Tuesday, January 31, 2023

An Ode to Ozymandias

One reason why I abhorred poetry was how open to interpretation it is. The more you submerge in it, the more you realise its multifacetedness. No wonder then that poetry is considered closer to other forms of 'fine' arts. Regardless, this greyness is the very reason I hated it. Parsimony and simplicity has always been my strong suite. And so, I never understood the fuss around poetry. I have long accepted my unpreparedness to appreciate this form of writing. Despite that, I have also realised over the years that there is still some kind of the free-flowing form which appeals to me. I will be unable to convey what about certain poems appeals to me (I wish I could wax lyrical :)), but maybe that's the whole point of poetry. That something undescribable is being described, and that creates ripples which are even more undescribable. 

In very general terms, if the writing makes me forget myself and makes me start imagining that specific milieu, that time, those characters, then that poet offers me a chance at an out-of-body experience. There are many a poets in India whom I love to death. My love for Sahir, Neeraj and Shailendra is amply displayed on this blog -- all masters of their craft, not only because of their ways with the linguistic jugglery, but because of how simple, accessible, and yet revolutionary they made this form to be. I think each of them was unique -- in the sense that each of them brought a very different structuring of the form that was absent in others -- that they revolutionised the discipline. Add to that, their punches were not gift wrapped in linguistic jugglery; it almost seemed as if they immolated in the fire of the unjustness of this world, and re-emerged from it with a steely determination, each in their unique ways, and articulated that so astutely, that they converted you into addicts, provoking you to consume more and more of their creations, taking you to newer and newer highs.

For example, read this one by Sahir:

जिन होठों ने इनको प्यार किया, उन होठों का व्योपार कियाजिस कोख में इनका जिस्म ढला, उस कोख का कारोबार कियाजिस तन से उगे कोपल बन कर, उस तन को ज़लील-ओ-खार कियाऔरत ने जनम दिया मर्दों को, मर्दों ने उसे बाज़ार दियाजब जी चाहा मसला कुचला, जब जी चाहा धुत्कार दिया...

these words...hurting you, hammering you, bringing you down piece by piece, knocking you down in submission in merely five lines...

This post, however, is not about Sahir. It's about someone else. If I have to choose one non-Indian poet, whose writings I gravitate towards, my unabashedly emotional vote will go to Shelley. I feel he was a true representative -- in his thoughts, creations and being -- of the Age of Enlightenment. Surprisingly, many things I dislike about poetry in general, e.g., subjectivity, I love about Shelley. His passion and the choice of words, his interpretation, his rejection of epics and odes to the gods and the rulers, and finally and maybe most importantly, his imagination, take his poetry to another level. It only helps that he was an atheist and rebelled against many social conventions.

One of the most lovely poems by Shelley is the sonnet 'Ozymandias'. Here is an example of how no pursuit, however cerebral or disconnected it may seem from the masses, exists isolated. One must read the background that prompted Shelley to write this poem. For Shelley to have written this poem at a time when kings and queens were no less than gods and goddesses, he challenged their very legacy in a mightily subversive manner. 

The poem goes like this:

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desart … Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,

Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!”

No thing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.


Make of it what you may. In my view, at a personal level, nothing more humbling than reading this poem, especially every time your ego is acting up. At the societal level, I think the poem speaks about the tragic reality of imperialism. In a very meta-manner, this sonnet by Shelley, which rebelled against rulers for a more pro-people governance, must serve as a warning for all those very same democracies who ended their rulers and ushered in democracies (including the one which Shelley's sonnet helped in cementing), but ended up becoming inward-looking and myopic, by serving only their people and their land and their interests, at the cost to others, and to that end, they turned autocratic and parasitised, invaded and destroyed other civilisations. Shelley's sonnet should serve as a warning because it tells us, that this egoistic pursuit doesn't last in the long run, that this too shall pass, and a new order will arise. The lone and level sands will stretch far away once again...

Monday, January 02, 2023

Happy New Year!

Here's something to start the year.

If you are a word-nerd like me, who could have very well gone into studying languages rather than sciences* (only for my love for the genesis of words), here are some sites that are ultra-useful:






*I am terrible at speaking new languages, but reading and listening comprehension is good. I think that's due to the ability to trace the origin of things, asking the 'why' and the 'how' questions, as one has to do repeatedly in research. And so in the case of words, trying to trace the etymology of how they came to be, and why that combination of words to begin with. Actually, even before research came into life, this interest of tracing the genesis of words had already lit a spark. Our childhood games during dinner was when dad would ask us to guess meanings of very technical terms in Sanskrit/Hindi/Marathi/English, sometimes scientific terms, sometimes even genus and species names. And although it began as a game as a kid, there was this quick realisation that it's very useful to remember complicated scientific terms for exams.

