Tuesday, May 29, 2007

He who could have been


Did you go to his funeral? Did he even have a family? Of course, he had one. Why do you ask? Didn’t I tell you they had all come wearing black armbands?

In mourning? Of course.

What did I see?

I saw them going home, into their loos. “Fucking long funeral,” they said and perched over their shitpots. The radio was on full blast. Turn it loud, Captain. A little jig, a little swerve, and a spray of sallow pee all over. And the band came undone and fell under. Then they flushed their loos. Or they remembered to save water and didn’t.

The next morning the obituary read

Loving father and caring husband passed away in his sleep.

He was bereaved by his 2 children and wife, who inherited a sprawling 52 acre estate and a plush bungalow.

Many years ago, as a child, he had looked up to his parents and had inherited his father’s stupidity and his mother’s perfidy. He led a life blissfully unaware of that, tinged only with the regret of a moment when he had been weak enough to believe in himself.

He went no further than a fetid shitpot. That is where he had to go.

At least, he didn’t have to suffer. He met a painless death.

That moment

A ray of light darted in his head. Yet, it did so like a streak that belonged to a lingering sunset, casting a glow over the remains on the shore. Memories shone resplendent like wet, glistening rock faces only to be extinguished, awash, by the returning waves. A shadow had come upon some parts of the world, while the others waited for their turn. Something told them their moment would come, and they must blaze in all glory then. “I must not forget. I must not,” the words jetted out from between his teeth.

He wanted to learn to enunciate each sorrow, each prick, each punch. And let the pain seep in like faith seeping out during acts of infidelity. Hold every image against the fading light and see through the negatives. Let them dance, with nakedness as their sole guise. Under the naked guise of pity, promise, and fatherhood. Stand with arms hanging lazily by his side and witness the collapse of institutions. Throw his head back insolently, proudly. And say, “You can’t touch me.”

Monday, May 28, 2007


“There’s so much nonsense about human inconstancy and the transience of all emotions,” said Wynand. “I’ve always thought that a feeling which changes never existed in the first place. There are books I liked at the age of sixteen. I still like them.” (The Fountainhead)

I don’t remember examining this “human inconstancy” anything beyond the usual life goes on…people change bromide*. We ascribe the change in our feelings (toward something static) to the notion that life itself is dynamic by virtue of transient circumstances, situations, settings, moods encompassed within it. Every song, movie, book, play, poem—any work of art, anything that is not subject to intrinsic change once it has been brought to fruition—is evaluated by the subject in a state of mind. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. So, if the beholder’s perception of an object wavers with time, then it translates into a situation wherein the aspects of beauty that are perceived have changed. Thus, the judgments we pass on works of art are not merely subjective (with respect to the subject), they also change temporally, i.e., with time, even when the subject is held constant.

However, there’s a more fundamental character to our judgments. While it is explicit that we perceive different things differently, what is implied in the context introduced above is that we also perceive the same thing differently at different instances. There are books I had liked when I was younger that, now, I wonder how I possibly could have (What did I see in them then? What don’t I like in them now? Are they the same things?). More pertinently, sometimes, this chasm in one’s opinion may widen with age or fluctuate in phases.

When we look for one essential trait in any object, our perception of the object cannot change solely because the object is immutable. The crux that questions every judgment is whether or not the object has integrity. Does it have a purpose, a meaning, a central function? This quality is exclusive of the subject/observer and intrinsic of the object. This meaning holds, regardless of any criterion that the human mind may impose to evaluate. What an object stands for, to the greatest degree, is not transient. Those who understand this, and look for that one shining trait, are unlikely to change their opinions of things.

I’ve a feeling this is one of the things that Robert Pirsig tried to put across when he tried so hard to define Quality in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He essentially imparted an absolute nature to his Quality and removed any duality in the process. And that is how he could ascertain whether or not a motorbike or a restaurant had that Quality, regardless of who drove the bike or who dined in the restaurant.

Coming back, I wouldn’t have been able to understand the reasoning behind such a view as Wynand’s had I not read Rand.

*Bromide is an interesting word. Also check sulphite if you’re amused.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

