Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Your 30s Are For...

...realizing that while you possess the intellectual capacity to contemplate the deeper puzzles of life and pursue them to their artistic, philosophical or academic conclusion (on or off social media), you actively choose not to, instead devoting much of your free time to constructing penis & fart jokes.
Until you are confronted with a situation that demands you summon your highest self and act from a place of reason, nuance, kindness and empathy. In which case, you influence outcomes as positively as you can (from voting mindfully in an election, to helping an old person cross the road or being kind to a telemarketer) so that you can go back - as soon as possible - to your raison d'être i.e. constructing penis & fart jokes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Little Heartbreaks

Sick and tired of my one big heartbreak, I joined Tinder because who wouldn’t want to curate the Book of Tiny Humiliations & Disappointments? Technology is so helpful.

I signed up with a bad attitude, cynicism seeping from every pore and found a couple of adequate fellows to chat with.

Them: Hi
Me: Hello.
Them: Wassup?
Me: Nothing much. You say.
Them: Happy Diwali.
Me: Same to you.

Indian men possess charming dating skills. As do I.

There was this one chap though, going by a generic and not-hard-to-find-in-a-haystack-at-all name, with a single photo in which you could just about figure out half his face. He had a sense of humour, we seemed to be getting somewhere, when whoosh, for no reason I understand, he ‘unmatched’ me.
It’s hard not to take it personally when you are rejected not just by a human but also by his mobile app.

Now I’m left with the ‘Hi-Wassup-Happy Diwali’ gang and it’s back to square one.

Yet (as Amit if-that's-even-his-real-name said before we were consciously uncoupled) there is always something to learn from setbacks.
My conduct on Tinder has shone a light on how I am in real life.
I aim low, am consistently apologetic and insecure in my interactions with men, all the while imagining that I’m vastly superior. And then, when they behave like subpar humans, I am distraught and tragedy-struck.

But this is Tinder, see? It doesn’t matter. It’s about swiping left or right. I should be braver, aim higher. I should fake (high self esteem) it, till I make (high self esteem) it. I should catfish my personality – instead of a people-pleasing, short-selling apologetic wimp, I should be the straight-talking, deludedly confident, penis-shriveling diva-bitch of my dreams[1].

I should go after the good lookers, the guys whose profile pics have them paragliding in Guam with a champagne flute in one hand, the IIM-As, the Punjabi-chiknas[2].
No. Wait.
The White Man.
I should seek out the White Man.

[1] I realize I don’t even know what my ‘type’ is. Physically speaking. I’m so consumed with feeling bad about my own schlubbiness that I choose the schlubs by default.
[2] Call me racist but most Indian men look like such douchebags in their profile pics. Hardly an open or warm smile amongst the lot of them. And everyone poses with cars that are not theirs, bikes that are not theirs, horses that are not theirs (but wives and children that are theirs? That seems to be the way our chaps wish to attract the opposite sex.)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Challenge. Accepted.

When you troll people on Twitter you find amazing things.
I found an open invite to the Godawful Poetry Fortnight curated by @zigzackly.
I don't write or perform poetry and I just spent the evening listening to people who do.
Obviously these are two qualifications I needed to begin poeming.

Follow the trail of embroidered beards
and cultivated disinterest
Find yourself 
In the hipster capital of the Capital
Mind the jazz
It has
A beard of its own

Leaning rhymes
Against the bass, a double
A couple
Which you are no longer
Part of
This place of beards & poetry
You know it

You had one once
A beard
with a poem
With a text you've been missing lately
"Delhi seems extra rapey tonight,
Call me when you get home safely."


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Post Colonial Rage

For the last 6-8 months I have been working on a TV series about India's colonial past - how the British Raj came to be, then un-be and everything in between. It's an international co-production, where the most incompetent dolt turns out to be, not Indian as the stereotype may suggest, but in fact a British gentleman.

Over the months, while the rest of us have made goof ups, his messes have been of exemplary (yet always polite) fucked-up-edness. Yet he has managed to slip under the radar and deflect most of the blame upon us.

I don't think any of us on the crew is particularly thirsty for revenge from British imperialists or has a Tharoorian hankering for payback for the centuries of physical & psychological violence, thievery and plunder they inflicted on our people. For most of us patriotism is reserved for cricket matches or grumbling in long immigration lines at Western airports.

But there is a moment, nestled between the volley of angry emails going back and forth between Delhi, London and Singapore, where the forces of history collide and the man's incompetence is finally brought to light, less than a week before broadcast on August 15th. He gets his comeuppance. And from the most atavistic (albeit immature) depths of this Indian woman, cc'd in on every blame-bomb, emerges: a vengeful giggle.

Peace be upon us brownies. Happy independence day.
Brownies on Elephants circa 1930: Pretending they own Stuff & Freedom

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Little Sandhya is four and barely taller than the tables of the Reading Room, where she has been making a drawing for the last 20 minutes.
Now, volunteers are telling her it’s 6pm. Time to wrap up. But Sandhya’s not going to leave without signing her name on her masterpiece – a hut and mountains, with a shy sun peeping through.
A volunteer steps in to write her name but Sandhya’s not having any of that. “Mai khud likhoongi” – I will spell it myself.
Alright, says the volunteer, go ahead (it may be pertinent to note the hint of scepticism the volunteer feels, looking at this wisp of a child).


