“Chepna” – To Nail Someone

March 27, 2015 § 2 Comments

Today I visited the school I’ve been working at again in Old Delhi. What a wonderous place it is. Every second spent there brings with it enormous helpings of wisdom and amusement. I missed Friday prayer in the main mosque so Athar, the peon, showed me the smaller mosque outside the school compound where they have the congregation a little later. I barely made it up a sordid staircase into a crowded room that seemed like a remnant of an old haveli. The arches inside were still intact. As is required in prayer, I tried to focus on the remembrance of God but I had got there in such a hurry and the place was so uncomfortable that I didn’t really succeed. A kid kept hovering around me and would wait for the sajdah which would give her enough space to cross behind me. Then next sajdah, she’d be back. On my way out I gave some money to the beggars who always collect after Friday prayers. I didn’t have change so I dropped a large-ish bill into one of their collection rags and asked her to share some of it with a little kid who was also begging. On the staircase, a jaded young man brushed past me and said

“Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.”

Back in the school compound after risking my life to cross the road, I saw kids pouring out of the mosque, skullcaps still in place. I recorded some kids playing “maaram-pitti” in the field. The name loosely means “hitting and beating.” It’s basically like tag except instead of tapping people you try to nail them with a tennis ball. The process of nailing someone is called “chepna.” It’s a verb, meaning to nail someone.

Some of them immediately started posing with wide grins and folded hands. Others gathered around me to peer into the camera. One kid wanted to know why I was filming. I told him I make films. He then placed his hand in front of the lens. This annoyed me and I told him to stop. It is so surprising to see how early the “character” of an individual appears. The whole episode was enlightening. He came up to me and said in a manner which was exactly like a common adult goon. The typical vernacular that you hear in Muslim dominated poor areas.

Meri photo jo khichi hai wo kaheen bhi lagnee nahin chahiye. Nahin nateeja bahut bura hoga, samajh lo abhi se.

(The photo you’ve taken of me should not be put up anywhere. Or else the result will be bad, kapish?)

Barely 10 years old this guy. Then he walked away. His manner was so adult it stumped me for a bit. The way the threat was constructed, the tonal pattern. This other boy came up to me and said,

Aap se dar ra hai woh.

( He is afraid of you.)

This boy was even younger. Maybe 8, yet he stated the profound, obvious truth of the situation without batting an eyelid. I have always believed that everyone knows the plain truth about our existence at all times. Even the ones in the deepest trance will utter it and not realize what they have said. I asked one of the boys to bring him to me. I told him that not a second of footage would see the light of day without his permission. I asked him his name and then shook his hand. First he refused to even come to me. Then he refused to shake my hand. He didn’t know what to do with my friendliness. Since he was still a kid, he did melt. He smiled and finally shook my hand even though he tried to maintain his original air of distance. He couldn’t possibly let it all go in front of his friends. It was such a vivid example of how fear and desire operate in a person. The boy clearly wanted to be filmed but he couldn’t come to terms with the idea that that might mean his secrets will be exposed. He wanted to talk to me and gather round and peer into the camera like the other kids but he couldn’t admit it. His deepest desire in the moment was masked from him because of fear. It is possibly, this dynamic when reinforced over a period of decades solidifies into what we recognize as the ego. This interplay of fear and desire that play hide and seek in our minds and appear in bewitching disguises to ensure we remain hopelessly lost.

Just Live Dear Boy

March 22, 2015 § 5 Comments

Today I attended a meeting of the resident welfare association of my colony in New Delhi. Mostly senior citizens. Within the first 10 minutes of the meeting, a full blown shouting match involving multi-directional messaging had commenced. Most of it was people telling other people that “they cannot talk like that.” It was a chain of disciplinary advice. Everybody wants to be someone. Everybody wants to matter. Indian people, I find, make the most transparent pursuit of significance. They try to hog space, power, attention and money whenever, however and wherever possible. A truly materialistic lot. There is a certain naivete to this that is endearing. I am coming from a place where the search of significance is accompanied by an insidious need to hide the fact that it is happening at all. Or to escape from one’s human nature into an imagined utopia of emotional perfection which becomes nothing more than a plastered facade of political correctness, fair play and social etiquette. Indian people are hopelessly transparent, prone to manipulation by colder hearts. There is so much infighting that it is trivial to play one against another.

