Salutations to the Sun

My life,
My seasoning, my reason,
My reasoning, my seasons,
My riches, my Eden,
My bearing, my North,
My courage, my learning,
My yen, my diet,
My redeemer, my comfort,
My mystery, my lotus,
My document, my script,
My morning, my noon,
My being, my bravery,
My light, my air,
My sex toy, my sanctum sanctorum,
My spring, my fall,
My melody, my counterpoint,
My hemlock, my truth,
My pulse, my heartbeat,
My onion, my universe,
My raised letter,
My inclination, my Eiger,
My beginning, my end,
My hopium, my aadhar,
And then just numbers, values, dates.
My! My!My! My!

February 14, 2018

Music For Those Who Listen

Most writers write with the purpose of being read. Therefore, nothing such writers write is personal. Pitches to publications, revisions suggested by editors, all of it serves to remove all that is personal to be replaced with market politics or universal marketability. My journey of trying to be a writer, one who considers writing his primary occupation, has thus far indicated otherwise. I am not talking about one trick pony theories that suggest that everyone has a novel in him or a story in him, his own, and after that, zilch. My limited reading of the masters, classic and contemporary, seems to indicate that what one writes about has to be personal to possess enduring value. And I feel that is true of all arts, visual, music or words.

The trouble with the personal lies in the conflicts it triggers in living. I see my life as a classic example, since no one is really qualified to comment on the life of another. If I were to make my innermost thoughts public, it would land me into a fair deal of trouble, with my friends, my neighbors, my insurance, my parents, my siblings, my spouse, and my children. Oh my, my!

Having Dad around hasn't helped much with resolving this dilemma, since he turns into a duck's back whenever I bring up the question of an artist's priorities and commitment to the truth. But this question haunts me more than ever as I grow older, move into newer territories of relationships with self, society and state, new worlds of the mind and the spirit, . I am not Prince Rama, nor was meant to be, but heck, I wouldn't mind putting a few of my conflicts to rest.

Millennial Lessons from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat

How could I not have a Padmaavat post on this blog? Even if it is the 3000-word rant that you have come to expect on this blog, even if it is a commercial Bollywood, pseudo-historical film with its standard share of songs and violence, even it is a subtle nudge towards reigniting the fire that consumed women of honor in the 13th century, a post was in order.

The run up to Padmaavat and the content of the film itself has a lot of lessons for those who are going to run the world the next few decades. This run up did not start a few years back, but can be traced back to the early days of Independence. It is one that validates and justifies intolerance and hatred in the name of identity. It is one that drowns out the equality, of nations, ideologies, classes and gender that should be the beacon of our times. The recent years have only seen a growing acceptance and institutionalization of this rabid movement. Everybody who is anybody now has an identity that needs to be defended. The parallels of the religious and gender levels of this oppression is frightening when not sickening.

This is not a review of the film. With everybody posting reviews, I have little new to add. I believe films, like all art, has the ability to profoundly influence our worldviews and the beliefs based on which we make choices. Very often, especially with popular cinema, this messaging and learning is unconscious.  The unquestioned objectification of women ties in with the gender violence we are seeing today. The nationalist films of the 70s and 80s have shaped our collective understanding of Hindu-Muslim dynamics and the attitude towards a land that was once a part of India, Pakistan. Along with this, there has been the rise of voices that object to art that opines on matters in a way that is not comfortable. Whether it be Hussain with his Hindu deities, Rushdie with his Satanic Verses, or lesser known painter who get their exhibitions vandalized because of nude subjects, freedom of expression is limited to the convenient and the universally acceptable. Step out of line and the baton comes down.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali (the guy who gave us Black) has been in this kind of trouble before, and there has been speculation that the protests might have been engineered to boost publicity for the film. The last time, he offended Ram-worshippers by naming his film Ram-Leela. The workaround seemed just as absurd as the dropping of the letter i in the case of Padmavati. I like his work (not that the guy who gave us Hum Dil De Chuke and Sawariya) and after Ram-Leela and Bajirao-Mastani, I was looking forward to Padmavati. The controversy and the hype took away a lot of the fun of waiting, but there we were on its first weekend, catching a late, late show on a large, large screen, 3D glasses and popcorn in hand.

A Moving North

Having lived in Hyderabad for nearly two decades now, the one time of the year that I look forward to the most is the Sankranthi weekend. It is one in the morning of Saturday, and from my office at Ameerpet, I can hear the frenzied collective hooting of fleets of buses ferrying the better part of the city's population back to their homes. Hyderabad, the capital of Telangana, is still largely an immigrant city, with most businesses and workforces tracing their roots back to coastal Andhra. This demographic quirk is also what led to the creation of a separate state for the people of Telangana. When I leave for home before Suryadev visits us, the streets which are otherwise deserted except for manic cabbies dropping sleepy IT workers off, are bristling with last minute travelers and hordes of trucks, minivans, buses, haggling over fares and seats, frantically calling friends and relatives, much like Ramzan nights in the old city. Except that the rush here is to get out of the city.

