First Is Just the Name of the Street


As a child, I remember being encouraged to stay in the academic race by my mom, mostly. The rest of the family was kind of unconcerned about it. My father, who would have been hard-pressed to know which standard I’m in, rarely bothered with my progress, or progress card. I had to bother him, rather, when the progress card had to be returned to the school signed by a parent — which, an unwritten law seemed to imply, meant father. The irony of my father  — who never had any scholastic ambitions himself, or from both his kids — having to sign the card that meant hardly anything to him was lost on me then. But then, at least that unwritten law meant my father had to glance at the report card every once in a while, and nod “good” or “nice” or “well done”. The thing is my sister and I rarely gave him any cause of concern, being there in the top whatever percentage of class that used to be considered adequate. 

But for my mother, who had been a good student in her time, and had missed opportunities by a narrow margin, adequate wasn’t a word that meant much. And for years, she would tutor me and my sister. And in return, she expected that we were up there, on the podium, so to speak. The top position, that only one in the class can have. My sister used to oblige more often than not. I stuck to number two, till my mother persisted with the “studies” — which would probably have been forever, if not for my sudden realization that I didn’t really need anyone to “prepare” me for exams, and my new-found belligerence to say that out loud and clear. The confidence was of course misplaced, as I realized soon after pretty much shutting her out of my studies. For my rank kept falling down and down, although still well within the adequate range. But I didn’t care. I felt free, and in control of my own life. That was before I knew about existentialism, of course.

Today, with a 5 year old kid, the questions that I could answer for myself when the time came seem so much more difficult to answer as a parent. Although it’s still early days, but when I look at the landscape, it scares the shit out of me. I see people whom I knew as basically sane beings go pretty much insane with the kids education thingy. I see schools going crazy, in turn driving parents crazy, who are in turn accused of forcing schools to go crazy in the first place. It’s like sanity has just flushed its identity papers down some plane toilet and taken a refuge info some godforsaken country with no name. Because it’s hard to find her anymore in day to day dealings where kids are involved. 

When I try to look at the data from my past, that podium which my mom coveted so much for her kids, seems such an absolutely useless predictor of success, even the ordinary, practical, professional success — the criteria that most middle class parents had in mind when they pushed their children that little harder. I’d be very curious to know if that pattern holds up in larger data sets, but I suspect it would, for scholastic success demanded so little imagination, out-of-box thinking, even reasoning or logical abilities, that it would be a miracle if it were to have a strong relation to success later in the life (and I’m not even talking of countless other criteria to measure success). There may be a possible benefit of the so called scholar kids having a better belief in themselves due to early successes, but even that is debatable, as that can be a two edged sword. And the immense stress some of them have to go through to basically just follow patterns set by somebody, has its own cost.

And yet the frenzy all around is unnerving. Plus it will, in all probability, only get worse. To bet one’s child’s future over an alternative worldview requires a lot more guts than to bet one’s own future.  What if First, Second, and Third are more than street names, after all? Will my child forgive me for giving him a stratagem that’s at best escapist? Will I? 



The Mythical Closure

Maybe I’m a sucker for closure. Maybe everyone is. But on those days when I’m feeling particularly peeved by lack of closure in past relationships (no I’m not talking about romantic relationships alone), I wonder if it isn’t true. Maybe it’s just me, and a few more. But probably not everyone gets so hung up about closure. If they did, we would see so much being written about it. Then again, maybe, I’m reading all wrong sources.


Whatever the case, the fact remains that I’m a sucker for closure. It hurts me, the ‘not knowing’ why some relationships went the way they did. I’ve had, in past, probably been responsible for being on the other end of this — causing similar reactions in others to whom closure matters as much, or more. But I hope rarely. And never intentionally. I wouldn’t wish it on my friends, ex-friends, friends turned foes, even.

Especially the last, as I don’t believe in that category’s existence. For me, friends stay friends. They may even, at worst, stop being friends. Drifting apart is part of growing independently, at times. And sometimes the gulf is so much that it’s hard to connect over it, meaningfully. But being a foe is something very different. I don’t believe my friends are capable of going through such a transformation. They may consider me as a foe, but I will not. At least, haven’t in the 20 odd conscientious years of my life, since I really started thinking about relationships, not just being in them. Or sleepwalking through them.

A drifting apart, over the years, is easy to handle. Probably because it’s a very natural progression for relationships. Very few relationships, not involving blood relations — which have an element of non-choice (although not absolute, and not in the coercive sense) — really stand the test of time. There is so much changing around us, that it’s only logical that we change.

