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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

30 April, 2005

Music And Man's Nature

This piece is frankly inspired by reading JJ's recent post on The Man That Hath No Music....

Atmaram was my colleague, whose face seemed repulsive and deformed -my favourite image was that probably an elephant's foot had crushed his facial topography into shapeless edgeless blobs superimposed on one another at random.

He was four feet ten inches high, thus everyone seemed to talk down to him, which made him madder. That he was an important colleague to me, in a small organisation where small people with big egos have to be compulsorily amused, made things worse for me. Others treated him as if he had plague or may be AIDS.

He lacked a sense of humour, and he worsened the matters by thinking he was witty. The deathly silence that followed in the wake of his poor jokes, never embarassed him, for a colleague rightly said he has an animal's hide, not a human
being's skin. He always laughed raucously at his own jokes, and laughed till tears flowed from his shifty little eyes.
He would take his soda-water bottle-bottom glasses and then rub them lovingly with a snatch of velvety cloth from his pocket. We would watch him, pityingly, wonderstruck. But he never seemed to notice.

His slipshod way of working always made vital files and papers go missing. His faltering memory made things worse,
for he was nearly fifty and seemed to be wearing out fast despite his thickset body and almost a wrestler's build.

I was therefore surprised when I found him humming my favourite raag Raageshri one day... I casually asked him
since the other disapprovers were away, if he was singing
a film song. He looked crestfallen.
"Kyaa saab..." he lamented, and went onto sing the alaap in this bewitching raag with a wonderful voice, inflexion and mastery over the taans and other 'harquats' that only the accomplished classical vocalists can attempt.

It turned out he was a master sitar player. He produced his visiting card and it clearly stated Master of Music as his degree with I had mistakenly thought as M.Sc., and during those days the science graduates and post-graduates were struggling for survival. He enlightened me by explaining that the music degree was actually a conversation piece. He was in Sales, and this usually acted as something to break the ice with. People warmed up to him when he said he would be performing on the All India Radio soon.

Soon enough, I roped him in, with his crony who played the tabla to come and perform at the Chief Forest Officer's bungalow for two reasons. First, the officer had learnt sitar half a century ago and given up but had retained his connoisseur taste. Second, his son wanted to learn the sitar from an accomplished teacher.

When Atmaram performed, his ugly face slowly decomposed into a blur... as he progressed with his masterly alaap and the jod-jhala -I thought we were all getting transported to some other galaxy. He poured his heart and soul into Raageshri, and the spontaneous applause at every qualified juncture in his performance made him seem like an angel without wings.
He held us in thrall for an hour more.

I am confused till date -frankly. How can a man play an instrument or sing like an angel, when he is so used to play the buffoon, worse still, a calculating cunning little colleague and make others miserable?

The Man Who Hath Music in him can be a scoundrel too!


(c) Max Babi April 2005

Lucknow-Kanpur Read Meet Report

Hello all!!!

The Kanpur Lucknow read-meet was the smallest read-meet, but also one of the largest. It had a surprisingly international character. There were four (almost) real participants, five phone-in participants, and a number of submissions by others were read out.

The meet was great great great fun.

Of the real participants, four is actually an exaggeration, for at any given point of time, there were only three. To start, Natasha the lucknavi chikan a.k.a the "rogA yoga", Dan the danish, and Amit the khuTo. Half way through, we were joined by Danish's brother Banish, but Danish himself had to leave then (he had a train to catch for Delhi), so we were left with Banish for the rest of the evening. In between some of Dan's friends called - Ritu and Pragya - the latter we even converted to a read-in participant...

We can't say it enough. The read-meet was great fun!

The Kanpur Lucknow read-meet was the smallest read-meet, but also one of the largest. It had a surprisingly international character. There were four (almost) real participants, five phone-in participants, and a number of submissions by others were read out.

The meet was great great great fun.

Of the real participants, four is actually an exaggeration, for at any given point of time, there were only three. To start, Natasha the lucknavi chikan a.k.a the "rogA yoga", Dan the danish, and Amit the khuTo. Half way through, we were joined by Danish's brother Banish, but Danish himself had to leave then (he had a train to catch for Delhi), so we were left with Banish for the rest of the evening. In between some of Dan's friends called - Ritu and Pragya - the latter we even converted to a read-in participant...

Watermelons - yes. Tunda ki kabab from Lucknow - yes. Cold Gazpacho soup, pasta with veggies in white sauce - yes. Peach tea, Camomile. Yes.

The read-meet ended with a cup of bailey's, served AKN style in earthen khullars...

We can't say it enough. The read-meet was great fun!

See these extended Notes and Writings from the Read-Meet.

You can also hear some of the readings...

29 April, 2005


It’s strange how the most powerful of endings are the ones which are not endings at all but long roads with no destinations; poignantly solitary endings which are conversations only nobody to converse with; endings which in themselves are like poetry in the making only nobody to see it being made.

The finality of an ending is a relief, one shuts the book, one forgets the story, one gets on with the business of living (whether alive or not!) but the story that worms itself inside the very fabric of one's being is the story weaving its way endlessly through meandering life, where one hopes that there IS an end almost like a dark destination only that the hope never quite fructifies...

It's that end with the possibility that it will be a beginning...but one never quite knows....

Do we really have an end or do we go on endlessly....??!!

I prefer to think that we do.

26 April, 2005

Of fathers and sons

On those rare occasions,
When the father sits across
an abyss born of ages,
of things left unsaid.

And the son looks at the floor
charting futures again.

Only to be told...
...yet again, that he is wrong.

I wonder
If the two would ever meet
agree, talk, look at each other's eyes.

Understand, laugh.
Not cry, men don't cry!

And the mother,
Would it change
at the birth of the next


25 April 2005

(inspired by that 30 minute one to one with the gentle giant)



They look up,
Upturned faces, open-mouthed,
Their screams suspended in the air,
Speared by a spectre
That blocks the white ceiling,
That blocks the blue sky,
That blocks the black hole;

And I look down,
From my black hole eye
That pierces the blue sky,
That pierces the white ceiling,
That pierces wide unseeing eyes
Of others who
Deaf to my cries
I now tongue-tie
With the noose
Around my neck.



There was that special smell in the air, the smell of imminent rain. I sucked in the air and let the smell wash all over me, letting my head swell with the fresh perfume present in every breath. I could feel the elixir of nature flowing through my body. I love such evenings, perfect for walking along the river, wrapped in a light shawl, hands in your pockets and grey thoughts in your head. Think, think, think; think about nothing in particular but everything in general. Let the cool wind seep into your pores and imagine its footsteps tiptoeing through your mind. What stories does the wind carry? Which people has it touched? How many lands has it passed? What trees have purred to its gentle cooing?

Everything is steel grey in color. The clouds are low but distant in their huddled masses. People hurry home, rushing to their little holes. Why have you become like this? When was the last time you walked with the innocent glee of a child in falling rain? When did you last open your mouth and playfully let the rain drops wash your tongue?

You run away from nature, your mother and ancient cradle. You no longer stand still to rock to her gentle rhythm. You no longer wait to listen to her faint heartbeat. Your life now moves to the insistent beat of the modern machine. Wake up, run, sit, eat, run and sleep. A useless circle of universal uniformity.

But did you notice? There are still some flowers (you trample) on the edge of the sidewalk outside your office door. Take a look at them tomorrow and share their obvious sadness at a world lost in its egoistic roar. There are still some birds (you ignore) calling out for you from outside the window. Open it and listen to the stories they tell of golden days bygone when man and animal were equal. There are still some trees (you overlook) sheltering the last remnants of life on the edge. Stand under them and hear the tales they narrate with the soulful lilt of their swaying branches.

The old days have come to pass, I know, brushing away nostalgic dreamers like me into the dustbins of history.

21 April, 2005

It's called 'Hide and Seek'

Twinkle Twinkle
Eyes shining, glittering, with dollops of liquid.
Charcoal black, quartz hard,
depths unknown and unseen,

Little Star
She held a doll in her hand,
flazen hair, curls so bright, cherry lips,
one striped sock on one leg,

How I wonder what you are
Monster! Monster!
Pumpkinhead for Haloween
Love the grin, da-ling, flash those pearly-whites,

Up above the sky so high

Like a diamond
But it breaks, the doll's head,
and one leg too, the flaxen hair rips

In the sky.


The Short Journey

Dug this out after reading Pragya's piece 'Lost Innocence.'

A flower blooms
A pristine fragrance spreads
Then loses itself
In the unchaste currents
Of the mundane stench

Life sprouts
And innocence radiates
But is soon strangled
In its short journey from
The womb to the tomb!

