Monday, March 20, 2023



Touched and thrilled to be featured on the cover of Storizen Magazine Sharing a short extract from the interview where I take a shot at explaining why I do what I do. Will share the link in my stories. Many thanks to Saurabh Chawla
and Pria Raiyani for making this happen!
What inspires you to write?
A bolt of lightening from the sky! Pixie dust!

All kidding aside, I think writing keeps me sane. I am actually happy when the words are doing their mystical dance on the laptop screen. Reading and writing are my conduit to a magical realm ruled by beauty, truth, fantasy and imagination. Whatever, I gather from my sojourns into this fabled land, I try and share with my readers, hoping they derive something they can use in their own lives, the way I have in mine.

Can you give some insights on the book – Abhimanyu? What kind of research and factors did you consider when writing the character?
    Abhimanyu is very special. He is one of the most beloved characters in Indian mythology and with good reason because he was the best among the best, in every sense of the term.

In a lot of ways, he is the pulsing heart and soul of the Mahabharata. TheGolden Prince was blessed with all the strengths of Arjuna, Krishna and the other Pandavas yet possessed none of their weaknesses. A rare hero who was every bit as good and kind as he was great and that is no small thing. It was a pleasure to unearth lesser-known nuggets of information about him and share the story of the Mahabharata entirely from his perspective.

As regards research I went back and explored the epic I have loved all my life by putting myself in Abhimanyu’s place. Thanks to him, the familiar material felt fresh, and I got

to plumb the psyche of fascinating characters like Subhadra, Draupadi’s twin - Dhrishtadyumna, his charioteer – Sumitra, Nakula, Sahadeva, the Upapandavas, his cousins in Dwaraka – Pradyumna, Samba, and his wife, Uttara, who usually get eclipsed by the razzle dazzle of more famous characters. But of course, the spotlight was on Abhi himself and being by his side from his birth to his untimely death. It was a heartening, often harrowing experience and I cried my eyes out while working on the manuscript, but in the end, it was entirely worth it.

How did you change as a person after publishing these many titles? What did you learn and unlearn from your experiences as a writer?

Writing my books has definitely been a transformative and life – affirming experience. Every single book that I have written and read has helped me navigate a particular chapter of my life, helping me traipse across the good and challenging times with a modicum of courage and grace. For that, they will always have my gratitude!

As a writer, I am constantly learning and unlearning only to relearn ad – infinitum. But it is part of growth and change and it is what it is. My main takeaway is to not strive so hard for control and to learn to trust and surrender to a higher process, the mysteries of which I can comprehend only in patches. But when I can pull it off, there is always a measure of peace and tranquility to be had. Getting into the zone is hard, but staying put in there, is the hardest thing to do of all. Someday, maybe I will pull it off!
You can check it out here: Storizen Magazine.

Having a Cow about the Canine and Bovine Crisis


Infected by the Indian proclivity for procreation and rapid proliferation, the stray dogs hereabouts find their population has soared to a dangerous level posing a threat to themselves and public safety. We all know this. Eyes goggling with horror, we watch CCTV footage of a 4-year-old in Hyderabad who was mauled to death by stray dogs in the parking lot of a housing society. Tutting in outrage, we read about the infant in a Rajasthan Hospital, who was carried away by strays of the canine persuasion. We all know these news stories represent a mere fraction of incidents pertaining to dog attacks. Because, it is routine, for lean and mean street dogs to chase or bite the unwary in India, the rabies capital of the world. Even so, none of us can be bothered with addressing this very preventable menace. Instead, we are content to express our dissatisfaction of social media before stepping out of our homes for a bracing walk, with a vague prayer on our lips and hope in our hearts, that we won’t be the ones who are attacked by a stray, hit by a truck, raped, robbed, or shat on by winged terrors like crows and pigeons. These things always happen to someone else, the unfortunates who wind up as sordid statistics, splashed across the news.

It is why we look the other way, when stray cattle prowl our roads causing road accidents and claiming the lives of hundreds, when they are not loading up on carelessly disposed plastic and garbage. Of course, we explain away this unacceptable scenario by telling ourselves that cows are sacred to Hindus, although we know that there is nothing in the Shastras explicitly telling us to let all things bovine traipse boisterously across the highways in a manner that can only be described as criminally negligent. Besides cows and drunk drivers are not the only dangerous things on the roads. We have stray dogs, runaway pigs, and the odd hobbled horse too! Why are we not doing anything about this?

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PCA) and Animal Birth Control (ABC) Acts don’t do much to prevent cruelty to animals or curb untrammelled breeding among strays. Similarly the increasing instances of Cow Vigilantism and rigidly enforced Cattle Protection laws which have criminalized Cow slaughter have only served to exacerbate the problem. It is high time this crisis in addition to being merely acknowledged needs to be tackled using a more practical approach.

Animal birth control measures need to be properly managed. Pet owners who abandon their pets and those guilty of mistreating animals must be pulled up and made to pay hefty fines. More animals and gaushalas need to be established, staffed with vets, volunteers and trained personnel committed to the job so that strays may be gathered up, fed, cared for if they are sick or crippled and spayed. Perhaps this way, our roads and public spaces will be marginally safer, and we might even successfully eliminate rabies.

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express Magazine.

Defending the Indefensible Pathaan

 The extremely loud and endless hubbub around 'Besharam Rang', a track from Shah Rukh Khan’s eagerly anticipated action film, ‘Pathaan’ is so typical of our times. Having set the internet on fire, this song has remained in the news for dubious reasons with everybody and their distant cousin weighing in, eager to criticise or defend. Hardly a classic, composers - Vishal and Sheykhar’s latest offering is not even the catchy earworm it aspires to be. But people can’t stop talking about it, which might just be the point.

