Madras and Silence

April 2, 2018 § Leave a comment

The only way to embrace a warm comfort in Madras is to turn down the air conditioning to 20 and wrap yourself in a blanket. The city burns you- the heat get under your skin, seeping deeper and deeper till it possesses you in full, a hyperparasite which makes you forget yourself. You are sticky with sweat, and feel like a bamboo broom coming undone- strewn all around, every part wondering what’s left of it.

The nights are more tolerable. You could stand a lonely vigil to the waves and hear them crash, wave after wave, clinical, mechanical, yet somehow wonderfully musical. You can feel the breeze blow, and feel the sands shift between your toes. There’s a vast nothingness ahead, dotted with distant lights that seek a port to deposit their loads- customed and contraband. It all seems wonderful, but the memory of the day lingers, and you know it will dawn like those flights which seem like a speck in the distance and then suddenly appear like a falling star and land at 25 at MAA.

There’s hope, like looking down the runway, looking at the city from a 100 feet, a 1000, till suddenly all that’s left are tiny matchbox like houses and panting lakes which may soon lie to rest under a tombstone of matchboxes, lit like a fireflies hoping to attract someone, not in hope, but as creatures do, to push life forward, till we all crash, drown, or are eaten away by those singing waves who keep time as if there’s a god with watch.

There is silence. It lives within, you under a warm blanket, or walking down the shore. There’s chaos, and there’s war, and you wonder how we got here, bloody long way from silly little invisible things suddenly deciding to stick together. You can’t breathe the air, you cannot drink the water, unless you are ready to pay them. You pollute anyway, and your mind is a beast being fed, in need, in want, in things it doesn’t quite get, but is suddenly addicted to- there’s coffee to savour, and sugary highs to suddenly believe that anything is possible. You don’t get life, you don’t know why, you yearn for things, you want love.

You want this walk not to be lonely, but then remember that within you are just alone, with or without, for you cannot hold on to love. It belongs to no one, not to the sands being eaten away, not to the sands that are stolen and sold to line the pockets of men in white and white, not to the sands you will be scattered when long gone, not even to you, not to those whom you love. This silence, it is you, for if there is none else, it can only be you.

There’s the pain, it nags you, it eats you, it become a part of you. At times you may stab a toe, and it hurts a little less. You grow to know it like a limb, just below your heart, at times grasping it, as if it can crush you, mince you, grind you to make cutlets for a 4 o’ clock snack.

I am cynical. I am happy. I am sad. I am whatever. It doesn’t matter. That’s all there’s to life. And then you can imagine.

Life.

We cannot measure our skies, we don’t know our histories, but we peer into the past in hope of find something. We probe, we poke, we dream. We breathe, and in our breaths carry the urge to know, more and more. We scratch the sands, turn the earth inside out. We stare at the worst of ourselves and still believe there is more.

We can write, we can make those scratches mean something and ring in our heads and sudden we know more. And we write more. We can sing, and suddenly there were no wars, no deaths and no greed. We crave this, this nothingness, this silence to grow. Yet we don’t.

There are as many gods as we want to believe, but no god needs to believe in us for us to be.

I am my silence, and I walk alone.

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Love

January 20, 2018 § Leave a comment

Maybe I can never love anyone the same ever again. Maybe I will never let go of my pretences, and just lie silently holding hands. Maybe I will never be the same again, but a part of me has, and it always will be.

There’s no love like love unrequited. Hands held, a rueful smile, and a knowing that it will never be. Those who believe in other lifetimes hope for a someday, while others like me are left with dreams, and yearning for realities in worlds other, unlike here, much like ours.

And then there is love, that which has been ours forever, lived and left, and broken as loud as a shattering glass, as cursed as a shattering glass—a million pieces, a mess—never to be put together again, seven years or hundred, lifetimes or forevers.

I don’t know what you crave, but I crave those moments where our silences was all that is heard, where our heartbeats, never quite matching strides, in a grace of their own marched into a future unknown—never bleak, but happy, not a loud firework display at a riverfront, but the breeze at a top of a mountain peak.

I want love, and I want to love unafraid, of consequences, of reason, of action, but most of all myself. I wish to be that me when I with you, when I could look up ahead know you were there beside me, know that no fear is too great to be overcome, that my mind is mine, and the love will outlive my arrogance, outlive my anger, outlive all that I felt it wasn’t, outlive you, outlive me, outlive us.