I’ve heard that lament often. He’s changed. She’s changed. If we value somebody, would we really want them not to change? However good/perfect they are — for let’s face it, when we say someone’s good or perfect, or whatever, what we’re essentially saying is that they’re good for us — not necessarily in the materialistic sense, just in the sense of the overall sense of well-being they contribute to. But it’s an arbitrary criteria. It’s a shackle. It restricts person’s natural growth.

Then again, growth is unpredictable. Growth could destroy status quo. To expect that someone grows within the bounds of our expectations is to turn the person into a bonsai. I don’t want to wish that on my friends, especially.

How is it all related to closure? It isn’t, probably, now you ask it that way. The thing is, when we miss closure, it typically signifies that the other person doesn’t really care for the formalities of farewell. That s/he has moved so far away, that the gap is not bridgeable — and to bridge it just to say goodbye is meaningless sentimentality.

But there is another type of unfinished goodbyes. Sometimes there is an element of serendipity, although the word is rarely used in this sense, rather the opposite. Sometimes, the distance isn’t so bad that the other person is not ready to travel a few steps back to leave you in a home territory. The only thing that stops them from it is the the fear of getting pulled back in. In case of such fear, it’s logical to walk away swiftly. People do, secretly hoping that they would finish the formalities of farewell later, when the fear is dead and buried across the distance they’re travelling. But then a wave sweeps them away to another shore from where they can’t wave goodbyes. And the guilt mounts, to the extent where, if they happen to come back to these shores, they cannot muster the courage to cross that bridge — not afraid now of being stuck, but afraid of walking the distance just to find a wreck there.

I guess I’ve done it too. That is why I understand it. But that understanding doesn’t give me any respite from the meaningless sentimentality. If you valued the relationship so much at one time, says the voice in my head, how could you not complete the formalities of farewell? Doesn’t the relationship deserve a proper burial, and a mourning?

Maybe I’m a sucker for closure because I believe that. But that’s a circular argument. Burial/mourning is just another name for closure.


The Oracle



And when I finally found the Oracle, and asked him to advice me, he, without even looking at me, said this:

“There are three rules of advice that you should know:

One: Never ask Oracle for advice, for the omniscient is impotent to change the course of future.

Two: Never base any decisions in your life on anyone’s advice

Three: Never trust anything that an Oracle says, for if he is indeed an Oracle, he won’t care for what he tells you, for he knows future won’t change no matter what he tells you. And if he isn’t, why are you even asking him?”

But, this is so contradictory, I said.

“And you think life isn’t? ” asked he, waving his hand in a gesture of dismissal. When Oracles ask questions, they’re rhetorical by definition.

Death in Web 2.0 and other Stories

When blog died, no one blogged about her. The newspaper obituaries were so last decade, blog wouldn’t have liked them. Her wish was respected, thanks to her faded popularity. Prime time TV, mercifully missed the news. Oh yes, some tweeted, retweeted. Twitteratis created hashtags #in_her_memory. Many posted the news on their walls. RIPs flooded in the comments. Irony too died when they were liked. On quora, people who’d never heard of her, asked if she meant anything. The top answers got thousands of upvotes, but they missed the point. The ones who got it, languished at the bottom of the pile, ignored. A few ghosts, trapped in the time-wrap, whispered: “with her, a part of me died”. #every_story_has_a_crappy_ending

Review: Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi

Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice Death in Varanasi is a strange book on many level. I don’t mean strange in the negative or critical sense, but may be in statistical sense. Split in two parts, the “novel” is actually a set of two stories/novellas, if you look at it one way — that is if you choose not to make connections. But if you do, it fits well too. For Dyer has left enough ambiguity to support both interpretations.

dyer_coverThe split isn’t just structural. The former is a third-person telling of Jeff’s tale, where, curiously, Jeff is there all along. Never is there scene where Jeff is not there, and the narrator is kind of proxy narrator, as the only person who’s mind it seems to have any insight into, is Jeff. Not your typical third-person narration, hinting at Jeff being Geoff the author, trying to look at oneself like a third-person (in the sense that Jeff is partly based on him). The latter half is in first person, but the (now in first person) narrator is nameless. However, both the protagonists are middle aged, English, reporters, in a sort of mid-life crisis.