At 1:52

Right at 1:52, a tingle will run up their spines. A fluid sensation, swiveling upward like a young flame that laughs off the wind, will gush forth. The flowers—golden, merry, purple, auburn—will pick themselves up and float wavily, waft, and stow themselves in no particular order in the heart of a hutch burrowed deep in a sunny patch. Creatures of the earth, ye little puppy, creepy-crawlies, grounded feathers, and the tiny girl with lips wearing a riot of Holi and the listless simian Heckava nestled in her arms will meander from their businesses. They will, no shall, arrive with the crackling of dry leaves underfoot, flitting back and forth, humming now and then, rustling awake other tiny lives. All of them—members of the most recent family—will wind up near the flowers. The tiny puppy will sniff with a liquidy nose, the millipede will glue itself around the stalks with a thousand feet, and the girl will have the shape of wonder in her bulbous eyes. She will keep Heckava down but not before asking the assiduous ants to vacate the patch. The irascible teeny-weenies will pay no heed and continue to stomp from here to there. They—entire colonies of them—will chomp Heckava’s soft behind, gifting the simian a red rind. He will try to act strong, in spite of his immaculate composure being stretched thin, and will present a brave, bland face. The puppy, timid and small, will have never had smelled a petal. Until then. He will lick off the finespun petals, as if they were caked with something sapid, and the blades will then shimmer. The ants, seeing the glistening petals, will blitz toward them and clamber up the stalks, over the millipede, in search of manna. The little sparrow with plumage that had not yet met the winds will tip-toe and peck nervously. The blazing, tender, riot-colored lips of the girl will part and a soft zephyr will drift. A violent commotion will occur—the ants will cling tight to the surface with all their might. “That was not funny at all,” will they shout in unison. The girl will giggle with little pink-nailed fingers over her mouth. A delighted Heckava, having tasted redemption, will remove the pretty, green scarf from around his neck and, in a display of exhibitionism, will swing it in the air. The puppy, satisfied with his grasp of the goings-on, will wag his tail in a display of shtick. The lonely house lizard will look wistfully from the window opposite the patch, and yearn. For a moment, he’ll forget his household and consider inviting himself over to the proceedings.

Then I shall pull the shutters down on my world. And that will be it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

unleashing a self-seeking spirit

Sometime later, or earlier, a bus passed by. It was as packed as packed could be. Suddenly, unsurprisingly, I had this pang of pity.
People’s lives, hard as flintstones, and peopled lives smacked hard by myriad everyday gavels, grunts passing off as breaths, making ends meet only by burning at both ends. And then? This hard anatomy turns brittle. As brittle as rickety bones. Or glass. And breaks into shards that pierces their bodies or makes them crumble into amorphous masses, shapeless, and brings them at the mercy of a solitary gust. During moments of weakness, they measure their stretched existences in all or nothing. During moments of joy, they try to forget their moments of enervation.
But then, I thought, it is their choice. Haven’t they chosen to expend their waking hours under the shade of a dubious shape, in the quest for a greater pursuit. Comfort, security, insurance against bouts of profligacy, endorsement—a higher ideal, nevertheless. Higher than their horizontal, flattened lives. A Shangri-La where their lowly hunger—this extreme desire to come good, deliver, meet the expectations of others—should be appeased. Why, then, do I find solace in pity? Shouldn’t I be proud of, and happy for, them; should not this very awareness embolden me to lay claim to being selfless, by virtue of being happy without a stake?

Selfish—it sustains an odor. The odor of something concealable. Garlic on breath. Or that of censures, mock and otherwise, that condition to an extent wherein should the very word be uttered in anything addressed to us, all elements of our existence react to throw out its sheepish smell with a single-minded sincerety only replicated in affairs beneath the sheets. Huge endeavors are undertaken to mask a guilt-ridden smell by periodic, convenient, intermittent altruistic deeds and thoughts. Like my pang of pity that tried to camouflage the odor of my ignoble, selfish existence by sensing the poignancy of the bus-laden lives of my less fortunate brothers. In the span of that one thought, I atoned for my sins. O, Father! I know I have sinned. Let my path meander with the bends of your hallowed course such that at every opportune occasion I can let your waters cleanse me. And thus I did wash my sins clean.

Opulent, ornate facades of buildings are gloriously analogous to the empty designs that we showcase in the course of the tirade to fit in, in society. The ostentatious archways only expiate the dingy matchboxes inside, stacked unimaginatively, laboriously upon one another. What could I have been? When did I realize that I’m as corrupt as the ones I despised in fables? When did I become one of them?

So that we are valued agreeably in societal eyes and earn good riddance of our compunction, we propitiate by offering alms and acting meek. This by far is the most popular path to selflessness: The duties include satisfying the presumption of others, being projected favorably onto them, and, in doing so, sacrificing the absolute ideal—the purpose of existence. Should I quell my spirit to bargain for an acceptable apology for a moral code? By being flung to the streets at throwaway prices, it is demeaned, rather ironically, to a more humanly character.

I earnestly aspire to offer my selfish self at the altar of altruism. I, as the embodiment of self-absorption. Why do I need to ask for forgiveness? Nothing, but the individual spirit, is absolute. I have a purpose that far outruns that of bandy altruistic legs. There is no end to the means. It is only the means. Perfect happiness is not in its realization. It’s not in retrospect, nor in summing up. It’s in the moment. In the somersaults without a crowd. In the lonely smiles. In the process of being unleashed. Like a rabid spirit.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

On board

The thing about the Defence Forces is saab. Captain Jay has a flunky (a sipahi assistant) who attends to him all the time. He takes care of his dog Leo, succumbed to motherly worry when the canine was bit by a leech (may very well have squashed that bloated bloodsucker had he chanced upon it), knows what saab wants on each day of the week, and fights with the cook to get those dishes prepared.

