Monday, April 30, 2012

When you find yourself alone, as though in a dream, in a song, in a room full of books and broken glass, where death, love and morning have never been. When you’re down, out and feeling blue, and you haven’t slept for nights covered in shadows. When you’re drunk, twisted and confused, wondering if you’re too old, too young, too clever, too dumb, flipping luck to make a living. When your heart fills with flies, worms work the mind, and lizards crawl the wall. When you give your self away to an empty bottle, promise and a song. When the bells of past no longer toll, the clouds of change don’t burst, your hands are dusty, your heart is stubborn, and all you can ask is when will I get a good raise, when will it rain, or shall I come back again? When you’re tired, hungry, looking for a fix in beat, raven eyes, and you’re just a breath away from coughing blood, or reaching out to the sea. While your best friend lies in hospital fighting needles, nausea and cancer, your brother is playing guitar in the room below, and the lights begin to dim, the stars come out, and you’re tired of waiting in lines, headaches, and merry-go-rounds. When your words are stolen, your smile is put on, and you sell memories in plastic, sugar and lies to be polite. When all the television hate fills your soul, and your silent eyes have filled rivers of rage, but you can’t be perfect, and you can’t be vain, and you can’t let the fire go, but raise your fist in the air against the 9 o’ clock news debate. When you’re fooled and forgotten, but long for the tongue, the touch, and you’re weary in every step, ready to take the plunge in some lonely pit. When you’re bitter, broken, unreasonable and yet quixotic, and you don’t know who you are, or what that means, what you’re writing, why you’re talking, but you’re stuck on the narrow lane, and you’re walking backwards with hands in your pockets. When you’re playing with empty bottles, matches, razors and verse, out against time, looking for witches with no real names, and ghosts who no longer care. When all they want to know is what do you do, who do you know, and will you kill. When shadows cast doubt on mirrors, the moon glints among the oaks, and the wind whispers of dying promises, while you try to hold the dust one last time. When your love moves out of town, another walks into a bar, and another turns you down from a cloud. When the system drains you, the princess cheats you, the fool plays you, and the thief laughs at you. When you’re roused again for the skies to clear, the voice to be heard, the curtains to fall, the violins to play, the wild flowers to bloom, the smile to flicker, but you can’t cause you’re faced down on a sink, below reason, above hope with a lung full of air, futility and lust. You’ve been here before, but you aren’t sure, because they’ve sold all the dreams in blue jars on the window sills, and it ain’t in the self-help books, nor at the end of rainbows, and it most definitely ain’t on the internet. You know how it feels, you’ve packed suitcases before, but what are you looking for, man? You don’t know, you don’t care, you string words to form a prayer. You’ve wandered these streets alone, looking for jazz, poetry and soul. You’re lost, you see two doors, handful of gods, you can either head home, or hit the road,

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The joy of being disconnected