In the age of social media, public sentiment is a fragile thing forever running the risk of getting perilously hurt and infected with the pus–filled discharge spewing forth with reckless abandon to hit the unwary in the eye. The song features the gorgeous and glam Deepika Padukone sporting an array of risqué bikinis, sensuously gyrating away to glory while a ripped Shah Rukh Khan looks on embodying a world of coolth the way only he can. While most oohed and aahed over the eye candy, this writer couldn’t help marvelling at all the insecurity on display. While it makes sense that the ante has to be upped given that nobody reacts to the mere sight of even an itsy-bitsy bikini anymore since it has been done to death and porn is just a click away, it boggles the mind that even a beauty of Deepika Padukone’s stature feels the desperate need to establish that marriage has not eroded her hotness quotient. As for SRK, it sucks that following a parade of box-office disasters he has chosen to hit the gym and pump himself full of steroids to give the likes of Tiger Shroff and Hrithik Roshan a run for their money instead of opting for a great script with a decent writer at the helm, which is the actual shot in the arm his career needs.

The trolls looked at things with a different eye though. They harumphed over Deepika’s ‘immodesty’ and questioned her husband, Ranveer Singh’s decision to ‘allow’ her to subject her body to the lewd gaze of the masses. Their counterparts on the other side of the ideological divide insisted that a woman, especially a grown one has the right to make her own decisions without being judged and shamed for it.

As the outrage boiled over, right-wingers leapt into the fray decrying the costume designer’s choice to use the colour saffron for the dimpled darling’s bikini, especially in a song, the title of which may be roughly translated to ‘Shameless Colour’ which was perceived to be an affront to religious beliefs. An apology was demanded from Shak Rukh Khan and the makers or else…Effigies were burnt, lawsuits and violence were threatened while the clowns from the Circus of the Absurd have been unleashed. In response, many voices have decried the attack on freedom of expression and the weaponisation of religious sentiment to stifle artists.

While the jury is still out on whether this is the best or worst of times, we can all certainly agree that this is definitely the stupidest of times. This extreme obsession with Bollywood whether it is manifested in the form of creepy adoration or vicious hate has gotten entirely out of hand with only the stars and the talking head studio types profiting from all this. Controversy sells. The entire entertainment ecosystem is fuelled by generating outrage and endless feuds which is why we get these carefully computed seemingly arbitrary lyrics which double as hashtags and SEO keywords – bloody chum for the ever-present sharks, endlessly circling the waters for a taste of juicy scandal. None of this amounts to much in the grander scheme of things. This entire controversy distilled to its essence amounts to little more than a trending topic, to be forgotten in the blink of an eye or until Ananya Pandey opens her mouth to utter something inane, ensuring that the spotlight is turned, full blast on her.

The more rational amongst us can choose to distance ourselves from the fray and shout ourselves hoarse to draw attention to wars being fought, people living below the poverty line with no way to afford a single meal, the threat of being decimated by the looming threat of a pandemic; nuclear apocalypse; or the grand culmination of global warming and environmental degradation but who cares? People’s attention has been very successfully diverted by raging non–issues pertaining to Deepika Padukone’s strategically displayed side boob, SRK’s chiselled abs, Alia Bhatt’s new baby and Malaika Arora’s reality show. And since, it is painfully obvious that you cannot beat ’em you might as well join ’em and make sure to add your own contribution to an entirely nonsensical discourse by writing at length about a song that is definitely not worth writing home about and trying to convince your editor you deserve a bigger fee so that you can find an affordable stylist to help you look like Janhvi Kapoor for Karan Johar’s glitzy entirely newsworthy New Year’s bash that you haven’t yet been invited to.

This article originally appeared in Outlook India.


 If I read, one more hyper-articulate article naming Pathaan as the definitive film of the

millennium, that has struck a blow on behalf of the minorities and the oppressed against an

India languishing in the stranglehold of Gau mutra drinkers, I am going to flip and throw up

at the same time. As a former fan, I am happy enough that Shah Rukh Khan has delivered a

blockbuster after a protracted dry spell at the box office but I am less enthused at the prospect

of seeing more of this CGI – generated -sculpted-abs-wielding abomination in place of the

brilliant actor who dared play the irresistible anti – hero in films like Baazigar, Darr and


Moreover, I draw the line at proclaiming him as a beleaguered victim just because he is

trolled on occasion for his half – assed not – quite political proclamations on social media and

had to deal with his son being arrested on trumped up drug possession charges, who has risen

from the ashes to emerge as a triumphant champion of secular India struggling to assert itself

against divisive politics. Given the extent of his wealth, fame, and power, he is better

equipped than most to weather a storm so let us hold back on the pity already and save it for

the more deserving. Like those unfortunate Indians who can’t afford three square meals a

day, a roof over their heads or a potty beneath their bums and are about to lose their hard –

earned LIC retirement funds thanks to the murky machinations of Mr. Adani.

Let’s face it, while there is much to love about King Khan, a small – time television actor

who bucked the odds to emerge as the undisputed Badshah of Bollywood before Aditya

Chopra, Karan Johar and Manish Malhotra got their claws into him and remade him as an

overly styled lover boy who became increasingly risk – averse when it came to taking up

meaty roles worthy of his considerable talent, it is nevertheless confusing as to why he is

being projected as some sort of saint by all those starstruck journalists who are otherwise

constantly crowing about fact – checking. Are they just going to ignore the Dawood

controlled influence of the underworld in the 90s which saw the emergence of the Khan

triumvirate or the fact that the IPL itself is a monster money – laundering scheme and anyone

who is as closely associated with this enterprise as SRK is, cannot reasonably be viewed as

Mr. Squeaky Clean?