When Jay left home to join the NDA, he left as the son of a father who had a watch shop. He had bored his family and friends to death with Paramvir Chakra stories and other tales of its ilk. A mediocre runner until then, very soon, he became quite competent at cross-country running. If he was hurt in tournaments between squadrons, the entire squad would go all out to help him. Because he had started boxing well, too. In due course, he could perform more than 40 cream rolls (a front and a back roll in succession) a minute. The Indian Government has invested 17.5 lakhs in him at the NDA, and a few lakhs more at the IMA. Every round that he fires from his firearm costs the exchequer a few hundred bucks. In practice, he empties rounds after rounds at dummy targets. In encounters, he has seen magazines being emptied into a single militant.

Jay is posted in high insurgency Assam. Bodo and ULFA. Now, he’s on vacation, though, and ogling at girls with as much religiosity as he practises running.

Jay’s friend, Lieutenant Dhara, junior to him by one year at the NDA, joined the Navy. On board INS Tarangini from Muscat to Kochi was by far his most excruciating experience ever. He would keep watch for uninterrupted lengths of 4 hours on the crow’s nest, at the very end of a 33 m long mast, with a pair of binoculars. In freezing rain, amidst strong winds, under starry nightskies, and with twinkling shorelines on the near horizon. He would of course have someone (they work in buddy pairs) with him at the top, who would be puking as the ship rolled and pitched. It was quite similar to the descent in a Ferris wheel, he quips now. When the deck tilted by even 5 degrees, at the crow’s nest, both would trace a huge arc of vomit in the drenched air.

Dhara is with INS Mumbai, a Delhi-class destroyer of the Indian Navy. Very soon, he’ll be shifted to Vizag. Every shell that he fires from his vessel burns 6 lakh rupees. He handles equipments whose costs run into crores. He’s chiefly in logistics now—managing the ship’s mess, organising functions that entail the participation of officers from the entire fleet, and catching up with old friends like Jay (with whom I have tagged along to the Sailing Club of the Indian Navy Waterfront Training Centre at Colaba in Mumbai). He opines that if he quits the Navy and works for an MNC as an HR consultant, he would earn a fortune.

Both of them, Jay and Dhara, are eagerly, with breath that’s just about on hold, anticipating the 6th Pay Commission that promises to, at least, double their salaries. They want working spouses who can lead their own lives and who do not expect their husbands to be there at their beck and call every morning. Maybe, they can deal with it if their spouses want the same from them too. Both are slightly amused when punctuality and discipline come up in conversations. For them, reporting at 8, when you are supposed to report at 8, is actually late. On time is 745. This is what they have learnt and what they hopefully practice beyond their work too. Both sometimes use the word civilians when referring to the populace outside their cocoons. Both live for themselves and their band of brothers; both fight for a geographical construct called nation, where strangers are differentiated as countrymen and infiltrators.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

when i unraveled

On the edge of the cliff, I was in a straitjacket—my arms tied, my mouth clamped shut, and my brain washed. A credulous seeker like me was an easy prey for charlatans promising ethereal bliss. So much so that I had started to see the vacuity in almost everything. And then as yet again I pushed myself back from drinking the tenuous poison, I fell.

As I fell, the stubborn chains in me refused to give way. The barnacles did not unhinge when I tried to break free. But this was only at first. I closed my eyes and noticed the spidery snares that had built themselves inside of me. On removing them, I saw the center of my mindspace littered with personas. I had let them inside, and insidiously, their thoughts, their memories, had held sway over me. They were regular characters—friends, lovers, colleagues, family—who had set up their shops on my thoroughfare. Luring me for business, offering bargains, dictating terms.

Without feeling, I evicted these tenacious tenants. I ripped their belongings apart, yanked their clothes from the clothesline, expelled the damp, soggy air and the cares that had infested my days. Everything went—the taste, the smell, the touch. It was not hate, nor indifference, that made me do it. It was an attempt to salvage.

And then when I fell, I unraveled. Factions of me—the entity—spouted forth like marbles from a bursting pocket. I fell far and wide, in meadows, on treetops, on thatched roofs and verandahs, in the wilderness. My soul, though, gravitated steady. Quite blandly, it fell freely. After the myriad Is hit ground and dribbled onto distant lands, they marched toward a focal point with purpose. They promenaded past vistas and vantage points along the way, and on assembling, they fused into an ensemble to reform a single me.

This new me had a repertoire but no baggage. It traveled light, backpacked, built houses and brought them down with the same regularity. And when in need, it unraveled.


Last evening promises to steadily climb up the charts of memorable outings. Jew town, Paradesi Synagogue and the last remaining Jewish family of nine that patronizes it, Fort Kochi, sea-facing, antique-hoarding Ginger restaurant, Kashi art cafĂ© and the cleaved bamboo with a slender tube of light inside, cute single firangi women crowding distinctly touristy restaurants, street houses with quaint doors lining narrow roads like palm trees, “you buy fish we cook them” open-air eateries, sprawling old mansions transformed into heritage hotels, respectable uncles in starched white mundus and their unerringly wrong directions, and this line that I saw on the boundary wall of a school: Do good unto others and share what you have, for it is pleasing to you.

P.S: I just changed the last word of the graffito to turn it into an aphorism.