There used to be two windows. They were like two rectangular eyes staring into space. The eyes wore shades of green iron-mesh. Like magnet therapy goggles our neighbours wore to improve their vision.

Behind the shades were painted lids of wood-and-glass panes that folded at the hinges. The eyelids folded shut when blue raindrops thrashed against the house in diagonal lines.

When summer travelled light years to make life hell, the windows wore curtains. Green and envious. With parrot shapes printed on them

When winter crept in to chill bone and tissue, the windows were bare for sun rays to come in and make shapes on the floor.

Otherwise the windows remained open and staring.

There was a garden patch outside the windows. The plants that grew there tried not to crowd the view from the iron-mesh windows…
I saw the inside of Ravana’s TEN heads this morning (a dream). They were setting him up for the BURNING, for a later event in the evening. For Dussehra. The inside was ‘wired’ with green jute bombs, designed to go off, one by one. At the touch of an ignited arrow. Like a trigger igniting a giant fidayeen.

Ravana was being readied for an explosion, in full public view, with various types of crackers and explosives. Readied for a BURNING EVENT. Readied to make smoke for public entertainment. A Genius was being readied for public entertainment.

A TEN-headed genius, to be burnt to DEATH. What a PITY! What a WASTE!
But it’s DONE. It’s carried out every year, year after year, at many different places. So all those readers and watchers of RAMAYANA can feel happy at the cessation of EVIL. An end to ALL Evil!

For ALL to say ‘How Cool’, ‘How Nice’. That Evil burneth. In HELL. As it is in HEAVEN. Amen. Feel happy that EVIL has been shown its place in the scheme of things. Has been PUT down. Extinguished for all SEASONS. For the NEXT season to come up again. As a NEW avatar. Of Evil. Born again to teach HUMANITY another lesson. Of GOOD overpowering EVIL. So Cool. So Nice.

The DREAM ends. Ends in violent BURNING. Crackling. Fire. And crackers. Phut… Boom… Aha… What JOY! What pleasure! That GOOD has overcome EVIL!
I got this excerpt from PANKAJ MISHRA's An End to Suffering (The Buddha in the World): Picador India, a great book on the Buddha's journey on planet Earth. It's an amazing book on Siddhartha Gautama and his travels on this plane, his teachings and how they make sense to a Western logician. I for one didn't know about this Fire Sermon until I read this book. This is what the Buddha is supposed to have preached to a thousand matt-locked ascetics on top of a hill in Gaya. He's giving them a different take on the FIRE they have been worshipping for ages.

"The eyes are ablaze. The form is ablaze. The mental functions are ablaze. The contact of the eye is ablaze. The sensations produced by the contact of the eye are ablaze.

The ears are ablaze. Sounds are ablaze. The nose is ablaze. Smells are ablaze. The tongue is ablaze. Tastes are ablaze. The body is ablaze. The mind is ablaze. Mental functions are ablaze.

But what are they ablaze (with)? They are ablaze with the fire of greed, with the fire of hatred, with the fire of delusion, ablaze with the fire of birth, old age, death, grief, lamentation, suffering, sorrow, and despair....

A disciple who is well-learned, Bhikshus, when he considers things in this way, he grows weary of the eye... He grows weary of the ear. He grows weary of the mental functions of the eyes and ears.... Growing weary of them, he rids himself of greed. Being rid of greed, he is liberated.

Being liberated, he becomes aware of his liberation and realises that birth is exhausted, that what is necessary has been done. And that he will not return to this world again."

From the original 'Samyutta Nikaya' (translated as The Connected Discourses of the Buddha, Boston, Wisdom Publications, 2000)


BLLLURRRRRR: Most memories turn sepia with age but this one gone strawberry.
The t
ime's late seventies (that's me in the corner, that's me in the spot... light...);
the occasion is Pa's friend's marriag
e.
Living in the US, Alec Uncle wanted a good 'homely' Indian bride,
so back he came to his roots and did what he had to do.

What I like about the picture is its 'fluidity' and the sense of people melting into light.
Third from the left (standing) is my Mom, whom time, exposure and bad storage have given a pair of Seraphim wings and a halo.

I have been disappointed by films I've seen, books I've read, music I've heard but I've never ever, ever been disappointed by my dreams.

These scenes inside my head have somehow never failed to exhilirate, enthrall, horrify, entrance, turn on, apall, teach, perplex, irritate, enchant, make me think. I have tried and tried and tried to get to the bottom of my dreams, have googled extensively on the subject, read up variously (Jung, Freud and the occult included) and asked people claiming to know a lot about them but I have yet to receive a satisfactory explanation of how they're made.

Am now going to describe to you this one that came to me about a year ago...
Tell me if any of it make sense you guys

Am taking a walk down the road with a colleague and an Ambassador suddenly whizzes past us. On top of the car is a family of lions, most probably two lionesses (as there are no maned creatures) and some cubs. We wave at them and they somehow acknowledge the wave with a split-second nod or the cat-equivalent of it.

Next I am on a mountain track, walking--without the colleague but with a Caucasian couple. The woman and I have this 'first-time meeters' familiarity, a bit like cyberpals or penpals meeting in real time. The man is a stranger. I am walking between them, dishing out a monologue to which they have nothing much to contribute except agreeing nods. Funnily, my dream conversations are mostly telepathic, meaning sentences are not spoken, they're just heard.

We cut to an old-fashioned halal meat market, the kind that has carcasses hanging from hooks and where the meat is chopped on a slice of tree trunk.

The shop I stop by has a tiger carcass hanging from its hook. It's obviously not been skinned like the rest of the carcasses. And strangely, it's also not been decapitated. I ask for the head, which is duly cut off and handed to me. I pay the guy and start walking out of the market holding the head by the ears. (Am sorry if it's getting too grisly. Can't help, have to tell it as it was!). Halfway out of the market, I realise I don't need the whole head, so I go back to the shop and ask the meat seller to give me just the teeth. The big four.

The canines are duly pulled out and handed to me. I look at the sharp sticks of yellow tiger ivory, admire them and hand them back to the meat seller. Break them open, I tell him. He takes out a hammer and cracks open the teeth. Inside them are rows of diamonds, like peas in a pod, cut and polished, with rainbow sparkles. I take these diamonds in my palm to feel their sharp edges and their 'realness', slide them into my coat pocket and walk on.

The dream then fades like a reflection on a rippling pond.
We're in Khajuraho, the capital of ancient perverts. Some firangs actually think that. And they are not alone. A lot of miseducated Indians do too.

The stone here dances. The temples sing. And the tourist guides speak French. Mr Someshwar Sharma, our ASI-fied guide, speaks English as spoken in textbooks, which is a bit like Hindi, meaning words are what their letters say they are. Meaning there are no silences, no syncopations, no phonetic surprises.

Mr Sharma is sweating like a rasgulla but his knowledge of temple history is amazing if somewhat yawn-inducing. But Mr Sharma has these occasional bursts of unintended humour. Mr Sharma is taking us through the temple courtyards, regaling us in his textbook English. "This is Miss Khajuraho," he says pointing to a pair of stone breasts, "don't be surprised. Yes, yes, those days were very advanced indeed. Beauty queens they had also. But she was the most beautiful, no?" Laughter in different languages floats admiringly around Miss Khajuraho. Miss Khajuraho also smiles an ancient smile that refuses to die. "Is she not beautiful? Just look at her bosom. And her hips. And her smiling face. Wah, kya baat hai!"

"These beauty queens used to dance like fairies." Ears are like radars, waiting for some more revelations from a jolly good time of very long ago. "Yes ladies and gentlemen, dance to the tune of the pujaris, who wrote hymens to the gods."

"Hymens, Sharmaji?" asks someone, "you mean hymns?"

"Yes, hymens," says Sharmaji as he moves on to some other perversity from a time long, long ago.
It was a game. And we were kids. Average height two and a half feet. Wide-eyed and energy-surplussed. In a game of hide-and-seek. Trying to get lost in an enchanted forest. Actually, a park. A green photosynthetic world—palms with grey trunks, potted ferns and sweet nectar bud shrubs pruned and shaped—in concentric circles around a raised cement pond with fish relief walls. On the pond surface floated lotuses, pink with oxygen and good health. Supplied from a colony of sticky green slime. We’d often see bubbles on the pond surface and mistake them for fish. But the pond was green and fishless.

The innermost of the concentric circles was ours. We were the tiniest of the enchanted forest kids. The circles were divided according to age. The biggest kids took the outermost. The innermost was ours, the tiniest.

We were playing a game of ‘Ice Spice’. Funnily, it made sense in an exotic, rhyming sort of way. The Ice Spice Girl was our leader. Curly-haired and dimple-chinned, she was magic and beauty personified. A childhood hero in economy pack. We would follow her to the ends of the earth. Or ends we thought were ends.

Ice Spice Girl told us of the Teeth Counter Bird. If the Teeth Counter Bird counted all your teeth you’d die, she said. The bird, although a tiny, unremarkable, black-and-white sparrow type, was for us a fearless angel of death. So mouths were squeezed shut whenever the Teeth Counter Bird flew past us.

One of the qualifications of rulership was the fact that Ice Spice Girl knew things we'd never even dream of. She knew of the best hiding places and the best stories. She would always be the last one to be found. She also never got to be the ‘den’, the seeker in the game.

That day, as always, Ice Spice Girl found a place no one could have guessed. It was a game but Ice Spice Girl was bold and adventurous.