Most importantly, why are so many insisting that a middling Bollywood film heralds the

beginning of a new World order where love and acceptance has overpowered hate and

intolerance? That is every bit as stupid as saying that the marriage of Siddharth Malhotra and

Kiara Advani has reaffirmed our collective commitment to love and peace or that hugging a

Cow is going to magically transform our lives, filling it with positive energy and untold

benefits. Be smarter, people and free your befuddled brain from Bollywood machinations.

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express Magazine.

'Queersapien' book review: Memoir of Identity


Sharif D Rangnekar’s Queersapien is a tall drink of tender coconut water on days when the entire world seems to have been hard baked in intolerance and hatred.

It is a candidly narrated tale of the author’s quest to shed his own fears and insecurities after coming out of the closet, braving the hostility of a landscape where, on one hand, the Supreme Court has decriminalised ‘gay sex’, reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, but on the other, acceptance is still hard to come by for the LGBTQIA+ community, in order to find love and live his best life.

Written with heart and sensitivity, the book is a journey which extends both inwards and outwards, gently nudging the reader towards finding a means to make the collective spaces inhabited by human beings, one where individuals can thrive without being judged, shamed and brutally punished, simply for being true to themselves and allowing their sexuality to blossom unimpeded.

The author’s emphasis is on building bridges across differences and making a break from the established order not to descend into the darkness of disorder but to emerge into the light of diversity. Rangnekar’s freestyle mode of writing may be discomfiting for the unwary as he leapfrogs from the subtleties of the Indian legal system, data and expert opinions to personal reflections and raunchy anecdotes from the heart of the sin cities in Thailand, but it works if you surrender to the flow and get into the spirit of things.

The author’s revelations from his stints in Thailand are particularly moving as it clearly takes a lot of strength and confidence to be this vulnerable. He dwells at length on some of the spiritual as well as sexual connections made

in a land where attitudes are far more progressive with regard to sex and fluid sexuality but also addresses the scarier aspects of going in pursuit of carnal nirvana as it comes with the risk of sexual assault and battery.

A charming touch is Rangnekar’s tendency to recognise the privileges of his gender, class and caste while remaining sensitive to women’s rights, sex work and the struggles faced by the minorities and marginalised who have so much more to lose. Particularly touching is his description of the obstacles bravely overcome by his widowed mother, who raised three sons and made the effort to open her home and heart in order to provide a safe space, not just for her children but for all who sought it. Veena Rangnekar is a legend and the world desperately needs people like her.

Making peace with your own identity is an arduous, lonesome journey. Too many are terrified to even attempt it. Very few make it to the destination that is an oasis of calm empowerment and even fewer manage to remain there. But every story like Queersapien serves as a much-needed beacon of light to guide those who wander––lost and far too frightened to come to terms with who they really are.

This book review originally appeared in The New Indian Express.

Naatu Not to seek White Validation


It is always lovely when Indians win recognition on the global stage and athletes, scientists, artists et al. hailing from this land receive their fair share of accolades. Our homegrown achievers deserve this hard earned recognition especially since our motherland does not exactly have a reputation for nurturing talent or creating a conducive and hospitable terrain for the meritorious to survive and thrive. Which is why it is pretty cool when an Arundhati Roy or Geethanjali Shree wins the Booker Prize,  AR Rahman wins an Academy Award, a PV Sindhu wins a silver medal at the Olympics, or when Naatu Naatu takes home the Golden Globe.

It is easy enough to understand the need to celebrate these wins with boisterous gusto as the more honest among us Indians will admit that on most days, life in India is hardly cause for celebration. There is simply too much evidence of corruption, incompetence and criminal negligence every which way you turn... A mother and her 2 – year old were killed when a Metro pillar collapsed. A young software engineer lost her life following an accident on a pothole riddled road while dropping her brother on the way to work. Pee – Gate is one of the most cringe – worthy news stories of all time and these are only the more recent examples of India when it isn't quite as incredible as it is purported to be. 
Thanks to the despicable behaviour of our countrymen /women/ children there comes a point when  we want to disown our Indian brothers and sisters so that we can adopt Japanese siblings who always clean up after themselves, are frightfully competent, painfully polite and wouldn’t dream of peeing on anyone or anywhere other than a urinal. I daresay, it is thanks to these unpatriotic thoughts that we dare not admit to, that we feel the need to go absolutely bonkers with pride and joy every time an Indian receives White validation. Because deep down we know that most of us respect each other even less than the white folks do. Racism is only part of the problem. The truth is we don't do much to be worthy of approbation.  
It is sad that the excessive display of National pride on these occasions masks a loathing for so much of what India has become. The solution for this sorry state of affairs simply cannot be to rest on the laurels of random Indian victories and putter along on potholed roads with chests puffed up with vacuous pride. Now is the time to get off our keisters and get to work mending the many broken things that need fixing if we are to hold up our heads and take our rightful place on the global stage. It means confronting the painful truth about  being Indian rather than disappearing into a footstomping song where two Telugu Superstars school the White man while owning their regional identities, without desperately seeking his approval to feel better about their own shortcomings. 

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express Magazine.



Last Sunday, I read a news article about two Bengaluru cops who were suspended after they extorted money from a couple returning home from a party, insisting that according to the rules, they were not allowed to walk on the streets after 11 pm. The married duo had their phones confiscated, were put through a gruelling interrogation and threatened with imprisonment if they didn’t pay up. The frazzled husband revealed the details about his ordeal on Twitter and after his tweet went viral, the Deputy Commissioner of Police, clarified that there was no rule preventing people from walking on the road at any time of the night before taking action against the errant constables.

