Coz you see best when your eyes are closed.

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The Blood Within the Scabbard

Maaf kijiyega, mujhe hamesha se aisa lagta aya hai ki aap ek jung ke maidan me khadi hain. Hamesha ladne ko tayar. Phir samne chahe dushman ho ya na ho.”
(Pardon my saying, but I have always felt like you were standing in a battlefield. Ever ready to fight. Whether or not there was an enemy facing you).

The words of the male protagonist in the serial Radha ki betiyan kuch kar dikhayengi hold within them a regime of truth where the difference between compliment and criticism gets obscured. He is right. The female protagonist does seem to be fighting an unknown battle. She is in a new city and needs to find a job soon. She has a family of four to support and younger sisters to take care of. As an Indian woman with professional aspirations and responsibility of earning her family’s bread, the screenplay has already subsumed a battlefield in the background for her. Lets add to this her intelligence and high regard for self respect. That’s not a battle. That’s war! In any other mode of description, the attributes might have paved the way for a strong responsible protagonist with the power to make it big. But not on the Indian television. Where weakness is the considered default, strength is strenuous. A pain. A battle.

Every aspiration, every endeavour brings with it its own professional and personal challenges. Society meticulously keeps throwing its share of hurdles. We all fight battles throughout our life, some real and some imagined. However our small screen seems to presume a battle within every female protagonist who dares to display strength. It is as if she wants to be weak, she wants to be dependent but circumstances need her to be the male of the house. Left to herself, she would rather wallow in the dreams of others. Following her own dreams is a strain for her, a battle she fights with herself, to be someone she isn’t comfortable being.  A journey borne out of compulsion, not by choice. It’s not a matter of pride to see her strive. The audience instead feels a certain pity welling for her, one that stays irrespective of what she achieves.
Here’s a snapshot from the serial which I find representative of the generic portrayal I am referring to. The bangles get replaced by a watch. She holds her own head rather than bury it in the hero’s chest. She uses her own shoulders rather than his. She is independent. But how she would love not to be so.

Contrast this with the other snapshot from the serial JAG. The character of Lieutenant Colonel Sarah MacKenzie (Mac) is one of my personal favourites. Incidentally the serial too struggled to arrive at an appropriate female characterisation in a male dominated profession set against a navy backdrop. JAG2Their journey of landing on Mac’s portrait nails the fundamental handicap in our outlook. Unfortunately what they learnt in a single season, the Indian television still seems wanting. Judge Advocate General (JAG) deals with military legal cases, specifically Navy in this series. They started with Commander Kate Pike as the female lead. She was mentally strong, knew her job and was physically fit. She commanded respect and appreciation. She however was always on red alert and acutely aware of the fact that she was the only one wearing a skirt. She successfully retained the feminine warmth and care in her, not letting the military atmosphere dig into her sensitivity. Despite the confidence, she somehow always seemed furtive. It appeared as if her being a woman came first, and being a JAG officer came second. She had to protect herself and only then think about her work. And a major component of her confidence and dignity came from her success in the former area, not the latter.

With her exit, the series saw the entry of Commander Meg Austin. She wasn’t on high alert. Rather she had an unabashed body language at work. There was no emphasis on ladylike reluctance or safeguarding a flimsily postulated dignity. She was just like the guys. In fact, she seemed to try really hard to make that point. She did fit perfectly in the role, possibly because of the all too familiar picture of women in male dominated professions trying to be ‘one among the guys’. She fought with her physical limitations, fought with her emotional instincts and fought hard to be considered ‘able’ in the sense of the word which the men had defined. In her flailing was the appreciation of her male counterparts, with an underlying cushion of its futility. She had created a sphere of reality where even the compliments sounded condescending.

Harm: (referring to the Ensign) I’m going to have a psychological evaluation done.
Mac: Since when does a woman have to be crazy to shoot a man?

The series finally saw the creation of Lieutenant Colonel Sarah MacKenzie (Mac). Mac was neither the lady on board nor one of the men. She was neither fighting nor giving in. She just was. She wanted to give her best to the job and that’s all you can see her do. That is not to say that she didn’t face discrimination, domination or alienation. But she rode her emotions and her limitations with a panache that can only come from being a human – not a man, a woman or even an officer. All men aren’t alike. Short men work differently from the tall ones, the muscular ones display strength differently from the flexible ones. We all have different emotional weaknesses. Where then does the need crop for a woman to try to do things differently? Why is it so difficult to visualise characters who intuitively think about their work and focus on it without first consciously reminding themselves of the distinction of being a woman. How does a societal demarcative line come between a woman and her thoughts? Are women like this for real or is this a common imaginative thread among creative directors?