In the relentless epic of colonization in the Indian sub-continent, another chapter has now opened. This time, we want it (although it can be argued that that was the case earlier too). It begins with the appearance of six-pack abs on the Bollywood circuit. A sure sign that simple Dilip Kumar-esque charm or Bachchani bravado will not cut it any more. Men and women alike must up their body sexualization game in order to get with the program. It is now possible to do CrossFit in India. An abomination of masochism invented by the mainstream fitness militia of the United States where you torture yourself physically and then ingest high energy medicine-food to develop muscle and perhaps some semblance of “character.” A completely wasteful exercise that produces no benefit to society other than the ever receding mirage of personal and sexual gratification for the participant.

Then there is the all encompassing campaign for vikaas (development). Development for India apparently begins with the procurement of a diplomatic visa to the United States for the Prime Minister. More highways, more industry, more high rise flats, more jobs, more insurance, more flights, more, more, more. Yeh dil maange more! (thanks Pepsi). We are begging to be converted into a third rate suburb in Michigan.

As I watched the residents of my colony have a go at each other over every small matter, sometimes over no matter at all, I realized that in India life just sort of plods along. People have not been turned into hyper-efficient, muscular machines of progress. They speak their minds freely, express dissent and stall matters at the drop of a hat, bigger picture be damned. They eat sweets, drink chai four times a day, fight their hearts out, hardly exercise, make a fine mess of life and honestly, it is really not all that bad. The human soul is not a glass menagerie of perfection. It is a flawed phantom of convictions that unabashedly wants to matter in this world.

Alan Watts says that intelligence is just systematic doubt. It is a delaying of inevitable matters with the hope of optimizing for some ridiculous parameter like money or “eventual satisfaction.” One of my favorite Hollywood stories allegedly occurred on the set of the movie Marathon Man starring Dustin Hoffman and Sir Laurence Olivier. For a scene where he had to portray a harrowed and tired man on the run, Hoffman appeared on set disheveled and not having slept for two days in the hopes of producing a convincing performance. To which Olivier said, “just act, dear boy.” When I find myself trying to think of the perfect attitude toward life and how to develop it or how to achieve perfect inner tranquility and flawless outer manner, I say to myself, “just live, dear boy.”

Firsts

March 20, 2015 § 5 Comments

Many firsts. The other day I had my first road rage incident since I’ve been back home. It ended with the guy passing me in a tizzy, cutting me off by blocking the road in front of me and leaning out of his window to yell at me. I remained inside the car and kept quiet. I’m told people are shooting each other over parking nowadays. That was another first. The restraint in the face of public provocation. Also for the first time, I am single and not frantic about it. For the first time, I let each day live itself. For the first time I don’t question the ultimate value of time spent with people. For the first time, I know what it means to let go and be yourself. For the first time, risks don’t seem daunting. For the first time, I am saying yes to practically everything and everyone and yet life seems to go at a languid pace.

To embody a completely new consciousness and perspective is sometimes unnerving. At times I talk to people and as I look at them, I ask who it is that is looking. People keep asking, now that you’re back home after 10 years what is your plan? I don’t have a plan, I have many ideas. Delhi is so activated and energized that I am having to push work away and push gigs away. Practically every conversation I have is bursting at the seams with promise.

Today I walked to the mosque and joined Friday prayer just in time for the first rakat. On the way back, 8 men were trying to push a huge tractor and a cart full of mud out of an equally big mound of mud. The wheel was completely jammed. The men, one of them at the wheel, were heaving the beast out of the dirt. They would do a large push coordinating it with the accelerator and the tractor would lift a few inches out of the dirt and plummet right back. A man got under the wheel with a shovel and dug some mud out. Another one blocked the wheel with bricks. I joined them. They did not resist or notice it much at all. They would invoked various Gods, mantras and chants. Chew tobacco during the breaks and get back at it. After 3 attempts, there was a final heave which I felt in my bones would work. It did. This evening I can barely walk because I think I injured my knee. It was worth it. To feel that moment of union when men are joined together in a single consciousness. Amazing how much it has to do with the mind. If we can control our minds and not be controlled by them, the effort of life can be eliminated altogether.

