Monday, July 31, 2006

Run with that

I have a very good feeling about the project I am working on now. It is exciting and new and the team seems to be pretty friendly and affable; at least most of them.

On my way back from Mumbai today, I dozed off and was dreaming about pleasant things. While I can’t remember the dream itself, it was accompanied by very distinct tastes and tactile sensations. Like, I tasted the sugary sharp chewiness of candied ginger…or I felt like I was pasting ash between my forefinger and thumb. I have a hazy memory of wanting to remember something in my dream but not being able to. I am in a very contorted mental state because, well, having things on the tip of one’s tongue and nowhere useful is annoying.

That being that, I woke up in soporific giddiness. The lady sitting next to me (who was also sitting next to window, so she was sitting between the window and me – why do I care so much?) was snoring those fairytale snores. Gentle and blissful – unheeding of all that magic going on in the heavens. Jack must have snored that way while his beanstalks made serpentine pathways into the clouds. I put my bag of chips back into my purse. I didn’t want the cackle of plastic to disturb her.

Outside the window, I saw a very intriguing world. The hills were the color of wine and the rivulets coursing through their grooves shone like vermeil. It was a regular monsoony morning, of course. And while it is lovely in the ghats, the view I saw was a vision. Alternatively, the texture of the scene kept changing. Sometimes, it looked like a pattern of wet paints and sometimes it looked like stained glass. Sometimes it looked as if it was painted on raw silk and sometimes, it looked as if the motifs had been sewn on jute. Outside the window, I saw a sort of Dickensian contradiction –
it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

We had everything before us…we had nothing before us…

I felt good to be going to work this morning – fresh and crackly, like rice crispies.

And while walking to the office from the bus stop, I got pelted by a mad woman on the road.

But that’s okay. The ghats were stunning.

There’s a joy in delirium that only mad men know. – Descartes (I think).

Thursday, July 27, 2006

From the sublime to the ridiculous

A dreamy, drizzly morning. Pearl-drops and hill-shimmer on leaves and horizon. The sky looks like mountain peaks breathed on a cold slab of glassy air. Clouds swirl as if a pine incense were lit somewhere, deep in a forest; by a muddy river that sparkled right where it tickled a rock playfully.

I walk into the living room to see all this – a morning awakening like the notes in Sufi music. Simple, surreal, spiritual.

Time passes. Slowly, I see the magic realism of the morning receding.

Later, J and I leave for office. The moment we step outside her building onto the common compound, a dizzy, cool wind rustles us a little bit. As if we were trees. I think I tell J to use her camera more often.

J responds. She tells me of this time in Delhi when she saw a woman from the media with a badge pinned strategically above her breasts. The badge said, ‘Press’.

She laughed – doubling over, no less. I shook my head dismally at first, but smirked all the same.

Goodbye, my morning of valley songs. You were good while you lasted.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Boxes - inside, outside, wherever

Once upon a time, there was a Marx. There were many, but two of them became famous. Both said intelligent, quotable things. The one who has a bearing on this post was the Marx without ants in his pants – Groucho. He did not want to belong to a club that would have him as a member. A very droll observation. But sometimes, when one cannot contend with a vampiric corporate culture, one thinks of him. One realizes that he was wise, not funny. One is bemused.

In every appraisal since my first job, I have been considered ‘creative’. I used to think I knew what that meant. But then I joined big companies with lots of people, and the definition changed a little. Now, the ‘creative’ title is what is bestowed before my scatter-brained, irresponsible mode of work is gently rebuffed. ‘Creative’ is their tactic. ‘Creative’ is their hoax.

So, when I am asked to think of ‘creative’ ideas, I am asked to think of ‘feasible’ ideas. Nothing wrong with that, but one can’t commit the fallacy of mixing one with the other.
If one begins with thinking what is likely to get done as opposed to what all can be done, then one must shut his trap about thinking outside the box. Because when I do that, they point at the box and tell me ‘Can it fit here?’

An incident.

I was asked to give two ideas for a concept. I gave them. Too much trouble, too few resources, too many new areas to venture in.

