Monday, December 31, 2007

Sunday funday

Staggering. Wealth, not necessarily money, has many tangible forms, but not so many units. There are some forms of wealth you can't measure, but you can experience. Wealth of time, for example, which would not imply a surfeit, but instead a quantum of time which allows us to enjoy and sample an experience to its fullest. A meal with family, say, or sex with the woman you love. While big macs and quickies in an airplane loo might retain convenience and excitement, the satisfaction is short-lived.
I thought back to a Sunday not long ago. Went dancing Saturday night, and returned home exhausted and not a little drunk. Sweat, perfume and cigarettes were the aromas which i recognised when I awoke. She stirred too, in that leisurely manner which implied I'd have to make the morning tea.
She was naked, and it was a warm morning, yet I smirked at her modesty as she sat up with the sheet around her throat. I fetched the papers, and we leafed through them, her head on my shoulder. She reads slower than I do, and hasn't learned the art of the cursory scan, which meant that I soon found I had time to kill while I waited patiently for her to turn the page. I absently fondled her breast. She purred and snuggled closer, her smooth thighs languidly stroking mine. I felt her nipple go firm. Dropping the paper, I lifted her onto my chest for a closer reach to her bum. We smooched, and I say smooched, not kissed, because it was one of those early morning kisses which are sloppy yet sexy, and I could taste the vodka on her breath. It was high noon when we were done, and for the first time in a long long time I found myself whistling in the shower. She followed me in, boldly naked, and we had a romp again. Three times in three hours. I was spent. And here she was purring like a contented kitten as I did things which otherwise elicited a grunt and limp shove as she sought to desist.
Lunch was a big meal of tossed salad with fresh home-made mayo and ready to fry cutlets, plus lots of bread and cheese and boiled eggs. I cooked of course, but she made the coffee. We sat on the porch in the late afternoon sun, strolled with the dogs till sundown and then sat with a crisp wine and chatted about our lives.
Time passed, not just that evening, and we're no longer together, but in that Sunday I learned the value of the wealth of time well spent.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Is idealism dead – The Sunday Times

We talk of multipolar worlds, of money, of racism, of sex and what-have-you. We speak with wisdom, ancient and contrived. We talk of “way back when” and “nowadays”. Self-righteousness, cynicism, wit and intellect in some proportion constitute the whole. Clichés, where applicable, are liberally used.

But the overriding factor which brings pen to paper or fingertip to keyboard, is honesty.

Let me explain. I use the collective “we”. We’re Indian. That’s our inescapable reality, with all its sugar-coated mysticism and stinking factualism. We revel in our diversity, yet enjoy a good-natured jibe. Of course we do. Week in week out we stare at our screens, doodle in our notebooks, and sweep the malai aside with our pinkys (ies?) as we wait for the flash. The signal from the mother ship. And when it comes, as it inevitably does, we write, or type. Or write and then type. Or speak into a little recorder and then type. Or someone else does the typing.

But we’re honest. Picture this; scribe with newspaper, rustling the pages, shaking head, clucking tongue. Or, god forbid, switching channels with disdain, wrinkling noses in distaste at the near menopausal woman with sagging cleavage or balding gentleman with the fringe of dyed-black hair grinning lasciviously at the buxom young intern.

Bewilderment at the ironies and idiocy of our political class, horror at the atrocities of man versus man, disbelief at the drivel we endure on the silver screen and the cold logic of defining everything in terms of our rising currency, the rupee. But what sets us apart, is our honesty, and the sanctity of one full page in The Sunday Times. That’s what differentiates the columnists from the reporters. That’s All That Matters.

There’s self-effacing and maternal self-deprecatory commentary, laconic narcissism, patriotism of course, a lot of venting and a feeling of “I hope somebody somewhere is reading this”. Of course we are. And we never fail to read Passing Thought, the graphic illustration which sums it all up, with a particular quiver full of darts to be aimed at Babudom, that depressing reality of our contemporary history.

The Fourth Estate is hardly what it was, prostrated before and pandering to an ad-hungry and glitzy layout, Politically Correct, packaged and marketed with piggy-backing cash cows that speak of “the brand”. Deep breaths, anyone? We can never compete with the immediacy of the internet or the soulless colour of television. We’re still an elitist medium, struggling to find a literate, tolerant audience with no small amount of pride in the written word, who from time to time may disagree, but with honour.

