August 6, 2017 § 1 Comment
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.
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 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.
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.
December 31, 2016 § 1 Comment
I’m not someone who’s too held up by special occasions. But, welcoming a New Year is always an occasion which I like to pay some attention too. This attention isn’t about partying, but looking at where I stand in life, and what’s happened. Something I learnt in 2016(as tweeted):
a) 2016 was a lot about learning about myself, learning to cope better with depression and not being too hard on myself.
b) Also acceptance that I may not be as important to people as they are to me and that’s okay. Friends will be there.
c) No one is responsible for my happiness, but me. My state of mind and balance can only come from within.
d) There is no need to expect anything from people around you. Expectations spoil relationships and also leave you sad.
e) And whatever I do is because I want to do it. It is a choice. So enjoy what I do and not be bothered about what other people think.
f) A year where I was hurt a lot, but also bounced back. Confident in my ability to do this now.
g) Lastly, “work” isn’t merely work. I do whatever I do and I care about what I do.
You can find the thread here.
December 20, 2016 § Leave a comment
An edited version was first published on Firstpost- http://firstpost.com/business/demonetisation-a-noble-thought-but-demonstrates-govts-distrust-in-its-citizens-3165246.html
November 8th, 2016 will go down as one of those days which define an era in the annals of Indian history. Such moments usually tend to be planned confrontations, with a crescendo slowly leading up to it, and while not always obvious at that time, it is heard later, and understood in hindsight. Kingdoms and rulers are defined by these moments, mostly on the battle field and sometimes off it.
The locus of today’s war is the Indian economy, and the Government of India has sounded the gongs and issued a battle cry against those evil-doers who have stashed away “black money.” Much like most wars since the World War era, civilians aren’t just inactive participants, they are collateral. Both sides have a free run on them, and whatever each does is in good-faith to their conscience and belief system.
So much has been done and said, and said and not-done- some true, some not so much the truth, and some outright lies and rumours, that to get a full sense of what’s happened and what’s happening is like trying to wrap your head around a religious text- as much as one’s personal morality and belief cry out aloud, one still has to adopt an arm’s distance and try to understand the logic and reason of the text, however convoluted and perverse.
To state the simple facts, without reducing to ad absurdum- the Prime Minister of the country announced that five hundred and thousand rupee notes will not be valid tender from the following day. People have been given fifty days to exchange, deposit, use it for a few things like petrol, tickets, etc.- basically to get rid of the old notes. The exchange is subject to limits, and deadline(s) have been set for using the old notes for certain transactions. A limit has also been set for ATM transactions and withdrawing cash from banks. People have been encouraged to adopt non-cash methods of transactions. We are still within the 50 day window.
The intention of demonetising 86% of the currency in circulation is to bring out the “black money.” The government has been quite vocal in taking on black money, and this isn’t the first move. When it comes to intentions, there is nothing to fault. In fact, it is laudable that they have the will to take on what’s almost become a characteristic of an Indian.
Black money tends to be of two types- money which is from an illegal activity and not reported to the taxation authorities, and that which is from a legal source but hasn’t been reported to the taxation authorities.
This money isn’t always necessarily in cash- it is also stashed away in tax havens – countries and businesses who are committed to the tenets of secrecy and believe that what they do not know isn’t their problem and you will not know when you don’t ask questions. The path to “justice” for this money is much harder and almost impossible, because of the complex structure of these transactions, and international laws, rules and diplomacy. Also, one usually doesn’t tend to prosecute oneself or the hand that feeds.
And then there is the black money that is in cash – ubiquities and an innate part of the Indian economy. This money is created, owned and used in transactions by almost everyone. It is not created just through bribes, capitation fees or land deals, but also is created by teachers, doctors, Chartered Accountants, lawyers, priests and other noble folks who take money and not pay taxes on the transaction. This money is then used in further transactions where it may or may not come back into the legal system. As such, the difficulty here lies in not just getting hold of the romanticised huge stashes of money, but also in bringing it to account in the hands of the person who hasn’t paid the taxes. For legal transactions, we have a VAT system, TDS/TCS, etc. which are aimed at this – to catch a transaction at its origin and bring it into the tax net. The GST regime which will soon be ushered in aims to build on and strengthen the existing system.
A key measure which the government seems to have identified is digitalisation and encouraging non-cash transactions. This is certainly the best way to eliminate the creation of black money- when the number of cash transactions reduce it becomes more and more difficult to hide illegal transactions and masquerade them as legal; that is, people cannot create black money, when everything has been brought to account and large cash transactions will draw suspicion.
This is where eliminating the higher denominations comes into play. It would mean that apart from transactions of small value, people would tend towards non-cash transactions. It would also mean that physically carrying and stashing away black money will become difficult, not just because of the weight and volume, but also because the actual value of currency in circulation will be lesser than what it will be with higher denominations in circulation.