Maybe I miss us more than I miss you, or me. I hate good morning messages ever since—I can’t get myself to type it the first moment after waking up to someone who isn’t you. I miss knowing you are at the other end of the call, seeing you as you are on a computer screen—I watch you sleep, like a child who believes innately that all the world is there to be.

I wish I could love another. No love can be the same as another, but love is far too needy. I can’t close my eyes and jump, I can’t hold on to a hug longer and believe the warmth will forever live.

We meet as strangers, and part as people who know all too well. I don’t trust words as much as I used to trust, though I love them all the same. I want our silences, and I want them to be broken by your whispers and murmurs. I want you to call me only what you did, and hold on…

A word is all that it takes to set free, a word is all that is needed to imprison yourself in misery. I may have chosen the latter, but now I know the other is better.

Love.

 

Starting a book store

January 8, 2018 § 2 Comments

Starting a bookstore is one of those utterly pointless dreams you have as a book lover. There they are, lining the walls of your shelf, scattered all over your desk, lolling on your side table, and anywhere else where they can squeeze in and lie awhile muttering to themselves. You have lent them to your friends, who may or may not have borrowed them permanently, so why not start a store? Quit your job, find a nice well-lit room in some corner of town and stack shelves upon shelves of books of all sorts, and you are in the books business, surely?

Of course, unlike other bookstores, yours will be unique. There shall be no Boggarts or 50 ways to become a damned millionaire. It will all be hardbacks with words crafted by wordsmiths and paperbacks for those who may not want to pay so much. There will be comfortable bean bags and reading nooks for those who just want to read from your shelf- let’s not be so prude as to want to sell all the books. No food would be allowed, though a glass of wine or whiskey will be welcomed as long as it shared with the owner, and anyone who dares to fold a page will be summarily sentenced to banishment from the known universe- dogs maybe cute if you get past all that drooling and licking, but dogears never will be.

A bookstore cannot be profitable, if you think about it. How can one make money by just selling books, especially when you don’t want to get rid of them in the first place. Remember the time when you excitedly shoved a book into your friend’s hand from your shelf which you thought the person will love to bits(metaphorically)? Well, when was the last time you saw it, in bits or otherwise? You grew wiser and decided your bookshelf shall have better security than the queen of an empire that ever slept.

And then there are the kindle, ebooks and torrents- you tell yourself it’s okay if the book is too expensive- maybe five thousand and above? Or a 30 page graphic novel which costs two thousand rupees? Well, your scruples are yours, and amazon is the God of e-things anyway. Your costumers will be those old folks who maybe a bit too shy to ask their grandchildren to load books on their kindle, fellow bibliophiles who will go after your rarest of rare books(because duh, amazon and discounts for everything else), and that stray Orangutan who has decided that his library could do with a couple of more books.

Quitting your job is another matter. Your bank account is as balanced as a thulabaram carrying a generous king on one side and peanuts for the temple elephants on another, who by the way, are busy eating the peanuts as they are being added- who let in the elephants anyway? It’s so romantic, but by virtue of having read all those books, some of which you didn’t like, you have acquired apparent skill in doing those things which pass of as survival of the fittest. Let’s face it– you can dream all you want but you aren’t going turn into a beetle and loll about without catching a train or driving yourself to work — the chances of getting a heart-attack (0.01?) or heartburns(0.6?) are higher.

Let’s say you work enough to own a nice nest- nothing fancy, maybe a crow’s next, and have decided that every minute in a day will mean something, find a place whose rent doesn’t require you to be a Prince of Barbaria(or Bay Area), strike deals with those notorious distributiors(35% madam, and no less), have a loyal coustmer base(you got to be some sort of prince after all)…and then you go to a not so fancy restaurant, have a hearty meal to celebrate. A waiter brings you the bill. You look at it, do the math, close the store and go back to whatever you were doing.

Echo-chambers and post-truth world

December 13, 2017 § 2 Comments

 

We make our own echo-chambers. We consistently interact with what we like, laying more and more bricks to first build the wall, and then to reinforce it. The inside is exactly what we want, built to sate our every want, that we forget to make provisions for windows and doors. Our ability to question and reason, the key to open a mind are useless in a world without doors and windows.

 

The boundary to knowledge in the past had been through exclusion- conscious discrimination which sought to ‘other’ and create a notion that not everyone was deserving enough. Today, a lot of us have the world at the palm of our hands, with almost anything we want to know only a search away. Yet, this world almost tangibly present in our lives is locked behind keywords and our inability to judge the veracity of the information we find and consume.

