Are We LOST?

I’d written the following piece as a column of mine in the DNA some time back. I thought it would be quite relevant to share it here on my website now that it is long published. It is an article that points a lens at a possible Identity Crisis we are in. It examines the question, Are We LOST?

Circa 1992. I enter the ‘common room’ in my boarding house at Doon and put a Bhimsen Joshi cassette into the decrepit but still surviving Philips Powerhouse music system. As Jago Mohan Pyare sounds through the speakers the rest of the boys playing TT, carrom, chess, or generally lounging around, cringe. They stare right at me, judging, pronouncing me awfully ‘uncool’. And while that wasn’t all the lads at school, I shamefully admit that it was the majority. That’s when it hit me. As Indians, we are in a phase of ‘identity crisis’.

Why am I talking about it in this column? Because it is a crisis that perhaps manifests most vividly through peoples’ choices in Films, Books and Music. And because I am also an educator who interacts with children across all age groups, I am deeply saddened to share that not only does the crisis continue, it has grown to epidemic proportions! We are just NOT a proud people. We define ourselves mostly through Western Culture. If my generation did not know and watch the popular American sitcom ‘Friends’, we weren’t cool enough. If today’s youth does not know or claim to love shows like ‘Stranger Things’ or ‘Breaking Bad’, its just not going to cut it. Binge watching Netflix is IN, watching wholesome Hrishikesh Mukherjee, OUT!

I am not for a moment pretending or propagating that I am, or that everyone else should be some nationalist prude. What I do certainly feel is that there is a paucity of national pride. Amidst all the noise and sensationalism of patriotism, Hinduism and nationalism that is defined by illogical and banal yardsticks that we all know and I don’t feel the need to delve into; we have genuinely ‘lost’ our Indian-ness.

The films we want to watch, at least urban India, are Hollywood blockbusters. The books we want to read are International Bestsellers rather than Indian books in Indian languages. And the music we want to listen to is ‘Gaga’ instead of a beautiful Raga, or ‘The Weeknd’ instead of Bhimsen!

I wonder what has caused this shift. What is it that makes us so terribly uncool to ourselves, if we subscribe to, and openly admit loving anything culturally Indian? Is it a pilfered morality of an urban elite that now all strata of society feel compelled to adopt? Why can we not strike a healthy balance between ‘Ishqiya’ and ‘i Zombie’, between A Suitable Boy and Confessions of a Shopaholic, between Indian and International?

Countries celebrate, venerate their artists, dedicate tombs and statues to them. And we drive ours away. From painters to musicians, writers and film makers; Indian culturists have sought refuge in the warmth and appreciation of foreign shores for decades. I suspect it is this dichotomous combination of people being too ‘cool’ or too ‘touchy’ for these artists’ expression!

To me, all it reflects is a huge identity crisis, that we must do our utmost to stop, by exposing our children to the myriad of mesmerizing Indian art.

Some Hits, Some Misses

I am asked constantly by parents, “how will your classes benefit my child?” Simple question. Fair question. NO simple answer.

As an Educator, I’ve learned this. There are NO guarantees in learning.

First, a student-teacher relationship is like that of a person’s with his or her therapist. It may be the world’s most intelligent student and the most sincere teacher; unless a genuine rapport is struck, there will be negligible learning.

Second, it isn’t always necessary that ‘benefits’ of an education, or of an interaction, are Tangible or Immediate. Things that some of my teachers told me at school, I am only now realizing some two decades hence, are relevant.

Third, teachers today are functioning in an environment where students’ attention spans have greatly diminished. Add to this, the fact that the class HAS to be entertaining. Not just any plain old entertainment; we are competing with the entertainment-value that a youtube video provides! So unless a teacher can connect with a student in a manner that vibes with the student, there is limited possibility of learning.

In my modest five years of teaching, in groups and individually, I’ve had some great triumphs, where students have endeared themselves to me for life, and I’d like to think there is a perceptible change that has come about in them. Having said that, I have no qualms admitting that there are several students whom I have failed to engage. Students who, it would seem, have not benefited from our interaction at all.

In the teaching-game, like in life, you win some, and you loose some. But your wins keep you going steadfastly on your mission!

Liberty

I left in haste

That hateful place

Decades, chased

A taste, for distaste

Talents, gone waste

Negative space

A bitter paste

Nothing aced

Barely braced

Poison-laced

Hauntingly traced

Outpaced

A fallacy showcased

Now, finally, emplaced

A freedom, chaste!

