Monday, October 08, 2018

A Bookstore Rescue

I am back to publishing on Spark after a gap when I was busy with the book release.

Here's a little poem on a troubled man and the unlikely release he finds.

A Bookstore Rescue

“You are three months late …”
Went the letter that he kept away.
With slouched shoulders, the defaulter
Walked out of his apartment.
He felt breathless, suffocated, boxed in,
Squeezed by tragedy’s relentlessness.
A house he may lose, a wife he already lost,
No prospects, no love, no lovers, no money.
And then, the skies opened up,
On misfortune’s favourite child.
In despair he took flight to reach
His beloved place of escape.
The store welcomed him.
With books on endless shelves,
The mass of human knowledge,
Brimming, toppling over.
Books were his lodestone
On sombre unsettling days,
Where words were his balm
To remedy the bruises on his soul.
He walked along the aisles,
Skipping past Philosophy, Art,
And that ever alluring History.
None drew him in today.
He didn’t give a second look
To the Cooking section
Or the absorbing treatises on Politics
Or the holy tomes on Religion.
Enough, he thought, of this world
In all its gory complexities
And its gruesome grimness
And its excessive dose of reality.
And so, as light as a feather,
He skipped to the end of the store,
To the colourful racks and the bright pictures,
To the lively and bright Children’s section.
He collected ten books on a whim.
Stories dipped in pixie dust,
Simple fantasies, uncomplicated lives,
Unburdened souls, Uncluttered morals.
He read them all, not realizing the irony.
Here was an adult escaping into
A world written by other adults,
Who were attempting to do the same.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

We can’t talk about it

We can’t talk about it.
About that night,
Or those hickeys that I left
On your neck from when we let
The wine make a heady cocktail
With the lust that embraced us.
From when your green saree
Was all but a flaming red.
When you were the fire in my heart
Pressed against the wall with your
Arms draped around my neck
We can’t talk about it.
About the dead of the night
Where your tiny fingers
Found mine without needing
A sun or a light shining on us.
Your head rested on mine
In the gentle light of the stars
Where my beating heart and
Your staccato breath said all
That was needed to be said
We can’t talk about it
Because one only talks about
What one remembers
And your heart and your head
Have all but erased the poetry
We once wrote together.
It is now supplanted by the prosaic -
The anger, the tears, the hate
the sadness and the disappointment
We can’t talk about it
And yet we talk about it
In those imaginary conversations
That I now have with you
Like the imaginary conversations
that I had with you
Before your heart was once mine
Before our lips locked in silence
Before we stopped holding hands
And held on to our grudges instead.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Book release: "r2i: Return to India"

I am very excited and proud to announce the release of my 2nd book, ‘r2i: Return to India’.

I had decided to write this book over two years ago when I r2i-ed to India and I am grateful that I had a story to tell and the persistence to see it through.

The book is a chronicle of my r2i experiences and I hope it interests you, entertains you and touches you in ways that my second innings in India has.

Please find the book at the following locations:
Kindle (worldwide):
Print (US and RoW):
Print (India) :

r2i: Return to India

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

The Girl with the Whiskey Voice

The old pine for youth but youth may not offer everything expected of it. Read my latest poem published in Spark magazine.

The Girl with the Whiskey Voice

They called her
The girl with the whiskey voice
Like ether held together, with water
Perched on a delicate stool
She sat on the stage alone
Tuning her guitar to her soul
She was all of twenty-three
Youth coursing through her veins
Through unclogged arteries and nimble joints
And yet her soul was a fragile parchment
The scars of her past were
Stories preserved with ink and vinegar
They sauntered in every night
Filling in that little joint
With smoke and their emotions
Each moth bringing their baggage
As a homage to that iridescent flame
− Lust, love, admiration, sorrow
They fed off her youth
Off the fullness of her body
Off the absence of any blemish
Off that freedom from responsibility
Off the freedom to dream
Off the freedom to just be
But youth is sometimes
Just a promise of an oasis
A mirage to those removed from it
The girl with the whiskey voice
Was a soul aged with torment
And wisdom of a life lived precociously
The night began and she sang of love
And youth returned to those who heard
While she travelled to an older time

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

A Love Affair

A woman arrives in a city that was never hers and soon becomes a fragment of that whole.

Read my latest verse in Spark that tells the woman’s story and her relationship with the city that took her hostage.