Face it, from penny intellectuals to been there done that worldly wise yet charmingly childish we’ve done it all. The driving force - the honesty, the pathos, the reality of ink on paper, the very same paper used for everything from wrapping used sanitary napkins to food, to lying in stacks that sell for a few rupees a kilo. But it still pays our bills. We greet each paycheck with a gratifying grunt. We’re crumbling, but the core is perpetual, and therein lies the satisfaction.

But no, ladies and gentlemen, you put a wry smile on my face Sunday mornings, my glasses fogging at both ends as I chuckle into my coffee cup. And that’s All That Matters.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


She walked with a gait that was prose itself. A kind of sashaying of the hips marred by the limp she bore from a childhood fracture, further accentuated by the bobbing of her shoulders. Her head was cocked to one side, and her proud nose and wide mouth were set off by those big brown eyes. She had a certain arrogance to her gaze, which was quite an affront to those unfortunate souls who turned to stare each time she swooshed by. Yet it wasn’t arrogance. No, it was ignorance of her own charms, that so made each average male turn to look, and every other woman cringe inwardly at her presence. But behind that disarming naiveté lurked passion. Born to a poor family, for generations repaying unfairly a debt bestowed upon her clan by her forefathers, she nursed an ambition to be free of her shackles. An ambition that had manifested itself in her after seven generations of bonded labour.

Raped by my uncles on her thirteenth birthday, the year she first draped herself in a saree, she was condemned forever to a future devoid of hope. Her lot would not have her in the house, and no man would purchase her for all the chattels and assortment of livestock her father promised. Instead, she was forced to live among the buffalos on the landlord’s land, tending to the calving and milking, and walking for miles with the goats. Yet strangely, she bore no resentment in her. Shed and forgotten like the pubescent hairs of her stolen womanhood, her memory was short-lived.

The two of us had been playmates for years, our profound innocence no threat to either family. I was a scruffy child, forever scrapping with the other kids in the village, and being the landlord’s only son, born of his third wife, I enjoyed most favoured child status in the region. My misdemeanours were tolerated with a benign smile, and it was only my middle-aged father who instilled any awe within my bones. A large man, with big muscular arms and a proud moustache, he ran the village like his personal fiefdom. But he had a tenderness about him that calmed the most stressed cow during birthing, and made every child want to mount his lap and rest against his big stomach. Rama was his favourite, and this annoyed me no end. She was far from shy, a bully actually, but never did I ever see her lift her gaze from her toes each time he treated her to a lump of jaggery.

As we grew older, my jealousy manifested itself in a possessiveness of her, and on her part she too bore a proprietary air about me. Our games saw us wander miles in any direction, and each day I’d tell her I’d climb the mountain on the horizon, behind which the sun set. She’d listen in dead earnest, never once scoffing at my pipe dreams. Once, in a bid to impress her, I walked until evening, but with the sun beginning to set on my destination, I realised I was too far from home and too alone. I sat and cried among the mounds of mud and ant hills, fearing the jackals and leopards I knew roamed these parts. I curled into a bundle, my shorts no match for the mosquitoes or the impending cold. I waited, shivering in anticipation of the first swipe, the first bite on the back of my neck, of the way I remembered Papa describing how leopards killed their prey. By now, the sky was just a slice of amber in the west, the rest of it merging to inky purple via grey, dotted with silver sparkles.

And then I heard it.

Over the droning symphony of the crickets and the mosquitoes, I heard it, the mechanical whirring of a motor, the only motor I’d ever heard and recognised as my father’s. It was his old jeep, a left hand drive relic which ran on petrol and which Papa boasted could be used as a tractor to plough the fields and get him to Bombay faster than the daily express train. I watched the jeep meander among the mounds, and suddenly something stirred me to action. I ran, screaming “Papa! Papa!” waving my hands about. I watched as the jeep traced a wide arc, a cloud of dust billowing in its wake as it headed towards me.