Among her many stories was one where she used to be a fish. And we believed her. Ice Spice Girl could be anything she wanted. If she said that the Teeth Counter Bird was her aunt, we’d believe her.

The day was losing its shine and Ice Spice Girl was still not found. We looked up her old hiding places but found them empty. Lost and disappointed we went to her house, a sort of collective statement of defeat. But she was neither there at home.

A search party of parents came out looking for her. Ice Spice Girl, where are you? Ice Spice Girl, come out. Ice Spice Girl, the game is over. Ice Spice Girl, it’s not funny. Ice Spice Girl, come on. Ice Spice Girl, enough is enough.

It was late evening when they found Ice Spice Girl. Floating on the pond, next to the pink lotuses. Like the fish that she once used to be.
Sometimes I wonder whether the Net has turned us all into gods. Of some sort. Or the other.

Or maybe just one: the ginormous, nosey, ubiquitous and hugely popular Ganesha. Or... The Auspicious One. The Starter. The Blesser. The Scribe. The Recorder. The Narrator. The Intoxicator.

I think we have all become Ganeshas. Navigating this pixelated, There-Yet-Not-Quite-There nano-cosmos. Of speed and virtuality. An avatar of Maya. Navigating this Mayaland on a plastic mouse. Slowly, as the Latin saying goes, making haste.

The mouse has also made us lazy. Sitters. Key-pushers. Scribes. Narrators. Gormandizers (love that word!). Fast foodists. Not movers and doers. Or used-to-be strugglers, hard-workers of the pre-comp era.

We're Ganeshas, appearing to friends and followers as different things.

In different avatars.

Email and Chat ID-iots, bloggers, vloggers, sploggers, websites hosts, bylines, pictures, voices and spammers. Different things. To different people.

But ultimately, gods of the mouse.
Suchintan, meaning (I guess) Good Thinking, is builidng a house. With rust-coloured bricks. And a glistening, unrusted imagination. His house is like an ancient myth. A foundation. And layers and layers of untrammelled thought hovering above it. Visible only to those with a glistening, unrusted imagination. To the rest it is just a foundation. A maze of bricks.

Will you live in it? I ask Suchintan. No, he says, wondering whether I am slow, or pretending to be. It's for the ants, he says after a minute's silence. The ants are already there, holed up in one of the bricks he's got. They are crawling all over his hand. He gives his hand a shake. And his would-be tenants (or beneficiaries) hit the ground. Like rain.

Where is the door? I ask him to test the strength of his imagination. Here, he points to a gap between the bricks.The door is a gap. For the ants, I think, a gap will do. And windows? There, he says placing a random finger next to the door. By now he is convinced that I AM slow and not pretending. So he takes to answering questions he can see coming.

My best friend makes very good houses, he says. He can build them like this... a soundless click of forefinger and thumb. And a rolling of eyes. His house, meanwhile, is growing. Brick by brick. Hand-picked from a nearby stack by his tiny bricklayer hands.

I don't play with the 'dirty boys', he says suddenly, animated. Who are these dirty boys? He gives me names. Names that don't sound particularly dirty. And why are they dirty? Oh, because they are very bad. They beat us up. Hmm. Spoil our houses. Hmm. Tease the girls. More hmm. I am katti with the 'dirty boys'.

Those shoes, he's finished with the house and is now pointing at my feet, my dad also has them. They're his. Stolen by me, when he was sleeping. Uh-oh, they're not. He laughs catching a hint of the ridiculous in my claim.

A woman's voice calls out for Suchintan. It's time to leave the house of myth and imagination and come home. To mommy. To lunch. A cozy bed. And homework.

I have one last question. Can you read what's written on the bricks. Yes, he nods. Bee. Bee. Cee. They're from TV, no?

Yes. BBC Bricks? True.

They're bricks from TV. He laughs and starts walking home, leaving behind a play house only he and a few slow others can see.

Nefertiti and Akhenaten were horsing around in the water. Nefertiti would nip Akhenaten on the side and run for her life. Akhenaten would then go after her, chasing her through the weeds and the green-glass stones, trying in the melee to lose her so that finding her would be fun.

Nefertiti was much more beautiful than her famous bust. In fact she was gold and silver, like the earth-bound sun, the silver grinning from behind the gold. Just like that. In glorious confusion.

Nefertiti and Akhenaten hadn't yet started their religion. Or probably had. In another parallel universe. But even in the water, in the fishbowl, they showed signs of a religious passion. A passion for the Sun.

They would wake up early and look out through the water and the bowl and the window, at the sun. Like hungry pilgrims. Two pairs of fisheyes waiting for the sun to show up and warm their water and their lives.

I could see Nefertiti was dying to be reborn. Reborn as the Queen of Egypt. Akhenaten let out laughter bubbles, perhaps feeling funny at the thought of changing shape and destiny. Becoming pharoah, a king in a world created by aliens who later became gods, then kings and then ordinary men. Then finally fish.

Nefertiti and Akhenaten had just been told about their new life. Nefertiti was visibly pleased. Smiling tiny smile bubbles under water. When she couldn't wait no longer, she started going round and round the bowl, trying to gather momentum and strength.

The next morning Akhenaten was found floating on the top of the bowl. Very cold and very dead. Nefertiti was still going round and round, trying furiously to hasten her entry into the other world. Another time.

Around noon Nefertiti too was up, floating on the water as only dead fishes can. By afternoon, both Nefertiti and Akhenaten had begun to give off a foul odour.

They had clearly had enough of the fishbowl.

So with my index finger and thumb I fished out Nefertiti and Akhenaten from the bowl and laid them to rest in a shallow grave under a female papaya tree. And through the roots of the female papaya tree both Nefertiti and Akhenaten entered the underworld, where after a brief interregnum, their souls were freed. In Egypt. As King and Queen. As children of a new Sun god.
Meanwhile, their bodies became papayas, the inside of which was gold and silver, the exact colour of my goldfish whose lives changed the moment I called them Nefertiti and Akhenaten.
Audacity. A city with balls. A city of towering ambitions. Like Babylon. Bab-illi. The gateway to the gods. A city reaching out to the heavens with its sky-scraping ziggurats. A city of mighty kings and courtiers. A city built on power. A city like New York. And its goddess, standing erect and towering. Mocking at the God-fearing with her crown of horns. Her torch and book. Audacity is the statue, Liberty, the provider of licence and unnecessary freedoms. Like Babylon, the whore of the Old Testament.

Audacity is also Majaal. A something done in opposition to qualification, experience, standing or better judgement.

Majaal! The muse of warriors and adventurerers. It's that 'CAN DO BETTER' demiurge sitting on the shoulder like a screeching monkey. It's the tingling in the gut before an unrehearsed strike. Majaal is the mind's whip. Angry. Hungry. Seething, almost. It's a 'WILL SHOW YOU' throbbing ache in the temples. The arched eyebrow. The famished smile. That knowing, in the core, that success is an act of WILL. Nothing else.

It's that Devil-may-care toss of hair. The fierce squeezing of the eyelids. Majaal is blind. Like Arjun aiming his maxed out bow at the fish, seeing nothing else but the fish staring back.

But where is this city, Audacity? She's not really a place, a city. In fact she's Nature's wild child that each of us battles each day to live… and let live.
The city slept today.
The traffic was lazy.
The streets deserted.
Offices were shut.

It was the holiday after the holiday. The city was spent.

There were pictures. Sketches of the bombers. On TV. The sketches were computer-generated. They were vague, generic. Bandana-ed. It could be anyone.

But progress was made. The Blast Probe is going some where! A good sign.

Shahrukh Khan turned 40 today. Was there all over on TV. There was also a docu on his life.

We also watched the 'joint' funeral of two missing kids. A boy and a girl. Both around three or four.
Both torn to shreds in the blast. Unrecognisable from the debris! So bad, that a DNA test was required.

The parents wept silently, having decided on a 'joint' funeral. Both families were present in full strength. Participating in a rite of passage. The Farewell. Adios. Goodbye.

It was all done silently.

Silently the Sun sank into the horizon.

Another night!
It's Diwali Eve. There's light. And sound. Some flowers. Lots of smiles. Some flared nostrils. A lot of bravery. People are shaken. The ordinary and the important. Everyone is talking to everyone. Just checking, bhai. You know. Terrorist-sherorist, bag-wag, bomb-shomb! Kalyug hai!!

People are exchanging 'What they were doing when it happened?' stories. There is silent fear. There is loud abandon. No need to cancel the party, yaar. Oye, haar ni manni. We aren't scared, yaar. May be we should talk about something else. Saturday's party rocked, no? Hmm… well. But the DJ from Lahore… great music man. By the way who was missing?

No, not on TV, in real life! The channels are anyway just competing for TRPs. Yes I saw that. The burnt hand? On TV, where else. Yes, but they could have spared us the blood. Just too bloody, man. SMS. A friend's friend's friend's mother has been found missing. Shit. Tried the hospitals? Tell him it's okay, he'll find her, not to worry. Another SMS. The friend's friend's friend found his mother.

A certain Mrs Jain. He found her dead, at that hospital morgue, where some people were fighting over a burnt body. Oh, umm… I am sorry, man. My sympathies for the friend's friend's friend. A call. Are you all right dost? Yes, what will happen to me. I was worried. Hmm. Called home? Yes… did… ahem will… Hello, home? Am all right. Good, but we never doubted that. Never mind. No, no tell us. Delhi had blasts. What? Where, how, who?? Are you all right? Safe? Yes. Please watch TV, sometimes. Hmm goodbye. Have a call coming.

