Baptismal. Chastening. Imprint.

Without you there is no is
No will, was or to be.
Without you is the back of the palm
Where the meaning of with lives.

All our withs are really withouts
All our withouts really withs
Nothing ever explains being
Not reason, not compassionate will.

Without you there is no longing
With you no belonging
Belonging is to be longing
Without longing no being.

Without you there is no is
No being, or will, or will to be
Without you is the back of the palm
The other side of which is me.




Who Cares

Caregiving - Can't Give If You Don't Care

Postscript: This post was supposed to be a narration of the chaplinesque that our life has been since Dad moved in with us. Serious. But it turned some other way. Dad is 85 at the time of writing, delirious with life (and surely some of the innumerable pills that he takes), wheelchair bound, faulty plumbing in most major organs, a regular contributor to op-ed political and social discourses in the major dailies in far-away Kolkata, churning out new volumes of work through prestigious publishing houses, repeats everything multiple times citing forgetfulness of having said it earlier, and receives more mails, couriers, phone calls and visitors than Madhavi, Dev, our housekeeper and I put together. He lives like he has always lived, playing kabaddi with the possible. In the midst of unimaginable challenges, his presence in our life is like a mystic raised middle finger to the world. And through it, he teaches us more than any master or mentor ever could. So I thought it would be nice to document some of the more hilarious, zen-like moments in a blog post. However, as words flowed, like chilled Maaza from my mind to the keyboard, it took on a life of its own. It also grew beyond what the proprieties of blogging consider sizeable. There are repetitions, of course and of thoughts and ideas, but I let them be as, how shall I ever survive this, they are traits of my father in me. This blog has seen greater and more futile rants, so I just let everything be. I believe this post is one of the more important things that I have to share with you. Enjoy.

***** 

The last couple of years for us have been about loss and learning. While we have been through different kinds of losses in this time, the one that whites everything else out is the loss of Mom. Mom died last year at a time when we were looking forward to a new phase of life, that of having our parents move in with us. Dad had to go through the process of winding up his life in Kolkata more abruptly and with greater finality than he had bargained for and then settle in with us while dealing with the loss of his partner of more than five decades. This was compounded by a rapid decline (very rapid and a big decline) in his health, both physical and mental. He lost what little mobility he had and had to reconcile himself to a life with catheters and bags. The trauma of grief, a recent cerebral stroke, and age in general made for a depressing mix. All of this also led to significantly greater need for caregiving.

Caring for Dad has been more educational than challenging but that education wasn't exactly a free online tutorial at your own pace. With both of us working across the clock and a toddler at home, the missus and I barely had time to care for ourselves. With Dad, we did the best we could, without realizing what the implications were. With time, we began having to deal with very strange problems ourselves. We felt increasingly irritated, angry, self pitying and guilty, sometimes even acutely depressed and hopeless, in addition to the physical and mental exhaustion that we accepted as par for the course. We looked at holiday pictures people posted on social media and felt resentful and unfortunate. We ended up arguing and snapping at each other, at Dev, and even at Dad. He wasn't doing great either, though he put up a brave front. We could sense that he felt guilty and as if he was a burden on us. Communications between all three of us, and even Dev, took a beating as we were unable to clearly express what we were feeling. On the contrary, we often ended up expressing something totally different from what we really felt. We were not getting ourselves even minimum rest or recreation, since any spare time we had went taking items off our mandatory to-do list.

We were also denying a lot of what we were feeling, since to accept it seemed like a death sentence on the people we thought we were or wanted to think we were. We felt angry and resentful at Dad, for example, but could not accept it or talk about it, because as his children, that made us "bad people," something we were not ready to live with. We also felt guilty for not being able to meet his needs, along with the needs of each other, and rather than accept it and look for solutions, we vehemently defended ourselves and felt upset and hurt that others could not see what we did for them. We found it difficult to accept the compassion fatigue that we were experiencing. On the other hand, we expected more from each other, not realizing that all of us, Dad and Dev included, were experiencing this "resource constraint" in our own ways. We kept on the mask of being agreeable and caring, but when you are a part of a loving family system, it is difficult to keep your loved ones from sensing what is really going on with you. So we lived with what we were feeling, with a sense of what others were feeling, but without being able to acknowledge, talk about or resolve it.

It wasn't too long before it reached a point where all of us realized something had to change. As a family unit, we were experiencing emotional burnout that threatened to consume all that we cherished about our lives and selves. That was when we started seeking help, speaking with people, family members who have dealt with similar situations, reading up on resources for caregivers. It is close to a year that we set out trying to understand the challenges of caregiving, and I believe that what we learned will be of benefit to anyone who is in a similar situation as well as to those who have no reason to believe that they will ever be in a similar situation.

For Now We'll Make A Vow

Many writers and creative artists go through period of self doubt and uncertainty, where they are not sure if what they do is of any value in the larger scheme of things, or even in the relatively smaller arena of craftsmanship or social chitter chatter. In my case, that has been the dominating feeling about almost everything I have turned to. There have been multiple periods of my life where I have totally turned away from the pursuits that my muse led me towards, often with self destructive and self defeating loathing and anger. Hold that thought.

