Wednesday, April 30, 2014

To Moments Which Hold On...

Some days do not require a label for being called a celebration. They just inherently carry a celebratory air. These days need not necessarily be a birthday, an anniversary or anything close. Such days could just be a lingering thought on your mind about some extremely special moments you spent with a loved one. These moments might not be the first of their kind - but by the sheer intensity of what you share, they elevate themselves above all similar times and expressions, and become priceless, to be cherished till whatever is your concept of eternity. One such day is today, when I had a long telephone conversation with a friend, who has alternated between roles of a bestie and that bordering on filial protectiveness. This phone conversation was neither the first, nor the last of its kind - but it was an experience where the world ceased existing except for the phone in my hand and the voice reaching my ears from the other side. This phone call happened around seven years ago, at about three thirty pm in the afternoon - and there was nothing exceptional in the chit-chatting except for the fact that it gave me a sense of finally having arrived at a safe, secure place in life, and of having entered a bond which was meant to last.

My blog, at one point, was a place I honoured the most special people in my life from. I believe in expressions, but they are best left cryptic at times - for meaning to ooze out from pores which have deliberately been poked in a narrative. For the bravest person I know, I scribbled a dozen lines some ten minutes back - and they seemed pretty enough to be shared here. And so I am.

A toast, to moments which don't stop existing even long after they have passed!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Rewriting Delhi - Part I

Around December last year, I began assisting Asif Khan Dehlvi in his endeavour named Delhi Karavan, which is a concept traversing through time and space to serve the best of Delhi in front of those who are in love with the city, and are eager to explore it. In my journey with Delhi Karavan, I realized the truth in the oft quoted line - To have travelled is to have arrived. I am more of a ghostly presence there, seldom manifesting in actual events, but lurking somewhere behind the online face of it. The freedom which Asif grants me to explore my city, my way, is what makes even this virtual journey so liberating, and in keeping with the same spirit, I started drafting for Delhi Karavan mini Facebook columns called 'Rewriting Delhi' sometime back. These columns were about how I saw my city, and what is it that fascinated me about it. In the form of stale quintets, I decided to share these columns with you as well, also to know what is it about this rich, ravaged, reconstructed city that you happen to admire.

Here is the first quintet, the first five posts written under #RewritingDelhi 


"Meri muhabbat pe shaq na kar ae sheher mere
Par teri dewaaron par laparwaah si kabhi sachchai bhi dikh jaati hai"

Armed with a new phone in hand, with awesome camera specification, I was eager to click the best visuals from my city - and this is the first that caught my eye in a fast food outlet in Connaught Place. It amused me, yes, but also shook up some funny memories of misogynistic encounters I have had while travelling through the deemed safest areas of Delhi. I love this place I live in, and this is where I want to die - but our city has to go a long way in becoming a safer haven for women. Or so I think.

Some people, I reckon, need to read the writing on the wall.

Spotted inside McDonald's, somewhere in CP


"Panno mein uljhe chehron ko dekha hai kya kabhi?
Tujhmein hi ae sheher yeh apna khwaab sajaate hain"

This lane has a distinctive importance of its own - if you ask me, then more so. This is where the dreams of many an aspirants for the highest jobs in India come to seek salvation. Not just that, this is where an entirely different kind of crowd scurries in as well - and that is the foodie crowd. If you are a chaat-deewaana, it can't be that you have not heard of the Shri Prabhu Chaat Bhandaar in Delhi. Just in case you have not, you must rush here to see the confluence of some serious aspirations with some tangy flavours.

Right beside Dholpur House, the destination for many aspirations


The excitement of devouring these lovely, fried pieces of potato was such that I could not avoid getting the click blurred. But then, that is what #DelhiChaat does to you. Invariably, in all corners of the city, around the next bend, at short distances from each other, you will find jazzy chaat stalls inviting you with all their might to taste the sweet and tangy flavours they have to offer. Golgappas, Tikki, Lachchha Tokri and a spread of some other delectable quick-foods is irresistible. For me, however, these fried potatoes - called Aaloo Chaat - work best. Is it the same for you too?

