Monday, July 26, 2010

The Unbearable World

Of the three worlds possible, I hate the one I see in my bedroom. It is the same world in a brothel too. In a brothel, the worlds stretch out and ebb like the dance of light from that swaying bulb on the second floor of Kanta's shack. At once you see flesh and then there is an offer to show flesh. I had met Yamuna in one such place, but she has disappeared. So did she belong to the third world?

World of real, world of suppressed-real and world of beauty - can't you see it clearly around you? Then why call me mad? Why buy me a small room on the terrace of a butcher's shop and ask me not to visit you? Can you look around and not see the trichotomy into which every unquestioned fragment of this world falls and is comfortable? Why then do you deny the walls? Why do you feel better when I tell you that the walls are porous? No, I am not saying that to make you feel better. Nor am I slowly sliding into accepting your definition of a singular world (how daft!). You will know, soon, reluctantly, but soon.

Soon she will take off her clothes, and I will have to leave soon. Strange that I can only leave after she takes them off. How each layer brings her into that other world? She thinks she is going to make me yearn for her. How silly! She reveals one hasty breast. How it flops there, ugliness precipitating to the bottom in a dark cone of unexcited business. Rivulets of her humaneness flowing down like the ruts on a weathered bota bag, collecting sediments near the snout. She looks at me with practiced coyness and I reach for her clothes.

Clothes are what makes a man or a woman beautiful. Like a mottled table made the neighbour's envy with a rich table cloth, clothes ensure that we can walk on the road amidst other human beings. You surely are a woman? A man? Don't even hope for kind words from me. Take your clothes off and stand in front of the mirror. What do you see? Skin gathering in warts and hair, skin hanging wherever it can, dragging the rest of you into a stooped revulsion! Women are more unfortunate. What must hang does so shabbily and what should stay hidden realises secrecy by wrapping itself up in an overdose of flesh and skin. Stretched and crumpled, patches of discolouration, sagging and smelly. Perhaps an undressed woman is uglier for the contrast is more stark between her suppressed real (isn't that lace, seen through her blouse, so beautiful!?) and real (a sudden strand of unruly hair near her navel).

Navel thrusts are what she serves me as I reach for her clothes. I look away and hold the right shoulder of her blouse in my hand. I push it back up and while it stays on her shoulder, her breast hasn't been hammocked yet. I reach for my wallet (I carry a separate one for such sojourns) and she screams at me. Several men have come to her but her pride still hurts when a man walks away paying her for putting her clothes back on. She abuses my father and curses my mother with barbaric rampages. She throws the note back at my face but I know she will quickly take it and shove it into her blouse once I leave and tell her friends that she would never take money from a man who made savage demands. I keep walking while she screams from the corridor. I reach the road and walk beneath her flailing arms, now spanning the breadth of the road and moving in black sweeps under the fluorescent bulb above her head. I smile at her soothing shadow which touches me by not touching me. Soon I walk beyond the reach of her shadows.

Shadows converse as they merge into the other on the roads leading to the river. I wonder whether people are the projections of each shadow, each one wanting to be dressed differently. That in red and that one in chiffon, each greeting the other without collisions and emerging from the other, never the same. I lie down on the cobbled road with my right eye close to cool stone. The sudden coldness makes my skin cringe into a tightness (that should reduce the sag around my midriff). I watch the shadows talk to each other while their hopes stand in a line outside the wine shop. Their intelligent conversations are the breeze over the puddle and leave a rainbow on the film. Where men collide, shadows merge. Where women stink, shadows leave it to your imagination. Where men are shabby, shadows are well turned out. Where women are shapeless, shadows are well cut (move the light a bit that way and that broken nose could belong to a Greek God).
All Credit to XDra on Flickr

God created light before he made this world. Why? I ask you that, and you hurriedly walk away. Because he had to create the third world of beauty. Single tone and hue, egoless, honest, loyal (has your shadow ever left your side?) and non-disruptive (which war was ever fought between shadows? All war is a war of images not shadows). But in that same light, the real world also became visible. And God regretted it enough to give us clothes as an apology. The Sun and the Moon both cast shadows and scorch the the inhabitants of the real world. You do see this and still you deny my three worlds? Let me show you all of it. People clothed and when they are naked (not undressing) and when all you can see are shadows of the very same people. And you don't find the shadows most beautiful? No? No? Look again! Lie down by my side on this road and see again. Don't make my heart grow heavy.

