Friday, May 04, 2012


This is how it happens. I choose not to know anything. I try my best to avoid any familiarity with him. Don’t tell me his name. Yes, this is what I tell them. Because it starts with the name, and if you allow some liberty, if you loosen up even for a moment, then it starts housing in you, in one of the many unvisited rooms contained within you, and it remains there forever. The white of his cloth clung to his sweaty back, his hairy hands shivering, the unkempt beard, and his eyes, always the eyes. I dare not look into them. But he looks at you. He always does. And oftentimes your glances meet. No sir, I don’t want to remember that. 

He has the most unsatisfied shit that day. Not the kind that thaws his heart. A good, smooth shit can make you feel elated, the jailor once told me, but they never shit properly on their last day, they can’t. That’s the jailor’s theory. It is a curious thing to observe, but there you go. So when he stands near me, his heart almost racing, I wrap his head with a dark cloth, and the jailor, standing in the other direction, admires his sorry body about to swing helplessly and winks at me because I am supposed to respond to our little in-joke about the shit. It is difficult to smile then but I do. Don’t tell me what he has done and I will smile as much as you want. 

It’s been more than three decades now. Earlier I used to remember his face, not without feeling glum or guilty. He used to torture me in dreams. Torture me when I was awake. Pull the lever and squeeze every ounce of life... out of all the possible things that you could do, how did you end up doing this? Then one night when he reappeared, I made peace with him. I took his face, his sweaty cloths, his name, the sound of his hasty heartbeats, that chilling gaze – a device he used to scare me, and threw everything in a deep well and closed the lid tight. 

Even today, when he stands near me, his hands tied from behind, he wants me to recognize him. Wants me to know that he’ll be back. It starts the moment I tie a rope around his neck. He starts pushing that lid. He starts coming out of the deep well with enormous might. It tightens my chest. It gets tougher with every passing second. Inside that black mask, I can almost see him grinning. Restless, almost panicky, my nose of no great use, I have to take big scoops of air with my mouth. I feel as if I might pass out, once and for all. That is when I pull the lever… and things get back to normal.

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Note

You are in a library. You amble around the racks. You are not really looking for anything. It’s just that you are not sure what else you could be doing. So you browse through the books. Then you stumble upon The Jungle Book. You’ve never read that book. You open a page at random, and find a note. First you don’t give much heed to it. It’s a note after all. Oftentimes people leave notes in books. But the one you discover is a double folded page length note. You decide to take a look at it. It’s addressed to anyone who cares so much as to take a look at it. It is an invitation of sorts. Your curiosity is piqued. 

It informs of a curious kind of book. It explains that a book exists that requires not one, but two readers to read it. As in, a single reader can’t read it. It’s not a magical book or something, but its structure is such that no matter how much a single reader tries, nothing makes sense to him unless another joins. With two people reading it, the book transforms into a web of meaning, something so ultimately satisfying that no other book will be able to surpass its pleasures. The note doesn’t explain the architecture of the book or how it functions. But it is quite matter-of-fact in its description. As if there’s nothing strange about the existence of such a book. The note then cordially invites you to join in the reading of this strange book. It is signed by a girl. Not the book but the possibility of contact has thrilled you. 

Because the note is signed and not dated, it is difficult to know when it was written. But it mentions that if you are interested in the offer, you must respond by writing a similar note affirming your interest and must provide your contact details. You should then place your reply at exactly the same place in the book where you had found the note. You do the needful and replace the book on the rack. 

You are doubtful at first. It may happen that someone issues the book, finds your note in there, and throws it into a dustbin. End of story. There’s no possibility of further contact with the mystery girl. Or worse still, maybe the girl – if at all it’s a girl’s doing – who has left the note in the first place had done so more than a year back and having received no reply she got tired of waiting and forgot about it completely. If it has to go wrong, there are a thousand ways it can. But there’s no harm in trying. 

You decide to check how many people have issued The Jungle Book. It’s only a natural reflex. But you quickly discard that idea. Let it be a mystery. You walk out of the library, unaware that for the rest of your life you’ll never be able to look at The Jungle Book without thinking of lost possibilities.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Camera Lucida

This is where it comes down to.
Like in a lake reflecting,
A temple on a mountain, and a snake therein

In this grand human drama,
We too yearn to be preserved.
To be memorized in a frame, because
Passing through, we are destined for oblivion.