I’ve been volunteering at a school that my mother oversees in the heart of Old Delhi town. Well, it is now the heart. When it was built 300 years ago it was actually outside the confines of the city, just outside the Ajmeri Gate. When it was built, it was not a school at all, I think. I’m still learning the history of the place. It is a world heritage monument but it is a living monument in the sense that it has a school compound which actually operates as a school and it adjoins a Mughal mosque that still operates as a mosque. A rare gem where you can see modern life occur in a historical building preserved in its original form. The beauty of Islamic prayer is that it does not change from generation to generation so as i stood in file today at the mosque, I can’t imagine it would have been too different when Aurangzeb was still emperor.

My mother has a giant office where I work on the school website with the guy who teaches computers to the kids. A very shy Sikh man who is intensely obedient and sincere.He told me he had a love marriage and knew his lady for three years before they got married. The school is free so severely deficient in money and resources. The people are wonderful. At least, they are wonderful to me. My mother’s assistant, Furkhan bhai, is very impressed that I spent 10 years away from home and came back despite having “seen the world.” He thinks that is true imaan. There is another gentleman who does accounts who is outgoing personality. Today after we finished some work, he suggested we all go into the galis to eat Kalloo bhai ki nihari. Nihari is a slow cooked meat preparation that is made from the inner thigh and loin cut of beef. It is intense and spicy and sprinkled with fresh cilantro and sliced ginger. It is sold for two hours after the asr prayer only. Later, I learned someone fired a gunshot over some nihari related brawl once. Men place plates of nihari on the backseats of scooters and eat dinner standing up, washing it down with Coca Cola. Two boys squat in what looks like an old toilet that has been converted into a place for a clay oven and roast naan, served fresh off the coals to the clientele. The gentleman from accounts is an insider and he got us a spot in a little alcove that had picnic tables to eat on.

Praying in the mosque that adjoins the school is a sublime experience. The simplicity of life and the non-existence of expectation is like a wash of cold, fresh, mountain spring water on a soul that is scorched by the anxiety of insignificance in the high achieving inferno of the San Francisco bay area. I got stuck in really bad traffic on the way to and from the school. I mean, really bad. Hours on end waiting for signals and dust flying around on uneven roads and blaring horns. Million near misses. Everything still feels right. I watch everything with a hear that is ready to cry any moment and eyes that forever smiling inside.

AAP is not it

March 7, 2015 § Leave a comment

I am not a fan of Arvind Kejriwal. Only a fan of what he has made possible for Indian politics. I am a fan of his chutzpah and screw-everything attitude. People are hollering on about the ouster of Prashant Bhushan and Yogendar Yadav from the political affairs committee. I am sad about this. I absolutely adore Yogendar Yadav. If AAP leaders were put in a museum he would continuously attract the maximum visitors despite Arvind Kejriwal being on the brochure. Honestly, I don’t care about the Aam Aadmi Party. A political party as far as I am concerned, is a campaign vehicle to get the right people and the right ideas into power. After they’re in the house, the political party is no longer my primary concern. They are free to re-organize and restructure till kingdom come. Our eyes should now be on the people in government who we voted for. We have to watch them like hawks and demand that they stay true to every promise or else give us damned good reasons for deviating. This is where “not being a fan of anyone” is important. Personal admiration aside, I am decisively not a fan of Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister. I have high hopes from him and I believe in him but make no mistake, he is a public servant and I will demand to be served, muffler or not. I am elated he resigned as the national convener of the party. He is the chief minister for Ganesha’s sake, he has a lot of work to do. Delhi is a consummate shithole of pollution, population, corruption, crime and general filth. I don’t want him sorting out his political party. I want him sorting out my city so I don’t have to build a house in Dharamshala.