Later, as I started research and teaching, it became quite clear that breaking down words is a very useful way of explaining complex terms to non-experts. It's also an interactive way of turning a word inside out, and quite fun. In fact, nothing compares with seeing the awe and comprehension on people's faces when you break down a lofty-looking unbreakable mass of alphabets, and say to them, don't worry, you sillies, it's just a compound word made of smaller words. It works even in case of commonly used big words, because unfortunately, no one taught us this skill in the school. Take the example of 'environment'. When you break it down, it becomes environment = en (in) + viron (turn/circle, from the verb veer) + ment (phenomenon) = the phenomenon of being enveloped. Doesn't that sounds almost magical? Okay, okay. Maybe not magical, but definitely interesting and revealing. Interesting enough to almost study the topic. Something that envelopes us needs to be studied, right?

The better part of this breaking down comes now. Closely related languages have common words. And many commonly used words in English actually come from French or Latin (or other languages), and so, it becomes that much easier to grasp those new languages if you were to be exposed to them suddenly the way I was. Reading French was made so much easier because it's crazy how many words it shares with English. And so, environment becomes environnement (but of course, pronounced differently than English). 

The best part, however, is this: many technical terms in science (and maybe other disciplines too) have been literally translated into Hindi (and maybe other Indo-Germanic languages too) (or who knows, maybe being from the same family of languages, the creation of words is independently similar in English and Hindi? Although this second explanation seems less likely to me). So environment = en+vironment+ment = परि (round/circle) + आवरण (envelope) = पर्यावरण . By the way, परि in Sanskrit/Hindi and Peri in Latin/English sound similar and mean the same, don't they? Well, turns out they are actually related. Check this out.

This is when the magic begins. You start wondering about the history and the geography and the movement of human beings as carriers of cultures and languages. You start wondering about who put the first string of alphabets together and how did it gain a critical mass to be understood and used; you start wondering whether languages be taught and learnt this way, and whether other subjects could be learnt this way; you start wondering is a common language a boon or a bane, and can having a diverse set of languages with diversity of rules around word formations and etymology reveal better ways of understanding, learning and communication? When you start asking such questions, a word doesn't just remain a word. It becomes a pearl that carries with it a secret from the past and, perhaps, a message for the future? A pearl of wisdom that's constantly moving and evolving and is a messenger of the history of time.

A very happy new year to you all!

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

On My Knees

Nothingness. Absence. Vacuum.

Can lack of something have a shape and a form? 

The tears in my eyes are a manifestation of that nothingness.


Saturday, October 29, 2022

You Killed My Grandma

I hold responsible the Government for my grandma's untimely demise. This was not the time for her to pass on. You killed her (and millions of others) with your sheer laziness, incompetence, waves of denial, your unscientific-ness and unpreparedness, but worst of all, your arrogance. It's my loss, but it's the nation's loss too. That's how great she was.

Do you have a problem in me holding you responsible? Put me in jail. Declare me a terrorist. Or why not just shoot me?

On my part, I forgive you. Not because I am the bigger person here. Only because that's what she would have wanted.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

I Want To Touch You

I open my bag, fetch out the notebook I need, flip through its pages. A stray folded page flies out. It is from 2017 when I was neck deep in something. 

Notes, especially on stray sheets, are vehicles of nostalgia, flying you to that specific place and time. Or about so. Nostalgia or memory is like riding the Floo network, sometimes precise, sometimes very, very imprecise. Anyway.   

Coming to think of it, photos take you back in time, too, but a paper with notes scribbled on it is a very different deal than a photo. And in one specific aspect, it's diametrically opposite of a photo. In photos, you have the imagery stamped, but no idea regarding the thoughts in your (or any other person's head for that matter); you are free to imagine those thoughts depending on your/their expressions. In a note from the past, you have the thoughts to the last T, but you have no recollection or a very blurry memory of the scene in which those thoughts were written; and then you are free (or helpless, whichever way you look at it) to imagine the place, the people who were around you at that moment.

Regardless, this lone, lost paper has some scribbling in someone else's handwriting. I look closely, and my heart stops. 