© Praneeta Paradkar 2000


Lost Innocence

Also inspired by Dan's - Bazaar

Shame replaces innocence
as we build another fence,
to hide from prying eyes
and keep alive, the lies,
that hold us trapped within,
a glacial cage a la Merlin.

Sentient and painfully aware,
immobile, powerless, we stare,
through icy walls of our own
creation, forlorn and alone,
waiting for that balmy breeze
to melt away the deep freeze

or perhaps a shattering blast,
that sets us free at long last,
broken and splintered, but free,
to start over, to wait and see,
the longevity of innocence
regained, the onset of pretense,

a manifestation of original sin,
to keep us from scoring a win,
over any ingredient of shame,
in a never-ending human game,
of building walls and fences,
and hiding, behind fortified defences.


Old woman

This poem was written in response to Dan's poem "Bazaar".

And Truth my friend is an ugly crone
at the crossroads, watching her sisters
paint their faces, make eyes at men
while she tends her warts and blisters,
uncaring, knowing that for every ten
that they snared she'd be lucky to get one

who'd take her home. Fair above all,
she doesn't blame her lot, nor birth:
this was the bargain she drew,
the price she paid for her worth.
Besides, fools weren't extinct she knew:
some starry-eyed ass would fall

for her, honour-proud or bent on suicide.
That lust was something she understood,
though slow to quench. Let them stay
the course to know how good
she was, that she was no common lay:
she'd be there when all the tarts had died.



20 April, 2005

Bottle-brush bliss

It hasn't grown
the family moans,
Such a wild and ugly tree.
Ma defends it, as mothers will
"'tis Nature running free".

Dad shakes his head
He's heard it said,
there are beauties in the park-
glowing, vivid, sparkling still;
Our tree is dull and dark.

The years have flown.
Now Summer's blown
it's warmth into a spring sunrise.
I wake at 6 and look outside
lo! a radiant red surprise.

My bottle-brush blooms
O'er all it's glory looms.
God's own gift to me today.
Fat luscious flowers
in splendid bright array.

The garden is re-born
No longer forlorn
We’ve been hungry for this sight.
Ma proudly beams
She knew her gem would give delight

(In a week or two, the bottle-brush flowers wilted and once again there is dull, dark green outside my bedroom window. But now I know there's a magic asleep in there, and one spring morning, once again........)


19 April, 2005

Teacher, Rabbi

for Shastriji (and my other teachers) and Jesus - immortal mortals all

Teacher, Rabbi, you, who initiated me
led my weak fingers, held my unsteady hands
walked with me while i took those first few steps, wobbling, unsure

You who coached me
taught me the trade and the tricks
and waited patiently while i took my time unlearning and learning

Teacher, Rabbi, I rememember
your discipline when i erred
your encouragement while i tried

I remember
those first lessons, first tests
your stories and your riddles

Teacher, Rabbi, with time I grew
you passed your strength, your wisdom, your energy
and your seed became a tree, your spark a fire

With time I grew
stronger, higher, better
while you grew weak, and your light waxed low

Teacher, Rabbi, today you are dead
your voice silenced by time
your masterly gaze turned leaden

Today you are dead
but no you are not, a part of thee
lives in me, strong and vibrant

Teacher, Rabbi, you are immortal
for your legacy lives within us
and we shall in turn pass it on

Thanks Teacher, Thanks Rabbi
you who initiated us, you who coached us
you, becuase of who we are


18 April, 2005


This is the slightly edited version. I showed the original to my flatmate, and he's assured me, he'll get back to me after tearing it to shreds drastically! ;-) Well, I'll make sure to post that version also, in this space.

There were organs playing in the crowd, she remembered. It was an idea she had had, coming here alone, on a night that should have been empty but wasn't. There were people milling around, more than she had ever imagined, expected or wanted, glasses in hand, glittering under the strobe lights, skin flashing and teeth glinting in an exercise she had come to adore. When they started playing the organs from somewhere in the middle of the hard crash-boom-bang of the techno-beat, she thought she had died and gone to heaven.

He touched her without being asked to, without being spoken to, and that amused her. When he leaned over and winked at her, his grey-green eyes creasing conspiratorialy, (were his eyelids tanned too?), and his lips moved back, to expose his grin, laughing, ravenous, questioning, she could not deny the thrill that coursed through her.

It wouldn't help to deny anything. Least of all now, when she was alone with him, all in the world, and nothing else really mattered.

So, she smiled back and touched his shoulders, though the fabric of his crisp cotton shirt and wondered whether he worked out, and she threw her head back in laughter, allowing him to tease her ear lobes. It really wouldn't matter if there were people around her, looking at her with longing, shock, trepidation and jealousy: she would have done it all anyway. The bartender looked over at them impassively, imperviously, refilled her blackcurrant shot, and tossed him a Bacardi. He sipped at it, and she loved the way his lips made love to the rim of his glass, taking their time, touching and feeling the cold wet silica-concentrate, tantalising a part of her she had no idea she had.

She moved her manicured hand down the front of his chest, had a flash of insight, extrasensory perhaps, of him, emerging from the shower, dripping, the towel wrapped loosely around his waist, but her vision was interrupted, as he leaned over and kissed her lips.

It was brutal, and this was what heaven should feel like, she told herself. The organs had receded somewhere far into the background, they simply did not matter, and this was the all, the now and the ever-after that she had sought. She had been selfish then, not wanting to share the sensation with anyone else, and so she had come alone, and even now as his brutally hard and demandng lips wanted eveything she had from her, she realised this was the only way it could have happened. Heaven was not to be shared so lightly, and hell was even more expensive. She was in no mood to be a philanthropist.

But it was about passion, she knew, and so she broke the kiss a few seconds later, when the bongo drums flared up in staccato bursts: she clasped his hand, pulling him away onto the dance floor with her. She hadn't come all this way for a drink and a kiss. If that was all she had sought, it would have been so much easier and safer to call up any of the men she had known, slept with, had affairs with, loved. But this was the unknown element, the spice she had wanted to taste but shied off from at the end. This was a creature she had never been in contact with before, one she never wanted to tame for an indiscernable future she had no interest in. This was living for the present, something that demanded Latin letters carved out in stone if she could have lived in Greco-Roman days, but for now, a smile in bed would suffice.

That, and the memory of bongo drums, beating in her ear.


I keep on wondering what drove me to her and never can find the right answer. It happened, suffice to say, it happened: that's all there is to it. Did she signal, smile, beckon, in any small, singular way that would have made me go to her? I don't recall, no. But I did go. And I touched her, laughed, let her touch me, in a way that I shudder to think about now.

I'm not shy. I'm not provocative. I'm not abashed. I'm not aghast. I'm not tender. I'm not brutal. I'm not persuasive. I'm not barren. I'm not cruel. I'm not a giver. I'm not a toy. I'm not God. I'm not forgiving. I'm not a stranger. I'm not the man who knocks on your door in the dead of night, and disappears when you get up to let him in.

Good or bad never makes sense to me. You are what you are, I am what you see, I ask you what I want, and I give you if you want me to. I take my fee, call me a terrorist, call me an instrument, call me a gigolo, and I will probably agree. The funny thing was, that night, she called me none of these. It was a night without labels, and I found it strange. Unnerving, even.


Perhaps, she should have remembered something more about the dance, she thought. But all of it seemed so trivial on hindsight. Apart from the organs in the very beginning and the thrashing bongos that had pulled her onto the floor, the rest was a blur she didn't think was very important. Yes, of course, they had danced, yes, of course they had kissed again, many times, swaying together sinuously, and she had remembered that silly childhood fear she once had of becoming pregant if a boy danced too close (or was it too far?) from her, but she had smiled in the beatific glow that the certainty of misconceptions give you when you're older and wiser, and she had pushed it all behind her.

Perhaps, then, it was just the sex she had wanted. But if it was the sex, and just the sex, it didn't explain a lot of things. The brutality, for instance. When she made him be brutal against her, egged him on to hold her hard and swallow her whole, made him hit, claw and maul her, it was difficult to understand why none of it made sense to her. She knew it was not what he had wanted, and it was not what she wanted either, but somehow, the key was in the brutality. Somehow, it had been needed: an iota of wisdom she could not do without.

Then there was the action. She had been focussed on everything he did, every little piece of sexual activity she goaded him on to. There was no romanticising it on her part, though she sensed that he was in fact trying to. But she could have none of that, and made the act completely centred upon the things he was doing to her, the way she was responding. There was so little to the brain, so much in just those organs that deflated, engorged and surged in a coarseness that she somehow identified with so much this night.