The jeep halted beside me, and in the fading light I saw for the first time a hint of concern in the coldest eyes I’d ever see in my life. Years later as I lay in my bunk smoking, I’d recall that evening to my men aboard Gayatri, the coal barge I owned. When we got home, it was dark, and the cows had retired for the night. My anxious family smothered me in hugs and kisses, my mother crying as she clasped me to her frail bosom. Never my father’s favourite, he was nonetheless civil to her. But this was not the night she would be in his bed. No, this night belonged to his first wife, an ample woman who loved me like her own. As I was fussed over with warm milk and a bath, my father shuffled into his room, muttering a curt refusal to dinner. I drank my milk, watching Rama as she went about her chores. She didn’t acknowledge my presence, and expected me to do the same. But as she finally turned down the lamp, I realised that I was staring at her, looking for some faint trace of approval for my day’s feat. Instead I was treated to a liquid gaze that anguished me more. I tossed in my bed that night, too exhausted to sleep, listening to the whimpering of my father’s first wife in the stillness of that night. I was nearly thirteen then, and I found I had an erection. As I stroked myself, I thought guiltily of Rama, to the days gone by when I would lift her skirt inquisitively. I thought dreamily of her soft labia and sweet-sour scent as I climaxed in my pyjamas, fantasising of her rough hands on my penis.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The shadow dancer

He loved her. A blind man. She was light and colour to him. He sensed her moves, he sensed her toss her hair; he sensed, for he knew, her smile. There was that singular dimple which he'd kiss, and he knew the way those cheek bones rose when she smiled.

He sensed it as they glided over the floor. This was a pious emotion, for her rhythm banished the darkness from his mind. In his mind's eye he still saw her. He recalled the lone lock of hair which forever resisted the multiple brushes behind her ear. He smiled broadly at the thought of her cheeky one-liners as she sought to contain herself.

Those evenings were gentle. A mild climate and clean air nourished their young beings as they sat reading in daylight. Relentless powercuts meant they read only till sundown, but they would talk forever. She was his best friend.

They grew, and grew apart. He gained and lost, moved on, reminisced and forgot. She loved a man, who broke her heart. But then perhaps, she thought of him...her best friend.

Tree-capped streets and thoughtful walks was what he missed most now. Home again, he felt his way in the perpetual darkness. Perhaps she'd know where he was and come looking for him. Perhaps she would read to him on her balcony. Ten years. Had it really been that long?

Running free

I ran. I ran around
I ran deep and ran aground
On land and water deep
My spirit has no place to keep
For in this time I run around
I run deep and run aground
Keeping alive by breathing free
Two feet of solid ground but no water beneath
To breathe as a fish
To fly free as a bird
Yet think like a man
Much to do and far to go
How what where I don’t know
But I run deep and I can’t run aground…
Not here not now not for a while
For there’re promises I’ve made
Promises I’ve broken and some I’ve kept
But to be free, truly forever free
I must keep my promise to me.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bitch of a bright idea

Building on what he figured was the way forward, he stood and stagnated. That was the infernal conundrum, as he called it. Tired of the sing along rigmarole sing song, he wondered when he’d spin out of this orbit, charting his own course. Break through the invisible force shield that seemed to have him in its grasp; that inability to make others believe what he believed. What appeared make-believe. Which he made belief in the belief that his belief was sustenance. Damn it.

No matter then. The spinning orbit was a blur of darkness spinning around the bright centre point of light. He gravitated, mesmerized. It was the nautch girl of his dreams. An intellectual masturbation of gripping proportion. He needed to seize the light for himself. Hold it in his grasp and snuff it out at will. This was a dark orgy he played out in his mind; the stimuli he craved, but wanted to control. To say no - that was the difficult part. To say no. No?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My friend the onion

He strolls through life
A wanderer…
Waiting long enough for longing
To leave behind…
To love and leave…
He walks with aimless purpose
Stopping frequently to gaze
And relieve his heart
Offload that pain…
Of belonging.
Being the one who is no one
Being free…
My friend the onion
Leaves leaves behind
A tear shed at his passing
Essential but worthless
Augmenting the substance of others
My friend the onion
Cut open to monotony
Cut open by the blade of life
My friend the onion
Strolls through life
A wanderer…
waiting long enough for longing
to love and leave…