Call says… But I just left the place a few minutes ago. Hmmm. I was planning to go there, next day another friend says glumly. I am glad you didn't! I could have been there too. Walking into, past a shop selling... umm death.

But tonight is different. It's Diwali Eve. It's a night of vengeance. Revenge through music. The apartment block is throbbing with DJ music and the number of the night is Kajrarey. The Apartment Youth Club has decided to go ahead with the Diwali Nite. The party is, as they say, rocking. The occasion is life. Which is actually a party, where some people live. Some pass out. Some get get drunk and start fights.

And there... there goes a whistling cracker. Bright blue-green sparks. And flying flames. It's Diwali Eve. And it's revenge with music. Dance. And 'harmless' paper bombs.

You're Big Hearted Dilli. Way to go!!
Delhi has seen many battles and sacks. But this was by far the most cowardly. I, like so many Delhiites, am shocked at the cold logic of the slaughter. The time of the year. The timing. The areas. Nothing could have been more evil in intent and scale than yesterday's blasts.

I cannot for the life of me understand what cause this is that blasts its way through people's homes and livelihood. Rips open bodies and turns a city in celebration into a city in mourning. Turns a living city into a smoking charnel ground. What kind of justice are these people seeking? What kind of 'better world' are they trying to bring about? What kind of freedom are they fighting for?

I can understand war. Fighting an armed and ready enemy. But this I cannot understand. Will not understand! Even animals have more nobility in their aggression. This is cold and cruel slaughter where the knife moves slowly but expertly, like a violin bow, slicing through flesh, muscle and bones without pity or emotion. It's a technique meant for maximum blood loss.

Incidentally, it also has a name.

It's called Halal.

Bleed your victim slowly, while saying your pious prayers.

This is the way I see it now.
But I am willing to be convinced otherwise.
Ganesh was a shoeshine shop. He also changed soles. Repaired them, sometimes. Sitting under a bitter neem tree, he hid behind three lines of soles. Different sizes. Different material. Rubber and leather. Ganesh had a steel scrubber with which he sandpapered the soles before balming them with glue. Then he'd leave the soles to dry. Actually, to partially dry. So they weren't sticky. That way they stuck better, he explained once. Ganesh liked trees. Not enough left, he used to say. But I am old. The trees will be born again. I will too. Ganesh, the changer of soles, used to tell me and himself.

Maya was the daily press. She was a door-to-door news service. News in exchange of cups of tea and biscuits. In her free time Maya was also the funnies and sillies. She kept the rickshawallahs entertained with her jokes and imitations of people. Maya ironed clothes for a living. With her heavy, fire box she removed creases and frowns. From clothes. And faces. She even left laugh lines in the middle of clothes. One trip to her table and the clothes came back laughing. Maya put her money in the gap between her breasts. A habit from the days of more 'holding power'. Now, 'they' were a loss-making unit. Much money went down the drain, through them. But Maya didn't care. As long as she had a good laugh.

Pheku was the Jack of hearts. Young, good-looking and also a master story-teller. But Pheku couldn't write. Pheku took chai to the shops and the clinic. Somedays in the waiting crowd at the clinic, he'd find someone who would return his smile. Or maybe just look him up, smilishly. And Pheku would come back grinning, with a story. Actually, a 'pichchar' with Pheku as hero. And director. But Pheku liked to lose. The heroines in his stories always ended up saying, 'But Pheku, you sell chai'.

Chhedi and his Grandpa lived under a staircase. In the day their house disappeared into a neat TV carton. At night it rolled out on the landing. Chhedi slept with his mouth open while his Grandpa sent hourly coughs up the staircase so the Sharmas knew he was keeping a good watch. Chhedi was born to give trouble. Chhedi would quote his Grandpa whenever he saw it coming, which was often. Because Chhedi, like his Grandpa, had an easy temper. Most times his fights were over the name his Grandpa gave him. Because it meant Hole-maker.


What? Was the name of the guy who discovered the steam engine. Invented! Ok, invented the steam engine. Who was Watt? Some guy in England. But who was he, really? Who? Hu is some guy in China. Who is Hu? Think he's the PM of China. Could be the president also. One of them is Hu? Who? I dunno exactly. Also, Hao is somebody in China. How? How is who? He is well. But who is he? Someone in the Government. How do you know Hao? Know-how of what? Oh... through the papers. But what could be Hao? No Watt is no more. He died. I mean what is Hao in the Goverment? How would I know these things? Must be in the papers. Ok, how was Watt? What? Meaning Watt. Meaning what? No, Watt as in the engine guy. What was the name of the engine guy? Watt it was. Or wait, what did his name mean? Think bulbs. What bulbs? Bulbs' wattage, that Watt! Ok, that what what?
A black patch
of concrete--
broken stars
in coal tar,
on a big-moon
night, grinning
under a mercury
lamp, a few
dry leaves get
hit crossing
the road
by a whiff
of silver
moon-breeze
taking them
off course into
a pool of clean
and settled rain
water, collected
two days ago,
the leaves
now wet and
laid-back float
like lazy tourists,
looking up at
the big moon,
through
the mercury
lamp glaring
at them for
being free.


Written this afternoon, a few hundred hours after the 'real thing'.
(Elephish: Mariamman Teppakulam Pic by me)

The bridge that connects the East with the West also overlooks a cluster of islands. The islands are green and in parts washed in black industrial silt. The river, of course, is black, lazy, and exhausted. Impervious even to sunrays.

On one of these islands is seen an elephant, sometimes two or even three. Seemingly walking on the river. On its black and tired waters. The elephants hover above the river, like black clouds on stilts, five in number. From the bridge the elephants seem puny and out of place, grazing, or what looks like grazing, keeping a conscious distance from the herds of buffaloes nearby. These elephants have become individualistic. They have abandoned their herd instinct. Or maybe they've found another herd in humans for whom they now work. Or perhaps, elephantine memory is just a human construct.

The elephants live here.

The road to the East is littered with hand-painted signboards. Yahan Pe Haathi Rehte Hain. 'This is where elephants live'. The hand-painted signboards point to a cluster of slums. The elephants live there. These are showelephants--like showmen and women--earning a livelihood by gracing special occasions in gold and velvet caparisons. When not showing they are slumming. Living in the worst of human habitats. Far away from their natural homes in the forests.

Diagonally across, on the other side of the river is the State Secretariat, where laws are made and amended. It's a FACTORY OF LAWS in there.

But the elephants don't know that. They also don't know that there's a law against showanimals.

If you go to the East often or if you live there, you'd find these creatures on the road, ferrying their masters from one special occasion to another. Sometimes, you can also see them carrying sheaves of grass and leaves. Their humble pies.

At home in the slums, these elephants eat their humble pies and dream of being human, in another life.
Gyanocologist: One who finds gyan in strange places
Dharmasuitical: A company that has different rules for diff people
Vairagra: A pill for old sannyasis/yogis
Department of No-clear medicine:
For no-clear diseases
Karmatitis: Khujli caused by past deeds
Laabhorotory tested: Tested for profit-making
Acute arthritis: Confusion due to multiple meanings
Dayabetes: Too much sweet compassion

Ceramic, wide
big-mouthed
thin-throated
tongue-less,
sticking out
of a wall
like a tongue.

Doing a manly
something,
drinking
vile, fermented
liquids of
various makes
and vintage.

Helping out what
in the mammalian
world is done
around trees and
other standing
objects for marking
space and territory.
We were learning to fly. She was our flight instructor with big boobs. The rest of her aerodynamic self was like Icarus with folded wings. She had wings for us too. Red ones from the man from Moldavia. Green for the girl from the Czech Republic. Blue for the Argentinian twins. Orange for me. And of course, pink for the American. We were supposed to get our wings to class everyday. It was a pain but it was a cross we had to carry if we wanted to fly.

She was called Antonella. And with her red sausage lips she made flying seem easy. We were all fascinated with the way she moved her lips. "Bonnn (an ennish echo inside the O of her mouth) gior-no (lips round and puckered). Come Stai (a mile-long smile)". This is how our classes began: Good day, How are you? "Bon giorno," we'd chorus back in language school Italian.



The first class was a disaster. We had to learn through imitation. "Io sono Antonella, et tu?" Sounds easy now but then our attempts were wasted by distractions. And distractions there were many. The folded wings, the big boobs and of course the sausage lips.

Antonella was our door to a new world. A world where everyone walked around with folded wings. A world where even the Chinese and the Bangladeshis spoke Italian. But Antonella wasn't one to carry a 'chipped' shoulder. She was too caught up with the joy of learning. Learning from us our little inconsequential stories. Carried to her in the sad pidgin of language school Italian.

Later when I had learnt the basics of flying she told me that she liked teaching stranieri, foreigners (though strangers is closer to it in meaning), because through them she got to see different worlds. Antonella had never been abroad. Even Rome was a postcard republic she'd only seen and read about in school books.

Her dream was to travel and see the worlds her students brought to her.

