At the end of a rainbow

Lucy found her diamond sky

A voiceless speech

There it stood, even when it was hacked.
For roots run deep; not fast, not away.
A hundred years had passed before it,
a hundred more could have followed.
But when a road had to be carved,
like a stake through its heart,
What can the voiceless say?
Voices were given to deified stones instead,
with chants that could kill or revive.
But never will roads pass through it,
rarely do mortals and gods collide.
So, they rather hacked a muted living being
to pave the way for a promised tomorrow,
among spectators many, and mourners few.
For, who could partake a dying tree’s sorrow?


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I am not free, though the space stretches endlessly
I am tired, yet I am restless
of the forced linearity,
the imposed definitions,
the false security.
The haunting shadows under scrambling footsteps.
The blaring neon signs.
Those scattered minds,
those prejudiced eyes,
those greedy hands,
those hungry lips.
But wait! Am I not standing in front of a mirror?
Then who do I see staring back at this madness?
Shatter! The sound of breaking glass.
Now I only have a wall to break.

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Gaps, holes and windows

“So, there seems to be a gap from the year 2005 to 2006?” The interviewer looked at him reproachfully; a look he was rather tired of getting every time he applied for a job. He cleared his throat and said, “Yes, but I did not have any arrears, I just took a drop to prepare for engineering entrance exams.” “Ah okay” replied the interviewer satisfied with the explanation, as if preparing for engineering entrance exams is the only honorable rites of passage for any Indian teenager, and sacrificing a year in that pursuit could be forgiven. The conversation carried on, but for the umpteenth time he wished that he could just sit back and say, “Well, I initially wanted to prepare for exams just like all my peers but I found many other interesting things to do, and so spent a year learning tabla, reading classic novels, and heck! even tried penning a small novel about my insipid life. Honestly, it was quite enjoyable till I had to get back on track and enroll for an engineering degree…”

This is an all too familiar story, but it is incomplete and deserves a better ending. The word “curriculum” is derived from the Latin word curricle which refers to carriage horses on a race course. No surprises that only being on “track” is seen as a virtue, and stepping off it as useless or even dangerous meandering. For the growing Indian middle class, formal education is seen as the authorization for a monthly pay-check, and duh, isn’t that supposed to be the “good life”? However, that certainly doesn’t seem the case when you work to pay bills to stay in a place from where you can work. Roundabout, right? Not just that, it is a downright vicious cycle, and yet we cling onto its empty promises of freedom dutifully shackled by expectations of the society.

By the time one realizes this quagmire of a dream, inertia of a certain lifestyle keeps dragging on. So, there is really no other way to reflect unless one consciously steps off this conveyor belt of an education system and tries to figure alternative directions for oneself. Interestingly, in the west, this is termed as a “gap-year”, and is meant to give an individual time to think, travel, learn or earn according to one’s agency rather than follow dictates of any institution. It is widely accepted as a logical space and time required to get a grasp of the direction one would like to take in life. However, in the Indian context, it is seen as some inconceivable wastage of time that would lead one to start work later than others and they would supposedly always lag “behind”. I have met many people proud of the fact that they finished college a year or two earlier than they are supposed to, and got placed in the usual monotone jobs immediately. I have also met people defying this push into glorified labor and instead choose to travel, write, dream, draw, paint and work freely towards a world they imagine to be better than one they live in right now.

Education, for what its worth should open these windows of possibilities, and gaps need to be seen as crucial to one’s development as a person capable of reflection. Then maybe, instead of being the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, who keeps singing I’m late / I’m late / For a very important date. / No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”. / I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, We can be real protagonists of wonderland waiting to be created.







I speak fluent Emoji?