रगों में दौड़ते फिरने के हम नहीं क़ायल, 
जब आँख ही से न टपका तो फिर लहू क्या है?
Of course, one remembers Ghalib at such a time. As they say, Ghalib's shaayri is not Zameeni, but Aasmaani. Abstract. Endless. Unprocessed. Absolutely fitting for unprocessed emotions.
How do you process emotions or thoughts without the world around you stopping to make sense? So, I do the only thing I know (and what a fucking useless way it is, dealing with these thoughts). I look into nothingness and just hope that this wave of emotion subsides. Will it away. Like you will away a wave of nausea. You stare, you swear, and ultimately, you snarl in frustration, and step out for fresh air.
I wander on the road outside the university. The air infused with fresh plant scents and the stale firecracker fumes is weirdly invigorating. The mind starts ticking. I mean, it's not complicated, right? We all mostly know our issues. The absentees have always been a difficult issue for me (isn't it for everyone?). So, I go one step beyond the obvious and start asking, what is it that you miss about them? What would you do differently?

There are a couple of answers. But I already know the truest one among them. The answer is 'time'. Having more of it, and thereby, more of them. Giving more of yourself to them. Spending more of it with each other. Feeling them with all your senses. Or if that's not possible, at least having this reassuring feeling that they are somewhere in the physical form, just not accessible to me right here, right now. But if you tried hard enough, you could reach them physically. And could touch them. Or maybe just see them. Even if from a distance.
Lost opportunities. Such is life. Lessons for the future can often be due to mistakes of the past and result into heartaches of a lifetime.

Friday, August 19, 2022

No Freedom Without No

One of the most important part of growing up has been to realise that you can say 'no' to people. And to realise that it's up to them how they process it, and that you are not responsible for their reactions.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Expiring Is Inspiring

The reminder that everything has an expiry date has been on the mind for some time now. The languidly floating thought is that you don't even have to die for things to end. Everything is ending every day. Relationships, friendships, jobs, possessions, even people...every little thing seems transient. What will you hold and how much will you hold and for how long and to what end? You realise you only have a pinch of a power to keep things, people and relationships intact and alive. I struggled, and am still struggling with how ephemeral life is. It is a struggle where you feel you will only lose. 

But if this thought can bring instability, it also has the power to bring immediacy and appreciation to what you have. It can bring that much-needed whiff of caffeine to jolt you out of the slumber of the 'forever'. While you may lose something or someone one day, today is not that day, right now is not that time. The fact that you have things and people right now somehow makes it alright. You start noticing more, feeling more, giving more, and eventually every nerve ending wriggles its tentacles and captures more. The eyes may water. The stomach will definitely do a somersault. The heart will pump. The pulse will thump. Faster than before. At the most mundane things. And you feel more alive than ever before.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Let It Go, and It May Come Back to You

My problem for the last decade or so has been the shrinking nature of time, or at least my perception of it. After pretty much flailing my arms in every direction to find a cure while simultaneously also battling with a non-stop dis-concerting feeling of running to catch up with what was passing me by (which of course makes it pass that much faster and worsens the problem), I have stumbled, quite by chance, upon a cure to make time stay with me for a while. 

Ignore it the way you would ignore a distracting, self-absorbed, narcissistic person in your life. Indulge in something that makes you forget everything else, and at the end of it you feel fulfilled. For me, it is my work or being with my loved ones that does that trick. Remember: it has to be of your own volition, should absorb you, and be fulfilling.

When your do anything like that, to the level that it transcends any robust assessment of time, that's when time stretches.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

But Some Doubts Can Take The Best From You

The epilogue to the last post:

Not all doubts need to be explored. Some truths are not yours to unearth. Not all journeys are worth embarking on. Some things pre-date you and maybe there's no way of knowing what happened. Sometimes, the truth can be like an onion. Utterly confusing, and the more it is peeled, the less whole it becomes. A hidden truth, especially if personal, has often made me feel like I have no bearing, no control over my surroundings. The feeling is that of an orphan searching for his predecessors in a pre-DNA fingerprinting world where you can never be sure of the origins of something. In such a case, I have learnt to leave things as they are, treating them as the great mysteries of existence. 

Maybe this is the answer. Maybe this is the journey such doubts deserve. That of ignorance.

Monday, September 14, 2020

My Best is Reserved for My Doubts

Sometimes when the effort to achieve a goal starts appearing bigger than the goal itself, I start questioning myself. Doesn’t happen often, but it is happening right now. We are currently in the process of saving 200 trees in my hometown, and the amount of collective time and energy we are giving for this goal seems…well…a lot, as compared to the benefit those 200 trees will bring.