I have never found myself relating to any of the ‘strong’ female characters portrayed on Indian television (even cinema for that matter) like I do with Mac or Beckett (from the series Castle). When I am working, my thoughts do go only where the work leads me, wherever that might be. Being a woman is part of the subconscious. The same way you know you don’t have eleven fingers. That doesn’t mean you need to remind yourself of that every time you use your hands. You try to do your best with the ten you have got. Neither presuming the advantageous nature of having eleven, nor denying the limitation of having ten. Aspiring is not a pain. Nor is fighting for it. What is a pain is letting a foreign fig creep into your rationale and influence the deduction. That is when independence gets bound by its definition. That is when identification needs the crutches of comparison. And that is when no success brings with it closure.

“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” – J.M. Barrie


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Speak, they say

If I could speak, I would
to share a part of me
With the world I cherish
with the tomorrow to be

There are lines and points
to be drawn and made
Numerous stances taken
before they fade

There are dreams and wishes
yearning to fly
Declarations of feats
I’m willing to try

If I could speak, I would
to voice a part of me
To change the world a little
with the tomorrow to be

Thoughts wont come
to a grieving mind
No space for any
though emptiness I find

However may I utter
with not a want
When my own voice sounds
an unfaithful taunt

If I could speak, I would
to bleed a part of me
To reach for the world
that holds the tomorrow to be

From a distant voice
I long to hear
From my mouth the words
far too familiar

They resound and assure
relieve me from within
The confines of the need
of a heart writhin’

If I could speak, I would
to free a part of me
To feel one with the world
promising the tomorrow to be

Someday speak I will
a freedom reaching out
For then the hand wont search
for a comforting silhouette

Thoughts will come pouring
and emotions run free
With art n articulation
and boundless energy

If I could speak, I would
to live a part of me
To live for the world
make the tomorrow to be.

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From your beauty to my faith

“Because beauty isn’t enough, there must be something more.” ~ Eva Herzigova

Beauty is a word that has oft been misused and abused. Attractive, different, colourful, new, alluring, magical, glamorous… Somewhere we ourselves aren’t sure of what we mean when we say “It’s beautiful.” An earring can be beautiful, so can a car, so can a knife! What meets the eye is the fact that we wish to possess beautiful things. Beauty has long been held guilty for luring people, deceiving them and driving them to a possessive lust. At other times, it has been seen as a weak, superficial and frivolous layer of mankind, incapable of growing beyond vanity into anything substantial. How then do we find the smile of a little child beautiful? If beauty begets vices, why does it make us smile with joy. What we choose to do after we perceive beauty is a matter of choice. Whether we choose to stand and stare or run and grab is about ‘us’. But the perception of beauty, the peaceful happiness it induces, is beyond us.

A long standing view has been that we associate thoughts and emotions to various sights and perceiving them as beautiful depends on what we associate them with. We find birds beautiful because we may associate with them flight, open skies, freedom, exploration. Or at other times, when they are sitting on their nests, we may associate security, cosiness, love, warmth. The same goes for colours. A lot has been said about how greens are sensed differently from reds and blues, why certain colour combinations appeal to us while others seem jarring.

Ratios are important too. Ratio of nose to face, of handle to door, in designs natural and man-made. These ratios are important not just for visual pleasantness but also for the utility of the design. And that is something that we do subconsciously – associate a function with an object and thereby decide its beauty. The pen is too thin for a good grasp or the keys are too big to type quickly. And that’s why people are often unable to judge the beauty of an object unless they know what it is. And this is also why beauty is interwoven with utility and efficiency of a design, not to speak of its appeal.

But is beauty such a selfish thought indeed? Is it all about us? Our gratification, our profit, our liking? Could it, in some remote possibility, be about others? Could beauty be our way of recognising their happiness?

A thin line between beauty and painlessness – the knowledge of what went right.

When something is in the prime of its ability and efficiency, it gladdens us subconsciously. We feel like the object in question is living to the maximum growth and progress of its generation of entities. It can make us proud, attracted to or envious of the object. I am reminded of the times my father and I would watch the Olympics on the television, specifically events like parallel bars, rhythmic gymnastics etc. My father would be awed by the appearance of the male and female athletes and I would be enraged. “Be awed by their skill, that’s ok with me. But appearance? Beauty is such a trivial thing to admire in a person,” I would argue. He would smile and explain that the good health, the fitness, the flexibility of the human body radiated a certain happiness to him. Sitting on couches and desks all day, surrounded by people taking tablets for hypertension, the beauty of the athletes revived in him, the sense of satisfaction on seeing humans being as healthy as they can be, suffering as little as they needed to. Efficiency has a selfish hue to it. The more efficient a process, the more we gain. But humans aren’t that selfish a species. It is not always about us and our profits. In fact those are after thoughts. Efficiency is about empathy. The more efficient an object, the less it suffers. An object that’s brand new looks beautiful because it is fresh and fit. Old objects have wear and tear in them which tell us what they have gone through and how they are struggling to function in spite of the weariness.

