Friday, September 17, 2010

The Only William Zinsser Thing I've Ever Liked

Where did the summer go?

I thought it had just begun.

Somebody tell me I counted wrong

And it’s really still July.

Somebody tell me the sun

Isn’t really so low

In the sky.

Where did they all get lost,

The things that we somehow missed?

Somebody tell me it’s not too late

To cross them off our list.

Somebody tell me . . . but who am I kidding?

I feel that chill in the air.

Somebody tell me,

I’d like to know


Did the summer go?

- William Zinsser

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Bicycle Story

I was in the seventh standard and beginning to lose interest in studies. Yes, that was the beginning of what’s now well realized. We had just moved into our new house, not big in itself, but twice the size of the hovel I lived in before. Excited initially by the possibility of spending time privately in this new house, away from the eyes of my parents, I had taken ardently to watching a lot of television shows that were forbidden, I knew, earlier, even though I was never explicitly told that they were forbidden. It wasn’t really this, either. What I had actually been putting most of my time into now, was daydreaming in a secluded corner about the girls in my school and around my new house: not the ones who were the most coveted since I’ve always kept away from crowded scenes, but the ones who were still cute, and, let’s face it, with whom I stood a chance. Was there any one girl I had grown particularly fond of? Yes, but mostly, it was just the idea of being boyfriend-girlfriend that fascinated pre-eminently. Now days would pass languorously in wondering about their likes and dislikes, and working out ways to mould myself into whatever they would like, and away from what they wouldn’t. Sometimes, I’d gather some aplomb and call up one of them, only to end up talking about assignments and projects and the eccentricities of our teachers, or bitching about this guy and that girl, and that guy’s fascist father, and this girl’s vain victorian mother. For six straight years I had been standing second in my class, but when the half-yearly results were declared that year, I found out that I was seventh, and from the bottom.

In my locality one lame, lanky boy had brought a really awesome bicycle, with gears and everything, and in those days, the concept of cycles that we children rode having gears was a little novel and somewhat awe-inducing. Everyone seemed impressed, even, sadly, the ones who mattered. Ever since this new bicycle had been got by Sudhanshu, for all the rest of us it was the cynosure, and he the eyesore. I went after my Dad to get me one. Not this, not really. It would be no special to get this one now that he already had it. I wanted one to trump this one. One of those days, I happened to visit a fair with my family where the cycle-makers Hercules happened to have a stall. I immediately rushed in to have a look at all of them, and closed in upon the best looking – Hercules Mongoose – yeah, this is what I am going to have, I decided. I told my Dad that I wanted it, but he said that I should take more time to explore other options elsewhere too, to find out which one I really want, and then go about it. It was really expensive, he said, and he wouldn't want that it be bought on an impulse, and then be forgotten about a few days later. That would never happen, I insisted. He stuck to his stand. Then all of us moved to a different corner in the fair where my family members all had ice-cream, but I didn’t want any. Mango Shake? No, no mango shake either, I want nothing.

The evening after, we were both on DTC route number 450, on our way to Jhandewalan, my father and I. Jhandewalan, I had just been told that morning, was the wholesale haunt of all bicycle manufacturers. What was I to understand from that, I asked them. Hundreds of shops, all cycles, cycles, cycles! Really? No! Really? Yay! The mere prospect that such a place existed and which I would be visiting was fairytailishly inspiring, plus, to be getting a bicycle too, that was just way too much for a day. I remember how I couldn’t even have my meal properly in the midst of all the excitement. Inside 450, both of us were talking about the popular types of snakes after we’d spotted a snake charmer on the roadside from our window: Rattle snakes, Venoms, Cobras.. ‘Is cobra and Ajgar the same thing, Papa’, I asked because I remembered a similar hype around Ajgar among the Hindi-folk as I remembered the one around Cobra within English leaning circles. No, said my dad, they’re different. No, said the old lady sitting behind us, they’re different. I didn’t ask you dear stranger, I went in my head, even as she gave her opinion of us father and son. ‘You’re a good father-and-son. You’re a good father’, she said looking at Dad, ‘and you’re a good soon’, she said turning to me. She must have been a school headmistress, I thought, but her pleasant comment had served to replace the intrusive impression she had left of herself on me moments earlier, with a polite 'Thanks Aunty'.

We reached. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. With every new cycle I looked at, my decision changed. ‘This one pucca, I’m not looking at any other cycle now Papa, I’ve closed my eyes and don’t ask me to open them please, I’ll get this’, I spoke aloud finally. I got it. Hero Hawk. Gears! Dad even rode it outside the shop for a while. It was an indescribable thrill to see him riding a cycle; if it were 2010, I would have taken loads of pictures of the same on my mobile, and spent the next few months looking at them every now and then and showing them to loved ones. But it was 1998, and I just kept smiling with my twenty-six teeth constantly visible, and then took an auto back, in which he, the bicycle and I were packed like carrots inside a pencil-box.

