A Moving North

Having lived in Hyderabad for nearly two decades now, the one time of the year that I look forward to the most is the Sankranthi weekend. It is one in the morning of Saturday, and from my office at Ameerpet, I can hear the frenzied collective hooting of fleets of buses ferrying the better part of the city's population back to their homes. Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana, is still largely an immigrant city, with most businesses and workforces tracing their roots back to coastal Andhra. This demographic quirk is also what led to the creation of a separate state for the people of Telangana. When I leave for home before Suryadev visits us, the streets which are otherwise deserted except for manic cabbies dropping sleepy IT workers off, are bristling with last minute travelers and hordes of trucks, minivans, buses, haggling over fares and seats, frantically calling friends and relatives, much like Ramzan nights in the old city. Except that the rush here is to get out of the city.

The next morning and till the weekend gets over, the city quietens down, the air and noise clears up, and moving around the city becomes a pleasure. Hyderabad grew rapidly in the 90s and the Telugu Desam government under the leadership of Chandrababu Naidu gave shape to a vision of a truly global city, with wide avenues, industry specific zoning, elevated mass transit, and a vibrant cultural identity. Subsequent governments fed off that vision but did little to accommodate the boom that followed.

New is New, Happy Happy

Stories, like poems or songs, have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. That is how stories have to be. Life, on the other hand, doesn't. Between McTaggart and Wittgenstein, between Einstein and Russell, linearity of being has been demolished quite thoroughly. The start of the new year is always a good time to look at the validity of beginnings, middles and ends.

With Junior creeping past school going age, and his parents not entirely sure what they want to do, the question of what learning and education are, and where they can be found is one that has been central to our daily grind. We have come a long way from Socrates and Seneca, but we stand at a peculiar juncture, with fake news, and ideological spins on everything including science. Our best myths are Hogwarts, the Cullens, and reluctant Jedis. We are also close to the tipping point of artificial intelligence where machine logic matches human wisdom.  The greatest nations of the world are being led and governed by men and women who are bound to a dehumanizing vision of the future, and technology is matching them gaffe for gaffe. Terror and cryptocurrencies are both equally safe investments, and war is what children play on their mobile devices.

Then there is the Nobel Prize. While the prize for the sciences are relatively apolitical, those for the humanities are no longer benchmarks of what is great about the arts or peacemakers. They never were, but what better North do we have any more? Two laureates of recent times are close to the North though it did not seem so then and it perhaps does not seem so now. Time will tell if Obama truly strengthened international diplomacy and cooperation among peoples or if the life and work of Bob Dylan was literature at all. Maybe Alexa will have an opinion.

Ten Most Personal Posts Of Mine

Seven years back, I was excited as I approached 300 posts on this blog. I take pride in hitting publish, so the fact that I had a 300th button hit on the horizon made me feel good. But then, my life turned around (euphemism for upside down).  I was gradually gifted insights into the true nature of what I was pursuing in terms of mission, livelihood, values, lifestyle, etc. This was not the first time it has happened for me, and I took it head on, making the changes that were possible and working on those that seemed impossible. I was broken socially, emotionally, physically, financially and to some extent, spiritually. I came out of one prison into another, one of misdirected rage and a sense of supreme empowerment that only landed me into further grief. Where I was then, I have learned since, is the best place to be in to initiate real change.

One of the first things that I did was to review the posts that I had on my blog and remove everything that I felt did not measure up to what I stood for, as a person and as a writer. There went my 300th post goal post. Over the next years, I wandered trying to find my calling. Straying dangerously, with only the love and comfort of my dear ones keeping me away from the thin line between sanity and insanity, I struggled to find firm ground, failing again and again. I always feared that some day, I would mistakenly cross over to the sane side and never want to return. Thankfully, my family and friends kept me safe as I redrew my boundaries, reframed my rules, and set about trying to rebuild the mess that my life had become (for, well, the nth time).

Which is why this post is so special. Last year, 2016, I wrote just one post. This year, this will be my 12th. And after the redaction process, I am still some distance from the 300th. Not a great distance, but some. Vires acquirit eundo. When we get there, we will know, as the wise say.