This has nothing to do with my professional opinion. I am well aware of the factual side of the argument, so yeah factually speaking, they are worth all this effort. But, these are doubts nonetheless, so I have to entertain them. No discrediting them. I have to see to it that what is at the root of these thoughts. I have come to a few conclusions that have helped me fathom the problem, at least partly:

The process: is extremely, extremely valuable because it is an unchartered territory and highly educative for me. It is a pretty self-centred way of thinking to appropriate something in your own context, but still…let’s put it on the table. It is important that your work brings you new learning opportunities. So yeah, it is exciting, enjoyable and educative. So, the doubt on a personal/professional level what it is bringing to my life, is completely baseless. I could be a doing a lot of different things for sure that will push my career, but this is not about the career. This is what matters to me. And this brings me to the second conclusion.

The roots: I had to dig down and remember why I became an ecologist in the first place. Surely, it was something to do with nature and biology. But there was something even more primal than that. If you believe that each person is made up of some core traits and values, you may understand what I am going to say. For as long as I remember, such a trait in my psyche would be justice. I became ecologist primarily because I wanted to be a voice of the ignored. For me, there was a section of the society which was ignored even more than children, women, poor. It was nature. I thought there were enough people working on issues troubling human beings, but not enough when it concerned non-human components. Then I thought, what if these 200 trees were people? Would then that be a worthy enough goal for me? And the answer was a resounding yes. So, then somewhere I guess I thought just like the side I am fighting, I asked myself. That it is okay to let go of 200 trees because they are somehow inferior to people? It was good to ask these questions to remember where it all started and where I am now. In short, priorities may have changed only on surface, but no real deep-rooted doubts.

The ethics: This is the most troublesome part, and I am usually unable to sort it out effectively. I start with an ideal motive, guess we all do, but my actions soon bring my idealism to a practical space. For example, it is okay to travel by air to talk about climate change even though that very travel may contribute to climate change. How does one view that, does one view that at all with any real acumen? Or, is it okay to design strategies by which the gnawing, questioning side of me eventually agrees with the practical side? These things are not right and wrong, honest and dishonest, fair and unfair. But if I think about it, they are surely borderline problematic, and may appear wrong if I have to be strictly idealistic. Reminds me of the story of ‘Naro Va Kunjaro Va’ in Mahabharat. I wish I had the moral strength to oppose such positions in my life. Worse still, I wish I had the strength to say that I don’t believe in their efficacy. In those moments, when I want quick results, I do resort to certain ambiguous decisions, which I hate to do. It is not a reflection on the group, or the activity. But it is a reflection of me. If I have to choose between practical and ideal, I will go for the ideal 100 per cent of the times. That is who I am. But then why do I feel pressurised by myself to choose processes which give me quicker results? Especially processes that are questionable. When you make enough such calculated moves, the goal starts blurring.

You see, some questions don’t have answers. But I think it is still good to ask questions. One question leads to one good step. One good step may lead to a worthy journey.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

Happy Monsoon!!

I am realising after long what a joy it is to work for yourself. Wind buzzing through your hair blades, silencing the noise around you to take you to your deepest thoughts. The healing touch of the green of the leaves and the black of the clouds. Your imagination gliding to hitherto unattainable places. And your mind free of all those shackles that made you look at your career as some sort of an investment on which to expect returns. Just a few days ago, I was wondering what it will take to return to the more innocent, idealistic state of mind from a few years ago. Thankfully, I didn't have to search for very long. The dagger of the raindrops pierced the heart, oozing out black muddy blood, cleansing and defogging the brain, and then followed the greens of connectedness, contentedness and creativity.

Sunday, May 17, 2020


Six long years of absence from this space. I don't know what happened. It needed to stop. Nothing especially monumental. Just the usual screw-ups. And abruptness and randomness galore.

I have been thinking of blogging for some time now, but was dilly-dallying. I was done with dinner today and blogging was one of the last things on my mind. I was planning to turn in early. Had darkened my room to watch some warped stuff which would put me to sleep. Had pretty much settled into it, when as usual I hallucinated that someone was calling my name. I took off the headphones, but there was nothing, no one. To make sure I am not really wanted, I peeked through the window onlooking the main house. Peaceful. Weird, no lights. Is the power off? I plonked myself out of the bed to check what's happening, I stepped outside and took the small walkway joining the main house with the annexe. That's when it happened.

