It was day two of my new job today. After a day of classroom discussion and planning meetings, I was finally walking back home from a busy day. A busy day. I have not experienced such a thing in the last two years because I have only spent time doing the things I want to do. It felt good to have a busy day. I was walking down the road I have walked on for as long as I can remember. Past the modern school that has transformed from a small pathshala in to a grand establishment in the span of my lifetime. The Delhi winter is just peeking around the corner. The evening sun was large and the very hint of a nip in the air gave me that feeling of renewal that only a change of season can bring.

I heard from behind me someone calling out.

“Babu! Babu!”

I looked back to see a richshaw pull up from behind and stop by my side. It was a familiar face. I knew it right away. Especially the toothless grin. For as long as I can remember, he had never had any front teeth and always smiled with only his canines making him look silly. He had less hair and it was grayer.

“Remember?” he beamed.

“Yes of course! Are you kidding?” I replied with excitement.

“Where were you all this time?” I asked.

He said he had gone to his village. I did not bother asking for how long he had been gone for because I honestly did not remember. He carried on reminiscing.

“The gentleman from number 7 flat. He also remembers me. I used to drop his kids to the bus stop when they were young. He asked me on baqr-eid whether I wanted some meat. I said Sir I am a loner. I won’t be able to cook it.”

He said this last with a shrug. I asked if things were all right in the village. I got the feeling maybe he needs some help but he seemed energetic and well so I did not want to offend him. He was smiling a lot. The same toothless grin but his eyes seemed to shine more from age.

“Well, now I’ll see you around I hope. I have to be going now.” I said.

“Where are you going? Study? Duty?” he said.

I said I was going to my work.

“Oh! You’ve become a professor!” he said.

“I’ve become a professor!” I echoed. I did not bother to add that it had only been two days. He went into a bit of a reverie. He said it was a thing of happiness that the kids he took to school in his rickshaw for years were now all doing well.

“Someone is a professor, someone is a doctor, someone a big man in the police. I’m very happy.” he said.

I realized I still don’t know his name. He offered to drop me if I was in a hurry but I declined.

“I’ll see you when I get back,” I said with genuine hope.



Better Read my Open Letter

Two things occurred. A major in the Indian army (Gaurav Arya) wrote an open letter to the deceased Hizbul commander Burhan Wani. In it, he displayed machismo that made me remember Veeru, my childhood bully companion who would mock me with things like “Dekh yaar Saif, tu yahaan aayega to pitega to zaroor. Faltu mein tension kyun le ra hai, ghar mein baith, TV dekh. Mere ko bhi bura lagta hai tujhe dekh ke.” In response, Wasim Khan (a film director I think) wrote a fitting reply that served to stabilize my rage at Arya’s letter and after reading Wasim’s letter I could breathe a little easier. I have thought about it now for two days. The thing is, this silsila of open letters and responses is good for us to see a piece of the action and also to a degree to wake us up out of our stupor but it doesn’t move anything forward. The patriots take on side and the rationalists take another. But the truth is, while I feel no sympathy for Major Arya, I do think that an army major who is willing to engage in dialogue even if that dialogue is basically a threat, is actually trying to think through his actions. He is not yet a zombie. He is a human being still. We cannot demonize a member of our own army, or else all of us a hypocrites. Note that Wasim, while enraged did not abuse Arya. He was controlled in his response. He gave him the dignity of a human being. And if behoves all of us to do the same. I felt in his letter and maybe this is pathological optimism, that somehow Arya wanted the carnage to end. He wanted it to end a certain way, on his terms. He wanted to emerge as the unquestionable and heroic winner but he did want the whole thing to end. That was the point of the letter. To end the thing. What might be very nice if Wasim and Arya were to sit down face to face and have it out in words and maybe a few fists too. A good fist-fight never hurt anyone too badly unless they were on the other side of Mike Tyson. And for the rest of us to see what comes out of that. What understanding can they arrive at, if any. And if they cannot arrive at an understanding, then why expect the government of any country to be able to do what we ourselves cannot do. The government is after all, us. The open letter can be read here:…/31469-this-indian-army-major-s-open… and Wasim’s response here:…/this-kashmiris-response-to-an-arm…