That this feeble reality,
With all its ecstasy and agony, is but a dot on an infinite plane.
Free of history, of future, of past, of regrets, of any burden,
We have come to this instance.

That the mirror which captures us is itself captured by the other,
Which in turn by another

What remains after us is this moment, this reflection of images,
A proof that there was life, after all
But where is He who placed the first mirror?

Here, in the quincunx of mirrors, only He remembers…
Or perhaps He does not, that we who are the victims of memory,
We too have lived and loved.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Professor's Beloved Equation

Came across a beautiful book by chance and fell in love with its humble characters. It reassured me that it is still possible in today’s time to write without cynicism, while still avoiding the usual sentimental clichés. The book, The Housekeeper and the Professor, written by Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa is about three characters: a housekeeper, her son, and the Professor.

We called him the Professor. And he called my son Root, because,
he said the flat top of his head reminded him of the square root sign.

With an opening sentence like this, one is intrigued enough to read a little more, still further, one more page, until it becomes really difficult to part with the book halfway. Its charm lies entirely in the humanness and simplicity of the characters. The story is narrated by the housekeeper. She is assigned by her agency to look after the Professor, who is apparently alone, is in his seventies, and whose memory lasts only eighty minutes. It is certainly difficult to look after a man who will not remember her the next day. In a situation like this, where memory no longer helps, where there is no rigid ground for people to connect, numbers come for a rescue. They bond over mathematics.

The housekeeper is not mathematically sound, but is patient with the Professor whose effusions are also numeral. He is a dense man, has been living with this ailment for a long time, and sticks notes to his coat like: my memory lasts only eighty minutes or the housekeeper has a son. The sight of him sitting in his study doing things that matter to him, which includes hours of silent thinking, is at once sad and intriguing. With simple prose, Ogawa reveals layer after layer of the Professor’s persona, channeled through the housekeeper’s eyes - who is caring, empathic, and her observations make some of the best paragraphs of the book. If it sounds like a mystery, then it is a mystery about the human heart. There are no lurking or bygone secrets in this book; nothing the characters should come to terms with in order to conclude the story. It is like a flow. It is about people who could have ended up lonelier had they not met each other. It is about the goodness of life that makes such chance meetings possible.

Professor provides a sort of grandfather-figure for the housekeeper’s son. He teaches him mathematics and they share a common interest for baseball. The housekeeper and her son remember everything they converse with the Professor about numbers and baseball everyday, but he does not. And I leave it solely on the reader to discover how nicely Ogawa handles the growing relationship between them, with the Professor being a constant, as days gather into months, and months gather into years. There is something beyond memory that binds us humans. The book never explains what it is. It vaguely alludes to numbers as a possible connecting factor. However, there are places where things get a little unconvincing, at times the feelings of the characters appear palpable, but as a reader I am not too critical; I generally get carried away, and am always ready to suspend my disbelief if the story offers something that appeals to me. This one did.

There are numerous references to prime numbers and equations. But they don’t disturb the flow of the narrative. They are not there as the display of the author’s erudition. They merge with the story, with the characters, and aids explanation to feelings otherwise difficult to explain. It made me feel that Yoko Ogawa not only knows mathematics, but possesses a wonderful ability to lift numbers from the logical realm and carry them to the emotional zones. After I finished reading it, I realized that she must have undergone a complex thought process to produce something so simple. It is a feat.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Midnight Hymn for the Unrest

Questions! Always questions!
Better questions than answers
The delight is in the uncertain

And the interpreters of everything
Better be a symphony than a composer
Better surrender than investigate

Life may be elsewhere
A touch, a smell, a feel, a taste
But it is near – so near!

The blue sheet of water
The brown film of soil
The green shade of tree – feel alive!

The theory, a final explanation
All roads lead to unification
A joke – everything but laughter

Myths and mysteries – rejected
Laws – accurate but dry
A need for God

A search for the purpose
A search for the self
Endless labyrinth, finite footprints

A goal in the making
A future tirelessly perceived
The traveler of chance, racing after tomorrows

It does has speed
A promise of light
How beautiful life be, if lived in moments

A will not ready to submit to boredom
The philosophy to live recurrently changing
But the wisdom may just be there

Joy in sorrow and hope in longing
Love – the essence of life
It is there – very much there

In the blink of an eye, you discover everything


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mother, Effusions , and Salt

The sterility of the kitchen will always mark the absence of their mother, at least for them. There was something unexplainable about the sweet spicy smell wafting from the kitchen every morning, spreading from room to room, filling the home with a sort of life-affirmation. It gave one an unconscious hope that someone was there… This house, with its kitchen and rooms rusted in time, still echoes distant laughter. When they lived here decades ago, the place didn’t appear as glorious as it does now. “Was it any different from what it is now?” asks the younger of the two. Nostalgia must be some trick of the mind.