The effect of perceived pain on beauty is also evident in the aspect of symmetry. Let me go beyond geometrical shapes and take up the example of dance. The grace of a dance pose is primarily viewed as a visual treat. When a dancer lacks grace, it hurts the eye, makes for an unpleasant sight. But, the backbone of what we call grace is balance. Below are two Kathak poses. You dont need to know Kathak to answer which one you find more beautiful.

kathak1 kathak2

If you take the entire pose into consideration, the second looks more beautiful. The stretch of the leg to the left, the bend of the waist to the right and the bend of the arm to the left are supposed to counter each other. The pose is elegant because it succeeds in doing that. She is in a state of complete balance and comfort in this pose. In the first picture the left hand is lower than required and the right hand is straighter than required to balance the bend. I don’t find it less beautiful because it hurts my eye. I find it less beautiful because this pose would have caused her pain. In the pose, she is straining her lower back and left shoulder. In Bharatnatyam, the concept of bending your knees (called aramandi) is crucial to the balance. The modern dances where they mimic Bharatnatyam steps in a Bollywood or Western dance sequence, mock the half-knees. The dancers don’t feel comfortable doing the steps and lack the stability. The aesthetic is not about ‘styles’ of doing a step, it is about not harming the body while doing it.


Notice the slight bend in her right knee. A similar bend in her left knee. Such bends are crucial for stability.


Humans are inherently empathising. As much as we may like to talk about ourselves as self-centred, profit obsessed, mean souls, the first thoughts on seeing something is indeed about ‘it’. Probably our way of understanding something is by emulating its experience, its pain and comfort. How we emulate vision, music, literature, colours is a marvel. It is for this reason that I highly encourage people to learn different arts. These are not just different forms of expression but also different ways of appreciating beauty. The more you learn to recognise beauty, the more you feel their peace, the more you develop hope and the more happiness you spread.

A few years back, when I was in the hospital and advised indefinite bed rest, a well wisher came to see me – an old lady, walking with the aid of a stick. She sympathetically asked me “Of what use is all the dance you learnt?”. I answered to myself, “Dance makes me feel your pain when you limp. Dance makes me feel my legs when I cant move them. The sight of a beautiful dancer beckons me, motivating me with the comfort of the sheer existence of such a beauty.”

Image sources:
Kathak poses, Bharatnatyam pose

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Why I drew a cub

A couple of days back, late into the evening, I felt the urge to draw. Not portraits or landscapes. Something simpler. Like a cartoon. Hattori! I googled for “How to draw Hattori” and found a step wise guide. I grabbed a ball pen and a sheet and began to follow the instructions like an eager kid. The first draw was difficult. Hattori’s right hand was longer than his left. Also, I did not have any space for his chin after drawing his big eyes. But, one could make out it was Hattori. That was encouraging. So, I tried one more time. This time Hattori looked more proportional. With the third try, Hattori was all shaded and held proudly by a 25 year old as an achievement.

I was excited after this mini success. Doraemon was next to follow. I then landed on a cute drawing of two cubs titled “Tigers (for kids)“. They were so adorable, I nearly picked them up off the screen. It was decided. I was going to draw these. There was a childlike enthusiasm in me as I hurriedly tried to draw them. The second cub didn’t come out as well. But the first came out to be a small cute sketch of a baby tiger making a puppy face. I loved it! I rushed to interrupt my mother in the middle of a phone call and show her the little tiger. Her face lit up, partly from the surprise that I had drawn something and partly from the genuine happiness the cub radiated. Her smile was the ultimate reward. Contentedly, I walked back to the couch and sat on it, staring at the feats of my past hour – Hattori, Doraemon and a cub.

I smiled as I recalled the eagerness in me as I drew. I hadn’t experienced that kind of enthusiasm in a while. It felt refreshing. It made me wonder why I got this urge all of a sudden. Suppressed instincts to express? And why did I enjoy it so much? Because of the sense of achievement? It didn’t seem that way. It was neither the satisfaction after writing a heartfelt blog post nor the high of a well received presentation. This was something much simpler. That was it! It was simple. It was innocent. I was told what to do by the how-to guide. I did not take decisions or contemplate. I trusted the guide. It felt good to follow instructions with trust. I tried many times without counting, without looking around to see who was watching. I did not worry about how the drawing would come out. Very conveniently I avoided the second cub which did not come out well. I ran to my mother to show the cute cub. I did not worry about whose original idea it was and that I had only copied the drawing. I felt happy, and I shared the happiness. I felt like a child.

