Apr 26, 2011

It is Tuesday

From room to room
after you left
I wandered a while
in the hours
as instructed
I have cooked
the mushroom soup
picked up a paperback
I have read
but forgotten
had some coffee
it is quiet
I don’t know why
all afternoon
I think of you
in the traffic
the rain
peacefully falling
like some plastic beads
from the ‘70’s
when they took all the doors
off the closets
and our parents smoked
all night downstairs
and laughed too loud
we couldn’t hear
what they were
and what they knew
if you hate me
it must be
for ancient reasons

by Matthew Zapruder

Apr 21, 2011

Some Thoughts on Books & Films

Tulip’s a good girl, I saw that at once. You’re the trouble…….. Well, she’s in love with you, that’s obvious. And so life’s full of worries for her. She has to protect you to begin with; that’s why she’s upset when people approach you: I expect she’s a bit jealous, too. But in order to protect you she’s naturally got to be free; that’s why she doesn’t like other people touching her; she’s afraid, you see, that they may take hold of her and deprive her of her freedom to guard you. That’s all the fuss is about, I should say. It’s you she’s thinking of. But when you’re not there, there’s nothing for her to do, of course, and no anxiety. Anyone can handle her then, I’m sure. That’s all.”

Does this sound like an extract out of a novel about obsessive love and pathological posessiveness? You couldn’t be more wrong. :)

Love among human beings is subject to much rigour – too many rules, too many labels, too many conditions. All those things which we are usually conditioned to think of as positives, suffer a curious inversion in love. Hence, truth becomes inconvenient, devotion feels sickening, sponteneity is rebuked for being unrestrained, and innocence is gradually demolished. Being a canine is perhaps easier.

I’m currently reading JR Ackerlay’s ‘My Dog Tulip’ – a deeply moving, enjoyable work. It’s a memoir about Ackerlay’s dog with whom he spent 15 happy years. Still have some way to go but stopped to blog. A little bit of background is imp. to appreciate the book. Not only was Ackerlay a gay, he also possessed a great disdain for the working classes. These two tendencies in him endowed him with an almost open dislike for most people; he felt disconnected from most others around him. It was only with his dog Queenie (Tulip in the book), that he could feel, offer, and demonstrate the full gamut of emotions he reserved within himself. His love for her was as uninhibited, as unrestrained, as complete and as innocent as that of his canine partner’s towards him. In the absence of the usual rules and conventions which govern our affections & choices, the two were free to indulge their mutual love & devotion for each other.

The extract I’ve posted above occurs in one of the most affecting sections of the book where Ackerlay is describing the difficulty in taking Tulip to see a vet for she did not like being touched by any other than him. Or so he thinks. Until the vet explains Tulip’s behavior in the extract above and adds, “Dogs aren’t difficult to understand. One has to put oneself in their position.”

Perhaps there is a lesson in this. Perhaps the rules need simplication or maybe even a complete overhaul. Perhaps, all you really need is to put yourself in the other’s shoes.

Watched ‘Rajneeti’ recently & found it well-made & captivating. Also found it quite disturbing. There are no heroes in the film. While Ajay Devgan’s Surya (Karna) may seem to possess some modicum of integrity which is totally lacking in the others, even he is not above resorting to random violence. It reminded me of Spielberg’s 'Munich' where every act of vengeance is followed by retaliation and entire generations of people are massacred. It is a bleak, dystopian world, bereft of any hope. i liked the way Prakash Jha reworks the Mahabharata story and finally invests power and dignity to Indu (Draupadi/Katrina Kaif) for she’s the least culpable and the most morally upright of all the others.

Last, I realise I may attract some egg-throwing here but I needed to say this. I haven’t read the Gita though I have tried it twice. I don’t want to denigrate a work which everyone speaks highly of and which is supposed to be one of the greatest treatises on spiritual growth. But as I was watching 'Rajneeti' it struck me that the Gita, which contains the core discourse between Krishna & Arjuna when the latter is struck by doubt regarding the morality of killing one’s kin, is really a survival handbook. It is a debate between what is ‘right’ and what is ‘necessary’; between what is ‘moral’ and ‘whatever works’. Krishna finally convinces Arjuna that what works is what is right. I find this hard to digest. I pay bribes to get my clearance license but that doesn’t make it right; I may resort to lies to avoid hurting those I love, but that doesn’t convert those lies into the truth. Perhaps it is important to imagine a world where such bribes and deceptions can be done away with largely. But that's a post for another day.

