Sunday, March 21, 2010

'A private message from Shakira on Windows Live'

How often do you see THAT line heading YOUR hotmail inbox?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Letter from a Professional Confessor

To whom may be concerned, (pun alert!)
This is imaginative, not autobiographical. I just happen to be in love with the 1st person. It's so... satisfactory.

A while back I looked into the mirror and saw a red streak running straight through each eye. For a while I harboured suspicions of conjunctivitis. Then I realised that it wasn't the season for conjunctivitis. 'I'm going mad' was my next hunch. A drastic conclusion to arrive at, and without any biological basis. But now and then, the world inside and outside our heads suggest certain things to us. And we have visions that seem to come from nowhere. Only we ourselves know that they have a source. Everything has a source.

Take the 'madness' theory. I connect madness to some kind of hysteria. Whether or not things are calm on the surface, there's violence underneath- pumping, pounding, hurtling, hounding. Enough to make the blood shoot upto the eyes. That's where the connection lay.
Inside me, conditions are a lot like that now. And the ridiculous part is, mere thoughts are causing all that fancy violence. Half-formed ideas one minute, too-clear perceptions the next. Personally, I prefer the first.
Vagueness is frustrating, but it can be distorted to suit your needs. It's far more annoying to see everything just the way it is. Because it tends to strip the world of all glamour. It can expose the corny idealism propelling a romantic line. It can force fanciful minds to accept how stupid that beer belly looks below his narrow chest, or how those ear-rings are far too large for her shrunken little face. It can pin your heroes down to dust and stain your dreams with a bilious blotch.

Cynicism is different. Like dull grey, the bleakness of cynicism can have its own understated elegance. Even transparency has a luminous charm. Disillusionment on the other hand is too colourful. Both points of view are nothing compared to a tiresome realisation of just how petty the world can get. How people keep ON lying. Because then you teeter on the brink of asking that nauseating question- 'what's the point of anything?'

I'm suddenly reminded of moments that dominated my head to great effect at one point of time. But they're stupid now, especially when viewed through that bleak, reality-ridden eye.

Like the time when I was little, a friend's pet dog bit me and I was so sure I'd die of rabies. Even though I knew it had been given its shots. I never told a soul for days and throughout those days, I cried myself to sleep, praying that I wouldn't die. In my defense, hydrophobia is horribly frightening. But I don't want to defend myself really, because everything about it was so bloody boka- the secrecy, the uncharacteristic surrender to Divinity. Years later, I was just as silly about another incident. I got physically intimate with this guy, the most I'd ever got. But I didn't have sex. And I still worried about getting pregnant. Isn't that silly? I shuddered at the slightest sign that my jeans were growing tight, and everytime I needed to pee I wondered if the urge came on more often than usual. Such antics at an age when my maturity was already epic among my friends.

Damn my maturity, or what you people call my maturity. I would probably never use that term for myself if you didn't tie it around my neck with a shiny bow. It's the reason you guys came to me for advice, year after year. So that when the whole lot of you walk around me, laughing, nodding, I see my maturity pushing you onwards. I see a little piece of me glowing inside every one of you, keeping you alive like a magic spell. And I see how much I've lost along the way, how those pieces strain towards each other, searching for a unity that that they refuse to find in their generous fragmented existence.

The true tragedy lies in the fact that I've got used to it. I'm losing my powers, my status, I'm not the acclaimed angel or do-gooder of the group anymore. What d'you know, it hurts a little! Turns out I want you to keep coming to me. Running to me. Keep making me feel good. It might drain me of ambition and drive. But it rewards me with a temporary fizz of self-satisfaction. I can hover in mid-air for a few seconds, and pretend I'm flying. I wish my confession of cowardice could dilute the self-loathing, but it doesn't. So is there any chance of redemption?

Maybe. Now that I mention 'hope', my mind has settled on another random incident from the past. There was this time my cat's leg got pulverised, and I scaled a high wall completely shorn of footholds just to get her. I went through the experience of holding a helpless ball of fur in my arms. Knowing her pain was acute enough to make the wounded leg tremble while the rest of her body was frozen stiff. Smelling the stink of rotten flesh and pus. I can't explain to you the horror of these very facts, let alone the mood- magnified by her silence and the sight of bare bone. But to love someone enough not to shrink away from her pain, and then watch her recover through slow degrees... It can restore your faith in the healing power that lies latent in us. Will it survive the test of further trauma still? (Larger Issues, as some would say.) Through the whirls of madness, there's an uncertain but strong voice that answers with a yes.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Imagine All The People

Nisha never wrote about people she knew, though the prospect was tempting. There was too much mental baggage associated with them. For one she felt guilty about exposing their innermost thoughts. Conclusively she felt presumptuous in gifting herself the status of mind-reader. Most of all she was plain scared of how her inspirations would react. If they identified their literary counterparts, egos might be bruised. If not, she might doubt the accuracy of her portrayals.

