a book review

Read my review of 'The Lost Generation: Chronicling India’s Dying Professions' here on Open Road Review. 

An excerpt of the review:

"If progress were a linear story moving swiftly from a traditional past to a modern future, technology would be the ghost that haunts Nidhi Dugar Kundalia’s insightful new book, The Lost Generation: Chronicling India’s Dying Professions. At the very end of that story, our bodies will be anonymous and unmarked by tradition, healed by those trained in science and medicine, perfumed by scents whose flowers we don’t recognize. We will have a friendly app to mourn for us on Facebook. The Rudaali will cease to exist except in song, for we would have no need for her anymore. The godna artist, the ittar–waala, the street dentist will be relegated to sepia stories representing a past we have run away from."



life in a local train

never again, she said.

she said it with certainty, her face pale, her lips loosely bound together, her nose flaring. a couple of minutes later, she shook her head, raised her eyebrows and closed her eyes. her breathing slowed. her panic ebbed. the smells of jasmine came mildly. they tapped at the tip of her nose before entering, and all of a sudden, she smiled. she asked me where i was going. 'chembur', i said. she nodded at me purposefully. i nodded back. two stops after, i stood up. she jostled through everybody else and took my seat with a sigh.

never again, she said. breaking my heart.


old loves

some days i miss
my old email accounts.
rediffmail, with a first-name-only address
yahoo, whose password i haven't changed in twelve years.
hotmail, back when msn was cool.
but i miss more
the emails i got
when i first fell in love
with poetry.

when i discovered that
poetry can be understood,
can be felt, can be loved,
that it doesn't have to be
in strange phrases from the '30s
that it doesn't have to be explained,
that it can be about
puppies, match sticks, bits of soap*
that it can be broken words
that make sense
only to you and me;

that we can learn to love
ourselves, that i could learn to
love you.

some days i want to
go back and read the emails
we wrote to each other
that we so cruelly deleted
when we decided
we love ourselves
more than we love

kukkapilla, aggi pulla, sabbu billa
heenamga chudaku denni,
kavitamayamenoy anni.


prapancham oka padmavyuham,
kavitam oka teerani daaham.

- srisri, mahaprasthanam. 



single people are just way cuter and more romantic than people in relationships.

(no, i haven't started writing yet. unless you want to count the market assessment of dairy cooperatives i did last month. i don't.) 



unemployment was supposed to be less busy, not more. what the fuck. where's the pause button?



I've been making rounds of some high level government offices this past week. I misplaced my PAN card, so all I have is my JNU student ID. Each time I flash it, I elicit a reaction. Sometimes an awkward laugh, sometimes additional scrutiny, sometimes a conversation about what I do there. Each time I have to show it, I prepare myself for a reaction. With indignation and pride.

Never been proud of alma mater before now. :) It's kind of cool.



There's this argument:
1. X was charged with something atrocious.
2. X was tried through due process of law for doing something atrocious (because democracy bitches).
3. X's trial may or may not have been fair.
4. A, B and C as citizens of a country question X's trial process.

Or there's the other argument:
1. X is a terrorist. X blew up things.
2. X got hanged (because democracy bitches).
3. A, B and C support X.
4. A, B and C deserve to be hanged too.

Yes, let's replace debate with rhetoric. That way, we don't really have to expect answers and less of us will have a headache.

*goes back to dancing naked, having safe sex and drinking alcohol not gaumutra*



i have nothing profound to say this valentine's day. nothing cute, nothing silly, nothing at all. 


that kind of year

Fourth working Sunday in a row. *grump*



sunday was my last working day at my old job. i'm not going to talk about why i quit - it's a moot point, it's over and that's all there is to that. this post is about sorting out the muck in my head: it's about trying to figure out why i can't write anymore. 

i've said this before - i took that job because i wanted to travel. i wanted to see the country in ways i hadn't done before. i had spent way too long in a university, and i was aching to get my shoes dirty again. it was romantic in my head (it still is): i'd spend days on trains, lug my black and yellow featherlight vip suitcase up and down railway stations between towns whose names don't matter, meet people whose names i won't remember, gather stories i can never tell. i was indestructible when i took the job. i didn't figure i could be worn down by the people behind those stories, that hotel rooms inspire a dull throbbing loneliness, that at the end of the day i would be left with exhaustion (both physical and emotional), that i would be so angry about the world in general, that beauty would be so hard to find in depth and complexity. 

n-ben (last month), who was gathering firewood for a long, cold night when i met her. she's over 75 years old and alone. she has no shoes, no warm clothes, no house, no children. a brother who beats her, a sister who protects her. h, the lines on whose face were hard to count, who lost her children to the earthquake, who lives in a house made of wood, who scrambled around in the dark for half an hour to show me a heavily photoshopped photograph of her daughter. s, a dalit woman whose ghoonghat was yanked down by her friend when a man passed by the door, who doesn't sit on chairs because "yeh hamara culture hai" (a line delivered to me, seething with irony, anger dripping from its every syllable, so sharply i think she cut me with the kind of mastery only uma thurman in kill bill could manage.) m, a mahadalit woman who is fighting her upper caste mukhiya everyday, for whom caste is a debilitating physical reality, who articulates the everyday indignities she faces, who wears bright pink lipstick in defiance, who lives in a house made of sticks under a roof made of plastic sheets. these women are numbers on an excel sheet, omitted stories in boxes, anecdotes in a world that seeks "evidence". 

what am i allowed to feel? what am i allowed to think? how involved am i allowed to be? here we are, seeking a paradise experience between death camps and suicide bombers*, sitting in cafes that can be delhi, muzaffarpur, istanbul or paris just the same, seeking happiness in things so deeply embedded in the urban and elite. are all these just discontinuities in a world whose boundaries are drawn by technologies, filtered through screens, pixellated and defined through narratives we are taught not to hear, linearities we cannot draw because the locus is so damn hard to find. what the fuck am i supposed to feel? where am i to seek clarity, because goddamn it, i feel like i'm walking through a fog right now. 