Maybe, what makes the Gita a great work is that like Machiavelli’s ‘Prince’ or Chanakya’s ‘Arthashahtra’ it offers a code of conduct/mechanism which is meant to minimise conflict and maximise efficiency on earth. At best it should probably be read as a practical guide to survival and happiness.

Apr 18, 2011

The Word

Down near the bottom
of the crossed-out list
of things you have to do today,

between “green thread”
and “broccoli” you find
that you have penciled “sunlight.”

Resting on the page, the word
is as beautiful, it touches you
as if you had a friend

and sunlight were a present
he had sent you from some place distant
as this morning—to cheer you up,

and to remind you that,
among your duties, pleasure
is a thing,

that also needs accomplishing
Do you remember?
that time and light are kinds

of love, and love
is no less practical
than a coffee grinder

or a safe spare tire?
Tomorrow you may be utterly
without a clue

but today you get a telegram,
from the heart in exile
proclaiming that the kingdom

still exists,
the king and queen alive,
still speaking to their children,

—to any one among them
who can find the time,
to sit out in the sun and listen.

by Tony Hoagland

I read this nearly 7 times since it arrived and every time it says something i failed to see before.  I received this during a dismal weekend. I received this from one of the girls. We used to have such fun together, dunno how i let it all slip away. Totally my fault. Not that i missed them any less. Wrote to them & the messages started pouring in. Maybe there is still something to redeem. 


Apr 12, 2011



Most of my wishful thinking and useless thoughts assault me during my commute to/fro work. That’s my favourite time of the day – whether it’s in the crowded compartment of a local train or inside the car. Wanted two things badly today. First, it would be nice if I could have some luchi, alur dum & chaler payesh, the kind my mom makes. Second, it would be splendid if I received a nice mail today .What kind of mail? I truly don’t know; am just aware that the craving is for some words that will soothe. Just some mid-life foolishness, I guess.

As I sat listening to Mohit Chauhan’s Ye Dooriyan, I wondered - is being apart better than togetherness? In my younger days, I’d not have thought twice before I answered this unhesitatingly. But now I’m not so sure. One of my favourite sections from the beautiful song goes like this:

“Kabhi hua ye bhi, khali rahon mein bhi,
Tu tha mere saath,
Kabhi tujhey mil ke, lauta mere dil
Ye khali khali haath,
Ye bhi hua kabhi, jaise hua abhi,
Tujhko sabhi mein paa liya….”

Such beautiful ambivalence in love - makes you realise that perhaps being together is not such a good idea sometimes; on the other hand, sometimes you will be surprised to find him in all the things around you. Nice thought, I’ll hold it close and be on my way now.

Apr 11, 2011

Notes on Brooklyn

If you’re the kind of reader who is impatient and loathes narratives where nothing much seems to happen, where the tragedy is rather undramatic and where the characters resemble and behave much like we would and totally unlike what we have come to expect from our fictional protagonists, Colm Toibin’s celebrated ‘Brooklyn’ is definitely not for you. The book is so quiet, so reserved, so shorn of any sudden dramatic development that you often wonder, ‘How is it all going to end?” It’s a slim book and when some 2/3rds into it, no great misfortune had befallen its heroine Eilis, I did begin to feel a little restless.

Added to the oomph-less narrative and heroine, Toibin also chooses a kind of historically dull timeframe in which to set his story. Though the narrative shifts between two continents, there is no effort to link it or reference it against other notable events unfolding in the larger world outside. All Toibin is contended to do is hint in passing at questions of racism in the US, the mass-scale immigration of the Irish to the US, the gradual extension of NY city and carefully controlled undercurrents of lesbianism. However, none of them are at the core of the story here which is about a young girl named Eilis. Nothing about her life or her character is remarkable and in choosing a heroine as oridnary as her, Toibin seems to be staking claim to some superior feeling of kindredness to all humanity. This is what impressed me about Brooklyn – in this it is also reminiscent of Tagore’s beautiful poem ‘Shadharon Meye’ (ordinary girl). Literature is usually about the extraordinary, the astonishing, but it takes a special kind of insight and tenderness to work with material that is so likely to go unnoticed in a crowd. That is Toibin’s triumph is this beautiful novel.

