My awesome image caption
  • 26

    Those of you who have been following me on Facebook know that the last year has been too full of the work of organisation-founding and entrepreneuring for me to have blogged regularly. But then the last two weeks, since the Trump election and the currency demonetisation, have scared me off social media a little. While I’m all for being well informed, and while my Facebook newsfeed often points me to super-interesting reading and analyses that I would otherwise have missed, and while some of the original content generated by a few of my Facebook friends gives me buckets of hope and sanity, I still think of Facebook as my recipe for overwhelm.

    And so, while I have no intention of altogether quitting that space any time soon (see reasons above), I feel the need to move away from there and back to this space, back to blogging, where I feel more able to think aloud without feeling like I am shouting over a din of voices in a too crowded room. So there’s my old-year resolution for the last month of 2016: I want to start taking a half hour a week that I’d otherwise have spent on Facebook and start using it to think aloud here. I make no promises to fulfil any such resolutions, but voila, the seed has been sown!

    It’s been too busy a year for art in some ways, but it’s also been a super art-full year in other ways: a few weeks ago, I finished draft 6 (of at least 7, unfortunately) of my second manuscript, and there’s been a lot of editing, writing, rewriting, and moving things around that has happened in the process. I also enrolled in a fantastic year-long clay program, which I am not being able to make nearly enough time for, but which is still pushing me into some really interesting bringing together of my different artistic practices, particularly in the form of clay cubes and dolls made out of different poems i’ve written.

    Today, after spending a morning working on a clay-poetry doll based on my poem “Notes to Self” (which you cannot yet find on the internet, sorry!), I’m more inclined than ever to return to my art, to return to what art does to me. Yesterday was a difficult day, today began full of panic about all the work that needed to still be accomplished… and then somehow, in the process of ignoring deadlines to make art all morning, I found myself recharged enough to actually meet all the deadlines this afternoon that I’d never have met if I’d had those extra two hours! My brain works in funny ways, clearly, and for those of you readers who are still around and interested in following its new journeys, welcome aboard all over again 🙂

  • 08

    Hyderabad and I have a strange relationship, mediated by two very different and equally important parts of my life. It is the city where I won my first literary award, before I had published a single poem, and the city where I have returned full circle with an award for my first book. It has also been the city of 4 eye surgeries (and counting), the city where donated organs are easier to come by, the city with the only doctor I fully trust.

    At the hospital for a check-up yesterday, before random loitering around the city and heading to the festival inauguration, I gifted a copy of my book to my surgeon, telling him that the poem about corneal transplants is, in some ways, for him (he did the third and fourth and will do the fifth and sixth). He was moved, and he asked me if I minded writing about my experiences of corneal surgery so he can share the same with patients who are afraid of its implications for their quality of life. I promised to do so, and I also made another resolve that I’d love for you all to hold me to: to start writing more about my experiences around chronic illness in general. I was struck yesterday by my own familiarity with hospital ophthalmology departments, with the parts of the process i know to roll my eyes through, with the parts i know to brace for, which machine to walk towards for a topography test, how not to wince at the burst of air in my eye for the pressure test, how not to be intimidated by the machine with tentacles — so many random little moments that have made up my life. 

    Let’s see if Hyderabad 2016 manages to bring together my literary life with my medical life: I’d be curious to see what emerges from that marriage.

  • 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


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