If it was about the sex, the brain would have kicked into gear, but she made sure, it never did.

There had been hurried trips, one after the other, to his washroom, and then they had faced each other, and exchanged a chaste kiss on the cheek.

"This was good."

O, yes -

"I'm so glad I saw you at the bar."

I know. I wouldn't have wanted to miss you either.

"This was fun."

O, yes -

"I'd love to meet up with you again, soon."

Why not?

"Can I call you, some time?"

Why not? Yes -

"I don't have your number, though. Could you... ?"

Of course. Here, take it down -Call me.

"I'll call you."

Well, goodbye, for now.

"Yes, goodbye. For now."

"I'll call you."

Do I have my bag?


Ear rings?


"It's late. Would you like to spend the night here?"


Perhaps, I should have remembered something more about the sex. But all of it seems so trivial on hindsight. I tried to get a grip of what she wanted from me, and then realised that she did not want what I wanted to give her. She needed to know something desperately, and I tried to understand what it was. I'm not sure I still do. She wasn't like the others, the ones who need to know they have a man with them who will be with them. She wanted to know that the man had her, that he would leave if she so commanded and pounce on her like a maritime bandit if she so desired. And yes, she desired. She was all about desire.

I tell myself that it's not true, that I'm not in love with this strange waif who dropped into my life one fine night and I saunter over to her. How can this be love? There is no tenderness, no anguish, no tiny little darts of melancholy. What there is, is a sweeping generalisation, a void, as it were, and the only thing I can think of was the dance. She danced like a bat out of hell.

I tried to hold her at first. I tried to guide her, pull her close to me, kiss her again and again, and though she allowed me to touch her and kiss her, prise her lips open with my tongue, there was nothing else. Her eyes were closed in the grim knowledge of a child who has seen the destruction of the world, her eyes were open and darting with all the epiphany of a prophet who has seen heaven unleashed, and there was no taming her. I was hers, she let me know, if I was to be anything at all.

Her hair thrashed, and I laughed, and sweated under the bright gaze of the hundred and one strobe lights. She begged me to dance with her, touched my thigh as she did so, so I did what she asked, because I wanted what she had to give. Too late, I realised, there was not much she had with her. So I danced some more, swung with her, prayed with her, and wondered how on earth I would get her in bed with me that night.

So how could that be love?

"That was good."


"You dance really well."

Thank you. You're not bad either.

"I was just following your moves."

"I haven't seen you here before, have I?"

This is my first time, yes.

"You're alone?"

Am I?

I'm thirsty.

"Can I fetch you something?"

"What'll you have?"


"Let me - "

They don't have it here.

"Would you like to - ?"


"My place is not very far - "

Let's go.


Tactics, we play by tactics
Fine, subtle and covert
If overt,
They are perceived as attacks
On the ego
By another swollen ego.

Tactics, we play by tactics
Machinations of the human mind
To survive amidst throes
Of plaguing insecurity
Of crippling fear
Of losing hold
And power
That we bequeath ourselves
At our own free will.

I am the monarch of
All I survey
Want to survey
We hold on
Crabby, crying, cribbing
We hold on
Cringing, clinging, crawling
With ugly uncouth movements
On the canvas of life
With the colour of politics!

(c)Praneeta Paradkar, 2005.


17 April, 2005


My thoughts are stolen
in a crowded street;
stripped of worry and longing
I am a child reborn.

The Unknown

Traveling side by side
we do not talk
or shake hands at parting.
I know then he is death
and my journey is about to end.

Mind games

Blowing breeze
swaying shadows
fleeting memories
a forgotten face.


Lighter than dew
a drop of rain
softly you tread
on my unmarked grave.


Thunder rolls
lightning strikes,
thoughts turn
to childhood haven
of mother's arms.


A flickering torchlight
a wayside corpse
a bitter enemy
or a forgotten friend.


A broken kiss
a half-written poem
a torn page
from a chapter of life.

First love

Side stepping three score years
of my wayward life
arrives the faded face
of my childhood love.

(c) Shankar Sen. 2005.


14 April, 2005

For a little boy

Little boy, don't fall out of love
with me.
That I'm growing old is no fault of mine.
I wanted this face to stay smooth as
could be
I didn't want it disappearing - line swallowing up line.

Little boy, don't fall out of love
with me.
I cannot help it if they will not stand -
your card-houses, your sand-castles
by the sea…
Wind and water do not long stay loyal to land.

Little boy, don't fall out of love
with me.
It is not my doing - this hardness of eye.
The hard clay, the rock walls of this world
I see
are sinking into my vision, by and by.

Little boy, don't fall out of love
with me
Though I am neither witch, nor fairy of your tale
Nor the wind that howls, nor the breeze
blowing free.
At best, I'm a book - for now, beyond your pale.

But little boy, don't fall out of love
with me.
In ten years, in twenty, you will begin to understand.
Though it will be forty years before, finally,
you see
such driftwood as my silence, such longings of quicksand.

Little boy, don't fall out of love
with me.
But love many others… many, many more.
For love, in a man, will branch and flower
as a tree,
only when rooted in the first love of yore.

(c) Annie Zaidi, April 2005


Ways of Seeing...

On my last trip to Bombay, I had stopped by NGMA and discovered they were running an exhibition of works by Pakistani artists as a part of the Indo-Pakistani cultural exchange. My curiosity suitably piqued, I entered the grand Jehangir Cowasjee Hall with my usual sense of awe and respect, hoping not to be disappointed by what was to meet my eyes. I wasn't. The Calligraphy art was quite interesting (specially the one done in colour, which could be interpreted in so many ways - though I'm sure the script also plays a role in the interpretation, I could make sense of it sans understanding Urdu.) Then there were these series of images done by a female artist all portraying a classic Moghal style juxtaposed against a modern digi-art background. Quite fascinating and an interesting way to show the dilemma of a society torn between traditionalism and modernism. On the third level, there was this painting that said so much about a woman's life in the zenana, how even in that exclusively female domaine life really revolves around the male, and how despite all these "protective" and segragating measures she is still subject to voyeurism. The fact that the art was framed in a Jharokha, made the viewer (in this case myself) a part of this voyeurism.

On the fourth level, they had put up this huge digi-art image showing a Pakistani crowd looking upwards, presumably at a cricket ball. Nothing worthy of comment at first sight. Infact I was rather bemused when I noticed one man giving it detailed attention - so I went forward myself to see what had caught his attention and then the light dawned on me! The entire picture was composed of thousands of tiny pixelated images of scenes from Bollywood films! Now that's how to make a statement with style! :-)

The series of images that truly snagged my attention were on the top-most storey. Radical, they were all feminist in nature and served the purpose of making you sit up in your seat and take notice of each one of them. At times like this, I almost wish NGMA was smaller, because by the time I reach the top storey I'm beginning to feel glutted by artistic impressions. Anyway, digressions apart, flanked by two panels with actual henna aplique work, were three digi-art works, which according to me were the most radical and interesting works. Like the earlier digi-art work that I mentioned, at first sight, this was also a banal portrayal of women in purdah. But on closer observation, you notice that the image is made up of tiny pornographic images, mostly of white women. Not very difficult to interpret, is it? Do what you want, hide her in purdah, lock her up at home, segregate her into an exclusively female area, but the male gaze is still there to strip her naked, inavde her private space, assualt her mentally, physically and sexually.

For a long time after, I was mulling over some of these pieces, in particular these three images and the painting framed by the Jharokha, and came back repeatedly to John Berger's landmark essay "The Female Nude" featured in his book "Ways of Seeing." Berger states that the social presence of men and women differ - while the male presence is contingent on the power he embodies and projects on the world exterior to him, the female presence is expressed by her own attitude towards herself, her body, her appearance, of which dictates what can and can not be done to her. To born a woman, says Berger, is to have been born within an allotted and confined space into the keeping of men. A woman is forced to continually watch herself. She thus becomes her own surveyor, even while she is the one surveyed/object of survey under the male gaze. It works this way - how a man perceives a woman's presence dictates how she will be treated. With the internalisation of these norms, the woman looks upon herself with a similar gaze so as to fashion herself and demonstrate how she she would like to be treated.

Berger then makes, what is perhaps, the fundamental statement of the essay: "Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at...The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female." (The Jharokha? Also think of the women in purdah.) "Thus she turns herself into an object - and most particularly an object of vision : a sight."

Berger, uses the examples of several pieces of art and examples from advertisements to underline the fact that at all times, the woman (subject of art/advertisements) is aware of being seen by the spectator. As he puts it, "She is not naked as she is. She is naked as the spectator sees her." Nakedness in these works is not an expression of the woman's feelings, but more of a sign of her own submission to the owner/viewer's demands and expectations.(Connotation of the pornographic images?) He then differentiates between the naked and the nude. "Naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and not recognised for oneself. A naked body has to become an object in order to be a nude...Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display."

