. Vinod Khanna) transcribes the letter for him. But when Kaamna mistakes the letter as actually being from Vishal, it sends the movie hurtling towards a tragedy and giving the famed baritone a chance to shine through it all. The movie was made better with the letter.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


My 60th publication is also my first attempt at writing a Ghazal in English, with as much fidelity to the format as I could manage. Hope you enjoy it.


The sky blushed a crimson red for you
The night pushed the day away for you

A crescendo followed the sound of your voice
Three notes scaled through mountains for you

I had caught the moon by the tails of its coat
My wish was to wrap it as a present for you

They abandoned reason, they left behind guile
My words fell away in silence for you

Not even you could look away from yourself
The blessing of your beauty was a curse for you

You shrugged away your desires like an autumn tree
The false promise of spring was a lure for you

What of you, my love, who loves none but self?
What happens when that love dries up for you?

Death will take you in a lover’s embrace

It will succumb to its greed for you

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The Hunger Games: An Indian Parent’s Challenge

Are you a parent? An Indian parent? Trying to feed your child?
Read on without further delay my latest publication in Spark magazine about this trial by fire all Indian parents go through.

The Hunger Games: An Indian Parent’s Challenge

The survival of the human race owes a lot to three key things humans managed. Running away from wild beasts, discovery of spices and the patience of parents. Without the last ability, the chances of humans strangling their own chain of succession is pretty high. Children are a beautiful gift from a higher power, sent down to earth to temper moments of bliss with other moments where your temples throb with pulsating rhythms that resonate with their shrieking voices.

Through centuries of evolution, children have always been defiant and parents have always been deferential to their wishes. You’ll see shades of this in every culture around the world. Today, I’ll omit the tragedies of the French parent and the sacrifices of the Japanese ones. I’ll skip over the restlessness of the Egyptian father and the single-minded determination of the Chinese mother. I’ll focus on the tribe to which I belong. The Indian parent. The 21st century specimen whose influence on their kids will dictate how the century of Asia (as it has been touted) will be.

Let me start with a succinct definition of the Indian parent. par.ent
1. a father or a mother of Indian descent often seen chasing their young offspring with a spoon in their hands in a desperate effort to feed them, yet being completely incapable of ensuring the kids put on any weight with all that effort.

I know what you are thinking. Isn’t the definition too narrow? Isn’t there more to parenting then simply ensuring that your child eats food? Good thinking. And yet, this reductive definition tells us all there is to know about the challenges of parenting. Food is essential to survive and you’d think that in itself should be sufficient for the parent to let go off their worries and just put the plate in front of the child. Yet, the Indian parent distinguishes himself or herself from all other cultures in this realm.

In the 21st century, this continues to remain one of the most defining characteristics of an Indian parent of young children. They are often seen trying to feed the child as if he is on the precipice of starvation and as if they are on the verge of doom with only one last good meal left to eat. They try to mimic the Brownian motions of a child as they run around the place, trying to keep pace with the kid. When they finally manage to catch the child, with great optimism, they would tell “Say Aaa”, and unfortunately, the child would only keep his mouth shut tight. This particular behaviour seems amplified when abroad. In the presence of American parents who would basically ask their children to “take it or leave it”, the Indian parent stands out in his or her extreme agility in chasing their child and extreme inability to feed them.

I am going to step into the field of generalizations here. Indian kids are finicky eaters. There, I said it. My conclusion is rooted in all those years of having run around my own kids trying to feed them like a heat-seeking missile chasing its target. And it isn’t just me. It is also based on watching Indian parents around me, be it in the U.S. or India.

Watching an Indian parent feed their child is like watching an emotional roller coaster.

It generally starts with a mild imploring, “Beta, please eat.”

The next stage is a little sterner. “Is your mouth empty?”

Then comes the realisation that the food hasn’t really dislodged itself from behind their teeth.

A tone that borders on being a warning creeps in “I am telling you. Eat your food.”