All of these periods have yielded to mornings when the birdcalls have convinced me that there is a message in everything, that the call of the divine is often misheard, that to give up is to betray the cause. What that cause is is another question altogether, since my mission seems to be to rail against all that is popularly perceived as fair, pleasurable, right, and perhaps even noble. With the gusto of a long abstinence joyfully broken, I tilt at the windmills again, firm in my conviction that if we did not choose simplicity, time would force it upon us, that commerce needs us to be blind to the consequences of our actions, and that Marcus Aurelius any day outlives Mark Zuckerberg.


So here I am again, wondering if I have anything of value to share with you Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. My vanity does not take much convincing, but my gut worries about the consequences of being truthful about what you feel in the times we live in today. I strongly believe that events like the Babri Masjid Ram Janmabhoomi, the 9/11 attacks, or the Las Vegas shootings are not about religious beliefs, economics, or gun control. I believe they all arise from a fundamental alienation from the principles of natural living. I am no Dabholkar, Pansare, Kalburgi or Lankesh. I do not come from the pain or conviction that the journalists of Raqqa is Being Silently Slaughtered came from. I like my life and the fact that I am alive. In other words, I am a coward - rational maybe, but a coward all the same.

Bowling Pins

Every night a spider spins
A humble clever web between
The banister and the elevator door
At the entrance to my office.

I know why Spidey does that;
For life, for preying, sustenance,
The drive that makes us all do
The things that we do.

Every night when I go down
The stairs to stretch my legs
I knock it down without knowing,
Till it silky irritates my skin.

I do that a few times each night
And every time the web is up.
Each time I knock it down
Spidey just builds back up.

In human terms I wonder how
Often it must happen to us
Before we finally give up,
Or whether we ever will.

Labor of Love

At the feet of concrete and marble
In a primordial song and dance,
Dark skinned immigrants
Toil their fingerprints off.

In between, on
Therapy gardened balconies
Dense and motherly green,
Hide red Tomatoes.

Indian. Enough. For You?

Over the last 70 years, the definition of being Indian has changed many times over. From being the  land of snake charmers and rope tricks, we have evolved to being a superpower to reckon with in pretty much every sphere of life. We have dealt with ills like caste, sati, religious persecution with a flamboyance only Indians can carry off. We have done away with poverty, disease, and corruption with solutions that leave the academic world baffled. The contemporary Indian is a truly wondrous thing, a thing more Indian than you think.

We have become contributors to the global economy instead of carrying the thick end of the stick. We get hitched across linguistic and cultural borders and create new identities transcending differences and definition. We think in Bengali and blog in English and usually have a third language up our sleeve when we don't want Junior to understand what we are speaking of. We use phrases like "why because" and "that is what" just for timepass. We prefer Indian Chinese and Continental Tarka and create dishes like Gobi Manchurian and Paneer Pizza.

Traditionalists view this modern Indian with reservation; in their opinion, they are a travesty of what being Indian is about. But the modern Indian couldn't really care. He bares his soul (no typo, that) with the brazenness of a Ravindra Gaikwad and the finesse of a Singer Abhijeet. He has solved the problem of caste by having reservations where everyone, especially the cream of the traditional Indian society, now wants to be declared a scheduled caste, or an other backward class, and then some. We have wiped out sati, and now insist brides burn with an even blue flame while their husbands are alive and watching, holding their mummyjis and naanijis hands. We have strict laws to book those who indulge in domestic violence or dowry harassment. However, the modern Indian, gender no bar, has found ways to buy justice or to use this law for personal profit, so it is really not a problem. Or a solution for that matter.

We have eliminated poverty by lowering the poverty line to where noone below it could possibly exist. Many people well above it also no longer exist. To be declared poor in India, you have to become a starving ascetic, since a family income of 1000 rupees per month pushes you into what is presumably the middle class. The middle class itself now starts somewhere around the middle floors of the Ambani residence. We have eliminated disease by creating a healthcare system so efficient that it does away with anyone who has any disease. A few decades back, fiery young politicians identified overpopulation as a solution for all our troubles and worked on eliminating all future families. That sterile strategy backfired twice over; not only did it lead to "the end" of the fiery politician and his ilk, our overpopulation now makes us among the most desirable markets for everyone, Fiery and nonfiery politicians included. No allusions needed to anybody here.

The A to Z of Challenges - A Writer's Primer

Blogging lets you define your readership, or as in my case, the lack of it. Not having a readership to cater to frees you from expectation, and I clearly sense that in the little work I have published over the last one-and-a-quarter year.  The last year has been a time of change and consolidation for my family and me. I was nudged into taking off my cape and rolling up my sleeves. As a family, we were challenged with new demands, impossible schedules, and paradoxical finances. The net outcome was a period of above average growth. You can see from my unconscious choice of words what lies uppermost in my mind.