To come back to the point, the viewer (voyeur, if you please) has been assumed to be the male ever since the Classics first depicted nudes and this tradition has been carried forward into the modern media of advertising, journalism and television. The end result? Women are depicted to please the male gaze and this has been embedded so deeply in our culture that it structures the very consciousness of women, and women readily do to themselves what men would do to them. Think about it....

12 April, 2005

The Pressure Cooker

The Sen Household was agog with activity over the last few days. Servants were scurrying around carrying hundreds of never ending chores that crop up in a marriage ceremony. Children, of all shapes, sizes and volume levels could be seen zigzagging through the huge courtyard, garden and the rooms, like Monday morning traffic at Punjagutta. The tastefully decorated huge rooms of "shishir", the Sen Residence in Hyderabad’s Banjara Hills neighborhood, was run over by guests from all over the country. Today Mr. Madhusudan Sen’s daughter Malati, was getting married to Prabir Chaterjee.

The Sens and the Chatterjees had known each other for the past 10 years. They were among the most illustrious and wealthy Bengali families in Hyderabad. The marriage had been the talk of the first circles of Hyderabad for months. It was being seen as the beginning of an alliance between two big business houses of the state.

Amidst the excitement and noise, in their second floor bedroom, Mrs. Sen and Malati were discussing her makeup and her wedding costume. Mr. Sen was going around supervising the packing of the cartons that contained things that Malati was taking with her for her new house. Every now and then he would stand at the door of the bedroom and take a long look at his daughter with a fond loving eye. As he listened to the mother and daughter discuss, he sighed. Tomorrow she would not be here and he would miss her so much.

"Accha Mala, edikey shon ekbaar," (Mala, just come here for a moment), he finally said, interrupting the women’s conversation.

"I am having all the cartons marked so there would be no confusion. And all the electronic goods will be delivered directly to your home, once you return from Singapore. The rest of this will go with you tomorrow. The clothes, the utensils, the furniture..." then seeing the exasperated look on the faces of the mother and the daughter he said, "Arey I know, you are too preoccupied about other things, but Mala dear, you are about to start a new house. There will be no Baba and Ma to take care and you will have to manage a hundred things at one time." He wiped a small tear that appeared at the corner of his eyes.

"Baba..." Mala gave a cry and jumped into her father's arms. Father and daughter held each other for a long time. Then suddenly Mr. Sen said, "Ahh, tor jonno ekta jinish kineychi (Ahh, I have bought something for you)".
And he went into the next room. Mala's eyes followed him expectantly, with the same expression that they had when she was a five year old and her dad used to promise her a "jinish" (a gift) and pulled out a cadbury chocolate or a toy from his pockets.

Mr. Sen came out with a medium size Hawkins pressure cooker and handed it to Mala. Mala could not hide her disappointment. "Eta ki baba? (What is this father?)."

Mr. Sen had known that she wouldn’t understand. He had not expected her to understand. He knew that his darling daughter had expected a diamond set or a gold watch or something equally exquisite from her father as a wedding gift. He looked at his wife. She smiled and nodded her head, asking him to go ahead and explain.

"tor ei biyer torjorey, Amaye duto minute ditey parbi Maa?(can you spare two minutes for me from your marriage preparations?). Let’s go and sit in our favorite little spot on the verandah, where I used to narrate stories to you as a child. I have one last story to tell. "

Mala was touched by the look in her father's eyes and the tone of his voice. She felt bit ashamed at having questioned her father’s gift, sure now that it had a deeper meaning. Quietly she followed him to the verandah on the third floor, at the back of the house. As a child this used to be her favorite spot. It commanded a view of the entire city, from Punjagutta to the distant Secunderabad hills, with the HussainSagar lake occupying a prominent central position on the field of vision.

In this remote corner of the house, the sounds from the marriage preparation had dimmed to a distant humdrum. The afternoon sun had gone over the house and was now behind them. It threw light on the entire city and made the waters of the Hussain Sagar sparkle like pearls. Numerous memories from her childhood years flooded her.

Father and daughter sat down. He held her hand in his. Mala held on to the pressure cooker with one hand and looked at her father. She saw a faraway look in his eyes. He was no longer with her. He was following a certain train of memories which had carried him to a faraway land and amongst faces, long since gone. He spoke involuntarily, and for a second Mala was startled by the distant tone in her father's voice,

“You know that I was born in Jaipur and that I spent all my childhood and my teenage there. We were a big family, my father and mother and my three sisters - your aunts and me. My father was an electrician in the railways and it was a really difficult time for all of us as children. My mother was always sick and in spite of her ill health she worked hard to give us a good childhood. We pulled along, but barely so. Even the smallest necessities were luxuries for us. It was a tough life, full of sacrifices for all of us, but I think my mother sacrificed the most.

I still remember the first time she saw a pressure cooker. It was at a neighbor’s place. She came home and told me about it. She never talked to my father. In those days, women weren’t supposed to talk much to their husbands. I being the eldest son was close to her. So she came and told me all abut it. It had caught her fancy, that little whistling machine which could cook the food of 5 people in 15 minutes. It took her an hour to make dal and rice for us on the stove.

"Bapai", she told me, " tor jokhon onek taaka hobey, oi citi bajano rannar jinish ta amaye kiney dibi? (When you have enough money, will you buy me that whistling thing that cooks?)" She would ask me this and look at me with pleading, expectant eyes, as if I was her only hope for future joys.

I was then a diploma student at the engineering college, studying on government grant and barely managing the cost of my books and tuition fees. I had no idea how much a pressure cooker cost. The next day, I went to the market and entered a utensils shop. The shopkeeper could see I didn’t have enough money for the evening meal, still he answered my question " the small one is Rs 200, the Medium one is Rs 350" I thanked him and walked out of the shop. I had 3 Rs in my pocket and that was my weeks fare for the college.

"Don’t worry Ma, I will buy it to you in some days. You know the scholarship exam that is coming up. I will win it and buy you the cooker with that money." I promised her. She kissed me on the forehead. From that day, I studied harder than ever. Whenever I found some time, I would walk down to the utensil shop at the market and look at the pressure cooker on the display window. The shopkeeper eyed me distrustfully, but I did not mind. I dreamt of a day when I would walk in with 350 Rs, put it on his desk and walk away with the shiny new cooker for Ma. How happy she would be that day.

The scholarship exam came and went. I could not pass it. I was heartbroken. I could not explain it. I had studied so hard. I could not face my mother. But she said it was alright and that there would always be the next exam. She would wait. But I could see the glint of disappointment in her eyes, every time the sound of whistle came from the neighbor’s house.

After some months we stopped discussing the cooker. My mother resigned her hopes. Such a simple thing as a pressure cooker seemed to her as impossible as the holy grail. But I secretly kept planning, preparing and dreaming for the next exam. I did win the scholarship, the next year. That was my final year in Diploma College. I had got a job in Hyderabad. My father told me that the scholarship money was all that I had to start off with. He couldn’t spare a single rupee from the household expenses.

The scholarship money was just enough to buy the train tickets and hold me for a month in Hyderabad. When I left Jaipur, I promised my mother that she would have a pressure cooker next month, from my salary. She was happy. She knew that this time I would not fail her. She was also happy that finally her "bapai" would help pull the family out of financial trouble. I can never forget the look in her eyes as my train pulled from Jaipur station. It was a mosaic of hope, joy, sorrow and a thousand other emotions, that rising from her heart, got reflected in her eyes. Little did I know that I would never see those eyes again.

My mother died fifteen days after I left Jaipur. She died peacefully in her sleep from heart failure. I am sure her last dreams must have been of her bapai walking with a pressure cooker to home. When I got the news, I did not know what to do. I did not cry, because she had been a brave woman all her life and crying would have been an insult to her. And there was nowhere I could go to cry. I waited for the 31st. With my first salary I walked into a Hawkins showroom and got this pressure cooker. It has been with me ever since. "

"Ki Mey babar kotha furolo?( Are the two of you done?)", Mrs. Sen's voice intervened from behind. Both father and daughter wiped their tears in a hurry.

"What is this Madhu, you have managed to make our daughter cry on her wedding day?” exclaimed Mrs. Sen.

"No ma, I am not crying. It’s just the afternoon sun and perhaps dad's story has put me to sleep," and they all laughed and walked into the house and back to marriage celebrations.