The next morning and till the weekend gets over, the city quietens down, the air and noise clears up, and moving around the city becomes a pleasure. Hyderabad grew rapidly in the 90s and the Telugu Desam government under the leadership of Chandrababu Naidu gave shape to a vision of a truly global city, with wide avenues, industry specific zoning, elevated mass transit, and a vibrant cultural identity. Subsequent governments fed off that vision but did little to accommodate the boom that followed.

New is New, Happy Happy

Stories, like poems or songs, have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. That is how stories have to be. Life, on the other hand, doesn't. Between McTaggart and Wittgenstein, between Einstein and Russell, linearity of being has been demolished quite thoroughly. The start of the new year is always a good time to look at the validity of beginnings, middles and ends.

With Junior creeping past school going age, and his parents not entirely sure what they want to do, the question of what learning and education are, and where they can be found is one that has been central to our daily grind. We have come a long way from Socrates and Seneca, but we stand at a peculiar juncture, with fake news, and ideological spins on everything including science. Our best myths are Hogwarts, the Cullens, and reluctant Jedis. We are also close to the tipping point of artificial intelligence where machine logic matches human wisdom.  The greatest nations of the world are being led and governed by men and women who are bound to a dehumanizing vision of the future, and technology is matching them gaffe for gaffe. Terror and cryptocurrencies are both equally safe investments, and war is what children play on their mobile devices.

Then there is the Nobel Prize. While the prize for the sciences are relatively apolitical, those for the humanities are no longer benchmarks of what is great about the arts or peacemakers. They never were, but what better North do we have any more? Two laureates of recent times are close to the North though it did not seem so then and it perhaps does not seem so now. Time will tell if Obama truly strengthened international diplomacy and cooperation among peoples or if the life and work of Bob Dylan was literature at all. Maybe Alexa will have an opinion.

Ten Most Personal Posts Of Mine

Seven years back, I was excited as I approached 300 posts on this blog. I take pride in hitting publish, so the fact that I had a 300th button hit on the horizon made me feel good. But then, my life turned around (euphemism for upside down).  I was gradually gifted insights into the true nature of what I was pursuing in terms of mission, livelihood, values, lifestyle, etc. This was not the first time it has happened for me, and I took it head on, making the changes that were possible and working on those that seemed impossible. I was broken socially, emotionally, physically, financially and to some extent, spiritually. I came out of one prison into another, one of misdirected rage and a sense of supreme empowerment that only landed me into further grief. Where I was then, I have learned since, is the best place to be in to initiate real change.

One of the first things that I did was to review the posts that I had on my blog and remove everything that I felt did not measure up to what I stood for, as a person and as a writer. There went my 300th post goal post. Over the next years, I wandered trying to find my calling. Straying dangerously, with only the love and comfort of my dear ones keeping me away from the thin line between sanity and insanity, I struggled to find firm ground, failing again and again. I always feared that some day, I would mistakenly cross over to the sane side and never want to return. Thankfully, my family and friends kept me safe as I redrew my boundaries, reframed my rules, and set about trying to rebuild the mess that my life had become (for, well, the nth time).

Which is why this post is so special. Last year, 2016, I wrote just one post. This year, this will be my 12th. And after the redaction process, I am still some distance from the 300th. Not a great distance, but some. Vires acquirit eundo. When we get there, we will know, as the wise say.

I have undertaken the redaction process multiple times over the last couple of years as I was able to make time from the relatively demanding schedule that I have chosen for my personal journey. Some of the posts were deleted without further thought, mostly stuff that was content marketing. I still write for contests and to endorse businesses that I agree with, but given my disengagement with social networks, neither does it amount to anything nor is it at variance with my commitment to the art of writing. Some of the posts were reverted to drafts, in the knowledge that there was some content of value there, but needed reworking to meet my expectations from myself.

In this process, my blog got a new reader, one who critically read through everything on it from start to now - myself. And I discovered something startling. I have written nearly 400,000 words, all of it fairly personal, but at the end of it, I knew almost nothing of substance about the person who wrote those words. I sleep with that person so I know what I am saying. 400,000 words is like five average sized novels, not the Tolstoy types but still. This discovery was a thrill that is beyond comparison, it is joy and dread, admiration and hatred, medium rare and bitter medicine rolled into one.

The question I was left with, perhaps the question that has mystified and/or repelled all those who have had the good fortune of knowing me up close, was who the hell is this guy, and what is he hiding behind that persona of pseudo-intellectual naivete and literary cleverness? As this year draws to a close and a new one begins, I determine to seek and share the answer to that question. Which might be a terrible idea, but then, trust me, it is manna compared to others I have had over the years.

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.

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