This brings us to the painful realization that AAP is not a shortcut. There are no shortcuts in the sustainable the transformation of nations. The AAP has brought to the fray a value system for the polity. This system is based on directness, candor, accountability, transparency and simplicity. Most importantly, it has conjured up the intoxicating dream that elections can be won by common people. It has turned social media, blogs, YouTube, local musicians into powerful tools of political battle. The kind of government that Kejriwal has brought into the assembly may work to remove some systematic corruption and offer slightly more generous infrastructural support to the aad aadmi so we can expect some changes. I don’t expect these changes to be dramatic. The sea change, the dormant deluge lies in the political awakening of the middle class. A phenomenon that we owe to the efforts of Arvind Kejriwal in the AAP. If the landslide majority win for the AAP in Delhi is mirrored by a shift in perspective of the common people across Delhi, then we have game on. Here is what I mean. I mean that people on the streets are already citing the Kejriwal regime for not accepting dubious behavior from the police, from shopkeepers, from autowallahs and from each other. There is the “ab yeh nahin chalega” attitude that is setting in. I said it to an auto guy the other day when he demanded some unearthly sum to take me to Lajpat Nagar. I will go further to say that if the AAP government is to work at all, we have to see this transformation in the consciousness and mentality across Delhi.

We all have to realize that we cannot expect any government to police us, to babysit us, to hold us accountable, to respect women, to drive while sober and tell us to pay our bills on time. Unless we want some hostile surveillance state with CCTV cameras everywhere a dozen sting operations a day. If Kejriwal is able to legislate successfully, with 67 seats I don’t see how not, then we can fully expect more power to be shifted to the hands of the common people. The very model depends on the responsible and competent conduct of the citizen body.

I fully anticipate the formation of new parties. There is already dissenting voices in the AAP party ranks and all kinds of hell is breaking loose with people going off road and making party meeting details public. This is a great thing. The AAP mission was to change the rules of the game and if you bring in new game you have to expect new players. I mean what kind of person would want to see a carefully planned expansion of AAP across the entire country with landslide victories and seas of those white caps. That is not Swaraj, its a hegemony of a party that is clearly imperfect. Besides, those white caps are boring beyond a point. I want to see new parties come up and challenge AAP with even higher standards for transparency and candidate selection, with better plans for rural development, with awesome ideas about green energy and local handicraft. Why stop at AAP, bring on the SAAP and the BAAP and while we’re at it even a PAAP. My ideal situation will be a set of AAP-like parties with different ideas battling it out all over India and getting all up in each other’s faces about every issue. That is decentralization, that is democracy, that is Swaraj. How banal for the AAP to just duplicate the Delhi-model in other states. That whole “duplicating state model in the whole country” schtick has already been tried and the jury is out on how awesome it really is.

Democracy is dirty. Delhi is a five year experiment. If you are between the ages of 20 and 35, you should be watching very very very carefully. The AAP has done what they set out to do. They have changed the rules of game. The Delhi Vidhan Sabha as of now is rapist-free unless one of those three candidates has something in the closet. We have leveled up. It is a new world and it is wide open. It is painful and unacceptable that we don’t have an amazing opposition who could keep the Kejriwal machine in check. Get off your asses. Stop using Facebook as a selfie-repository and ask for a password reset on that 10 year old blog you had started while slacking off before maths exams. Start a community radio station, don’t for God’s sake bribe anyone, get in line, get out of your head. You could be Chief Minister in 5 years. It’s time. Game on. Jai Hind.

A Beautiful Day

February 16, 2015 § 3 Comments

Thank you for this beautiful day, spirit

This beautiful, beautiful, beautiful day

— Chant at the Noah Project singing group in Berkeley

There was a time not too long ago when my skin always looked good. Youthful, smooth. Now, it varies by the day. Sometimes I wake up with dark circles and other times I glow like a light bulb depending on how the day is going. It is as if it is a sensor for my internal state. Like an LED on a car dashboard. I woke up today with a puffy face, a dull reddish hue on my cheekbones. It was uncomfortably warm out and I had a lot of chores to do for my going away party.