Three months later, Mr. Sen visited her daughter’s house for dinner. In the kitchen, with all the porcelain crockery and imported electronic kitchenware, was a Hawkins pressure cooker. Father and daughter looked at it and then at each other with a smile. Mala walked up to her father and hugged him saying “Thanks baba, for the most precious gift you have given me in my whole life."

11 April, 2005

One Sultry Summer Evening...

It was a sultry summer evening when the young girl emerged from her French class into the growing darkness of the city. Since she lived on the opposite corner of the city, rickshaws usually refused to go there unless she paid them double fare and public buses that she usually relied on, catered to the unsavoury sorts at that hour. So on days that she had classes in the evening, she usually had to ask either her father or brother to work a little late so one of them could pick her up on his way home. That day both of them were out of town, so she swallowed her pride and asked one of her nice-gentlemanly-sort-of-male-friends to do her a favour and drop her home...

Being the perfect gentleman, the man in question rose to the occasion and agreed to come to the rescue of this dainty damsel. He was there on time. Her professor, as usual, took his own sweet time in winding up the class, so she came out a few minutes late. The first one to leave the class she came out slightly out of breath from running down to meet him, feeling guilty about having made him wait. She shouldn't have bothered for she found him lounging on his powerful bike, admiring the pretty dames that emerged from the other class. Cheekily reminding him that he had a fiancee waiting for him in another city, she tapped him on his shoulder and gestured to him to start up his bike. Her friend grunted in response, revved his bike and then turned around slightly with one eyebrow cocked waiting for her to climb on behind him. Bracing herself with one hand on his shoulder, she swung one leg over his bike, and settled behind him, taking care to tuck in her gossamer fine white Lucknowi kurta underneath her, so it wouldn't get entangled in the bike's tyres.

The bike shot off like a rocket into the twilight zone. He took the longer route via the Cantonment, as he was prone to. This route allowed him to show off his skills on the bike, since it had wider, better laid roads and wasn't subject to heavy traffic. So he could zip from one side of the road to the other, revving his engine up when he wanted and letting it idly coast along the slope when he felt like that. Meanwhile, she leaned back in her seat and let herself get lost in the web of leaves that covered the roads like a canopy. She loved doing that. It filled her with a feeling of exhilaration and made her want to stretch out her arms and let the wind caress her body. She had to restrain from doing that, lest her friend promptly stop the bike and ask her to hop off. Apparently only he was allowed to indulge in histrionics of any sort! The stars twinkled back at her through the leaves and the breeze ruffled her hair into a tangled mess. She'd have to spend a long time brushing her hair out when she got home...

Lost in her own world, she was taken by surprise when her friend suddenly stopped in the middle of the road cursing heavily. She looked beyond him to see a road block and a traffic policeman steering all traffic through a gate stating "Defense Area. Trespassers shall be prosecuted." The policeman informed them that the bridge ahead was undergoing repair and so they would have to take this small deroute that would bring them out into the heart of the city. "Just one left turn and then one right turn, and you'll be out of this Defense locality." Her friend wanted to turn back and go via the main city. She reasoned that if he did so, they'd have a very long ride ahead of them and urged him to take the deroute. After all as the policeman said, it couldn't take them longer than a few minutes to get out of this region and back on their usual track!

Little did she know...the tiny lane that wound it's way through what seemed like a Research campus maintained by the Defense, stretched on for an eternity before finally showing them out into strange surroundings. Densely populated only by trees, there was no sign of human population for as far as they could see. Darkness had spread it's shroud over everything, and they peered into the inky blackness of the night trying to figure out what area of this was. The looked to the left, then right, but all they could see were trees. No sign of human inhabitation. He turned around and glared at her. "And what would the madam like me to do now?" Refusing to see any possible danger in the situation, she relied on her keen sense of direction and asked him to turn right...

They must have been riding down the long road that cut through the trees for nearly half an hour when they passed a bunch of old villagers. It looked like a funeral procession. "At this time? And why are there only old people in the procession?" she leaned forward and asked her friend. "Don't ask me," he shot back, "you were the one who wanted to come this way!" A little later they crossed some men lounging under a Banyan tree. Deciding to stop and ask for directions, they turned around and asked the men which direction was the main city. In response one of the men lurched over and asked her friend what he was doing with a pretty young girl in such an area, after sundown. He was reeking of alcohol. Before she could even understand the man's insinuation, her friend had revved up his engine and shot off again. She wondered if they should have turned back from that road block after all. As though he was reading her thoughts, her friend spoke up and told her in a terse note that this was reminding him of the time when he was driving down such a deserted area and a bunch of drunk hoodlums stopped his bike and beat him up. He turned his head slightly and added, "I was alone that time. This time I have you with me and I'm answerable to your parents..."

A sudden vision of a bunch of drunk men beating up her friend, before turning to her, sent chills down her spine. Surely this little deroute cum adventure to narrate at home wouldn't turn into something she'd regret for the rest of her life? Pulling her Bandhini dupatta tighter around her body, she squinted into the darkness looking desperately for some landmark that would guide them back to civilisation. She shut her eyes, praying fervently that they would approach civilisation soon.

Someone up there must have heard her prayers, for suddenly her friend exclaimed in delight. A few metres ahead was a bridge beyond which there seemed to be a small village. As her friend made his way across a cobbled she cursed under her breath, for with every bump her back lightly hit the back of his bike. It was hurting her in the same spot as she'd hurt herself when she'd slipped down a flight of stairs five years ago. She'd have one hell of a sore back the next day.

As soon as the cobbled path got over, they stopped at a Paanwalla and asked him how to find their way back to the main city. He asked them to go straight ahead and turn right at the third crossing...10 minutes later, they saw a familiar building loom up at them! It was a church that lay in the Cantonment region. Had they not been derouted they would have crossed it just a few minutes after that road-block. Instead they had spent over an hour riding through unfamiliar territory, their imaginations subjected to all kinds of horrific incidences and their backs getting screwed on cobbled paths that were definitely not made for bikers!

Half an hour later, he delivered her safely home, none the worse except for a slight bump on her penultimate vertrebra that would probably require a gentle massage and a heat-pad later that night. Exhausted, she trudged up to her house, while he turned back to make the long ride back, across town to his own pad....


Whoever you are, you can’t be important
for you’re not there in my phone book.
But I apparently grace your own book,
and that’s an ominous portent.

If at some time our paths have crossed
that memory’s gone with your number:
much has happened, much to encumber
a mind that’s all but lost.

So spare me these silly games at night,
these teasers to keep me guessing:
Monday looms large and oppressing -
I have to be up and bright!


10 April, 2005

The question

Consider this, she said, leaning over the table, a smile curled around her lips as she did so, consider all this around us, and tell me that you wouldn't trade all of it for just a few seconds of bliss?

He was leaning back on the velvet of the iron grilled chair, as he observed her. He wasn't quite sure what to make of her, when she said that, and then settled back into her seat, re-arranged an imaginary stray strand of hair behind her left ear, and looked back at him. She was playing, he was sure, but how serious was her game he could not tell. If he answered yes, then would she take his hand and then repair outside in the balcony, or maybe to his car, where she would let him kiss her? If he answered no, would she marvel at his control, and then forego the kiss in the balcony for a nightcap - and more - when he dropped her home that night?

The question was: which one did he want more?

The question was: how ambitious was he?


She waited for his reply, all the while feeling the satin coverlet brush smoothly against her back. There was a strand of hair she brushed behind her left ear, but that did not distract her from the objective she had. It was him, she knew, he... he... he was the one, she knew beyond a doubt. But would he answer yes, and then she would lazily flick her cigarette ash in the ash tray, pretending to be unconcerned, all the while trembling like a leaf inside, wondering how his tongue would probe her soul later...? Or would he answer no, and she would sigh inwardly, but feel strangely secure, that he was not ready as yet (though he was very much the one), and she would re-assume her role as protector, priestess, mystery, ice all at once?

The question was: how weak was she really?

The question was: which role was her forte?

09 April, 2005

Broken Flower

I gave up
For your sake

We swam together
In liquid dreams

You smoothened
The frazzled edges
Of my polarized soul
And drank my love
Through the sieve
Of perfection

At first

After slaking your thirst

You tore
The stalk of my emotion
And buried it
The broken pieces
Of stained glass
From my soul
In the garden of pain and regret

And now
My heart
On the floor

Peeled open
Like a broken flower


07 April, 2005

The Black Widow

(Read out at the March Caferati-Pune Read meet)

Nicola let herself into her penthouse apartment and kicked the door shut behind her. Switching the lights on, as she walked down the length of the room, she kicked her high-heeled sandals off. With a flick of her wrist she flung the crimson red scarf that held back her hair, across the room. Floating lightly it came to rest on the back of her blood red couch. All the furniture in the room was the same blood red. Set against the stark black walls, it shocked the senses. The room enticed with its dark fury and passion and pulled you into its web of evilness. As the first strains of music filled the room, Nicola reached behind her and pulled down the zip of her dress. The black satin slithered down her body, revealing her lithe body covered with a light sheen of perspiration. Stretching herself with the sinuous grace of a cat, she walked down to the mahogany bar across the room and poured herself a glass of wine.

