The Unknown

March 27, 2014 § 1 Comment

The light falls
on that that was already there
but if you couldn’t see it
was it ever?

A memory brings
that that already happened
but if you don’t remember it
did it ever?

A dream presents
that that is not yet formed
but if you can’t dream it
will it ever?

Knowledge describes
that that is
but if you can’t know it
is it ever?

Keep Chai and Carry On

March 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

The crossroad where I currently stand has two signs. One of them says “United States” and the other says “India.” When you are at a crossroad there is no other side where the grass is greener. There is usually a road well taken and one less travelled. But I see neither. Both ways there are rows of cars in traffic jams on pavement flanked by strip malls and gas stations although on one side they are called markets and petrol pumps. 

On one side the uniformed immigration officers wait for me with disinterested faces and paper shackles. On the other side the eager ghost of Narendra Modi floats above the smog and dust of New Delhi, smiling and waving the cars on. 

Today I read on the Internet that a play about Muslim identity in India was stopped from being staged in Bangalore.

 

Does this mean that I, as a fledgling Muslim actor will be relegated to going to the gym ad infinitum and waiting for a shot at dancing in a shining silver vest? Because the moment I choose to say anything of importance, some samiti or sangh will stomp on me. Perhaps I can stay low on the radar and do small productions in basements inviting only friends who already know everything I have to say. Or possibly I can get work in commercials that will pay enough for me to not ask questions of life. Then I can use the money to wait for a shot at dancing in silver vest. Keep going to the gym of course. Alternatively I could lobby for the AAP and defeat the BJP so that these samitis and sanghs can understand that India doesn’t subscribe to inane nonsense. I dunno, maybe I should just marry an American girl and get a green card, then work on my acting career while staying true to the marriage. Sigh. I’m gonna go make chai. 

 

Bottled Up

March 9, 2014 § 3 Comments

I have not done too well. In my personal fight, if it can be called that, against bottled water. On second thoughts, no, it is not a fight. It’s an aversion. If I buy bottled water, I am teased by a nagging guilt for the next two minutes. Two minutes is usually how long it lasts before I offer myself a placebo of rationality. I buy a lot of canteens and keep losing them. I try to carry one wherever I go and left alone, I would rather die of thirst before buying a plastic bottle but I can’t possibly subject my friends to that kind of masochism. It is not enough to cut plastic from your solitary life, the real challenge lies in eliminating it socially and therefore totally. Today I visited the Red Fort. In India, tap water is not safe for drinking, not by far. At home we boil-cool-filter the water, which is tantamount to nuclear war on the germs. I carried a canteen of this water with me and as my friend and I were putting on our shoes I mumble something about taking perhaps one more. Then someone mumbled something about it being too much weight to carry. This someone carries two full suitcases to every International trip regardless of duration and always has to open their bags and transfer things to other people’s carry-on luggage in order to check in without paying the fee. Once I carried an entire dinner set in my carry-on bag.

I honestly don’t understand it. Every time I mention something about trying to avoid buying bottled water, there is at least one person, usually more, who tries to to either make me feel bad about it or rolls their eyes or tries to explain to me that you-just-have-to-do-certain-things-in-life. NO YOU DONT. Oh, sometimes they’ll indirectly question my motive. Do I care about the Earth or my wallet? Please.

Yes, my own comfort is less important to me than the environment. George Carlin hates the EPA. He thinks the plane survived the ice-age and meteors, it can deal with a few plastic bottles, he says. Well the planet may be able to deal with them, I can’t. They’re ugly. They are a major burden to someone who has to sort through them. Birds eat pieces of them and bleed internally. I have no intention to saving the planet for posterity, Mr Carlin, I know fully well my place in this Universe. I am as significant as a sub-atomic particle and hence cannot save the world. But I can’t do that to the birds, I cant do that to the fish. I can’t do that to the 8 year old kids in the slums in Dongri, Mumbai who sort through our trash. I can’t accept a hideous sea of plastic bottles outside some place as sublime as the Jumma Masjid.

“You shouldn’t be so extreme about things.”

“What kind of naive attitude is this? You have any idea how much more damage is happening to the world for other reasons?”

“Other people have to start doing it, just you doing it is not enough.”

The truth is I refuse to back down any more or make it easy for any of you assholes. I cannot accept plastic bottles in my life so please know that ahead of time before you choose to spend time with me.

In India, there is a real problem. Tap water is no safe so you can’t go to a restaurant or be out in public and just drink the water. Unless you wanna risk getting dysentery. A case can possibly be made for purchasing bottled water, although people need to start carrying canteens OR hold it together until you can get clean water.