And when none of this goes anywhere, the parent reaches for the helpless anger that bubbles up and manifests itself into something like this: “You know you can watch and chew at the same time? How hard is it to just eat? Do you know how much you could be doing with this time? You are so old now and yet we have to keep reminding you?”

When none of this has any effect, they give up in a huff, concluding with “I am not responsible for your food tomorrow onwards. If you want to eat, eat.”

But, when the next meal comes, the cycle repeats itself.

It is not that the Indian child likes to run or the Indian parent likes to chase. And yet this circle of strife continues. I often sit back and think about how our parents fed us. Surely, if our children have inherited our genes in all matters positive, this lack of interest in food must also stem from some genetic pre-disposition. Ergo, we too must have troubled our parents the same way our kids trouble us. Our parents must have had infinite patience to survive us.

“Look out the window, my son.”

“The first bite is for the bird, the second bite is for the squirrel, the third bite is for the dog.”

And so on and so forth would each meal go until all living creatures that were visible were accounted for. Can a modern parent, stressed by commute and work and EMIs and the need to keep up with Facebook and Twitter do that? Not a chance, I say.

To the aid of this time-constrained 21st century Indian parent comes technology. Perhaps this is why Indians do so well in the technology sector. They ensure that all tools needed to make the feeding process easier are at their disposal. They say that technology is democratic and that is for a good reason. The modern Indian parent dips into all of them. Angry Birds or YouTube videos, Xbox games or Netflix, American TV or Indian soaps, the world is at their fingertips and they put those fingertips to very good use. The modern day parent knows that moving images constrict the brain so much that the taste buds rarely object at anything they are subjected to at the same time.

Is it always true when kids grow up? Perhaps not. At some point in time, parents and their children find other stresses to deal with, other challenges of co-existing. Food then becomes a foot note, for its purpose as a means of survival becomes obvious to both parties.

The Indian parent, then, takes a moment to look at his or her offspring and pats themselves on the back for having raised well-nourished, well-rounded children. When the moment has been enjoyed, they move onto asking their child about the obvious next thing,

“Have you finished your homework yet?”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Lunch On A Lazy Summer Day

A proud day for me today as I become a certified Seattle poet. My poem, which was selected for the 'Poetry on Buses' contest, got published today. The challenge was to write a 50 word poem on the theme of 'Home' and I dipped into a memory from my childhood to write it. 

Lunch On A Lazy Summer Day

Home was the surety of my grandmother’s hand
Rolling grains of flour into a ball,
Cajoling sweetness out of a 
Hot grumpy day.

Readying a meal for her emaciated;
The children, lazing on the verandah
The birds, hovering, for the leftovers
The Gods, waiting to be appeased.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

A Musical Escape

Do you believe in the power that music has to uplift? Please read my latest poem published in the magazine Spark that combines two of my favorite things: music and rains.

A Musical Escape

And then it rained
The parsimonious skies opened
And showered freely their blessing
A brazen wall of water
Enveloping the road

Oh, the road, the road
Whose middle path I stood in
Hands behind the wheel
Clenched tighter than needed
Muttering curses under my breath

It was me, and my frustration
Trapped in an expensive hearse
Surrounded by those
Morbid daily warriors
Dead souls returning home from work

Harried, I turned, to
The last resort I had
And then it unraveled
Like a pearl from an oyster
Like a sapling in scorched earth

A dulcet tune flooded around me
“Go on”, she sang, “Set yourself free”
And I let loose a song
Like a tenor unbounded
Like a prisoner uncaged

“Who knows what tomorrow will bring
The promise of tomorrow is a wonderful thing”
I sang, and my heart escaped
The trap of the traffic
The despondency of my being

“Move ahead, shout out, don’t doubt”
Droplets of rain provided the rhythms
On the wings of music, I soared far away
Even though I hadn’t moved
Three feet in thirty minutes