That Funny Feeling…

Like Coffee-Mug rings at the table

Wishing never to break the pattern

Without explanation, beyond logic, it happenes…

That funny feeling presented itself to me, unannounced, unplanned for, uninhibited, with little warning, for a third time, some fifteen years ago. If you feel you have a choice, you probably DO. If you are compelled to act, then you KNOW. The magnetic pull of the feeling is undeniable. It jostles for every ounce of your attention, vying for every second of each minute.

You know how, when you turn on the shower in winter-time, and the water from the water-heater usurps the ‘cold’ portion of your tap? The feeling is like that. All consuming. You know how when you need to write an exam that you’re not prepared for and your mind is clogged with no other thoughts? The feeling is like that. Omnipresent. You know how, at the first hint of monsoon rain, the peacocks don’t stop dancing? The feeling is like that. All pervasive.

A delectable feast with contrasting flavors, rich textures, layered nuance and though surprising, challenging even in the beginning, ultimately, completely, absolutely satisfying. Satiating a soul that you realize later, hungered for something that wasn’t quite known, wasn’t very clear, wasn’t  clearly defined.

That funny feeling came to me some fifteen years ago, and hasn’t left me, even since 🙂

A Matter Of OPINION

The Education System in India seldom asks a student for an opinion. At home, the scenario isn’t wildly different. Because we are brought up in a society where we have almost NEVER been compelled to THINK,  we are becoming a people of blind-doers, not of inventive, free-thinkers. One might contend that this is fine, that to have an army of people who ‘follow’, suits many. And that wouldn’t be incorrect. From our morality to our value-systems, our beliefs political and religious, it is ALL inherited. Without question. With unwavering faith invested in a way-of-life that we have never even bothered to explore outside of!

To me, this is the root of many evils. Patriarchy, a complex issue that can’t possibly be shrunk into a few sentences, certainly thrives because of this NO-THINKING statute. As does a slew of personal ideology, be it education, vocation, one’s life-partner & marriage…. The list is ENDLESS.

The result is tragic. The result is a society that feels crippled when asked for its opinion. A people who’s most fundamental, and most permanent decisions are made on the basis of a tiny set of choices, that too, by someone else! What we will study, what we will wear, how we will behave, what kind of work we will do, whom we will marry, when and how many children we will produce – EVERYTHING is decided by a person apart from the individual who’s life it is  (or was, until a few minutes of his/her birth)

When I am teaching and interacting with young people, I am struggling to get them to THINK. It is frustrating. Annoying. Debilitating even. But try I must. I have made it one of my life’s missions to instigate thought. Although it looks like an unending and arduous road; that people NEED to THINK, isn’t a matter of opinion.

Paint A Written Picture of YOURSELF!

One of the challenges I face all the time while teaching, is to try and get students to Write about themselves. It is vital that in order to DIFFERENTIATE themselves from one another, young people know how to write about their individual, unique journey, qualities, talents and such. Not only do I teach this in class, I also recently dedicated one of my weekly columns “A Word To The Wise” in the Times of India’s (Newspaper In Education) NIE, to this area. Since it is already published, I thought I should share this particular article because many found it useful, and hopefully you will too 🙂 So here goes:

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WRITING

As students, there will be many instances where we will be required to share an insight into our unique interests, achievements and future plans. This information will be required at the time of College Admissions, when seeking Internships at various Companies, and even when we finally seek Jobs. It is therefore always a good idea to get some practice in writing about ourselves, and to keep a general piece of writing about ourselves, ready to be modified/tweaked/updated when the need arrives. Welcome to Profile Writing.

In order to write an effective Profile about ourselves, we need a few things:

  1. Introspection – Think about and jot down (in point form) two to three primary interest/passion areas. They could be completely different from one another (soccer, accounts, music) or allied (DJing, Music Production, Music Events); that doesn’t matter.
  2. Achievements – Also make a point-wise note of achievements in each of those areas of interest.
  3. Realizations – At times, an experience of one thing leads to a realization. For example, while DJing, you might realize that you want to make your own music. Jot down those kinds of realizations.
  4. Future Plans – Make points about what and how you’d like to translate your passions into definite future plans. For example, a young DJ in grade 12 may want to study Music Production further in order to hone his craft.

The above is all the ‘prep’ you need to do BEFORE the writing can begin. Often times we make the rookie mistake of writing before research and thought-organization. This leads to our attention being diverted from the actual writing process because the mind is preoccupied with ‘what to write’, not ‘how to write’.

Once the above soul-searching has been done and noted in points, the writing process of a Profile can begin. There is no set word limit, but anything between 250-350 words is sufficient. Here’s a tried and tested format that never fails:

SENTENCE 1 – State who you are.