Antonella was a generous woman. She had a special place in her heart for English, the language. "Guddh mourning. Ah Inglese, mi piace molto," she used to tell me admiringly, hands clasped and eyes closed in an expression of delight and relish. When the American joined the class I was introduced to him in sign and broken English. "Zis is James, ze Americano. And zis is Dhiraj, ze Indiano!" Our meeting was followed by an English language demonstration. "Plis spik in Inglese," she looked at us with bated breath. I, of course, was glad to be speaking in English. The American too seemed like he'd missed his mother tongue. Throughout our brief conversation Antonella's eyes followed us as if we were grand slam finalists. "Very guddh. Very guddh Eenglish," Antonella said with a delicious curl of her sausage lips. "Come si dice in Inglese, 'bravo'?" Meaning what do you call 'bravo' in English?
"It's called 'too much'," I volunteered.
"Okay, it's called too much," said Antonella as she took out her folded wings for a new class.
"Are you a delight?"
"Umm depends…"
"Then where are you from?"

"I believe in mouth to mouth publicity."
"How is it done?"
"Arre, I tell you, you tell someone else and so on."

"You like Undie TV?"
"What's that?"
"Uff, that English channel with Barkha Dutt."

"Sir, you need urine taste."
"Ughh."
"Oh it is better than blood taste."

"Your pant is wet."
"I don't think so."
"See it is also leaking."
"What?"
"Please put sticker on your door so nobody touch wet pant."

"Myself in garment service."
"You mean 'business'?"
"No, Delhi State Garment, Primary Health Department."

"You have balls?"
"F'course"
"Okay, get them for ice cream."

"Please sir, entry from backside."
"Why?"
"If others see they make problem. Today trader strike, no."
-that Mother Earth may finally be shutting shop
-that we may die of too much optimism
-that we're not as smart as the ad guys make us believe
-that it's a good idea to be nice to your neighbours
-that the one thing that I'd want before The End is a party at Rashtrapati Bhavan
-that animals are better at disaster management
-that the we could do with less communication
-that the Lord moves in mysterious ways
-that we should be less greedy and competitive
-that Darwin was actually an intelligent monkey
-that we should walk more and eat less
-that globalisation is mentioned in the Vedas
-that Democracy is a lot like yoga
-that talking to plants is not a sign of madness
-that cows are the biggest humanitarians
-that seriousness is a communicable disease
-that there's more life in Mars than on it
-that sign language is good for losing weight
-that my mom is a heart specialist
-that we need to think about what we're doing here

His name in translation means THANKFUL. But actually, he’s Lost. Stranded. In India. The cuss words he’s picked up in Hindi have their inflections right. Like the locals. His time here has been devoted to ‘higher education’. A painful process for which he’s had to pay through his nose. Like the education, the fee’s also been extracted from him in various painful ways. He says now he’s too old for adventure. In his country he’d be minding grandkids. But here he’s just a name. Thankful. And he seems to like it that way.

“I have no identity here,” he says with a toss of his grey and thinning mousetail. It’s part of the atmospherics! Most likely he's majored in sponging sympathy. For people, he has a knack. For places too. He knows his place of learning like the back of his hand. Paharganj means different things to different people. To him it’s a residential university. He knows its bylanes like the bulging veins of his hands.

He has a room in one of the cheaper guest houses. Cheaper in Paharganj would mean about 40 to 60 bucks a night or a monthly flat rate. When we go to his room to collect some of the stuff that he sells, he shows me around. His room is light-proofed, covered inside in fading curtains and magazine pages. To keep the light in, at night, as in a war zone. He’s not too fond of daylight either.

In the streets he is like a celebrity. People call out to him. The beggar kids know him as Toffee Uncle. But he likes to keep his popularity under wraps. A bit like his room. He doesn’t want many people talking about him. He doesn’t want his fame to reach the cops. Because they may want to make some money out of him. What happened to his papers, I ask, by the way. “Robbed,” he says without emotion. What about his embassy? “But I don’t have proof,” he says suddenly exasperated. It’s like he’s trying hard to forget something. Something whose robbing was perhaps much looked-forward-to or maybe planned. Later, over dinner, he mentions Beirut, where he spent part of his growing up years. “The world was an easier place then,” he says longingly.

In Paharganj the world’s still ‘an easier place’. For him at least. In his dictionary, work or the generation of money is a creative enterprise. He has learnt a thousand ways of making it. One of them includes buying and selling of invisible stuff. Stuff that the law doesn’t want to see sold. And people don’t want to be seen buying. And sellers don’t want to hear about it once it’s sold. Thankful sees himself as a contraband superstore. “You want E? Coke? Russian babes? Indians? No problem, I can get you anything.” The deal is simple. You show him the money and he will get you your favourite contraband.
I always look upon demolitions with mixed feelings. Most of us do too but like to keep the feelings mixed and to ourselves. In, I guess, the interest of a wider ‘human interest’. We watch silently, but with gaping mouths and moist-eyed, bulldozers work the ground, like hungry locusts devouring a field. Reducing with their steel mandibles walls to pieces of brick, doors to shards of wood. Creating debris. If you believe in the Big Bang then our Earth too was made from the debris of a cosmic explosion.

And look where we are now.


Space is there to be had. Claimed. And reclaimed. We have reclaimed land from the mountains, from the forests, from the sea. From monkeys, dolphins and other herd animals. Ourselves included. To build bigger, better buildings. For bigger, better people. To live in. And gloat. And say pretty things about architecture, progress and development.

Delhi is also the famous City of Demolitions. It’s been demolished several times over and still continues to order ‘demolition drives’ every now and then. One just happened near where I live some days ago. And I can’t deny feeling mixed and confused looking at the bulldozed piece of land. But then I saw my feelings on the faces of the ‘victims’ as well. Sitting outside their ‘illegal’ slum they didn’t seem to see it as a tragedy. Their life already seemed ready and waiting. Their bag, baggage and kitchens are back on the road once again. Their booth squats are thankfully still intact! Tomorrow they’ll start again, wherever the government feels fit to relocate them. They’ll make new homes. New kitchens. Erect walls where there were once wild, untended, unbuilt spaces. And live happily ever, till the next demolition drive.

Delhi is a veteran of demolitions. And she feels no sorrow for these people. She even takes a sadistic delight in their plight. Because for them no space is holy. None inviolable.

But there is a larger wisdom at work here. Every building is actually a re-building. Nothing is got from nothing. Land is dug out to bake bricks. Steel comes from mountains of ore. Something always has to be broken for something to come up. Some Big Bang has to occur for creation to begin. Such is the logic of creation. And such is the nature of our tragedies. In the end it’s all one big turn of the CYCLE. Phew!

I have been thinking about people, things and places that time forgets, ignores or leaves behind untouched. Is it a good thing to be forgotten by time? I am wont to think that it is because when it takes you with it you age, grow old and die. So if time forgets you, you wouldn’t age, grow old and die. Which brings us to the second line of questioning: is it possible to fool time, sneak away and hide in some recess where it has no power. Since it is one of the two main dimensions we exist in would an absence of time also mean an absence of space? Which would mean that you can fool time only if you can fool space. Or become formless, without mass. Just a blip of consciousness. A ghost, sort of. But no, that is not what I am talking about. My concern is to survive time without giving up space. Being alive without succumbing to the tick-tocking of time.

Most laws governing our lives have a few exceptions. Except, we are told, the phenomena of birth and death. Why are these two so inviolable? Think about it folks and tell me your views.



I must have been 10 or less when I saw my first alien. I knew about it from my street friends who were all rushing to see it. “You don’t want to miss it, do you?” they said which was enough to get me started. We were old enough to tell fact from fantasy, but also young enough to be wide-eyed at the possibility of seeing the two mix. It was a long walk to Maqbara. Entered in through a grand gateway on the trendy Hazratganj or Lucknow’s main MG Road as most city main roads in India are called, Maqbara was a largish square mausoleum compound lived in mostly by Anglo-Indian families. Why these mixed race people chose to live so close to the dead of another mixed race people I have never been able to figure out. But no one actually thought of Maqbara as a mausoleum. For most people of the city it was just another mixing bowl of people, ideas, histories and culture.
The dead alien was neatly laid out on a small jute khatia, on a piece of red cloth. It was draped in a string of red hibiscus blooms and smeared on the forehead with Vermillion. Incense sticks were lit around it and people tossed change into a small bowl near it. It was a small fee that curious folk didn’t mind paying for being brought face-to-face with a freak of nature. I don’t know what stories these people carried back with them. Mine was threadbare and riddled with questions.
The darshan was organised by the owners, occupants of Maqbara’s smaller servants’ quarters, who rarely got an opportunity to be in the public eye. In the crowds that came to look at the freak there were murmurs of it being some sort of an avatar. But even if it was an avatar it looked pretty useless because it was in no condition to help anyone as avatars are supposed to. There were other murmurs of it being born of the union between man and goat. This gave our budding imaginations a bigger kick. Just thinking of the impossible positions of the union.
The alien was not more than a foot and a half long. It’s skin pale was like human skin. But for limbs it had trotters, like a goat’s. Its face was the most striking. Almost human with perfect eyes that were half shut. It’s mouth was lipless and protruding. Two struggler horns sat above its temples like boils. Its mother, a jet-black bleater, was tied nearby, also garlanded and given fresh grass for the effort.
I don’t know what happened to the dead goat kid but we saw its grainy black and white picture staring with its half-shut eyes from the next day’s papers. Unexplained like one of The X-Files riddles. But somehow hugely sense-making to us, people of the mixing bowl .