Ever tiptoed sneaking across a stranger's lawn, spick dry one moment and the sprinklers coming alive the next, soaking you? Before realising what's happening, I was drenched by the May showers. I didn't move. Once every dry stitch on the body was wet, I took shelter under the Akashneem tree. The woody, grassy heady fragrance given rise by the first rains soon wafted inside the nostrils and got sucked immediately in the empty brain space, wiping clean the ghost of any thought, and creating inside me somewhat contrasting feelings of comfortable nostalgia and a hopping maddening joyous state that only the first rains can bring. I stood and watched and felt and thought. And the first thing I thought was of starting the blog. Right then and there.

So here I am. I guess I will write often here 'coz there's a lot to share. Don't hold your breath though, if anyone is still following this hibernating beast.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Time, Please!

I am at home for an extended period after a long time. It's a great feeling, but also a feeling full of surprises.

Even something as definitive as a family starts to blur out if one stays for far too long outside. Friends and acquaintances blur too, but there is a difference. Difference lies in that even though I didn't like losing touch with some of them, I was prepared and hence better adjusted for the process. When it started happening, I acknowledged it, took efforts in maintaining touch, and eventually settled down in a practical concoction of feelings for them and efforts required to maintain those feelings. So, if the blurring happened, it was a conscious blurring. I was aware.

Family was such a given, that I didn't realise that blurring could ever happen. For me, they had fixed roles of being a parent or a grandparent. They all had such stable roles and personalities in my mind that it absolutely escaped me that they must be responding to the passage of time just as I did, modulating themselves to cope and thrive, and that in the process some of their old selves might have disappeared, and they may have picked up some new habits, too.

So when I see the same old face speaking a new thought, same old body performing a new behaviour, same old person sheltering a new mind, I stare and gape.

The mind is currently vacillating between eager curiosity, missing the older versions and plain indifference.

Monday, March 03, 2014


If you are interested in the journey, the road, the potholes and the wobbles, you would love Highway! While I was watching it, kept thinking that this has to be Imtiaz Ali's best film till now. I know a lot of people would look back fondly to Jab We Met as their favourite Imti movie, and it was indeed delightful (especially the first half) but for me this one works more. Cinamatography, sound, dialogues, acting, screenplay, direction, in fact everything apart from music and the last few minutes is as perfect as is directorially possible. Imtiaz bro, you rock for coming up with such an unusual movie on a relationship \m/ It's a much wholesome take on two people who are thrown together and feel something for each other...(some spoilers ahead) There's attraction, love, past and present baggage, fulfillment of absent father and mother figures and much more...Yeah, it's all these relationships-in-one...Everything is out there and yet barely tangible because of the deliberate vagueness with which their back stories, their inner turmoils and they themselves are presented to the viewers..

It's amusing to answer the question, "what are your plans for the future?" I don't plan at all so I am not clear what lies ahead. It sounds absurdly blurry and directionless in today's world where every move is planned to the second...for next billion seconds. This unplanned life however, is delightful coz there is a scope for lot of spontaneity and freedom, however I am not this way for the thrill and joys that the spontaneity brings. It's just the way I am. If I need to, especially on the professional front, I can be a diligent planner and executioner...I don't understand this contradiction.

I always believed that life needs to be more than just a checklist of things to be finished every day and more multidimensional than procuring and checking a bunch of personal and professional bucket-lists. Just like being honest makes our present more simple, being spontaneous makes our present more continuous. As Sahir says,

इस पल के साये में, अपना ठिकाना है 
इस पल के आगे फिर, हर शय़ फ़साना है
कल किस ने देखा है, कल किस ने जाना है 
इस पल से पायेगा, जो तुझ को पाना है 
जीने वाले सोच ले, यही वक्त है कर ले, पूरी आरज़ू

People should realise that living in the moment can not be planned. I have realised that but haven't found a way of mouthing off this thought process without it sounding like a long-winding sales spiel justifying my life's apparent lack of direction, so I shrug and say, 'who has time for future!' and hope that the inquirer has forgotten the question in the wake of the laughter that follows.

A very weird thing happened recently. A grant proposal for early-career researchers to submit their proposals to be considered for a postdoctoral fellowship was making rounds on various mail lists. Apparently, the call as well as the people advertising this were found to be phony. How would they benefit from such a phony grant call? It's an ingenious way of plagiarism of ideas. All young postdocs and faculties are either racking their brains, or having raked enough have come up with a new and brilliant idea (so we think) are now safeguarding it so that we are the first ones to do it. We have to let go of our best ideas while submitting grant proposals, taking a leap of faith that they will not be leaked and used by others working in the field. But a phony call like this will immediately give the recipient a bank of 50 or 100 new ideas from all over the world in the subject of desire. It's a very good and timely wake-up call to check people's credentials before discussing ideas with them.

Taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone is an oft-preached, rarely practised philosophy. Working with people who are dissimilar to you, in a place about which you don't know much, in a discipline you are not an expert of, is an essential part of growth and development. Professionally, sometimes we don't have control on our work areas and topics since experts are preferred, but we have a lot of say in where and with whom we work. One reason why India is on rise is that as a society we are ready to fill niches that are left vacant by people and societies that are very particular about the kind of opportunities they want to use, where they want to do it and with whom. We are extremely flexible and better still, adaptive of new things, which is an awesome quality to possess.

A beautiful lost song to relish:

Chaand Madhdham Hai: Railway Platform (1955)/Lata/Madan Mohan/Sahir

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Piya Tose Naina Laage Re

Extended version of Piya Tose Naina Laage Re from Guide...Some completely new stanzas!!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Happy New Year...and More

Wish you all a very happy 2014!

This was in Athens. You could see the Acropolis in the bottom left corner :)

For me, I wish it is as eventful as 2013 has been. I got rid of a lot of unnecessary thoughts and habits that I was carrying around, I gained a lot of understanding about myself, my profession, but most importantly, I gained a somewhat more fleshed out idea of life. The kind I want, and the kind I would not want. I realised what and who are my priorities in life. I can't even begin to jot down the multitudes of thoughts and events that shaped me in this year. It is overwhelming. The point is, good and bad, it was never dull, the year has been a happening one, and I wish 2014 is as good if not better.

Since I will be leaving soon, my mentor came and talked to me at length about how I enriched his lab. I was basking in all the attention I was getting coz there was hardly any in the past year. Just to be sure that it wasn't all staged and rehearsed and repeated to everyone who leaves the lab, I asked him what was so special. I don't need to repeat all that he said because it will be bragging about myself :) Yeah, it was mostly good! I also asked him what could be improved, since people hardly give any critique these days.

One thing every postdoc wants is to create an impression. Our times are fleeting and apart from the urge to be remembered, we depend on these impressions a great deal in our careers. Asking some masked and some blunt questions to gauge the truth of his remarks, they seemed very believable. I was highly satisfied with myself and also got some tips about areas where I could improve. It's good to feel content and laidback once in while. Also, hearing these things about myself was very important to understand that I am not as hopeless or as great as my mind makes me believe sometimes.

I suffered from the 'imposter syndrome'. Last time it happened was almost a decade back while I was starting PhD. When you start thinking less of yourself in spite of all the great things happening to you. You think you don't deserve them, it just happened to be you, and that it could have been anyone else. That's what we call an imposter syndrome. Well, there's nothing more humbling than that, but if you feel that on a daily basis, it is a great killer of your self-worth and self-esteem. On the other hand, feeling like an imposter can work wonders professionally since you tend to overwork and push your boundaries. Which is what happened to me I believe. I worked very hard past one year, and it didn't go unnoticed.

On a tangent, a little bit about ethics of science. Lot of scientists believe that it's okay to exercise gratification of the knowledge buds that we so tastefully cultivate and pursue all our lives. That sometimes it should be reigned is a concept agreed upon in theory, but difficult to internalise and easily forgotten in practice (common examples would be cloning or biotechnological interventions in day-to-day lives, and there are a plethora of such scientific issues which we know could be dangerous and are yet pursued...then there are those which are fuzzy and the fuzziness and lack of clarity about their repercussions makes them easier to pursue, but could be dangerous nevertheless). Everyone has some dichotomy in their lives where they sacrifice ideals for practical issues. But if we sheepishly agree that it's a compromise why even venture in that direction? I will never ever do science for personal gratification that has adverse costs for humanity. Even if the percentage of cost is minuscule, I will not do it.

I want to hear more, talk less and talk only when asked something. Various reasons: 1. There was a stage when I had to speak to feel important. It was a way of asserting myself on the scene. I don't feel that need anymore. I believe now I already feel important enough not to resort to such extraneous things. 2. While I am talking, I can become the third person and observe myself talking, and it is definitely not as interesting as watching someone else do that. 3. As an extension of that thought, I realise talking is an output while listening and thinking is an input. I wish I could talk and think at the same time, but it doesn't happen. Listening and thinking however go hand in hand. So, if I need to evolve, I need to listen and think more. 4. It helps to keep boring conversations short. Negating things or showing interest by asking related questions just fuels people to talk more of the boring stuff. Also, sometimes, one just needs to space out. And you can never space out while talking. 5. My growing concern these days is how less anyone listens. We cut in while others are still speaking, we speak when not spoken to, we don't think about what we are speaking, we borrow others' thoughts and project those as our own. I dislike this in others, so first step is not to let that happen to myself.

