Monday, January 30, 2006

1913 - 2006 (2)

Ever been in the vicinity when older people (parents, that is; but, we'll soon reach that stage i.e. in a handful of years) recount how sometimes their parents made them pipe down and shut up (on threat of life and limb) when the phone rang? These conversations, highly anticipated, fraught with tension, and encouraging deathly silences, were conducted via what were known as "trunk calls." From what I gather about them, apart from needing to be booked much in advance, they were prohibitively expensive, and were (only) used to convey life-altering information (in the experiences of those who narrate these stories to me.)

That saturday, I made the calls not over POTS, but with SkypeOut.

But it would be inane to correlate "speed" and 'significance." And, dare I say this, journalistic as well, to attempt to do so. What these examples (or am I citing them as exemplars? Oh, the metaphysics of it all :-( ) do for me is point to something else... The way shifts in technology have, and can produce some of the deepest changes in/to 'the human condition'. A point(ing) that steers away from nostalgia (for the past) and dread (of the future)... but does not know how to negotiate what overcomes it: a curious mix of amazement (at the possibilities inventiveness allows, today) and bewilderment. That is, can these changes mean anything? Or are we being de-sensitized without even knowing it? Is our scuttering (what could be harsher than characterizing it as the way frogs leap from lily pad to lilypad) no more than one momentary distration after another? Being a dandy, unknowingingly, but celebrating it?

A few leaps (of logic, and personal insights, which I've been warned that no one is interested in) and we're left with something very stark. Of there being nothing but stories... Worse, 'lore.' Sort of the way those a generation or two away would say "when I was your age, a sack of potatoes came for half a rupee", (some of) our's (or is it just me, that) now chants "when I was your age, we moved our mountains of data on floppies! They'd go bad in a snap - one moment you have your write-up; a minute later, it would be gone! The wake-up call was reading "disk error reading drive A. Abort? Retry? Fail?"

I repeat... what's scary is being left with nothing but stories. With lore. But as we all know, lore doesn't last long. It's not a healthy diet, doesn't promise the minimum 2200 calories a day, or keep families above the official(ly sanctioned) poverty line. All it can do, is propose its own finality. And, as we know well enough, finality - which depends on necessity - means "you're fucked." Take that old example of nature versus culture. It's so obvious that each pole of this equation maintains itself through the force of necessity... not conforming/confirming (to) nature is interpreted as being a freak. Similarly, with culture.It's all metaphysics, Onto-theology masquerading as metaphysics.

*Smiles*. To be other than what is, that's the secret. To be, actually.

If I've lost you, with this diatribe (of cosmic proportions), don't worry, it's just the beer typing. If you've received an email from me titled "personal touch to random spam", you'll know what's going on right now.

With so much happening during the past week, it's only now that I've found time to take my mind off things (and, back to work.) (Not really.)

A week and a half later, what happened is a little easier to approach (no, tip-toe towards...) Sudden twinges of anxiety still slice me up, but things are better now. Around ten days ago, all I could think about was the loss we had just experienced, and the passage that had just taken place. From - for those who knew (about) my grandmother('s condition) - life and non-life, to non-life.

We sat down the day after it happened, a Sunday, going through some of our family's old photo albums. Having used a digital camera for almost seven years now (a hand-me-down (apart from being second-hand!) and thick as a brick) I had been browsing generically named folders, filled with generically named files for too long. It was an overdose of thousands of files, each existing, yet, named nothing more than (e.g.) DCP2354.JPG. It was in this context, that the experience of opening up albums - thick, bound in faux leather, gold emboss running along their edges, the plastic sleeves stuck onto photos - occurred.

Looking for a picture of my grandmother (it had to be *just* *right*) took longer than we expected. Hundreds of photos, some from the early and middle decades of the previous century.
Photos from nearly every decade except the first. Greying, yellowing, crumbling.Some in sleeves, sized in what is today called 'A4', for photos of entire families, even clans. Others with faded handwriting on their back, in/from fountain pen ink, marking places, dates, 'occupants' and owners of the prints...

