midnight meals

it's like any self-control i might have ever had just dies after 2 am. i even giggle maniacally while eating. there has *got* to be a scientific reason for those giggles. it's not normal!

(nuvvula podi + rice + ghee. paneer butter masala + phulka. these were the things i just ate. these were also the things i conscientiously avoided through the day.)


in absentia

i seek you in my darkest moments. at my loneliest, dingiest moments, when i’m dissipating into everything around me; not bothering to gather myself; sans locus. you are at the depth of my self-pity. my very worst. you are what i fear i will fall into if i give in to my mediocrity. you are what i hope for. consequently, you are what pulls me out of it. how can i explain that without falling into the worst kind of rhetoric? i suppose you believe in reincarnation (i don’t). would that explain the kind of familiarity i feel for you? the intimacy with which i know your laughter, your fingers, the bumps on your head? would that explain the cruelty of my gaze, my rejection of you, my refusal to engage even in the most perfunctory eye contact? it’s inconsistent to reduce it to something so physical as lust: but your body draws me to you, and i make fiction of everything else.



A poem in the Scribbler's wonderful new exhibition, 'Home'. 



translating a folk song i just heard in gujarati:

salt eats up our land.
it eats the shade, it eats the trees

our days are spent in the sun. 

if this wasn't enough,
we turn to the sea for work

our sweat is salt, our blood is salt
even our labour is salt. 


a song by the maliya mahila shakti sanghatan: a women's collective of fisherwomen in maliya - the coast along saurashtra, gujarat.

women whose lands have turned salty because of excessive (legal and illegal) salt extraction pans; whose livelihoods, dependent on farming and prawn harvesting have both been taken away from them because of land grabbing and change in soil quality because of salt pans, and climate change has affected how freshwater meets seawater, so prawn harvesting is less and less profitable. even where it's profitable, it's monopolized by large contractors who sell to cities and companies.  


bad pun alert

my life has come to a standstill! no mobile internet  = no uber/ola. :(


this post is in lieu of a facebook status update

(alternatively titled Reflections on Violence, Fear and News Addiction)

I've been lucky*. 

I reached Ahmedabad on 25th August, the morning of the mega Patidhar rally (with an estimated participation of 500000 people). Even after I boarded the train in Delhi the previous day, my cousin in Ahmedabad called to ask if I was sure I wanted to come - at the time, nobody expected it to get violent, but it was still going to be many closed roads and a lot of angry young people on them. Everything was slated to be shut down - autorickshaws and buses were plying on select routes, shops, schools, colleges and most offices were shut. It was just a question of convenience - would I be able to find an auto or a taxi to get me home? When I reached, it wasn't difficult - I got an Uber easily enough. It was 1.5x the price, but entirely doable. The driver advised me not to go to my cousin's house (which was right in the middle of the rally route) and so I opted to go to a senior colleague's house. I had breakfast, showered and started working. (We had to write a report together - that's the only reason I'm in here). 

We kept watching the news occasionally, just to know what Mr. Patel was saying and what was happening with the rally. Curiously, it wasn't getting any coverage in national media through the day except for the occasional ticker - and this ticker was being followed by news of BJP winning Bangalore city civil polls. The focus (as it has been for the past three days) was on Indrani Mukerjea's sister/daughter's murder. On the 25th, during the day it wasn't very surprising. It was just a bunch of powerful Patels throwing their weight around after all. By evening, they weren't showing any signs of backing down. The Collector had taken their request, but they wanted the Chief Minister to come there and take it from them instead. When she refused, they continued the rally beyond the time they had taken permission for and continued to occupy the GMDC grounds. The police turned up around 9-ish, lathi-charged everybody they could see and arrested Hardik Patel for unlawful assembly. 

All hell broke loose. 