Some music that has been on loop of late.

Ab Mujhe Raat Din...

This came out around the time I was in 12th and was playing on all the channels and radios then. Like any other college song, very nostalgic. I end up thinking of people and places and memories of Wardha while listening to it. Apart from the fact that it's totally my type of song..Slow, soothing, strewn with piano and guitar...

I wonder why no one uses the sound of breeze these days in songs. They used to incorporate that a lot in the 90s rain songs, but then stopped it for some reason. There's nothing more refreshing than the combo of breeze, guitar and light rains..

Dad likes this song a lot too, which is surprising since it's not at all his type.

Most of our pop music is banal..except Silk Route, Indian Ocean and some of Lucky Ali..Some songs across the border I like. Their Coke Studio is so much better than ours..Makes me want to explore more Paki music. Songs like Mora Sainyya (Khamaj) by Fuzön..

Sounds quite similar to the Begum Akhtar ghazal - Ulti Ho Gayi Sab Tadbeerein...

Coming to Hindi film music, one of my favourites is Ye Parbaton Ke Daayare from the 1968 film Vaasna. Music by Chitragupta, lyrics by Sahir..

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The World Tomorrow

There's a series of videos on Youtube called 'The World Tomorrow' wherein top leaders, philosophers and analysts are interviewed by Julian Assange. Here's a good one. Assange is interviewing Noam Chomsky and Tariq Ali.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Music To My Ears

Many, many old  gems come up while talking music with dad. Like the other day, we were discussing late 40s and early 50s music, and we remembered a beautiful song from Andaz (1949):

Music is by Naushad. Dad says that in the biography, Daastaan-e-Naushad, the writer Shashikant Kinikar writes that Naushad was a versatile cinephile who didn't just touch music, but also assisted filmmaker friends on story, screenplay, dialogues, direction and editing! And he must be good at it since people used to invite him quite often to do non-music affairs in their films. Some of these credits include the behemoths such as Kohinoor (1960), Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Pakeezah (1972) among others!!!

Jaane Kya Dhundhti Rehti Hain (Shola Aur Shabnam, 1961)

Music by Khayyam. Lyrics by Kaifi Azmi. The song is in the Ghazal, Shayari genre which I don't like much (except select few by Mehndi Ali, Farida Khanum and Begum Akhtar), but I liked this song. A lot. Khayyam spearheaded the Ghazal genre in Hindi film music, and this is a good example of his forte. Raag Pahadi, but I think not a pure Pahadi. He has put some closeby notes in the song, which probably makes it a mishra-Pahadi, but that if anything makes the song even more beautiful and haunting.

Jeet Hi Lenge Baazi Hum Tum (Shola Aur Shabnam, 1961)

An outstanding song. The music..beautiful. Rafi rocks...what a tender, soothing voice. Very melodious.

Kabhi To Milegi, Kahin To Milegi (Aarti, 1962)

Lata's voice in this song is at its pristine best. आवाज़ जैसे खरे चांदी का कोई खनखनाता रुपहला सिक्का हो...Such perfect notes. And what an unconventional tune! It's in Raag Pahaadi. This song exudes vulnerable positivity. Meena Kumari...how can someone look so sensual even when fully clad? She just tilts her head, or lowers her gaze, and the effect is electrifying. And here I was, only today, telling a friend vehemently that I don't have a type. Who am I kidding? Every time I fall for the same kind of woman...Mysterious, vulnerable, expressive eyes, hint of a smile  - these are a few of my favourite things..

Aaj Se Pehle (Chitchor, 1976)

Kya Hua Tera Vaada (Hum Kisise Kum Naheen, 1977)

Adore this song. The picturisation is tapid, but the song touches the heartstrings of every guy who has some understanding of unrequited love. Remember Poornima from 90s? She gave backing vocals to Rafi here. What a raw, sweet voice. And Rafi...he was a surprise choice indeed by RD, because this movie came at a time when Rafi was an outcast, adrift in the flood of Kishore Kumar's idolisation. That's the reason why I feel Rafi must have picturised not a woman while singing this song but the audience who were once his ardent fans...The forgotten promises and the changing times...Trivia: This is the only song for which Rafi won a national award. In time too, coz Rafi would expire only 3 years later.