Increasingly I see articles which tell us how to read kids when they are young. How to deduce more and more from their seemingly childish activities. How trying to draw is an attempt, what they draw is a step to understanding the world, how they draw is a skill to be worked on and trying again a method of learning perseverance after failure. When they show you their drawing, they are looking for encouragement. Too much praise could make them arrogant, too much criticism could discourage them. And so on.

But, I had experienced nothing of that sort. Or maybe I had. Just a little. If Hattori hadnt come out right after the third attempt, maybe the cub would not have been attempted. And maybe if people had highly praised my drawings, I would have dreamt of a future of a professional cartoonist. But, no. That entire endeavour was not representative of my nature. It was an attempt to be innocent. An attempt to keep it simple. To enjoy an activity and to enjoy its results.

We demand a lot from what we do. An activity is seen as a means of expression or learning. It is evaluated along prescribed measures. Even when the child is not ready for evaluation. An action is viewed as a manifestation of a thought, a glimpse into the psychology of the child. We observe kids like eagles, scrutinise their every action, attach serious intentions to each action and translate our own emotions of these intentions onto them. But, the intentions we impose on the kids might be totally alien to them. The emotions they associate with the activity could be completely different. They might not want to feel arrogant or confident. They might just want to feel – happy. They might not be fishing for your praise or a reward. They might just be waiting to see a smile on your face. They are very happy. Their love makes them want to pass it on to you too.  In this simplicity and in this innocence lies a freedom. A freedom from reasons and objectives. A freedom to experience and share, unabashedly. In spite of the lurking reality of the complexity of their own emotions and the world. In spite of grappling with the knowledge of it all. A freedom to smile from within.

I did not draw to express. I did not draw to impress. I did not draw to learn. I drew because I felt it was a good thing to do. I drew because it made me happy. I drew because it made others happy.

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Breaking the loops with the search for a bead

Randomness, superstition and understanding:
Everything starts by being random. You can’t spot the head or the tail. But you don’t just feed the angel or kill the monster. You try to figure out its start and end. You start with correlations coz that’s what your brain can spot at first. Your beliefs at this stage are nothing more than superstitions if you stop here and hypotheses if you pursue them. You carry out fair experiments to test each factor and then zero in on the ’cause’. You then try to find a ‘method’ by which the cause can lead to the effect. With that you claim to have understood something of the monster.

Correlation may not be the causation, but it might be a future causation:
Correlation is not causation. But, many correlations are results. And many results are feedbacks into the system thereby becoming a contributing cause of whom they were themselves a product. Feedback is a lovely aspect of evolving systems. It changes dependency into inter-dependency. The dependencies get woven so intricately that we no longer like the term dependency. We prefer to use the word interaction. We interact with our surroundings and the surroundings in turn interact with us. A positive feedback encourages us, a negative feedback discourages us. If we get encouraged, it encourages our surroundings which encourages us further. This phenomenon is a fundamental part of what we encounter every day. We see it in brawls when anger escalates, on social networks when a topic trends, in fashion when a style is a hit and in society when beliefs get accepted.

A single source, feedback and a continuum of sources:
The beauty of a feedback is not just in the interaction but also in the establishment of a diffused source. What originally started from a single source, now seems to spring from various factors. This is because the first round came up with some outcomes, each of these outcomes acted as a feedback source thereby becoming a source themselves. By the time you are done with twenty rounds, you don’t know how it all began. In fact, the point from where it began may not even exist at present. Yet the structure exists. It may have started with your boss shouting at you. But with you getting irritated at a wrongly parked car, the driver challenging your parking skills, you abusing his sister, he punching you in your stomach and now both of you in hospital, there really isn’t a single source you can trace this menace back to. The boss meanwhile is enjoying saas bahu serials at home.

‘Source’ is the source of cessation, not the source of origin:
How it originated is not the question here. If that’s the path you are going to take, it’s not going to work. There is absolutely no way by which you can trace your way back to the origin in an evolved system. But, what you can do is attack from the periphery. Curb future feedbacks. Eat your way back into the system. You don’t even need to eat your way right to its core. There is no core now. The extended expanse is what it is, hollow from inside. Kill future feedbacks and you can starve the system to death. Feedback is the food for the system. Education is a means of implanting new sources, but the environment still governs the feedback. We can have endless debates on whether illiteracy is the root cause or whether educated men don’t commit crimes. The answer is “I don’t know how it began. But I can suggest how to curb it. There isn’t a direct cause-outcome that led to it. But there is a direct cause-outcome that can hope to curb it.”

