Thursday, December 28, 2017


“I have taken myself out of the complexities, or maybe I have taken the complexities out of myself”
That was Marcus Aurelius, the grand old Roman, speaking through his “Meditations”. It is a sentiment I came across a long time back and which has come back to me after a long time.
The last few months have sped by in a flurry of activity-lots of work, renewing contact with many old acquaintances and friends, the re-advent of Delhi into my life. I have never particularly cozied up to Chandigarh, yet this was the one place that seemed over the last few months to give me the comfort of the anchor that I sought.
Up until today. Today I came across, again after a very long time, the one person who for me will always remain the one reason that I can never forget this city. Jasmine.
Her absence over the last few months left a void that I did not quite understand in the beginning. It felt as if all that I was being deprived of was a few inane games and a truckload of affection. Nothing that could not be substituted by drowning oneself in a quagmire of work or by seeking vicarious affectations from the world at large.
What I overlooked was the purity and honesty that came with all our frivolities. The fact that whether or not this child of five understood a word of what I was saying, she would always react with an unimaginable, inviolable sincerity. That despite the fact, or maybe because of it, that she did not understand my words, I would never have to think before unburdening myself to her.
Meeting her revived a lot of memories but even more, made me realise the futility of encumbering myself with the transparent banalities that we often seek refuge in. That though life may be a big thing, its joys and its essence are always found in the small things.
So, today, I shun the complexities, not knowing whether they made me up or I made them up. But certain of the fact, as the poet said, that;
“Sitaron ke aagey jahan aur bhi hain/Abhi ishq ke imtehaan aur bhi hain”

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, 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" 

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”.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Return to Innocence

“Sach hi kehti thi, jo bhi Ammi kehti thi
Jab mere bachpan ke din the, chaand pe pariyaan rehti thi”

When was the last time you laughed? Really opened up and let out a guffaw? Chortled till your insides hurt? And not at another joke, but at the sheer joy of being alive, of returning to the lost innocence of finding ecstasy in the simple things strewn all around you.

I returned to Chandigarh yesterday for another of my overnight stays. And as has become wont with me since she shifted to Mohali, took a surreptitious drive just outside Jasmine’s house. Now, Jasmine is the 5 year old who was 2 when I first met her. We were both once tenants at the same house and for the first few months after I shifted there, shared little more beyond quizzical looks whenever we passed each other around the premises.

And then came the day when she deigned it fit to come visiting. It was almost noon and I was just sitting down for a late breakfast. Although not yet able to walk without faltering, she nonetheless matched me toast-for-toast, orange-for-orange, before announcing that she was going home for lunch! And as she left, she elicited from me the promise of getting her a toy when I returned from office that evening. But as is usually the case, I forgot all about it till I got into my car at the end of a long day. The thought of going back to the comfort of my bed also brought with it the memory of my promise to her. But since it was too late for the toy shops to be open, I had to settle for a couple of balloons from a roadside vendor.

I got home, summoned my helper and before he started warming the food, asked him to go and give the balloons to Jasmine. He did one better-he went and called her over. And this is when I experienced a moment of the kind that we see all around us but are too busy to cherish.

Jasmine came, frowned at me and then noticed the balloons. Her smile said it all-she was thrilled! But what was even more amazing was the involuntary chuckle that escaped her. She was actually laughing with glee, at a present as meagre as a pair of balloons! She pranced about for a bit, helped herself to some dinner (her second for the night!) and though I did not get a goodnight kiss, I did sleep with a huge smile that night.

Over the next couple of years that I knew her, I shared many such moments with her. And she was always the perfect panacea to wish away the blues. She found merriment in candyfloss melting over her fingers, pride in showing me her latest outfit and an exuberant hope in demanding a puppy for her next birthday. With each action, confirming irrefutably that the real wonders exist only where there are those with the sight to see them.

The real wonders. The little, simple things that we start taking for granted as we “grow up”. If caught in a particularly bad mood, these very things can even trigger a rush of annoyance. Yeats wrote someplace that the innocent and the beautiful have no enemy but time. Perhaps he isn’t all that mistaken. For there comes a time in each of our lives when we cease to enjoy anything, intent merely on amassing immaterial treasures. We stop believing in love, believing in loveliness, believing in belief itself. We possess a spirit that knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing. We hoard our smiles and measure our words. We never forget an insult, never forgive an injury.

I wonder what it would take to revisit our misplaced innocence. To find joy in a bar of chocolate divided into seven shares, to yearn to get drenched in the next rain, to think nothing of conceding defeat before our friends just to see the delight on their faces. To return to the time when fairies left us presents under the pillow and God took note of our every prayer.

Maybe all it takes is a chubby hand in yours, hauling you to the next mirthful escapade. And if you don’t have that, then the next best thing would be the memory of a chubby hand.

I have been planning to meet Jasmine for ages now, ever since she shifted out of what was once “our” house. My drives towards Chandigarh are always crammed with plans of meeting her-where we would go, what we would do. But the moment I pull into the city, all plans go flying out of the window. A strange dread grips me-what if she has forgotten me? It is not easy to live with the memories of a beautiful time gone by, never to come again. But it would be impossible to live without the hope of that time ever returning. Without the consolation, however feeble, that it will all go back to being the way it was.

So I continue to make plans that may never bear fruition. And giving me company is the warmth of a chuckle.