Thursday, July 31, 2008


Shehanshahon ke shenhanshah, the emperor of emperors, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar looks down at the blisters on his feet. He has walked miles on stone and dust, in the heat of the midday sun, like a mere commoner, to this little town called Sikri, just to seek the blessing of Shaikh Salim Chisti, the revered saint.

What his heart aches for is an heir to his throne; he is till now, childless. The Sufi saint did indeed bless him, predicting the birth of not one, not two but three sons, three possible heirs to the glory of the great Mughals.

What Akbar, childless and almost broken, doesn’t know is that the son he has asked for, the son who’ll ultimately be born, proving right Chisti’s prophecy, the son whom he’ll name Salim in honour of the great saint, will grow to be an obnoxiously rebellious offspring, and when the time came, will plot his own father’s overthrow, breaking his heart in two. Forever.

Today, Akbar knows nothing of that. For he is lost in the moment, in the promise that these blisters will not be for nothing. He is hopeful, believing, content.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting.

A man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him. Automatically, he slows down.

Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himeself from a thing still too close to him in time.

The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting.

Milan Kundera. Slowness.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tea & The Sky

Dear Mani,

Though there is no point in writing letters anymore, I just didn’t know what to do with the irrepressible temptation to do so tonight. It’s been quite a dull day, all throughout the clouds have stayed overhead, the rain teasing, without any wind. The sort of day that passes without making you realize that it has. The sort of day you love and hate for the same reason. And strangely, because I don’t know why, the desire to talk to you on such days becomes practically irresistible, even if it’s only one way, only like this.

Sometimes, on such days, when I lie on the bed in the afternoon, watching the white of the ceiling above, the blankness gives way to images and memories. Images in the form of memory. Memory in the form of images. And almost always, on such days, they are of you, and one other thing.

I see the both of us, like an approaching stranger would, sitting at the chai wala near the government school, the same which gave the tea in long, over-sized cups, more suitable for beer, which always made you feel that you were only being given half of what you paid for. Do you remember?

Maybe you don’t. It’s been a long time anyway. But regardless, the image of us at that joint remains fresh in my mind, and comes again and again on such slow, uneventful afternoons.

Why, I don’t know. I’m not sure why I even remember it so vividly. Does it bring me comfort? Pain? Ache? I have no answer. Maybe it is the feeling of timelessness we felt in our meetings there that fascinates me, the joint but unspoken feel of being suspended in time, as if the moment before and the moment after didn’t exist, as if the world was restricted to the few square metres of the shop, as if the world beyond was only a fantasy of our minds, as if anything we did before and after didn’t matter, as if this was what we were born to do, to sip tea beneath an empty sky and talk about anything outside the realm of consequence. How limitless and ecstatic would it be if our lives got frozen there, beside the chai wala, with the cups of tea in our hands, all the innumerable possibilities of our lives reduced to a beautiful, complete zero!

Consequence, consequence. How powerful and dangerous can that be! Yes, maybe it was the absence of this in our meetings and conversations that still make me remember it.

Do you remember? Maybe you don’t. It’s been a long time anyway. The shop doesn’t stand there anymore. The school authorities had it removed on the grounds that many students used it to bunk classes and have a smoke. But it is there in my mind, exactly as it was then - unscathed. As it will always be, as it will always come, on such days, which, in their stillness and completeness are quaintly similar to it,

Good Bye,

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Chai Ho Jaaye!

‘Tara, chhat se kapda utha!’, shouted his grandmother, in a tone so filled with alarm that it would have sounded more appropriate if the entire house was on fire. And without waiting for any confirmation from the maid, leaving the brinjal she was slicing in the kitchen unsliced, she ran frantically to the balcony to do the needful there.

The monsoons had arrived, and to little Amir, it seemed that it rained nowhere in the world as it rained in Patna. A moment before, it seemed like a perfect, idle, hot, summer afternoon, and now, all of a sudden, all hell had broken loose. The unlatched doors banged against the walls ferociously, the clouds roared, all tree tops pointed horizontally to one direction, as if showing a stranger the way to his destination. It was perfect, sublime chaos, turning the impeccable tranquility of the entire household to over-frenzied activity in a jiffy. As Amir saw, everyone in the house was running, everyone had suddenly sprung to action.

He ran to the terrace and stopped at the door, looking at the maid who was busy picking up as many clothes as she could in one go and depositing them at the nearest dry place. No one could have been more efficient right now; she did it as if her whole life depended on it.

‘Kuchh kapda tum bhi utha lo. Khade ho ke dekh rahe ho!’, she shouted above the rain when she saw him.

‘Rehne do na. Kya jaata hai? Bheeg jayega to kya hoga?’, he replied, teasing her.

‘Kya hoga! Agar tumhari Nanima ne humko baad mein daanta to? Tum bachane aayoge?’

‘Kyun nahi?’, Amir said, smiling his most mischievous smile. Leaving Tara behind, he now walked back into the house to see what the rest were up to.

His grandmother had returned from the balcony, satisfied and exhausted, and sat at the dining table, just below the ceiling fan. The look on her face was almost triumphant, as if she had just diffused a time bomb only a couple of seconds before it was supposed to go off.

‘Kitne jaldi aaya baarish. Bhaagte nahi to sab kapda bheeg jaata!’, she said when she saw Amir, explaining the supreme importance of the task, waiting for someone to commend her for her effort.

‘Hmmm’, Amir replied and went to the kitchen to fetch her some water.

The maid returned, the clothes replaced to safety. All was still once more, the household relaxed, only the sound of rain falling outside to be heard. His grandfather, who had carried on reading the newspaper quietly all this while, unperturbed by the abrupt bout of activity the world inside and outside had been in, also came in and sat down on the divan.

‘Chai ho jaaye!’, he cried, as always, as if the moment called for a celebration of sorts. In a way, it did, thought Amir. The rain always called for celebration, even in Patna, where there was never any scarcity of it.

Tea was brought, and as little Amir wasn’t allowed to have it yet, he sipped quietly on his Bournvita. The coming of the rains was almost a ritual, everything happened the same way every time – the runs to the terrace and balcony, the subsequent tea session, the small talk. Watching everyone have this unplanned chat, with the sound of the rain in the background, Amir felt strangely happy.