Everyone wants to feel like they left an imprint on a place they have lived in for a long time. I am no exception. I have never had a great understanding of social protocol when it comes to inviting people to events. I tend to improvise just as I’m planning a party and invited whoever comes to mind. Usually I have various groups of people from different things I do and I do pay some regard to not mixing too much but I am only minimally mindful. I am often flummoxed when someone does not show up and later a friend tells me that that person probably felt awkward coming to the party. After thinking about it I guess I sort of understand this conceptually but I have no embodied understanding of how this must feel. I mostly want to go to all parties I am invited to (not many) and as a result I do sometimes find myself just standing by myself somewhere where I only know the host who is usually too busy to spend time with me. In my single days I go in the hopes of making friends and perhaps finding someone special. This mostly does not turn out well. Making friends is hard here as it is, let alone befriending people at a party who are in various states of inebriation. This still doesn’t stop me. I love being included. Feeling left out and alone is one of my least favorite things even though being alone is what I have done a lot of in the last two years. A lot.

Really, its true that the people who show up are the ones you have given the most to. The group of people who showed up today taking time out of their weekends (a premium time in the Bay Area) to say goodbye are people I have amassed like jewels on a necklace one by one over the years. A friend I met at a singles meetup in the South Bay. I never dated her but we became really close friends and we have come a long way from that first meeting. It was awkward, dark. Most people were drunk. We were not. She had gotten divorced a year or so ago and was finally ready to meet people. I was new to the Bay Area and very lonely. We left and exchanged numbers in the parking lot. We realized we would never be more than friends but we also knew that we would be good friends. Today she told me that her kids were sad I was leaving and wanted to see me. Awkward first meeting can turn into deep, beautiful friendships. It takes work and belief. Another dear, dear friend of mine who has been by my side in the best of time and in the worst of times. We met in an improv class and I remember having to drive somewhere far away after class and I had this lost expression on my face. I asked her if she knew how I could to that place and she took out a pen and paper, sat down on a table and drew a map for me. Then she had me follow her to the exit and hung her hand out of the window and pointed to the exit I should take. That is how we first met and we said goodbye to each other in tears today.

A lot of people wanted to hear the story of why I decided to leave and what I am going to do. I have some answers to this question which are all good reasons but the real reason cannot be spoken of more than to say that it is a deep sense of knowing. Often people will tell me I am really brave for leaving without any plan for what I will do or where I will be in India. I see how they might think that but inside me I don’t feel any bravado. I feel completely detached from the good or the bad that might come out of this move. All I know is I feel unshackled. A friend of mine says it will be a time of serendipity for me since I am about to dive into a life of meandering. A meandering that feels purposeless and profoundly purposeful at the same time.

Start a large foolish project, like Noah!

It makes absolutely no difference what people think of you

— Rumi

I told a friend as they left today how fortunate I am that everything I have learned from people who came today to see me is going to be with me wherever I go. All of the love I have received from them will fortify from me the forces of despair and covetousness in the world. It is testimony to the fact that whether we know it or not, we are constantly in the process of exchanging knowledge and love with those who we interact with and we are transformed by their presence in our lives and they by ours. Constantly.

I am because we are.

— Doug Von Koss

The venue I had rented to have my party is something called the Finnish Brotherhood Hall. An old community center for the Finnish community. The manager told us that his whole are used to be Fin town and this hall a gathering place for the Finnish immigrant community. There are only about 15 active members of the hall now left. The place is all wooden. Floor, tables, long benches up against the wall. I had rented the basement space but they have a main hall upstairs which is beautiful. With chandeliers, curtains of Delft blue and wall hangings with Finnish insignia. As people tricked out and after a lot of goodbyes, more than I would like, this jolly fellow with a pony tail and almost no hair in the front came into the hall to fill water in his bottle. A friend of mine got to talking to him and he told us there is a singing event in the upstairs hall later in the evening. My friend said she was gonna do it. I told her I would do it with her. So we came back to my apartment to drop some stuff and an hour later we walked into the hall and saw something like I had never seen before. A large number of very merry people walked about the hall and we were greeted by a man wearing a deep red collar. He had on a table a large wooden bowl with warm water and next to it three red candles in old style holders. We dipped our hands in the water and then he wiped them with a towel and that was our welcome ritual. It was cult-like. Another large table under the main chandelier in the center of the hall had a variety of Valentines day goodies. Roses, boxes of candy and more red candles. Most people were over 60. Everyone seemed merry to the point of it being a little ridiculous.