So, I was asked to give some different ‘creative’ ideas. Again, I gave them. Not as much trouble as before, and it was familiar territory for most parts. But what was this? Something unheard of. So more brainstorming.

I took an existing screen. Pointed it out. Changed a few things. Bingo! Good! That was a ‘creative’ idea.

My work done, I stood up to leave. Very difficult to swallow bile sitting down.

I was beckoned again. I was supposedly owed an explanation. Most creative people are, I guess, for having simpering temperaments and fragile egos. The explanation to me came with a stunning rhetoric.

I was told that if I were asked to creatively design a structure, I should get creative. But I must also remember that structures are straight. So one must be ‘creative’ that way. Let’s say you have this zany, incredible concept about the architecture– but the structure is crooked. Is that creative? No it is not.

I see, I said. I did not.

I wonder if anyone told Bonanno Pisano that. I wonder if he were told to stick to building a beautiful structure instead of an architectural enigma. I wonder if he showed the plans of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and was told to go back to the drawing board.

Who needs another wonder of the world? A straight structure. Now, that’s something.

‘Creative’ - Hah!


To no-one in particular:

If it weren’t for blue,
It would be red.
It is either the toe
Or the top of the head.

If it weren’t the sky,
It would be the salt of the earth,
It is either the fire
Or the flagstone hearth.

If it wasn’t the crashing
Of the china plates,
It would be the grating
Of the iron gates.

Sometimes to the moon
Or to the star, I point,
Sometimes one or the other
Or all of these disappoint.


No-one responds:

It is blue and red
Also green and yellow
And all kinds of music
Not necessarily mellow

It is the scream of the child
The dense of the wild
As for spices, they range from
Fiery to mild

It is a voice too loud
Or a manner too brusque
It is the stagnant despondency
Of a Sunday dusk

In the scheme of one’s own,
Not all of them fit,
But for that very scheme,
One lives with it.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Amoeba in the creative juice

Here is the catch with working creatively in an office – you don’t get to do it alone. There is a team and there are meetings and there are brainstorming sessions, which are as effective as shouting into a papier-mâché cave. Then you have to listen to other people’s ideas, which is such a bore. I am always reminded of this line in ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’: People are not moral or immoral; they are interesting or they are tedious. Ditto with ideas – there are no good ideas or bad ideas – only those that make me sit up straight or the ones that get me further irritated with Kay Kay Menon. Someday, I will make a movie. I will offer Mr. Menon a role. The role will have substance and shades and what’s more, a spine. Someday, in some film – maybe mine, Kay Kay Menon will prove to be worthy of the woman he is in love with. (No prizes for guessing I saw Corporate. So, Kay Kay ditched Chittrangada in ‘Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi’ to go to London. He comes from London in ‘Corporate’ to be the gentle nudge off the cliff for Bipasha Basu.)

To get back to why only some people should be allowed to express their ideas and the others should dedicate their lives to finding out bus fares in Aurangabad. Well, it is not an idea simply because it popped up in your head. That thing that you mistook for a node of intellectual rush could be a nervous tic. It could be a hormonal aberration. It could be you realizing , ‘Hey! If I squint like this and try to write with my teeth, something happens! I fail miserably!’ If you are a man and wear strange looking t-shirts (namely turmeric yellow and V-neck), you qualify. If you are a woman and find such men cute, you qualify.

Also, I find other people’s ideas tedious. I find their analysis of my ideas tedious. I find my own analysis about their ideas tedious. They are boring. I am boring with them. Again, to bring in Oscar Wilde: ‘Why must I be blessed with such contemporaries?’

Why must people meet to discuss an idea? Why does there have to be a populist circus to get creative? There are these huge conference rooms and projectors where asinine, half-thought fragments get bulleted on PowerPoint and get displayed. Not only is it stupid - it is stupid and big and for all to see.

Instead of having conference rooms for holding large meetings, it’s better to have one where you go to be left alone. You talk to yourself.

‘Mukta, do you think we could have multiple branching in this scenario – you know, get three people talking, instead of one?’

‘No Mukta, that wouldn’t be a good idea because one of them is dead.’