Friday, June 12, 2015

The FitBit Chronicles

I have been fond of walking from as far as I can remember. I moved three houses in Mumbai when I was studying and my school as well as my engineering college were always a thirty minute walking distance from my house. Just in range for a quick stroll. My friends and I would gather and walk to the beach each evening of our engineering days, spending a good two hours exercising our feet, walking in rugged chappals.
That of course was a different life. Responsibilities were sparse but free time was abundant. My current life is the exact opposite. I spend time driving my kids to school and classes, spend my time sitting through meetings or in my office near a computer. There is limited time I have for going to the gym and while I occasionally run and play tennis, it is fair to say that I don’t make enough time for focused excercise.
Enter the FitBit.
Why the FitBit?
I guess I should start by saying what FitBit is. It is essentially a fitness tracker. Depending upon which FitBit you get, you can track everything from measuring the number of steps you take to the amount of hours of sleep you get to the number of stairs you climb. The FitBit seemed to be well reviewed and met the requirements I had, so I went with it. No intense research was done.
How did I start?
The first few days of FitBit gave me some idea of where I was. The recommended minimum number of steps a day is 10,000. I was fluctuating between 8–10K depending upon the day. Just meeting the bar. Wearing the FitBit tapped into my intense statistic driven part of me. If you would have told me that a fitness tracker can be more addictive than FaceBook, I’d have laughed at you, but that has been the case. I checked my steps very often. I kept a track of when I walked, how much I walked. I began noting how it was 78 steps to the restroom from my office, 430 steps from my standard parking space to my office, so on and so forth. Slowly, my number started going up. Weekends were at 17–20K without effort (with summer and kids), but it was the weekdays where the effect was felt the most. I slowly inched from 10K to 12K on average. It was good, but something better was around the corner.
How did I go to the next level?
My good friend Suhel who is a statistic fiend himself was running a “walk cartel”. FitBit allows for grouping your friends and starting a contest. He joined me up in the Weekday Hustle where steps were tracked from Monday-Friday. If you thought fitness could not be a competitive sport, think again. The moment the competitions started, my 10K steps a day jumped to 15K steps a day. I was now walking 25000 steps more than I used to during normal weekdays. The competitions every week were intense, with people constantly pushing the bar up. The urge to sync my phone to my FitBit to check my steps and see where others were upto was irresistible. Slowly but surely, I was getting back to my old days of walking.
Where did the extra 5ooo steps come from?
My day’s routine was fixed. My free time was limited. I had to find ways to go from 10000 to 15000 without sacrificing any additional time. That required some ingenuity. I basically found every little excuse to move. I started moving during meetings when long winded discussions were on (to little consternation from my colleagues). I dragged a new colleague each day for a post lunch short walk. I took up every single excuse within the house to pick up things, to put them in the right place, to walk around the kitchen island while beatings eggs, or walk to the post box even when there was no chance of a new letter each day. I would feed my younger one a spoon of rice, take a walk around the floor while he slowly chewed it and come back for the next one. In short, I went to being the anti-sedentary guy I needed to be in order to make this happen.
Is this all worth it?
It has been nearly two months of doing this and it is hard to tell what the actual health benefits are. Most of my walking is in short bursts and I don’t know whether just having a large total matches up the benefits of doing a really long walk. I don’t believe walking alone can lead to weight loss, neither am I feeling perceptibly fitter (though I am sure my cardiovascular health is improving). What I do notice is the complete absence of lethargy now. I don’t want to slouch onto a couch and do nothing. If I have free time, I move. If I have two minutes while my coffee is heating, I move. Towards a competitive goal that has nothing to do with the drudgery of exercise. And therein lies the great benefit. Walking was always a joy to me and I have rediscovered it from an unexpected medium. Until the point where I take some of this effort and energy and direct it towards some other form of excercise that doesn’t involve steps, I intend to try and maintain this scale of walking. As the tagline of this year’s hit Hindi movie ‘Piku’ suggested, ‘Motion se hi emotion’ :)

Friday, June 05, 2015

Heaven and Earth

My latest short story published in the Spark magazine is a love story that you might like. Read on.