Heavy footsteps rush towards me. They think I am drunk and rush to me with sympathy laced with quotidian annoyance. When I raise my hand to tell them I am fine, they grip it and hoist me up. Poor shadows stare at me wondering at the commotion. I explain to the people that I am fine and I haven't had a single sip of anything even remotely intoxicating. They are angry at their kindness gone in vain. Someone calls me stupid. No, not his shadow. His shadow is still looking at me but with no cruelty. Someone reveals that I was also at the nearby brothel and had created a lot of nuisance out there too. I try to explain but someone hits me hard.

Hard are your hands as they hold me down, in fear that my walls might become real. Every time I raise my head you think the walls are growing stronger and you hit me again. You were there too, weren't you? Did I do something wrong at the brothel? And you hit me harder lest the other think you are my friend. But you are. You and I walked the entire evening together. Why are you telling them that I am a madman who was stalking you? I didn't. I wouldn't. All I did was talk to you. They look at you, but when you beat me harder, they are convinced I am a madman. They abuse my parents for having soiled society by giving birth to me. But they aren't even here to listen to this. Someone kicks me in my stomach. I hear a familiar voice from a distance. Blows come to rest on my bones and cheeks and hips as I curl into something that yields a beautiful shadow shaped like a stuffed bag. A bag of shadows.

Shadows too merge with mine and ebb and return to my foetal hemisphere on the road. All I see are these elongated black ropes reaching out to me and caressing me as the voice grows stronger. Blows lessen and the shadows converse sharing news about the afternoon meal at the Irani cafe. Yes, the chicken was burnt and he was stingy with the cardamom. But the tea was good as always. Not a single shadow knows me before today or will know me beyond today. Why, yes, we are all keepers of shadows though I would let you into the real secret some other day when I am in lesser pain.

Pain from the last blow leaves my shadow throbbing to a beautiful rhythm. All the other shadows stop and admire. The voice scolds everyone back to their work while the shadows mingle to create new patterns on the cobblestones. A pair of hands reach down and stink of lamb gut. I throw up and he withdraws, though his shadow does so, slower than he. He pours a jug of water on my face to wash the vomit and picks me up.
"Didn't I tell you to stay in the room till I throw the bones to the dogs?"
I smell the sweat near his neck and shudder. His apron against my cheek gladdens my heart. I try hard not to imagine him naked for I had once seen a large lump under his armpit. Is that Yamuna there turning around the corner? A shadow follows her and beckons. And more shadows glide along in unchoreographed harmony. Shadows which an entire world is made of.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Peace, Peace, Peace
A lake untouched by breeze
Is beautiful
To a man untouched by love.


How terrifying to imagine a day where I'd have nothing to say!
How beautiful it is when such a day arrives!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The New Face of Tolerance

A woman once asked a man why he clicked pictures of a popular religious function. The man in all innocence replied that he found the event beautiful. She then began condemning the pictures and went on to say that all this was nascent religious fanaticism and that she thought that he was a saffron robed VHS without the robe.

A man once told another man that he should give up his personal religious practices as he was likely to travel abroad and sticking to such practices was ridiculous and impossible to follow and that he would have to be practical and give it all up.

Belgium and other European countries have banned people from wearing the veil. Governments now consider themselves to be in the rightful position to decide on the wardrobe contents of the residents.

These and several such examples are the kinds that people are proud of. Today is not about being tolerant but about refusing allegiance. People who are, in their personal capacities, aligned with a belief system which is unlike what is popularly accepted, are ostracised to varying degrees. Today it is not important to understand and hence, accommodate each person's individual preferences. When people have a particular set of rules for their home, then they are considered conservative or old-fashioned. The same approach is acceptable at the work place (though even that is now being considered old-fashioned and newer companies think that allowing their employees to come in shorts and torn clothes is being tolerant).

The human mind is uncomfortable in the midst of people who are different. Hence, there is a constant attempt to homogenise. Religion is one such attempt. National boundaries and patriotism are also similar strategies (though it tends to unite by dividing). Try standing in the midst of a gathering on Independence Day and, once the anthem is over, state clearly that you have the least feeling of patriotism! And these very same people, who frown at you and ensure that the distance between you and them is ever increasing, will claim that they are very open minded and tolerant. 