Now, this qualifies as a happy ending since too often, justice is delayed and denied in India. It is also a heartening reminder that occasionally, social media can be a useful tool to redress a wrong. However, I couldn’t help thinking that this ugly incident is so typical in modern India. For some reason, so many get outraged and there is a lot of finger – wagging as well as outright condemnation when couples are spotted doing something as innocuous as holding hands and walking on the road. Practically everybody wants to throw the book at lovers if they so much as kiss in darkened theatres or parks. The backlash is instantaneous and often ugly, forcing smitten youngsters to sneak around and seek out isolated places far from prying eyes with the result that they often put themselves at heightened risk for harassment, blackmail, and further violence.

On the other hand, the average Indian doesn’t get hot and bothered when folks piss and poop in public uncaring about the strain they are subjecting unwary eyeballs to. Those who are critical about such unacceptable behaviour are themselves criticized for not checking their privilege and told that there are more temples than toilets in India, as if this somehow makes public defecation acceptable. Most are similarly unconcerned when gross uncles burp/fart loudly or dig their nostrils in full view of all and sundry. However, the same people insist that all things remotely related to love and sex be treated as filthy (chee!) to be confined to dark, dingy rooms, preferably beneath suffocating sheets if you are married and strictly forbidden if you are not.

After all, this is our culture, never mind that the Kamasutra was written in India and temples at Konark and Khajuraho reveal that in the distant past, Indians had a more enlightened view on intimacy and erotica. No wonder so many of us are incapable of healthy relationships and hopelessly ignorant about reproductive health or practising safe sex. We would do well to go for an attitude transplant as a nation, instead of persecuting lovers and blaming films like Arjun Reddy, Pushpa and Kantara for the prevalent toxicity or there will be more news stories about couples getting killed or gruesomely punished in a land where hatred and intolerance has prevailed over love and acceptance.

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express Magazine.

Toxicity of the Blue Tick Twitterati


Twitter is a fascinating place. It is always good for entertainment, if nothing else. People are forever attacking one another over principles and personal preferences. It is usually a scream to view the shouting matches between the senseless trolls on either side of the ideological divide as they attack each other over trending topics pertaining to politics, religion, human rights, Virat Kohli's form, Kim Kardashian's butt and Alia Bhatt's baby name preferences.

The insufferable opinions of the obnoxious and the offensive are always available for your viewing pleasure. The  humble Tweeple get to be schooled by the Twitterati, the blue-blooded wielders of the coveted blue tick on all things inane, irrational and irritating. Ostensibly, these are the 'verified' accounts that authenticate identity and establish holders such as politicians, film/sports stars, media personnel, big business types and influencers with an insane follower count as 'trustworthy'.

In short, the chosen ones are the powerful and popular folks who have been selected as the manipulators of public opinion to further agendas that can be counted on to do absolutely nothing to bring about the greater good, even if they vociferously claim otherwise. The violent, vitriol-filled rhetoric against JK Rowling, which is less of an attempt to uphold trans rights and more of a concentrated attack against a powerful woman not afraid to fight for women’s safety, is a case in point. 

Recently, Twitter experienced extreme turmoil when the newly anointed Chief Twit, Elon Musk, upended the status quo by rolling out the Blue subscription  service, allowing users to pay a monthly fee for the privilege of becoming the proud owner of a blue tick. Naturally, the Twitterati have their innards in a twist, claiming that such a move would lead to a proliferation of fake accounts leading to misinformation, which could weaponise the platform and jeopardise world peace.  Apparently that is not at all how things stood in the fairy land that was Twitter before Musk made his move.

Of course, I am one of those who have chosen not to cough up the fee, since by miraculous happenstance, I have a blue tick on Instagram, which has caused my stock to skyrocket with my daughters and nephews. In this economy, it is my advise that others follow my lead guided by parsimony, not principles. After all, the beauty of Twitter is that it will always remain the anarchic hellhole it was engineered to be.  

Even if you get a grip on the deep-seated desire to wile away the good years in your life by endlessly scrolling through Twitter feeds with breaks for Instagram until death does you in, you walk away with the empty yet satisfying knowledge that you have done nothing at all that might be construed as useful or enriching. And you will definitely be back for more.  

#MeToo: Missing justice in hashtag activism

The #MeToo movement, a volcanic eruption of long-suppressed pain and rage from victims of abuse, was a global revolution that sought to smoke out offenders, expose their deeds and mete out punishment. Many survivors found the courage to come forward, name and shame offenders, shed the baggage 

of trauma, and facilitate healing. Some of the perpetrators were prosecuted or cancelled outright, victims received financial aid, workplace and educational institutions framed policies to safeguard women, the statute of limitation for reporting abuse became elasticised and some of us dared to dream of a world where women were not treated as sexual toys. But that was always a foolish hope.

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For, in the real world, far away from social media, consequences were far more severe for victims. They won in the court of public opinion, but mostly lost in actual courts, where decisions in these sensitive cases are based on hard-to-prove facts and near-nonexistent evidence. Consequently, many bravehearts have been countersued for defamation, slut-shamed, and suffered professional setbacks. Meanwhile, the likes of Sajid Khan find themselves in the news, having capitalised on their notoriety. 

This is hardly surprising since hashtag activism inevitably putters to a standstill. All it takes is celebs dropping pics of their weddings, baby showers, unclothed selves or funny videos of pampered pets to divert public attention. Moreover, social media trials often generate sympathy for aggressors since folks who haven’t had their brains woke-washed invariably feel that justice was not served as due process was ignored, never mind that the lame-duck legal system has repeatedly let down the injured party. 