*if i may borrow that phrase from romesh gunesekara. 


there is no joy

as particular as seeing a well-formatted table paste the same exact way onto a word document from excel.

what? i use office for mac, ok. life sucks. 



khwaish me lipti zaroorat ki duniya...

(ye duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai, piyush mishra.)



"somedays i write something and i feel like i'm my favorite writer."

-her (spike jonze)

(on most days i'm just the very worst)

lights will guide me home

i'm afraid of the dark: not the physical darkness of confined spaces which by itself is overwhelming; not even the darkness of poetry, depression and loneliness. darkness trains you to fear monsters. it's absurd and irrational. how do i explain it? my heart quickens all by itself. i put on my brave face: i wear a frown, my chin stays high, my bag, my feet, my clothes come closer to me, tighter. i walk much faster, in search for light and noise. i always consider going back to where i started. 

i always expect monsters to jump out of somewhere: they lurk in street corners, at chai dabbas, panwadis, thekas. they come out at dark and leer into your soul (if your soul was your entire being, if it manifested in your dupatta, in your bag, in your gait, the volume of the thoughts in your head). they live everywhere, but particularly in spaces cities ignore: back allies, parking lots, lanes where no buses go, buildings where no people live; marshes, ridges, land under litigation, spaces hiding behind facades in the middle of traffic. you're trained to pass over them with no thought; to register only their discontinuity, their blankness. they make you uncomfortable, so you walk around them. you cross the road, even if you don't have to. you take a different route, even if this one's shorter. 

no, it's not darkness itself i fear - nights hold me in ways days never accommodate me. it's what i'm taught to make of them. because that's what being foolish is about, right? riding into the dark, no holds barred? asking for it? 


i can't write anymore

it's something i've resigned myself to. i spent close to a year trying. there's nothing fluid about it anymore. so i'm going to stop making myself do it. it's only you and me now, blog. 

i had a moment today - i was listening to the latest all songs considered episode. and they played someone like you. and it's never been a song i listen to voluntarily - but i'm at work, doing the most boring task in the world (data entry) and i teared up and stopped what i was doing and went, fuck. 

i hate emotions. and i can't write anymore. that's what i'm trying to say here.  



Her name is Haseena.

She's 80 years old, lost both her children in the earthquake twenty years ago. I met her at her kachcha home today. It's fifteen degrees out, she only has one kerosene lamp and four litres of fuel for it each month. Come, see my bungalow, she says.

While telling me her story, she fumbled around in the dark, looking for her daughter's photograph. She looked through all of her belongings (all four plastic bags of them) and finally found it. She told me about how nobody gives a shit about whether they live or die. Even their pension is eaten by the amir log.

Where's the bloody justice in the world.



my brain be like tch remembering passwords be for losers hahaha

(i hate it when i get locked out of my email account)


now i need a place to hide away

no, beatles. love was never an easy game to play. 


if you wanna

You've gotta write if you wanna be a writer. 

I want to say that's not true. I want to say that it's a state of mind. You don't necessarily have to write, you have to chronicle. You underline sentences you think you can make short stories out of. You footnote moments you can build around. You archive shapes of noses, the way people wriggle their toes, how people like their eggs. If you linger too long on the way someone sticks their tongue out awkwardly, you may not ever write about it, but you know the emotion. The private thought, the joke they're not telling, the shyness, their bodily manifestation for a single second in that stuck out pink tongue. You'll use that. Or you'll plan to, anyway.

You don't make sense of things until you do. You always have an idea you're playing with - a person, a word, a thought, an author, a concept, a history, a newspaper article, a narrative. You're trying to fit it into a narrative. You're pulling it apart and putting it together at the same damn time. You don't realise it, but a moment comes along when you can see it in front of your eyes. I want to say that it looks like a perfectly consistent image, but it's more like an impressionist painting (Monet, most likely. You're staring at it from 2 feet away and all you can see is swirls. You stare at it from the bench and you can only see loneliness). You don't really know what it is. You write it desperately, urging yourself to remember what it was you saw in that moment. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn't. 

It doesn't matter, you think. The important thing is that you gotta write if you wanna be a writer. But then you get older, and you feel like a fraud. The truth nobody tells you is that it isn't enough to write. You gotta write well if you wanna be a writer. You gotta suck up and do the work. Read. Write a first draft. Then a second. Then take it apart and write a third. The truth is - you gotta edit if you wanna be a writer. And you absolutely have to have taste. You're just a blogger if you don't. 


lack of motivation

losing lucidity again. hate it when that happens in the winter. more cocoa for me, please.