I call it lazy tolerance, because these people would rather distance themselves from taking a stance because it involves a lot more work and the effort is significantly more than giving in and acting tolerant. The intelligence and goodness required to understand is simply not as interesting as an episode on your favourite sitcom. When we were kids it was called peer pressure and resulted in every young lad wanting to take a swig and every girl wanting to have a boyfriend. Then we were excused as not being mature enough, but when that continues into one's youth and mid-life then it is no longer something one can roll eyes about. People find it largely convenient to not have to follow rules, or strive to understand why someone has a particular set of preferences. I can only imagine what Muslim girls and boys must be going through all over the world when they want to adopt religious practices that they were raised in. The very Westerners who denounced this practice as against their "democratic" spirits have to face research which hints at religious fanaticism being at the root of the inability to realise the brotherhood preached in churches.

Each person is allowed to choose their preferences, practices and beliefs. This is usually uncomplicated as long people are individual entities. When they get into relationships such as marriages, employment, friendship, etc. then their persona would have to be adaptable to these settings. If I join a legal firm, I cannot go to court in striped pajamas (at least in India). If I am getting married to a woman who loves her job, then it is unreasonable of me to expect her give it up for an opportunity that I am getting in some remote place where she has little opportunity. If my friend cannot afford parties and living a lavish life, then I would tune my interactions with him such that he doesn't feel awkward. If I am an island, then my preferences should be largely uninfluenced. If I find the environment unacceptable, I search for one which is conducive to my personality.

Unfortunately, the world has come to become a place where being progressive, tolerant and open-minded are confused and people have come to believe that having any religious, cultural, regulatory, societal and personal affiliations is old-fashioned. In other words, if you can claim that you don't care about any religion and disrespect all tradition and cultural norms and love to break all rules, then you are open-minded! I fail to understand how that can be so.

As long as people continue to remain uncomfortable in the midst of differing opinions, universal (or even localised) camaraderie is an impossibility. Children are not being educated to appreciate differences but are being groomed to join the coterie with the maximum representation. And then there is the club which believes in being contrarian to all that others say. I see this especially in the arts. There are some true artists who create material which is beautiful whether Avante-garde or not. The rest simply mimic or cause a noise without understanding what they are opposing.

I am reminded of a couple of verses in the Tao Te Ching which speak about benevolence and kindness and how they are the natural consequence of the absence of the Tao. This is applicable to this state of affairs. People have ceased to understand and relate to each other and in that lacuna, tolerance creeps in. When tolerance is difficult, being open minded is essential and in the absence of that, people resort to being progressive.

As long as people continue to be lazy and refuse to expend the required effort to understand other people, they will be kind and grace those people with tolerance and the urge to civilise them (as motivated the East India Company). Mustn't the Koran reading gent and the top-knot donning Kerala Brahmin boy be made to drop their beliefs and be made more open-minded? After all, being open minded is about being closed to individual preferences, isn't it? Being tolerant is to not have any allegiance? Being progressive is to sip your Cosmopolitan and smirk at those who refuse to consume alcohol?

Double Standards, anyone?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Age of Celebrity


I don't know what made me write that post but I am glad I did as it provided Parvati-ji an opportunity to share a link to some interesting thoughts. I was also reading Flavorpill's recent piece about 20th century's most reclusive writers and J.D.Salinger's obit in the NY Times.

It would be sufficient to read the second link above as it does discuss a similar issue in great depth. I actually had a poem to write about this but thought that I had written too many in the recent past. I loved a sentence in that article: "Virginity is classically the outward sign of spiritual inviolability, of a self untouched by the world, a soul that has preserved its integrity by refusing to descend into the chaos and self-division of sexual and social relations". I recently amused a young friend when he asked me "Do you like dogs?" and I replied, "Most definitely. Anything non-human has my attention."

Today's generation (and I would consider everyone below the age of 50-60 as members of this generation) simply cannot stay alone. When I read somewhere that torture mechanisms included keeping a person in isolation, I wondered (and at the age of 12-13 I wondered a lot) what was so torturous about that. I thought it would be rather normal with the person singing songs and perfecting his voice, creating stories and poems and most importantly, introspecting and learning from previous deeds and re-affirming one's previous decisions based on sound principles (Come, let's away to prison; // We two alone will sing like birds I' th' cage). Recently I counted my book collection (non-technical) till it crossed the 800 tome mark and figured out that if I read them leisurely, I would take 20 years to complete all of them (some are simply too huge) and after 20 years I would most certainly want to re-read the ones which I had read 20 years ago. That would amount to another 20 years! That takes care of 40 years of my life. That afternoon was my happiest in a very long time. And all this in the solitude of my room. And that is when I considered the scenario of not telling anyone about this. What indeed happens to joy if there is none to share it with? Does it lose its lucre!?