Call it the priggishness of convent education or more sympathetically, some love for words that have always left me uncomfortable around the SMS lingua franca. They say language is as much a living organism like anything else; growing, evolving, aging and dying. However, I mostly imagine natural deaths unlike the violent strangulation that words undergo when people find most vowels unnecessary and random exclamation marks sufficient to communicate entire sentences. No wonder divorce is so common nowadays, or more simply I am just growing old and grumpy (Both are true). I am not sure about you, but when kids write, “2b or nt 2b…”, I can only imagine the ghosts of Victorian poets tearing their ghostly white wigs in alarm and despair.

True, this is not the Victorian era, but why should writing increasingly resemble the transcript of a kid trying to talk with its mouth full of bananas? We may be getting smarter, but we seemed to have kicked eloquence right outside the window. Of course, eloquence never helped save any time; time is money; money is a way to buy more time? Things are complicated around that corner. Coming back to violent deaths of language, there is another trend that makes even the scarce typing of words unnecessary. Welcome to the age of Emoji, now so essential that messages sent without one is considered impolite or downright hostile. Indeed, some of you may even find it odd to imagine phone conversations without the range of Emoji available today, but this epiphany is as recent as 1998, and was first developed in Japan (trust the weirdest fads to come from there). It soon became so popular, that serious research went into documenting and drawing expressions that could be culturally universal. That’s perhaps the simple yet profound realization; a smile is same in any language.

As usual, I hadn’t really gotten used to the Emoji affair till my messages were construed as unhappy/curt/unclear unless there was an appropriate cartoon face appended to it. It is interesting to note the widespread use even in official mails, the apparent stronghold of formal language. It has seemingly functioned to ease the tone of official conversations, though left to me “Please report to my desk tomorrow at 9:00 am :)” looks plain creepy with that face in the end. Well, that’s just me of course.

Studies show that emoticons such as smiley and sad faces are changing the way our brain works by triggering parts of the brain usually reserved for looking at real faces. i.e we have different areas in brain to process words and faces. Before the advent of emoticons there was no reason to process a colon followed by closing parenthesis 🙂 as a facial expression but now it does because we have learnt to represent this as a face. So, while the heydays of literature had words evoking a variety of emotions, now we have Emojis standing in for a number of words. The Oxford Dictionary named 😂 (Face With Tears of Joy) its 2015 Word of the year. Welcome to the era of Emoji Dick (yes it exists; the emoji version of Moby Dick). Now, is that good, bad, ugly? Well, in all truthfulness and brevity, it just is. Love it or hate it, it will be around till the Japanese come up with the next global fad. 😉

Emoticons have become massively popular, being used in text message and online conversations, along with art projects such as this Banksy Exhibit

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Of jelly legs and dry mouths

As a species, ‘we’ are usually outright embarrassed or mildly mortified at the sight or mention of behaviours which remind us our bestial origins and primary identity. Of course, a vast majority take genuine pleasure in toilet jokes and intercourse but would rather not declare the same while introducing themselves. Such are the complexities of human interactions. However, there is yet another phenomena reminding most of us that our brains haven’t come a long way from our savannah foraging ancestors. This happens to constitute sweaty palms, clenched fists, temporary lack of control over limbs and other not-so-comfortable visceral experiences. Yes, it is the all too familiar stage-fright. The range of bodily reactions occur due to the brain’s interpretation of the scenario parallel to a bunch of hyenas cornering the poor little rabbit ‘you’. After all, wired as we are to be concerned about our reputation in the society, the idea that our little performance might damage our mostly imagined stature in the society triggers an evolutionarily robust stress system– adequately prepared to escape the hyenas, except there aren’t any here! So, while your legs wobble in anticipation of a sprint, you have to manage that confident stride up to the dais and while your pupils dilate to cover long range action, you squint at your notes as the last resort of inconsequential help.