And what I believe (based on the name, it could be someone else!) is Major Arya’s blog can be read here where we see with our own eyes that he tries to think things through and has some reasonably good theories to offer about the conflict:

See Through

Seen but not seen

down the twisting ravine

the sun on the ocean floor

does the clear lake see

the sky?

the substance of soul

the mirrors of life go by

beyond pain and grief

the pool of water clear

nothing to veil, naught to hide

a white swan on emerald blue does glide

here is me, all of me

unspeakable me, unspeakable light

no form, no shape, no possession, no wealth

full disclosure, is the perfect stealth


Often, people will exalt the glory of modern times by citing the marvelous technological progress we have made. Not only has it made life very convenient, technology can be used to save the Earth. For example, we now have paperless banking and bills and what not. This can be used to save trees.

I disagree.

Technology that is used to increase convenience for us without a consideration for justice is fundamentally a tool of violence. If we save time by using a blender to make our frappe instead of doing it manually, some person in China slaves away for hours at a terrible pay and in awful conditions to make that happen. Energy is conserved. We cannot save it without someone else picking up the slack.

This is my application for a visa to a first-world nation.


The whole application procedure is online we save so much paper that way, except that there is so little trust left in the world that they ask for your entire life history in order to allow you to travel in their country for 3 weeks. I remember visa applications in my earlier and technologically backward days where paper was being wasted left right and center. You had to submit your passport and maybe 3-4 pages of documentation. It used to take a lot longer because the embassy would do the work of verifying your papers. Now, all they want is money and your entire life on paper. So it is faster. But it is faster because the time that is saved is offset by the amount we lean on nature. It takes a lot more paper and a lot more money which is essentially effort we have expended in our (almost certainly exploitative) employment. So the technological “progress” has done nothing. It has caused us to expend more natural resources and lull ourselves into a belief that things have got easier. This is nothing but confusion.


Progress will come when we learn to trust each other. The road to progress for our generation is inward. That is where the solutions lie. As long as we seek progress outside of ourselves, we will cause more devastation than ever.

I realize that this is basically a rant. I am excited for my travels but honestly, the price that the Earth is paying for our adventures is starting to become prohibitively expensive.



It is the nature of man to seek unity. To seek that which underlies the apparently known. I like to connect all my experiences. Weave them into a thread of meaning that could not have existed without me. That is how I know myself. We are all here to learn from each other.

A few things happened recently. I went to watch a production of Charandas Chor performed by the actors of the Naya Theatre of Bhopal, the company that was founded by the late Habib Tanvir. Then, I read about an organization that is promoting the arts as an agent of social change. Finally, I have started a project that aims to map a path through the collective shared memory of our generation. It is regarding this last that I started to watch an old Mahabharat episode on YouTube. I heard the familiar opening recitation of a Sanskrit shloka. I have heard it at least a thousand times in my life, because not only did I watch the Mahabharat every week when I was growing up, my flatmates and I in graduate school watched the whole thing again on laptops. Having heard the opening shloka a thousand times, today I realized that I did not know what it meant. This is a sign of our times folks. It is not too late to make amends so I Googled the meaning. It is the 47th verse of the second chapter of the Bhagvad Gita. I will reproduce it here in transliteration.

Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,
Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani

The meaning of the verse is—

You have the right to work only but never to its fruits.
Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction.[1]


My heart was stilled by the beauty and profundity of the verse. I had to read it again and again. Why is this the opening verse of the 12 year epic series that captivated the imagination of an entire generation of Indians? More importantly, why do we not see it in their actions. Why has it not altered the history of the nation? Instead, the history of the nation is being made by what came later in the telecast. The display of macho strength, patriarchy, war-mongering, revenge, chest-thumping commentaries about the “naari’s sammaan” and the “kul ki maryada.”