Demonetisation means removing an object of its intrinsic value. It doesn’t necessarily mean new currency of the same denomination aren’t issued, it just means the old notes are retired. The idea behind the current demonetisation drive is to bring out the hidden 500s and 1000s and subject them to taxation. The idea here isn’t to eliminate higher denominations, as evident by the new 500s and 2000s, but more of a confession for old sins. There also seems to be a move towards reducing the currency in circulation, maybe even a possible demonetization of these new notes in the future as we head towards a more digitalised economy.
As stated earlier, the intention behind this move is excellent and noble. But what has happened is a mess of an execution. We see queues at banks and ATMs where people are forced to wait to withdraw their own money. Small businesses and traders have lost income, and are in a fix to make ends meet.
The government has carried out extensive advertisement campaigns and people aplenty have been quick to rubbish anyone questioning the move as anti-national (“With the growth of nationalism, man has become the greatest menace to man. – Tagore).
But beyond what at times sounds more propaganda than anything else, what we need to look at is the success of the move – this can be by the amount of BLACK MONEY brought out and future gains from it and also the move towards digitalisation.
it will take a long time to know the actual amount of black money brought out. Apart from stories of certain huge deposits, the actual money which has come out or has been destroyed will take a long time to emerge and might still be subject to a good degree of error.
Also, this move doesn’t eliminate the conversion of old black to new black or the creation of new black money. While the former shows how deep corruption is ingrained in our system, the latter is possible since we still have high denomination currencies. While the headlines of new black being caught would seem to show a higher efficacy in catching hold of perpetrators, it can simply be down to reporting bias and won’t become evident till we know the extent of the new rot.
The gain to the exchequer also needs to be considered. The direct gain here would be taxation imposed on the black money reported. Here again, this money would only be subject to direct tax and not indirect taxes which were also evaded. In fact, tracing the origin of the money and therefore the point of taxation might actually lead to better plugging the system and loopholes. It remains to be seen if this gain will outweigh the cost of the move.
The indirect gain would be the income in the future generated- the increase in money in banks should theoretically lead to a decrease in interest rates which in turn would lead to more borrowings and investments into the economy. In the long run, this should out do the loss to the economy due to the demonetisation. Again, it remains to be seen if this will happen.
Great impetus has been given to going Digital. The general awe of using cards to pay for everything in places like Singapore, is no more a distant dream, but almost a reality- how we wish.
Much like the Swachh Bharat drive (ironically the logo of this mission appears on the new currency notes – a haven for germs, dust and other such), saying and cess-ing doesn’t really solve the problem. For every railway station that beams at us, the fact remains that a hundred other places are as dirty as ever. Implementation is what matters, and for that we need two things, a) an infrastructure and b) education (different from merely disseminating information).
Quoting the number of bank accounts is a moot point. What matters is the number of digital transactions actually carried out as an overall percentage of transactions. What also matters is the available infrastructure and if it is enough to support (almost) everyone going digital overnight (if 86% of the cash is removed and only a small % added back, then clearly this is the intention and way out.)
Without going into servers and capacities, we have to look at the availability of POS machines and cards, net banking facilities, smart phones, phones (for UID),, etc. And beyond that, we need to look at if banks can receive requests, process and issue/digitally enable people overnight, especially when they are caught up in changing money and accepting deposits. The obvious answer seems to be in the negative, especially considering we still have villages without electricity, or proper banking infrastructure. While it can be argued that quite a sizeable quantum of legal transactions are non-cash anyway, what needs to be remembered is as a government it is equity that matters- the quantum doesn’t matter, but the number of transactions do. And what needs to be remembered is that we are talking about not just about illegal money, but access to legally earned, taxed money and transacting using it.
While anecdotal stories have been published to belie us into thinking that people have adopted digital technology overnight, the reality is far from it. Educating people goes beyond advertising and pushing matter- it involves teaching them how to register, use and transact using digital technology securely. As such there is much distrust in technology, especially when it comes to money, by quite a large portion of the population.
The government seems to have overestimated the influence of the Prime Minister and assumed it as enough motivation for people to believe and switch over. But the panic which followed the announcement and practical considerations like paying for food and rent and standing in queues to get money for these things didn’t really allow for much room for people to consider what was being said. So while being highly nationalistic and soldering along queues, people did not have time to learn and adopt. Maybe the government could have used the wait time to actively educate people using its highly motivated volunteers.
The difference between fortitude and balderdash masochism lies in choosing the moments you use to exhibit the underlying quality- to use a much too familiar example would be of Karna from Mahabharata who bore the pain of a creature digging into him while his guru slept- which as anyone would tell you led to him being cursed to forget all he knew at the moment of reckoning. The intention maybe right, but personality driven egotistic heroism is the also the start of a tragedy. All the suffering of civilians, and soldiers (to the convenience of those who bring them into conversation, can’t respond) is of nought when neither have you stopped the creation of illicit money nor have you caused a major shift towards cashless economy.