Delhi, 2005: Old Fort, also Purana Qila, meaning old fort. A bland neutral description chosen to end issues of provenance. Books and historians tell us that it could have been the site of Indraprastha, the fabled Pandav capital. Books and historians also say that Humayun, the second and the most unsung of the Mughals had chosen the site for his city. Dinpanah or Refuge of the Faith. Which faith, we are not sure.

Interestingly, Humayun did not use the ‘-abad’ suffix that most of his predecessors chose for their cities. Except perhaps Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq, the Mamluk Madman, who called his city, Jahanpanah. Refuge of the World. Roughly, Dinpanah would translate to Dharmapad or City of the Dharma in Sanskrit.

Dinpanah was later conquered by Sher Shah Sur and turned into Sher Shahi, his own imperial capital. Among the many buildings Sher Shah added to Sher Shahi during his short reign was Sher Mandal or the Lion’s Orbit.
Lion’s Orbit is a funny building. Doesn’t say much. Spectates mutely as mute spectators are prone to. Yet it is a building that draws people. You can’t just look at it and move on. It makes people linger on. And listen, in a strange telepathic way, to its amazing life’s story.

Here’s how it goes…
“We live longer than the people who make us. We aren’t just things of stone. And mortar. We have our lives, our eyes and memories. We are basically ideas. Manifested and realised in space and time. To the writers of history, we are simply built. I was built by Sher Shah Sur. But I am older than him and that. I was built octagonal, of red sandstone, with staircases leading up to a canopied terrace. I was unique because there were few like me. I was built for no apparent intent. I was built to be a commemoration. A monument. Sher Shah called me Sher Mandal because I was going to establish him as the centre of his universe, his city: Sher Shahi.

“My foundations are made of stones from the palace of illusions (refer: Mahabharat). The palace where water looked like stone and stone like water. This was Sher Shah’s way of claiming immortality. But Sher Shah was a wise man. Not many people knew about the foundation stones except the King, his chief architect and the raj purohit, yes even the sultans had raj purohits.

“I was dedicated to Sher Shah, the Lion King, and whoever dared to claim me was sure to see his fate rebel. When Sher Shah died Humayun, the Mughal, came back to claim his fort city. He broke down many buildings, built some but he did not touch me. He was fascinated by my strange beauty and audacity. Star gazing was one of his many kingly preoccupations. So he began frequenting my high terrace to look at his beloved stars.

“Humayun was a seeker and a worshipper of beauty. Some learned people had advised him to offer salutations to Shukra (Venus), the Evening Star, the bringer of light. That, they had said, would help him find what he was looking for. The King, now not as young and robust as he used to be, began coming to the terrace every evening to offer salutations to Venus. One evening, when he was gazing at the Evening Star, he heard a soft whisper. It was like a voice broken down by the breeze. ‘Hu-maaa-yun, Hu-maaa-yun, Hu-maaa-yun’.

“The King was astounded because all his life he had been waiting for this voice. He stood up and answered, ‘Ya Allah, I can hear you.’ The voice did not stop. It just kept calling out his name.

“Humayun then figured its source. And the poor man started going towards the voice: without help, without guards, because his evenings at the terrace were his time alone. He didn’t want the guards spreading stories about the his kafir ways. So alone Humayun began his descent towards the voice.

“The voice was small but effective. It dissolved my staircases into empty space. And stairs appeared where there was empty space. The King in his excitement kept walking towards the voice. Walking, towards a wrong set of stairs. At the edge of the terrace he stopped. I could sense that he was seeing a vision. Paradise. A place he recognised from some earlier visit. Humayun, the opium-eater was in Paradise often. But that day he had had nothing. In years, facing reality. And he could see it as clearly as I could, him.
He took his final step. A thud. The King hit the stone floor.

“Two days of nightmares and voices later, Humayun breathed his last. Sher Shah was a wise man. He knew what he was doing when he built me. I, an idea cast in stone, became someone's nemesis. Once more, a palace of illusions.”
We are at Coffee House. CP outer circle. After Rivoli. Before Hanuman Mandir. On top of Mohan Singh Place. You may have to go under the road. And criss-cross through islands of hand-me-downs, to get here. Old discarded American Polo shirts, tees, jeans and trousers—meant for free distribution—are sold here. Sold amid the competitive cacophony of a sellers' market. Lay-low, lay-low, p’chaas-kado, p’chaas-kado. Fixed Price. No Bargain.

Perhaps it is sold to cover transport and handling costs. Or maybe we’re just weird people who like to buy charity. Lay-low, p’chaas kado.

It’s 9/11, four years older. We are in a game of musical chairs. First out on the terrace, then inside, then out again. The rain is our referee. Start, stop. Start, stop. And then FULL STOP. We’ve left important Sunday things to be here. To do poetry, like some people do shopping. Like it’s said: Same difference! We are an online poetry group, meeting offline. First we are three, then I come in and we become four, then the guitarist comes in and we are five. The famous five (poets). Certified by ourselves. With apologies to Ms Blyton.

It’s a flop show, says Shivam, because some mental quorum of an offline meet has not been met in his mind. It’s okay, says Brian, the guitar guy, I would have read poetry even if was alone. That’s the spirit, yaar, we cheer him. We begin with Lorca’s poems. I pick one called The Moon is Dead (twice over, it seems). La Luna esta Muerta, Muerta. Brian suggests we all try our hand at Spanish. Just curl your lips around the words, he says, and it becomes Spanish. We try, and succeed miserably. Bikram says he can’t curl his lips while chewing gum. So he tries without it. And succeeds.

The rain stops. And we move outside. We chose a place earlier taken by a group of monkeys. They are actually poets, in monkey disguise. One of them tries to borrow Brian’s white plastic bag. He would be the monkey with the best voice. But Brian has other plans, he makes a dash for the monkey and gets back his bag of poetry.

The evening rolls. We are at an important place in time. The sun is going down, to the other side. In another part of the sky, a half-moon shape is struggling through the clouds. The Moon is Only Half Dead. Lorca missed that. There’s more poetry. Nitoo’s amazing ‘funny lines’. A something about ‘Fakkade’, a tourist guide’s attempt at saying ‘façade’. Brian makes fun of Bangalore Central, a mall in the Garden City. Coffee, cutlets, sandwiches and a dosa arrive. Poetry is food and food, poetry. We eat our words as poets often have to. While eating we briefly visit Goa, transported on Brian’s guitar; with the half moon and the full breeze as muse and fuel.

Two offline friends come and join us. They’re also encouraged to read Spanish in the light of a Nokia 1100. One begins Lorca’s longish ode to Whitman, but it’s too long, so she gives up. We move on to Hughes’ Crow poems. Habba Khatoon is done in early by a careless translator. But in Kashmiri she sounds good.

The ‘flop show’ ends on a high note. With another ride on Brian’s guitar. This time we wave our moonlight phones at him. Like rock fans at a concert. The monkeys would have liked the light and sound. On the way out we exchange notes on blogging. And promise to meet again, online and off it. On a Sunday when the world’s out shopping, we’ll meet and do some poetry.
The fort stands brown and serrated like massive teeth gaping at the ageless sky. Trying, with a missing upper jaw, to bite off a piece of blue eternity. The fort—built sometime in the fourteenth century by Ghias-ud-din, founder of the House of Tughlaq—once contained a city. Tughlaq-Abad. A city settled by the Tughlaqs, if translated.

The fort is now divided by a transporters’ highway. Trucks run through it like ants carrying goods four times their size. The space inside the fort is sheeted in the brilliance of bud-green shrubbery. It’s late monsoon. And there’s plenty to chew on especially if you’re a cow. Or a goat. They graze where soldiers once tied their horses. Monkeys fornicate on former watch-posts. Bats squeal from under basements where a torch hasn’t been lit for centuries. The place has a reputation. It’s known to attract drug addicts, drunks, gamblers, compulsive wankers, thieves, rapists, murderers and other products of big city marginalia.

A small plastic ticket counter set up by the Archeological Survey of India is, like everything else, abandoned. It’s lone ticket-seller is out, somewhere. When he finally comes back he seems happy to find visitors waiting. Written behind the blue tickets he sells is a red-letter plea: THESE MONUMENTS ARE YOUR NATIONAL HERITAGE. PLEASE DO NOT DISFIGURE THEM.

But the fort is already a tableau of decay. Wasted walls and wasted gateways. There’s not much else, except walls and gateways. Rocks that were once chiselled and hammered into walls and gateways by nameless masons and stonelayers, are now slowly returning to rocks. Their cement is also turning into capricious sand. The shifting sand leaves behind boulder-on-boulder formations that even a gale can unseat and tumble. Things have a tendency to return to their natural state. History has a way of being repeated.

The hoofs that once cantered on the stone ramps of the fort are now trapped in the ears of skeletons buried in a nearby tomb. The blood on the ramparts has also evapourated and rained over the fort long ago.

A stone lectern behind the fort’s main arch gives dates, measurements and other interesting details about the fort. But the nowhere does it mention the curse that it has lived for nearly 700 years. Nizamuddin Aulia, Delhi’s patron dervish, had cursed the place while it was still under construction. It would be DESOLATE but for WANDERERS: “Gujjar ya ujjar,” the seer had so predicted in rhyme. Interestingly, it was not entirely a matter of prescience as Aulia favoured the son and hated the father, not without reason though.