The volunteer is impressed (and not a little bit ashamed of her earlier skepticism). The four year old has got it almost right and her mistakes are delightfully on point.
A ‘b’, which is nothing, if not an inverted ‘d’.
And ‘g’, which let’s face it, sounds a lot like ‘d’.
As the volunteer corrects Sandhya’s spelling, the child leans in with full concentration and one knows, in that very moment, who is learning from whom.

There is a wonderful program - no, a growing library movement - that's bringing the joy of language, literature and expression to kids that may otherwise not get that learning in their early lives. If you are in Delhi and would like to see, volunteer, donate, read or even be hall monitor for a day, reach out to the good folks at Deepalaya Community Library Project.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Cultural Imperative Song

You should get married.
You're 36 you should get married.
You're overweight you should get married.
You can barely make rent you should get married.
Your job is stressful you should get married.
You have subclinical hypothyroidism you should get married.
Kashmir, Palestine, Yemen, Syria you should get married.
You burned the dal you should get married.
Your parents are going to die one day you should get married.
Your friends' marriages are in trouble you should get married.
People will think you're a lesbian you should get married.
You won't be guaranteed happiness but you should get married.
The share market is falling you should get married.
That'll be Rs.500 you should get married.

You're married you should have babies.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Playing Dice

I was raised by a man, whose love translated into elaborate soliloquies on physics and the wonders of the material world. As kids, we were initiated into Newtonian mechanics, the idea of multiple dimensions beyond our conception and the Einsteinian insistence that God “does not play dice”.

Strict causality was my father’s life philosophy. He imparted it to us via physics and through his deep suspicion of ‘randomness’. A+B must always lead to C. It couldn’t, for example, result in ‘oooo what a pretty flower’. His world was – and is – ordered into neat little compartments, each one precisely labelled according to content and function.

Growing up in this ethos, I too acquired a Newtonian outlook on life. And like this brand of physics, the rules seemed to work in my context, keeping my surroundings functional. There was great comfort in knowing that things follow from what came before, that every action had a specific consequence and that one could predict outcomes rather confidently. But I never learnt about the realm where these rules fall apart.

My father never taught me about quantum theory. I would see the Feynman Lectures on his bedside table but was never initiated into what it was all about. I learnt about Bohr and Heisenberg in school but never had a sense of what their theories implied in a larger sense. The grounding I had in classical, deterministic science was never shaken by the new consciousness of an unpredictable universe. Nor did it occur to me to wonder why my father left out such an essential chapter in the history of physics.

It is only now as I sit in my own home, separate from my father’s that I conjecture why that is. I wake up every morning in a panic, with every muscle in my body wound up tight, for reasons I don’t understand. I lie in bed in the pre-dawn hours, trying to dissect this anxiety and shortness of breath. I’m not afraid of ghosts or monsters. I’m not afraid of being single, female and living alone. I’m not afraid of what the world will think of me. I am afraid of something entirely different.

My father and mother were the essential cogs in the wheel of causality that kept my day-to-day existence functional. They were the A+B that allowed my life C to operate with precision and structured consequence. I have enjoyed the freedom that comes from having systems in place, with rules to follow. But at some point I began craving something more.

Now I am in my own home with no one else to set the rules. I have no pre-determined formula, no A+B=C. I can predict nothing beyond what I know of my self and my nature. The world I live in now is fraught with randomness and for the first time I begin to guess why my father never taught me quantum theory.

It was perhaps about fear and the unknown realm of worst-case scenarios. The terror of knowing you are at the vortex of all things uncertain. That bad things happen to good people and things go wrong in spite of best intentions.
Because, chance.

I try to breathe through the panic but it doesn’t always work. So last night, I turned to physics again and found this buried in the biography of Albert Einstein – a nugget explaining the shattering idea of uncertainty in the quantum world:

It is impossible to know, Heisenberg declared, the precise position of a particle, such as a moving electron, and its precise momentum (its velocity times its mass) at the same instant. The more precisely the position of the particle is measured, the less precisely it is possible to measure its momentum…
…The very act of observing something... affects the observation. But Heisenberg’s theory went beyond that. An electron does not have a definite position or path until we observe it. This is a feature of our universe, he said, not merely some defect in our observing or measuring abilities.
The uncertainty principle, so simple and yet so startling, was a stake in the heart of classical physics. It asserts that there is no objective reality – not even an objective position of a particle – outside of our observations.”

I allow this theory into me, not how a physicist might approve, but as the daughter of my father. I allow Heisenberg’s theory to show me a path out of panic to a place where chance is not necessarily a bad word.

In this world that I build, observation, or the way we are compelled to look at things around us, determines their nature. Just by our seeing, they acquire shape and form. Perhaps there is an objective reality somewhere out there – but I can’t reach it today. Neither could my father.
Perhaps we never needed to. Because what we missed was more relevant: the factor of our influence and the awareness that our personal power can impart to an idea, its reality.

The next time I meet my father I might ask him why he never told me the full version of the anecdote. Did he know it at all? Did he choose not to tell me? Or was it something he simply could not comprehend?
When Einstein said that God did not play dice, why did my father not tell me of Niels Bohr’s reply?
“Einstein, don't tell God what to do.”