This is proper Delhi fast food, which no number of Americanised joints can push out. And thats what I will keep believing.

Aloo Chat!


“Kya manzil ki tak mein zindagi basar karoon
Ya is safar ko hi apni manzil maan loon?"

Have you ever felt like taking a taxi to nowhere, to travel for the sheer pleasure of travelling? This picture, by my dear friend, Aaqib Raza Khan gives me dreams, it makes me want to become an explorer. A taxi to nowhere could also be a taxi to everywhere, or so I think.

I don't see many taxis around in the city, except now for those fancy call-cabs, each an advertisement hoarding in itself. But then, this is also how my city is changing, evolving, becoming new.

Aaqib Raza Khan's lens clicks these beauties!


"Ae sheher tu razdaar bhi, dildaar bhi, fankaar bhi
Jo panaah de, na sawaal kare, woh humsafar, woh yaar bhi"

You did not think this city opens its arms only for you, is it? When you head out to capture interesting moments, you find them being played out between creatures of all colours and sizes. Like here. These were spotted lurking on top of a shed in some corner of Dargah Nizamuddin Auliya, caught deftly by the all observing camera of Aaqib.

Are they growling, or romancing? That is where my thoughts end, still wondering.

Inside Dargah Nizamuddin Aulia, again clicked by Aaqib
PS - If you liked what you got to read here, more will come your way, soon!
Meanwhile, why don't you follow @DelhiKaravan on Twitter, or hop onto their Facebook page by clicking here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ammi - Letters to a Democratic Mother by Saeed Akhtar Mirza

That is why I came down to your bed that night and began to massage your feet. Do you remember? ‘That’s very nice of you Saddu … very nice,’ you had said as I kneaded your feet and ankles. I know you were surprised by my action but what I didn’t tell you was that I was hedging my bets. You had once told me that it was written in the Quran that heaven lay at the feet of all mothers. As I massaged your feet furiously, I was hoping God was watching and taking down notes. (Page 66, Ammi- Letters To A Democratic Mothers, Saeed Mirza)

The concept of motherhood is perhaps the simplest to understand. It is universal. No man can eschew its influence, both, in the presence and absence of a mother. Despite being simple and universal, the intricacies of motherhood are complex to the observer’s eyes; unfathomable too. Thoughts, theories and eulogies exist aplenty about it all - the most apt perhaps being the one which equates mother to God- the Creator. The divinity, the unquestionable haloed status of a mother arises from the fact that she is the channel through which new, nascent life forms set foot in the world. She seamlessly glides into the role of a Preserver too, as she nurtures and protects her infant, and oversees his/her growth into an able, and healthy adult. Truly has been said about this unsung hero who decorates each child’s life with beauty and comfort that she is not someone to be understood from the outside. Only a mother can understand the dynamics of a mother’s heart. She is the most powerful influence in the early stages of a man’s life, but not always understood by the very objects of her love. The time when she is, is sometimes too late.

On the surface, the debut novel of Saeed Akhtar Mirza, seems to be building on this lamentation associated with motherhood. Below the surface, the same novel derives heavily from a psychedelic mix of unrelated concepts, thoughts, ideas and people to form a narrative which is engaging and unconventional. Ammi- Letters to a Democratic Mother is a unique book. At its core lies a son’s awe, admiration and reverence for his mother. However, the book seeks to investigate more than just the relationship between a child and his mother. This book is a journey across time and space, events and people which influenced a young mind. This book is also a sensitive, yet not sentimentally, written ode of a child to his mother, posthumously.