As the bouquet of the liquor filled her senses and warm liquid coated her throat, she closed her eyes and let the weight of her hair pull her head back. She smiled to herself and moved her body sensuously to the music. Her hand slid between her breasts, down to her navel and further down between her thighs. The music reached a crescendo and she snapped her head back up, opening her eyes. They were glittering with success and something else, something dark and mysterious. Her laughter filled the room and bounced off the walls. Reaching out for the bottle of wine, she twirled around and headed towards her bedroom.

Decadent in white, her bedroom was in stark contrast to the living room. Not a hint of colour could be perceived anywhere. Ignoring the four-poster bed covered with a white satin sheet, she moved towards the en-suite bathroom, and stepped straight into the shower. The sharp needles of water pounded her sensitized flesh mercilessly, but she liked it that way. It would soothe away that tender ache that racked her body right now. As she hung her head back letting the water run through her long hair, images from the past flashed in her mind.

A small one bedroom flat in a seedy locality. “Nikita Sharma, you’re next.” Innumerable auditions and waiting for the phone-calls. “I’m sorry we’ve already cast someone else.” Refusal after refusal finally forcing her to start accepting two-bit roles in small inconsequential productions. Endless days of tears and frustration. Auditioning for the leading role in Aurobindo Ghosh’s production – an adaptation of a Mahasweta Devi story. Limbs entwined, bodies covered with sweat, the air heavy with the aroma of scented candles, wine and sex. “You’re never going to make it baby.” Yet another failure. More wine and even more sex. Betrayal. Doors being shut in her face.

She turned around in the shower letting the water run down her face. “You’re never going to make it baby,” the words still haunted her, even though she was reigning supreme over the stage since the past three years. She had finally made her debut on stage in a Luciano Giliani production. It was an Indo-Italian venture. The leading woman with her enigmatic personality had captured the audience’s imagination immediately. There were hints of affairs with the leading man of the play, not to mention with the director. Her performances held them mesmerized. The play was a run-away success, and Nicola hadn’t looked back since then.

They knew her as Nicola. They called her Lady Nick. The feminine avatar of Old Nick – Nick the devil. She could reduce a man to a quivering mass of hormones ruled by his senses with a single slicing look of those sharp black eyes. All she had to do was set her eyes on the man and he was hers. “She’s had more lovers than I’ve had hot dinners,” was how they had introduced her in one talk-show. Lady Nick, they called her. Lady Nick, the home-breaker. You couldn’t cross her without regretting it. Lady Nick, the ball breaker.

She was tired of that image now. Tired of performing night after night, on-stage, back-stage, off-stage. Tired of performing in bed and out of it. Tonight she’d finally signed the contract for a role that had been her dream for over five years now. Aurobindo Ghosh’s production – an adaptation of a Mahasweta Devi story. This, she had decided would be her last role. This was it. She’d retire from the stage after this one. The performance of her life, and it would be the last performance she gave.

Stepping out of the shower, she took a long deep swig from the bottle, and turned around to look at her naked body. She liked what she met her eyes. A drop of water rolled down from her shoulder over her breast down to her trim waist. Her long legs didn’t have a spare ounce of flesh on them and were perfectly formed. A lover had once said that having those legs wrapped around him, was all he needed to transport him to heaven. Cocking her head slightly, she raised her hand and smiled at her reflection. “The first day of the rest of your life. Congratulations Nicola!”


The next few months passed in a whirlwind of activities. There were innumerable read-meets at Aurobindo’s bachelor pad that he kept for such purposes. Often with the entire cast, but sometimes it was just Nicola and Aurobindo. It was obvious to everyone from the first day itself – the attraction between them was so strong, one could almost see the sparks flying. They were waiting with bated breath for Lady Nick to swing into action.

“Hi Nicola, it’s Auro here. Not disturbing you, am I?”
“Of course not darling, I was just lounging around. So tell me what can I do for you?”
“I called to discuss the scene in the forest. I think you should be wearing something in earthy tones in that scene. Should I get the designer to come in for the next session?”
“Earthy tones? Darling earthy tones don’t work for me. Black is my colour don’t you know that by now?”
“Nick, be reasonable. This isn’t your personal wardrobe we are discussing…”
“Can you see me in brown lingerie?”
“You won’t be wearing lingerie for that scene…”
“I asked you a question Auro. Answer it.”
“No I can’t,” Aurobindo replied after a nervous silence.
“Of course you can’t. It’s because I’m not wearing brown or anything earthy for that matter. Do you want to know what I’m wearing?”
There was a long silence. Aurobindo couldn’t get himself to say anything.
“I’m wearing a black peignoir. Black lace. Nothing else. You know there’s something undeniably sexy about walking around the house in black lingerie.”

It wasn’t long before Nicola started staying back after the rest of the cast left. Aurobindo would open a bottle of wine and two of them would argue over a section in the play that needed to be worked upon till late into the night. The battle would invariably move into the bedroom before they both left for their own apartments. Aurobindo, to his wife and children and Nicola to her pristine white bedroom, that had never been sullied by a lover’s presence.

Rehearsals started three months later. At Prithvi, the hub of theatrical activity in Bombay, the who’s who of theatre was buzzing with rumours of Ghosh’s next production, not to mention his alleged affair with Lady Nick. Aurobindo wanted to keep it under the wraps, but that wasn’t how Nicola played the game.

“You had auditioned for this role before hadn’t you Nicola?”
“No I hadn’t. It was someone else. Someone named Nikita Sharma. She didn’t meet up to Aurobindo Ghosh’s standards.”
“We hear there’s a new man in your life Nicola…”
“You could hardly call him a new man…he’s been mine for a few months now. It’s almost time up for him darlings!”

“Nicola, these rumours are starting to create problems for me at home. You aren’t helping by going around making such statements”
She leaned down over him, letting her hair fall over his chest and ran a long nail down his body. “You know you have to let her go, don’t you?”
“Nicola, damn it stop that,” he caught hold of her wrist and pulled her around so she was facing him.
“Hmm…getting aggressive are we? I like that…”
“This isn’t a game Nick. We both know this isn’t love and you’re not in this for the long haul. So why are you trying to destroy my marriage?”
She smiled at him and moved back. Her peignoir slid down to the floor. Raising her leg she rested it on his thigh.
“I don’t like crowds Auro. And I don’t like sharing. It’s your choice…”
She turned around and walked into the bedroom, knowing he’d follow. He didn’t have a choice anymore.
A few days later he had the divorce papers drawn up.

“Oh baby, you’re so good at this…don’t stop. Nicola? Nick?”
He looked around wildly to see her pulling on her clothes and walking out of the room.
“What’s wrong with you? You can’t leave me now – not like this…”
She looked down at him and smiled at him. “Watch me.”
She reveled in her power over him.
She enjoyed torturing him, playing with him till he could take no more, pushing him to the limit of his endurance, making him forget he wasn’t an animal.

Opening night. The play closed to a thunderous applause. The cast was called out thrice to take their bows. Nicola had a long queue of journalists waiting outside her dressing room. They had heard the rumour that she would be retiring from stage after this play. For the first time, Nicola didn’t reply to a single question, but walked past them into the car that was waiting for her. Tonight, for the first time, her house was being thrown open to people. She was throwing a party to celebrate the first night of the play.

The living room was crowded, people overflowing outside her house taking the party into the corridor, down the stairwell and the elevator. Everyone was in high spirits, alcohol flowing freely.
“Auro, where’s the hostess?”
“I have no idea. She said she had something to take care of before she came…just her way of ensuring she makes the grand entry even at her own party!”
“Not worried she’s found a replacement?”
He forced a smile as he tried to ignore the fact that he’d been wondering the same thing himself. “She can’t replace me buddy.”
“Looks like someone’s bubble is going to be hard to burst tonight!”
“Make that impossible…”
“I think you spoke too soon Auro. Look who just walked in…”

Aurobindo turned around. Nicola had just walked in with leading actor of the play. Clad in a black evening gown that left nothing to the imagination she had captured everyone’s attention the minute she walked in. As she moved, the material shifted against her skin and he knew instinctively that she was naked underneath. Just like she’d been the day she signed the contract for the play. Ignoring Aurobindo, she walked forward to congratulate the cast and crew for their success. Her presence filled the room taking the party to newer heights.