A few nights ago, I woke up to the pressing call of nature, when in the dark, I noticed the red light of the BlackBerry flickering. It must have been close to 4am, I was in deep sleep, it was cold, and yet, much to my horror, my hand reached out to the phone to see if I had received an email, Facebook/Twitter alert, or a message. Whatever it was — I can’t remember exactly now — it caught my attention, and jolted me out of sleep like a jab of nicotine. Since then I have been pretty much distraught. Not so much the way technology has a hold of me, but off late I’ve begun to feel increasingly distracted and wired. I am beginning to also realise just how compulsive and compelled I am to stay connected all the time. To add to this, I also read in the Guardian recently that the internet is as addictive as cigarettes and alcohol. This is not to say I can’t survive being offline for long; of course I can, it’s that I don’t anymore.
My job is partly complicit. It requires me to stay plugged in and follow news and events that shape our world. My smartphone helps, which, when I am not on the computer, has apps that keep me posted with every possible breaking news. When it’s not news, it tells me what’s trending online. And when it’s not that either, it helps me keep track of my friends; besides being my anytime, easy access to random information. So, while all this helps me stay ahead of stories as the editor of this newspaper, it is also responsible for turning some of my colleagues and me into zombies, who now can be regularly seen walking with our eyes glued to the glow of our mobile phone screens. Yet, even with all this information that I can reach at the tap of my thumbs, I can only go so far as to claim that I may be a lot more informed than my father or my grandfather or my great grandfather. But to consider myself even slightly more intelligent than any of them would be foolish. Even with all this technology at hand, I feel I have not gained any superior wisdom. But, do I have a better understanding of who I am?
Maybe not. But perhaps the internet does.
Whether it’s the television or the Twitter timeline, tiny specks of information are bolting past us all the time, screaming for our attention. Our searches and profiles on the net is gradually shaping a reflection of our digital self. By now, the net has an idea of who you are; what you like and dislike; where you live and who your friends are. Somewhere in its universe, it has begun to also join the dots, and knows what information to stream your way, even before you look.
Interestingly, a few years ago, cartoonist Stuart McMillen drew an infographic from Neil Postman’s book to show a comparison between Aldous Huxley’s view of the future in the Brave New World and George Orwell’s fears and visions in the 1984. Depending on where you live, these are two books that have come dangerously close to describing the world we live in today. Orwell feared that those who control us will deprive us of information; Huxley feared that those who do will provide us with so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. While Orwell feared the truth will be concealed and censored from us; Huxley feared the truth will be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. While Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us; Huxley feared what we love will ruin us.
Perhaps in the larger sense, Huxley’s views ring truer with the way the deluge of information has swept us in the past decade. Orwell comes close when he said, in the future, the closest we’ll come truth will be bullshit.
Scientists now have reasons to believe that information is not random and can travel faster than the speed of light. For instance, the death of Steve Jobs last year showed a larger outpouring of grief across the world than, say, the death of Mother Teresa in 1997, simply because the medium to connect to the people has grown exponentially since. Research is presently scouring whether information that encircles us is actually waves of chemical particles floating in the air. And if it is, then can we access it, and tap into the so-called collective consciousness with sophisticated technology? And if we can, then perhaps we’re on the cusp of a spiritual breakthrough, or the end of the world as we know it.
While all this sounds terribly exciting as well intimidating. Writer Pico Iyer in his article for the New York Times, The Joy of Quiet, talks about an inverse trend on the rise in these hyper-connected times, where people are now finding ways and means to log out; so that they can have the time and space to think without being bogged down by information. While we have more and more ways to communicate today, the article notes, we will have less and less to say.
All this may sound pretty unbelievable to a country where only one in 10 of the 1.2 billion people has access to the net, yet it’s worth considering as it makes the third-biggest internet market after China and the US. Things are slowly about to get hectic with the number of net users expected to triple to 300 million users in the next three years. Yet, I often wonder, what if a new dynamic idea were to emerge now — says the likes of Darwin, Marx, Freud that gave birth to the 20th century thought — would it break on Twitter or Facebook?
To calm my nerves, and clear my head, I plan to head the hills next weekend. It is one of those few places where my phone loses network unless I stand under one particular tree for long, and I can read books in peace. For now, I’ll stop writing and put the damn phone away.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Have you read or watched The Howl?

Every once in a while when I go through a sporadic bout of literary crisis, which is to say I feel utterly devoid of being able to write a piece of fiction or a poem, I watch the film Howl (2010) for inspiration. Based on the life and times of American poet Allen Ginsberg, played by James Franco, on his most famous and controversial poem Howl, the film is a pure celebration of cinema, digital art and poetry.
It also chronicles the 1957 obscenity trial faced by San Francisco poet and City Lights Bookstore co-founder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, over the publication of the poem, which is hilarious and ironical as it’s based on actual courtroom records. Adding to this is Jon Hamm from Mad Men, who plays Ferlinghetti’s lawyer, and is sort of vindicating to watch on screen.
It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the poem before you watch the film, there are brilliant animation sequences that give a stunning, breathtaking visual interpretation of the poem, and the deftness with which the narrative and the poem are stitched, it quite literally blows your mind. And apart from the censorship and politics of Howl; the historical relevance it had on independent publishing; the film also deals with how Ginsberg comes about expressing his homosexuality and mental health through the poem.
Most of all, the film works for me as an edgy romanticism of writing and poetry that I find lost today in the world of publishing formulas and multi-cultural literary festivals. In faux interviews, Franco-Ginsberg likens the urge to write as a sexual feeling that springs from the pit of a stomach which travels to the mouth and is let out in a sigh in search of words.
Franco’s haunting voice and the rhythmic, tumbling, hallucinogenic howl of the poem is also a fresh introduction to the jazz and psychosis of the literary movement in the 1950s called the beat generation, coined by writer Jack Kerouac. It was Kerouac’s fictional memoir On the Road that set the map for a bunch of writers that came to be regarded as the beats or beatniks.
Howl has the same effect on me today as it did when I was in school after discovering the works of Kerouac and William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. They inspired Jim Morrison and Bob Dylan, and led me to smoke my first chillum at the Pink Floyd Cafe in Pushkar followed by disastrous bus journeys. On YouTube, you can listen to some of the other famous poems by the beats, including Ginsberg’s America and Gregory Corso’s On Marriage in their voice.
On the Road, the film, is finally set to release this year. Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now fame has had the rights for years and has made several attempts to make the film, but failed. It was only after he watched The Motorcycle Diaries (the bike road trip of Che Guevara in his youth), he roped in Brazilian director Walter Salles, and a cast and a script have been put in place. The film was set to release last year, but for some reason has got pushed to this summer. I’m not sure what to expect from it, the few unofficial trailers I’ve seen on YouTube seem strange.
For now, I’ll leave you with the opening lines of The Howl by Allen Ginsberg.
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked/dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix/angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night/who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz...”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Capital of rape, shame & squalor