SENTENCE 2 – What you currently do.

SENTENCE 3 – Your pre-decided 2-3 Interest Areas

This constitutes your first paragraph, which ought to be in Present Tense.

PARAGRAPHS 2, 3 and 4 will be dedicated to writing about 1 Interest Area each. These will be in Past Tense because you will retrace how/when/where that specific interest began, how it developed, what your experiences & realizations were, and what you achieved.

CONCLUDING PARAGRAPH – This will be a sentence or two that will come back to Present Tense with one line about what you are currently doing in your interest areas, and a last line about Definite Future Plans relating to your Interest Areas.

An important recommendation – you should write your Profile in 3rd Person (as if someone else is writing about you) as well as in 1st Person (you are writing about yourself). This gives writing practise and lets you have two versions your Profile ready so you can submit the type that is required.

One important thing to remember though. 1st Person Profiles can tend to sound a bit pompous. Lets take an example. Say I have written ‘Kartik was invited by the European Union to Moderate Literary Panel Sessions at the World Book Fair’ in my 3rd Person Profile. This sounds fine. But the moment I convert it to 1st Person, simply changing the ‘Kartik’ to ‘I’ does not work because you end up with ‘I was invited by the European Union to Moderate Literary Panel Sessions at the World Book Fair’. This sounds needlessly self-praising and does not reflect well.

It has a very simple fix. Shift the ‘onus’ (responsibility) of the praise in 1st Person Profiles from yourself onto another person/institute/organization. Therefore, if I make the same sentence ‘The European Union asked me to Moderate Literary Panels at the World Book Fair’, you end up with a sentence that provides the same information in terms of conveying achievements but does it a little more subtly and in a non-showing-off way!

If any of you would be interested in writing a Profile for yourselves and would like to discuss it in further detail, I look forward to hearing from you.

Lost In People-Pleasing

Hotels are trying to be more like Homes, while Homes are busy looking like Hotels! Ironic isn’t it? What on earth is going on?!?

Was a time when, growing up, home was not so much about its appointments, rather about a feeling. A warm, protective, friendly, familiar embrace. A space that represented an intangible yet entirely palpable sense of belonging. Respite from the world. Like a soul mate who understood you instinctively. A loyal, devoted, unconditional bubble-of-comfort.

I sometimes find nowadays that a part of the ’emotion’ has been replaced with ‘ornamentation’. The warm familiarity with grandiose but cold luxury. The home has become a means to an end. An end that is squarely defined by ‘others’ perception of the home-makers. It has precious little to do with a space that defines its inhabitants, a place that reflects their innate individuality, or an environment that addresses first and foremost, its residents. A growing number of homes seem to be divorced from their dwellers’ aesthetic, and their lifestyles. The ‘new’ aim is simple yet disengaged – LOOK, WE HAVE ARRIVED (as defined by society)

This tragic shift in priority has resulted in homes looking and feeling more and more like perfectly manicured hotel-suites. Opulent materials, lavish decors, outspoken choices; a reality that has led to less homes being individualistic, personal, peculiar, and beautifully imperfect, just as people are! Its now a format, a template, achieved by subscribing to this unwritten but rampant ‘look-of-affluence’ that robs a home of any sophistication, class, poise, and real, distinct identity.

Was a time when a home was a reflection of its inhabitants. A manifestation that mirrored the amalgamated ethos and philosophy of a family, a cohort.  A home WAS, painfully personal…

Farce!

 As a young boy, whenever I’d visit my friends’ homes, see them interacting, playing, joking with their fathers, I would feel strange. The only way of explaining that mix of emotions is intrigue, surprise, and jealousy! Imagine that!

It wasn’t until I saw this repeatedly, through various stages of my childhood, that I realized something was seriously monumentally wrong with my relationship with my own father. See him and I, aside from rare and sporadic banter, shared a rather ambiguous, strained, formal dynamic. One that was status-quo to me. One that was headlined by fear, negativity, criticism, and assumption and had come to define any and all father-son relationships; until of course I realized otherwise.

