Tuesday, December 09, 2008


It’s that time of the day when the chutzpah starts to melt. When you realize the fight Obama needs to put up is gargantuan. That all the mayhem around you is not your life, yet is maybe not something that you can extricate yourself out of. That you have no obligation, yet you somehow can’t let things be. It’s that time when every minute is a new thought connected to the previous. When truth is close at hand, but only as a nightly visitor who shall leave your bedside in the morn, is.

Is there a burden of truth? Should truth just be left on its own? Should you not carry it on your shoulders, listen to where it wants to go, help it get there? There’s a waking life in these questions. Yet there’s too much to be lived beyond them. Beyond them, in the territory of farcical democracies, dysfunctional societies, staged performances.

Life is the bubbles you chase behind closed eyelids. It’s ever elusive, yet you know it’s so bloody easy to see those bubbles. It’s a fucking tease, like a little show of naked skin. A possible indulgence.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

success and escape

I work for an editing company. A couple of months ago, my bosses took me off editing documents and put me on something very vaguely defined and unstructured. (You may call it business development.) This was because they thought I could add a lot more value and deliver what they wanted. Between then and now, I’ve conceived of and implemented a very important change in the way we edit. I’ve also worked on and launched a new editing service. I’ve written pages of web content and news items and press releases for promotion; created content and design for two ads; written job ads for 4 different positions; created and compiled training material for editors working on the new editing service; written content for internal purposes; worked on the design of a few web pages; held numerous meetings with the most important people in the company; modified work processes and briefed teams about changes; written 45 seconds (150 words) of the script for a show on CNBC in which one of my bosses was featured; and tried to avoid documentation as much as I could.

Today, I was working on case studies. I had to showcase some of the interesting tie-ups my company has had with clients in the recent past. I went to my boss with 4 case studies that I had written. He liked the text but wanted some images to go along with it for impact. So, he gave me 80 minutes—until we met next—to work on it. I decided to try something different. Instead of using flowcharts and diagrams to show how we have helped our clients, I drew stick figures on the back of the printout of each case study. I wanted these stick figures to illustrate the “before” and “after” situations in each of the cases profiled. As I continued to work on it, the idea behind the sketch became clearer and I began to visualize how it would look on a web page. It was only when I was sketching for the last of the 4 case studies that I realized I had something good on my hands. I thought the figures were very different, carried great visual appeal, and conveyed the point succinctly.

When my boss first saw the stick figures, he seemed amused. He looked at them carefully, turned each sheet to read the case study. He seemed ok with the first and the fourth (they were the simplest) and undecided with the rest. After a fairly long time, he mumbled “hmm… very creative.” It sounded more like “good, but sorry we can’t use them.” And they won’t be used.


I enjoy reasonable freedom in my job, and I’ve got a conventionally bright future with my current employer. However, I like the disappointments that arise from working for yourself much more than I like those that come with working for someone else. And I don’t like authority.

I’ve tried to compartmentalize myself into the “work me” and “me.” But I’ve found it difficult to separate one from the other. The work me tries to ignore Sylvia Plath and Charlie Kauffman, but me is absolutely rivetted to them. The work me admires catchlines like “Be Born Everyday” but me detests the sophistry in them. When the work me runs after something during the day, it’s me that feels exhausted in the evening. When the work me has to give something, it snatches part of that from me. And “I” end up poorer. I end up looking for escape in social intimacy and beer.

I don’t want an escape. I want a better life. And all of me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

run of the mill

In order for you to fully assimilate life’s teachings—the ones that are neatly encapsulated in one-liners so as to save you the toil of peeling off meaning of Rushdie-esque paragraphs—you must learn painful lessons first. And one of them is that you’re just run of the mill. Proof of that? If any vestiges of a maverick were hidden in you, the years gone by should’ve sucked them out for public perusal. But they haven’t. So, there it stands. You’re run of the mill.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

jaunty collar bones

Her fate was in her body, not in the stars. It resided somewhere in the sheen of her face, her jaunty collar bones, her full lips. She had thrown her horoscope away many seasons ago, and had invested energy in preening herself.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

On beauty

Nabokov, the author of Lolita, on being asked about how American he was, had replied, “I’m as American as April in Arizona.” I read it in an article in the Economist and thought that it was beautiful. But like many things beautiful, the writer of the article stated and I agree with him, it meant nothing.