A Love Affair

This city was never hers
She belonged to a calmer origin
Where the sun rose and set unabated
By sounds and dust and other filters
Now she lives in a place where
The sun in incidental and silence is a transgressor
Her shadow on the walls of her house is
A pantomime magnified on cracked lime
The city was never hers
But she now belonged to the city
She inherited her labels from it
She bequeathed its various moods
Her parents wondered why
She laboured in a place far away
In that cauldron that consumed
Dreams, peace and sleep
They did not know that she was escaping
Memory’s short-changing trap
An unrequited love, an unfulfilled wish
And a relentless, unremitting ache
Her surrender was an escape
And the city gladly took her hostage
She was now a part of a whole
A speck of dust in a giant dustbowl
The city was her lover now
Filling the voids she surrendered with
She roamed within its ironclad doors
Free as a bird in a giant cage

Friday, April 06, 2018

The Secret Life of Unfulfilled Dreams

Eight years ago, a non-profit literary e-zine was started by two very passionate editors Anupama and Vani. Today, Spark published their 100th issue. I have been privileged to publish in 84 of them!
They invited me to contribute to the issue with a non-fiction topic of my choice. The topic I picked is 'The Secret Life of Unfulfilled Dreams'. In this case, my dream to write. Hope it inspires you to pursue yours!

The Secret Life of Unfulfilled Dreams

The stage is on fire. Not the literal kind of course. It has been set alight by the mesmerising performance of the music band. Their lead singer has the audience eating out of his hands. His strong, clear and melodious voice travels through the speakers to the one hundred thousand strong audience. They are chanting his name. They are in the midst of an evening they will not forget for the rest of their lives. And he isn’t just singing. He is playing the guitar too like a virtuoso. His tresses fly in the air as he shakes his head and plays riff after impossible riff. It is heaven. It is a dream.
(Well, it actually is.) The singer wakes up. The singer is me. The dream takes its roots from a slice of reality. I was in a band as a tabla player. When a performance would get over, it was the good boys – the keyboard player and the octopad player and the tabla player – who would be quietly packing up their instruments while the lead guitarist and the vocalist would have admirers swarming up to them. Having not learnt either how to sing or to play the guitar and possessing very moderate skill in playing the tabla, I decided to stay content with visions of that glory. While the dream itself has tempered down over the years because practicality has taken over, the part that I wish would really come true is that about the abundant hair.
We all have dreams. They fuel the effort we put in towards leading a fulfilling life. The whole point of dreams is for them to be unreasonable. ‘Stretch goals’, as they are referred to in corporate jargon. The arc of dreams goes from the impossible to the mildly possible as we seep into the regularity of our lives. Our entrenchment in the world of responsibility takes the edge away from the fantastic nature of dreams.
We bridge the gap between the fantastic and the plausible each day, to walk away with a sense of success. Not all of us are Sachin Tendulkar. He dreamt at the age of 11 to play for India. As a kid, I did the same. Who wouldn’t want to take on those pesky Aussies in their backyard and smash them all over the Sydney Cricket Ground? But by the time I reached my twenties and I found myself more adept at creating PowerPoint slides than hitting good bowlers for boundaries, I moderated my desire. I would now envision myself hitting the winning runs of the final ball of the finals in my local cricket league. A touch of pragmatism in the world of dreams never hurt.
I’ve had one such dream and it relates very much to the place you are reading this work. I grew up dreaming of being a successful writer: a picture of me with all my brooding intensity would be on the back cover of the book which would be stacked up in piles beside my table in the busiest bookstore in the city, where I’d be signing copies of my book. Sure, I had a knack for telling stories, but even in my limited peer group, there were others who were better. Life too had other plans and like so many people who did it every year, my life went in the rather prosaic field of engineering.
I didn’t let go of the dream though. I tempered it. I took to writing on my blog. That process of writing on my blog week after week, month after month, year after unflinching year helped me gain the belief that maybe my writing was worth more than I gave myself credit for.
I decided to expand my horizons. The first place I took my writing to was Spark. I realised that in my current station in life, the ability to produce quality work month after month which was critiqued and validated by editors who knew what they were doing, was fulfilment of a lesser dream. In the process, that dream became all the more endearing.
For me, writing has always been about a two-way conversation. I want people to read my work and be moved (or disappointed) by it. I want to hear if they found a poem moving or the ending of a short story surprising. Spark gave me that forum.
Since no one had filed an injunction against me for writing more, I took it as a sign to spread my wings further. That latent dream of an eight-year-old boy was brought to fruition −I published a book. I co-wrote a book called ‘r2idreams’ about the Indian immigrant dilemma on whether to stay or to go back to India.
The book came about despite having a very hectic job and two very hectic kids. I was driven by a sense that this story needed to be told and I was the one to tell it. Fulfilling the dream was not easy but it was fulfilled nonetheless. The story hit its mark with many readers and the reaction left me elated and vindicated.
For years, I had shelved the thought of doing anything big beyond my field of work because of what I had imagined to be the sheer difficulty of it all. My attempt at breaking through this chain of thought (pun intended) taught me otherwise.
I have two young kids who are not bound yet by the chains of pragmatism. They dream of going to the moon for a weekend picnic and being the number one tennis player in the world and of having the ability to time travel and having a magic pen that would write their homework for them. I cherish these without judgment and am careful not to discourage them. Who knows what will spark from these little aspirations blooming out of their imaginative minds?
I often find myself unwittingly becoming a motivational coach for my friends and family. I see people abandoning their pursuits, selling themselves short or abandoning their aspirations to merely sail through their lives. That deserted attempt at running a half marathon, that dream trip to Ladakh that has been put off, that painting that has been unfinished, that novel that has not been attempted. I am always on their case and I take great satisfaction in the few success stories I have been able to engender.
To me, the pursuit of my dreams has given a lot of fulfilment and if there’s one thing I want to tell others it is this: Find that unfulfilled dream of yours. Let it breathe. Let the dream live. Trust me, their secret lives have a lot to offer.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