Original link is the following 

Heaven and Earth

“Chotu, take one cutting chai for the sahib”, the owner of the tea-stall announced loudly for his new customer to hear.

A tiny boy of pleasant disposition scurried over to Uday, who was steadying himself on the base of the old tree near the chai stall. Someone had made a makeshift temple out of it by installing an idol of Ganesha on one side. People respectfully removed their footwear to pay obeisance to the Lord of good tidings. On the other side, chai flowed with full freedom.

Uday always picked that spot. Wearing his thick glasses and an intense expression, he let his wiry frame down on that base made out of brick and set his bag aside. It was nearing 4 pm. It was about time.

The sun could set his clock by looking at him. He was there at the same time every day including the weekends. During the week, these were the three hours he had at his disposal. He spent the morning taking classes at an arts college and spent the evenings giving tuition to Mr. Ishwar’s son.

“Steady, Raghav. The lines need to be straight,” he’d always tell that boy, who, despite his parents’ best efforts, was more interested in playing video games than sketching. At least they paid good money, Uday thought, as he took the chai from Chotu and kept it beside him. He took out his large sketchbook and his quixotic collection of pencils, watching the clock tick over.

It was about time.

The wind was gentle but persuasive. The curls of her hair gave up their obstinacy within moments of the breeze touching her face. They fluttered ever so slightly, parting away the gentle clouds covering her ears. A smiling face now beheld the city through her window.

From the second floor of her building, from a narrow window that overlooked a busy street, Tanvi surveyed a throbbing slice of the metropolis. The world was playing out its own agenda. Vendors were busy trying to sell their wares with a mind cast back to their hungry families. Kids were playing a game of cricket with a chair as a makeshift stump, and with little license to hit anywhere other than a straight line. The cars honked incessantly as if carrying on a mild conversation in blaring tones.
“Tanvi beta, did you drink your tea?” asked a booming voice from the kitchen.

“Yes, Ma!”,Tanvi responded, her dulcet tones barely making it across the house.

She had finished her tea alright. Before that, she had washed her face, scrubbing the blemishes away, selected a new pair of earrings, handpicked the bindi that would adorn the center of her forehead. She didn’t need the tea to freshen up. She was wide awake. As the clock ticked closer to 4 pm, her heart beat a little quicker and a sense of anticipation flooded her.

It was about time. Uday had always thought of himself to be the observer of life’s little accidents. His spot under the tree gave him the perfect platform to sit and observe, to spot the absurdities and the pleasantries, the cruelties and the compassions that flooded the world around him. He would sit and sketch, filling up pages with what he saw. However, a month ago, all of that had changed. He no longer cared for the vegetable vendor pushing his cart down the street, his sinews straining against the weight of the potatoes and the onions. He no longer wanted to draw the picture of the street urchins trying to catch each other, oblivious to the sudden dangers of an incoming car.

No, Uday did not care for all that anymore. He had spotted her once, her face peeking through the window on the second floor. That girl with the curls, who seemed to be taking in the world with the same hunger that he seemed to have. She had an innocence about her, an eagerness tinged with sadness which he could not put a finger on. He could not peel his eyes away from her.

From that moment on, Uday was in love with Tanvi.

No words were exchanged, but as the days passed, Tanvi became aware of Uday’s presence. Her reaction went from annoyance to curiosity. In a few days, she knew that she had an admirer who was firmly besotted by her. Tanvi would not make any eye contact with him, yet she never once shied away from making an appearance.

Today was no different.

Fifty feet away from him, Uday’s muse had shown her face. She, of the delicate expression and the gentle smile. He knew that Tanvi would come and silently observe the world beneath her, ignoring him. He would ignore the rest of her world and set his sights on her. His hands would furiously animate his expression of admiration on paper. The collection of portraits he made of her were enough to publish a book.