From my recent trip along the Konkan coast, I brought some coasters that featured picturesque vistas: sunsets, sunrises, beaches, sand, shells. Decidedly appealing. But what did they mean? Did they appeal because they were photographs—moments when time was caught static and developed on print. Isn’t that merely a manner of speaking, with little underlying substance?

And why did I like what Nabokov had said?

Human understanding, as Phaedrus saw, can be divided into classical and romantic understanding. Function and form is how I have come to understand it. Classical understanding deals with the underlying basis, the meaning of things, while the romantic mode is concerned with appearance. What things mean versus how things appear. Art can be said to belong to the domain of the romantic. You can’t write an algorithm to produce a good painting. Art is a product of intuition, imagination, inspiration. Science is primarily classical: it looks for reason and logic. In the romantic mode, the distinction between “good” and “bad,” “ugly” and “beautiful,” is made mainly on the basis of esthetics and outward form. In the classical mode, such divisions run deeper. They cut to the bone, expose the underlying form, in search of a compact structure. To the proverbial artist, the scientist is boring. And the scientist generally has no time for the artist.

There appears to be a wedge driven straight between the romantic and classical edifices. However, there has to be something that lends meaning to them in conjunction—that sheds light on their separateness in a manner that builds a bridge between. That is very fundamental—the crux. This is what Phaedrus set out to discover.


The reason I enjoyed myself so much on the trip was because I was myself throughout. Every day, people enter rooms—not merely physically enclosed spaces but sealed containers in their heads too—and start talking and behaving in a certain way. It’s like something’s in the air: the whole milieu changes. The you starts to watch out and has his hands full watching out. It’s exhausting, not to mention debilitating.

Travelling alone, or with a close friend, is like getting back into your own skin. To use the words of J K Rowling (although in an entirely different context), the inessentials are stripped off. You can wander aimlessly; you don’t have to show purpose; you don’t have to care. You become a tent by the beach, not a fully furnished house. No keeping track of bills, no closing doors and windows before going to sleep, no checking of taps and switches. Just listen to the waves and lie in the sound.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Groundhog Life

Repetition—the implement to turn the hands of time. The old man’s utterances and actions prosper in iteration. In a distinctly personal manner, he orchestrates quotidian happenings. Putting the electronic shaver to his skin, first thing in the morning. Driving to the tender coconut vendor after lunch. Paying him the exact change. Folding the newspaper in exactly the same way. Watching the Great Indian Laughter Challenge every evening. Opening the doors for perfectly expected mirth at the appointed hour.

Everything in order and everyone as expected. The maid who is always faced with the same enquiry: did she buy bread and milk? did she mop the bedroom floor? The gatekeeper who is always asked if the car had been given a wash. The bhaajiwala who is queried about the freshness of vegetables.

Immersion in simple, continual needs.

Empty, urgent, itchy needs. The machinery attending to needs chugging along like clockwork. A clockwork orang. To whom is known all the hues contained in the portrait of life. No sudden realizations, no discoveries; only a quiet manner of putting brush to canvas.

Engrossment in tasks that do not pose dilemmas. Preoccupation with positively conditioned reactions. Life as the inversion of childhood. Life as the answer to the perfunctory ‘How do you do?’

Thursday, June 26, 2008


For a few fleeting moments, the colors of shame mellowed, fading to merge with the color of his skin. And he pondered.