April is the cruelest month for most bloggers, as everyone gets into the tizzy of one post a day for the A-to-Z challenge. For many years, I thought it was a marketing campaign by Amazon. I tried my hand at it a couple of times after I got the general drift. The first time I went up to three or four days, the second time up to nine. The joy of not having a readership is that failures do not need to masquerade as pillars of success. My utmost respect for all who take on such challenges, regardless of whether they succeed or not, and regardless of the stuff it brings up. Feeds choked with one letter of the alphabet a day help brush the plaque off my demented vocabulary. This year, I am using it to teach Junior a few new tricks.

Poetry Editing Made Easy

The body electric always comes up for air, straight E's or worse. All I did is Klingon. Knowing north is the truest of all art. It is a gift denied to none, a gift that resides at the center of one's being. Maya, god bless her soul, works overtime to surround us with lack of meaning, and it is the very pursuit of desire that reveals its pointlessness.

Human beings are compelled to question everything but the validity of their questions. Our education system emphasizes the quality of our answers but does not teach us to ask better questions. Most kids have experienced being told to stop questioning everything. Without ceaseless questioning, one cannot reach the point of not having any more questions. And that is the goal that all spiritual masters aim for - the cessation of questions. For the common man, you and me, whether we see it or not, the goal is not very different, to master the spirit, to become a spiritual master.


The first assignment I wrote in college got me into much trouble. It gave a line from a very famous modern Bengali poem and asked - is this poetry and why? I do not recall everything I wrote, but the essence of it was that anything that provoked a new perspective was art, and that poetry cannot be hemmed in by semantics. Broadly, I dissed the assignment and pissed off my professors. The system thrives on conformism and dies of it too. I revel in my Klingon while those who branded me count fretting on pay day over where to invest their money as an existential crisis.

My Dear Country

Long have I dwelt who I write for. Is it for the bong none of us know we are, the shamefaced legacy of a colonial one night stand? Is it for you who I hate for the same reasons I hate myself? Is it for the blood on tabletops and silver iodide on the sidewalks of my hometown? Or the delinquent who gives a damn as long as it buys her another shot?

Long have I dwelt why I write. Is it to flash my "perverse, incongruous, absurd, forbidden" innards at craven corporate netajis, their wobbly craven spouses and pretty craven babies? Is it to somehow make the mundane seem heroic? Is it to honor my ancestors, to keep you from judging me by my seeming lack of politics or literacy? Is it to help you decide that you really do need that optical whitener?


The greatness that comes from peoples painted black or white or green or saffron is an illusion. All ideologies are a waste of time when all you need is optical whitener. What you really achieve is the desolation that every Agent Smith knows but cannot acknowledge. The wealth of cultures ground down to the glorious globalized spam we all create and consume, like blog posts, like vacation selfies (more of the miracle that is me), like bestsellers racks in an Indian bookstore (if you are reading this when you need to look up what a bookstore is, thank your stars you still can read).

The Medicine Of Language

Recently, my alter ego, the Khan who must not be shamed, used the analogy of the typewriter to emphasize the importance of diligence. The evolution of the movable type is easily one of the greatest leaps that mankind has ever made, comparable to the invention of the wheel or the taming of fire. One would have thought that the journey from printed books to instant real time self publishing (like Facebook updates or blogposts or digital journalism) would somewhere set minds free and take civilization to its next pinnacle.




The story of corruption, intolerance and bigotry in the year 2017 seems to indicate otherwise. Somewhere in this amazing journey, the true value of information has been sacrificed at the alter of commerce and power. One wonders what Plato or Socrates (or Auden or Lennon) would have done with Twitter for example. Not what Trump or Chetan Bhagat are doing, for sure. The journey from wooden block printing to digital printing took 1700 years, while the journey from electronic  printing to virtual self publishing on the Internet took less than 10 years!! The shift from hand written to block printed text was driven by religious mandate (the need for uniform transmission of teachings of Buddhism in China), whereas the explosion of social media was driven by technology and commerce. Alvin Toffler ascribed it to the pace of human evolution and highlighted the dangers that lie behind such rapid change.

Our worlds are changing, dictated by commerce and government policies (think Reliance, think 3D-printed guns, think cloud-based streaming audio and video, think demonetization, think self-driving cars, think Russian election hacks), but our minds are several decades if not centuries behind. Public relations and advertising are the best places to see this in action. Whether it be for consumer goods, political figures or ideologies, most advertising tickles our baser instincts, greed, gender politics, tribalism, aggression, violence, etc. And it works like a charm; a multi-billion dollar industry will vouch for that.

Your Burtons From Your Nolans


Reboots wipe memories down, start things afresh, freeing one to build things up the way he or she would like, unfettered by the landscape of the past. To leave the warts out and wipes kisses off the brow. To forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. Ten years since this jejune diet rebooted, a fine artefactual mist obscures what I set out to say. Prescient most days, but some mornings, I squint to even recall what I set out to say.


Ten years, mourning the death of poetry, of mother and child, of civility and integrity in public life, clinging on to beliefs that the world scoffs at. Ten years of unexplained context to what one reads. Worsened by adjunct imagery.
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