Both brothers, who are now living separate lives in separate cities, had decided to return home, together again, if only for a day, to rejoice in the past. So here they are in the kitchen, trying to prepare a recipe just the way mother did… Mother.

“It was then that she had told me ‘in a year or so your brother will also leave this house’. I mean, it is understandable. You were about to finish your graduation. She had spent her life raising us…”
“And with us taking charge of our own lives, she was left with no purpose at all?” interrupted the younger one.
“That’s what I think.”
“But she was happy, wasn’t she?”
“It’s not about her happiness; yes, it’s about that too. But I wonder… have we ever thought of her as just another ordinary human being, with human desires and doubts like everyone else… like, did she ever seek ambition? Did she ever regret the life she had chosen? We always felt secure in her presence, as if she had all the answers. It was so comforting. If I ever miss anything real bad, it is that expression of hers. That all-knowing, everything-will-be-fine expression! How did she do that? ... Do we even know her?”

Mothers are mysterious and sometimes sorrowful, according to the elder brother. The younger one calls him too emotional for his own good. To prepare a recipe just the way mother did is a difficult task. Because the taste and aroma of her food depended not only on the spices, the pastes, and the gravy she prepared; it also depended on her moods, her emotions, her whole-hearted acceptance of the kitchen as a workshop, and the painterly skills with which she created food that might have given her artistic joy, who knows? To prepare food like her required to be like her.

“It must be God…” begins the elder one.
“Is that enough?”
“A little bit more, add some lime juice too. That’s it.”
“You know it too well.”
“You were lazy enough to learn, then.” They smile quietly. “By the way, this will taste best with some chavanu sprinkled over it!”
“What were you saying about God?”
“I just think it was her belief in God that kept her hinged.”
“And with all your doubts you don’t share her faith!” the younger one says in a jovial, if sarcastic, tone, knowing too well that these effusions are not new; they have been thrown at him time and again, whenever they are on their own. “Why this urge, brother?” he continues, “why this urge to understand her? We don’t understand so many things.”
“She was mother!” replies the elder one, and adds, “It’s not that these questions are tormenting me. I just want to know.”
“Let her be mysterious, as I always tell you. Let her evade your understanding forever. Okay, let us do what we are here for. Let us prepare this dish.”

They are midway through their preparation. But they are not alone. Somewhere in time, mother is also preparing the same dish, in the same kitchen, only a little younger. She is adding turmeric. So are they. She has added a clove of garlic. So have they. She is stirring. So are they. She leans over and smells the aroma. So do them. Onion by onion, clove by clove, sugar by sugar, pepper by pepper they are trying to catch up with her. All they have to do is to surrender and stop inquiring. A symphony is not played so that one can understand; it is to be felt.

Then, as if by chance, they acquire the same gestures and emotions that mother is having. The steam from the pan smells familiar. Mother and children are almost at the same stage, though separated in time; the color, the smell, the taste of both the preparations ring out in accordance. A moment in the past and a moment in the present resonate in unity: a little pattern of order is formed in the eternal chaos of space and time. It is as if everything is clear, the way a newborn child looks at the universe – not with doubt, but with marvel. Oh! It was so simple, and we spend ages trying to understand. But before they can comprehend it, before they can put it in words, they lose it. How long it lasted is an unnecessary question. It was too fragile for words to capture.

In the distant kitchen mother turns back and smiles at both the brothers sitting at the dining table, scribbling in their maths journals as if by compulsion, waiting for the food to be prepared. The food is ready. They start eating. But the taste and smell of the dishes are not the same anymore.

“Something is missing, isn’t it?” asks the elder brother.
“Salt, maybe?”

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Rose in the Abyss

What one understands of those lonely winters?

In the beehive of beehives, my legs move
In the residue of dreams, I smell her bosom
As I try to snuggle, so I understand
She too is a fantasy, dreamt in solitude

So I pick up a book, lying in the dust of time
My eyes run over hazy words, scribbled by a lonely warrior
Between us, centuries of separation
But the joy is real, so are our agonies

(unfinished poem...can't think further)

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