Eilis’ story opens in Enniscorthy, Ireland – a country ravaged by the war and a failing economy. Most young men have left for England to seek their fortunes, including Eilis’ three brothers, and all that the young women can look forward to is make a suitable match before their time runs out. Even qualified girls like Eilis have no hopes of employment and will settle for anything like she does initially.

Events are set into motion when Eilis’ elder sister Rose confers with a visiting American priest, Father Flood, to send her to Brooklyn in search of better prospects. Contrary to expectations, Eilis is neither overjoyed nor excited at this news for “She had expected that she would find a job in the town, and then marry someone and give up the job and have children. Now, she felt that she was being singled out for something for which she was not in any way prepared.” However, in what will soon emerge as her dominant trait, Eilis displays a strange passivity and does not demonstrate any resistance to this plan. Even as she becomes aware that, “it had somehow been tacitly arranged that Eilis would go to America. Father Flood, she believed, had been invited to the house because Rose knew that he could arrange it,” she chooses the path of least resistance.

After a rather gruelling crossing of the Atlantic, she reaches her destination where she finds work as a sales girl in a large departmental store. Father Flood also arranges for her to stay with Mrs Kehoe who runs a lodging house for young girls. It is here that Toibin introduces one of the most moving passages on what the immigrant perhaps feels like when s/he is suddenly transported to a place where nothing is familiar and one is adrift in a sea of new faces and experiences. This feeling is probably keener for those who are forced to this experience and have not chosen it willingly. Eilis grieves because, “She was nobody here. ……. It was not just that she had no friends and family; it was rather that she was a ghost in this room, in the streets on the way to work, on the shop floor. . . . Nothing here was part of her. It was false, empty.” I recall saying something to this effect in near tears one day to A when i was trying to fill gas in the US. I couldn't seem to get anything right - the proper way to insert the card, the way to open the fuel chamber. It was all new and all too much to learn. While it is fashionable to say that change is a part of life and the only constant, Toibin seems to be saying that its inevitability does not necessarily take away the pain of its occurrence.

As the days pass, Eilis divides her time between her work at the store, helping Father Flood in the feasts and dances that he arranges for his parishioners, and her evening classes in Bookkeeping. Eventually she meets Tony, an Italian who works as a plumber and lives in a one-room apartment with his parents and 3 younger brothers. Tony is considerate, funny, vulnerable and charming and while it is far from love-at-first-sight for Eilis, loneliness and a simple desire to belong, makes her accept Tony over time. The courtship with Tony is one of the most realistic pieces in the book and while readers may be exasperated at her slow, cautious, dispassionate and slightly removed stance, it is wholly in keeping with the character Toibin has etched so far that Eilis is neither smitten nor head over heels in love with Tony. When Rose passes away suddenly, Eilis has to return to Ireland and this is where the novel throws in its unexpected googly.

We have been expecting with a sense of growing foreboding that something untoward is sure to befall this simple, unambitious, timid girl just when she has found some measure of happiness in Brooklyn but what ultimately happens is what you never expected. As Eilis returns home and to her old life, she discovers that this is where she belongs, this is where she’d rather be and this is the only place where she has any real hope of happiness and true love. There is nothing really that beckons her back to Brooklyn or is there? Eilis who has forever been buffeted by the choices others have made on her behalf, is finally given a chance to decide things for herself.

There is something subversive in the novel’s close where Toibin slyly questions the nature of the freedom to be had in the great land of freedom and opportunities for someone like Eilis who is too reticent to voice her wishes, too young to imagine the consequences of such reticence and the price it will extract from her, someone who is too selfless to imagine that it is no crime to seek personal happiness. True, America is the land of opportunities but they will remain unavailable to some because they will be defeated by their meekness. These are the meek who shall never inherit the earth and what's more, the world will not even remember them. Therein lies the tragedy of Toibin's work.