I have undertaken the redaction process multiple times over the last couple of years as I was able to make time from the relatively demanding schedule that I have chosen for my personal journey. Some of the posts were deleted without further thought, mostly stuff that was content marketing. I still write for contests and to endorse businesses that I agree with, but given my disengagement with social networks, neither does it amount to anything nor is it at variance with my commitment to the art of writing. Some of the posts were reverted to drafts, in the knowledge that there was some content of value there, but needed reworking to meet my expectations from myself.

In this process, my blog got a new reader, one who critically read through everything on it from start to now - myself. And I discovered something startling. I have written nearly 400,000 words, all of it fairly personal, but at the end of it, I knew almost nothing of substance about the person who wrote those words. I sleep with that person so I know what I am saying. 400,000 words is like five average sized novels, not the Tolstoy types but still. This discovery was a thrill that is beyond comparison, it is joy and dread, admiration and hatred, medium rare and bitter medicine rolled into one.

The question I was left with, perhaps the question that has mystified and/or repelled all those who have had the good fortune of knowing me up close, was who the hell is this guy, and what is he hiding behind that persona of pseudo-intellectual naivete and literary cleverness? As this year draws to a close and a new one begins, I determine to seek and share the answer to that question. Which might be a terrible idea, but then, trust me, it is manna compared to others I have had over the years.

Baptismal. Chastening. Imprint.

Without you there is no is
No will, was or to be.
Without you is the back of the palm
Where the meaning of with lives.

All our withs are really withouts
All our withouts really withs
Nothing ever explains being
Not reason, not compassionate will.

Without you there is no longing
With you no belonging
Belonging is to be longing
Without longing no being.

Without you there is no is
No being, or will, or will to be
Without you is the back of the palm
The other side of which is me.

Who Cares

Caregiving - Can't Give If You Don't Care

Postscript: This post was supposed to be a narration of the chaplinesque that our life has been since Dad moved in with us. Serious. But it turned some other way. Dad is 85 at the time of writing, delirious with life (and surely some of the innumerable pills that he takes), wheelchair bound, faulty plumbing in most major organs, a regular contributor to op-ed political and social discourses in the major dailies in far-away Kolkata, churning out new volumes of work through prestigious publishing houses, repeats everything multiple times citing forgetfulness of having said it earlier, and receives more mails, couriers, phone calls and visitors than Madhavi, Dev, our housekeeper and I put together. He lives like he has always lived, playing kabaddi with the possible. In the midst of unimaginable challenges, his presence in our life is like a mystic raised middle finger to the world. And through it, he teaches us more than any master or mentor ever could. So I thought it would be nice to document some of the more hilarious, zen-like moments in a blog post. However, as words flowed, like chilled Maaza from my mind to the keyboard, it took on a life of its own. It also grew beyond what the proprieties of blogging consider sizeable. There are repetitions, of course and of thoughts and ideas, but I let them be as, how shall I ever survive this, they are traits of my father in me. This blog has seen greater and more futile rants, so I just let everything be. I believe this post is one of the more important things that I have to share with you. Enjoy.


The last couple of years for us have been about loss and learning. While we have been through different kinds of losses in this time, the one that whites everything else out is the loss of Mom. Mom died last year at a time when we were looking forward to a new phase of life, that of having our parents move in with us. Dad had to go through the process of winding up his life in Kolkata more abruptly and with greater finality than he had bargained for and then settle in with us while dealing with the loss of his partner of more than five decades. This was compounded by a rapid decline (very rapid and a big decline) in his health, both physical and mental. He lost what little mobility he had and had to reconcile himself to a life with catheters and bags. The trauma of grief, a recent cerebral stroke, and age in general made for a depressing mix. All of this also led to significantly greater need for caregiving.