The first part, set in Venice, uses the city more as a backdrop, while the story goes on to tell the excesses and in certain sense, emptiness of the art world, and Jeff goes through it, sleepwalking, with only thing that seems to really excite him is Laura, an American is on her last assignment before she quit her job at art gallery and slated to move to Varanasi (don’t start thinking this explain anything). The story goes on, telling of their rendezvous which turns into a torrid affair. In a sense Jeff is living his dream in a city of dreams. Love, sex, drugs, spirits — part one is unmistakably about western civilization — its promises and decay.

In Varanasi, the second novella starts off like a typical travel writing — and here Dyer is probably trying to blur the boundaries of genres, as he has written before admiringly about Kundera:

“After reading Immortality what I wanted from Kundera was a novel composed entirely of essays, stripped of the last rind of novelisation. Kundera duly obliged. His next book, Testaments Betrayed, provided all the pleasures – i.e. all the distractions – of his novels with, so to speak, none of the distractions of character and situation. By Kundera’s own logic this ‘essay in nine parts’ – more accurately, a series of variations in the form of an essay – which has dispensed entirely with the trappings of novelisation, actually represents the most refined, the most extreme, version yet of Kundera’s idea of the novel” (Out of Sheer Rage)

Stripping off any semblance of a story-line, then, the second novella follows the narrator’s journey from a typical westerner outsider’s vantage-point to a curious (even extreme) acceptance/internalization of the eastern experience. If these lines seem to hint at any superiority/inferiority of cultures, or anything of that sort, Dyer, mercifully stays away from any quick (or even nuanced) answers, one way or the other. He just presents how he (or his narrator, if he’s different — something Dyer wanted to obfuscate by calling the first narrator Atman, aka self/sour, and the second narrator kept nameless, to live the possibility of all the three being same)  sees, which itself changes …

Yes, the book has its flaws, although I won’t delve into them — mainly because, I suspect they are not accidental, and Dyer wanted it that way. He probably never wanted to write a masterpiece. What he has ended up with, is still worth our time, for it has all the good and bad of Dyer — the insane wit, the keen eye, the roving narrations always going into all sorts of tangents, and excesses of all kinds. I’m not complaining. And all said and done, I enjoyed the second half a lot more, mainly because it’s lot more pensive. Surely not the best of Dyer, but darn good still.







Architecture of Farewell


I’ve pondered
on the architecture of farewell,
without the benefit
of hindsight –
final or not
the hope in platitudes
“we will meet again”
or just the pretense

there are alternatives

clean lines and angles
no frills

or the flamboyant ones
trying to hide
the fissures
of pain, and longing
with exaggerated

some are obsessed
with forms –
austerity for the sake of it
or defense
against emotional avalanche
safety first

some are obsessed
with norms
holding back colors
for the fear
of being judged
projecting facades
false doors
or windows
over solid walls

the architecture of farewell
the ambiance
of spaces
left behind

Inspired by a line in Alexander McCall Smith’s book Trains and Lovers:

“He looked up at the vaulted ceiling of the great railway station. It is indifferent to parting, he thought. And then he thought: the architecture of farewell. The architecture of love. The architecture of loss.”

You’re In Love


you’re in love

you’re in love with the idea of someone

you’re in love with the idea of someone
who's in love with you

you’re in love with the idea of someone
who's in love with the idea of you

you’re in love with the idea of
being in love, with someone

you’re in love, with the idea of
being in love, with an idea of someone

you’re in love with your being in love
with the idea of being in love with
the idea of someone
you’re an idea of love

you’re an idea of being in love
with the idea of love

for you
love is the idea
of being someone
you think you are

for you
love is the idea
of being someone
you are in
someone’s idea
of you

for you
love is the idea
of being someone
you are in
someone’s idea
of you being
in love

for someone
love is the idea
of you
being someone
you have no idea
if you ever wanted
to be

but since you
are in love
with someone
or your idea of someone
for whom
love is the idea
of you being someone
you have no idea
if you ever wanted
to be
you fall in love 
with the idea
of yourself
being someone’s
idea of who 
they want you
to be
Inspired by R. D. Lang’s Knots, for those who aren’t aware of him — the rest would guess anyways. 