Brain as a cause:
While humans may struggle to make sense of the world around them, there is a very simple causation that they intuitively agree upon – thoughts cause actions. Maybe you didn’t think, but the thought came and so you acted. This isnt correlation. It is outright causation. Even in the case of impulses. For us to understand the actions, we don’t even need to bother whether it is ‘the’ causation or a pawn in the path of some other causation. All we care is that thoughts are an inescapable precedent to actions and curbing thoughts is a way of preventing actions. To bring about a change in actions, we need to curb the feedbacks that lead to the thought itself. You can bring forward deterrents for the action. But that is like applying pressure on a tube. The content is going to find some other way of coming out. If you are applying pressure on this end by deterring actions, the thoughts are applying an equal pressure from the other end causing the frustration to build. Kill the sources which feed the content itself. The thoughts.

Mind and Mentality:
Mind is about emotions. Mentality is about expression. Mentality is a more physical level wiring which allows for routes to express your emotions, give them a form. Anger is an emotion. But do you get angry when you are jealous or do you get angry when you are in pain? What do you get jealous of? A woman who is earning more than you or a man who is stronger than you? These concepts shape our mentality. When we are hit by an emotion, we look to the mentality routes for expression. As magically bizarre the rise of emotions are, the shaping of mentality is pretty much comprehensible. I cannot predict when you will get jealous. But I can shape your wiring to not get jealous of, say, kids who are playing in the garden. I can discourage you from beating kids up every time you do get jealous of them. Am not changing your mind, am changing your mentality. And that is not very tough.

Mentality transcends smoothly into actions. The routes provided by the wiring lead right upto tangible objects. If the emotion is intense enough, if you are weak enough, if you don’t question your thoughts, you are one step away from executing the mentality. Love is mysterious. An emotion you don’t know what to do with. But when you associate smashing cars with it, you know exactly what to do the next time you feel romantic.

Mentality and cache:
Mentality is not always about deep-rooted beliefs. It is, many a times, about your cache memory. What have you been thinking about for the past few days. Funny how the people who resist attaching narratives to every outcome feel uncomfortable doing something without a reason. But, that’s how actions unfold. Many a times what we have is not a reason but a comfortable route provided to us. We don’t always question why we do things, we don’t always evaluate the pros n cons before taking a decision, we don’t always “really want” to do something for us to do it. We often crowdsource the thinking to the environment. Not everyone who uses a car knows why the car is shaped that way, or why it should have gears etc. You could be inquisitive and find out. But somewhere, you do trust the people who have given it enough thought. More bluntly put, you trust the society. If this is how you see it happening, this is how it must be meant to happen. And this is where feedback latches directly onto your mentality and hence your actions. This part of evolution of the system is so direct that given its vagueness, you are tempted to attack this part first. And profitably so, it yields immediate results. Of all the people who have cellphones now, not everyone really wants to carry one. Some had even strongly spoken against carrying one. But now, if everyone is carrying it, they go with it. This must be the way it should be. We instinctively accept the societal norms prompted by an urge to survive. If they say men shouldnt cry, that must be the way it should be. If they say men should dominate women, that must be the way it should be. No personal vendetta against women. No belief to be shaken either. Just something that the I go with since that’s what I see. Show me something different and I will quickly switch to that. This is how a lot of product adoption graphs evolve. The early adopters start a trend. If enough people adopt, it cascades into the entire system going for the product. Argue all you want – Maybe the product had intrinsic value, audience matured, there was no competition. All arguments can be countered. Reality only being that the initial feedbacks created a fertile environment for it to grow and the subsequent cache copying led to an unchallengeable establishment of the product.

What you see in majority, what you hear every hour every day, shapes your cache. Recall the time when you are getting late for office and don’t have time to think. What do you wear? The one right in the front in your wardrobe. Quickly pull it out, wear and leave. Or maybe the one you are most used to wearing. You know its buttons are intact, you are comfortable with it. Don’t want to experiment at this time. Fall back to your most used suit and rush off. This is the power of mentality. When you are looking to express your emotion, you don’t have the time or patience to think of avenues. You then either go with the cache route that had been bred into you by repeated inputs from your environment. Or you retrieve your own most comfortable route, the mentality you have lived with for long, the wiring your brain has traversed n number of times.