(Hmm... 'occupants' - who occupied the insides of the photo's form/rectangle; who were occupied by the singular moment in which the photo was taken; who(se images) were captured forever by that action. I'd wander into etymology, but it's all about the phenomenon of the inside and the outside...)

At times like this... language 'trembles'. The photos, with the smiles, their times and their memories. It's difficult to make either meaning or sense of an event like death.

(To be continued.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Filling in the blanks, in case of long absences in the coming months...

Saturday, January 21, 2006


Desouvrement, meaning an unworking... a negation, in a way, of a (de)term-ination... For more, read Inoperative Community.

Currently grooving to: Dr. Dre feat. DJ Quik - Put It On Me

Assembled enthusiasts: (hardly a crescendo) "sing something!"
Rabbi (must've been thinking "oh these motherfuckers" <--- say like Boris)

Solitary voice from crowd (?): (half hearted but hopeful) "Bulla Ki Jaana!"
Rabbi: (must've been thinking "fool ass bitch made punks" <--- say like Alonzo)

(Rabbi had previously been explaining how out of place he felt, being invited as chief guest, to inaugurate a film festival.)

Having been involved in stuff like this (i.e. as a member for the college department committee organizing the annual festival), I know exactly how these invitations, well, pass from 'non-being into being' (to abuse some Heideggerianisms.) Here's how it goes:names are tossed around - a lecturer might've met someone 'eminent' or well-known, struck up a conversation (i.e. networked), gotten a phone number or email address, with promises of, "yes, hope to see you again" or "let's collaborate on someting."

In a way, this tossing up of names used to be a lot like Bart's cloud-talk...and the next thing you knew, the pickup and drop-off was assigned. A "be there five minutes before 9am", fixed for residences best reached by four wheels and not two feet.

(Cutting back from/to my reminiscing)

Rabbi: (must've been thinking "ok, time to put them down hard.")

Rabbi: "It's strange, you know. When I go to parties, I'm asked what I do. When I say I'm a singer, I'm immediately told, 'sing something for us!' I feel like asking them, 'what do you do?' An accountant? Ok, do some accounts for us.' " (sic)

Rabbi: (must've been thinking "Damn! I'm thirsty! I want a beer."
<--- say like Alonzo)

He did sing, though. It reminded of the feelings that surge and overcome, when someone who I love, cries. As if there is/was nothing else in the world. As if everything else ceased to exist, and all that mattered and existed, were the words and the tears. He sang; I forgot about the audio recorder in my pocket...

Finally, an opportunity to link to a story I came across a few weeks ago.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Three Conversations and an Encounter (Part 3)

The encounter:

A week ago, when time was short, showers infrequent, and the mornings rushed, I got drawn into an addictive, evil habit. Of zooming (in)to the university by auto-rickshaw. Anyway, with two posts under my belt today (to compensate for what was and might be a rather sparse week before and after today's publishing), let's cut the foreplay.

Buses in Delhi offer a certain set of experiences. While mine have been largely bland, some friends have had to put up with the horrendous pawing and groping that almost every woman in this city has been inflicted with. Pawing and groping, and much much worse :-( Names shall not be taken, but I've heard stuff that... well, will never leave me. The intrusion, discomfort and humiliation
heaped on women, who are made to bear it in the most painful silence makes me wonder why more men aren't thrown off (not while they're moving, mind you) buses for their behaviour, clutching their groins in pain, faces contorted by a swift and strong jab to their nuts.

Coming back to autos... An entirely different swathe of experiences is possible, if travelling by these three-wheeled contraptions. Not only is it a struggle to negotiate a non-extortive journey, but also to understand how most of these guys passed the driving test.

But I digress.

Tehelka, which (if I remember correctly) tags itself the "fastest growing weekly", has of late, vanished from the neighbourhood's news-stands. Its website is subscription-only, and bugmenot doesn't have a free password :-( Somehow, for a publication that has good writing and features (despite its obvious tilt) and tags itself in the aforementioned way, the only place to get my hands on it is the T-junction (site of some of this part of the city's worst traffic jams) en route the university.