How old is the universe? This may seem an innocuous question to the general reader who knows the age of the universe. Or do you? A search result will tell you it is 13.772 Billion years old. That isn’t definite, there is a margin of error to it. As science advances our ability to learn more about our world increases, and we will come to better define this.

Is that the only answer though? The above answer is for the question, how old is the universe according to science.

How old is the universe according to the vedas? How old is the universe according to creationism? How old is the universe according to Islam?

You are welcome to search for these answers.

What seems like a primary fact on which you base your view of the universe in fact is subject to what you already know, what you have already learnt.

If you have learnt and come to know an answer other than a scientific one and happen to google the age of the universe, you will encounter the scientific answer. This creates a point of conflict. This confuses you. To check the veracity of this, you turn to your primary source of your knowledge- your teacher.

Your primary source reiterates what you know and dismisses anything contrary as hearsay. You then move on to questioning others- family and friends, and as more and more sources confirm it, your uncertainty gives way to a certainty, and certainty to a definite belief in what you know. This becomes the first brick of your echo-chamber.

You slowly but surely start building the wall around yourself, allowing only those who believe in the same thing, tweaking the keywords till all you find is what fits in with what you believe is correct.

The veracity of information is dependent on where you find it, who knows it, and how many people you know, know it to be true. Others in your circle believe in the same way. You come together to build a confederation, where you all hear the same thing, an information vouched for again and again, ricocheting of the walls again and again, that it cannot be anything but the truth. Your echo-chamber is complete- from your real life to digital life all you hear is what you want to hear.

If this happened simply because you chose to, it would be the way it has come to be with humanity in general. But it didn’t happen simple because you chose this. There is more to it.

Remember how you never “liked” the posts of your schoolmate whose views where contrary to yours? How many more posts did you encounter from the person? Have you seen promoted content similar to what you read a while back? Remember that advertisement calling you to action to defend an apparent offence against your faith?

Echo-chambers are good for business, and as our businesses becoming increasingly adept at knowing what you “like”, and what you don’t, they become better at creating that comfortable world where what you think to be true is what you know to be true.

Based on what you browse and engage with, the algorithm deployed to keep a tab on you help in creating echo-chambers and they leave nothing to chance. They slowly add more and more layers between you and anything different.

While the machines add layers outside, we tend to move further towards the (self) centre, and add layers inside- convinced that anything that doesn’t conform or fit in with what we know to be true is wrong.

When you do manage to look outside the metaphorical fortress and encounter anything contrarian, there is a backlash. This confrontation turns into a war, and again is good for those who write the codes. We obsessively trade in an exchange with nothing but the defence of what we know to be true the only goal at whatever cost.

We live in a post-truth world. A world where not just the importance and relevance of facts are diminishing, but a world where the premise of a fact is now in doubt. Modern scientific view is now seen as an invasion on older medieval thought and as intellectual imperialism.

As much as we fight to keep the internet democratic and open, we are forgetting that any exchange requires rules of engagement. And as the internet and technology seamlessly integrate into our life and living, we need to ensure that we don’t come to live in echo-chambers. You can’t stop people from believing what they want, but we can certainly stop accelerating the pace at which the walls of the fortresses are built, lest a tweet triggers a world war.

The world is becoming increasingly e-enabled, and the largest challenges in front of us are to feed ourselves and stay alive in a world of dwindling resources and hostile climatic conditions. This requires universal cooperation on real issues- you can live on imaginary food and water only for so long. It is time to knock down our echo-chambers to at least provide for a few windows, set our rules of engagement and work together to stop the world from becoming an unbearable place.

The first step towards this is to make the algorithms more unbiased, and opening our minds to expose ourselves to views other than what we believe to be true. While your view may allow you to consider certain human lives as more valuable than others, you need to realize that there are others who feel the same about you. Either of you dead is still a statistic- you can fight over the reasons, and you can fight over the causes- but dead people are dead people- however they died, for whatever died. And as much as a celestial abode with infinite pleasures or being particles that doesn’t belong to a human being are tempting, a dead person is only just more useful than alive ones who live indifferent to everything else other than themselves.

We live in a time where we not only have access to information, but are forced to consume information. Consensus on the past and the future have always been difficult, but we are at a stage where we fail to agree on the present- rising sea water levels and global temperatures; the state of lives in the next neighbourhood, the next state and the next country; the scarcity of resources; exploding population, beyond what is sustainable on Earth.