Change mentality towards women you say? K, do that. How are these guys then going to vent their frustration and anger? Maybe they begin a mentality that plants are our enemies. Maybe they begin to religiously visit parks in the evening, in gangs, and pluck all leaves out of a plant, meticulously, violently. You can then begin sensitizing them towards plants, tell them it provides you food, bring laws, bar parks after 8 pm, deter them. They will look for other avenues then. The idea is to keep doing that till they find a harmless or better still a constructive way of expressing themselves.

Cultivate interests:
And this is where education comes in. Education not only helps you cope with your emotions but also provides you with alternative channels to vent the emotions out. We have heard about artists who dance till they faint to vent out their anger, who play till their fingers bleed to vent out their pain. Lets talk about a more common emotion – boredom. We have options, we actually ask ourselves what we want to do to entertain ourselves. Maybe chat on social networks or watch the television or read a book or play a game. What do you do when you don’t have interests? You go back to the wirings your mentality provides. You try to implement your emotions through the same channels. The guys who went to pluck leaves out of anger have cultivated a feedback environment which now others take to when they are bored! What do you do as a law imposer or an activist? What do you call a cause, what an effect and whom a perpetrator?

The case of feeding sexual channels:
For those who feel lyrics of a song, the television, movies, language etc are trivial things to focus on, step out of your world of myriad interests and enter this world where people live, breathe and eat sex. Right from getting up in the morning, watching people in tousled clothes, watching people bathing, hearing songs on the radio, calls on the cellphone, words used in every sentence… The entire day is filled with not so subtle innuendos which shape your mentality and fill your cache. These are not people who have developed skilled channels for expression. Language and songs make up for a major chunk of their interaction with the world. Some resort to sexual channels to vent anger, some to vent energy, some to vent frustration, some to vent helplessness and some just to vent boredom. There’s a guy who rapes because he has lost his job and a schoolboy who gropes en route from school coz he doesn’t know what to do with his energy. The core cause is not the same, but, the feedback is the same. They all take to what you feed them. All those who listen to songs and sing them do not do so coz they have a musical inclination. Society drills music into them. Feeds them music. You do the same with sex and you have what you have now.

The special mention on expletives:
Expletives, abuses, create the environment, the feedback that works on your mentality and cache. How far you let it affect you is your own control, but the idea is that it needs a control from you. By default, it does affect you. There is no way you can say F*** hundred times in a day without at least thinking twice about the act.
And let us just say that you don’t mean it when you say it. You don’t mean it when you dance to Chikni Chameli in a party. It is just a word or just a song. Am willing to go with it. After all we understand what kids mean even when they use wrong words from the limited ones they know. But then, if that’s how you treat words then how do you pride on your vocabulary, how do you incorporate complex structures like pun and sarcasm into your words and how do you challenge me randomly on my choice of words. How also do you attach style to words? Why is “hanji” mediocre while “yup dude” is happening? And why are you using the word F*** specifically? If the word itself doesn’t matter then why not duck or muck or luck? Coz you too rely on what the society feeds you. You may not mean the word, the insult when you say F***. You still say it coz the environment has fed that into your cache. When you are irritated, this is the word that comes to your mind. Translate this onto the mind of the perverts. Not all who molest are sexually aroused, not all are mad about women, not all are suppressed souls, not all even know what sex is all about. Yet they take to it. The way you take to F***. Your saying may not harm me. But their doing does harm me. Immensely.

To end fashionably:
Causes aren’t always direct and time bound – Not like you wash your hands and a disease will go away. Not like for the time you havent washed your hands you are suffering from a disease. But, not washing hands is a cause for many diseases. It encourages the growth of a breeding ground for germs.

Feedback may not be the cause for existence, but is a sure cause for death –  Not like you feel hungry every time you pass by a fridge. Not like the fridge makes you eat. Not like you wont feel hungry if a fridge is not around. But, a fridge is what you will open when you are hungry. And the contents of the fridge are the choices you will face. And one of those contents is what you will eat. We can’t control when people will feel hungry. But we can control what we are hoping to feed them.

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The hollow in a cupped palm

“We have our own little tent”

As a kid, I always had a game that I would play alone. It would invariably be in the afternoons when dad was at work and mom was taking a quick nap. The house would be silent except for a slight indistinct hum of an unknown bug or the chirp of a sparrow. I would crawl out of my comfortable bed and collect a few basic things I would need – a pillow, a blanket, a torch,  a toy cup, spoon and a book. Taking them all in my arms at the same time, along with a doll, I would crawl under a blanket terrified. I would crouch and sit there alert to save myself if someone attacked. That was the make belief. We were under attack and had run away from our home. We being the doll and me. I had quickly grabbed as many things as I could hold and run away to this tent under the blanket. It was dark here. But I had got a torch. I would light it and my tent would glow in a warm, smiling, yellow light. “You can breathe easy now. It’s all ok. We are safe here. See?”, I would urge the doll, who on some days would be my sister and on some others my daughter. Mostly, the latter. The blanket on top of us would surround us cosily. Its walls would be almost in our faces. We liked that. We felt secure in the little enclosure. I would make food for the doll in the toy cup and then lay her on my lap. I would also read her the book. My mind would never register what I was reading, but I wanted her to feel that things were normal. Like they used to be when we were in our house. She would slowly drift to sleep while I would worry about how we would survive the next day.