Not long ago, a close friend and her elder sister were having a drink at a popular pub in a Gurgaon mall waiting for friends to join, when they attracted some unwanted attention. Few guys on the other table offered to buy them drinks and got refused, they then began to pass snide comments and tried to sit with them, when all hell broke loose. The staff was asked to intervene, the entrance of the pub was sealed from allowing more affiliates of the ruffians in, and the girls were ushered to hide in the kitchen and finally led through the fire exit to their car. As luck would have it, they escaped without harm.
The incident came to mind after reading what happened on New Year’s night when more than 30 men were lathi-charged for attempting to molest and abduct a girl in the parking lot of a Gurgaon mall. The incident got caught on video by the name ‘Delhi gang rape disrupted by police’, which has been doing rounds on the web causing great outrage; newspapers also report that the hooliganism spilled on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road that night. Inebriated men were restrained by the police for halting cars on the highway, causing traffic jams and shattering windshields because they were not allowed entry in nightclubs.
Over the years, I’ve spent living and shuttling between Delhi and Gurgaon, the city has acquired a fierce reputation for crime against women. I don’t know a single girl who hasn’t complained of either being teased, stalked, harassed, or faced some act of molestation. As a journalist, I come across horrific stories of rape in the Capital that often leaves the newsroom cold. It’s a crime that shouts for harsher punishment, no less than castration if it must. Unfortunately, rape cases are not only sensitive in nature, but a majority of them in India are never solved. Years ago, I think, a law was proposed that sought to sentence life term and capital punishment to all accused of rape, but got shot down because of loopholes. The major argument against it was that the accused would now be compelled to start killing their victims after rape — as they’re the main witnesses in the crime — to avoid incarceration.
It doesn’t matter what women wear in Delhi, whether in a bus or bar, there is always someone out there waiting to act weird or funny. This reputation of Delhi men of getting drunk and misbehaving with girls, says a friend now settled in Mumbai, is infuriating as well as hilarious. But what’s worse is that women in the city live in an unspoken spell of fear, one that threatens their every day independence and varies between pronounced and subdued if they aren’t cautious of the time and place, always conscious of being followed by a leering male gaze where ever they go. According to latest Delhi Police records, crime against women, including rapes, is on the rise in the Capital. Statistics show that 568 rape cases (including minors) were reported in 2011, as compared to 507 in 2010. 653 cases of molestation were reported in 2011, while 601 were reported in 2010. What about the incidents that get hushed up to save humiliation?
Something has gone horribly wrong in our attitude towards women, love, sex and dating in recent times. The teeming frustration in young men is seen from largely those hailing from conservative holes where a booming real estate has brought affluence to the rural-set satellite towns and villages; the women here have had no say and been subjected to abuse for generations; the boys here are forgiven for being headstrong and macho, and it’s begun to rebel with the modern (city) ideals where young girls are growing more independent, fashionable and self-assured by day to make it big, be appreciated, and desirable.
Leaving no room for sense and sensibility.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A drink tonight at 4S.

It takes you a while then you're lost,
In the fog, in the cold,
Looking for love, and literature,
It lets you go. You miss her,
Alone, in a bottom of a drink.
In this bar with laughter,
And failure. No one to sleep with,
But your mind
With song, smoke and sex.
Dogs and dates.
You wish to let go.
Not be remembered.
So you put on your smile
And peel the mask.
Fuck crazy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Notes from sick puppy and more