Now, what does this have to do with the play I watched and with arts for social change? The play was performed by actors that have come out of the folk tradition in Chatthisgarh. These actors live in villages and small towns and while they are very experienced their cultural attitude is one of service and not performance. I don’t know them personally. I am not making a comment about their goodness as people etc. But it appears that when they are on stage, they work to serve the story. This means that they perform the actions required by the script whether or not they are feeling “personally inspired” in the moment or not. If the script requires them to laugh, they laugh, if it requires them to do a little jig, they do a little jig. They seem to be unconcerned by the result. The story flows merrily along with little or no anxiety shown by the performers. This is in sharp contrast to the modern, urban actor.
This person worries endlessly about how they are coming off. Their performance is riddled with anxiety about being “fake” or “not convincing.” The moment you attach yourself to “convincing” someone you have become attached to the result, you have lost the wisdom of the 47th verse of the second chapter of the Bhagvad Gita. You suffer from the delusion that you can somehow control the audience. You have become, if I am to indulge an exaggeration, a tyrant. It is a quality of scriptural text that it anticipates your questions and doubts. The next question in this case is, well, if we don’t have any control over the fruits of our actions, then why do the action at all? Well, first, because it is not your right to be attached to the fruit of your actions. It is your right only, to work. And further, do not become depressed and then attach yourself to inaction. In this second line, there is hope. We are being told implicitly, that there is virtue in this. It is good for us to keep working. That, that is the way. But the difficulty of our generation is that we don’t like to be told anything. We view it with doubt. We think it is an attempt to control us because we are so fearful. We do not trust that things may be told to us because they are good for us. And if we do allow ourselves to listen then we demand proofs and evidence and references. We are so blinded by the morality of scientific thought that we cannot trust our own hearts, intellects and bodies to be the vessels of experimentation with the truth. We have externalized completely, outsourced rather, the discovery of the purpose of life. We look for the meaning of the world in the world even though we know fully well that meaning is more subtle than what appears to us at the surface. It is no surprise that the theatrical and film world is blighted by depression, loneliness, insignificance all of it fueled by the delusion that somehow it is we who are the agents of transformation in the world.
“It feels fake. “
– The disgruntled actor.
This links us to the arts for social change agenda. It is a powerful idea, I think. The idea, broadly speaking, is to sensitize and expose people to techniques that help them to uncover the truth and meaning beyond surface appearances. In other words, to help them connect to their innate urge to find unity. The difficulty though, is compounded. The organization that runs the programs are sometimes headed by people who themselves are severely attached to the outcomes, the fruits. NGOs, while claiming to represent a counterpoint to the corporate rat-race, run their employees into the ground. Deadlines, fund-raising madness, field visits all in the service of good intentions. They do not take to heart the command of the Bhagvad Gita, that your right is only to work. You have no right to the fruit. So, to perform the duties is your only task. You must perform them efficiently, regularly and with all of your creativity and intelligence at work and attach not at all to the outcomes. When attachment does occur, you remind yourself of what you have been told. Here also, we run into the difficulty that no one likes to be told anything any more. Everyone knows far too much already. So, a creative, well-meaning, well-educated, passionate and sincere person is run into depression and anxiety by their own god-complex. That somehow, WE or I will make a difference. So the question we must ask is, if we have no right over the fruit of our labors, then who does? Who is it all for?
I want to make a difference.
 – Well meaning NGO worker.
In the Islamic tradition, the belief is that the purpose of man is to follow the command of Allah SWT. That all actions, all affection is directed toward Him. And further, that true, change and transformation is only possible through the power and will of Allah SWT. In Arabic, it is:
hawla wa lā quwwata illā bi Allāh

“The phrase may be translated word-by-word as:

lā = no, not, none, neither
hawla = change, alteration, transformation, movement, motion
wa = and
lā = no, not, none, neither
quwwata = strength, power, potency, force, might, vigor
illā = but, except, if not
bi = with, to, for, in, through, by means of
Allāh = Arabic name for the Supreme Being

Progress is only achieved through change and transformation… and spiritual progress requires the highest degree of change and transformation. We may wish to change, but we alone do not have the power to make such changes. Such change and transformation can only occur through the tahwīl (transformation) of Allāh. That is to say, true change and transformation can arise only through the awesome and glorious powers of Allāh.” [3]