They released him in a few hours, but by then people had started to go crazy. A few buses were burnt, a police station and a minister's home had been set on fire by 11PM. By 2 PM, 50 buses, 3 police stations had been set alight and fire personnel attacked. 2 ATMS had been set on fire. Curfew had been imposed in a few places in Ahmedabad, Rajkot, Surat. Local Gujarati news channels had the most scary imagery - everything was on fire. People were moving in masses of bikes with heavy sticks, more people were pelting stones at buildings and roads. When I went to sleep (around 3 AM), mobile internet, SMS and WhatsApp had been blocked**. By the time I woke up on the 26th (around 10 AM), reports were worse. 100 buses, 9 police stations, curfew in many locations in Ahmedabad, Morbi district, Surat, Rajkot... When I went to sleep, things seemed to have calmed down a bit, but when I woke up there was simply no sign on anyone stopping. Mobs pelted stones, set fire to government offices, banks, ATMs, police stations... Police started to fire at people, tear gas them, lathicharge them. Roads and highways were shut down. Railway services to the city were cancelled. Finally, around 4 PM, the army and paramilitary forces finally landed in the city and carried out a flag march. Things seemed to slow down, but not by much. The state was in absolute chaos.  Rumours of inter-caste violence started to float around: Clashes between Thakurs and Patidhars, Dalits and Patidhars. A friend who lives in a Dalit hostel called to say that constables had been deployed to protect them. By 7PM, even Twitter and Facebook was blocked.  

But all of this was hardly getting any coverage in national media. 

On the first day (the 25th), prime time news on NDTV and Times Now was about Indrani Mukerjea, OROP and BJP's Bangalore civic polls. NDTV India (Hindi) had a good debate with representatives from all parties in Gujarat, but barring that, nobody was really reporting the extent of the violence. I mean - curfew had been declared in the capital of a state. Mobile internet and WhatsApp had been blocked. Public infrastructure was going up in flames. 3 people had died. All it got was a ticker! That too followed by another one announcing BJP's victory. The second day (August 26th) wasn't much better. Except for Times of India (ToI! Can you believe it?!), it wasn't getting detailed coverage on any national English media. Think about it. The same media that's anal enough to track exactly where Indrani Mukerjea is at every moment of the day isn't even bothered to show half-hourly images from an entire state that is in a state of violence. Only around 5PM did they start to take it seriously, and even then, not acknowledging how serious it is. (My mother who called me around 4PM said, "why are you getting so tense? There's nothing on the news!" At 9PM she called me again, "I hope you're staying indoors. Don't go anywhere. Don't do anything stupid. Give me your landline number." Mothers!)

In all of this, I realized how addicted I was to 24x7 news. I was watching Gujarati news, but I couldn't read the tickers and I needed a friend to keep translating to me. It didn't feel like the real thing. NDTV India was much better, but it wasn't doing much to ease my tension. With no internet, no WhatsApp, no Facebook, no news, I just didn't know what the hell was happening! If I had known, would I have been less afraid? Would I have been more assured that someone had a sense of the chaos? Someone was, like Arnab Goswami, seeking answers? Was this because they were asked not to cover it? Was there some kind of blackout order?

Nobody outside Gujarat had any clue of the scale. Even now, when things are starting to come back to normal (very few autos, but most shops in this neighbourhood are open today and my colleagues have all reached our office which is about 2 kms from GMDC Grounds). Mobile internet and SMS services are still blocked, but roads are finally functional, so I might actually be able to go to my cousin's house (which is where I was supposed to stay).


*Um, if I was really lucky, I would have been able to avoid this trip entirely. I'd've stayed at home in Delhi, stuck to my diet and exercise routine and wasted time on Facebook instead of writing this post.