The Mannequin In the Window

A man invests his dreams in a shop and a mannequin in the shop window bears testimony to it.
Read my latest publication in Spark magazine which tells the story of that man and the shape his dreams take.

The Mannequin In the Window

There is a large glass window
in front of the shop
that is now dwarfed by a huge
shiny mall that has come up next to it.
The establishment of “K.K. Tailors” was once
a shiny diamond among aging ones,
when its doors first flung open.
Krishna Kumar sewed his initials
into those “Safari suits” he specialized in −
sewing for those middle men
who trudged to the corridors of power,
where other men who wore kurtas
ruled as if by royal decree.
When the shop was opened in Connaught Place,
Krishna Kumar had installed a mannequin
in the shop window (though he didn’t need one),
and a picture of Indira Gandhi behind his desk −
the only feminine presence in a shop
which advertised itself as “Men’s tailors”.
The mannequin went from wearing
safaris to bushshirts to cotton shirts
to polyester creations,
keeping up agelessly with the styles
that the patrons sought K.K. out for.
The shop window started tainting
as the years passed.
The shop that was once new
had peeling plaster and power cuts
and a moldy flavour that travelled
back with the few who still bothered
to get their clothes stitched.
Bit by bit, the window’s blots grew
despite K.K.’s loving attempts
to clear the fog away.
And it was one day that resembled every other
that K.K. looked at his mannequin
and said, “We have faded”
and shut the shutters on his thirty-year dream.
Now he lives in a cramped and clean
flat in Lajpat Nagar,
with a rusty trunk in the corner of his room
that he keeps locked at all times,
lest his grandson steal away.
It holds within it
a cut of Safari cloth, a picture of Indira Gandhi
and the torso of a mannequin
hunched at the shoulders
bent by years of bearing dreams
and falling short in the end.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

A Sibling Squabble

Are you a parent of two kids? Or been a sibling yourself?
Read my poem from the latest issue of the Spark magazine on the bitter-sweet encounters between the two boys in my house and the underlying affection that binds them together.

A Sibling Squabble

Was I meant to be born with a whistle?
Refereeing two parties, forever aggrieved –
Two pugilists in their own corners,
One in the blue pajamas and one in red.
That little combatant is slouching on the couch,
Hurt and tears clouding his eloquence.
“He did. It was he who is making me cry. Ask him,
Ask that big brother of mine.”
That accused is standing with his hands folded,
His face contorted in righteous anger.
“Ask him what he did before that. Ask him,
“Ask that little brother of mine.”
I linger in that moment of déjà vu.
I am the civilian in the cross hairs
Of two little men and their gigantic passions,
Each assuming my bias against them.
But silence gradually wins the fight
As words start simmering down,
Like a balloon losing its air
And then fluttering unpredictably.
Their fight lingers on in my mind,
But it has vaporised from theirs.
The memories of that passionate spat
Are buried under peals of laughter.
The contretemps are but reminders that
They often can’t stand each other.
Only reinforcing a truth that
They certainly can’t be without the other.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

The Death of Blogging

Remember the days when everyone had their personal blogs? The days when you posted fearlessly and someone actually read it? The days when you met new people through your blog? Those days are over.
Read my article in the Spark magazine which goes into a journey through that phase.