The upshot is that #MeToo seems committed to fanning public outrage and populist pandering, which saw it accused of diluting the menace of sex crimes by lumping everything from flirtation in the workplace to sexual assault together, resulting in the doling out of punishment that is both disproportionate as well as inadequate, enabling some to manipulate it for their own ends. Meanwhile, the movement did not do enough to change deeply entrenched patriarchal mindsets and cultural beliefs that expect women to shut up and put up.

The solution, thus, lies not in vigilante-style justice meted out by a moralistic mob on internet forums, but in fixing a broken justice system and prioritising the rights of women. Prevention is still key. We need to implement rules that guarantee safe spaces for women. Mostly, the battle for gender equality, sensitisation and inclusion of LGBTQ is going to be a long-drawn-out, painful process, which demands that we fight the good fight with dedication, humanity and mindfulness rather than twiddling our thumbs, Twitterati style. 

This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express Magazine.

Bloody Birthdays!


I am mildly envious of people who are into celebrating the little things in their lives, particularly birthdays. They seem so happy swirling around in a candy – coloured Tim Burtonesque fantasy land apparently feeling blessed, blissed out and filled to the brim with the love and laughter in their lives. When my birthday rolls around with clockwork like precision despite my vehement efforts to freeze time using a telekinetic chokehold, I become so cantankerous, I make the Grinch seem like little Miss Sunshine hopped up on happy pills.

All I can see in the mirror is the awkward, pimply adolescent I once was in a belligerent biddy’s body. Taking note of increasingly creaky joints, I brood over the process of aging while counting the rapidly proliferating grey strands and bemoaning my lack of success in establishing a diplomatic relationship with my weighing scale. Politely responding to all the sweet people who send birthday wishes, I make myself feel worse by dwelling on the things I was supposed to have achieved by now but haven’t.

Despite my plan to see the world and explore its wonders Ibn Battuta style, I spend most days pottering around the house with all the zip of a zombie while wishing I could sleep all day. Then when it is beddy – bye time, I stay up late adding weight to the bags beneath my eyes, trying to master the formula for instant success and land a big fat book deal or create a cutting-edge app that will allow me to buy the Chennai Super Kings and outbid Elon Musk to takeover Twitter.

While drowning my sorrows in Nutella milkshake between bites of birthday cake, I wish I had taken better care of my teeth. It is no fun to spend hours in a dentist’s chair while he wields terrifying implements no doubt lovingly envisioned and first employed by the Marquis de Sade. Sugar may rot your teeth, but it does induce a sickly-sweet high that lulls you into believing that it is not too late to turn your life around.

I resolve to invest in Bitcoin, oil and gold which seems like the sort of thing smart people would do. Going forward, I promise myself that I will nurture and cherish the bonds with all those who truly matter, especially the ones who had made it a point to call me, patiently listened to my endless whining and assured me that I was not a complete waste of space instead of devoting time and attention to accruing an army of followers on Instagram. I shall make a commitment to fitness and begin the odyssey to find a better version of myself.

Feeling revitalized, I tell myself that the year is off to a great start though the sugar – rush is giving way to inevitable despondency. As I toss and turn wrestling with unresolved sleep issues, I spend the time trying to figure out how best to trap treacherous time in a bottle before my next birthday.

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express Magazine.


Saturday, August 27, 2022

Festering Wounds and a Fractured Identity

 Operation Bluestar, was authorized by Indira Gandhi in June, 1984 to clear the militants led by Bhindranwale and his armed supporters who had taken up residence in Amritsar’s famed Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine. The deadly military action which left thousands dead dealt a crippling blow to secessionists fighting for a free Khalistan and the national media at the time was full of praise for Ms. Gandhi. Some felt that this tragedy could have been avoided if the PM had used diplomatic means to reach an accord with the moderate leaders of the Akali Dal especially since some of their demands were considered reasonable.Matters came to a head when Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two of her own Sikh bodyguards, five months after the ill – fated operation. National fury over her death and Rajiv Gandhi’s call for a pogrom resulted in anti – Sikh riots and genocidal violence against the community.

The Anatomy of Loss by Arjun Raj Gaind unfolds across a sea of suffering as heinous brutality is deliberately perpetrated against the Sikh community. Interestingly, the author chooses not to dwell on the political/ ideological nitty gritty that contributed to the tumultuous events of 1984. Rather, his is a deeply personal narrative based on real events that intimately examine the long-lasting emotional ramifications bred from a toxic miasma of hatred, intolerance, rage, and an unwillingness to forgive or forget a tragedy.

Haunted by his past, the protagonist, Himmat whose childhood is lost forever in the vicious upheaval brought on by a political assassination, is unable to move on. He was only eight years old and in the middle of an idyllic vacation with his maternal grandparents in their farmhouse when the shocking news reaches them. The ramifications are swift and shocking. Gobind, his beloved grandfather, a poet and professor shaves off his beard of which he is inordinately proud to try and disguise his identity, revealing himself to the little boy not as the vaunted hero he has looked up to but a very human and frail old man. That very night, Gobind’s best friend seeks his help to save his son, only a few years older than Himmat, who has been taken into police custody. Out of concern for his own family Gobind refuses. He changes his mind in the morning, but his intervention ensures he is taken into custody himself, beaten and tortured, despite his advanced years. Though his brave wife manages to free him, his effort is in vain, and Gobind earns himself the implacable wrath of a senior Inspector.