To skirt these bumps, Nisha decided to rely on imagination. Her characters would naturally be based on experience-- nothing is born out of vacuum. But she would never mould any purely according to someone in real life. It was difficult, crafting complexities where memory was forced to take a backseat. Difficult not to get carried away down the familiar streams of character analysis. But she did it-- spinning layers are after layers, interchanging and rearranging them till the final result was always a perfect fit…
And because they were so completely hers, Nisha loved them passionately. Much like a first-time mother who can’t get over the magnitude of her tremendous feat.

Whoever read Nisha’s stories was deeply impressed. Especially by the characters. Readers found them so full of subtleties; yet larger-than-life, dramatic. The general sentiment was-‘Each character is quirky and entirely convincing at the same time. We would gladly lose ourselves in the maze of their mannerisms and secret thoughts.’

So Nisha was hailed as a genius all set to redefine the boundaries of creativity. She was gratified, and revelled in the world moulded by the sheer pulsating force of her whirlwind mind.
But secretly, she ached to see some more honesty flow from her fingertips.

‘You may be a genius, but you don’t have balls’, her soul whispered from time to time. ‘What more do your stories generate than a temporary intoxication? Glamour can do that too. Your readers would be equally taken with a palace-chandelier or a Pashmina shawl.
Convincing and sincere are not the same thing, my little escapist and until you’re sincere you’ll never disturb them.'
That’s what she wanted to do, really. Disturb them. Burst their bubbles with an ugly plop. Stab the cushions she piled around her stories. Reach into the fresh wounds and tear out great hunks of cotton wool- scatter them over the world and watch faces wrinkle up in disgust. No one likes rain that refuses to go pitter-patter on the window pane. But people do have a grudging respect for honesty- a respect she craved.

Did Nisha listen to that voice? No. She didn’t even turn it into a character, in case she was forced to recognize herself.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


At times you’re forced to meet
The hidden voices in your head.
Find out they scare you shitless,
Wish them damned and dead.

Your head is crammed most painfully
With unanswered ‘why’s.
Hot rage is spilling over
Through your nostrils, ears and eyes.

Rage at what? Oh everything!
Yourself, more than the rest.
For losing faith and certainty
In how you’ll stand The Test.

‘There must be some way out of this’
You growl and groan with passion.
There is- a way that’s not just clean
But never out of fashion.

Set out each conflicted thought
In literary streams.
Give every twinge of fear a place,
Don’t cover up with dreams.

Just pen it all down prettily
(There’s brownie points for rhyme.)
Make it sound intense enough.
And you’re absolved of crime!

Isn’t it supremely easy?
Isn’t it a load of fun?
Why do people moan about
How tough it is to Get Things Done?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Prode (An Ode in Prose)

Call it shallow, but the first thing that comes to mind when I think of her is coffee. Coffee, unabashedly hot, brewed in a jiffy by the ever-ready Shiulidi. Coffee, served in glossy solid-colour mugs that left no confusion about their appearance; so you could say ‘I want red!’, or ‘Gimme lime-green!’ without fear of tripping up on patterns. They came in multiple sizes, those mugs and we started out by switching between them. But ever since Rukmini said ‘Shiulidi, aaj amader jonno gaamla gaamla coffee banao’, we’ve been given the largest possible size. A choice which never roused complaints. Extra caffeine, extra energy.

Well, energy was a bonus rather than a necessity. Because our attention was always kept in rein. By the shelf at our side- spines of tenderly wrapped, intensely desirable books lined up to create art. By heaps of answer-scripts all around; gold mines each one, containing ridiculous gaffs by the Other School. Not like we tore them apart. If there’s one thing she’s taught me, it’s an instinctive jerk away from the road to uppity-ness.

And there was more to classes with her, so much more. Stuff that ran deeper than coffee and stirred emotions warmer than humility.

I remember the first time I met her, she asked me if I liked Dickens. I was hmm-ing and errr-ing when she interrupted with ‘See, if at this stage you don’t like Dickens…’
You shouldn’t be studying Elective English I anticipated, cringing.
‘… It’s perfectly understandable. How would you, if you’ve had classics stuffed down your throat when you were young and unprepared?’
And it was love ever since.