Uday made no attempt to hide his love, but kept a respectful distance. An artist’s hardest quest is that of a muse, and nothing would be worse than handing over the reality back to an illusion. The delicate balance could not be disturbed. He knew that he would never bridge those fifty feet, though he harbored a fleeting hope that someday she would turn and see him, that someday she would descend from her private heaven and meet him.

Tanvi spent her routine thirty minutes at the window. She knew his rhythms, knew how much time he needed to draw a new version of her, and she gave him that time. She wondered what it would take for him to venture forth, to walk those fifty feet, to leave the world for a while and join her in her isolation. She dared to dream the dream and castigated herself immediately. Nothing would be worse than handing over

She turned back, scanned around her heaven, and with gentle arms, pushed her wheelchair back into the house.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

When I Dismantled The Crib And Assembled The Future

Six and a half years since we first purchased it, my wife and I disassembled our crib. It was bought from IKEA before our older son was born, a product of copious research and guarded certainty. My older son used it for a couple of years and now my younger one has also graduated from it after nearly three years of occupancy.

We dismantled it tonight. Piece by piece of the carefully constructed frame, into which we put our children night after night for many years, when they weren't pouring out into our beds out of the desire to cozy up, feel good during sickness, or put it simply, check that their parents are indeed there.

We dismantled it tonight, triggering a glut of memories about the first time their tiny frames were put in that seemingly gargantuan crib. Where crib mobiles were put to entertain them and hypnotize them to sleep. Where soft toys and softer blankets gave them company through the night. Where they occasionally stood and cried while teaching themselves how to sleep alone. And us too. What they tried to climb out of. What they later learned to climb into. Where we said a million goodbyes before finally leaving the room, telling them how much we loved them, as if they did not know.

It is a cliche that time flies and kids grow up faster than we want them to. Today we dismantled the crib and assembled that cliche. The boys are ready for the next stage. Sleeping together as brothers, neither now requiring the confined protection of the crib to keep them company. I'll miss the click of the crib when I would raise it to bring the night to notice. The million goodbyes and kisses and hugs before bed will continue, but a bittersweet feeling lingers as one chapter closes and another starts. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

A Parent's Onus

Does being a parent ever get easier? Here's a poem, straight from the heart. This was published in the Spark magazine. If you are a parent, this might resonate with you.

A Parent's Onus

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
When you brought home
A piece of your heart
And fretted over his tender body
Holding him gently like a feather

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he started to crawl around
And bawled and babbled and
Gobbled your home around him
Holding hostage your anxious breaths

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he grew and grew like the waxing moon,
Often eclipsing away in sickness
And found his own two feet holding him up
While you readied yourself, lest he fall

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he found himself, no more an extension of you
With ego and opinion and logic and reason
And radiant limbs that took him places
While you stroked his head through nightmares

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he ran like the wind was yesterday’s dirt
But pottered into school unsure of its turf
His eyes staring at the door in eager wait
While you rushed through your work to pick him up

And you thought it couldn’t get harder
Till he needed you not to hold him
But to tell him things to guide his days
Right, wrong, fallacy, faith, character, power
While you ponder if the job ever gets easier

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Cup Of Misery

Are you still moping over India's loss at the World Cup? Here's something to add to that feeling smile emoticon While India has done well by winning to World Cups, the losses tend to linger. This is my write up in the Spark magazine, mirroring my cricket watching journey with India's losses at the World Cup over the years. Read on. 

The Cup of Misery

The 2015 cricket World Cup has wound down. There is a new champion in town. India kept saying ‘we won’t give it back’ until they did, to Australia. Some heartaches somehow stay longer and affect you deeper, like a breakup that refuses to leave you. Indian fans have had it good and Indian fans have had it rough in World Cups. This story is not about the successes. This story is about the quintessential Indian cricket fan’s heartaches.