The game had variations. At times I would forget to bring the torch. So I would seat her in the tent and then duck and run outside, amidst gunshots, to fetch the torch and hurry back inside, panting as much out of scare as the exertion. But, no matter how many times I played it, I would never be able to come up with a practical way of saving ourselves inside the tent. I began to realise slowly that I would have to come out, earn and get food and materials to save the doll. The mere thought would make me cringe. It felt against my comfort to leave the secure tent. It was cold outside. It was too big an open space. So, I would skip that portion and pretend I had gotten food for her. I would wake her up, feed her and talk to her, holding her close to my chest. I would reassure her, soothen her. “Am there for you. We are together. No matter what happens, we will be together. How does it matter where we are. We will talk, play, sing, hug. We have our own little tent.” And she would smile. I would smile too and cuddle her.

It was a game. It had to end. Either when it got very suffocating inside the blanket or when mom got up. The objects would be returned to their respective places and I would be back tidily sitting on the sofa of a large living room with a high roof. Somewhere deep inside I would be relieved. The legs did hurt in that crouching position. But I would miss the cosy atmosphere. Several days would pass before I would get the urge to play that game again.

As I began growing older, I slowly started to avoid the game. The tension was becoming too much for me. The acids that churned in my stomach when I was in the survival mode took a long time to neutralise. There was too much sadness in the game. And I knew such dramatic events would come in life. “Why live them before they befall us,” I would think. Playing the game had prepared me for such times. So, that was a gain. Now that I had a rough idea of what to take with me, what all I would need in that little tent, it was time to let go of the game. But, for many years later, I kept wondering why I liked the game so much.

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Grave of the Fireflies (1988)


Rain, rain, fall, fall. Pitt-chi Pitt-chi Chap-pu Chap-pu

Grave of the Fireflies is a movie written and directed by Isao Takahata under the Studio Ghibli production banner. The movie is set in Japan at the time of World War II and tells the story of a young boy Seita and his little sister Setsuko as they lose their home and their parents to the war. They initially live with their aunt who grudgingly accommodates them in her house. She however shows no inhibition in giving them a step motherly treatment and declaring them a burden on her. Seita soon leaves the house for a shelter which is nothing more than a roof in the wilderness by the river. Seita and Setsuko begin their life afresh at the shelter, filled with hope and joy. There’s freedom there. There’s love there. There’s freedom to love there. They play at the beach and sleep with the fireflies. They breathe life. But, soon the supplies begin to get depleted and they have to struggle for food and medicines. The movie beautifully takes us through their emotions while gently canvassing the entire war time scenario.

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Why do fireflies have to die so soon?” – Setsuko

I have often wondered why I liked the game so much. It has never been a proud wondering but a disconcerted one, one where you anxiously wait for a troubling answer to your question. It seemed most plausible that I had with me, some sort of an insecurity, some fear of losing my home and loved ones. The way I would hold onto the doll, the way I would sit huddled inside the blanket, hinted at it. At an age where children play in the garden or want a big house and a big toy, why would I feel so content in the close walled tent with one cup and spoon? There’s a thin line between insecurity and fear, the latter not always leading to the former. Maybe it was just fear of facing catastrophes. Probably as I grew, through movies and books, I began to realise that life wasn’t a smooth walk. It had struggles, pain and loss. People were homeless, injured and dead. Maybe it was my way of preparing myself mentally for such situations. I still do that often when I become very comfortable in a zone. It keeps me away from becoming dependent on the comfort and saves me from the shock when I am thrown out of the zone. So maybe that’s how I grappled with growing up. Through the game, I came to terms with survival and death. Or maybe it was just a sadistic game that I would play. Imagine-you-are-homeless scenario. With the warmth of house-house and thrill of hide-and-seek. I had never really reached a satisfactory explanation for what I gained through that game.

As I watched Grave of the Fireflies, a knot began to form in my stomach. Sitting through the later part of the movie was one of the most mentally excruciating experiences for me. I was emotionally moved by what I was witnessing. The movie does that to you. But there was a guilt that was building inside me. A guilt of having made a mockery of a painfully humbling scenario. A guilt of having even attempted to visualise what it felt to be in a tent with nothing to eat. A guilt of having enjoyed a situation which makes people writhe and die.