“This is the singing event, right?” I asked somewhat hesitantly.

A man answered with a big smile. “It sure is!”

It sure was. It was led by a man called Doug Van Koss. A thin, tall man with a mane of white hair and a manner that exuded a sense of deep devotion blended with an almost foolish zest. He also happened to be in the art department for Star Wars, Episode IV, Return of the Jedi. A kind of character you will only find in Berkeley. He invited us to sing in what he called a perfection-free zone. People gathered round the candlelit table in a circle and he conducted us through songs, chants, poems. He had pulled them from across the world. A Latin hymn of divine adoration, a moon chant from the Seneca nation. The whole time I was there, I couldn’t believe that I was. That I was singing and chanting from the very depth of my heart. I am certain that it was by no random chance that I was there. It was a rite of passage for me. Into my new life. At one point, we chanted, “Open my heart, open my heart, open my heart.” This was no coincidence. I met a woman from Israel and we spoke of home and finding new homes. We hugged. I met a stunning woman. She holds the distinction of being the first woman who has looked directly into my eyes for a full 5 or so minutes that she talked to me, having just met me.  Her gaze was so intense and beautiful that I found myself being mesmerized and had to keep looking away and smiling in an awkward way. Awkwardness is the beginning of wonderful things. At certain times in the evening, I caught myself singing with such abandon that I felt nothing but open sky in my chest. Then, just like that they went into a dance performance. Improvised Argentine tango. These people were quite old but graceful. And they knew how have fun. People read poetry. It was a bountiful celebration of everything it means to be alive.

Fulfilled. Overwhelmed. I walked back along the familiar path to my home. The home I am about to leave. At night my two favorite companions witnessed and shared my joy. The blue-black sky and the bare trees in the soft moonlight. The black cat and the spotted white cat that prowl around my apartment complex weren’t there today. I came home and looked at myself in the mirror. My skin looked flawless, like I was still 23. Which is when I left from India to come here.

Goodbye everyone. Goodbye Berkeley. Thank you for your deep love and joy.

Thank you for this beautiful day, spirit

This beautiful, beautiful, beautiful day

— Chant at the Noah Project singing group in Berkeley

What history feels like

February 10, 2015 § 7 Comments

Ever wonder what it feels like to be part of history that will be taught in textbooks? It feels like this. And it looks like this.

7070

I am history. I am stuck to the Delhi election website.

The AAP is leading in 65 seats in Delhi. Out of 70. Delhi is waking up. Power to the people. Jai Hind.

After 10 years of being away from home I am returning in 19 days to live among my own once again. A momentous time to return. I have spent the last 3 years watching the slow yet steady rise of the fundamentalist right wing in India and at time have been overcome by anxiety. I watched Narendra Modi’s aggressive speeches and felt sick to the stomach when my own friends started to drool over him. Ending in the historic landslide win giving total control of the Lok Sabha to the BJP. The fear of losing my home as I knew it became all too real when recently just a few miles away from my flat communal riots broke out in Bawana and Trilok Puri.  The government was silent. Delhi felt like a pressure cooker blowing off steam. I saw a chilling photograph of police drones flying over the riot stricken area taken by my friend. Two things struck me. The police use drones? What was my friend doing in riot affected areas two days after the violence happened?

Leading positions in 66 seats. The Congress is at 0. Is this real?

This told me two things. First, India has changed since I left. Second, my contemporaries have the courage and the means to question the system. 10 years of separation is a lot. I am 33. I cannot state verbally what the difference is between a 23 year old and a 33 year old but for the first time I can feel it in my bones, in my heart. I have lost that kind of scared, wide-eyed look. That amalgam of fear, wonder and curiosity. It has been replaced with a steady gaze. The gaze of observation and responsibility.

My father just called. He says Arvind Kejriwal ne inka raita phaila diya.