Shame is not debilitating
The feeling it induces inside is.
Each buffet endured, pushing life closer to tipping point.
Shame, an entirely personal possession on a distinctly public occasion
Armfat hanging slack in a row of taut arms,
And the accompanying sidelong glances
Bits of an entirely personal belonging distributed among a thousand minds
Opinions collected as a token of involvement
Challans dispensed for remembrance, and a precautionary measure too
The overt character of shame
Shame is ignominy, embedding a public construct

Free verse buoyed by his thoughts, flew unmindful of gravity. It was his mind that was the most stubborn leech. It was what went on in his head that made him squirm and want to rip it out. It made him want to sleep; be a cat, a dog; be blind and deaf; to inflict physical pain that could mock at what was immeasurable mental anguish. Deep in moments of shame, it dawned on him that nightmares are known for their tenacity. That they accompany you to doors of despair; leave you to suffer; then escort you on more miserable journeys.

On these journeys, his fixation was pulled away from all the beauty in this world and he couldn’t but be preoccupied with a single crippling feeling and he felt worth his most embarrassing deficiency and his mindspace was littered with humiliations—it was after he had been through all this that he had begun to view his destination: nakedness.

Snapping out of his deconstruction, he managed to smile and resolved to enjoy the sedateness while it lasted. Until the next wave hit him and the thin fabric that was his skin turned see-through.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


If I can get the fact that I haven’t posted anything on this page for a long time out of the way, maybe I can ignore the difficulty I’m facing right now, in writing after a protracted hiatus.

During this hibernation, gushing emotions have been checked, their course altered, their energy redirected, distributed among everyday doings. The huge village fire around which the entire community gathered has given way to small earthen lamps that light selfish households. Now, evenings aren’t spent together anymore; shared drives and a common fate have been supplanted by favourite sitcoms and cheap promos—lures accompanying newly acquired wealth.

There is a certain unmistakable despair in the dispersal of a platoon. Especially when that platoon is you and the soldiers pushing for victory thus far, who have now ceased to fight for a cause worth living for, are aspects of your self: conviction, confidence, esteem, faith. And particularly so when it is a war of choice. The exhortations have lost their capacity, replaced with mutterings of “I do not want to fight anymore.” The commander is at a loss for words that can turn rising tides. Before he conjures a summons though, gathering their forces around his diminishing authority, are swarms of self-doubt—buzzing and alive.

Self-doubt is seldom given due importance, partly because a commander isn’t supposed to entertain it or he doesn’t believe strongly enough to perceive a diminution in his creed. Self-doubt is indubitable, inevitable, and, if not limited by a strong embankment, inexorable.

I’m the wobbly commander. Sometimes, he, who has been tongue-tied, finds a loudspeaker to shout into. After the initial amplitude demanding attention, my platoon hears the anguish. Stabs, stings, aches, throbs.

I feel it in moments I revel in professional success or among social friends, A set of eyes, a pair of ears, a nose for banter, hands to drive home points, and a body draped in acceptable clothing—all seemingly indicating participation. With mind in knots, gallivanting, galloping to distant lands, sketching, tending to imagination.

Yet, I have to make a living as much as I have to live. Finding meaning in existence is a digression from an understanding of the cost of living and the means required to pay for it. Decades and years are apt spans to judge lives; for the meaning of existence, every hour is a yardstick long enough.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


A couple of months ago, I did something really stupid, or so I was told. I voiced my reservations not through a carefully worded mail, nor via polite requests or practical suggestions that smacked of an implicit acceptance of the status quo, but by speaking my mind. With incisive humor. On the company intranet.

And very soon, judging from the reaction, of which there was a flood, I came across roughly 3 kinds of employees: (1) absolute suckers/dumb duds/enemies of reason and logic/those who don’t know they are being taken for a ride; (2) those who want change but are afraid to speak up; and (3) those who belong to the happily-aloof-as-long-as-I-have-my-paycheck category.