1983 was when the World Cup appeared on the Indian horizon. This was a dream that was undreamt. An against–the-odds story of how a team with no dramatic presence in the one day international (ODI) sphere denied the all-conquering West Indians the chance to win a third consecutive World Cup. Kapil Dev’s catch off Viv Richards, running backwards, against the grain, summed up how an impossible task was suddenly made real. What this win did was to kick start a revolution in the cricket world. A billion people came onboard with a lot of passion. Kapil’s Devils raised expectations among an Indian populace that expected very little until then. Nothing short of a win each time would satisfy them now.

1987 was the first test of that expectation. It was a World Cup that was held in India and its neighbouring countries. India was a favourite to defend its title. The team gave an outstanding performance in the league stage against New Zealand with Sunny Gavaskar scoring his first (and only) ODI century and Chetan Sharma taking the first-ever hat-trick in a World Cup match, and the first one by an Indian bowler. Although I was witness to some celebrations during the 1983 World Cup, this was the first World Cup that I have strong memories of. India’s march to the semi-finals was strong and India was expected to romp through against England to meet Pakistan. It was hoped that Pakistan would beat Australia to setup a dream final. But Gooch and Gatting had other ideas. Gooch in particular swept the Indian bowlers out of the Wankhede dustbowl. The sound of Phil Defreitas’s delivery crashing into the off stump of Sunil Gavaskar in what turned out to be his final ODI innings deflated the crowd and India’s title defence. The dream lay in tatters.

If 1987 was a dream shattered, 1992 was a nightmare fulfilled. India wasn’t a favourite for the tournament and rightly so. They struggled throughout in the round robin format of the tournament (where each team met each other), and only managed to win two games, losing five (with one abandoned). Indian cricketers playing in the first World Cup with coloured clothing brought little by way of cheer. The only exception was a victory against Pakistan, never mind that they went onto win the World Cup. I remember throwing my hands up in frustration watching India lose to Australia by one run in one of the closest finishes at that time in a ODI game.

1996 brought the World Cup back to Indian shores and with it, buckets of expectations. India had, after all, a decent bowling line-up in their backyard, a strong batting line-up and a certain talismanic cricketer who by now was the best batsman in the world. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the pitch in Eden Gardens, Calcutta, for the semi-finals, had different ideas. After Sri Lanka had recovered their way to 251/8, it was always going to be tough. Tendulkar led the way with a quick half century, but once he got out stumped, the rest of the team fell like a rack of bicycles. This enraged the Bengali crowd so much that their anger boiled into a dangerous riot. It was also the day the results of my first semester of engineering were announced. Torn between my sense of loyalty to the Indian team and my desire to know if I had passed the exams, I had hung around till Tendulkar got out and then went to my college. By the time I called home to relay my score, effigies were burning in the stadium. Needless to say, India’s loss stung more than my below-par marks.

1999 was a blur barring Tendulkar’s little gulp-inducing return from India after cremating his father. The World Cup, held in cold England, had a bunch of good performances from India, including the now mandatory win over Pakistan. Their loss to Zimbabwe would hurt them later in the Super Sixes stage. Between the last World Cup and this one, I had gotten myself an engineering degree. India’s wait to regain the World Cup would be longer. At this point, having religiously followed the game for nearly 16 years, I suppose I could have looked at my firecrackers and asked “kab phodenge?” (when will I light them up?)

2003 was an uplifting experience. Recovering from a poor start to the tournament, team India discovered the kind of streak that they had never before encountered in World Cup cricket. They found strength within themselves, huddling and befuddling the opponents. Nothing exemplified this more than the upper cut that Sachin Tendulkar hit off Shoaib Akhtar, lifting all of India to a higher plane. All the promise of a second World Cup win, all the potential came down to a final hurdle: the Aussies. I remember watching that game in Seattle, along with a thousand crazy India cricket fans. A gentleman who accompanied me had not seen an Indian cricket game since migrating to the US in 1966. He had shown up to see what the fuss was about, particularly around Tendulkar. India would go on to lose badly. Nay, crushed, bruised, demolished, steamrolled, all in the course of a Seattle night. Till date, I blame my companion for India’s loss. Perhaps his exile from cricket would have served us well.