I still remember the day I saw the picture of man with spectacles and a Delhi-Uncle-Ji moustache in the papers. He was smiling and waving to the crowds surrounded by cameramen. Arvind Kejriwal. I scanned the article headline. Something about an Aam Aadmi Party. Without knowing anything about either the person or the party, some very muted ray of hope emerged for a second deep in my psyche and died out. I read the article in a trance. I couldn’t understand what was going on. This man had broken away from the Anna Hazare movement and started his own party to battle corruption. The rest is history. I devoured his interviews, his speeches and everything about him on YouTube. Not a day would go by when I didn’t type “Modi news” in Google and spend half an hour getting depressed as more and more ridiculous news poured in about changes in school curriculum, crazy demands by the saffron right, ghar-wapasi and perpetual stony silence from the Prime Minister. This morning routine changed. I would now type “kejriwal news” in to the text box and watch him tackle interviewers, have egg thrown on him, get slapped, be ridiculed.

The Aam Aadmi Party became a permanent fixture in my life. To my delight, I saw more and more of my friends become interested. I saw people me age giving interviews on television. This was nothing short of revolutionary. Ever since childhood I had seen these angry, violent people in my neighborhood be associated with politics. The jobless, loud son of the uncle-ji who lived downstairs and mysteriously owned a Honda Accord when most people had two-wheelers was a member of the Congress party. When I was in college, the guys in the youth wings of political parties were people that you basically never saw on campus. Smarmy, oily faces and you’d see them sometimes waving from a truck full of hooligans. For the first time, I saw “politicians” who were professors, social activists, journalists.

One day I watched Yogendar Yadav give an interview on television. He told a story about how he was called Salim when he was born. The story went that his father watched his grandfather be butchered to death by a Muslim during communal riots. His response was to give his son a Muslim name because he refused to accept that an entire community could be violent. Yadav ji cried when he told the story. For the first time in my life, I felt what could be termed inspiration from something a political figure had said on television.

Still leading in 66. It is the age of absolute majorities. Our family friend just called from College Station. He is a long time BJP guy. He conceded gracefully and said he was happy. He invited me to come stay with him in Texas. I should go.

I am an emotional guy. I am an actor. It goes with the territory unless you’re Christopher Walken. But the AAP is more than just hard-hitting personal stories. They have hired some very smart people in the last 8 months. They’ve got people from IIT, from CSDS, from the entertainment industry, lawyers. They already had amazing people from the street movement. They have redefined what social media means to Delhi politics. Kejriwal has tempered his words, he gives one knockout interview after the other. A new era has begun. In Delhi politics and as it happens, in my life. I am so full of hope. I don’t fear the right wing juggernaut as much. Apparently, Modiji has called Kejriwal to congratulate him and promise support from the Center. A fitting response. Modiji is smart, no denying it.

Down to 63. Any bets for the final tally?

Its all new. Its all for the very first time in Delhi, not since Independence, since forever. 67% of Delhi turned out to vote. A record. The Pandavas would have been envious. It is like music in my heart. Sweet music. If you are a young person (0-40 years), never again underestimate your voice. The AAP will come to power but it is not on them. They are only 60 odd people, by the looks of it. We all have to commit to reforming ourselves beginning from the core. No more bribes. No more littering. We will demand governance and we will ask questions because no government is perfect (even if they have an opposition of 7 Vidhan Sabha members). It is a thing of the past when blogs were just a hobby. When YouTube was just a novelty on the Internet. They are now tools of transformation. There is a lot of work to be done. The work has begun now.

Sitaaron se aagey jahaan, aur bhi hain, Abhi ishq ke imtihaan aur bhi hain. 

Come, let us dream together. Imagine Lajpat Nagar without all the encroachment and illegally parked cars. Imagine the slums in Okhla Tank turned into flats and the people who have worked in our homes as domestic helpers have real homes and water and 24×7 electricity. Imagine when you get into a fight on the street and you call the police and they come and help. Imagine if the guy who has sold vegetables to you for the last 20 years can send take his sick wife to the government hospital without coming and asking you to put in a good word. Imagine when a church is attacked and vandalized in the capital, the government takes action and issues a statement. Imagine, not being helpless. Imagine, being served. Imagine. And work for it. It will take years. There will be a lot of mistakes. There might even be abject disappointment and shock at times but mistakes are better than ennui and helplessness.

