Tuesday, July 22, 2014


"She wasn't doing a thing I could see, except standing there on the balcony railing, holding the universe together".

That was JD Salinger. Speaking perhaps about love. But for me, the words convey something somewhat different.

Standing outside the most morose and honest of all places, you witness two aged men-both with grey flowing beards, disheveled rags, coarse skin and weathered faces. Mendicants.The creases on their faces reflect the stern lives they have experienced. Yet, the composure on their faces reflects a measure of equanimity that is hard to mirror.

The sun shines bright through the descending rain. It is only a slight drizzle, not enough to even drown the gurgle of the river in the distance. The wafting breeze throws up a slight nip and one of them asks the other for a smoke. They are stretched languidly upon the damp grass, across the cobbled path from each other, contemplating the expressions of the other.

The response is a firm no. The reason is the accusation of parsimony. The beseecher falls silent, visibly crestfallen. The would-be benefactor rolls a beedi across his fingers, relishing its rough texture and makes to light it. Then pauses. Digs into his pocket. Fishes out another beedi, looks wistfully at it, pulls himself onto his feet and walks across. He doesn’t say a word, but the smile on his face as he lights the two with a single match conveys it all.

To the outside world, they are old and battered. But not, perhaps, to each other. Perhaps they know each other as they always were. Perhaps they know each other’s hearts, share private jokes, remember feuds and secrets, griefs and joys. For this moment, if not in others, they are brothers. They shall never grow old in each others eyes, always remain the mischievous, timid, protective confidants that they always have been. They live outside the touch of time. 

To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
 And the temples of his Gods.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


My tryst with that liltingly beautiful language known as Urdu began years ago, as a response to a challenge that was never proffered. And the redemption has been wholesome, in full measure but not substantial in the slightest!

Beginning as a foray into only the easiest of couplets, it soon evolved towards a deliberate selection of the most delectable nuances of its poetry. Ruminations on love, cogitations about life, perplexity at emotions-Urdu always presented an inexorable repertoire to encompass and articulate the most nebulous of thoughts.

Even better have been the words that it has compelled me to revisit, words that we all mostly know of but usually employ in their more ordinary and diluted avatars. Words such as aafaat, nazakat, simatnaa, khwahish, adaa, bahaar, gulistaan, fateh, maat....an endless list of hauntingly beautiful words. Other languages might have words that are better than them and are worse than them but rarely such that are just the same.

One such word is the one that forms the title to this post-Mukhtasar. It conveys a very simple meaning, yet in an unforgettably beautiful cadence-the syllables gurgle forth with each enunciation, eliciting the commensurate sentiment even as they tumble forth from the lips.

And with due deference to the context that initiated this train of thought, here is Frost’s take on the theme;

"Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length" 

Friday, July 22, 2011


A long, long time ago, someone told me to try my hand at poetry. But considerate as I am, I deigned it best not to make the frugal few who endure my prose suffer my attempts at poetry too!

Very recently though, I came across a few pieces of Javed Akhtar’s verse. They were poignantly exquisite, too wonderful to not share.

So, here is one of those pieces for your indulgence too;

Ek baat honthon tak hai jo aayi nahi, bas aankhon se hai jhaankti

Tumse kahbi, mujhse kabhi, kuch lafz hai woh maangti.

Jinko pehan ke honthon tak aa jaaye woh,

Aaawaaz ki baahon mein baahein daal ke ithlaaye woh.

Lekin jo yeh ek baat hai, ehsaas hi ehsaas hai

Khushboo si hai jaise hawa mein tairtee, khushboo jo be-aawaaz hai.

Jiska pata tumko bhi hai, jiski khabar mujhko bhi hai

Duniya se bhi chupta nahin, yeh jaane kaisa raaz hai...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Luna Inter Minores

I have had the privilege of being taught by a score of stalwarts in my sojourns across the length and breadth of my country. I remember many of them and try to remember some of the things they taught me.

One person who I found myself reminiscing about very recently is a teacher who I never had the privilege of meeting in a class but who nonetheless has left an indelible mark on my perceptions of his subject. It was many years back that I had sought admission for his course but since I had arrived a little late, was denied entrance. I could have taken admission elsewhere but he commanded such an inviolable stature that I chose to tutor myself with borrowed notes of his class rather than opting for another teacher.