While my friends, first at day school, then at boarding school, bonded, laughed, cried with their fathers, got a heap of unconditional emotional support from them; my father was busy being a deeply disturbed person. A father who perhaps viewed his 6 year old boy, as competition. As someone who was a natural heir to the philosophy his father ‘assumed’ (much like everything else in his head) the boy’s mother and her family represented – money, power, materialism. And so, I was, despite not having a clue to these concepts, antagonized, reprimanded, and hauled up for being ‘money-minded’, not interested in academics, a “carbon copy” of the Khemkas. All this was being screamed at me, accusations hailed, on an alarmingly regular basis. And I hadn’t a clue what my clearly ‘ill’ dad was on about! What I had done that was so bloody wrong? What kind of an evil creature I must be? And that I was clearly good-for-nothing; a fleeting feeling at first that eventually became my reality! That I was nothing, and would amount to an absolute nobody even later on in life! That fathers encourage, nurture, listen, get-to-know their kids, and provide positive re-enforcement no matter what – was entirely alien to me!

As time rolled on and I was away more than I was home, especially through boarding school, and college thereafter, these problems were compounded by persistent tirades that my father would launch into about how USELESS and HOPELESS my mum and her entire family was – to me! Each time my parents fought, I was square in the middle of it, physically, or from a distance. Over time, this had such a deep and unnerving impact on me, that I turned into a nervous-wreck. I was unable to focus on ANYTHING, because my mind was always clogged with thoughts of my own utter uselessness (as stated constantly and vehemently by my own father) and with what my mother was being subjected to at the hands of our omnipresent tormentor. At school, I could not focus on studies. At college, I could not concentrate. So much so that this burden, my ‘dark-passenger’,  had consumed me. I could not work, play, or love! I had several break-ups because my own fears and presumed inadequacies, and complete lack of self-concept (terribly skewed self-image) was making me frustrated, and I was inadvertently, unconsciously, metamorphosing into the monster I had so come to shun.

The irony is that in his head, we enjoyed a most ideal rapport! He would proclaim our solid father-son ‘bond’ to the entire world. He would buy me things (cars, homes even) purely of his own accord and then tell the world and I, that I was the ungrateful, incapable, spoiled, waster son! Even when I returned from film school and began working in Bombay, as hard to believe as this may sound, he’d demand that I be on the phone receiving his wisdom rather than focus on my “two-bit” job that would get me nowhere. The problem became so intense that not just I, but both, my wife and I, were thrown out of our respective jobs because justifiably, no employer would be OK with the employee being on the phone half the day, which is what both Anuja and I were mandated to do by my father.

One could make the argument that I was a fool to NOT rebel, to take all this lying down. To that, the simple truthful answer is, for my mum’s sake, I took it. And she, for mine. This vicious circle, and this farce, carried on for much too long – nearly 40 years! And then, my daughter was born. She, the monster did not even as much as acknowledge! Choosing instead to tell the entire world how HE had paid for her delivery! His own granddaughter, born to his USELESS son who is incapable of earning! I WONDER WHY!

Krisha’s birth, like I have said before, has put an end to a lot of nonsense in my life, and given me fresh perspective and courage to start afresh. At almost 40, in the same city, my city, a new life. Thank God. And thank heavens, that my ‘ideal’ father-son relationship, is FINALLY over. The veil has been lifted. The FARCE has ended…

The Hunt

Plump with desire, having just been administered her weekly shot of narcissistic narcotics, she beamed as she exited the salon of vanity. Taniya hailed a cab in the tony Soho of London and shouted instructions “to Knightsbridge, pronto!” She was feverish with anticipation as the taxi made its way, winding through congested inner streets of the British capital. Her senses were on high alert, perhaps a side effect of her recently purchased self-esteem; maybe tonight would be the night!

Each moment of the half hour drive felt like a ticking time bomb. The world around her slowed down. Everyone moved at half speed, everything, at reduced pace. Her mind jumped intermittently, blank stares at this paused world, racy thoughts, of a potentially racy night. Her desperation permeated the air, infusing the damp with even more wetness. She finally arrived. At the entrance of the swish night-spot she fixed her Chanel dress surreptitiously. And entered.

The club pulsated. The beat of the electronic music was perfectly in sync with her own. Her surroundings were drenched in hues of psychedelia. Caped crusaders hid in plain sight as they masked their identities with a dizzying variety of actual masks. Taniya took hers out, a dainty half-face affair that revealed just enough, teased, just right. Mystery themed evening, the treasure hunt, had begun!

A man took her by her arm and dragged her onto the dance floor. He was concealed. But his smell captivated. His snake-like movements enchanted. His forcefulness commanded. Taniya felt empowered though she was weak in submission. Giving in entirely to her strange-befriender, she reciprocated his each step, gyrating, slithering, naked affections on display. She, the seductress, became the seduced.