Ghias-ud-din’s son Mohammad-bin-Tughlaq, a madman and a genius, had wanted his own city and schemes. So he’d moved out of Tughlaqabad with everybody in tow. Even the beggars and cripples were not left behind. And Tughlaqabad had the strange misfortune of being settled and sacked by the same dynasty.

The key to Control. Is saying I don’t know. Asking what, when, who, where, how and why not? It is about free-falling and knowing what key to press and when. It’s about playing the game. And finding new rules. Finding words among letters. Words, lying flayed and hidden. As squares. And as rectangles. It’s about finding meaning in the falls between letters. And commas, colons, slashes, dashes, equal-tos, brackets and full-stops. It’s about pressing Shift. And not going anywhere. From lower case to CAPS, maybe. Or semi-colon to colon. Or single quote to double. It’s about changing stress and inflection. Enter’s the biggest, usually. A master key among lesser masters. All sorts of mysteries are YES-ed and OK-ed here. Cracked open. As are paragraphs. Enter allows. Escape prevents. With intent, the fingers reach out for these keys, press ’em and multiply possibilities. Each square stands for something. A black something as opposed to a black something else. A letter. An individualised character. A symbol for sound. Sometimes a symbol for meaning. In tight, ungrammatical abbreviations. Like I, C, Y, U, R, U.

Something shows up for each square pressed. Every square pressed leaves its mark. A copy, clone, emanation. Whatever. A symbolic something. Every square, except the Space Bar. The Space Bar occupies the longest space. Its mark is the most unique. The most empty. The Space Bar is called in to create space, if such a thing is possible. To create a unique emptiness for words to claim and occupy. The Space Bar is an unmarked area. A place where words find meaningful barstools to sit on. Talk. Drink. And get drunk. On emptiness. Without it, all written text is one word: long, meaningless and unpronounceable.

Then there are twelve mysterious Fs, meant for higher, complex purposes. There’s also Home and End, back to back, with nothing between them, except sometimes another key. Insert doesn’t care about the past. It writes over it. Insert rewrites history by replacement, an insidious expertise but useful nonetheless. Delete deletes. Makes space, the usual way. Erasing excesses and oddities. One at a time. Or entirely, en block.

And then there’s the rectangled Universe. The holder of keys. A switchboard of commands. Pressed into service. Whenever inspiration strikes.
There was this story doing the rounds when I was small. It was about a roaming merchant. A merchant of cloth, who went door to door selling his art on cloth. The curious thing about this merchant was that he didn’t go to just any house. He'd choose his houses carefully. And then go there when the woman of the house was alone.

The story about him was that sometimes he sold his stuff way below his art’s worth. What made him make these untradesmanlike decisions no one knew. Perhaps he was a true artist to whom these issues of commerce didn't matter. Or maybe he had a larger plan.

The cloth merchant was rarer than his story. No one actually knew anyone who had bought any cloth from him. Actually no one could.

He’d arrive at his chosen house on a panniered bicycle, ring the bell and when the woman of the house opened the door for him, he would simply say "Sari". I don’t know whether it was curiosity or some magic in his cloth, eyes or bicycle that made women buy his stuff without him saying anything other than the most obvious.

Women would buy his beautiful saris but never wear them. The story goes that they wouldn’t wear the saris for fear of spoiling them. They feared that the gold, silver and bronze in their embroidery would get oxidised by the gaze of careless admirers.

But the story doesn’t end there. The saris, unworn and unappreciated, would lie at the dark depths of trunks and cupboard shelves for months. Then suddenly one day they would start calling out. "Wear me. Or I'll die. Wear me. Or I'll die." This plea would first begin as a muffled whisper from inside a trunk or a cupboard and then it would grow louder and louder till the women could take it no more. Funny thing was that no one else besides the purchasers could hear this plea.

The women would finally give in and wear the sari. The moment they’d wear the sari the yards of cloth would start fluttering. Like a flag around a flagpole. The fluttering would reach an uncontrollable frenzy, forcing the women to go out into the open. Once outside, the free-end of the saris would rise like a hood and cover their heads. Then their wrapped bodies would start spinning like a top. And spinning, the women would disappear right in front of the eyes of onlookers.

I didn’t know anyone whose mother or aunt had so vanished into thin air. But the story caused my brother and me to fear for our mother.

Around the same time a friend of the family came to our house with a man we'd never seen before. He was an embroiderer who specialised in saris. This 'uncle' was known to mix with all sorts of people, so him bringing  an embroiderer to our doorstep though a first was not particularly uncharacteristic. Somehow uncle managed to convince my parents about how brilliant this man was and how for the first time in her life my mom would have a sari made just for her. The next day this man was given a place in our verandah where he stretched a sari in the rectangle of an empty charpoy and he began to work. I don't remember this man very well except that he was dark, had big teeth and he smiled a lot. Also that he was very fast with the needle. In a matter of two or three days he was done with the sari. When I think about him now I just draw a blank as to the colour of his sari or the kind of embroidery he did. Except that he was from Moradabad and had worked in Bombay for some time. Perhaps it was our fear for our mother's safety that caused this kind of an erasure. Or maybe he WAS the otherworldly cloth merchant who caused us to forget important details about him.
The stone,
my love,
is just a
metaphor.
And waiting
is not
my style.
So would you
be kind
and die
soon,
'cause the
building
may take
a while.

Translated from the original Persian,
titled THE SILENT STONE, believed
to have been spray-painted on the Taj Mahal

soon after it was thrown open to the public,
circa 16 hundred something.
A piece of paper, flying, angrily, on the runway. Flying, like a single-seater plane losing speed and direction. Flying like a big bad eagle out to bully smaller birds.

The paper: white, typewritten and freshly escaped from an envelope.

The envelope, freshly escaped from a grinning bag of airmail.

The paper slid out of the envelope, got run over twice by the wheels of an airport trolley. The glue gave way. The paper stepped out of its cage and stretched itself straight from a triple fold. Like a cat waking.

The bag, smiling and stamped black and blue with code-markings, sits self-satisfied in the plane's underbelly. Unmindful of the weight of words. Unmindful of an escaped letter.

With the airport far behind, the paper keeps flying. Whapping into bird herds, making friends of some fearless ones that fly with it curiously, cautiously watching its unfeathered flight from a distance.

Some unusual type of currents take the paper by its corners to heights from where it feels the anger of the sun. The air in these higher reaches is cold and penetrating. The paper melts and and shivers at the same time.

Below the world changes into squares of green, grey and brown. Buildings become small, like faded lego. The river looks like an opened vein. The paper has never seen this arching world, trapped as it was in the flatness of a writing pad.

Another gust of uncommon wind takes hold of the paper again. The paper with its words is pulled down by the downward wind. The paper and its words spiral down a staircase of speed. The squares begin to change into lego. The lego grows into lifesize buildings. A building turns into green colour flats.

The paper prepares for touchdown. The speed staircase stops at a balcony with a white iron swing. A further wind, the last breath of the speed staircase, carries the paper to the door of the flat. A dog named Caesar hungrily licks at the sliver of sunlight below the door. Caesar can see the paper. He licks and paws and pulls till the paper is inside.

Caesar likes the taste of paper. He takes the daily paper from near the white iron swing to his sleeping master every morning. But this is afternoon. So Casear keeps the paper for himself. Licking it till the paper becomes a ball of edible words. Then he swallows it.

The paper dissolves in Caesar's stomach. A message from above, brought down to earth by uncommon winds only to be eaten.

By a dog.
"Crunt problem," says Ramsaran as he removes his green plastic tester from the plug point. It's a lone, derelict three-pin socket that has been discovered just a few days ago. Its plastic body is cracked and discoloured, from white to grey. Some former tenant has tried, unsuccessfully, to seal its three holes with a putty-like substance. Perhaps in an act of vengeance. Sealing off a non-performing plug point. Perhaps this plug point was not meant to be used. An accidental plug point, first made and then on hindsight unmade. Erased, badly but with potent intent. It's crunt problem is in fact a problem of transmission. Power doesn't reach it. It's been cut off from the larger circuitry of the house. By design or accident I don't know.

Ramsaran suggests getting a new covering. Maybe then it will work. The alternative to that is to go to the root of the problem. Find exactly where the "crunt" has stopped flowing. But replacement seems like an excess. Maybe this hole in the wall has a larger purpose, I try to tell Ramsaran. Ramsaran is silenced by disbelief and the sudden discovery of what's unarguably extreme stupidity. "O-K. This remain no-crunt hole!" he says throwing up his hands. I say, "Yes, no-crunt hole" and smile a smile of gratitude. Ramsaran can't see the humour in it. "Any other problem?" he asks. I say, "No". He says, "O-K" and heads towards the door.

At the door, he suddenly turns around to face me. "Who is ill-tishun?" he asks. I have an inkling where this might be leading. "You, of course... but I was..." Ramsaran cuts me short. "No problem. Me just checking." With that Ramsaran raises his right hand to his temple in a pidgin salaam and moves on.

Back inside my room, I stare once again at the plug point that will not work. Stubbornly staring back at me with its three partially closed eyes. No crunt but still not useless. Built into the wall like an Electric Monument. No crunt. No life. But still going on.
This is something that came to me last night...
It's called the WHO IS I project and it requires your help.
Please visit it @ http://whoisi.blogspot.com
and leave your mark there.
Remember the key to this question is imagination.
So let your's soar.
The road on a rainy night is like a black mirror.

It's a mirror that turns headlights and streelights into long quivering pillars of light. On such nights, these quivering pillars of light light up the road like a city under glass. An undercity of black lights! The undercity is a city stuck to its sky. Upsidedown.