I remember vividly those winter afternoons when I would sit by myself and eagerly peruse another set of photocopied notes. The genius of his pedagogy was such that even in that solitude, the words would spring forth from the paper as if he himself was guiding me through the nuances of the subject. They were always concise, simple and unimpeachably well-structured.

It was during one such lesson that I came upon his elucidation of the Constitutional position of the Prime Minister of India. We all know that considered in a purely theoretical form, the PM is a part of the Council of Ministers who aid and advise the President of India in running the affairs of the country. Yet, the PM is also the Head of this Council, the “Prime” minister. Various authors have described him as the “chief of the government”, the “leader of the majority party in Parliament”, the “executive head of the govt.” etc. etc. All of them are correct, but none puts it across in a manner that is not just perfect but also unforgettable.

All, that is, except Sir. He described it in three simple words, “Luna Inter Minores”. The Little Moon among the Stars. Affirming the fact that while the PM is an equal amongst his contemporaries in the Council of Ministers, he is a little more equal than the others. A first among equals.

It’s been years since I first read this description but never has it faded from my memory. And with each recollection, it establishes anew the power a teacher holds in our lives.

An anecdote I remember in this connection relates to Alexander The Great and his tutor Aristotle. They were out hunting and had gotten separated from the main party. While trying to find their way back, they came across a river in spate, with no bridge in sight. Aristotle was of the opinion that he should cross over first and then secure Alexander’s safe passage with the help of a rope. But even before he could move, Alexander had waded into the river, struggled across to the other bank and thrown a rope back to help Aristotle cross.

When Aristotle reached the other bank, he was livid for he saw Alexander’s action as rash and a needless risk for the King to take with his own life. Alexander, however, not only placated him but paid him a genuine homage when he humbly said that had a misfortune befallen him, the world would have lost but one Alexander; had the same misfortune befallen the teacher, the world would have lost countless Alexanders.

Thank you Sir, not just for teaching us but for giving us an education.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


She is but a little girl, for the moment pretending to be a woman. She is pretty, the wheatish complexion of her oval face framed in a cascade of raven-dark tresses. She wears a white shirt with little yellow hearts on it and an ochre-coloured skirt to match. The belle’s on her feet are golden, as are the tiny bows on their tongue. She is pretty, for sure. And she knows it, as her proud smile can barely conceal.

He sits across the table from her, older in years but visibly enraptured by her effervescence. His awe at her charms does not go unnoticed by the bystanders. He regains his composure and in a voice befitting his stature, gently commands her to remove her spectacles.

She seems amused, perhaps amazed at his bidding. With the practised air of a lady, she pulls the eyepiece off her face and lays it on the table between them, only too aware of how enchanting she must look now. Yet, her face betrays no emotion, no conceit. Merely acquiescence in this game of maturity.

He knows that despite her pretended pride, she is unsure as to what happens next. So he plays his part, careful not to tread upon her esteem in the process. He leans across the table, cradles her cheeks in his hands and gently pulls her closer. Her eyes never leave his face as she yields to his directives and allows him to draw her further across the table.

When he senses that she is at the perfect spot, he reaches out and pulls the apparatus along the table till her chin nestles snugly on it. Within moments, her retina scan is complete, followed by a quick digital impression of her fingerprints. The mandatory paperwork takes another few minutes and with its completion, this little girl of ten joins the ranks of the teeming millions who have become part of India’s most ambitious demographic exercise till date.

Welcome to AADHAAR, the Multipurpose National Identity Card project of the Govt. Of India.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Let’s try a rhetorical question-what is more random, the hapless ranting of a battered heart or the methodical, mannered machinations of an administration? Surprisingly, it would seem that the latter is the answer, trumping the former by an uncomfortably healthy margin. Perhaps Nietzsche was correct in saying that a casual stroll through a lunatic asylum is sufficient to learn that faith does not prove anything.

National Highway 1 of India is currently in the throes of an expansion spree. It is not just the oldest National Highway and an arterial lifeline but also a source of pride, given its antecedent history. Yet, the manner in which it is being treated and the consequent treatment it metes out to those who ply its span is appalling to say the least.