I used this question as my lens to view motivations for most action in this world. Would someone become a general manager if there was no one to notice that progress? Would someone hit six sixes in a cricket match if there was no broadcast mechanism to tell the world about it and no newspaper to make a loud noise about it? Consider the complete closure of the advertising industry! No Rs. 210 crore for Dhoni who has done nothing more than play a game occasionally well and get married. Stupidity would be a lot more localised and offer little inspiration for other fools. Do I send my child to painting classes so that he wins the competition in school and make me proud!? What if he alone participated in it?

I realise I am taking the discussion along a different track, but I consider it vital. While the articles above discuss about the reluctance for being alone, I wish to discuss why people cannot enjoy for enjoyments sake. They all probably merge at a point in the self, but that we shall arrive at in another post. I feel people consider an achievement worthless if it doesn't have the sanction and cheers of many more people. Why else would America have so many thousand Halls of Fame? Why else would every single person who can write rush to publish his work? Why will a dancer (and I know a few such specimens) not care about realising the complete beauty of a form but worry more about the dance reviews and how many places have invited her to repeat the same piece over and over again? Why will every sportsman care so much about being a celebrity and not about playing remarkably better than the previous season (do we hear about what a sportsman is doing to ensure that his average score doubles?)?

Because the beauty of an act has been stamped under the incessant cries averring that joy and celebration cannot be done alone. People are depressed (or are told that they must be) if they spend their birthdays alone. People are shocked when they hear that someone simply sat by a lake reading a book throughout the weekend (I would give my right arm to have such a weekend). I had once backpacked to Ooty with no reservations made and a bag full of books and little else. People thought I was angry, depressed, sad and everything other than sensible for having done that.

While one reads this post, one might imagine this to hardly be a significant thing, but consider a whole month where your joys and sorrows and achievements are private, your plans and goals are private, your wounds and accolades are private, your satisfied meal is known to none other than yourself and you already think that I am signing you up for a torturous month of living like a recluse. No! You will still be the same and joke with everyone and eat with everyone and travel in a bus with everyone, except that your life's details are known to none.

I nursed this dream of being published. I sent out my articles (which I haven't yet put up on this blog) to renowned magazines and they all got rejected. I didn't feel sad but kept wondering why I wouldn't get published. I was willing to buy the "Your writing is pathetic" reason but not in the light of stuff that was getting published. Soon I realised that it was quite against my grain. I agree with Salinger: To write and not be published, feels far more honest. There is no pretense about wanting to be a "writer". You simply are that. I read this post now as I type it and realise that anyone could have written this, but that is pointless enough to keep me past my bedtime and have me type away at my computer. Now I automatically delete all calls for submissions not because I consider it wrong to publish but simply realise that it is not something I am comfortable with (sour grapes?).

People ask, why shouldn't you be popular if you are good at something? Why shouldn't I share my joys with the 2252 friends I have on Facebook? Even if it something like "Sunday mornings are so lazzzy"? And here is where I wish to represent all the writers (including the authors of the links above including myself): Aloneness is choice and loneliness is a reaction. If you refrain from making the choice out of fear for the reaction, then it is a matter of concern for you. JK talks along similar lines about boredom and escaping from it (without understanding it) towards entertainment and company and anything that can keep you busy and unconscious. If you are good, you probably will be popular (at least after you are dead, like Van Gogh). But neither is being good nor enjoying the goodness of being thus a collective affair. You cannot vote someone into feeling good about something though that is what is happening nowadays!

The age of celebrity has caused people to fear the consequences of not being heard and known and connected, of not finding "Likes" to reaffirm our choices and tastes, of being the only one to enjoy a quiet evening on the terrace. In the process, a lot is lost and nothing substantial gained. The works that endure the tests of time, have all been created in solitude (Tao Te Ching, Pieta, Hamlet, etc.) and great saints and hermits have found what most of the world craves for, in solitude. Though I do not wish to fight a case for solitude, I wonder how irreversible the effects of the age of celebrity are on the human psyche. For one who cannot be happy in himself, cannot find happiness in many like himself.

Other Links, you might find interesting:


Monday, July 12, 2010


Devotion Overshadows The Lord...

Young hands reach
For the temple bell, again -
Such devotion I pray for.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


The music of lullabies

Silent drops fall on upturned vessels -
Childhood's wind chimes.