Saeed Akhtar Mirza – the name may be new to the world of contemporary Indian literature, but it is very popular among art cinema aficionados. After a decade of bollywood inspired by the angry young man in whom the discontent of the middle class found voice, 1980s were a decade of creative degeneration, as is rued in polemical accounts by cinema critics. The 1980s, also called the ‘disco’ decade, were also the decade in which the Indian art cinema scene came of age. Serious in content and keenly intent upon telling realistic stories inspired from sociopolitical climate of the times, this wave of cinema was endorsed and led by acclaimed film-makers foremost among whom was Saeed Akhtar Mirza. By making and presenting films like Naseem, Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho, Saleem Langde Pe Mat Ro and Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata Hai to an audience blinded by the glitz and glamour of mainstream cinema, Mirza had long established himself as a master storyteller. This time around too, he comes out to tell a story, story within stories, only using a slightly different medium. He holds a pen in his hand instead of a camera, and churns out a novel which delights with its understanding of important concepts and world events.

Mirza’s mother passed away in 1990. Despite being in the same city, Mirza could not meet his mother before her death due to a mundane act of procrastination. This novel was penned around 2007 in the form of a long, continuous letter written posthumously by Mirza to his mother. Despite this lucid proclamation, this novel is cannot be categorized under the routine epistolary form of writing. In his narrative, Mirza mixes together more than half a dozen literary forms to aid the narrative as and when required. Ranging from critical reporting of global and domestic events, parables, poetries (Urdu and English), short stories, historical accounts, travelogue, to satires and plain sharing of memories- this novel keeps changing the landscape a reader journeys on while reading it. Quite remarkably, experimenting with different literary genres does not, even for once, compromise upon the continuity and comprehensibility of the broad storyline. The essence remains constant; it is aided by scores of vignettes inserted at appropriate places to make the narrative engaging and entertaining.
The author - Saeed Akhtar Mirza

It is quite difficult to succinctly put into words the basic storyline, or what one would call the essence  of this novel. It has many stories to tell, many events to discuss and many discourses to give. However, broadly, in the form of a single letter, Mirza relates to the reader the domestic affairs of an ordinary Indian family. He begins with salutations to his mother and then goes onto build her personality, one that was formidable and inspirational from where he saw the world. He begins her story from the time of her marriage, and with sensitivity and sensibility, tracks her growth into a mature woman, who despite having begun her life in a cocoon, stands up as the moral, spiritual and even financial pillar for her family. A character analysis, albeit interesting, will take up a lot of space here, but suffice to say that it is a bildungsroman of a kind, in which many characters grow, and mature around the central, pervasive figure of the mother. At the end of the main narrative, the script of a film comes attached - which merits an entire review and analysis for itself. The magic of the book has many manifestaions - insight on love and relationship, history and politics, society and culture, individual and family - and so much more! 

That said, I have to emphasize that this book is compilation of rare beauties, which kept me enamoured from the first word. The most beautiful and believable love story unlocked itself in the pages of this book, almost like a fable of coming together, and staying together. It is a book I hold dear, very dear. It made me smile internally, it prompted me to think and reflect, it also motivated me to investigate into incidents and people mentioned. What more can a literary creation aspire for? Certain pieces of beauty should not be rated, but if I could, I would give it five stars on five, and perhaps some more.

Book Details
Author - Saeed Mirza
Publisher - Tranquebar
Published - 2008
Genre - Fiction
Pages - 385
Price - Rs. 295 (Paperback)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Running After Truth - Guest Post by Navin Dutta

Note - This is a very long post, but every small length of it is worth digging into. It happens to be one of the most fascinating, and comprehensible write-ups I have read/heard, which deal with a subject as complicated as the definition and pursuit of truth, but decodes it with the help of instances and characters that have been a part of childhood. This childhood is what constitutes the fabric of our collective memories, and there-in lies the kernel of truths of life as we know them. Read, and ponder. 

Truth is belief. Truth is reason. Truth is passion. To be truthful, to me, is also to be moral. Truth is intent. Truth is outcome. Truth is death; the harshest one. It is also life. I believe it should lead me to peace. That is how I see it or want to see it.