The meaning of this bears great consequence in our lives. What is being said is that we cannot even change ourselves! Without the will and of Allah SWT who has control and dominion over all things. So, we must never expect to be able to change the world without His help. And to seek His help, we must remember Him. Dhikr, the Arabic word for the rememberance of Allah SWT. A highly recommended practice in the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
It is in the nature of man to become attached to what he strives for, whether it be personal transformation or the transformation of society. This attachment causes frustration. But this attachment is a delusion, a flight from our purpose, which is to act without concern for the result. On stage and in life. The way out of this attachment is dhikr, remembrance. To remind ourselves, of the message brought to us by the noble Bhagvad Gita and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). That change and transformation are not caused by us. But to those who false arrogate to themselves the powers of change and transformation, those who are now laughably investigating “social engineering,” this is a message of despair. That we don’t control anything. But for those who can humble themselves before Allah SWT, who can find it in themselves to obey, for them this is humility. This is mercy, mercy for ourselves. That we can take ourselves off the hook. That we can believe in the justice of Allah SWT, which is perfect. That when we strive in His cause, when we perform the actions He has ordered us to, He will reward us in this life and in the Hereafter.
So the next time the self becomes too much on to you, repeat the shloka, repeat the words of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), take them to heart and be gentle with yourself. Inshallah, you will find yourself endowed with strength and vitality and then you can continue on your quest without fear.
It is beyond the shadow of doubt that I am a fallible man who possesses but partial wisdom so may Allah SWT forgive me my errors of judgment. For indeed, Allah knows best. May His blessings be upon all of you.

  2. Mahabharat, Episode 49-54,
  3. Wahiduddin’s Web,



I just finished performing in the play “Shiva Calling.” It is a piece that merges all the worlds, the galaxies, the star systems.  It merges past lives and folds time into itself. The Universe lives and breathes continuously, destroying itself and reforming in every moment. You believe what you perceive to be real.

Amar is going to be executed tomorrow morning. He sits alone in his prison cell at night. Or is he alone? He faces the task of believing that the path to freedom begins by looking inside. Will he believe? Or will he simply die? You know, they say you die twice. Once when you die and once when the last person that loved you dies. So I’m already dead. 

The show occurred in the backyard of a majestic historical site. The Qutub Minar. As we prepared feverishly, doing warm-ups, breathing through our nervousness, peering into the auditorium to see how many seats were still vacant, bantered backstage, the Minar and its surrounding ruins stood in silence. Witness to a time gone by. A million births and deaths. People must have gathered in the courtyard at night, just like us, to sing to the moon. To celebrate. To rejoice. To prepare for war. Belief clashing against belief, ideology against ideology.


Time and again, they have come to me. Shiva! Shiva! To tell you the truth, I am just a simple ascetic who would like nothing more than to be left alone on his lonely mountain. Losing himself to meditation. 

Nothing is forever. Only impermanence. But we must keep playing the drama. On and on it goes. We have no choice. But, in that trap, we are free.


Qaid-e-hayat-o-band-e-gham asl mein dono ek hain

Maut se pehle aadmi gham se nijaat paaye kyun?

— Mirza Ghalib


The prison of life and the grief of man are the same

Why should man be free of grief before death takes him?


The Love Divine

Written for the play “Shiva Calling,” showing this weekend at Q’La, New Delhi.



Oh you, who waits
Oh you, who waits
if it feels like another day
that is because it is
may you go in peace
may you go to peace
may your heart be at rest


The river dances on
to the beat of the cosmic drum
it flows past the setting sun
to the valley
of the beloved one

all desires spent
to the high temple I went
the snowy mountain wept
with the winds it swept
my dreams along the breeze

what is left?
wish everyone well
in to the eternal river I fell
no sound was heard
but a distant ringing bell

the heavens will draw ever near
the swan of fury dives in water clear
I was here once
who is here now?

like the scent of fine wine
you know its a love divine
when my heart beats in yours
and your heart beats in mine