Anxious to protect Himmat, Gobind decides to leave Amritsar with his family. In his single – minded quest, he makes the decision not to intervene even as a great injustice is being played out before their very eyes, though Himmat begs him to help. This horrifying incident is the final straw that breaks the weakening bond between the two of them leaving Himmat feeling adrift from all he has ever known and cut off from his own identity.

Himmat is a finely etched character, whose raw and bleeding psyche is laid bare and exposed to the minute scrutiny of the reader to disconcerting effect. The constantly festering agony of one who has been unceremoniously exposed to the ugliest side of human nature is in no small part due to the crimes of the past, when the Sikhs were repeatedly persecuted in Mughal, British and Independent India. Through his protagonist, the author draws attention to suppurating wounds left on the collective psyche by unspeakable tragedy and the long-term damage done, when the embers of anger and despair are constantly stoked by self – serving politicians that perpetuates the cycle of hate leaving no room for healing. Yet, Gaind also suggests that there is always hope thanks to the resilience of the human spirit.

An incredibly affecting book, narrated with heartbreaking candor and deeply felt emotion, it is hard to put down. Gaind does a fine job of reconstructing personal trauma. Himmat moves to London and tries to drown his pain and impotent frustration in booze, chiromania and is even recruited by disgruntled youngsters like himself who still believe in the dream of Khalistan. But no amount of self – destructive behavior brings him closer to elusive peace or much needed closure until he is able to reach deep within, with only a little spectral help to find the strength to forgive and fully become the man with the heart of a lion, he was always impossibly close to being.

An edited version of this review appeared in The New Indian Express. You can read it here.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Muting manic Mother’s Day celebrations

Every time Mother’s Day rolls around, I become Scrooge and spend the time rolling my eyes at all the heart-warming mommy dearest pics and touching tributes that pop up while I am infinity scrolling through Instagram. Mothers are likened to Goddesses or Superheroes and there is a lot of sentimental gushing about unconditional love, delicious meals cooked with an overabundance of care, selfless sacrifice and the rest of the slop nearly every film made in the history of Indian cinema has normalised.
Take that recent film about a gangster who is actually a monster with mommy issues which went on to smash box-office records. The protagonist is so hung up on his dead amma and unresolved Oedipal Complex that he goes on to sucker thousands of poor miners into thinking he is their saviour while exploiting them to fulfil his insatiable greed for gold, abducting the spoilt heroine and Stockholm-syndroming her into becoming his wife, with the view to bringing forth a child whom they are convinced will be his dearly departed mother reborn. Apparently, this unholy fixation exonerates him for all his abominable crimes and the audience is urged to worship him for venerating his mother. Never mind, that his mum gave him awful advice on her death bed and galled him into becoming a ravening capitalist who murders his way to the top. 
The phenomenal success of this film on top of other fragments of unassailable evidence gathered over a lifetime has forced me to conclude that the vast majority of men are in love with their mommies and are unable to get over the fact that society does not allow them to wed them. So most males who are not incels spend their lives feeling sorry for themselves because their wives or girlfriends, both real and imaginary, don’t pamper them, feed them ghee-drenched meals with their hands, tend to their ouchies, and tenderly massage their scalps the way Ma used to. Some go on to make movies about women who devote every atom of their beings towards the fulfilment of their precious sons’ petty needs. And the others grow up to become serial killers, rapists or just plain insufferable. 

 All mothers, without exception, will tell you that motherhood is not all that. The miracle of birth is actually a horror show that involves nine months’ worth of nausea, puking, occasional loss of bladder control, mood swings, uncontrollable cravings, bloating, etc. which is just a preview of the painful and life-threatening labour that follows. And just when you think the hard part is over, you are confronted with the unbearable truth... The worst is yet to come and you are on the hook for the rest of your life. This is unpaid, gruelling labour which will come close to killing you and there is no way out. At some point, nearly all mothers fantasise about hurling their kids out the window and making a break for freedom. The fact that mums refrain from their worst impulses and do the best they can with an impossible job is surely cause for celebration. But let’s not be silly about it. 

 This column originally appeared in The New Indian Express

The worst laid plans

Every morning, when I force my eyes open after a couple of hours spent hitting snooze every time, I am harangued by the annoying alarm and resisting the urge to stay in bed for the duration of the day and blowing off my chores by pretending to be sick, I vow to be better. Today is the day, I tell myself, that I shall succeed in escaping this unproductive cesspool of a swamp I have been stuck in for longer than I care to admit. 

 I swear to begin work on my next book, which I assure myself will not only be an international bestseller but the winner of every prestigious prize there is, not to mention getting me a record-breaking movie deal. Then I shall use all the moolah raked up by its runaway success to literally clean up the streets of India, so that everything is totally shiny, sparkly and Instagram-worthy. 

 People will be able to head out into the great outdoors without being assaulted by the unassailable stench of garbage and assorted wastes. That will be my legacy to my beloved country. All I ask for, in return, is the Bharat Ratna, so that I will have something to brag about to the grandkids who will no doubt be bored to tears by my umpteenth retelling of the time I shook hands with the President of India, who told me that I was a National Treasure (or for all I know called me an uppity Jackass! Who the hell understands Hindi anyway?) and I thanked him most prettily in a mixture of English and Tamil. 

 There is a distinct possibility, that these things will happen sooner rather than later, I reassure myself. After all, the plan is to crawl out of bed, tweet about Ukraine, finish the monotonous tasks that will only take an infinity to complete in its entirety, whip out my laptop from wherever I hid it and get started on my book, which is going to be epic. And I really mean to do it. Soon. 