If 2003 was heartbreak, 2007 was heartache. Watching cricket in the US is never easy and I – and countless others like me – spent 200 dollars and some small change to buy the package for watching the World Cup. Little did we know that India’s challenge wouldn’t be worth a tenth of that money. Beat Bermuda, were shocked by Bangladesh and then lost to Sri Lanka in a must-win game. Nothing about the campaign was right. The Indian players were unhappy, the audience was unhappy and the whole campaign seemed out of focus. It was exemplified by the singular moment when I went to answer the doorbell to receive my renewed passport only to miss the moment when Tendulkar was castled by Dilhara Fernando.

2011 was the moment of truth. The crowning moment of Tendulkar’s career and Dhoni’s captaining mastery. But let me not dwell on the positives. After all, this is about the crushing distresses of the Indian cricket fan.

Which brings us to 2015, the last chapter in this series thus far. No one expected India to do well after the pounding in the Australian tour. The bowlers were bad, the batsmen were iffy and the chances of winning on Australian soil bleak. But they turned it around, shockingly well. Beat Pakistan, beat South Africa, gave rise to the Mauka jingle, and cruised into the semi-finals, taking 70 wickets in 7 games. And alas, just like the 2003 juggernaut ground to a halt against Aussie might, so did the 2015 speeding bullet. Everyone from Anushka to Dhoni was blamed, ignoring the fact that they were beaten by a superior team.

And so it is, the story of the Indian supporter. The agony and ecstasy of supporting a team that tries its best, raises hopes, occasionally delivers, but mostly leaves the supporter with a bitter sweet feeling after putting its hope in eleven men and a shiny object they call the World Cup. Here’s hoping that in the future years to come, there will be more chances for them to call themselves the World Champions.

Friday, March 06, 2015

A Singular Loss

Movies in multiplexes are the new reality in India. But somewhere, the charm of the single screen theater is being lost. That's the offbeat topic I pursued for this month's publication.
My commentary on the romance of the single screen theater in this month's Spark magazine. Read on!