If we do not take cognisance of these facts and instead defend our existing political, religious, racial and gender biases, our world will soon become unbearable to live. What will remain to be seen will be whether a tweet will start a world war, or rising sea levels will consume us. We may find a way to Mars, but first we need to find a way to listen to ourselves.

 

When it rains in Madras

August 6, 2017 § 3 Comments

When it rains in Madras, it could very well be a place you have fantasised. Forget the potholes and the inevitable inundation for a moment, and just enjoy the magic of an afternoon transformed into an overcast evening, fit to go with the three o’clock steaming coffee and hot onion pakodas or molaga bajjis.

Growing up, I always found it hard to relate to the dullness and dreariness English writers associated with rain and overcast conditions. I remember a July a decade or decade and a half ago when it poured after a spell of drought. Schools postponed their sports days and daily march-past drills as heavy clouds finally stormed the city. I lay on the couch and watched English bowlers swing the ball under sunny conditions on the television while munching on hot pakodas.  The commentators were over-joyed at bright sunshine, which they seemed certain makes a good day- not to a Madras boy though, especially one who has run from third-man to third-man under a mid-May noon sun.

It doesn’t rain often in Madras. Every time the umbrella was brought out, my thatha would recount how everyone in Trivandum used to hang one on to the back of their shirts while walking. A much-green me would dream of distant places where the monsoon was a thundering beast at the sight of which the trees shuddered, and the rivers ran.

If you have lived in Madras, you will know of those evenings when a bunch of clouds threatened to wash away the city, but all they actually did was shed a half-reluctant tear at the sight of kodangal lining-up in front of hand-pumps, as if we deserved no sympathy.

It rains sometimes in May, a light evening reprieve during the scorching Agni-nakshatram days. It rains on a couple of June days, which year-by-year seem hotter than the one before, and then there are a few temperamental showers in July- South-West monsoon mostly avoids us, but every now and then a bit of her flaying skirt brushes the ever-growing fingertips of the city. The real rain comes after the second summer in October, as the winds change, and the North-East monsoon huffs and puffs, and roars into town.

The veppam reduces, and the air-conditioners can finally be switched off as T.Nagar lights up for the festival season- one traffic jam at a time. The season also brings cyclones and kinder versions of it. The ever-enterprising crows and the rowdy parrots shut up for a while and the nagaram stands eerily still as the storms march through and the winds trumpet as if royalties still ruled here.

A couple of Decembers ago, Madras faced the worst rains it had seen for a century or so. The city was turned into islands, as the three rivers which are usually dry or filled with sewage, roared with such might that a medieval saint-poet would have been inspired to praise them with a couplet or two. As the streets lay dark and torn with festering scars, an awe swept us all- we were grains of sand on the Marina, waiting for the day a big wave carried us away.

When it rains in Madras, it could very well be a place you have fantasised. The city’s strides slow down to a hesitant step-by-step prodding, lest you are sucked into an open manhole, the honking not so incessant and there’s an uncertain sigh- the steam out of a pot of perfect tea, whose leaves are from a distant estate with a silent mist hanging over a rippling stream with grassy shores.

My Madras is a bunch of names who criss-cross each other as streets. The city always has felt old to me, holding out with its own, all the while borrowing from those who came to call it their home. And on a day when the sun can’t be seen and a drizzle to fore, there’s a melancholy which lingers on- of grandfather’s tales and time forlorn.

I walk

June 15, 2017 § Leave a comment

 

I am that guy who walks with long strides and short, through cities big and small, towns with paddy field boundaries and villages with a cross road or two.

I am a small force of my own, an object small, determined to walk however far, I don’t know to what. I push through the heat, through the cold, through rain and sweat, drenched, past churches, temples, mosques and elsewhere where people go to seek the divine, but find a human in between instead.

I have no faith,

It just is.

I have hope,

It just is.

I see gorges, I see rivers free, I see the deep valley cut clean. There’s a whisper, there’s a flap, there’s a flurry, there’s maybe a prey or a predator, but all I see is a quietude, a slumber, an afternoon rain weathering away the rocks as if to measure life sans time, in a moment that lasts itself beyond reason or rime.

There are no boundaries, except those we draw on our own. And we draw, we carve, the lines that are roads, the way to homes we build in tiny geometric shapes plotted on plans and maps, surveyed and claimed as humanity’s own.