I have driven across it very regularly over the past few months. The expansion of the existing 4 lanes started over a year back but is far from being complete. China completed the 41 km long Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in four years but our highway is nowhere in the vicinity of completion. Forget nearing completion, it is not even past the threshold that might be said to be the beginning of the end. Save a few intermittent stretches which bestow you the grace of an unhindered drive, the predominant span of the road is pockmarked with diversions. And here I do not mean the sedate form of diversions that beseech you to kindly opt for an alternate path. I am referring to the mind-numbingly annoying yellow boards, hand-painted with a scraggly black line, that appear before just as you have finally gained some momentum. Bad enough as they are during daylight, they are potentially lethal at night.

But let’s play the devil’s advocate and treat these diversions as a functional imperative. Let us also don the mantle of punctilious, law-abiding citizens who heed the law in letter and spirit. This then exposes to us the true intellect of the gems who man our administration. I am not, admittedly, so conscientious as to not succumb to the temptation of tweaking a few rules every now and then to suit my convenience. And thankfully so, for if I was one such, these wizards who make the rules would have me drive at a speed not exceeding 20 kilometres per hour for almost 100 kilometres in a 250 km journey! Sure, these people are the experts but has any of these geniuses ever even tried to drive a car at the speed of 20 kmph-I did and trust me, even those obscenely over-loaded tractor trolleys rumble past you effortlessly while its occupants shoot quizzical looks at you.

Speaking of obscenity, one wonders who runs the Censor Board these days. This is the same august body that once had a problem with showing smoking onscreen lest it corrupt the impressionable minds of our future generations. How then did they overlook the inherent vulgarity of the abomination called “Delhi Belly”? Forget the movie, it is impossible to resist a spate of uncomfortable cringing should you be unfortunate enough to have any of its songs play on the radio as you drive across your city with even your domestic help in the car. Or is it possible that the members of the Board are so ingenuous and have lived a life so much more sheltered than the one Gautam Buddha’s father envisaged for him that they do not know what successive enunciations of the name “DK Bose” allude to?

Any fool can make things worse and more complex. It takes a touch of genius, however, to continue to move in the same direction. And the government seems hell bent upon proving its brilliance.

But then, as the ancient Chinese said,

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 16; the sixteenth edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton.


It couldn’t be. Not here, not now, not any more.

Yet, there it was. Scrawled in yellow chalk across the entrance to the bistro. Just the one word. The one word that had once meant the world to him, the one word that had nearly emptied the world when he tried not to recall it.

All that he remembered of her was that he did not remember her. And that was just how he wanted it. That was how he had wanted it when he succumbed to the convenient distraction of a long overdue vacation. And that was how he wanted it now.

Or so he told himself. He had gone to great pains to pick the sun-drenched slopes of Asturias for this getaway from her and their world. It was the ideal vacation spot, without any mode of connectivity with the world-no telephones, no computers, no television. And it was the complete anti-thesis of the destination they had always wanted for their own first vacation. Spain was as warm and mellow as Scotland would have been cold and severe. They wanted Scotland for its serene solitude, Spain was bustling with people everywhere; they had yearned for the cozy warmth of a bedstead to escape the inevitable rain, Asturias was the perfect place to get drenched in the sun.

Yet, Asturias was anything but an escape from her. He had barely checked into the hotel and come out for an evening stroll when he chanced upon this bistro screaming out the last word he would have expected to come across. His curiosity piqued, he could not resist getting to the bottom of this newest quirk of fate that had characterised their every tryst.

A little tentatively, he entered the bistro. It was crammed with people chatting animatedly in the vernacular. After being jostled about for a bit, he spied the relative seclusion of the bar. The full length mirror running behind the counter added to the feeling of a little more space and without wasting a further moment, he squeezed himself onto a barstool. The visage he saw in the mirror was of a timid and tentative foreigner-he had never travelled outside his own country and as he struggled to ponder over what he should do next, his eye fell upon a board behind the counter. His relief at realising that it was written in english evaporated all too soon when he read what was written on it.

“How to drink Sidra (cider)”

Drink Sidra ! He chuckled at the thought, wondering what she would have said to this. Atleast he had now unravelled the mystery behind the sign at the front door. Exhilarated at the thought of having some fun at her expense, he read on, his eyes devouring each word in the list of instructions on how to savour the local beverage to the fullest.

“The ideal temperature for a bottle of Sidra is cool, but not cold”

Now that was just perfect, so like her. She was proud but not arrogant, simple but not plain, calm yet tempestuous.