I remember the first Class. On Poetry. Then suspicious and uncool. Modern-abstract aantlami or decadently sugarloaded swill. Nevermind that half-my life was spent in laughing hysterically at Roald Dahl’s grizzly rhymes. Nevermind that when I was taught ‘My Last Duchess’ in class 10, I rushed home and read it out to Ma. I didn't even notice the response since I was going ‘ohmygod, OHMYGOD’ inside my head at the sheer subtle power trapped in each line.

What made me think I didn’t like poetry? Whatever it was, She dispelled it in a matter of minutes.

With her, I first realized the music of language. Heard the light trip-trap or the slow, scraping crawl of words across a page.
I learnt to respond to the writer and his work, to be teased and drawn into guessing games, to challenge them right back, to flit between sentences, pause at a break and look around in leisure.

And Rukmini was always there. Rukmini who?
‘One of your classmates will be joining us from next week. But I’ve forgotten her name.’
‘Sriparna? Supurna? Debadrita?..... Priyanka? Anumita? But there’s no one left!’
‘Na na... arre oi meyeta, kokrano chul.’
‘OHHHH. Must be Rukmini.’
‘Yes, that’s the one. She’ll be coming here too.’
‘I see.’
Rukmini, the only girl of my class I forgot to name while ticking off the students who could join us.

Rukmini and me. And She. We were all 3 together on the balcony, going into rhapsodies at a thunderstorm while Ode to a Nightingale waited patiently inside. I can still recall that scene.
The ferns- shuddering masses of darkness. A plastic bag whipped violently from ledge to pole. The swimming pool a glittering lake of chaos. Lamposts reflected in puddles- psychedelic strips of light. Gold never looked as haunting...
The aerial view showed a lot of things at curious angles. And each time there was lightning, amidst the constant flurry of rainspray, the whole landscape looked all the more surreal.

If that day was about silently soaking it in, the greater part was about talking our traps off. Between us, I wonder what topic of conversation was actually left alone. They spanned from Jim Morrison to Narayan Modi, homosexuality to the abysmal condition of the ISC. How trivial we were at times, Rukmini and me, how Intense and Indignant at others. Come to think of it, she was never indulgent. She always made us feel worthy of her respect. HER respect. Which wrenched the maturity out of us.

I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am to her. I do like myself for who I am now. If I met me, I’d think I was really cool. But I know I have a shitload of flaws and some are positively despicable. Minus her influence, I would be one-tenth of what I am even now. And that’s a scary thought.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

In my next life, I will be an Arabian Princess gorging on dates and kebabs. A new and effective wave of feminism will have swept over the world by then, allowing me to have a harem of men. Though such easy promiscuity is sure to get boring after a while. When it does, the men shall be disbanded. (What a delightful word- dramatic, but official. See, I have royal tendencies already.)

Anyway, relax your ethical antennae. When it comes to my pet camel, loyalty will prevail. What should I call it? Tuglaq, maybe. Or Sandy. Forgive the hopeless lack of originality. In my next life, all that is to be redeemed. Belly dancing, ghazals, urdu poetry- I will nonchalantly juggle these arts. 'With one hand' I'd like to add, but then it wouldn't be juggling. Even exaggeration has its boundaries.

What has no boundaries is imagination. Am I glad for that :P

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

When I was younger, I used to crib about not being smart or creative Enough. It used to piss me off like hell when anyone called me a 'genius', because even BRILLIANT people don't always deserve that adjective; I bloody well didn't and desperately wanted to. But now, in a weird way, I'm almost glad that I'm not a genius. Because I think it's left a lot of room in my head for common sense.

Yes, when I see perfection being created by a body, or a voice, or words; when I see the capacity of sheer talent to drive the talented AND the admirers wild- I know that my life is lacking a certain magic. But it's alright. Because I also see a lot of people who just don't know what to do with the hurtling speed of their minds, and the overwhelming levels of stimulation they experience. I see them getting restless, and angry. Like an artist stabbing the canvas ferociously with his brush, till a storm of paper-dust is kicked up, and the colours get coarse. But I have a little trick- no wait, a way to be more at peace with myself and the world. A trick is trivially clever. This is something too simple to be clever, and too significant to be trivial.

I firmly believe that everyone has a right to their own opinion. There are very few things that are universal and absolute. So it's alright if one is internal and abstract whereas another is brimming over with political consciousness. It's alright if this guy's stoic and that guy's rebellious.
Goofy or sunshiny approaches to life can be as fulfilling as dignity or cynicism.
The important thing, is to TRY and be sure of who you are. And acknowledge, in all your clarity of thought, why you're doing what you do. If you can face the inner workings of your mind, if you take a step in full awareness, then even compromise and compliance can be acceptable. After all, it isn't possible for every step you take to be a glittering display of courage.