 It’s just that the Chennai Super Kings have lost a bunch of matches lately and I am yet to get over Dhoni’s ill-timed decision to hand over the captaincy to Jadeja. I just have to share my thoughts regarding the crisis on a WhatsApp group composed of true-blue CSK fans. For some unfathomable reason, there was a lot of acrimony regarding my well-meaning views harshly expressed with pithy GIFs and emojis. Somebody suggested that Rayudu, Bravo and Dhoni himself be dropped. What followed was a bloodbath!

 Needless to say, that unsightly episode put a spanner in my plans. But it doesn’t matter. I am determined to get started… Once I have realised my fitness ambitions of achieving a rad bod with under 2 percent body fat. It is a realistic plan for an author aspiring to become an actor. I am going to do it. But first things first. I have to stop hitting snooze. 
This column originally appeared in The New Indian Express

A Bad-Mood inducing Brooding Batman

After two years of being cooped up at home, over Covid-related concerns that not even a currently raging war in Ukraine can dispel, I ventured out to catch the latest blockbuster Hollywood has churned out in the Superhero oeuvre. How bad could it be, I reasoned, even if the Twilight dude whose screen personas suggest he is forever suffering from severe indigestion, had been roped in to fill Christian Bale’s oversized Bat shoes. There were further concerns.
According to Twitter buzz, the new Caped Crusader was even darker than in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy which was single-handedly responsible for making it a cardinal sin for superheroes to do anything less than simmer endlessly in all things sepulchral. This was every bit as ominous as the trailer which gave the definite impression of a film desperate to be deemed a masterpiece, but I am a sucker for caramel popcorn and determinedly ignored the warning signs. 

 The film certainly lived up to my worst fears. Nowadays, it won’t do to make fun films based on comic books. Current cinematic offerings have to take after Booker Prize-winning weighty tomes and be every bit as dense and dismal but with none of the magically conjured soul-stirring sadness that makes the books worthwhile. 

 It is practically a prerequisite for not only the protagonist but every other character to be tormented souls with tortuous backstories and trauma enough to set up a shrink for life. Robert Pattinson tries so darn hard, managing to convey little more than the unavoidable fact that the Batsuit has made it impossible for him to have a bowel movement. 

Furthermore, the narrative has to be overstuffed with socio-political commentary, weighty themes like duality, good versus evil, which, hold your breath, are actually two sides of the same coin! The hooey keeps looping back and forth in sickening spoon-feeding style to give the impression of complexity lest it becomes confused with pedestrian popcorn fare. 

 The villain cannot be allowed to be a run-of-the-mill megalomaniac who likes to blow things up with maniacal glee a la Jack Nicholson and create masala-worthy mayhem. Instead, he is a monster who has torn free from a nightmare, fed on the decay of a corrupt society, and erupted with the vengeful fury of a volcano spewing forth the ugliness befitting a terrorist. Mercifully, female characters have more to do in these films besides being bodacious. Their bottoms are more artfully displayed. Besides they get to brood and kick booty just like the hero! 

 All that canny crafting may be catnip for the critics but the dearth of organic emotional beats leaves the heart groaning with impatience and a simple longing for the earlier iterations of Batman, even the one where studio executives greenlit a Batsuit with nipples on it. 

 This column originally appeared in The New Indian Express

The price of distraction

Johann Hari, former star columnist of The Independent, suffered a fall from grace after he admitted to charges of plagiarism and viciously attacking his professional rivals anonymously on Wikipedia. However, he has bounced back with bestselling books tackling high octane subjects such as addiction (Chasing the Scream) and depression (Lost Connections).
His latest book, Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention, explores the growing attention crisis that has reduced a majority of the human populace to tech–addicted zombies. It is a topic anyone who has felt they have been taken hostage by social media will be able to relate to easily. 

 In fact, even as I read the book, I could not help but Google Hari and devote more time that I could afford to spare on the aforementioned scandals spat out by the search engine that had made him notorious as well as successful. But the problem of our lost focus tackled by the book is real and needs to be addressed. Hari sets about it with gusto having travelled the world for the better part of three years gathering research, talking to experts, and laying out the material in typically provocative style. 

The book is replete with personal anecdotes—Hari dwells at length on his digital detox at a small town in Cape Cod in Massachusetts, US, with no smartphone or the internet for three months, visiting Graceland with his godson who had lost himself to gadgets and findings from studies, interviews with scientists, scholars, activists. He does a commendable job of breaking down the science and statistics to make it more palatable for the average ADHD (Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder)-afflicted reader. 

 Incidentally, in one of the more interesting chapters Hari bewails the ‘collapse of sustained reading’ as a direct result of the hostile takeover of human cognition by big tech rightly stating that books are the ‘medium through which most of the deepest advances in human thought over the past 400 years have been figured out and explained and that experience is now in freefall.’ 

 In another fascinating passage, Hari draws on the work of pyschologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to discuss the possibility of defending ourselves from the constant barrage of personalised distraction by training the mind to enter a state of flow where ‘you are so absorbed in what you are doing that you lose all sense of yourself, and time seems to fall away, and you are flowing into the experience itself. It is the deepest form of focus and attention’. Artists and athletes often experience this. The human existence is rendered most fulfilling in this zone, and entering it armed with a meaningful goal and commitment could be a worthwhile pursuit. 

 For the most part, the book emphasises the systemic factors that have robbed humanity of the ability to focus, the ruses employed by tech giants to keep people glued to their screens, thereby, sacrificing collective attention on the altar of avarice, directly contributing to a toxic atmosphere of negativity and outrage that has severely compromised civilised discourse, led to a proliferation of fake news and increased polarisation and radicalisation to the point where we are no longer able to unite for a worthy cause and bring about much needed reform. Hari also outlines the roles played by climate change, poor dietary choices, sedentary lifestyles and pollution in deteriorating attention spans. 