She was beautiful, in a fresh-faced, outdoors-girl kind of way. Her big black eyes conveyed an expression of complete vulnerability, with an appeal directed not to any individual but to the world at large. Please don’t hurt me, they seemed to say. Yet, she was also extremely talented as a woman, her genius lying in a mad innocence that was at once magic, tragic and ineluctably feminine. And it was this combination of vulnerability and power that was her greatest asset.

“You must drink the whole bottle at one sitting”

That would have been impossible with her. She was an enigma wrapped in a puzzle. An acquired taste, revolting and annoying at first. He recalled their tentative first steps at getting to know each other, bubbling with irrepressible curiosity yet guarded lest the other construe it as an invasion of their privacy.

She was the absolute converse of any woman he had ever known. Most women opened up their entire lives yet did not ever offer even a peek into their real selves. With her, he had been able to peer into her soul right from the beginning and yet, had to struggle interminably to learn even the most trivial facets about her life. He detested her needless secrecy and affected insouciance. And on more occasion than one, tried to let his pride get the better of him.

But the more you pushed her away, the more you realised that you couldn’t do without her. It was like a drug, with a yearning and a promise all at once of just one more surrender to its pleasures. And yet, it was exquisite, always leaving you unsatisfied and yearning for just one more.

“The waiter will simply uncork the bottle. From then on, you are on your own”

In their case, he had been thrown into the deep end of the pool for as long as he could recall. He had always suffered himself to be haughty, severe and indifferent. But it all came to a head when he met her.

It was as if she was the antidote to all his ills. Her manner, a little untouchable, was fit for a prince. And born into Rajput royalty, he was, quite literally, just that. Yet, with her, he felt like the proverbial babe in the woods.

What others admired about him, she frowned upon; what he detested about his own self, she adored! She read Ghalib and Neruda but quoted the most cheesy Bollywood tracks. And though he was no stranger to either, he was never quite sure which of the two to proffer for all too often, his choice would be the exact one she was looking to steer clear of!

She could praise and blame, offer tears and smiles. She could warn, comfort and command. And yet, he often felt that she did not mind sitting coyly in his shadow either.

“The Sidra experience will set you back a couple of Euros”

What an understatement, if ever there was one. She hadn’t taken long to warn him that she was high-maintenance. Her animated chatter was peppered with mentions of Prada shoes and Ferragamo bags and god alone knew what else. He hadn’t a clue about women and their proclivities beyond a few clich├ęd names. And she had always been at her uncommunicative, unhelpful best when the time came to pamper her with gifts.

It was almost as if she enjoyed his clumsy attempts at reading her mind, stumbling from one bad choice to the next. And it had taken him quite a while before he understood that she had never been even half as happy at the most elegant of gifts as she had been at the bunch of flowers he had plucked from her own garden in a desperate attempt to woo her back after yet another quarrel.

He had come here to seek the comfort of solitude. But had forgotten that it is in solitude that we are least alone.

And as he resigned himself to the supremacy of the elements, the very elements that had extended her influence to even this nondescript hamlet, he conceded to himself that there would never be any escape from her. Perhaps they were right when they said that all great love affairs end in tragedy: either disillusionment sets in and people separate or one member dies, leaving the other alone. He did not understand what their undoing had been but perhaps that was not for him to know.

Forcing a smile on, he beckoned to the bartender for a drink of the cider. But his voice was drowned in the chatter. He tried again and though he caught the bartender’s attention, the man did not understand the order.

Damn that devil-woman, he cursed under his breath. Clearing his throat and cringing at the mortification of saying the word out aloud, he repeated the order.

“Sidra ”

Thankfully, the import of that one word was not lost on the bartender. And as his eyes followed the man to the chestnut kupela, he discerned a flicker of a movement in the mirror.

It couldn’t be. Not here, not now.

This was no fairytale trance, this was real life. Yet, here she was.

Sidra. The same toss of the head, the same nimble gait, the same adorable verve.

And as he turned the barstool around, too bewildered to comprehend how the countenance in the mirror had morphed into reality, it became all too evident to him.

That there was just the one person with whom he would never need an occasion to celebrate. For there would always be far more to celebrate than mere anniversaries and birthdays.

With her, he would always be able to share their similarities and celebrate their differences.

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