You gotta feel for Shazia Ilmi. You know, I feel bad because I know she means well. I think she got steamrolled in the Arvind Kejriwal parade but Shazia ji, this has got to say something to you about a process called delayed gratification. If you can learn from mistakes, you will remain a leader in my eyes. I think you will do well. I feel like I should say something to Kiran Bedi ji, but I don’t know what. She is a strong lady.

Just saw this headline. “Gloom descends on BJP offices in Delhi.”

Yeah, no shit. Delhi is not Gujarat. Today I feel like Delhi is the Capital with Capital C. Like the people from Delhi cannot be played and like the bad rap we’ve got for being badtameez and loud and stupid can finally take a chill pill. Oh my word. I just saw Sambit Patra on TV. It is honestly, the best thing I have seen … basically ever. Crap, it was live online streaming and I can’t take a screenshot. Probably for the best. Some things are best experienced once and laid to rest.

They’ve won in 3 seats and leading in 60. That’s 63/70.  90%. Its still not as good as Harshita’s board exam score. The thing is why are they trailing in 7 seats. What happened? I just heard someone say that unlike Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi’s performance is at least consistent. I can’t sleep tonight.

Detective Professor

February 8, 2015 § 1 Comment

Recently a good friend of mine contacted me. He is Bengali and upholds the tradition by being a dedicated scholar and a thorough intellectual, so I jokingly call him “professor.” Professor is an old friend from back when I did a short stint with Tata Consultancy. We then again found ourselves in the same neck of the woods when he enrolled in graduate school at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I would often drive up into the mountains to spend the weekend with him. He lived in a tranquil, old house with some roommates right by the boardwalk. He has since then moved back home to pursue further research in computer science at IIT Bombay. He was browsing at a book fair in Kolkata where he came across a book. He has always been a big reader, making recommendations and writing critique. In a stupendous display of memory and presence of mind he spotted a photo on a book cover that he recognized as one I took years ago. It was an old man I had met in Connaught Place who sat by the pavement. He had moved me so much that I had gone back a year later to see if he was still there. Professor made the connect and even remembered that I had taken the photo in Connaught Place.

“Wasn’t this photograph taken by you in CP a long time ago?”
The message popped up on Facebook messenger. Indeed it was. He said he didn’t see any credit but had not been through the fine print so it was possible it was buried somewhere. On further research it turned out that the publisher is based in Telangana, was incorporated in 1948 and takes great pride in printing material with a “consistent emphasis on quality.” To make matters ever more dramatic, they published all of my elementary school English textbooks. Quite a reunion.

The reason to not get indignant is that there is someone that has a larger right to that photo than I do. The subject. And I can guarantee you my dear, he does not give a darn. The only correct course of action here is to tell a little more of his story before we start either squabbling over rights or making magnanimous displays of nonchalance. The man in the photo is a shoe maker (why he is on the cover of a book of dalit literature I have no idea, unless the cover designers just assumed he was dalit). A shoe repairer, to be precise. He came every day to sit at the very same spot from 23 miles away, undertaking a bus journey that lasts 2 hours each way. He made just about enough every day to pay for the ticket and a meal. Other than the presence of his shoe repairing equipment, there was nothing else about his demeanour that even remotely suggested that he was sitting on that corner by way of some business. I think he just gets by by sharing tea and meals with the hawkers and sellers who share the street with him. I could tell that he enjoyed their love and sympathy. This was his world, where he came and sat everyday and sometimes repaired shoes.

I asked him if I could take a picture and he noted that several people over the years “from foreign lands” have taken pictures of him. I remember I immediately felt silly and awkward having had the bubble of supposed originality burst so unceremoniously. Felt acutely aware of the glare of the on-lookers knowing that they thought of me a a foreigner in my own land. I hesitantly offered him some money and he took it without question.

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