‘That is right, Mukta. But then isn’t death a relative term?’

‘No Mukta. While you are otherwise profound and wise, you are now talking like a stupid tadpole. Death is not relative. You are dead because you are dead and therefore you are dead.’

‘Okay Mukta, while you are otherwise polite and courteous, you speak like a bat with nappy rash. It was only an idea.’

‘You know ‘idea’ and ‘idiot’ come from the same source, namely ‘id’ – meaning..umm..the part of the psyche that got famous.’

Mukta and Mukta think over this carefully.

THAT is how smart people get ideas.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


My family is safe. My friends are safe. My city isn't. It never was. It was lucky before, but not safe. So, one ordinary day a city, after being distracted by rain and defacing incidents, went about its business and was tattered. Simple. That is that.

And now, in my mind, there is no debate of whether there should be capital punishment or not. Whoever did this - WHOEVER - should die. Simple. That is that.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ritually speaking

I follow a routine to ward off boredom. Ever so often, I make life a little difficult for myself and then work to simplify it. So, while I have never really needed to have 18 cups of tea or coffee a day, I did. Now, I’m cutting back the number to a single digit. In fact, on good days, when I am home and can put my head on my mother’s lap at will (hers, not mine), I can go without tea and coffee completely. I just sip hot water, sometimes with lime and honey, sometimes with a couple of split raisins (they look sweet through the muggy transparency of a steamy glass), and sometimes, plain. I realized that what I needed from the cups and cups of caffeine was heat and steam. That used to wake me up and keep me going instead of the concoction itself. And of course, the ritual. The toughest part of giving up these beverages is not knowing what to do with the time that you earlier spent absorbed either preparing the brews or partaking of them.

My favorite part of having tea and coffee was feeling the hot cup in my hands and moving it around till I got a spot that didn’t singe my fingers. And savoring the scent that floats around the rims of the cups before I took my first sip. And the slow wakeful languor that filled me up when I was done.

Hot water, let’s face it, does not lend itself to a ritual per se. There’s pan, there’s water, gas or Micro – and you’re done. Psychologically, even adding a tea-bag to the water somehow ‘completes’ the whole process. But you make this perfect glass of hot water and stare unsurely at it. Because, well, this is it.

So, to make the process a little more elaborate, I add a piece of fruit to the water. Now, the interesting part about this is how I can almost sense the shape of the piece I want to put in the water. Like, it has to be a cube of ripe mango (like a lump of sugar) or a thin curve of strawberry or a wedge of lemon or a quart of an orange or slivers of kairi or a clunk of sugarcane or shavings of ginger (honey goes very well with this) or a coarsely cut bit of pineapple or a round of kiwi.

When I carve the fruit to put in the water, I feel tranquil. I am not very adept with the knife, so I like to be precise about this. It’s meditative – the peeling, coring, dicing, slicing, the occasional twirling of the rind, if I can manage it. I like the restraint I impose on myself – not getting carried away and chop up more than a small piece. Because, and perhaps it is only my quirky sense of aesthete, there should be just one snip of color in the boiled fluid. Just one and no more, unless it’s really small raisins.

For the finishing touches, I hold down a spoon over the fruit for a few seconds in the water – gently, so as not to squish it. I think the essence of the fruit infuses into the water and the drink is ready.

Sure, it will be a while before this completely replaces my dosage of tea and coffee, but it is not too bad.

The taste may take developing, but I’ve got myself a ritual.

Friday, July 07, 2006


For a while now, I have contemplated starting other blogs – one for food, one for movies and T.V. offerings (I have a lot to say about the show ‘Beauty and the Geek’), and one for books. There are a number of reasons I haven’t got around to doing it. Most of them involve sloth and a reflex to stay away from anything that I would ‘have’ to maintain in the long run. I wouldn’t want to read a book simply because I had to write about it. Or watch a movie because there was compunction to analyze. Or deliberately document stuff about yummies because there was a web page waiting to be updated. (The last bit reminds me to spread the good word about lychees chilled in frosted crystal bowls and doused with vodka. Must be had with eyes half-closed. In fact, will be had with eyes half-closed. Enough said.)