I wasn’t planning on breaking this made-up rule, but a week ago I went online and purchased my first book. The idea came to me when my mother enraged on seeing a man spit on the road while driving was reminded of a book she had read long ago called the Sick Puppy by Carl Hiaasen. The premise and character sounded awesome, so I immediately checked with F&F to see if it was still available, but on hearing that it’s out of stock, and being told that it wouldn’t be available in any bookstore across India if it weren’t with them, I decided I might as well click on it.
Before I tell you how delightfully funny the novel is, I ask how furious do you get when random people around you behave outrageously insensitive towards the environment? What do you do with people who litter the streets or threaten to ruin the natural flora and fauna of a place?
Not much, I assume. Most of us who care and want to do more than Facebook activism like whine, curse, fight, strike, take up PhDs or join NGOs are good with causes. But we don’t deal with issues first hand. We don’t teach idiots to be environment friendly with hard lessons and immaculate vendettas.
Not Twilly Spree though — the eco-terrorist with a trust fund. When Spree learns his uncle’s bank has loaned millions to a company to drill holes on the basin of River Amazon he bombs the place with explosives on a holiday. When he sees a man throw garbage out his car window after consuming burgers and milkshake on the highway, he not only stops to pick it up, but dumps an entire truck load of city waste on the litterbug’s hot pink BMW convertible.
Things heat up when Spree gets involved with Florida’s political big shots when he learns that the fate of an unspoilt island is at stake.
Sick Puppy is easy to read, hysterical in most parts and zany from start to finish. The week long wait for it was not the same as the thrill of skipping lunch to save money to buy a book and then doubling back home to read. It was new and different. When the book arrived by post, and that too a day before Christmas, it brought tiding of immense joy, like a gift from a loved one, except that, well, I know I ordered it. But since it came way too early in the morning, while I was fast asleep under layers of blankets, my father, Delhi’s dearest bookseller, missed the irony and paid the bill. I am yet to pay him back.
Book buying has always been awkward affair. I don’t have the liberty to pick books at my fancy, sometimes not even when I offer to pay. Once in a while I am allowed to pick one up on good behaviour or when I make that sick puppy look. Sometimes for the absolute must-haves I secretly go to other bookstores to build my private collection. As for buying books online, I’m going to tweak the rule for good now and buy only those books that are not available. Next on my list is to get a good edition of Carnacki, The Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson, my grandfather’s spooky book which I lost after lending it to someone I broke up with. (Aah, so many books to read, re-read and so little time.) As for now, I wish you a very Happy New Year.

Monday, December 26, 2011

If only my words could wet your thighs. If only this song could bring you alive. If only a drop of ink could soak this sky. If only I could have you longer than a dream. If only I could sleep tonight..

It's complicated

A long time ago, in our father’s generation, when an average guy finished his education, secured a job, his parents would help him find a match. He would settle down and have children. If he grew up to be rich and successful; that is if he owned a large house, a nice car and wore a good suit, he’d be looked upon as a complete man, a Raymond’s man.
This was a generation bereft of mobile phones, emails, web chats and Facebook. Most guys then had little independence in matters of fashion, lifestyle, disposable income, travel and relationships and were confined to convention. Yet, they became men molded by experience, culture and tradition.
Somehow as time drew, narrow minds broadened, foreign programming streamed through TV screens, food got instantly heated in microwaves, travelling abroad became frequent, clicking on internet for information became faster than holding a thought — the identity of the young guy got lost in the deluge of change. He became the complicated man.
You saw his first avatar in a cold drink ad, which featured a face-off between Shah Rukh Khan and a youth with hunched shoulders, gelled hair and an attitude problem over a can. Today, that dude is everywhere: he’s in the malls, on the streets and even chilling on your sofa. This is who he is.
He is self-indulgent and vain; extremely conscious of his status, influence and affluence. Most of all, he cares for his looks and what clothes he wears. He takes most people for granted. Most of all his parents, who let him do whatever he pleases and with a generous allowance to suffice for their absence.
He has servants for every whim, who have raised him, but he doesn’t know where they come from. He doesn’t like to read books and has friends who haven’t touched one since school. He sports an ‘out of bed’ hairstyle, a designer trimmed beard, waxed chest, owns the latest iPhone, drives a flashy car and has an opinion on all things money can buy. He’s usually fun to hangout with; that is if you like going to clubs, drinking vodka, snorting cocaine and that too on weekday afternoons. His only problem is that he doesn’t know how to talk to girls. Not the ones in Thailand; the ones he meets in cocktail parties.
He wears a lot of perfume and wants to sleep with girls. Has only made out in his car. Sometimes he’ll pick up a eunuch for a blow job. His ideas on sex are summed by years of watching porn. He feels all white women are easy to sleep with. He doesn’t wish to marry, but is sure his wife will be a virgin and indulge in him the way his mother does.
His image of self is usually split into two, a virtual one — like his Facebook profile with a cool picture — and the real one that works overtime to cast this much desired image. In his mind he plays a lead role for a situation comedy show that demands recorded laughter at every punchline and a dramatic twist for every emotional outburst. And when he doesn’t find life to be so, he feels different, misunderstood and disconnected. He also feels cut out for acting.
He likes to fill boring details of his time lost in the glare of an iPod, iPad, BlackBerry and X-Box for constant stimulation, instant gratification. He wants to constantly stay connected with friends, to stay in on this private party where only those with a net connection are invited. He doesn’t care about politics, but will wave the national flag at India Gate for Anna Hazare. He lives for his friends who live for his indulgences. He is unfortunately a grim picture of the youth today. The future of tomorrow. He is the very subject of coolness that Bollywood apes, reality TV shows create, ad-men invent and village boys from across the northern country aspire to be.
html hit counter
Download html hit counter code for your website.