I walk under the sun, I walk under the street lights, I walk through firefly lit starry nights. I watch the match boxes come alive, at tea stalls and humongous complexes with tiny ants rushing in anxiety to fill another day with they know not what, but call a purpose.

I walk past the malls and the neon light boards that insist that the you can’t resist what is within- racks of the same, machine made and mould. There are no rats there, just spiders and cobwebs that escape pest control.

 

The five-o-clock sea breeze squeezes and chocks its way past the sepulchres of everyday life that form a maze with no end, either way. The crows scavenge and steal from the fortnight’s garbage. There’s a rot somewhere, and a nervous laughter all around, no one wants to stir the tea which is already too sweet.

I hear the music play, a coy bride on her wedding day, being apparently given away. I hear the songs of parvenu faith, blaring aloud, thumping chests to twirling moustaches, a goddess is demure when the nine-yards are draped.

I stride, and I leap, I run. There’s nothing in my mind, but the next step, and then another.

I believe in hope.

It remains alive through the dreary monsoon days, the harsh Madras sun and the opaque Himalayan cold that eats into your very bones. It lingers on, like the taste of your first lover, which you try to recount, to remember the day you were first together, young and silly, tangled limbs and messy sheets.

My strides strong and long, never weary. The feet yearn for more, a mile, or a furlong, you can call it whatever you want.

There is no corner they leave unthread on the dirty beaches in my city, with faded boats casting long shadows under which stray dogs rest, under which young lovers hope not to be repressed.

There’s no nook which they not pass by, the crevices in the jumble of rocks destined to become sand, the burrows of wild creatures which hide and prowl only at night.

I seek hope, for I believe in it.

Every road has a memory of love, of grief, of pain, of laughter and others’ memories. There are stories that speak through abandoned shoes and neglected rosaries, there’s always someone who has been here before- wanting to be set free, searching for faith in sand castles and abandoned temples. There are moonlit shadows that smell of cheap wine and rum, lovers in revelry, lost souls washed ashore who cannot burrow like crabs any more.

Some paths split, taking you afar, others which come together to bring worn shoes home, torn to be mended by hands varicose and alone. The streets cut each other at ninety degrees, but there’s always that cul-de-sac which lies forlorn.

I yearn for hope.

There’s a twilight which lingers on, like a long-lost memory. There’s a watch forever stuck at half-past three.

I walk.

I am that guy who walks with long strides and short, through cities big and small, towns with paddy field boundaries and villages with a cross road or two.

I have no faith,

It just is.

I have hope,

It just is.

 

 

He believed in old love

June 1, 2017 § 1 Comment

He believed in old love, and only in old love.

Old love, where a hug was a cuddle, a kiss that stopped time, silences words that said themselves. He yearned for old love, like he yearned for his morning coffee- out of habit, a comfort which made life worth living.

His old love rode with him on the imaginary trams that criss-crossed the main through-ways of the city. His old love held his hand while he travelled on the local, and pecked his cheeks at the first smell of sea as they reached the beach.

His old love was memories tightly knit by steady hands which believed that they will be well worn, with tales of their own to tell those came after. His old love was the canter of the fort-city, the stink of sweat, the never-ending struggle to remain as it is, through storms and parched summer afternoons.

His old love was one in the morning, when there were no horns or dogs barking, when the lonely crows of the city slept on the branches of coconut trees, when rusty air conditioners gritted and grated their teeth in faux poetry.

His old love was a sultry hot Sunday afternoon, lazy, contently fed, sparsely clothed, and rhythmic snores which tickled if you lay close enough.

His old love was the first whiskey bottle- lost in some forgotten corner, half-remembered on Saturday nights when songs from the eighties shed their age and shy to move in half-steps and full to the nineties.

His old love was letters written in cursive with words stuck haphazardly- intended to be a quip, but all they made out to be was as adage to angst and hope, a whisker on a teenage upper-lip.

His old love was the poems that remain unread, stocked and locked in heavy cupboards with moth balls, lest they be pried, even if unintended.

His old love was a name, firmly said, with no half vowels, and consonants which stirred storms in antique tea sets.

His old love was a hard trek up the hill of ancient stones, carved to mean, to be, but now in ruins, except for those eyes, which still seem to see.

His old love was a sketch which still he held, a t-shirt he still wore, a laughter he heard, tears that were left unshed.

His old love felt salty on the tip of his tongue, never spoken, but never forgotten.

His old love was a dream, which he wished was a memory.

His old love he held like a phantom limb, never seen, but always felt.

 

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