Tossing the remainder of his drink down his throat, Aurobindo poured himself another Scotch and turned around to look at her. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Nicola was dancing with that man, her body flush against his, one hand around his nape, the other somewhere between their bodies. As he looked at her, she raised her eyes and looked straight at him. Her mouth slid open to smile at him and then her tongue snaked out to circle around her partner’s ear.

Aurobindo closed his eyes in anguish. He should have seen this coming. She never stayed with any man, he knew that. They didn’t call her Lady Nick for nothing. Lady Nick, the home-breaker. He reached out for the bottle of Scotch …

Hours later, the party had wrapped up. Nicola shut the door behind her, and turned around to face Aurobindo. She walked up to him and looked down at him where he lay collapsed on the couch. He stared back with blood-shot eyes. Raising her leg, she ran her foot up his thigh, smiling when she saw him jerk in reaction.

“You’re never going to make it baby.” He squinted up at her confused.
“Come and get what you want,” she turned around and walked into the bedroom. Stunned, Aurobindo stared after her for a while, not sure if she’d just said what he’d heard.
“You don’t want me to start without you, do you?”

He scrambled off the couch and lurched towards the bedroom. She had goaded him all night with her glances and movements. Every time she had touched that other man, he had wanted to tear her clothes off and take her right there on the living room floor. And now she was letting him pay her back for the misery he’d put her through. She goaded him that night, like never before. She had pushed beyond his endurance and he took her without caring for the consequences, again and again till he collapsed in a drunken stupor.

The maid let herself in at 7am the next morning and immediately started picking up the remnants of the night’s party. A few minutes later, she screamed and the trash fell unheeded from her hand. In front of her lay Nicola. She was dead. In the room, she found Aurobindo Ghosh. He was so drunk he didn’t understand what she was saying.

Aurobindo regained consciousness when a bucket of icy cold water was thrown into his face. He opened his eyes to find a police inspector standing in front of him.
“You will have to come with us for interrogation, sir,” the inspector informed Aurobindo.
They had found a letter from Nicola, admitting that she was committing suicide after being sexually assaulted by a jealous ex-lover.

Autopsy reports revealed that she had died of poisoning. Medical examination came up with evidence for forced intercourse and sodomy. The victim had been treated roughly. There were cuts and bruises all over her body. Aurobindo Ghosh had scratches and marks on him, proving that she had tried to fight him off. Semen found inside her matched the samples taken from him. Witnesses from the party reported that Nicola had publicly dumped him and had already moved on to a new lover. The leading actor of the play confirmed this. Aurobindo couldn’t remember a thing. The last thing he remembered was seeing Nicola’s tongue snake into the man’s ear. It was an open and shut case.

They knew her as Nicola. They called her Lady Nick. Lady Nick, the home-breaker. Lady Nick, the ball breaker.

06 April, 2005

The tapestry

Spools of silken memory
unravelling fast
tightening knots
sometimes so taut
spinning in the distant past
and not so distant thoughts…

A weave so fine
so hard to define
in mindless mourning
slipping through time
soaked in timeless beauty
of a cosmic design…

The weaver unwavering
with effortless grace
weaving swathes of lives
deeply dyed in
richly textured pain
of such delicate a stain…

Only could love
be his silvery thread…



She laughed and it felt as if the sky had opened up like a new flower to bask in the beautiful light of that sound. It was the kind of laughter that made you feel good about yourself because what you said had caused that laughter. It started deep inside her stomach and traveled all the way to her mouth, picking up flotsam and jetsam along the way like a monsoon flood and then crashed on your soul like a wave. But it was not overwhelming. It was sweet and serene. Times like that made you feel that there was some purpose in living to make people laugh.

She stopped with the hint of a smile caressing the outer edges of her lips and said, “You are a very funny guy”. I smiled back, modestly but not without a touch of pride. I’ve always loved to make people laugh. It makes me glow from the inside whenever people crack up at something I’ve said. We look beautiful when we smile and laugh, when our lips open up and our shy teeth peer from behind them. It is like the first ray of sunshine peeking from behind the curtain of dawn. Yes, I’m going to repeat that adage again about how we need to laugh more often. Indeed, we should abandon ourselves to the sheer ecstatic delight of holding our stomachs and laughing our guts out. It is a both a physical and mental catharsis. We cleanse ourselves of every wrinkle of worry and every shadow of sorrow in the throes of that heavenly happiness.

My fingers automatically went to her lips as if wanting to hold the shape of that smile before it disappeared. It is something I find myself doing more and more frequently. Perhaps it is a reaction against the increasing artificiality in our lives, the forced smiles, the polite laughter, and the simple stretching of our facial muscles to mean something totally useless. How many times have we found ourselves feeling that strange pain after having gone through an entire evening just exercising our smile-muscles? Yes, the quest for natural laughter is the aim of my life and when I find it I want to hold it deep inside my heart, forever.

“But why didn’t you laugh?”, she asked. I smiled again and kept quiet. How could I answer her? They say that behind every comedian’s joke lies an immense story of sadness. Not that I’m some tragi-comic hero hiding deep sorrows behind my weird jokes. It is simply that along this journey to find true laughter I lost the ability to laugh. Strange isn’t it? But then stranger things have happened in life. Does it affect me? No, not at all. As long as I know that I can make people laugh I’m happy. Vicarious pleasure is all I ask for and all that keeps me going.

Someday I’ll find my laughter again. I know that for sure. Perhaps it is hiding under some rock on the shores of an ocean I haven’t seen. Or perhaps it is sleeping under the stars in a meadow filled with the sweet smell of spring flowers. Or maybe it is in the heart of a lover waiting for me to find her.

The announcement came over the speakers. “I’ve to catch my flight now”, I told her. She just smiled and shook my hands. I walked away towards the gate with the faint echoes of her laughter still tinkling in my ears and the perfume of her smile wafting through the air around me, enveloping me in its heady scent.


05 April, 2005

An Ode To Mumbai

The falsified hopes rising like kites
the sweaty sogginess of Mumbai clothes
the thicklidded lethargy creaking one's bones
the endless journey to constantly shifting targets
the transitory pleasures of money in sweaty palms
the cheating hopes turning old men into youth
the cheating hopes of young girls turning callous
the cheating hopes of massive humanity on the move
the puppy love parading as if in a directionless play
the lusty games of the affluent
the life-crushing breaches of promise
the omnipresent casting couch and hidden webcams
the fluffy hopes growing inside one like unwanted embryos
the minute by minute abortion of blood sweat and tears
the mad rush to the station to see the platform move
the mad rush back to get sardined into one dimension
the ubiquitous TV and cinema blaring out untruths, dishing out yet more glorious dreams whilst the edge of the life gets frayed a little more

the final kick : collapse in bed and give up.
The dreamless sleep.....

(c) Max Babi April 2005


04 April, 2005

animal tales 1 : the doubting cow

Looking at the world from the perspective of animals
is an ancient tradition dating back to Aesop and the
Hitopadesa. In poetry, the most memorable animal
commentator in my view is the cockroach "Archy",
a vers libre poet who types by jumping down from
a height onto Don Maquis' typewriter, while his
friend, the cat "Mehitabel", sings of being a free
spirited woman... Since Don Maquis is not easy to
find these days, I am quoting these two extracts
from his book "Archy and Mehitabel":

a louse i
used to know
told me that
millionaires and
bums tasted
about alike
to him


i scurry around gutters and sewers
and garbage cans said the fly
and gather up the germs of typhoid influenza
and pneumonia on my feet and wings...
then i carry the germs
into the households of men...
.. it is my mission
to help rid the world of these wicked persons
i am a vessel of righteousness
scattering seeds of justice and serving the noblest uses

Well... here are some attempts, both
written this morning ...


the doubting cow

yesterday I had a revelation
while talking to a cockroach
that had scuttled
across the roof of my stall
to perch very near my nose.
"hello", he said,
his antenna twitching iridiscent
in the evening light
"hello", I said, startled
a bit, but you know how we cows
are always civilized.
And then we talked of
the fate of the world
and we animals who live on it.
it seems the other day
he had had a narrow escape
from a nasty gecko
an experience which
had made him philosophical
about our purpose in life
I told him thank god
there are no predators
for us cows

but then that cockroach
pointed out our fate,
how this animal, man,
comes every morning,
fondling my breasts
in full public gaze
what dignity do we have
when he steals my milk
and my baby
moans hungry in the corner
soon, he said, that cockroach,
my baby will be eaten as beef.

i don't know if i should
believe these slimy creatures
these gutter-loving cockroaches
yet there was a seed of doubt
he left behind in me. all these days
I had felt happy,
I had thought this
two-legged animal was really
my friend. I had looked forward
to his touch - I loved the relief
from the fullness of milk
in my breasts... i wonder now
what kind of a world
this is, where we cows
not only have this predator,
but we are indeed born
into his clutch,
living merely at his whim...

sometimes I wish
I hadn't met that dratted
philosophizing cockroach.