Back in college, my now-partner-then-classmate trudged up the stage clutching a few pieces of paper only to realize that the lights were dimmed to project the powerpoint slides (another bane of our society). Unable to bear the torture, he fumbled with the flashlight in his phone and read the text verbatim, making it look more like a ghost drama rather than academic presentations. In my case, despite all possible preparations, the day I am supposed to give a public talk begins with me vomiting empty stomach. So much for gut instincts. Our physiology reveals our closeness to animal brethren to a degree we rarely admit but can’t control anyway. So, what we really manage to do is adapt to the situation through practice, situation and relaxation tactics to avoid a full-scale stress trigger. Heart beats fast, but heck that means you are alive, and probably mean what you say! As aptly put by Mark Twain, “There are only two types of speakers in the world. 1. The nervous and 2. Liars.” For the all upsides of being capable for anticipating the future, perhaps it is best to make peace with the occasions when the unwanted clairvoyance backfires (literally), for we are a bunch of nervous idealists aren’t we?

Featured image

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Compassion management

In a world ridden with apathy and general callousness, this title would rightly seem bizarre. After all, has anyone ever had a fatal dose of compassionate acts? Well, I would hunt for the origin of the phrase “being smothered by love” for that. It turns out that there are indeed people whose concern often oversteps the bounds of societal etiquette, turning it into a case of disaster management for the rest of the family, in order to avoid subsequent glares (and occasional avoidance for a lifetime). Not that family members are immune to such extremist versions of compassion, it is just that they learnt to deal with it by returning the acts of kindness. In my family, our father has bagged the “deadliest kindness of the year” award for quite sometime now. Once, we were visited by family friends, whose young brat of a son was creating a ruckus like most brats do. This was perhaps a novel phenomenon for dad, whose children (i.e. me and my brother) had grown up being showered with a healthy dose of shouts and slaps, such that our ‘brat-iness’ never got a chance to show itself in its full glory (until much later, when it is nicely dubbed existential angst). Now, taking his own adequately weird children as representative of the entire spectrum of child behaviour, he instantly asked the parents, “Have you shown him to a psychiatrist? He may need serious help and medication.” To be fair, he was genuinely concerned; but this was a proclamation about a 3-year-old healthy Punjabi boy. I mention Punjabi, because you might want to take a minute to imagine his father’s nostrils flare and his fists tighten as my father (the puny Bengali guy) carried on breezily about his self-acclaimed experience in handling children and so forth. When my mother’s eyebrows (raised high enough to hit the ceiling) also didn’t work as a signal to stop, she hurriedly offered some chocolates to the boy and lavishly praised his talent for breaking things, before bidding them an abrupt farewell.

Visits to doctors are generally memorable for the fact that one has to cough up money and phlegm at the same time, with nothing but trust that the former will take care of the latter. In our case, along with the sick kid to be diagnosed, came a concerned father who would want to make sure that nothing but the right medicine would be ingested by his child. Fair enough. But for our doctor, it meant defending every punctuation of his diagnosis, along with justification for not considering the other trillion possibilities that father would have read on the internet (or homoeopathy leaflets). I think only the Hippocratic oath kept this doctor from getting violent, though he did ask us to only come with our mother in the future. As a family, we have tried our best to indulge in ‘compassion management’ and compensate for his concern, and over time he does realise that seeing flushed cheeks combined with a puckered face together is a pretty good indication to stop talking, though often it does end with, “have you had your blood pressure checked? You don’t look quite normal.” Well, someone once said, “compassion brings us to a stop, and for a moment we rise above ourselves.” I completely agree, except that the nature of those stops and rises can be quite different.