To be fair, corruption is too deep seated in us that you are asking people not just to adopt to a new system but to fundamentally kill a part of themselves. As much as a majority has elected this government on the strength a supposed maverick, it isn’t enough to inspire what would seem like hara-kiri. This especially so when the priest is corrupt and the believer is corrupt – the God too is corrupt and that’s what the people seem to be praying to anyway.
It would have been wiser to adopt a bottom-up approach and create the infrastructure first. Slowly prod people to move away from cash and allow the majority of the country which transacts in cash to get an idea of how it works. The demonetisation then would have made sense and could also have done anyway with the issue of new high denominations.
The ultimate aim is to always win a war, not merely a battle. It might seem unfair to judge an army based on a single battle, but some battles are more significant than others. This certainly is so. This round of the battle, with the advantage of surprise on the governments side and all that it had its disposal, including the implicit trust of many, is the government’s. But when almost all the (faceless) leaders of the enemy camp are intact, and many have lost trust which they had in the government what did the victory achieve? It is possible to kill an elephant and deceive a person, but not an entire country, especially when the people you are supposedly fighting for are the collateral. And in a democracy, even if you honestly believe in what you said to be true, you better be ready to answer questions and not expect people to radically change their lives merely on your word.
Time will tell who wins the war. Nationalism stems from a feeling of oneness, and making people insecure – to think you can’t access a lifetime’s work(legally earned, tax paid) the way you want, isn’t going to inspire that, how many ever ladoos you distribute. Above all, this shows a lack of trust in your own citizens- to catch a few thieves, the entire nation is being asked to line-up. Who is going to identify them, remains a mystery.
August 24, 2016 § Leave a comment
We need to believe that anything is possible; that there are infinite possibilities. That we will never know what’s going to happen next, and not force our lives to become slaves to suppositions planted by society and it’s talismans. At times, the world seems to be crumbling under its own weight, and life a series of disappointments, all seemingly aimed at boxing you in, as if you were the problem with it. But that isn’t so. When the world around you starts hitting out, it recognizes you. And when it finds that you aren’t conforming to what it deems as your life, and bounded possibilities, it wants to rein you in. For long you fight the world by its terms, but there comes a point, when you realise that there is more to you than this fight against the world, and the way you see it changes. You realise you don’t need to fight the world on its terms. You can do it by yours. The question is always what does it take to do it your way. When you know what you are willing to give, and what it means to you, the world will respond to it. It will allow you to carve yourself some space, because it thinks it has placed you. But it hasn’t. You know it, it does not. The possibilities are infinite, and you need to remember, however lonely the night is, there is someone there – you.
May 17, 2016 § Leave a comment
When it rains in mid-summer, Madras sighs, half in relief, half in wont reminiscences. This rain, let out like old alcohol bought in another season, to celebrate another joyous eve, first strikes with the smell, a petrichor, a de javu, of a November day- breezy and clay lamps which struggle to remain lit. And when you taste it, at the tip of the tongue, the air is no more languid, but fresh, vigorous, and resplendent. The harsh light is kept out by a curtain of clouds, and the shadows longer as if the sun was further South, and the tempers of precarious Bay, waiting to blow out.
This is May, in Madras. You can call it Chennai if you want, but the ring of the word, without the harsh Che is more of this city- not the incessant cacophony of horns, but the amorous sea-breeze than reminds you of shores on which Occidental flags fluttered and gyrated to the tolling of ancient bells, and the braying of donkeys, diligently carrying laundry.
This city, in this month, when tempers flare, and you perspire without effort- as if you are born into success; and the smoke of camphor and agarbatti prevail in the narrow lanes, brings upon a languid hope. That tired, strained hope, which some find in a heavy meal after religious excesses. That wish after noon, for the school day to get over, or at best for the Maths teacher to disappear.
The waves in the beach of Madras, diligently crash, again and again- the troughs and tides, make their own pace, unhurried by the liners, or excited children, angry parents, hidden lovers, or drunk men caught in the nets of boats they may not own. The crests, shoved away, by the over-crowded port on which a canny English man once found a place to stretch his leg, and measured an empire that never set- creep in, year by year, till a time they shall swallow with a tumultuous crash, the old fort, and Santome.
The simmering heat is a memoir of those days- of history, and childhood, of myths, and veritable veshti-clad old-age. And year, on year, it comes again, and the thirst just becomes more, and more. Till an insatiable day, when nothing can be quenched, except the land that is the city, and her people, their boisterous pride and nine yards of contemptuous vanity.