• 26


    It happens every once in a while. You decide to get away from work for a few days in the middle of a busy work month, knowing that the next few months will only be busier and you’re finally learning to make time for play no matter the work. You surprise yourself by agreeing to go for a holiday with someone you barely know, simply because it feels right, because you’re usually the pickiest when it comes to travel companions.

    You log on to book train tickets and see that there are exactly two confirmed seats available for your journey. The very reasonably priced camp-accomodation you had booked turns out to have made a booking error, so you get upgraded to a fancy jungle cottage nearby, all meals paid by the travel company that messed up. The hotel manager warns you that your train has been known to be delayed by upto 3 hours quite regularly, but the day you board it, it actually arrives 20 minutes early (your travel-companion shakes his head: “Uff, yeh aaj kal ki trainen! No respect for tradition!”).

    You arrive at this jungle cottage with this acquaintance-turning-friend, and a few hours later, you find yourself sitting by a river, sharing stories and fears that only your closest friends have ever otherwise heard about, letting him hug you, letting yourself cry. You say that the river brings this out in you, this quiet ability to share anything because you feel so safe sitting next to flowing water.

    You continue to surprise yourself. You ride an elephant after decades and love the view of the treetops so much that you forget to look for animals in the undergrowth. You go on safaris and realise you’re one of those weird tourists who loves the thrill of seeing fresh tiger prints almost more than the possibility of seeing a tiger. You don’t see any tigers, but you carry back in your heart the incredible silence of the jungle in those minutes when the engine was turned off and your guide was listening for the deer’s alarm call.

    Your travel companion has by now grown into a trusted friend. You remember that he is a geographer by training, and learn that he is a scout by passion, and you let him lead you on a trek along the river that the locals say you’ll never be able to navigate (usually, you trust locals). You walk along embankments of rock and wire, somehow managing not to step into the wire mesh, a little dizzy from the eye strain. You manage somehow not to double over in laughter when your friend uses his adorable French-accented Hindi to tell a security guard who’s trying to stop you “yeh tere malik ke baap ki nadi nahin hai!” (later, your friend will insist he was insulting the malik, not the guard, and you _will_ double over in laughter, sure that the security guard missed that nuance). You jump across rocks in the shallow water and navigate an island and a jungle without panic. You surprise yourself by being able to ask for help when you cannot see well enough to jump a wide rift or navigate a narrow concrete ledge; you never used to be able to admit you could not see well enough.

    At night, the two of you sit around a bonfire, eating delicious meals, and talking. Nothing feels out of bounds, not politics, not faith, not family, not loves, not heartbreaks, not wildest dreams, not deepest regrets. You amaze yourselves by how much and how seamlessly you can talk despite the regular interruptions by over-enthusiastic hotel staff who insist on standing right at hand and carrying chairs to wherever in the lawns you happen to stop for an instant. You learn to share yourselves with an openness that stuns you both. You learn to hold each other safe in your stories, in your griefs. You spend years together in three days.

    On the train ride home, you tear up suddenly. He tells you everything will be okay, and you smile and tell him you know that; everything already is okay. The tears are simply the necessary grief of leaving something magical behind, and they pass. You remark how much of a difference a few days can make — how different the two of you are, returning, than the two who went on this holiday only three days ago. He says quietly, “That was a long time ago.”

    You hug each other goodbye in the middle of a jam-packed station, as you prepare to go back to daily life in Delhi and as he prepares to leave the country for months. You feel no need for labels or explanations or protracted goodbyes. You end as you began, two people with very different lives, off on an adventure — but this time, with pockets full of new words, stories, campfires, hugs, and memories that you know you’ll periodically pick out and admire and say a quick prayer of gratitude for.

    It happens every once in a while. Travel goes completely right.

  • 05

    The news these days is constantly reminding me of my Capstone on totalitarian language.

    What does the government mean by “manufactured revolt,” exactly — do other revolts fall from the sky, fully formed? What does the RSS mean by “diseased with the secularism-complex” — when did secular become a horrible slur, and do they know that it is (still, despite their efforts) in our Constitution’s preamble? Not to mention the “diseased by” reference to the body politic — we are used to putting our bodies through painful procedures to protect then from diseases, including removing certain parts of the body altogether for the good of the whole, and the metaphor carries over scarily. 

    But scariest of all to me personally, what does it mean when someone on my Facebook Newsfeed, an ordinary person who proclaims a commitment to peacebuilding, brags “I proudly declare myself communal from this day” — and how different is that from the way the German word for “fanatic” had become high praise in Nazi Germany?