Of the first category, two quit almost immediately after singing paeans of praise for their employer. Several members of the second type conveyed their support, but only through online chats or in person. The third species probably didn’t know that something was on until they overheard office gossip and then were mostly like “Dude, that was really stupid!”

The last year and a half have been a learning experience. Not because of the career progression that I’ve made but because of how closely I’ve observed the “corporate culture.” And I’ve realized, totally internalized, the fact that the only shade that will always be in vogue is grey.

I do not know why exactly Stanley Kubrick was a misanthrope but I can vouch on my epitaph that had he worked in the services industry, he would’ve surely had a very valid reason.

In this age when everything sells, why isn’t integrity being put up on shop windows? How do I explain to all these people that it is not I who needs a reality check. It is them. It is they who put their sugarcoated words on company newsletters; it is they who learn the company’s “mission statement” by rote; it is they who, in full knowledge of their actions, compromise on their work and on the manner in which they let themselves work.

And here I spend my time trying to scrub off the filth that sticks to my skin every day.

It is now that I fully understand Jerry Macguire. That there’s a big difference between what we think and what we say or do. And were we to be unafraid to do the right thing, or try to, we would be driven to despair. And fired.

I’m not taking the moral high ground here. I’m ranting because of a very selfish reason. I cannot imagine how I can survive selling myself like this. I can only see very lonely hours. I may speak to you, crack a few smart jokes and impress you, but I will find it difficult to bring myself to respect you.

In the twilight of life, should you choose to look back, remember these words: Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough. And this is exactly how some of you will have earned respect too.

P.S.: The quote in italics is from Chinatown (1974).

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Freedom arrived
With heavy wings
Where I wanted to soar
Only flitted low
And did not bite the dust

Joy in self-acceptance
Left a trail of unpaid debts
Swarms plagued nights, turned slayers of mirth
Doused sunshine and blurred days

Love arrived
Accompanying clauses and conditions
Fine print and punitive damages
Where I wanted to live
Could only breathe
A little easy, just a little

Consumed by wants
Convince, cajole, coax
Choices make up identity; let me make mine
And live them
Listen to me! Trust me! Believe, please!

Revelation in self-deception
Glory, acclaim—pleased as punch
A naked solitary man, before mirror
Skin peeling off: ugly, ugly, ugly!

Now: Reconnoitring lands for satisfying truth
Saddled, though, with an unabridged version
Leaf pages, jot points, make notes

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

anagramloverfriendshipimaginationhope: haikus


slipshod letters of
incomprehensible life,
arranged: fragmented


a touch for a look
while spent by lover’s brook
cymbals—best when paired


hiss, burnt lips: common
shared junk, dutch fares: together
moving images


on sick bed, wasted
in dreams distant, yet vivid
runs free, wind in hair


night crescent broken,
small pieces cached for weeks
like treasured toy

Monday, January 07, 2008

Delightful coincidence

Free will and imagination are entities that I’ll always hold dear. During my formative years, I rebelled against, in various measures, efforts at oppressing me. And through such experiences, I realized that I can be threatened through multifarious channels and that the adversary is a shape-shifting thing. Coercion can occur in subtle ways, through effective blackmail, via open subjugation, or by fomenting a sense of guilt. It can happen in daily conversations, by regular conditioning, courtesy public rebukes, or by demands of love’s labor. Sometimes, the perpetrators are well-meaning people—family, for example—who seem to know what’s good for you. You become an agent, a medium, that is driven to act toward goals you may not cherish. It’s not black and white. That is, you can’t distinguish between the forces acting upon you as entirely positive or entirely negative. The magnitude and time for which such forces act determine their impact on you.

When you choose your actions, you accept total responsibility for their consequences. And that in turn makes you work harder and better. Thereafter, what you’re guilty of is not some half-baked effort but a full-blooded charge. Everything else falls into line. Your priorities are arranged in a perfect hierarchy. Free will and imagination—two life-sustaining forces—act on you then. Without the influence of these forces, however, life starts to decay. You’re cut off from the wellspring of eros.