03 April, 2005


I'm not sure when I'll be back, and I say so. Tarun looks at me, and I can't tell what his eyes are saying, through his glasses.

"It's not my fault," I tell him, "This is the way it was meant to be - as corny as that sounds. We both knew that I had to leave."

He nods, and shifts his attention back to the task of preparing coffee, or so he would like it to seem. I can tell there's more. I want to say something more, too, but I can't. Maybe I'll leave it for later, when the vodka is uncapped and the liquor burns our throats.


I'll miss this place, and I say so. He knows it. As much as I may call Gurgaon a dust bowl, I like sitting out here on Tarun's balcony, straddling the banister like I'm doing right now. I've done it for ages, it seems, and I'm going to miss not doing it for a long, long time.

"Are you going to try to come back?" he asks, and I wonder what to reply. It all seems to hopelessly comic at times. We almost seem like lovers when we talk like this. We're not lovers. We never have been. But somehow, it's there. It's been there since the time I was dating his best friend.

"I can try," I say, "But obviously, I won't be able to come back immediately. I'll have to be there for some time. It's a job, you know. I can't leave it just like that. You're better that way. You decide your own work. I don't."

He nods, and I think he's listening to the strains of the music now. We keep quiet for a while, till I feel the urge to dance. That happens to me, whenever I'm drunk and they're playing something in the background. It could be the most god-awful track in the world, but my feet will soon start tapping, my fingers will start drumming, I'll be wishing I could twirl and whirl on the floor. Tarun calls me a social embarrassment; I always knew he loved me.

"I'm going to miss Delhi," I repeat for the hundredth time that evening, and I think the vodka is finally taking effect. Tarun grins at me, I think he's getting a bit drunk too, and he ruffles my head. I'm teetering on the banister, but I wouldn't get off for the world. I'm high, right now, and it doesn’t matter that six months in Delhi have seen me through two-and-a-half relationships and I'm still single. Tarun hasn't been in a relationship for the last two years, and we celebrate our single again-together again status like this, every week, over a bottle.

"You're getting very mushy now," he grins, and I know he's wicked to say so.

"You're wicked to say so. I'm being nice and sentimental. I'm going to miss you, you sodden old cow!"



"I like the way Gurgaon winks at me," I say, leaning forward, my knees pressed together.

"Delhi doesn't wink?" he asks, bemused.

"It's too full of people and buildings to wink. It's bustling and jostling. Or it's empty. It doesn't wink like this." And I spread my hand to show the tall blinking lights from the call centre buildings and MNC towers that glitter in the dark and empty Gurgaon landscape. "A friend of mine once told me, she thought Gurgaon looks like Las Vegas at night, popping out of the desert!"

And he laughs, rich and throaty. "I love your friend! Do you have her number?"

"Save it," I retort, pushing up my left eyebrow in a gesture I do so well, "She's moving to Bombay, with the rest of us." (He shrugs.) "And anyhow, she's not your type."

"She's not the one I saw you talking with, outside your building? The cute, high-brow one?"

I laugh in a cackle. I wonder what my 'high-brow' friend would say, on hearing she's been noticed by him. She's the most darling creature you ever saw, the most unpossessing creature, who finds it so utterly ridiculous to think that there are men in the world who would find her attractive, the kind of women who usually have the most admirers. "No, she's not the one. This one's different. This one is the Big Flirt. Love her, hate her, bitch with her, bitch about her. Like Delhi."

Horrible joke, but we still raise a toast. The bottle is almost empty, I notice.

"I touched your board once," I say suddenly, pointing towards the lighted mini-hoarding hanging from the balcony, proclaiming Tarun's business to the outside world. "I got a huge jolt of electricity. I was surprised at first, and actually touched it again."

Tarun dissolves in laughter. He's pouring himself the last of the bottle's contents, and spills quite a lot on the tabletop. "I'm sure you were so frikkin' high!"

"I was! I was!" It's funny, and I admit that I'd laughed even then, when I'd realised that first time, it was a current jolt through my hand. Realisation takes her own sweet time. Sometimes, I plough ahead, even with her sage advice on my shoulders.



Quiet walks bring reflection; that at least is a universal truth you don't have to be a prophet to discover. Dead of night, and the roads are empty. The bus ride back home to Patel Nagar from Gurgaon has been uneventful. The bus was almost empty, the driver was wrapped up in his private world, and I focused on the quiet trees rustling past the window. We made good time.

I love drives in the dead of night. I love walks in the dead of night. Would I were a wolf, I would howl. Would I were a human, I would hug myself to eternity, as I do now. Trudge in a world that is vastly different from the hustle and bustle of West Delhi that I know so well. This is the world I know best. I'm a pretender at times in my private reverie, and I have learnt to treasure these moments so much, all the more because I know Bombay will leave me so little of quiet moments like these.

Tomorrow (technically, today) I leave Delhi. And like I told Tarun, I don't know when I'll be back. I hate the feeling of not knowing. They say, it's good to not know, and let Fate take her course. I suppose I have an innate dislike and distrust for Fate. She takes me for granted, and the egoist in me cannot handle that. So this is my way of ranting against Fate. A walk in the dead of night, in a Delhi that has gone asleep, the night sky with a mother-of-pearl glow to the east if I crane my neck, and me silently brooding.

It's hard to leave a place where you had your first heartbreak. Love is easy, something tells me. Love can be re-found. But heartbreak teaches you so much, much more. Like when you’re riding on a bike and you pass this coffee shop where you once stood waiting for someone. Like when you're hanging on a bus and hear the song that was 'your' song. What can you do in such situations, but wince once and smile wryly? Heartbreak teaches you endurance, falling in love teaches you to let your guard down. I'm an old dog in an old town, sniffing for something to remind me again that I'm happy with my career move. An internal recorder replays all the things I told Tarun earlier today (technically, yesterday) - It's not my fault, this is the way it was meant to be, it's a job, I can't leave it just like that, You decide your own work. I don't - but it doesn't quite ring a bell. I have my cake, and suddenly I don't want to eat it anymore.

I remember standing in front of the Jama Masjid for the first time, and simply looking up. I stood at the floor of the stairs that led up to the huge structure and watched it awhile. Nothing else. After some time, I made my perambulations, took my amateur photographs, and settled in a corner of the mosque, watching the imam call the faithful to the prayer. It was an exercise in awe. To watch the people stream forth from the four main doors of the mosque and kneel before the great big dome in prayer. It was inspiring. I gave in to the temptation and clicked some more snaps. But then, I watched, patient. And I heard the chants of the faithful. The lone voice in the empty air, followed by the sounds that came from a hundred, thousand, (how many?) people shifting on their knees, their sounds as they bowed before their God. I watched the sun set over that great big dome and wondered at the magnificence of it all. The pigeons at the long trough of water before the Masjid remained as they were, playful, alert, energetic, thirsty, but in some way mindful of the somber occasion encircling them. I stayed till the sun set and then I had returned home.

I think of that first day in front of the Masjid now, even as I stand in a deserted West Delhi street, before the house I have lived in for the past few months. Already, there are signs of activity within, or so my hyperactive imagination tells me. It's time to go. I'm packed. It's time to go. I've said my goodbyes to all my friends. Well, all except this great big gigantic city that has an untouchable soul.

01 April, 2005

Empty Walls

These empty walls,
with a myriad memories
absorbed unwittingly,
now whitewashed
into inert submission
give me eager looks
like apprentice girls in a bordello
dressed up like vestal virgins.

[inspired by the forlorn image of good old Manisha in her new home, sitting and staring at blank walls, soon before moving in....]



Common Fragments

My fingers
Moving along
Your curves
Finding, feeling
Love's many shapes



Dew drops
Line your lips
I lick them off
Tasting the smile


My hands
Crave your curves
Moving in the air
Of their own accord
Drawing your diagram


So we looked and
Found each other
Our respective fate lines
Tied in a love knot


The rose blooms
In your eyes
And fills me
With the fragrance
Of your soft skin


The sun shines
In my eyes
And in the
Bright blankness
I see you looking
At me
With a slow smile
Forming a single dimple