The undercity is a dark twin come up for some air and attention. Suddenly made visible by the rains. An illusion realised in space. Like moments in a film. Moments that ARE simply because they HAVE BEEN.

These are things we know. And yet we can never find out.

On rainy nights the twin undercity comes up to snigger at those labouring in the overworld. The Upside Up, Downside Down people of the regular world. The dark citizenry of this dark undercity comes up to see the overcity of light and regularity. And to throw eerie back-glances, from an upsidedown perspective, at the overcity-world above.

It's a funny sight, the play of light on blackness. The rising of Hades on rainy nights. Like the birth of Venus. The coming alive of an unknown, unseen undercity.

Most drivers of cars and two-wheelers are oblivious to the undercity's appearance on rainy nights. They're more worried about getting wet. Or busy making waves of rain and gutter overflow. Or perhaps they think the undercity is a reflection, no more.

The columns of light dance on the black mirror like laser swords. Sometimes they also make dazzling shapes of light.

It's a spectacle to see light enter the domain of darkness.

Delhi on such a rainy night made me think about the nature of light. How when light enters a surface (a non-reflecting one) it disappears. How it's seen only when it is refused entry. How some things become visible only when they are refused entry. How light creates undercities of black light when refused entry.

Or do undercities really come up to look at their twins sometimes on rainy nights?
I am sitting by the Ganga, up in Rishikesh, somewhere near the soles of the mighty Himalayas. This is where the river shines like bottled water, uncontaminated by the mud-brown guilt of redemption-seekers and industrial effluvia.

I am lazing on the grey sand that holds in its heart the memory of the sea—its final future as well as its distant past. The sand despite its aeons of memory has nothing to say. But the river speaks. In baby gurgles and noisy licks of the sand bank.

The river is young and reckless here, enjoying her freedom from the Recluse Liberator’s hair-lock. Adventurers come to this stretch of the river to celebrate her liberation. They ride her various moods of escape. They ride these rapids in boats built for turbulence and turtle-turns.

The Ganga is playful here. She’s not the somber laundry-mom of the plains, where she takes on the task of washing, tumble-drying and ironing souls. Readying them for another life.

But beyond the froth and gurgle of new liberation she also seeps wisdom into her banks. Into the groundwater. Into the taps of 'drinking water'.

Ganga’s mystery, in the form of flowing water. She’s a goddess without temples. She's a force but she's also benign. Raging, but powerless to human encroachments. She is elegant and graceless at different points. She’s shy and shamelessly in-the-face. She’s naked but her nakedness is invisible. Like the emperor’s new clothes. She is reticent but she can tell you her backstory in a flash. Ganga is saint and slut rolled into one.

As her stories pull me deeper and deeper into a warm-and-chilling embrace, I can almost taste the salt in her waters. Are they tears of joy? Or tears of pain? I enter her gingerly, not wanting to disturb her absorption in her painful pleasure or pleasurable pain.

But she sends me an eager wave that yanks at my towel. Once, twice and thrice. And the towel goes with it like a flying rug under water. And suddenly I see her water face grinning at my nakedness. As if saying 'Gotcha!'

I am the face
on the torn
movie poster
I am the face
of the moment
look at me
carefully
without blinking
and find
yourselves
explained and
enlarged.

I am the famous
flat, paper
copy of a flesh
and blood
somebody
I am also you,
you and you
and maybe
also me.
I am the
eyes on
the road
nothing
misses me
there's
nothing I
seek, hide
or remember
or remember
to seek
and hide.
I am the face
that can’t
look back
or stick out
its tongue
and enjoy
the sounds
and smells
of the moving
street.

I am the face
on the torn
movie poster
next time
when you
come to my
street know
that I am not
just a face
on the torn
movie poster
but I am,
oh yes, I am
the eyes
of the wall
as well.
Parallel lines are supposed to meet at infinity. Or never. But these touchy feely parallel lines keep falling into each other’s arms. It’s not love, but necessity. The screaming, kicking metallic clang of necessity. It’s necessity wound tightly inside electric-powered engines.

These steel lines have their stomachs sucked in at the points of their necessary embrace. Like Roman tens with not enough leg space. Trains change tracks at these points of not enough space.
Trains never leave these tracks. But the tracks don’t go anywhere. They just look like they’re travelling.

They seem to move with you if you’re looking down at them from train doors and windows. Far, in the parallel distant, they are as stationary as their makers intended them to be.


These tracks are clasped on to ribs of hardy wood with twisted eight-shaped claws. The wooden ribs in turn are nailed to foundations of cement and broken rocks. Trains unlike cars don’t run on air-filled rubber. Trains run on discs of steel that become invisible with speed. At these times the steel discs are just flashes of coloured wind. It’s as if there’s nothing else but coloured wind between the trains and the tracks.

Sometimes at high speed and on sudden braking the steel-on-steel friction produces fireworks that scream and enter people’s heads like cold ice picks.

These tracks are actually fallen ladders, forced flat on the ground by the force of necessity. They don’t go anywhere. They just give the impression of movement.

Tracks are very confusing because within their bracketed space they hold many contradictions. Of necessary meetings between fallen ladders made possible by twisting the principles of infinity. All in an effort to make things move.
I met Anger
at the bus stop
he was there
blowing
hot fumes
of black tobacco
from the
radioactive fields
and boiling-blood
irrigators.

On the bus
Anger gripped
a steel pipe
and gave the bus
a solid shake
then he kicked a man
in the balls
spat on a woman’s face
snatched a ragdoll
from a baby’s hands
and pulled hair
off the driver’s head.

At the next stop
when Anger got off
the steel pipe gave
the bus a solid shake
the kicked man
punched his neighbour
the spit-face woman
pulled her daughter’s plait
the ragdoll baby
bit his mother’s hand
and the driver ran over
a man on a scooter.

At another stop
I met anger again
waiting for
another bus ride,
another shake
of silent steel
some more balls
to kick
faces to spit
ragdolls to snatch
hair to pull
and to make
the world
fighting fit.
It’s been a lazy morning. The crowds outside the temple are gradually coming alive with the business of the day. A couple has been brought to the priests’ gallery. They have been accused of a great sin. Love outside marriage.

They have been known to be living together for years. The couple has been brought to the temple by angry neighbours and busybodies. The priests recognise the woman as someone who’d once refused to get her son initiated into the faith. This is their moment.

The couple is produced before the assembly of elders. The neighbours and busybodies want justice. And some respect for the law. The priests are only too willing. Just then one old and wily priest calls all the elders aside. “We can kill two birds with one stone. That arrogant man, we can nail him if we ask him to mediate in this case.”

The others need no time to think. They say okay, thinking this is their chance to get even for the slights the arrogant man and the sinful woman have thrown their way. They go out of the temple where they see the arrogant man teaching his rag-tag groupies. "You sir," they call out to the arrogant man, “we have a case we can’t solve, can you help us? Please.” The arrogant man looks at them and smiles. It’s a knowing smile that pierces through the fat of their intentions.

“This woman has sinned,” they chorus. The sinning man they have forgotten in their eagerness for revenge. “Judge her. By the same law that you keep throwing at us time and again.”

The arrogant man smiles. “Go ahead and stone her,” he says looking at them as if they were all one person. One self-important, nitpicking, niggardly midget with an appetite for piffle.

It’s as if the arrogant man’s gaze has fixed the men. Each man suddenly feels alone, transported to lives past. To moments of great shame. Moments they never want to see the light of day. Moments, over which they have laid layers and layers of alabaster and fine marble. Like mausoleums built over worms and skeletons.

Each man sees the arrogant man’s face pasted on his shame. Like an insult. A stinging slap. The priest sees the face on the body of a girl he had abducted for a night of pleasure. He had later threatened her with a public flogging if she opened her mouth.

The trader sees a friend of long ago whom he had swindled of a fortune. The friend also had the arrogant man’s face.

The temple guard sees the face on the beardless boy he had used and then murdered outside the city walls.

The tax-collector sees the arrogant man’s face on the peasant whose field he now owned.

How could the arrogant man know, they think. How could he know of our hidden shame. They start to leave the scene. Shaken. Changed. Struck by what some people call a soul-slap.
These days nothing gives me more pleasure than sharing my breakfast with eagles.

I am not sure whether they enjoy my company as much as I do theirs. But sometimes, I can almost see them looking at me from the corners of their sharp eyes. And winking.

The eagles and I are separated by a glass wall. I am enclosed in the air of conditioned comfort. In my eighth floor cafeteria and they are outside: soaring, somersaulting and surfing the thermals like trapeze artists.

They are practicing. Bettering their mastery of the air. But they make the work seem like so much fun.

Sometimes, I also see them thinking. Sitting at perches high and perilous enough to cause vertigo in lesser birds. I see the eagles dwell on the vastness and the minutiae of their world. Without being seduced by one or perplexed by the other.

I see the eagles as a symbol of staggering equanimity. They don’t sing. They don’t dance. They don’t cuckold. They don't stalk. They KILL only when hunger visits. Otherwise they're content just using their magnificent flappers.

I don’t think food weighs heavy on their minds. That they can get any time, in just one clean swoop of wings, claws and calculated force.

I think eagles don’t have the fancies and phobias of low-fliers.

Am amazed at how much my breakfast friends have taught me by simply being themselves.
Houses
are built
by ants,
lived in by
god-fearing
sociopaths.