This particular T-junction is also the point at which the major elements (the auto habit, the possibility and difference in/of experiences, the aforementioned newsweekly of this story, and some others) converge. Intersect. Singularize.

It's winter and the destitute face a starker set of challenges, which oscillates them between a bare life and a barer death. Or the other way round. As the auto slowed to a halt for the light, a kid, not older than six, grabbed the iron bar at the right. He was pulled
- hopefully not dragged, because friction injuries on/from tarmac are painful and take a long time healing - along by the vehicle's momentum for about two meters. Peering into the auto and at an article I was looking through, he tried hawking a tabloid from the previous day.

I didn't know how to get rid of him (which, really, is what I wanted to do, on that cold morning ;-( ) Finally, I said I'd buy, but only if he had Tehelka. It was a cheap trick, because I could tell the pile he hauled was composed of just one tabloid brand. A cheap trick, to shoo him off. To disappoint him. To regain the initiative, by setting the rules of the game :-( This was also when, in the face of the unexpected, the unknown, the unpredictable, my calculations (including whether I could pay for what I'd asked) went haywire. For all the inertia - being pulled, the pleading, the tired entreaties - he had displayed in the previous minute, these words were a catalyst for activity.

Jumping over the central verge, and onto the other side of road, he ran across, full breath.. There was no traffic... he wouldn't have tried this dash otherwise. Climbing a few feet onto a tree, retrieving a copy of Tehelka, and running back across, he was back before I'd even stopped imagining the terrible consequences of doing this during the morning rush hour. Didn't time it - and time felt like it stopped - but all of this might've taken just twenty seconds.

Sadly, almost as soon as I fumbled - strange, how the tables were turned - with my wallet and paid (up), two more kids appeared, with their tabloids and Tehelkas; clinging on and getting dragged - to the horror of the autowallah - as the lights turned green, and the traffic started moving.

Tapping into 'Haasya Ras'

Going by the maxim "happy is as happy thinks" (say in Arnie-from-Terminator-2 voice "Ai swayurh ai will naat see any more Adam Sandler movies), I've decided to revisit all those comics websites I have firefox shortcuts for and the funny blogs I've read recently. Also, since sharing-is-caring, here goes.

First; recent hoots at :
<raela> man today in bio when I was actually paying attention I heard the best owned story
<raela> this girl learned about blood typing and how to do genetic crosses with it
<raela> so she got all excited, went home, and found out her and her parents blood types from her mom
<raela> she then realized there was no way possible her dad was related to her
<raela> or at least, not the father
<raela> it took her awhile to get her mom to admit it >:D

<egg> today at work i got totally owned
<egg> i didnt understand something
<egg> and i said
<egg> "you know what i dont get?"
<egg> and a guy i work with said "pussy and respect?"
<egg> i was like :
sumgirl4eva12: you are the whitest person i know
sumgirl4eva12: stop
holdmeback3322: collaborate and listen

<dura> I really think I'm a moron.
<dura> I just now realised that Neo spelled backwards is one
Sai, I hold you responsible for introducing me to Oh, and that bit about weasels had me chuckling :-)

Next up, a rewriting of the Mahabharat:
"Vyasa did his graduate studies on fictional literature and it was time he did what he had procrastinated for as long as he could. He had to write the dissertation. It was going to be long and detailed with three key elements romance, action and a happy ending. Soon the complicated plot was brewing in Vyasa’s head and he finally wrote the first draft. Vyasa realized he could get a great publication out of this and decided to contact some publishers.

He tried his luck with the most famous publisher at the time, Brahma. Brahma listened to the plot.

Brahma: “The plot is okay. But considering you don’t have any prior publications it would be a great risk on the publishing company’s part.”

Vyasa: “I am willing to do this free of charge. All I want is my dissertation read. I want my work to reach out to people. You know...the publish or perish rule. I don’t care for money. I wouldn’t be going to graduate school otherwise you know.”

Brahma: “Okay but you still haven't written the book. I can’t make any promises without looking at the final version.”

Vyasa: “Well that’s another problem. My advisor wants me to work on all these other projects and I can’t find time to write the book. I was hoping that you can provide someone to write the book for me as I narrate it.”