The Death of Blogging

The year was 2004 and I had launched my personal blog titled ‘Solilowkey’. Now that I think back to it, I can’t put my finger on what prompted me to enter the world of blogging. I had been an accidental writer through my school and college years but there never was a fixed outlet for all my work. I had the frequent daydream of being a successful writer whose books would adorn the shelves of bookstores and who would read from his books to spellbound listeners. However, there was no intent to pursue that dream. The blog was a certainly a new outlet but without a particular focus.
Blogging was an accidental discovery but it turned out to be a fortuitous one. I started writing more regularly than I had in a long time. Short stories, poems, commentary on all things I cared about, translation of ghazals – they all made an appearance on those virtual pages. For someone who had not kept a private diary, I was now maintaining a public one.
The beauty of the blog wasn’t just that I was writing. It was that I was now engaging with readers. Since there were no other means of promoting the blog (social networking sites were non-existent then), the people who came to the site were the ones who stumbled upon it. And they read. And stayed. And commented. Through these interactions and my own process of stumbling upon other blogs, I slowly formed a network of bloggers. These were strangers who were hiding behind online identities. Our only knowledge of each other were through the words we had shared. In some cases, the barriers of the anonymity were breached and I made new friends. The kind whom I had not met in real life but whose essence I had become familiar with through their words. For what else is writing but a conscious effort to bare your soul.
Blogging was new. Blogging was attractive. And blogging allowed for discovery. The internet was growing by the day but without the presence of social networking, people relied on e-mail and instant messaging solutions to communicate with one another. In short, the distractions were limited.
Some Indian bloggers that I knew turned my daydream into their reality. By being diligent about blogging and offering interesting content, they started building a following that would far exceed amateur bloggers like me. Bloggers like Arnab Ray (of the Great Bong fame) would go on to publish books, fuelled by a recognition that his blog had allowed him.
While they had been launched in 2004, Orkut and Facebook started really catching on as the decade was coming to a close. A new form of dopamine was unleashed on this world. Suddenly, everyone’s basic desire to be connected intimately to the lives of others came true. The possibilities were infinite. You could spend hours trying to hunt down the people you have lost touch with. For others, the engagement was passive and yet time-consuming. The age of the smartphone also meant that this addiction was fed during every waking moment. If this was not enough, a low bandwidth messaging solution called WhatsApp also invaded this space. And let’s not leave out the democratisation of video content through YouTube.
Suddenly, the world was in your pocket and was refusing to leave. The reading habits of people changed slowly but surely. This might not have been a conscious choice but with a finite amount of time at hand, something had to be nudged out for a new way of life to take its place. When I reflect on my own habits, I realise that I went from being a voracious reader of both online and offline content to spending an enormous amount of time on social networking sites.
I was posting on my blog with the same frequency but fewer people were reading it. Bit by bit, the other bloggers I knew started exiting the medium. Their rationale was very similar. No one ever came. No one ever read. The conversation with the readers which was one of the more enticing parts of the experience was vanishing.
Only the top thrived and prospered and they did so by bringing their blogs to the newer platforms. They would have active Facebook profiles and would share their blog posts there. In turn, like a rolling stone, good articles would get picked up and passed around. For the rest of us, it was down to watching cat videos and liking pictures of each other on Facebook.
Fast forward a few years and we are now squarely in the world of dwindling attention spans and increased distractions. The same social networking tools that were once in their stages of inception now have tentacles that reach deep into any empty moment that poor humans might have. You would know this if you have ever received every forward ever in your family WhatsApp group, or an ongoing thread on Twitter that you can’t get out of, or those pictures on Instagram by your favourite celebrities who simply can’t stop posting, or those pesky Facebook user targeting algorithms that hook you with exactly the things you ‘need’ to read.
In this new world, the blogger is fighting a losing battle. A well-written short story never has a chance, being buried in the avalanche of everything that sits atop a pile waiting for attention. Even the type of writing that grabs eyeballs has differed. WhatsApp is primarily driven by misinformed forwards and GIFs containing good morning wishes. Facebook is littered with short Instagram style posts focusing on humour. Even the long form of writing is mostly governed by your echo chamber. Outrage writing or deeply personal stories make the top of that list. A blogger would now have to truly put their writing explicitly in front of the readers to get eyeballs.
I deal with this issue personally. When I publish my short stories and share them on Facebook, I often post and re-post it because I have little faith in Facebook’s algorithm to show this to the end user. Often times, I actually (against every fibre of my being) send these articles in instant messages to my reader to get them to pay attention.
Blogging is dead. The age of serendipitous friendships between bloggers is passing. The blogger as we know it needs reinvention, or risk being irrelevant in a world that increasingly values short and vapid things to read.