Truth is understanding why are we here. Does it make any difference? Our actions? Or may be only some action by some stalwart in his time matters. So does this mean the rest of us are living life like insects? To say that is such a wrong thing. Do insects play no role? Or is that our role is similar to those insects i.e., in completing some sort of a cycle? Seeking truth is about answering so many simple questions that have not so simple answers. Truth is a quest.
The author, pondering over his truth
Truth of a Teenager

For three decades or so, I have been around observing, trying to get hold of the flawsophies in understanding the real meaning of life, of why and how and what. The first decade of my life was perhaps the best. After that I started indulging in a paranormal activity called thinking – one of the bigger blunders I have sketched so far. Why is that you ask. Hmm… I think for that you will need to know the nature of my indulgence with the world around and perhaps my own the realm of thoughts. In fact there are so many aspects of my existence, that I really do not understand them all. Whenever I tread that path of pursuit and speak to my fellow peers and friends, I come back empty handed. And with every such attempt my belief in Darwin's theory stands reinforced, getting convinced that we have descended from apes.  But let’s focus on trying to uncover the essence of truth.

As a kid, I have lived a life of blissful ignorance. I have lived in the times of Chacha Chaudhary and Saboo. I have lived to believe that He-Man was one of the masters of the universe. However funny it may sound to you, I would scathe the fields with a stick and shout in all the glory - "I have the power".

Somewhere, I actually felt that I had the power. I would rescue all the butterflies, when kids from the block would ran around trying to capture them. I felt heroic. It was like saving the world from the harsh, cruel truths. That thought, perhaps, was my first tryst with truth. Since then it has been a journey of sorts.

I believed in some things so dearly and fiercely that they held the status of the absolute truth that could ever exist, if it exists that is. To share with you a long kept secret, I believed I could fly. Not like a bird would fly, but I believed while jumping I could punch air underneath my feet and take off even higher. The jig was this - I would jump off the ground and paddle in the air to go higher. And then I would come down. The next time I would go even higher. These mini-flight were a treat of the awesomeness that I had access to. I would smile and, again, slash the air with the stick in my hand and exclaim - "I have the Power!!!"

Growing Up

And then it stopped. I grew up.

I was not under the cognitive overload poor kids these days have to face. I had access to many comics and scriptures that induced fascination to do things beyond one’s reach, to save the world and feel proud. One such book was "Jatak Kathayein" that had Buddhist stories, each with a moral. They inspired enough to make me fan of Gautama Buddha.

I didn't quite understand him then but I knew there was something common between us. Something that really connected us. It was his pursuit of truth. When this hit me, I was so motivated to pursue truth further that I seriously wanted to leave my home, everything and go. Sadly I was never able to do so, else I would be an enlightened soul today.

Talking of enlightenment, I think I was afraid of the dark. It freaked me out to the brim of crazy. We have frequent power cuts in the small towns, which facilitated many encounters between darkness and me. These encounters became my moments of introspection, faith and belief.

For clear differentiation between truth and untruth, right and wrong, just and unjust, I would try all sorts of methods to meditate and become the enlightened soul I had always read about - the know-it-all kinds; but not like a babajee of course. I also wanted to have the love of my life with me, around me. I wanted to love her to the best I can; write poetries, sing songs, dance, make merry, and I would not leave her like Siddhartha did. Not at all, if she was as pretty and intelligent as Yashodhara was described in those books. Sane. Pretty. And at the same time a very dedicated partner.
A painting the author drew, inspired by Leonid Afremov

I have had this strong urge to set out and explore the course of life like a river, to not be contained but be out there. While I do not want to sound any smarty pant, I realized that my peers - my friends at school and my sisters, were not like me. I was different. I do not know how. I felt I was in the crowd but aloof. I did enjoy company, but there was a sense of solitude that I enjoyed more. How did it compare? Perhaps that’s a question I’m still negotiating. I find in me a recluse who would enjoy sitting on a rock on top of a mountain and feel the joy of having achieved the climb. Maybe I don't fit. I find myself socially awkward and I have mixed feelings about that.