And once I realised this, I became FAR more comfortable with a whole lot of issues. Now, a passionate and convincing speech refuting my own beliefs isn't a threat to my identity. Instead, I have an opportunity to analyse and savour the speaker's skill.

Yes, I still get pissed off. On a deeper level, I still get disturbed. And rightly so. It's important to have some things you care about that fucking much. It's important to get touchy or even explosive, feel weariness at banality and horror at pure evil, cling and clutch onto ideas with a mad hope. The difference is, that I've become tolerant of variety. Me isn't the only person to be.

I've gathered respect for the middle path, and abandoned blind admiration of extremes.

I don't look on life as a crossword puzzle to be figured out, or a challenge to be taken on with a heroic grimace. I've learnt not to get uptight and be hopping around in righteous indignation at everything.

And I'm pretty sure that this philosophy hasn't left me functioning on a surface level. Because inside my head, I question my position to an insane degree. And I let myself feel as deeply as I'm capable of. Even if it makes my head spin. Because when I'm left staggered by the intensity of my own highs and lows, I am assured of my own humanity. By humanity I don't mean compassion or any virtuous shit. Just lack of vocabulary for 'being a human being and Lovin' it'. So if you say I'm preaching easy or limited living, well- I'm going to take you down and kick your stuffy little ass. Nah, I'm just kidding. Say what you will, in the name of free speech. I am toh chilled out :D

Saturday, January 16, 2010

And what Are words, after all?

Today, my mother said 'thong' when she meant 'sarong.' The sentence taken as a whole just made it worse. My eyes and mouth turned into spheres of crystallized disbelief.

I suppose this is revenge for the time I asked her the difference between 'orgasm' and 'organism'. BUT AT LEAST I WAS LITTLE THEN.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Trip or Treat

So finally, I visited the forests. They always fascinated me- their blend of wild and still, alluring and scary. Well, that's what photographs and poetry had told me. And experience recently confirmed.
I'd seen mountain woods before, but those tall, slender conifers give out a rather airy-fairy vibe... ethereal grace and whatnot. The forests in and around Chalsa are different- with broad leaves giving birth to shifting shadows, creepers forming tangled screens and muscly roots reaching far into the earth (even peeping through it.) Both are beautiful. But it's always more exciting to have your elemental side stirred. That's what the latter does.

This time, our trip was planned in a way that didn't allow us to penetrate the wild. Elephants, cheetahs, West Bengal has 'em all. But we only noticed bison
and some peacocks around a salt lick. That too was a little marred by tourists. I especially remember one who peed in full view, walked away from the criminal location with forced nonchalance, then asked his wife to wave her red dupatta at the unsuspecting brutes. Spanish hangover, anyone?
Equally striking was a female who kept screaming most ineffectually at her toddler. And actually seemed to revel in her miserable position. If you ask me, these miscreants could carry off the 'bison' tag with authenticity.
There was an exciting moment though, when one of the horned dadas suddenly launched into a run, and covered miles of marshy land within seconds. Mud and water sprayed from its hooves, a peacock shrieked and the crowd went momentarily berserk. For a while, we all waited for some big cat to appear in its slinky-ominous regalia. As you can guess, we learnt not to count our carnivores before they were sighted.

But that's NOT to say my trip was dull. Nossirree. Just Driving down some of the roads sent me into raptures.

I learnt what art sunlight can create by passing through brambles and branches.

Another revelation was the transformation of forests over time.
Morning- Dry vines and leaves weave a film of brown against a dense, intense green. Lighter shades of green emerge in patches, as if to assure us that the wild has its softer side. The sky decides: 'no-matter-WHAT-you-say-about-my-hundred-faces-blue, blue,BLUE-is-my-colour!' The wind secretly ties a rocket to your legs.

Afternoon- Everything is sleepier and more alive all at once. The whole mass of forest is a shuddering, breathing living creature. You want to go for a drive.You doze. Then some gaurdian of your aesthetic pleasures pokes you in the ribs. All it takes is a glimpse of the road. You sit up with a spark lit inside, swearing not to fall asleep now.

Early Evening- The sun, the SUN. So much larger, and red-orange... far too serene for fire, but with a violent emotional undercurrent. Isn't there some song called Tears of the Sun? Or is it a movie? Either way, that's the phrase the evening sun keeps drawing up from my mind. As for the trees- the shades and shapes begin to blend, the bird-calls take on a sudden unearthly quality, the shadows hint at the possible breakthrough of a grey, winding trunk from their depths. Goosebumps.