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I’d held my breath for a while now. Months, it’d been months since I’d kissed. What, in the name of all things beautiful and all things strange, was she doing in my life? My mindspace struggled with the intruder. I had settled into a comfort zone; a lazy lech was what I’d become. It was easy really, to stroll incognito checking out the variety of women that you get to see in this megapolis.
Mumbai is a zoo. A drop of honey in an ant hill of a country, its multitude millions struggle for refreshment, crowding the city, believing they’ve got the one brilliant idea which’ll change the world. The world being a sticky island off the mainland.
Crap, it’s been my world too, for a while. An emulsion of noise and pain, with an anaesthetic take on emotion. Work work work is what we do here. In the belief that work is our salvation, our purpose; the beginning, the end, and all in between. A comfortable but bland brotherhood of believers, Mumbaikars have mastered the art of service and payment. A contradictory socialist capitalism where all work together to achieve that which is needed – getting the job done, for a price of course. The famed dabbawallahs epitomise the Mumbai ethos, crawling the platforms of the suburban rail network, shouting and shoving to make the 11:02 Churchgate fast from Andheri.
Insulated somewhat from the madness of the chaotic suburban existence, ensconced on the balcony of a rambling flat in South Bombay, I dwell on this thought for a while. It’s a small balcony; tiny, really with just enough place for three standees, quite at odds to the size of the rest of the place. In a sense it typifies my Mumbaiyah existence: my cul-de-sac from where I can watch the world go by, while my world remains secure, safe from prying eyes. Sipping on my chai in the mornings, I watch the place slowly spring to life. The garbage truck trundles up, and clangs noisily against the metal bin at the gate of the garden across the street. Almost in consonance, my neighbour upstairs begins to play devotional music, assaulting my sensibilities with an overt display of her piety. This jugalbandi ends as the noisy garbage truck heads for another dump.

I head to work. That time away from it all; the hawkers, the heat, the flies, the stench, the noise. I relish my time at work. A home-coming of sorts, I’m surrounded by the eccentricities of my Parsee brothers. With an attitude that swings between back-slapping bonhomie and innuendo laden humour, to earnest and hissed irritation in getting the job done. You can’t help but admire the “fuck you, chootya” and “fucker, let’s get some beers” interspersed with the pathetic, almost pleading, nevertheless vicious interjections of “these boys are animals! Animals!” of a diligent co-worker, presided over by a matronly old dear.
Lunch time reminds me of school; a chaotic half hour of loud conversation, chewing noises, and yells as a particularly lovable but childish character darts about the place, picking up the juiciest morsels from everyone’s plates.
Post lunch, it’s all quiet again, and work begins in earnest. As a journalist, hours fluctuate wildly, but this particular evening I head out by six. I have a date.

You can’t miss her. Towering above the crowd, her bronzed shoulders and chaotic hair are what you first see. She’s pleasantly easy-going, her sweet but ever-so-slightly arrogant mouth set off by those perpetually amused eyes. I take in the delicate nose stud, almost rendered inconspicuous by those six piercings on her ear. My hand envelopes hers as we stroll down Juhu beach. For a coastal city, Mumbai’s beaches are much ignored, and very dirty but the recent efforts of the municipality have made Juhu walkable now. Silhouetted against the dying light, the salty air mingling with her sweat and perfume, she’s hardly aware of the mild arousal she’s causing me. Fluctuating between the male need for conquest, coupled with welling affection, and a cynicism that has dulled my ability to appreciate this, I instead just choose to live in the moment. Our conversation is easy; she’s nice to talk to, and relishes the repartee. I’m beginning to enjoy myself, ignorant of the hawkers, the many couples, the noisy children, the surf and the distant sound of traffic. Almost naturally, I slip my arm around her waist. I stop and turn towards the sea. My nose is buried in her hair now. I’m drinking it in.
We sit on the sand, and listen to music on her Walkman phone. Oblivious to our environment, I lean in to her, and she kisses me. I’d wondered what those lips would feel like, and now I know. The kiss is gentle and lingering, but then she slowly pushes me away.
We watch the surf chase our toes…

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I, Death

Hello, said Death. You’ve been mocking me.
I looked Death in the eye. Hi Death, I said.
I don’t have time for pleasantries, said Death.
Ah well, as always, you’re too busy, foreclosing on life.
Mock me not, mortal screamed Death.
See? That’s the problem with you Death. You need to learn to relax.
Relax?! RELAX?! Do you think I have time to relax?
Well, considering there are so many people who need to die, I guess not.
Death took a deep breath…listen, I’m tired of you.
Hmmm…I wondered aloud Why again?