Brahma: “I generally don’t do this but the booty squad in your draft has intrigued me. So here is a number of somebody who owes me a favor. His name is Ganapati. He may be a little difficult to work with but that’s all I can offer."
(read the rest here and here - she's really funny!)
'Laal salaam' to Crystal Blur - this
is one of those blogs whose archives you'll love to trawl through :-)

Next, recent Fifth Wave comics... for those of you stuck in the office, or at home.

And, finally, WaiterRant

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Three Conversations and an Encounter (Part 2)

[ Writing this post felt like repeatedly approaching a zone of self-awareness... Something similar to (though they made congress with the limit) the destiny of machines in Hollywood films. Apocalyptic though those visions might be, this article details an interesting difference, between the West's perception (of machines and life), and an imagination from Japan, of the same.

This self-awareness, of a deep bitterness, pervades throughout what follows :-( ]

Sections Two and Three:

After a(nother) long day at a Library, the interminable wait, for a non-taxing way to get home.

These are interesting times. Sadly, I'm not blessed by the powers that be... and, in my world, these are mainly the following:
  1. She who must be named a.k.a. mai maa sarkar. Why the subtle shift from the traditional hindi term? Since we must recognize The Inner Voice. And affirm our unquestioning devotion to the entire clan : lower third class grandfather, the college drop out mother, the barely educated pilot son, the fascist goon, the once upon a time a language student now soon to be sainted for her immeasurable sacrifices desh ki bahu (so the rhetoric goes), the future of the country, a rising star, the hope of the youth. The entire clan AND their unborn.
  2. the department, or
  3. the university grants commission.
Being out of the loop - the way I'd like to think I am - things can get difficult sometimes. Sure, there is (in the words of a thirty year old cynic) "funding" (parental), the world does get cold and lonely, and the roads feel hard underfoot.

Take something as simple as 'getting things done.' Now, an interesting component of 'getting things done' is in how the 'done' is monopolized, obscuring (to normal comprehension) the hidden alliance between 'getting' and 'there'.

There seems to be, from ever since the palanquin was probably invented, the following pattern: While relying on someone else (to operate the palanquin, howda, buggy, horse-drawn carriage, train, tram, car, plane etc etc) ensures not needing to learn the specialized knowledge needed to operate the afore-assumed mode of transport, when this medium is shared with others, delays inevitably occur. Hence, the monopolization of the effort of another (machine, human, animal) can, ideally, significantly reduce the time taken, in getting from point A to B.

Unfortunately, as pointed out earlier, not being in the good graces of the Big Three, the only entity whose effort I can harness is myself. Which leaves two options: Hoofing (a term I was introduced to, by someone who slowed down when I stuck my thumb out) or (in the current physical condition) Huffing and Puffing. Cycling, that is, in case any of you deluded "I tell myself every morning, 'I'll quit at 30' " smokers seem to think blowing smoke-rings was a possibility in teleportation.

</end snarky aside about smokers>


wtf was this post supposed to be about, btw? Sorry, ok. I get carried away sometimes. Additionally, crafting the words that might express all the hazaar ideas I get takes so much effort that the final idea/point seems like a pataaka that went phuss.

This (section of the) post was about two conversations...

Waiting for an slightly empty bus, pacing up and down a ten meter stretch at the Tughlaq Crescent bus-stop, on a cold wintery evening, things looked bleak.

A man standing at this same bus-stop (who stared for a few seconds) suddenly piped up and said, "aap jyotishi hain kya?"


"Kal mein ek aadmi se mila tha jo ekdum aapke jaise dikhne mein tha. Aise hei kapde usne bhi pehne thay. Woh ek jyotish tha."

Heavily outfitted, clad in a thick jacket, a kurta-pyjama ensemble, the essential warm inners, and a muffler; prepared for anything the elements might throw at me, this one comment left me not just speechless, but humour and retort-less.

Half an hour later... half a stinky, crowded, all day office goer's body odor hour later, hopped off the bus, only to run into a guy who stays a few houses away. Temporarily, let's call him HottieGotti. Not because he's hot, or related to a mafioso. But because he thinks he's a dude, and wishes he was a goon.