Caring for Dad has been more educational than challenging but that education wasn't exactly a free online tutorial at your own pace. With both of us working across the clock and a toddler at home, the missus and I barely had time to care for ourselves. With Dad, we did the best we could, without realizing what the implications were. With time, we began having to deal with very strange problems ourselves. We felt increasingly irritated, angry, self pitying and guilty, sometimes even acutely depressed and hopeless, in addition to the physical and mental exhaustion that we accepted as par for the course. We looked at holiday pictures people posted on social media and felt resentful and unfortunate. We ended up arguing and snapping at each other, at Dev, and even at Dad. He wasn't doing great either, though he put up a brave front. We could sense that he felt guilty and as if he was a burden on us. Communications between all three of us, and even Dev, took a beating as we were unable to clearly express what we were feeling. On the contrary, we often ended up expressing something totally different from what we really felt. We were not getting ourselves even minimum rest or recreation, since any spare time we had went taking items off our mandatory to-do list.

We were also denying a lot of what we were feeling, since to accept it seemed like a death sentence on the people we thought we were or wanted to think we were. We felt angry and resentful at Dad, for example, but could not accept it or talk about it, because as his children, that made us "bad people," something we were not ready to live with. We also felt guilty for not being able to meet his needs, along with the needs of each other, and rather than accept it and look for solutions, we vehemently defended ourselves and felt upset and hurt that others could not see what we did for them. We found it difficult to accept the compassion fatigue that we were experiencing. On the other hand, we expected more from each other, not realizing that all of us, Dad and Dev included, were experiencing this "resource constraint" in our own ways. We kept on the mask of being agreeable and caring, but when you are a part of a loving family system, it is difficult to keep your loved ones from sensing what is really going on with you. So we lived with what we were feeling, with a sense of what others were feeling, but without being able to acknowledge, talk about or resolve it.

It wasn't too long before it reached a point where all of us realized something had to change. As a family unit, we were experiencing emotional burnout that threatened to consume all that we cherished about our lives and selves. That was when we started seeking help, speaking with people, family members who have dealt with similar situations, reading up on resources for caregivers. It is close to a year that we set out trying to understand the challenges of caregiving, and I believe that what we learned will be of benefit to anyone who is in a similar situation as well as to those who have no reason to believe that they will ever be in a similar situation.

For Now We'll Make A Vow

Many writers and creative artists go through period of self doubt and uncertainty, where they are not sure if what they do is of any value in the larger scheme of things, or even in the relatively smaller arena of craftsmanship or social chitter chatter. In my case, that has been the dominating feeling about almost everything I have turned to. There have been multiple periods of my life where I have totally turned away from the pursuits that my muse led me towards, often with self destructive and self defeating loathing and anger. Hold that thought.

All of these periods have yielded to mornings when the birdcalls have convinced me that there is a message in everything, that the call of the divine is often misheard, that to give up is to betray the cause. What that cause is is another question altogether, since my mission seems to be to rail against all that is popularly perceived as fair, pleasurable, right, and perhaps even noble. With the gusto of a long abstinence joyfully broken, I tilt at the windmills again, firm in my conviction that if we did not choose simplicity, time would force it upon us, that commerce needs us to be blind to the consequences of our actions, and that Marcus Aurelius any day outlives Mark Zuckerberg.

So here I am again, wondering if I have anything of value to share with you Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. My vanity does not take much convincing, but my gut worries about the consequences of being truthful about what you feel in the times we live in today. I strongly believe that events like the Babri Masjid Ram Janmabhoomi, the 9/11 attacks, or the Las Vegas shootings are not about religious beliefs, economics, or gun control. I believe they all arise from a fundamental alienation from the principles of natural living. I am no Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi or Lankesh. I do not come from the pain or conviction that the journalists of Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered came from. I like my life and the fact that I am alive. In other words, I am a coward - rational maybe, but a coward all the same.

Bowling Pins

Every night a spider spins
A humble clever web between
The banister and the elevator door
At the entrance to my office.

I know why Spidey does that;
For life, for preying, sustenance,
The drive that makes us all do
The things that we do.

Every night when I go down
The stairs to stretch my legs
I knock it down without knowing,
Till it silky irritates my skin.

I do that a few times each night
And every time the web is up.
Each time I knock it down
Spidey just builds back up.

In human terms I wonder how
Often it must happen to us
Before we finally give up,
Or whether we ever will.
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