A Singular Loss

Picture this: You enter an extravagantly designed and elegantly lit space that promises you an out-of-the-world experience with all the comforts that it can offer – from huge, plush seats to sturdy carpets to heartwarming fragrances. As you stand and look around, to your left you find a screen playing an action movie where the hero leaps into the air, kicks three baddies at one time, and in slow motion, descends back to earth, all the while achieving the improbable goal of keeping his sunglasses on. To your right is a movie by an auteur where drops of water drip one by one to the floor while the heroine who couldn't care less about water conservation, keeps staring vacantly outside the window for no apparent reason. Walk straight and you run into the latest Hollywood blockbuster, transferring precious money to studios abroad. Well, it doesn't take long to realise that this is the place for movies of all ranges, for all ages.
Welcome to the world of the multiplex theater in India – a large complex with a honeycomb of theaters or screens, as they are fashionably referred to, showing a movie for each palate.
Clearly, we are in the midst of a revolution. A revolution in the movie-watching experience. But every revolution has its casualties. Where multiplexes are becoming the norm, single screen theaters have been pushed under the bus.
Ah, yes, the single screen theater. The long-standing bastion of cinema-viewing experience. The church where cinemaphiles of all classes would congregate to immerse themselves in a world alien to them. Those landmarks in cities, those modes of escape from the real world that held sway in India for over eight decades. Yes, the single screen theater.
A movie theater from the olden days would have concepts alien to the modern-day movie-goer. A single screen theater in India of  reasonable size would come with a categorization of seats that you don’t find anymore. There would be the stalls – lower and upper, closer to the screen. A more expensive choice would be the balcony, a raised seating platform. Some used to come equipped with dress circle seats and then there was always the box.
Unlike the modern-day multiplex, which, more often than not, is part of a bigger mall, one would go to the single screen theater with the express intent of doing nothing else but watching the movie. Near the entrance would be a ticket window, often separate ones, depending upon whether you had the big bucks to buy a balcony seat, or were content to ogle at your stars from the neck-straining proximity of the lower stall. When a new movie would release, serpentine lines would form in front of the theater. A small atrium would offer protection from the elements while you jostled with the person behind and in front of you, in the manner that lines in India often make you do. The tickets would usually be printed on pink-colored papers, perforated in the center. The person selling the ticket would circle the seat number on it and give it to you. If the movie Gods weren’t going to oblige you, a big “House Full” board, with a white background and red lettering, would be put in front. That invariably would lead to the crowd dissipating. Some would even shake their heads in disbelief. Some may resort to fatalism and decide to come another day. And then the rest, the small minority of smart, adventurous, passionate folks would seek out the only source of salvation left – the famous men in “black”. Those rescuers of trauma, who, for a little price can still let you into that theater. Never mind that you may end up in lower stall if you had balcony in your sights. Never mind that you may have gone as a couple but may find two different seats to watch the movie from. If you desperately wanted to get in, no matter what, you went through them.
Once the time for the movie was nigh, you walked in through those majestic structures.  Ranging from the baroque to the very ordinary, the theaters would invariably have a choices of architectural styles on offer. Long staircases leading to your seat, an usher, plainly dressed, unlike the smartly-dressed-in-suit ones found in multiplexes, shining his torchlight to make sure you get to your moderately-comfortable viewing spot, and after the riff-raff has settled down, the dimming of lights and the shining screen – ah, the memories! And how can one forget the advertisements, the trailers of upcoming movies and the inevitable shaking of the screen till the projectionist gets it right?
Intervals would typically see a mad scramble to get some food and cold drinks. You need to remember that the capacity of a single screen theater far exceeds that of a screen in a multiplex. This meant swelling crowds everywhere during the interval, whether it was the line for ‘batata wada’ or the restrooms. When the movie got over, an unending stream of people would accompany you through the exit. If you ever exited out to a busy street, reality would wake you up with honking horns and glaring lights, unlike the glitz and glamour of the mall. Like a social leveler, the single screen theater had tickets that all members of society could afford to purchase. A family could have an outing without emptying their pockets, unlike the multiplex prices that may not be within reach for all.
That would be your experience in a big single screen theater. The Metros and Maratha Mandirs of Mumbai. But, at the other end of the spectrum, with a different setting altogether are the teeny tiny theaters. Nestled in a small nook of the old part of a city. Playing a Hindi movie from the 70s or a C grade movie made by Kanti Shah. Some were adept enough to have the promise of air conditioning. Where men fatigued by their daily labours would go inside for a three-hour nap, stretching their legs across the seats.
But these experiences are on their way out. Movie watching is not the same anymore, with the sanitized, contained world of the multiplex. The single screen theaters are losing their way in this modern world. This is typically true for the larger cities. Take Mumbai, for instance. Iconic theaters that once existed now no longer dot the landscape. Hindmata, Imperial, Dreamland, Novelty, Strand have been torn down and reused to serve some other purpose. Apsara, which had premiered with Sangam in 1964, has also passed us by. This malaise has also spread to smaller cities. Majestic Talkies in Ajmer, Rajasthan’s oldest cinema, which began in 1929, is packing up.
It is a poignant commentary of transformation, this move towards tearing the old and introducing the new. Modernism may swoop in to take the movie experience to a better place but it remains a fact that every time a big theater packs up, a little part of the city’s history dies along with it.