The Reassuring Banality

we should live on 
the reassuring banality
of life

yes I know,
we long for 
the magical
the ethereal

pure platonic relationships
the Atlantis
or a unicorn

we want to live
in a world 
of dreams
with no place 
for the banal
the trite
the commonplace

we want 
to be engulfed
by the magical spell
stay in the zone
walk on the water
fly without wings
find the zen
the nirvana

but how long
before the magical
will turn banal?
the sublime 
seem usual
the unicorns seem
real, and lose
their mythical charm?

for wasn't the banal
magical yesterday?
wasn't the commonplace
mythical the day before?

we have lived
the dream of 
science fiction writers
of yore
hating every waking 
moment of it

if I can devise 
time travel,
I will go and spoil
all the fun 
for H. G. Wells

tomorrow is like
today, or yesterday

and if we can't embrace
the reassuring banality
of existence
if we can't live 
this moment
in all its 
unremarkable banality
it will become yesterday

Why We Write

Before I go on and on into tangents, which is pretty much a certainty, who exactly is this ‘we’? Well, it’s “people like us”, that term which is gaining worldwide popularity. But since I cannot really know about anyone other than myself (and even myself, if mystics are to be believed, till I meditate deep and long, something which is beyond me for now) I couldn’t possibly speak about a ‘we’ or ‘us’, not with any authenticity (another word that’s enjoying upward mobility). And yet I am choosing a we because I believe some of what I’m saying is not unique to me. Yes, I don’t think I’m that unique.

That said, why do we write?

And I use the word write to encompass everything from poetry, prose, fiction (long or short), non-fiction, blogs (regular, micro, mini, nano and so on), except, topical blogs/articles, self-help books, and so on (not because I think they’re inherently inferior, or anything, just because in that case we already know the answer — we write them in the hope of making steady/large money or name or both). So consider this. Today, in the post-internet world of self-publication taken to its logical extreme, there are millions of posts published on blogs every day ( There are millions of book published in the world ( every year. And so on.

So while you’re working (or not even working) on that dream first book of yours, without a plot or outline in sight, say, in one year, a million more books will be written. Let me correct that — millions. Out of these a few million will be forgotten because they’ll never see the light of the day. A few million will see the light of the day, because of self-publishing say, or some miracle that will make some publisher give a no, but the light will be short-lived. Less said about the blogs the better (especially in the post micro-blogging world).

So why?

For there is hope. There is hope that we will, someday, write that one page which, whatever its fate, will make us feel proud of ourselves for having written it. A page, a story if we’re lucky, or a piece of poetry that captures something fleeting that words were never designed to capture, anything really.

Writing is a hard work (except for some, but they never bother asking questions such as “why we write”). It’s not the actual writing that’s hard, though, most of the times. It’s the agony of not writing that’s hard. It’s finding out what to write about that’s hard. It’s living with the disappointment of seeing on page a distorted, lynched embodiment (ironically) of a beautiful thought you thought you had captured in your mind, and were trying to capture in words before they turned treacherous, hiding from you when you needed them most, and to live with the knowledge that it was you who did the butchering — that’s hard. It’s being told by writers who have made it, that you need to read-read-read before you write, and then to follow the advice and read-read-read, and to find out that where you were standing had just been a quicksand that did not gobble you only because you did not really try to go anywhere; that what you wrote yesterday, and even felt proud about today seems like a piece of juvenile crap, and to see this process repeated over and over again, so that you’re trying to run like Alice just to stay where you are — that’s hard. It’s telling yourself one day that you have it in you, and to doubt it the very next day — that’s hard. And I’m not even talking about what happens when you actually have something which you may want to consider publishing (mainly because I don’t have any such thing, but more so because that’s post writing, even though it means rewriting, throwing away, rethinking).

There is that aftermath of read, read, read to deal with. I mean, why do we write, after reading Marquez making a child’s play out of that tight-rope walk called fiction writing, say? Or after being dazzled by Rilke’s sublimity? Or any of those greats, living and dead, taking the art to a different level, a different plane?

Is ‘because we love the sheer joy that creating something brings you’ a good-enough answer for that? Does it really? Like when that something is an amateur attempt that you’re afraid to show even to your most partial fan, fearing s/he’d see through it?

Can a skeptic ever be a writer? For isn’t writing — especially sharing your writing with the world — a supreme leap of faith? Can a person who has that strong a faith really be skeptical of other faiths?

Maybe, it’s more pragmatic than that? Maybe, it’s just wishful thinking? Maybe it’s just denial? Maybe it’s just the utter inability to judge one’s own work because of confirmation bias (e.g. “I can so relate to that, how can anyone not?”). Maybe it’s just hardheadedness.

Maybe it’s a mixture of it all.

But we write. We get frustrated. We get dejected even. We say no more, ever again. And yet we write. Because it’s a kind of itch that has no known cure. Or so we like to tell ourselves. And when we stop scratching, it goes away.