    Every totalitarian government in history has known that discourse shapes public morality and ideas of what’s allowed — “Let’s change the meanings of words, make secular a bad word and communal a good one, and let’s see how public morality changes in turn.” Say “secular” with derision often enough, and it has an effect. We are seeing this everywhere.

    You say “but, but… the ‘seculars’ do horrible things too.” Sure. So hold them accountable. Say, in no uncertain terms, “Secularism is one of the highest ideals of our Constitution, and it implies that religious matters must be kept separate from matters of the State. I believe that ____ is not actually secular because they say/ do _____.” That’s all it takes to engage us in a real, rational debate while still holding high the threatened and in-desperate-need-of-protection ideal of secularism. Try that next time instead of your name-calling; hold people accountable, but do it without vilifying an important ideal. Do it without falling into the totalitarian trap.

    Your words matter, people. Please use them wisely. Please take responsibility.

  • 20


    I’m in a sappy mood, so I’m just going to shout out a few hours in advance to my dearest friend from high school entering the thirties club!

    Saurabh, do you remember that long-ago birthday when we threw you a little post exam surprise party, and you never figured it out because you’d forgotten it was your birthday? That will always be how I think of you. I cannot believe it has been 15 years.

    15 years since we were made “partners” in school, since shared pencils and shared secrets, since tears after bad exam marks, since ICQ and MSN conversations after school, since that phone conversation that turned your ears red and made me swear never to reach out to you again, since (somehow) becoming friends again, since so many other teenaged tantrums, tears, confidings. I cannot believe we have been part of more than half of each other’s lives, swimming in and out of regular touch, but always present in a far corner, always (okay, almost always!) at easy reach when it mattered. 

    Thank you for a decade and a half of being there, of figuring it out, of honest conversations, of shared tears, of so much fun. For your openness to growing together, for trusting me enough to let me push you into conversations that you were initially uncomfortable with. For your rock-solid confidence in my heart, for your unflinching presence by my side. For being one of the running threads in my life, explaining me to myself, often without even trying.

    It periodically, regularly boggles my mind to think about how much we’ve been able to stay part of each other’s lives in these last 12 years of not even sharing a continent, about how time zones and crow-flying-miles have never gotten in the way of our remaining each other’s steadiest cheerleaders and soundest support systems. I cannot imagine having done this decade-and-a-half without you.

    Happy birthday, my friend. Here’s to many, many more. I love you!

    Corny photo from a time before Saurabh believed in smiling for the camera

    Throwback to a time before Saurabh believed in smiling for the camera

  • 15

    So, while I was doing my morning chanting on this independence day, I had a thought: What would happen if we chose to celebrate this as “interdependence day”? No, really, it isn’t just a play on words. What would happen if Pakistan, Kashmir, and India decided to commemorate interdependence over the 14th and 15th of August (because let’s face it, none of us can fully know peace, security, or freedom until we all do — that’s just the reality of our history and our present)? What would that celebration even look like? It seems like such a faraway possibility, and yet, it seems so necessary, so urgent.

    Therefore commemorating this day by sharing an article I wrote for the “Common Threads” blog, recently started by the SGI quarterly, my favourite peace, culture, and education magazine. This was definitely among the most interesting pieces for me to write, not only because it helped me bring together many different experiences (all of them simultaneously personal, professional, and political), but also because it gave me a chance to talk about so many people very dear to me.

    I look forward to the day when changing the names in the story won’t feel like a necessary precaution for the individuals concerned, but for now, here are the stories: The Threads the Connect Us

  • 07

    What do you do when your closest colleague, friend, co-dreamer, confidant, selfie stick, cheerleader, clown, photographer, devil’s advocate, little brother, caregiver, playmate, and so much more decides to move to the other side of the world for five years?11696451_564278270984_4766307721161216971_o

    You call him a mean-o. Maybe cry a little. Then take a lovely little holiday together. Make promises about Skype. Write a sappy message. Hug.

    And then you send him off in style, coffee mug in one hand, wine goblet in the other. And a note:

    “As you launch into your graduate school adventures, here are some essential supplies. A coffee mug for all your late night readings and predawn grading sessions. And a wine glass for the days when coffee just doesn’t cut it any longer (or when you want to feel like some kind of medieval king, drinking out of a ceramic goblet)


    Look! I found a way to tag along! To be present when you celebrate an accomplishment or relax after a long day with a glass of wine. To hang around when you are so tired only a good cup of coffee will make you less grumpy. To show up in your kitchen every day, in moments of celebration and frustration alike, reminding you of a friendship that will always have your back.


    I made you a mug and a goblet. Raise a toast to me already.”

    I love you, Vivek! Delhi won’t be the same without you!


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