It is not that I don't long for a friend with whom I could share without inhibitions. It is also not that I don't long for companionship. I do. Just like anybody. I hate the void. I long to hold hands and feel assured. Or feel secure and loved in a hug. I crave for that. But I would never initiate it. I would rarely ask for it when needed. Instead, I while away. I drift. I think this is also because my parents, though loving, have been very firm and inexpressive. They have taught me not to rely too much on others and do things by myself, to be by myself. I love them, and so do they, yet rarely do we hug. It takes such an effort. Really. Sounds crazy? Well that’s how it has been.

Anyway, getting back to story of truth, now you know how similar my life then was to that of Siddhartha; except that I didn't have a loving wife, a kingdom to rule but we shared the same notions to run after truth, to seek answers. I used to think about it and discard the thought of abandoning home, mulling - "I am barely 12. Siddharth left home when he was 29". Now, I realize that he was more decisive than I am or ever will be.

The Spider Bite

Every now and then, I would see the futility and worthlessness of my existence and try to ascertain whether or not I’ll make a dent in this universe. In fact there were so many ways that I could sneak in and punch the whole strata that I started exploring, and the more time I spent exploring, the more I realized how insufficient my experience was. I had taken a plunge and it was a fall. I needed the right terminal velocity or I would drown in the history or perhaps in my own unfinished dreams. I needed the right pull before I could catapult my ideas in search of truth. I think it started, when I was 7. It was then when I was first introduced to Spidey. Yes. Our very own Spiderman from the friendly neighbourhood.

Now Spidey, I found, was an interesting character. He had similar notions of pursuance. Yes, I am talking about the truth. The urge to go beyond what is in your reach and help the world in better ways.

As Spiderman, he would beat the bad guys; jump off buildings; weave his own truth; wear his own lie yet be loved by all. As Peter he was good at studies; he was respected by girls; he helped the needy and did all this as a common man. So he was master of both his universes, not just one. To top it all, he didn’t have to leave Mary Jane. He knew exactly when to switch roles. Sadly later in the story I realized, that like Yashodhara’s case, he had to distance himself from MJ. This became a point of my concern. A serious one. Both these fair ladies were very committed to their heroes, still had to live a life of lonesomeness. This truth was a little scary. What is truth if it is not shared? No better than a lie. I thought about it. Why is it that no one who pursues it so fiercely gets to live with his companion? I was finding more and more such stories, yet my craving hadn't died. The saddest part being that most of the time, the hero opts out of the relationship, despite loving their beloved so dearly. Another hero of truth, I recently found was Mahatma Gandhi. His story is similar, but let’s not go there. This post is more about my truths than his.

Through the early years of the second decade of my life, I hoped that I would someday leave all behind and go in search of truth. At times I would secretly wish that a spider would bite me and I would morph into some kind of a super hero. Sadly, none of them happened. Perchance the mosquitoes did try, but nothing substantial came out of that.

I was still a popular kid. The females would love to have me around, so much that my guy friends would get jealous and pass comments.  I guess it was I who kept these girls at a safe distance. You see, I wouldn't mind female spiders but I guess they didn’t fancy biting me. The only way to tackle this was by engulfing myself in the inky darkness, relentlessly slaughtering all the other thoughts. It was like I was under the spell of truth. Then I was stripped off that too, by deception.  Deceptions question your illusion of validity in the frames of reality in the bigger context. Truth is then judged and measured on the scale of happiness.

Peace, Satisfaction, Happiness

To ideate deeply, there are some encounters in each of our lives that invite us to pause and think about our lives. I realised while this pursuit was an honorary and cherished one in my life, it was slowly losing its charm. So far I hadn’t understood that satisfaction and happiness are two different things and absorption in a task or a routine or a drive cannot always give you both. I originally linked truth with peace, peace with satisfaction, and satisfaction with happiness. This was changing. 