Two weeks later, the bicycle was stolen from where I used to park it, just inside the iron main-gate. I’ve been thinking of asking my Dad to buy me an Enfield for a while now.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


"And yet none of his certainties was worth one strand of a woman’s hair. Living as he did, like a corpse, he couldn’t even be sure of being alive. It might look as if my hands were empty. Actually, I was sure of myself, sure about everything, far surer than he; sure of my present life and of the death that was coming. That, no doubt, was all I had; but at least that certainty was something I could get my teeth into—just as it had got its teeth into me. I’d been right, I was still right, I was always right. I’d passed my life in a certain way, and I might have passed it in a different way, if I’d felt like it. I’d acted thus, and I hadn’t acted otherwise; I hadn’t done x, whereas I had done y or z. And what did that mean? That, all the time, I’d been waiting for this present moment, for that dawn, tomorrow’s or another day’s, which was to justify me. Nothing, nothing had the least importance and I knew quite well why. He, too, knew why. From the dark horizon of my future a sort of slow, persistent breeze had been blowing toward me, all my life long, from the years that were to come. And on its way that breeze had leveled out all the ideas that people tried to foist on me in the equally unreal years I then was living through. What difference could they make to me, the deaths of others, or a mother’s love, or his God; or the way a man decides to live, the fate he thinks he chooses, since one and the same fate was bound to “choose” not only me but thousands of millions of privileged people who, like him, called themselves my brothers. Surely, surely he must see that? Every man alive was privileged; there was only one class of men, the privileged class. All alike would be condemned to die one day; his turn, too, would come like the others’. And what difference could it make if, after being charged with murder, he were executed because he didn’t weep at his mother’s funeral, since it all came to the same thing in the end? The same thing for Salamano’s wife and for Salamano’s dog. That little robot woman was as “guilty” as the girl from Paris who had married Masson, or as Marie, who wanted me to marry her. What did it matter if Raymond was as much my pal as CĂ©leste, who was a far worthier man? What did it matter if at this very moment Marie was kissing a new boy friend? As a condemned man himself, couldn’t he grasp what I meant by that dark wind blowing from my future? ... "

Lines from 'The Stranger', Albert Camus.


In these sodden, tired afternoons with the smell of starch,
The callithumps of glee and glum in my memories march,
One footfall and I bathe with bottles emptied in ecstasy abound,
Another and I'm licking the glaring grog out of the fusty ground.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Parakhna mat Parakhne mein koi apna nahi rehta

Parakhna mat Parakhne mein koi apna nahi rehta
Kisi bhi Aainey mein dair tak Chehra nahi rehta

Hazaron Shair Mere so gaye Kaghaz ki Qabron mein
Ajab Maa hun koi Baccha Mera Zinda nahi rehta

Bade Logon se Milne mein Hamesha Faasla rakhna
Jahan Dariya Samamdar se mila Dariya nahi rehta

Tumhara Shehar to bilkul Naye Andaaz wala hai
Hamare Shehar mein bhi ab koi Ham saa nahi reht

Koi Baadal Naye Mausam ka phir Elaan karta hai
Khizaan ke Baagh mein jab ek bhi Patta nahi rehta

Mohobbat ek Khushbu hai Hamesha saath rehti hai
Koi Insaan Tanhai mein bhi Tanha nahi rehta

- Bashir Badr

The Facebook Schemer's Monologue That He Hides From Himself Too

I felt it important to prove that my pessimistic, low outlook for my future was not the loser-talk she had found it to be, or dismissed it as. Pessimism seemed - possibly, I wouldn't completely deny this, because I was pessimistic then - the only intelligent, scientific view on the future based on the past. Just as optimism seems the only intelligent view on the future when you are optimistic, I guess. I felt it very important to impress upon her that pessimism could be intelligent, but more importantly, that sometimes intelligence cannot help but breed pessimism. That some confirmed genius had said something similarly bleak and broken seemed a perfect example to rub off on her, to bring her to think the way I wanted her to. And what do I ever want, frankly, but to be admired. It was as though that example could somehow make what I had said perfectly justified; purge it of the mawkish stink she had smelled in it. I googled looking for all quotes hopeless - they have these websites dedicated to quotes of all kinds: emphatic, motivating, resilient, tenacious, as also lonely, sad, despairing and disillusioned. Probably they know, the makers of these websites, savvy businessmen, that the lonely may seek not togetherness, the hopeless not hope, the tired not resilience; that they may all be seeking just validation: something that could adequately tell those tired that they are justified in being tired after the plethora of cruel rigor they've been through, those lonely that the world is no longer a world that merits any intimacy, and, to people like me, in a ' just to tell you a little secret' way that they are hopeless only because there actually, really, frankly is no hope in the first place. So, I went to those websites looking for pessimistic things said by famously intelligent men. Or by those that she thought intelligent, at any rate. After much frantic searching I zeroed in upon a particularly dismal, pessimistic view of that particularly famous genius, and I remember feeling glad, even somewhat victorious. I spent the entire day wondering, off and on, how exactly I am going to paste it on her. I certainly wouldn't tell her that Mr.X said thing ABC, that would be too direct, as if I were asking for something, which although I was. What would be the point of proving a point if she knew that it was proving a point I had set out to. She mustn't know that, she really mustn't for the facade of non-manipulation to remain in my manipulation, which I hoped would make my point, maybe imperceptibly, but surely, stronger. After the whole day thus spent, I reached to the solution that I'd put that quote up as my status message on facebook: the whole world, at least whoever forms my world, is there. The effort put straining my head has paid off, I thought, and did a mental 'Eureka!' Rather astute of me, I told myself. Dishonestly, for I always knew that the idea was no novelty, everyone's doing it with or without their knowledge, and that it's just as trite as the Eureka expression that followed it. But I went ahead anyway. It's early morning now, and despite my realisation of the things I did yesterday as folly and silly and dishonest and selfish, I am keen to see what happens, if anything. Chances are one or two of the myriad adds on my list will 'like' it, and then, I meet my end. My life has purpose. Voila!