(HottieGotti) "Hey, how're you?"
(me) "Fine..."
(HottieGotti) "Where are you coming from, at this time?"
(me) "A library."
(HottieGotti) "Yaar, kitna padhega" (I hate that.)
(HottieGotti) "Accha, did you know XYZ?"
(HottieGotti) "He died."
(me) "WTF???"
(HottieGotti) "A few days ago. Drunk driving."
(me) "WTF???"
(HottieGotti) "He deserved it, the idiot. Should've been smarter."
(me) (thinking) "WTF???"

Something's really wrong. These days, I really don't have very much to say...

Saturday, January 14, 2006


It's come to my attention that a close friend (let's call her Mountain Do) has been diagnosed with youtube-itis. In the throes of this condition, she pointed me to another one of those takes on that supremely banal punchline - "[T]here are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's Mastercard." Check out this video. It's really funny.

Not knowing, before I saw it, what the video/ad was, I remembered an award winning commercial, which featured Ziyi Zhang kicking the crap out of an entire restaurant and its staff, because her soup was too salty. Now, I'm sure that someone amongst those who read this blog must be Z.Z.'s fans (and if you're not, click away!) so, here's the link. That little googlescapade brought to my attention an entire website of Z.Z.'s videos. It's a good thing I have a slow net connection, or those mpegs would be safe, secure, and encrypted in a hidden folder on my hard disk. Until then, there's always this pic...


Friday, January 13, 2006

Thee conversations and an encounter (Part 1)

The Conversation.

Not special - and, because of this, memory deserts me, about when this was - in any way apart from the my being there after a long time, I spent what seemed like an(other) endless day at NMML. Probably reached a little before lunch and left by 4pm, feeling unproductive, confused and directionless :-( Thinking, "another day, and another set of wrong choices of what to read, what to think, and what to write."

Which is when a long set of events was set into motion, by the re-emergence of a nagging pain in my left foot. (Confess. You're here, and while the presence of these details might seem bizarre, backgrounds are often of the mundane. What's writing without the build(ing)-up?)

"Do you know if there's a cobbler nearby?" I asked the guard posted at the gate...

Anyone (excepting the kids who visit the planetarium - which has probably played the same show for twenty years now) who's been to Teen Moorti House has been past this guard. Maybe they too, like me, wonder whether they would ever be questioned about why they are walking in, so enthusiastic (this was, after all, once a Prime Ministerial residence), or so determined (about what to read), or worried (for work always remains in the inbox) or seemingly carefree, into a place that today contains the city's most prestigious library, and is located bang in the heart of high-security Delhi. This is the part of the city where there are more trees than people in the streets, and armed men are posted in groups of three or more, every few hundred yards. If you look suspicious (as I'm assured by friends of regularly looking), you will be noticed immediately, by people who form the iron hand of the Indian state.

The tragedy in this guard's employment/condition is of being obliged to stand up straight and salute to people who pass through the gates in important looking cars. People he does not know, people who obviously don't care about him, don't know when his shift begins or ends. People he might not really care about, except in terms of performing his job/duties. Maybe.

He directed me to a gate, less than a hundred meters away. It was one of those small side entrances, which people at the top (the politicians, bureaucrats, military men, analysts and intellectuals) try to hide (from) - gates that lead to quarters where lower level staff (
or, in the words of someone I met over an extremely drunk conversation a week and a half ago, "the help") are housed. Spaces and places that are ignored and considered embarrassments. Slums that lie less than two minutes walking distance from the most opulent government flats, and their often omnipotent occupants.

Having seen it from buses, and cycled past it often, I'd always been curious about what lay inside. One of the reasons for this curiousity - before I begin to be accussed of a self-righteous narcissism - is the absolutely disgusting condition of the food
(grains of rice so coarse and thick that they might have been steamed maggots had they not been moving) served at the canteen attached to the aforementioned library Visible from the main road are a handful of shops, whose names or contents my rapidly deteriorating eyesight :-( cannot distinguish. Maybe, I think each time I pass the gate, amongst that gaggle of shops lies a small dhaba that dishes out tandoori roti and dal fry.