So what is it that I should aspire for now if not truth? What was happening to me was no less than any hysteria. I could see there were more side effects to it. I was becoming too serious, too rational, too giving and all of that was not easy. I had my own suffering. I was beginning to understand that perhaps "no drive" is also a "drive". I also understood that circumstances that we can’t choose and the structures in life that we choose have less to do with satisfaction or happiness or peace. All of this is largely determined by temperament. It is rarely an after effect of truth. So what is the rhyme and refrain here? It is logical to view life as series of moments; each with a value; each episode with a truth of its own; connected with the intent more than outcome. The rhyme is the understanding in repetition. The refrain is questioning your very own understanding. Well that is debatable I know. And I am still hooked.

Truth Can Seduce You

While writing whatever was coming to mind, I was wondering what exactly this post is about. What is this "essence of truth" I have been talking about? Yet again, not an easy one to answer.

Are eyes the site, or medium of truth?
The author does end up drawing them a lot.
So I asked some questions. Simple questions seeking simple answers. These seemingly simple questions led to more questions, rarely offering answers, that too in bits and pieces.

"What is truth?" - I asked myself.

Truth is something that conforms to reality, is factual, is derived out of consensus; has a logical conclusion. Yet we know that truth, sometimes, is only true in a context. I am talking about relativism. 

Questions that now propped up were:
What is real? What is factual? Is it not very dependent on individual perception? Can it always be proved by some logic? Even in relativism all points are valid, and with such a premise truth may not be true out of the premise and it so turns out that it is contradictory. Can truth be self-contradictory? Doesn't relativism defy the very nature of truth itself?

What I exactly wanted to do was define it but it seemed impossible. So if it can't be defined, does it really exist? Some say such a truth can only exist in faith. Is it? I doubt.
Truth is, maybe I am here for a reason.  Or maybe truth is that there is no such reason at all. I am just blabbering. The idea of truth has seduced me for long. What came out was no less than a gaping void. In the age when boys run after girls I ran after truth.

To think of it, whatever the truth is, unless it encounters more realms than yours it is no better than a lie and it is meaningless in essence, even if it holds good. And what good is such realization that makes no difference to you or the world around? Every truth needs a meaning. Buddha found it in sharing with people, telling them what is right, leading them away from the "ladna marna" on the path of ahimsa. Spidey found it as the exact opposite. He understood he needs a mask and people would not understand his truth. They would get irritated as to why he is endowed more than a normal human.

While truth does not lead us to chaos or a safe bay, it is just the temperament that changes in how we lead our lives. For example, if you marry a person it doesn't mean he is a chest of happiness (or sorrows, for that matter) in your life. It is his temperament (and yours), more importantly, which is deterministic in actual situations.. Truth is independent of it. It does not make a dent. Temperament does. Massively.

With that in mind, truth to me, is about a belief that I would want to carry all my life. Truth is supernatural and perhaps the greatest kept secret as well. Truth is political at times and also free from all reasons. Truth is passion. There are so many layers to it. I cannot define it as one clear emotion, or as one clear definition. It is an amalgamation of sorts.  Go ask the same question to people out there and you’ll get different answers each time. That’s what truth is. It is everybody's perception. What is yours?

Do you have something to offer? Then sprinkle me some truth. I am game.


About The Author - Navin Dutta is some awesome, successful professional in his routine existence, but in the world where I had my first tryst with him, he is a majestic writer and a wonderful human being. He has an unbelievably rich trove of talents, which he quite consistently dazzles us with. Extra-ordinarily well-versed in most affairs of the world, humility stands out as a glaring, yet pleasant aberration in a person of his stature. The above write-up is an edited version of what he read out to an eager audience at the eleventh gathering of the Poetry and Cheap Humour group. You can write to him at or follow him on twitter by searching for @flawsophies.