Houses
have windows
and doors
that make eyes
and faces
at homeless folk.

Graves
are lived in
by ants
and dug
by godless
sociopaths.

Graves
are blind
so that
the homeless
can’t envy
them.

Graves,
houses,
ants,
sociopaths,
and god
can teach
us a thing
or two.
Lucknow Residency: pic by Sahar Z

In the roofless, brick-exposed palace of King Wajid Ali Shah, there roams—some nights—the portly form of the late king. Behind the king goes his retinue of dancers and music makers. The king chooses the nights of his appearances. No pattern or almanac can be affixed to his visitations. Those who have seen the spectacle of the king’s song and dance are so enamored of the vision that they are left incapable of enjoying anything else.

Many of these people keep coming to the roofless palace in the hope of catching a glimpse of the king and his party. Sometimes they get lucky, most times they don’t.

Munni Bi was collecting firewood in the circle of trees outside the palace when she heard music. The music was ebbing and flowing like the moods of the sea. Munni Bi was drawn to the palace like a puppet.

When inside she saw Wajid Ali Shah sitting in the centre of the main hall. The king was shirtless, dyed indigo blue and dressed in a rough-cloth dhoti. In place of his boat-shaped crown was a jewelled crest and a peacock plume. The king was playing his flute.

Around him was his dance and music party. The palace was reverberating with music the kind Munni Bi had never heard. And then suddenly all music stopped. All dancers froze in their glorious arabesques. The king looked at Munni Bi and motioned her to step forward. When she came forward, the king said, “Close your eyes, and listen hard…”

When Munni Bi closed her eyes she saw the fat king change into Krishna, the beautiful cow-minder. The king was Krishna and Krishna was the king, and Munni Bi could not tell the difference.

When Munni Bi opened her eyes the king was back as himself, fat and blue. But his eyes were singing. And with his eyes the king told Munni Bi the story of his life.

In his desire to be Krishna, the king had become a victim of vanity. The mirror had become his best friend. He would sit before it and sing and dance and write odes to himself as Krishna. Then one day Krishna appeared before King Wajid Ali Shah. The beautiful cow-minder said because you have served me and loved me I will give you a boon. But because you have done so thinking you were me, the boon will come with a curse.

The boon-curse made Wajid Ali Shah everything that Krishna was but to his best-friend, the mirror, he became invisible.

And since that day Wajid Ali Shah has been coming to the roofless, brick-exposed palace, to sing and dance and play his flute. And to catch a glimpse of himself in the tiny black holes of human eyes.
The evening is turning into onion skins.

On the road outside the torn-poster theatre are four boys flapping around a tiny bottle like birds around a bird-feed. Each boy has a piece of folded-over muslin that’s stuffed into the wells of their tiny fists. The eldest of the four pours a jerky stream of viscous white liquid into each fist.

The boys bunch the muslin into bolster shapes, slide the shapes further into their fists and start to suck on them. Their inhalations are deep and purposeful as if their small fists are hand-shaped cigars.

Soon their eyes are floating in dream fluid. Their smiles have widened. Their world feels like a movie screen. They are no more outside the torn-poster theatre.

Bad-tempered cows have grown wings and are now sitting on trees munching fresh leaves. The pineapple truck outside the juice shop has become a space ship throwing hand grenades. “Can I have one to blow up your wife,” the littlest boy shouts at the guy unloading the pineapples.

The road is a black river. Wheels have turned into propellers. Some boats have tabla-players, others have musclemen whipping mean and oily shopkeepers.

The torn poster of the theatre has become unstuck. It’s flying now. The sexy FIRST LOVE heroine has taken off her bathrobe and her young lover has drowned in the black river.

The boys are singing randy bedroom songs. The hunger of their growing stomachs has evapourated. They’ve smoked their hand-shaped cigars down to the last drags.

Forgotten in the midst of all this frolicking, lies a tiny bottle of ERASEX, the white ink that removes typos and other minor errors.
The Buddha says everything is nothing. And that the true nature of everything is nothing.

To most people this is the most devastating piece of news. How can WE be nothing? How can the magic, the sanctity, the pleasures and pains of life amount to nothing? We are so much in awe of this life… it’s sheer ingenuity.

That’s why the Buddha’s message is so devastating. It’s like having a mushroom cloud explode inside our heads.

And this is where that I have my two-bit to offer.

In a galactic sense, our planet would look something like a cell whose nucleus is the sun. Or an atom whose nucleus is the sun. A lot happens inside these hidden cells and atoms, but to the un-aided eye, there is no cell, no atom simply because they are not visible. They have activity and purpose but in the larger scheme of things their individuality amounts to nothing.

In the galactic sense our solar system is the equivalent of a cell, an atom. Imagine this vast limitless space where our planet is but a cell part. And we men, women, creatures, plants, buildings, planes, mountains, oceans are all parts of this part.

Like a cell part or atomic particle we too have a specific purpose and function. But we spend most of lives living down this purpose and function.

The Buddha says don’t get caught up in these minor cellular and atomic issues because there’s a larger, higher body to consider. A body that from our cellular/atomic perspective seems vague and unimaginable.

What is this vast body made of? And why should we care about it?

It’s actually made up of nothing. Space is nothing.

Space is also indestructible because of its lack substance. Yet it contains everything. And everything contains it.

So when the Buddha says everything is nothing, he actually means, everything is SPACE.

Even the great JC said something to that effect. Space DOES set you free.
When a story travels
it gains weight
and muscle,
and age
and meaning.

When a story sleeps
it drools,
it dreams
and snores
and wakes up people.

When a story dances
it shakes,
and twists,
falls down,
then rises.

When a story cries
it pours,
it thunders,
things die
and worlds go under.
It is raining outside. Inside it is dark. Eyes are shut. Some ears are glued to earphones. Others are dead to the world. Legs are stretched out in the aisle. The bus is falling. Like a ball on a spiral staircase. Hill roads have that kind of effect on the mind.

A flash of lightning, briefly blinds those inside the bus. It also splits the bus into two. Two complete buses. With two identical sets of passengers.

It’s almost as if the lightning has made a photocopy of the bus.

The buses enter a tunnel. The other bus looks and feels the same except for its speed. I walk over to the driver’s cabin to ask him why the sudden hurry. I tap him on the shoulder. He turns around and I realise that the driver’s copy has rebelled.

I ask the driver who he is but he says nothing. He just smiles, a very sly and knowing smile. “Welcome to the journey,” he says.

He says ‘the Journey’ as if it is THE JOURNEY. I ask him how much longer for our stop and he says ‘very’ and starts to laugh. It’s a hollow and booming laughter. As if coming from the basement of an ancient tree trunk.

People in THE JOURNEY bus are ageing. The bus has had no stops. Some women now have children. The young have grown older. The kids have grown young.

There is an eerie bonhomie inside the bus. It’s like a family where everyone shares a secret but doesn’t know how secret it is.

The two buses are running parallel to each other. Like parallel lines that are supposed to meet at some vague infinity. In the original bus things haven’t changed.

It is still raining outside. Still dark inside. Eyes still are shut. Some ears are still glued to earphones. Others are still dead to the world. Legs are still stretched out in the aisle. But the bus is not falling. It’s steadied like a train on metallic tracks.

In the journey bus things have moved fast. Fast-forwarded in a way. The bus’s interior has become old and rundown. Reccine has started peeling off the seats. Curtains have become threadbare. Tinted glass panes have further darkened with caked slush. Everything, everyone has succumbed to time and velocity. Everyone, except the driver, who retains his tree-trunk hollowness.

The buses enter another tunnel. When they come out, they’re bathed in another flash of lightning. This time the flash solders the buses together. And me, a witness to THE JOURNEY, wakes up to find the bus as it was when the journey began.
Through the week, traffic in Delhi stops for the gods. You can see them being sold at red lights in their Paris Plaster avatars. A hot favourite among red light vendors is the face of the Sun god. Surya comes down to the windows of waiting cars and earnestly says ‘Buy me’. But not many are kicked about spending money on the hot Sun. He’s up there shining for free anyway, so why pay and take him home.

But Saturdays are different. That’s when Saturn comes down to the traffic stops. Shanni Dev comes soaked in a pool of oil and soot. Few want to upset him when he comes calling. Small change is plopped into Shanni’s steel bowl without the usual prayers and genuflections.

It’s the cold, dark and unpredictable power of Saturn that pulls at the purse strings. Unlike the known virtues of the Sun, Saturn’s virulence is mysterious, inventive and varied.

A year ago, a trip to a Shanni temple in Lucknow opened up Saturn’s secret chambers for me. The temple sits on the banks of the river Gomti. It’s located at a place where the river slithers against the temple steps like a molting snake. Such is the look, feel and stink of the industrial froth that lines the steps. I asked Shanni’s attendant why we couldn’t keep our temples clean.

“Can you keep your stomach free of muck?” He asked me point blank. “That muck that you keep inside your stomach is a necessary evil, so it is with this outside muck?”

Come to think of it, Shanni isn’t really that bad. He’s just the guy given the most difficult job. The job of humbling people.You can’t really blame him for trying to make his job interesting. What seem like the cruelest of perversities to ordinary people are in fact Saturn’s tools of instruction.

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As an art practitioner I work in a variety of mediums, what you see here are glimpses of my many creative projects. If you like or feel strongly something here please don't forget to comment

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