**The stupidest thing about SMS being blocked is that I didn't get an OTP from either my bank (I was trying to recharge my phone) or Google (I was trying to sign in to my account from someone's laptop). How did anybody in the state transfer any money through NEFT or Internet Banking?!


selling my soul for money

it's absolutely worth it!


exclamation point

when i see you with her
on facebook, at dinner,
at a friend's wedding, at
a bar, i try hard not to
giggle. i'm all charm
and exclamatory marks.
how're you doing!
where've you been!
man, it's been forever!

in truth, all i can think of
is that day, over ten years
ago - i sat on you, most
irritated, and taught you
how to kiss.
i bet she'd be thankful
to me that you
don't slobber all over.
don't stick your tongue in.
don't pucker like a duck.

when i'm lonely, i wonder
if you lick her on her nose
the way you did


mr. barnes writes only to make me sad

"Beforehand you think: when I grow up I'll love someone, and I hope it goes right, but if it goes wrong I'll love another person, and if that goes wrong I'll love another person. Always assuming that you can find these people in the first place and that they'll let you love them. What you expect is that love, or the ability to love is always there, waiting."

- pp. 160; Love, etc. Julian Barnes. Vintage 2009.

let you love them?! an arrow through my heart, mr. barnes. 


who's a waste of time?

i want to run away and read. i'll keep reading till my eyes tire and my brain hurts and i can't take anymore. i'll sleep till my dreams start to bore me, wake up, drink some tea, then read again. the only reason i haven't done that already is because i'm afraid i'll end up reading mostly mediocre fantasy and mills & boons. (they're a frikkin' blackhole! bah.)


econ friendly

i have been thinking about economy. when i swim, i have forty five to fifty minutes of thinking about economy. how much energy should i put into this stroke. which way should i move my arm. how much should i turn my head. in this lifetime, will i learn how to breathe bilaterally. if there was less fat in my arms would i be able to cut through the water better. how much closer should my elbows be to my torso. if there was less fat in my tummy would turning be easier. if i controlled my kick would my stroke be more streamlined. would all this look sexier (instead of looking like me flailing about in earnest). by the end of the twenty third minute my thought process becomes more meta. i wonder why one has to think of economising in relation to one's body in the first place. how much of our lives get subsumed under these narratives. i breathe more deeply (you can't let it go waste). by the thirty first minute, i lose count. i hate it when this happens. how can i lose count when i only have to count to 15? i may end up having to do an extra lap. so much for economising. 


endless rain into a paper cup

forever spinning; bereft of anything that made her real; leaning against her broken heart fitting it into pieces that would never again be whole; a whole is greater than the sum of all its pieces, fuller, though with what, she would never again understand; she would never again truly see the same things she saw then, at that moment in which she understood everything with utter clarity. a moment that promises to never again come back to her; now she, sunken in a haze, sucks at her cigarette like a twelve year old a straw, snorting when she found nothing funny but felt like laughing anyway and thought it inappropriate at the very last moment when the laugh started to come and she had to stop it. she can mop it up, pick up the pieces and pack it into boxes and leave the boxes next to the garbage cans from where it would disappear only to find itself under the mountains (actual mountains) of garbage that go up in smoke (actual smoke) everyday. if she regretted it, she would regret nothing, because there was nothing inside. she laments nothing more than the loss of her words. the smoke took them away from her so she hides inside a bottle and pretends not to notice. if she is floating in a sea will someone find her and read her; will her words come back to her gushing if she is anonymous inside a bottle? she is worried that poetry will never hold her again at night, stories will never serenade her, songs will never evade her. nothing literal will happen to her again, and she is bereft of anything that roots her to the ground, bereft of solidity, bereft of lucidity; she will remain that way carrying her broken heart in a sea full of salt and sailors too preoccupied to notice her inside the bottle screaming her empty words; spinning forever.



is it possible america keeps going to war just so that every generation of americans have gruesome war stories to tell?


mocha glimmer

She looked at me with a sinister smile. "Don't lie," she said.

I knew that shade of lipstick intimately  (shade no. 033, Elizabeth Arden). It looked like three mild cigarettes and a double shot of espresso on a winter afternoon. She never wore anything else.

I pretended to look around and said, "Are you talking to me?" I'm really not that charming.