Strangely, the curiousity would remain, after this episode/encounter.

Reaching the cobbler, and while he gave the offending sandal a preliminary examination, I was offered something for my bare(d) foot, by an old(er) man. I didn't particularly notice him, and mumbled a barely audible 'thanks.' He didn't seem like he was there for anything very pressing, and while innocuous, he was - going by appearances - someone who had probably let let himself slide. With sunken cheeks, grime on his jacket and a week old stubble, he even gave of a mild hint (or maybe it was just me, imagining things after a long day (mentally) at the library) of cheap rum.

(Or maybe it was just me, desiring such drinks, after a long day at the library.)

[It's great to embellish my memory of this man, because as I sat listening to what he said, on that winter afternoon a few days ago, I couldn't help wondering if this was how I'd turn out, in thirty to forty years from now: emaciated, unshaved, and reeking of alcohol. Manic and desperate, making people stop and listen. For someone.]

After some inconsequential talk (including asking what I was doing in the general area), he suddenly said, "you don't look from around here." "Meaning?" "You look mohammedan."

That's a first. I've been told I look like I'm from Bengal, Maharashtra; even that I'd fit right in, in Colombia... but never (yet) 'mohammedan'. He went on to confess that he was a shayar (would the simple 'poet' be an apt rendition/translation of the word?) and that, with my permission (the cobbler was relegated to the status of a human prop, by this time) he'd like to say a few lines on zaroorat (a subtle combination of desires, necessities and aspirations.) I'd love to have the entirety of what he recited for me, but not having the trusty voice recorder, the words seem lost forever. From what I remember, the verse wove a narrative of love and feeling, labour and hardships, family and tenderness, and a general accumulative, existential realization of one's place in the world.

As I left, he said that his one true love was writing, and if I ever needed anything written, asking the cobbler where baba was would hasten my search.

Funny... there's a dissertation to be submitted, by end-July...

[Watch out for the next episode of this exciting three part mini-series!]

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Cold... So Cold... :-(

As someone who's lived in Delhi all his life, my sentments about this city's weather range from loathing the summer, to despising the winter. Unfortunately, these two seasons make up about 80-90% of the year. Atleast two solutions come to my mind

1) Move to another city (what follows are reactions - mine, and others')
a) ha!
b) "But the department there has an interesting orientation" - So what? Don't judge an academic program (especially in India) by their university's website, the department's faculty and interests list, and non-existent "we offer such and such courses" (the first place these retorts apply to are my own department... oof, such a scam.)
c) What? Pretend that these three years were worth nothing, and produced nary a publication (except, in the eyes of some, a worthless excuse of a seminar paper, that can be peddled as a quasi-publication when applying to graduate programs) and an aborted eight month "work ex"? EX - that's exactly what it is.

Or, 2) a life lived in rarified environs
a) Air conditioning (according to informed sources, the world smells better, dresses lesser, can work harder and think smarter, at 22-24° C),
b) chauffeur driven steeds (an abhorrence for all forms of (say with a sneer and scowl) "public" transport (excluding the city's toast, Metro.)
heated baths (not the kind Mata Hari demanded, but then, she was hours from execution), seminars and luncheons.

In short, hrmph. If you're interested in an outsider's witty insights into the lives and desires of the disgustingly rich, find this book. (Alternatively, you could strike up a (e)conversation, slip into it a little item about how much you missed this blog, and I might consider lending the book. Uh... just joking.)

Summers that seem to begin earlier as the years pass, and winters cut colder each time. <--- This sentence bears all the classic markers of a-polite-conversation-about-the-weather - one that I had opportunity to engage in with a professor, secretly longing I could tak more, and say something honest, instead of having to hear "it's just two months more. You'll be happy by march." (Coming to think of it, her prediction about the weather, and another's, about my (ha!) research (ha!) are surprisingly punctual...) Until then (happiness, not the month of march), like many others, I too am waiting, praying for monsoon rains, for the almost-intoxicating smells of a wet earth.