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100 shades of Grey

No, this is not a kinkier version. Call it a better use of the title. If you have nothing to do but alternate between staring at a laptop screen and a window overlooking a rainy landscape, I suppose you might be more sympathetic to the topic. There is something about the Grey skies that suddenly pushes into view a bright yellow water tank unnoticed for ages. It is as if, myriad objects take on the responsibility of compensating for the monochrome hues in the heavens. Despite all their efforts though, they are but transient distractions in the face of a tempestuous weather. For all the subjugation and domestication that our species is capable of, the weather remains as awe-inspiring and wild as it was for our ancestors a million years back. The torrential rains us a reminder of the fragility and effervescence of humankind, a lesson to be humble about things beyond control but only if we choose to listen.  Trains ply, vehicles fume and sputter, umbrellas knock off each other, people obstinately wade through the muck. There is no stopping the giant cogs of societal functioning. Yet, when things do come to a stand-still there is that palpable relief in getting off the hook of economic drudgery to enjoy unscheduled time that one gets to spend. In that sense, there is little difference between the children who rejoice the unexpected closure of school in the face of calamities and adults who are faced with a day sans monotonous work. Many people have confessed meeting their neighbours and feeling like part of a community only in the occasion of sudden breakdowns that forced them to leave the privacy of their place and interact with each other. Unsurprisingly, an inconvenient incident turns into cherished memories; memories because the moment life goes back to ‘normal’, the invisible hand pulls people back into their shelters and work.  Rebecca Solnit writes in her book A Paradise built in Hell, “The possibility of paradise hovers on the cusp of coming into being, so much so that it takes powerful forces to keep such a paradise at bay. If paradise now arises in hell, it’s because in the suspension of the usual order and the failure of most systems, we are free to live and act another way.” So, if disruptions emerge as platforms to reclaim our humanity, might we not take the audacious step of celebrating these pauses as potential for a new way of life?

(Picture from Outstanding in the Rain)

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A crow for all reasons

Meet eye to eye with a crow, and one can instantly sense the intelligence lurking in that black, beady stare. No wonder crows are regarded with a mixture of fear, reverence or even hatred across different cultures with myths ranging from witches’ incarnation to omen of death. Urban places are a bonanza for these feathered apes where our ever-increasing waste simply add items to their menu, and landfills offer an endless buffet to choose from. We may be disenchanted with myth and legends, but it is hard to miss the avian flock shadowing human settlements. As more and more species breathe their last everyday, at least some have found hacks in human lifestyles and used it to survive. Crows, are undoubtedly thriving within our wasteful abundance along with rats and cockroaches. I noticed one  politely pecking at my window as I was about to place a biscuit in my mouth, as if gently chiding my lack of ettiquete in front of guests. Amused, I placed a biscuit near the widow ledge. The crow waited for me to go back to my place before gingerly placing the biscuit in its beak and taking off. I thought no more about the incident till the next day, when it punctually showed up at tea time. Before I knew it, I had got myself an unlikely companion for tea. Soon, it started coming with a partner and a few days later began cawing “get up” and “hello” if I wasn’t in my usual tea-drinking, biscuit-dunking posture. While I still found their behaviour fascinating, my partner was less sympathetic to their cacophonic greetings which didn’t come with a ‘snooze’ button. Gradually, they even learnt to “coo” instead of cawing if he was around to get some extra tidbit for good behaviour. Near a driving school in Sendai, Japan, crows throw nuts on the road for moving vehicles to crack it under wheels. Now, here comes the mind boggling part–they wait for the traffic signal to turn red and follow the pedestrians in order to go and pick up their lunch lying on the road! Crows learn from their peers and enemies, giving rise to a learning culture very few species can boast about. Most people consider crows a menace, but it is rather interesting to see how we can fear and despise a creature sharing so many qualities with us; an intelligent, resourceful, cunning and opportunistic being. Hacker Joshua Klein recently invented a vending machine for them with the proposal that they could be trained to deposit plastic garbage in return for a morsel of food. It is perhaps time we let go of our prejudices and look at symbiotic relationships to redefine our thoughts about this ordinary yet exra-ordinary creature.