But, there was no denying the fact that I had felt the survival instinct. I had felt their fear, their weakness, the urgency, the helplessness. And despite those feelings, I had felt secure in the tent. Even when faced with death, I did not feel like finding escape routes. I felt like caring for the doll, being loved by it. There was freedom beneath that dimly lit blanket. There was love in the air. It felt like home…

And that’s when it hit me! It wasn’t an insecurity of losing my home. There was no fear in sitting inside a cramped tent. It was nothing to do with my surroundings. It was a craving for the love I sensed inside the tent. A love that needed no objects to express itself, a love that lay unfazed on my lap even at the time of crisis. The love gave me strength, support and  faith. I enjoyed giving it. I enjoyed receiving it. The make believe attack was just to highlight how pristine the love was. I always wanted to be around such love. I felt at home. No Nintendos or Barbie dolls or fancy sketch pens could have sated this appetite I had for love. It was a deep rooted craving that was surfacing, eager to make me identify it, nourish it, express it. I watched Setsuko and Seita lying in the shelter, dimly lit by the fireflies. Heart wrenching scenes these were. But, the writer did not portray them as pitiful souls. In fact, there was no gloom around. There was grief but there was faith. There was loneliness but there was peace. The sound of Setsuko giggling kept ringing in my ears as the visuals turned to something more familiar:

Years before, I lie huddled on the double bed with mom on the other side. The room is dimly lit from a distant streetlight seeping through the curtains. The door has been shut and locked, windows tightly latched. We both lie with hesitant breathing, afraid to make even a single noise lest someone hears us. There are people outside ready to attack us, or so we feel. We barely move and are reluctant to let our guard down. Slowly I ease myself into sleep, silently comforting mom that we are alone but safe. That we are together. Come what may. This is our own little world. We are happy here, secure here.

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So, how did you get there?

It’s a relatively common question in Science when you present the questioner with an answer. You never really know whether it implies your answer’s right or not. All it says is – you need to explain your method, irrespective of its outcome. Maybe that’s why when someone voices his opinion, I invariably end up asking, “So, how did you get there?”

When I first began to interact on social networks, I realised that some words seemed to occur very often in user profiles or descriptions. One such word was (no, not procrastinator) opinionated. There was pride in the acceptance of the fact that one was closed to hearing other points of view. An attempt to portray a confident and substantial self. An asset in today’s world where you are bombarded with convincingly expressed contrasting views from all sides. There is so much pressure on expressing one’s views vehemently that a mere allowance of the mind to think along a different line is a betrayal of one’s own opinion. I remember the advice debaters of our school would get, “Do not accept the logic in an interjection. Politely acknowledge it and then rubbish it.”

I see two treatments meted out to people – one is a stubborn insistence by the headstrong ones, and the other is a passive acceptance of anything you say by the accommodating ones. There’s a supposed benevolence about allowing contrary views to coexist in a sphere. But, where in both these treatments do you figure? Obstinance seems rude, accommodation seems nonchalant. Does anyone try to understand your view in the light of the direction you are going along? When they find you arriving at a different destination than theirs, do they pause in their tracks, turn their heads and ask, “So, how did you get there?”

Teachers often struggle to make their students learn a method. They repeat themselves endlessly but the student still returns incorrect answers. The procedure would be so much more effective if only they could ask the child “how” he arrived at his answer. If they understood the method he was adopting, they could point out flaws in it and change his route. This not only equips the child to henceforth walk by himself but also convinces him that he is on the right path.

Conviction is what confidence looks like when spelled right. On one hand if it’s our responsibility to understand a different view in its own right, on the other hand it is our duty to convince others of the view we hold. Our thoughts are valuable only to the money makers. For everyone else, it is our thought process that’s important. We seldom realise that listeners are looking to trust our opinion. They are eager to be convinced, irrespective of what their preconceived notion is. While expressing our views through the verbal, visual or written medium, it is only courteous of us to acknowledge different aspects of the issue, explicitly consider them and take the listeners along on the path we followed. They may disagree with the path we chose, but they will understand us, trust our view given the line of thought. A difference in direction may lead to disagreement, but a difference in destination leads to hurt.

Every perspective has a view attached to it. The idea is to find the apt perspective for a given goal and then arrive at a view consistent with the perspective we choose. Merely supplying reasons is not enough. Reasons make you defend when you aren’t even being attacked. What the listeners are looking for is a path woven out of these reasons, a mental journey that they can embark on. After all, an opinion needs to be formed of your opinion.