She put her fork down, took off her glasses and said, "I know you." She did.

"Okay," I said. "It's too dry. Can't eat it."

"Can I sell it?"

They'll buy anything you sell, darling. "May be next time," I said.

Her face fell just a little. "I'll be back tomorrow," she said.

She says that everyday. 



a year in which:

i lost two grandparents to death and watched a third rapidly slip into alzheimers dementia and turn into a child. i let one go without getting to say goodbye, i held on to one till he stopped breathing, i love one more than i was able to when i was younger.

i got a job and saw the country in ways i hadn't before. i understood poverty and deprivation more closely than i had done. i understand the indian railways better than i want to. i see more similarity than difference, and i wonder if that's a problem.

i got closer to some friends, some friends have more formally become family, got older with some others. i let go of some friends, stopped expecting things from them (even friendship). there is no catharsis in that.

i wrote less, read less, watched less television, lived on the internet much less than i would have liked to.

this was an adult year with adult considerations and adult possibilities. age can teach you all sorts of things - some things you shouldn't have to learn. in spite of everything, i think i wear mine quite happily. i hope this next year's better. 


in 29 days,
i'll tell you
if i really like the story
i wrote last night.

until then,
this poem will do. 


a piku moment

"I had been constipated for a week. It hurts like crazy! I tried everything... Drank pots and pots of aloe vera juice, tea, coffee, water, Duphulac. Just yuck."

"Problem solve hogaya?"

"Smoked a cigarette this morning."


grumpy day

celebrating marriage and all is very good. i've changed my profile picture and i've committed to going to a party. i'm truly happy. unions, and love, and beautiful families, all very good. teary-eyed fantastic, even. can we also celebrate sexuality? people who don't want to marry? and people who don't want to be in committed relationships? and people who don't care very much for monogamy? people who don't want to have children? 

and, for heaven's sake, single people? can we please, as a culture, just be okay with single people? and not have everything be about romance all the time? like, may be, books and movies and tv shows not focus on falling in love as everything? and treat being alone like i'm a half of something? because i'm not a half. if anything, i'm a buy one get one free. please get married if that's what makes you tick. but don't make me feel like i'm some outcast because i don't want to be with someone. 



A photograph of a market, a man looking slyly at a woman from the corner of his eye. She catches him out and smiles and more slyly than he. The market is colourful. It reminds me of markets in fantasy novels set in small towns. Everyone knows everyone, and I, I'm the only stranger there is. I walk down the alley and look at the graffiti. The sky is grey, and it feels like a town in Oriental Asia of the books. A man whistles at me, and I am sufficiently offended. His uncle immediately raps him on the head and makes him apologise. A woman with long, flowing hair starts talking to me at a stall selling beads I will never wear. She offers me wine, and I drink. We chat about my life, where I come from, what I do. In this life, I am a freelance journalist writing a piece about markets in temple towns. As I say this, the skyline becomes clearer. Gopurams come into focus: Stone and marble, rising into the sky. I shake my head - how is that possible? A temple town with beautiful women, drinking wine? That can't happen. I go back to talking to the woman. She offers to show me around town. She takes me down alleyways only she knows, a path to a river, a boat and a boatman. He winks at her and she blushes, but she never lets my hand go. When we get off, we come to a mangrove by the backwaters. We sit there for hours just listening to the water. I kiss her. She doesn't seem to mind. The wine fades. The boatman comes back. I start to think about caste-based professions in temple towns, and whether they're faring well in this pro-Hindu time. By the time I wake, the woman is lost in my hangover.

Can you be nostalgic for things you have only dreamed? 



they built the perfect country:

symmetry, steel, glass,
sky scrapers, twisted roads,
glittering promenades shiny malls
deep parking lots, clean blue
rivers, green parks, wooden benches
tunnels, sewers, trains the speed of light

no garbage no noise no pollution
no sex no love no passion no invention
no debate no art no literature no language

no place for
people in their

perfect imagination.