Late Evening onwards- We made the driver stop the car and turn off the headlights for a few seconds. Oh god, what a thrill! Even when the headlights were on, the darkness of parts beyond their reach was heightened, taking the interplay of light and shade into a whole new dimension.

Of course, with a wealth of the earth's whims to choose from, we visited areas other than forests too. But to avoid an epic blogpost, I will have to skip it all. Because I want to talk about the place I was staying at. And now that I've entered this zone, my fingers have already begun typing, preparing ground for an ode on the Fireflies.
I discovered them while walking by the tea-gardens within the resort. At night. At first, I saw only one, which made me squeal anyway. Then I noticed another. Ooh, Lucky, I thought. Then I saw them all. Slowly floating out of the tea-leaves with curious ease, as though gravity is a myth. Spun out of the stuff that dreams and trances are made of. Edges of stars that have broken and drifted away, mingled with earth and weed. Dotting the night air. Glimmering so faintly; no brightly, no. You never reach a conclusion. And then you stop trying, because you aren't sure whether you'll ever come so close to believing in the mystical again. And you want to savour the moment.

Dear Mother Nature is infallible, but the human company we kept was pretty damn interesting too. Travelling with us was a family friend (we'll call him SB)- a lawyer with NO pretensions of the stiff upper lip that our legal biggies adopt so happily. Apart from his constant (and never tiresome) stream of repartee, his greatest contribution was a Mask.
It wasn't spooky, and it wasn't monstrous. It was... shocking. More twisted and vile than anything usually considered human. However, it had a smug leer that you might have easily have seen on your boss, or on a man in a dark alley. Now we went OVERBOARD with that piece of work. Of all people my brother easily looked the most repulsive on donning it. Something about the way he stood hunched. And he must be having expressive eyes 'cos there was a real glint flashing beneath the rubber folds (eyelids) sprouting a fountain of grey hair (eyebrows.)

One of my funniest moments was when he walked out, mask et all, and calmly sat upon a bench by the walkway. At that time, a troupe of college students had just landed at the resort. There was a girl walking past the bench. When she saw that monstrous figure sitting there in the darkness, she did a smooth 180 degree turn and just took off. Soon enough, there were shrieks and yelping renting the cool silence. Choosing the perfect moment, Piku moved away wordlessly, leaving the rest to figure out things for themselves.
In 15 minutes, we found the students huddled around together on the lawn, and a FURIOUS debate was on- concering ghost vs. prankster. You'd be surprised to hear the petrified passion with which some argued for the side of ghost.

Another hilarious incident occurred on New Years Eve. A stage had been erected just outside our cottage, and performances were going on (ranging from Badi Mushkil Hai Khoya Mera Dil Hai to Tuni'r Ma and Poran Jai Joliya.) Guests were moving about freely. By the time a round of introductions had ended, we found ourselves with an elderly couple (we'll call them Mr and Mrs Pleasant) in our cottage. Though the possibility of invitiations was dubious, it all seemed cool to me in the start. They were both dapper and benign in appearance, rather given to smiles. But by slow degrees, they unravelled a peculiar core.
The real fun started when the man referred to himself as SB's childhood friend. Apparently, they had met only once in 88, when both were far from blossoming buds. Moreover, at that time- SB had found the wife in great consternation because Mr. Pleasant had slipped off somewhere without warning.

No sooner did the words 'childhoood friend' escape the man's mouth than I saw SB's eyes gleam.

SB to Mr Pleasant: Achha, I remember meeting your wife for the first time. She was crying because you were lost.
Mrs Pleasant: (Mildly) I was crying, really?
SB: (Still talking to Mr Pleasant) Kintu bolun toh, do You remember My wife's name?'

Mr. Pleasant: E baba, I can't say I do remember... oh dear... what was it again?
SB: Hemangini.
Mr. Pleasant: Hemangini Hemangini. Tai, na?
SB: Na.
Mr. Plesant: What? It's not?
SB: It's Debjani actually.
Mr. Pleasant: Oh. Uhh...
SB:But Now it's Shaitani. That happens to all wives. That's why I'm travelling on my own. (Note: SB's wife- named Itu- was staying back in town with her ICSE-inflicted daughter. The family is fully functional)

Mrs. Pleasant to me:
(Wishing to thaw the discomfort but unable to break free of the name chains)
You look just like our Sraboni.
SB: But her name's Sraboni too!
Mrs. Pleasant: Shotti? No, you're just teasing.
SB: But now it's Poushali. (Note: This is winter. December=Poush in Bengali.)

That's when Mr. Pleasant decided to use his connections and ordered some very good fried fish and Black Dog. That's when SB decided to spare him. HAP-PPEE New Year everybody :D