Self-preservation is the greatest gift you can bestow upon yourself. It’s the most timeless quality; yet, it is the most difficult to cultivate. People corrupt themselves all the time, everywhere. What is the average man capable of? And what does he come up with? And then he still has someone to blame for his bungling. I do not want to have lived a life that respected elders, served as a model citizen, obeyed the law, cared for family, helped friends only because it was expected to, and was commanded to. I want to choose to do any of these moral deeds or not commit any of these crimes, depending on what I hold true. No one should dispute this right to me.

From what I’ve written, it may appear as if I’m an extremely difficult person to deal with. Like I abide by a straitjacketed, claustrophobic code. Should give the impression as if I suffer people and those who stick with me merely succeed in surviving me. But that’s not quite true, at least not apparently. I’ve got plenty of friends, if I may say so myself, and my family loves me. I may not call my mother as frequently as she would like me to, but she still doesn’t think that she has lost me, or worse that I don’t deserve to be loved. And for the said intangible possessions, I haven’t had to lie or be anyone but myself. I’ve just done what I’ve felt to be right and have tried to live by it. In the life that I await, I see myself doing the same and not bothering about anything else. It’s not my business to make the most number of people happy; it’s my moral obligation to be true to myself. And free will and imagination are tools that’ll always come in handy. That they’ll also lend an exalted quality to life shall be a delightful coincidence.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I'll live like a hack

I feel like a hack—is one who exploits his creative potential to come up with dull, repetitive, menial work, for money. I don’t get that much money, and may be my professional work isn’t so trite after all. But that doesn’t make me any less of a hack. I’ve come to realize that talent means next to nothing. See me, for example. Things I have been for a living: software professional, editor. Things I can be: film critic, copywriter, scriptwriter, travel writer, teacher, columnist, cricket commentator, and may be mechanical engineer. Except engineering and scriptwriting, I’m sure I can be on the job with immediate effect. So, what should I make of it? Nothing. I only need enough money to do what I want to do. But for the money, I have to do something that incidentally files my core, making it fit snugly like a dovetail joint. May be then, I should decide on how much of a hack I’m prepared to be and how much money would fill my pockets.

One evening, about a year and a half ago—one of those evenings when my professional life was in limbo, those days of joblessness yet sheer ebullience at having given expression to thoughts simple and deep, at having distilled life into words that carried me to the threshold of a magnificent portal, that dressed up in the wardrobe of ideas and looked askance for my approval like a child up to antics for a share of his mother’s attention—on one of such days, I remember listening to Baba O’Riley for the longest time ever. And while the piano and the violin were played for me, I discovered my mojo, as if saying, “If you can make something brilliant, so can I.” And I wrote this as a part of something else.

Life in its myriad forms came forth and claimed territory. Dominions were disrespected. Fat, croaking frogs laid siege to unseen corners of houses and paid no rent. Lazy creepy crawlies stood their ground. When poked, and asked to move out, they coiled with insouciance and pretended to nap. Gregarious crickets carried on noisy conversations with aplomb. Bees hummed, guiding their brethren towards teeming hives in fusty garages. Butterflies floated from petal to petal, like promiscuous bodies, drinking from many bowls. Colonies of ants marched along damp walls in a single file like medieval infantries. Bugs formed clubs and societies and congregated with needless regularity to discuss trivial issues. Spiders roamed about intrepidly with open mandibles. House lizards preyed walls and chomped careless flies like hungry horses chomping oats. Greedy-gutted caterpillars gorged on leafy branches.

Maybe I should just fuck the money. Let everyone else take my share, if ever there was anything for me. I could not, should not, care less. You go fuck your money and lead your fucking mediocre lives. I’ll live like a hack one half of each day, and go home to create something brilliant.