 So far, so good but none of this information is as shockingly revelatory or jaw-dropping as Hari’s highly frenzied style of writing would lead you to believe. After all it is no secret that social media and assorted apps routinely sell personal information to the highest bidders and that these details are used against users to better uphold the interests of surveillance capitalism. The science is also nebulous and as Hari admits, ‘We don’t have any long-term studies tracking changes in people’s ability to focus over time.’ Even the evidence put forward, as Hari freely states, has been strongly contested and there seems to be little consensus on the subject. 

 Consequently, one can’t help but feel, that the ‘scientific facts’ have been selectively interpreted to bolster Hari’s own perspectives and simplistic approach to the problem of reclaiming our lost focus. Some of his suggestions and interventions will no doubt prove to be useful for individuals but the ‘attention rebellion’ he calls for is likely to remain every bit as remote as the odds on my own successful resistance to the siren call of social media and those infernal notifications indicating that someone liked or retweeted my crap. 

 This book review originally appeared in The New Indian Express

Post-Valentine’s Day Peregrinations

The week after Valentine’s Day is very revealing. We see it in all those empty heart-shaped confectionery boxes looking bereft without the decadent candy that has disappeared down overly indulged gullets. In deflated balloons and pesticide-drenched, dried-out, long-stemmed red roses that lie outside overflowing trash cans, because this is India.

Those cutesy pics and reels of couples on Instagram who are enjoying candlelit dinners, hugging oversized and overpriced teddy bears, slow-dancing or opening gifts with extra-wide smiles to overcompensate for the fact that they are not feeling as elated as they are supposed to feel. 

 Most of all, there is a pervasive sense of discontent as couples who saw a little too much of each other during the pandemic contemplate the joys of being single again and single people who have been roundly reproved by the spiteful for not having a significant other to celebrate a commercial holiday that has cashed in on outdated notions of courtly love, wish they were part of a loved-up couple. 

 Like the mythical Ouroboros, which means ‘tail-devourer’ in Greek and is represented by a tail-swallowing snake or dragon, it is a never-ending conundrum. Most of us are in love with the idea of being in love rather than what it actually entails to be in a relationship, even on the off chance that it is a loving and fulfilling one. 

 Because deep down, we know that even the grandest of passions, at best, serves as a backdrop against which the humdrum monotony of existence plays out at snail’s pace even in a world with its increasingly fast and furious rhythms, if it has not crashed and burnt out already. Love is irksome because it is demanding, takes up more time and effort than is feasible and dies anyway.

 Even so, even the most curmudgeonly and cynical amongst us can seldom resist the irresistible allure of amour and the magic it promises. Everywhere we are confronted with the smoking ruins of curdled romances and the sheer devastation wrought by desire turned to dust. Infinite stories, their never-ending permutations notwithstanding tell us that tragedy is the only outcome we can expect in a love story and we know it is true because it feels like we experienced these stories ourselves even if it was only in a dream and that they are merely echoes of worse ones we have lived through. 

 And yet, we need to believe in not just the highly improbable but even the impossible possibility of a love story that will somehow bypass the near-certainty of a squalid ending and remain as splendid as it was in the beginning. Ultimately, we are all fools in love or hoping to be that fool in love, because we will always choose disaster over dreariness. 

 This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express

Schism between Science and Spirituality

Two years into a raging pandemic, Corona continues to have most of civilisation in a chokehold. As expected, people haven’t taken kindly to the fact that their prayers, wishes, science-approved vaccines and safety measures have done next to nothing to make it go away. Needless to say, fear, fraying tempers and fraught emotions have come to the fore, creating a toxic climate that claims as many victims as the variants of a virus. 

 People need to present this calamity with a united front and yet, we have seldom been more divided. We can’t agree on whether the vaccines are lifesavers guaranteed to save humanity or a placebo concocted by the pharmaceutical companies to make trillions and profit from collective suffering in collusion with heartless capitalists. The double-jabbed and the vaccine sceptics are butting heads leading to explosive results with World No 1 tennis champion, Novak Djokovic, being the most high-profile casualty. 

The outspoken Novak Djokovic has been one of the most visible vaccine sceptics and his stubborn stance has endeared him to his fans who were infuriated at the public humiliation of a great champion by slimy politicians while earning him the dire wrath of most others. His detractors sought to drown him in a wave of social media-engineered derision, mocking his spiritual beliefs and the pseudoscience he supposedly peddles. 

 This inability to find a middle ground in light of the ever-widening chasm between science and spirituality is our biggest failure in modern times and it needs to be bridged. We must make the attempt to develop a system of knowledge that is free from the fallacies of science and the failings of religion. In the tussle between faith and intellect, neither can hope to subsume the other which is how we have arrived at this hopeless impasse. 

 It wasn’t always this way. Ibn Sina—polymath, philosopher and physician whose innovative theorising in metaphysics elevated the soul to the realm of the intellect—gave the world the Canon, the foundation of modern medicine which was taught as a textbook in Europe and the Islamic lands. Michelangelo was a devout Catholic who risked eternal damnation to perform dissections on corpses to satisfy his scientific curiosity about anatomy which he felt was crucial to enhance his prowess as a sculptor and painter. 

 India’s great mathematicians like Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta managed to find a way to reconcile the demands of their faith with science, making unequalled contributions to the study of numbers even as they gazed upon the stars. These are the giants we must emulate. After all, differences in race, culture and beliefs notwithstanding, diversity is a beautiful thing especially when the divisive elements find a way to beat the odds and coexist in truth and harmony. 

 This article originally appeared in The New Indian Express