I didn’t shed a single tear while reading the novel, nor is there any one passage that stands out in intensity. But as you read the last line, you sense a dull ache within, the kind of ache that accompanies the realisation of failed chances and closed opportunities; the kind of pain that you feel when someone intrinsically nice is singled out for a life of disappointments.

Apr 10, 2011

Always Luminous

Not sad or anything, just a feeling of loss that there wont be any more of his wonderful films.


Apr 3, 2011

World Cup Dreams Fulfilled

Neither botox nor anti-ageing creams, nothing works as fine as nostalgia, especially when it is not tinged with sadness but drenched in exhilaration. Yesterday, I turned 18 again, and today, the grey feels less prominent, the lines seem to have faded and I carry a song in my heart. As we stood gulping falooda and singing ourselves hoarse at 1 am at the haji ali juice center this morning, it brought back memories of a different yet similar group of friends trooping to Icecapades, the only stylish ice-cream parlour in Kolkata in those days, to celebrate another momentous victory in 1993.

I was still a teenager in 1993, much more inflexible and daring than today, definitely a lot more of what Lennon celebrates in his famous anthem. We were a bunch of 6 who’d gone to watch the first day-nite match to be played at the hallowed grounds of Eden Gardens. That was 24 Nov, 1993 and we were playing S.Africa in the semi-finals of the Hero Cup. Srinath our top bowler had been hammered and SA required only 6 runs of the last over. Even if I try, I cannot express the atmosphere in the stadium. Deep inside we knew it would be Srinath who’d be bowling the last over and the game was over for us. No one’d anticipated that the little guy would take over and bowl the last over himself. I remember Siddharth, my cousin’s bf yelling ‘Is the guy out of his mind?’. The little guy was also part-time captain at the time since Azhar had previously been down with some injury. While no one doubted his batting, many  eyebrows rose when he came in to bowl. He conceded only 3 runs, we went on to win the Hero Cup and yesterday we recreated history again. That was Sachin and 1993; this was 2011 and MSD. This time it was another captain – another silent guy whose faith was vindicated, who could slay the demons that often get the better of us, another fearless leader who gambled and was blessed by lady luck.

As the match ended yday, Bombay lit up like a giant birthday cake, crackers burst, people trooped out on the streets like mice from Hamlyn town, strangers exchanged hugs and if you looked really carefully, almost everyone had a wet tissue clutched in their hands.

One stark difference which I noticed from 2003 when we’d made it to the finals was the number of open-air screenings that caught the eye. Forget open-air screenings in places like Thane and Shivaji Park, every building society I know of had arranged for the match to be broadcast in their premises. At santa cruz, catholic women were distributing small cupcakes to passersby. When Saikat refused to stop the car, we threw a fit and forced the poor guy to since none of us could resist the lure of those cupcakes. Amidst quick hugs, easy tears and loud shouts, we devoured them and were on our way. It was a night like no other as all distinctions merged, all boundaries collapsed and all labels were washed away. The homeless and the rich, the ailing and the fittest, the old and the kids, the religious and the agnostic all danced outside Wankede.

I’d written earlier why winning the WC was important for us & nothing proved it better than yday. In that respect, I’d like to hope that there are some in SL and Pakistan who rejoiced with us yday for it was their victory too. Every year they face the same floods that ravage us, bear the yoke of the same corrupt politicians who abuse our trust, and survive amidst the same hopelessness that characterizes our lives. It is because of this and nothing more that they are our brothers. You may laugh at me but we are all members of nations whose luminaries neither win the Nobel, nor make their mark at the Olympics. We are a people who the world for all its pious self-congratulatory denunciations of ‘emerging’ has actually written off for ages. This is a victory for all those who are like us – a nation of dreamers.

The euphoria will end soon, the partying will stop and the booze will cease to flow, and we will be forced to go back to our lives – some happy, some sad, some who have known better days and want them back. It is then that you must remember this sweet smell, you must close your eyes and empty your mind of all doubts and sorrows, and try to recall that moment of untarnished bliss that has since made your life memorable.

I know I will be doing it. I am hopeful you will too.