Four minutes into this pandemic of mating-rituals, the ‘stranger’ whispered, “my place or yours?” “Anything”. “Mine then”. With one powerful stroke he lifted her in his arms and vanished into the thick fog of human glory. Out the club, Taniya found herself riding pillion. The throbbing beats of the club had been replaced by the raspy engine note of the cruiser bike. It entered her, enveloped her, ensconced her, consumed her, devoured her. She hadn’t a clue where her caped-stranger was leading her. She rode, a tidal wave…

Her fancy was rudely shattered. The engine had stopped. Masks still on. The man beckoned her into a sprawling mansion. Dimly lit. Sophisticated erotica. ‘Perfection’, she thought. They entered a monumental gate. ‘Are these the pearly gates’, she wondered. The illicit alliance seemed fraught with certainty . Along a corridor, doors lined the lush red carpet. To the very end. A door. A black door. Three locks. Click, click, click. She was tossed in. And the door, slammed shut!

Meet The Maker!

The snowy white magical powder shot up through his nose and instantly infused with his bloodstream. Aaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh……….. He was a rocket ship. A Space x machine booming through the sky, shattering the stratosphere, emerging beyond the high, all captured in his heaven-induced sigh…

The world became a circus ring, he its lord and master. Commander, ruler, emperor, conqueror, the absolute. Chemically defining his self-worth for over five years now, this, was his nightly escape. His moonlight drive. His break-on-through, to the other side. Anonymous king, basking in the delectable stench of opioid, Himmat, found his namesake!

On his way back from work each evening, he’d stop under the Powerhouse Gym, the kind of seedy establishment that served as the epicentre of an altogether ‘greater’ fitness. There, hiding in plain sight at this Juhu crossroads, one of the busiest intersections in Mumbai, he’d meet his maker – the maker of his evenings, the saviour of his day’s drudgeries. His dealer. It was a well-oiled and rehearsed precise exchange. Seven pm, Himmat and the ‘dealer’, caps partially veiling their identities, would slip money in return for the desired, each evening. A split-second transaction, an entire night of merriment. It was just perfect.

Saturday. The end of the week at Himmat’s dreaded advertising agency. No more nagging, unappreciative bosses, no more banal client meetings, no more story-weaving, no more lies – even if, just for one day. Sunday. Special treats were planned. A cocktail tonight. No fewer than three varied narcotics, Himmat had decided, and set it all up through the dedicated phone he had that ONLY spoke to his delights.

The appointed hour arrived, as did Himmat. Powerhouse was bustling with protein-pumped wannabe actors admiring themselves like hedonistic man-slaves as they lifted the weight of the world using their scant brains. No sight of the ‘dealer’. 9314268989…….. “this phone is either switched off or not reachable.” Death to the deserter. Traitor. Bastard. Himmat remembered his mother’s warning from the year before – “your body is a temple, respect it”. In return he recollected his much-admired chef-writer Anthony Bourdain’s immortal words – “your body is a rollercoaster, enjoy the ride”, which he had, much to his mother’s increasing woes, snubbed her reprimand with. He snapped out of his hazy déjà vu. The tips of his toes curled up. His knees began to knock against one another. His mouth became dry like the desert camel who’d searched the parched barren land for all but one elusive drop of water.

He got into his car and scurried out of the curb, brushing the fender against a superbike that was obviously compensating for one of those ‘lifters’ upstairs. He couldn’t give a damn. His car rushed against the traffic demonically. Within minutes he was home. Oshiwara. His mother opened the door to incessant belling. He stormed in. Straight to the bar. A glass of neat single malt. Down the funnel. Momentary relief.

“Feels horrible to be sober doesn’t it?” “SHUT UP… SHUT UP… SHUT UP…” Himmat ran into his bedroom and slammed the door behind him. Fell to the ground. Weeped like a child. Then screamed like a banshee. Then cried some more.

Suddenly, there was utter silence. The room was heavy with breath. Drenched in whiskey. Soaked in despair. A minute. Two. Four. Ten. Not a sound. Not a word. Not a cry. Time for another round? Himmat arose. His urgency had dissipated. He carried the ungainly girth of his misery in lethargy-filled steps. Out the door. Into the living room. Past the kitchen. To the entrance of his flat. Then out. Into the hallway. Towards the service steps. Just one flight up to freedom. Permanently. Forever. Eternal.

He reached the terrace and made his way blankly to the edge. He could see the ocean of people and cars, the ever-present Mumbai cacophony, but not hear it. He could touch the sick humidity, but not feel it. It was on its way out, and away. Life, was leaving him. Liberation. At long last. He shut his eyes. Said a prayer. “Himmat, STOP”! A deep baritone yelled.