However, I do like the idea of segregation. I like pieces that do not meander but follow a consistent stream of thought. The prospect of writing something for a category dedicated to specifics interests me. But I realize that it takes a certain kind of mind to do that. And I don’t have it.

Interestingly, I can make out whether a person is capable of having different blogs from their voices. They speak neatly.

Jaygee has different blogs as does Warble. While J does not have a separate blog, she has a separate section where she posts poems on Dino Morrea. That is as much a reflection of queer taste as it is of a meticulous mindset, but all that for later.

When I speak with any of them, I notice that their mind works carefully. Words don’t tumble out, their thoughts are not clumped, they can enumerate things verbally (if they came with speech bubbles, you’d be able to see bullet points), and they speak in short sentences (that is not to say they don’t speak much – they do). In essence, they take a thought that may be tangled and knotted, but they can carefully unknot one thread at a time, smooth it out, and then take on another thread. My own strategy is yanking a bit here and there and just snipping off the annoying ends.

The ‘one by one’ preciseness is what enables a person to write in and for categories. As they speak, you can imagine words being taken off neatly from shelves, dusted carefully, and placed like alphabets on the Scrabble board. Contrast this to fun, yet muddled shuffling of the deck that my blog is reminiscent of.

To begin with Jaygee. I remember her telling me how to really appreciate a tomato sandwich. The tomatoes mustn’t be runny, the butter must be spread evenly, the bread should be soft, not soggy, etc. etc. If we were talking about the nuances of a good sandwich, we were talking about the nuances of a good sandwich. We didn’t go into the sad lives of bakers or Barista’s overpriced coffees or Bandra’s narrow roads, and then connect the dots.

J, while capable of being batty, is very prim in her discourses. Patiently (with excruciating details), she can explain the design on ethnic cushion covers sold in Delhi. The description is not jumpy, focused, and very rarely, could you quote a sentence out of context.

And Warble, one of my very, very favorite writers, can wring sense from any thought – any thought, I tell you. It’s like he pulls a rabbit out of thin air whether he is talking of something specific, like the third nail of the waiter serving the last patron, or something vague like, um, history or law or me.

Their voices are not always husky, but something about them reminds one of folding formal shirts and stacking them in a corner of the cupboard – the corner that doesn’t have pink parkas or acid-wash denims. You hear them, and you know that their handkerchiefs will probably be folded in a triangle or their drink will always be in the centre of the coaster. They will use a different napkin for keeping peanuts and another one for bite-sized cheese-cubes. They will brush off crumbs from their fingers before they pick-up another item. They won’t eat and read at the same time unless they are eating with a fork and spoon.

Tidy. That’s what they are. That’s what goes into crystallizing thoughts in compartments.

I tried. I tried to write about ‘Shalimar the Clown’. While it’s not the best book that I have read, I liked it. I liked the thought that went into one of the characters declaring the fight for an independent Kashmir as stupid. ‘Why not draw a circle around yourself and call it ‘Selfistan?’, he said. Salman Rushdie is just so clever.

But I couldn’t. For some reason, midway my review, I had put in a paragraph about my English teacher and why India, to me, is really a developed nation that just doesn’t know it. I wrote a bit about the sharp taste of shrimps braised in garlic (I was having those while reading the book), the scene from Hurricane when Denzel Washington smiles. I don’t know why I did that. The intention was to write about the plot, go on to the characters, speak about the language, discuss the style, and eulogize Rushdie a little more (‘Selfistan’ – I mean, who would have thought of that!). I could count off the items I had to pen on one hand.

And then I just went ahead and interlocked my fingers.


You can read the fine writers I’ve talked about here:

Jaygee -
J -
Warble -

Thursday, July 06, 2006

You get a little wiser and what is the use

Much has happened since the last few days - fever, food, fun, fights, freedom. Have come to realize that I can just about bear to work three days in a week. That fear is the worst kind of dishonesty to the self. That cracking open a well-seasoned crab to taste its succulent, sweet, fresh, moist yet melting meat is a many splendored thing. That keeping it simple is a protracted battle.

And yet, to the victor belong the spoils.