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words, of all things

I have often felt that my life has been one big anachronistic mistake by the cosmos, in which my birth a couple of centuries earlier might have made my existence more meaningful. I would get these pangs of realisation more acutely when penning down long letters to my mother by post, at an age and time of instant communication via phone, sms and other social networks. A written sentence is a crystallised form of thought, a wondrous testimony to one of the few things that truly make us human, and now, an endangered art. As Maria Popova remarks, it is “an art robbed of romance and even basic courtesy in the age of rapid-fire, efficiency-obsessed, typed-with-one-thumb-on-a-tiny-keyboard communication.” Indeed, it hard not to wince at the”hbd” (‘happy birthday’ for those uninitiated into SMS jargon) popping up at one’s FB wall. Why even bother wishing, if you feel pained to spend more than .03 seconds for the person? And what was your monumenal achievement in the time saved by turning those words into a mindless acronym? I am hard pressed to find convincing answers and, feel it to be symptomatic of larger problems ailing us. Our diminishing capacity to write reflects our growing problems of communication and disinterest in listening or expressing ourselves in an articulate manner. This isn’t a victorian rant of written propriety, but a reflection on the need to cherish words as artifacts of cultures and thought. After all, to some extent we are bound by words in our imagination; if we don’t even have a word for what we think, it is more than difficult to express it. Words are like those ladles that stir cauldrons of thought and imagination to a perfect soup for the soul. If we begin the downward descent of losing words in all their varieties and expressions, we perhaps also lose bits of our collective humanity. It would be a shame, if after all the history that came into being with the advent of written words, it were to be relegated to letters of little importance. Children wouldn’t have much to learn other than alphabets and their tiny combinations to construct sentences like, “LMBO IYKWIM”! Some call it inevitable evolution of language, but I see it as a genocide of words. If that seems like too romantic and idealist a position, well then, it is “PK” for you.

Happy birthday, Walt Whitman! Celebrate with “Song of Myself,” in gorgeous verse-by-verse illustrations by artist Allen Crawford.

(“Song of Myself,” in gorgeous verse-by-verse illustrations by artist Allen Crawford)


On forgetfulness

There are moments when I feel bad about the fact that my ‘true’ forte can never be on a resume, given that I will in some distant future embrace sanity and look for a real job.  However, there are few occupations that prize day-dreaming as the most sought after nature of their employee. So, over the years I have managed to disguise those wondering eyes with airs of intellectual labour and even gain some legitimacy by choosing to pursue research in a field where twiddling thumbs is a reasonably productive activity. Beyond the safe house, however, the “blooming, budding confusion” of life effectively catapults my mind into myriad possibilities and thoughts while conveniently leaving a trail of things considered a lot more expensive than breadcrumbs. In strange ways, most of those things have found their way back to me, as if they wanted to chalk out a little expedition for themselves before returning home.  There is also the joy of discovering things innocently lying at the same place; I usually swear to have searched before. My partner is understandably worried about my predicament of pathological absent-mindedness, but then quoting G K Chesterton in my defence, “I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.” I have however wisely refrained from saying this aloud to avoid being quoted the next time I lose something valuable. Nevertheless, perhaps we need to rediscover the joy derived from being in the moment rather than forever holding on to ideas and things that are but shadows of fleeting human movement in cosmic time. The forgetfulness I argue for comes from attentiveness to the present, the surroundings, the rhythm of movement, the minute and the vast; it comes from a celebration of being. Our generation is in many ways an epitome of inattentiveness and instant gratification. Fingers twitching on devices, ears muffled with headphones, eyes glazed with bombardment of ads, billboards and TV, our senses our inundated with information, yet we hardly sense or see anything. Think of the last time you made eye-contact and smiled at a stranger, and you will know. We are effectively insulated from the world within our cocoon of ambitions and hurriedness, amplified by technological fixes. Unfortunately, no butterfly comes out of this life-cycle.  Now, this isn’t a tirade against laptops or phones; rather it is an invitation to remove the blinders that stop us from celebrating the familiar gust of wind, an empty bench in the park, the stories that can be gleaned by observing fellow passengers, the street dog lazing in a mud pool, the smell of cut-grass, the list is endless and for you to fill. After all, as Annie Dillard puts it, “Spend the afternoon, you can’t take it with you.”

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