In the US, you can just drink the water anywhere. For heaven’s sake. Its possible the newspaper is just spreading non-corroborated information but this is music to my ears. San Fran is banning plastic bottles later this year, just like plastic bags. So if you were one of those princes who was too good for tap water, you’re toast buddy. Dry, dehydrated toast.

Where I Come From

January 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

I am over the moon. I know what they mean now. You’re over the moon when you can’t stay still, you’re that excited. I’ve returned home after almost 5 years of being away. The other day I went back to the neighborhood where I was born. Its squalid, crowded, dusty yet I walked around with a sense of awe and wonder. Deep connection. This is what it means to belong.

I’ve spent the last 4 years stripping myself of the identity given to me by this place. I tore off my hide so I could still the voices of expectation and good advice that resounded in my head. With this naked self, I am reengaging with the place of my birth with indescribable intimacy. I never thought it was important to belong, to be from somewhere or to be someone. But a sense of belonging, of rootedness is beyond thought. It is built into our very structure and cannot be denied. I am Indian. Which is not some silly statement of national pride. I am of this corner of the Earth, this dirt, this ground, these smells and colors. There is boundless joy in that. Immense freedom. 

This is the place I can do anything. Being tied down by immigration law for the last 7 years, the freedom to do anything, be anything, is like a gift. The thing that everyone takes for granted is a valuable, priceless bounty. What color, what beautiful complexity of human life, what aroma, what magnificent creativity there is in this land. Where I’m from. My sister got married in a magical faraway place. I got to see the way of life there, the people, like another country, another continent altogether. In Delhi, I embraced distant family members and friends, hundreds of them. Some with dutiful courtesy and others with tearful affection. I wore the dresses they wear here and they fit like a glove. It was like a new skin that felt totally right. We looked through old family albums and laughed into the night. We talked of old times, old jokes new again. At Lodi Gardens, I witnessed the sublime sunset and stood in the mausoleum at dusk. Among the spirits of kings. In the Delhi metro, I looked with awe at the surprisingly good public conduct of my ever maligned countrymen.

Today my mother handed me a diary and I knew that I knew what it was but I couldn’t remember what. A marvelous feeling of anticipation. My old GRE preparation notebook. I looked at the diligent notes of a young man determined to make something of himself. That was me. Desperate to go to America, 10 years ago. To see what it was all about. To find that diary … unbelievable. I nag my mother about hoarding stuff but sometimes you find gold.

My self-inflicted exile is over. The reserved, exclusive solitude that I had chosen for myself in the last decade is done. This is reengagement. Rediscovery. I want to live. To love. In this moment now, there is no conflict. Only harmony.

Delhi Reverie

December 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

My first few days back home. My system is in shock. Already starting to develop a sore throat because of the dust and smog. Madly rushing about to start wedding preparations for my sister. US Consulate interviews. It’s like someone erased the white on gray line-drawing slate of my life and replaced it with a vibrant oil on canvas. Between jet lag and fighting off the onslaught of infection, everything is a bit of blur.

O’ Sunday Brunch

November 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

O’ Sunday Brunch

Your evil gentle punch 

Knocks out my measly work lunch

 

The sunny morning of Berkeley fall

Locally grown coffee beans lovingly call

A scrambled soul search to beat them all 

 

What is it about this languid toast

That a hurried burrito could never boast

My waking spirit on Friday was a frazzled ghost

 

Spoon in coffee and then jam on spoon

I hope this won’t end any time soon

Let’s just sit here all afternoon 

 

Theatre Behind Bars

September 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last night I was at a kick-off meeting and bbq at the Stanford Design Loft. It was quite a collection of people. Actors, aerialists, light and sound artists, designers, mechanical engineers and directors. The casual air about them did not give away the scale of what they are attempting to do. As with a lot of theatrical projects no one quite knows what the final thing is going to look like but I was inspired by the vibrant yet focused enthusiasm of these people and their confidence. The task is to find out where live theatre can go from here. What’s next in live theatre? Its a bold mission statement. It would be bombastic if there was a claim that we had the answers or that we were the “right” people to be conducting this experiment. But we’re not. We’re just people who are wondering. I’ve wondered for a while what’s up with live theatre. Why is the audience mostly in their 50s and beyond? 

Some answers might come during the next month as we prepare for this rather ambitious task. To design/craft a theatrical experience on Alcatraz Island. Stay tuned. 

 

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