Dad is completely appalled by music of this era. He hates almost 90% if not more, of the music made from the day RD burst on the scene with Teesri Manzil in 1966. He becomes visibly disgusted with the western influence that RD brought into Hindi film music. My brother is the polar opposite, whose musical awakening started with the covenant of RD's ochestra. He worships RD and laughs at much of the music of 50-60s. I don't have any such qualms and embrace everything. They become incredulous regarding my choice, because just moments ago we would be discussing something where our choices are in complete unison. As we say in Ecology, they are specialists who are much specific in their musical palate, whereas me much less so, and hence a generalist (not to be confused with populist).

Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se (Ankhiyon Ke Jharokhon Se, 1978)

Beautiful, gentle, refreshingly different song. The rhythm is unique. With many songs you can guess what came first, the lyrics or the music. With some the fit is so tight that it's difficult to imagine what preceded what. Music by Ravindra Jain. From Raag Brindavani Sarang. Some other songs from this raag are Humein To Loot Liya Milke Husnwaalon Ne (Al Hilal, 1958..music by the lesser known Bulo C. Rani), Tere Pyaar Ka Aasra Chaahta Hoon (Dhool Ka Phool, 1959..music by the Goan Dutta Naik, or popularly known as N. Dutta), Mere Mehboob Mein Kya Nahin (Mere Mehboob, 1963..Lata-Asha combo!), Chhadi Re Chhadi Kaise Gale Mein Padi (Mausam, 1975..the only Madan Mohan-Gulzar combo I am aware of).

Suniye, Kahiye (Baton Baton Mein, 1979)

Hothon Se Chhoo Lo Tum (Prem Geet, 1981)

This was an oft-sung, oft-heard song to the extent that it had become boring. And then it disappeared all of a sudden. No one ever talks about it anymore.

Mera Kuchh Saamaan (Ijaazat, 1987)

This is the famous song which when Gulzar took to RD, RD exclaimed, 'why have you brought this news cutting?!' Raju Bharatan says, that no one could imagine that such a song could be put to music, and that if anyone could, it was to be RD.

Whenever people talk about this song, you get to hear about Asha. But some songs belong to music directors over and above everyone else, and this is one such song. A gem..


You usually find that a hit director and music director team comes together again and again, to a level when soundtracks of successive films sound similar. Case in point: RK - Shankar Jaikishan. Navketan - SD. Burman. Chetan Anand - Madan Mohan. Nasir Hussain - RD. But if you look at Yash Chopra's filmography and the music in his films, you will notice a strikingly lateral choice of music directors. Out of 22 movies he directed, his choice of music directors included N. Dutta (twice), Ravi (twice), Salil Choudhury, Laxmikant Pyarelal, RD (twice), Khayyam (twice), Rajesh Roshan, Hridaynath Mangeshkar, Uttam Singh, Madan Mohan and A. R. Rahman. The only music directors he repeated more than twice were Shiv-Hari - a staggering seven times, which comprises of 1/3rd of his career as a director. Many of these were not popular names at all. But the music they gave was top notch!


Kisi Shaayar Ki Ghazal - Dream Girl (1977)

Liking for this song is enough to be expelled from any music aficionado club. I find it easy, nothing more, nothing less. It looks a tad tacky in colour, but in Black n White, this song was no less than a fairy tale. In those times I used to spend much of my time on figuring out questions my brain couldn't fathom. Such as how do actors change into new clothes so quickly! I tried it many times at home, sometimes changing the whole wardrobe, sometimes wearing three-four shirts and trousers over one another, just to check how much time I require to get into a complete new set of clothes, but to my chagrin it was always more than the split second they took on screen. I knew that it had to be a trick, but couldn't figure it out. I asked mom and dad a lot about how they do that, and they sincerely tried to answer about the shots and cuts and other technicalities, but I didn't understand it, because for me, each movie was taken as a single shot, from start to finish.

Coming from that mindset, this song was an utter mystery because the song is filled with weird special effects. Dharmendra walking on Hema Malini's flowing upper body clothing. It was crazy. I just went mad with curiosity and later with frustration at my inability to crack the filming technique.

But the reason why I think this song is set so resolutely in my memory is coz this is the the first song I remember watching on TV. We didn't have a television while growing up, so my friend Shashank's place was a godsend. I had a pet place in their TV room, just close to the door leading to the kitchen. There was a tall, thin bed prepared by putting a few bedsheets and duvets over three metallic grain containers.

The movie would start on Saturday and Sunday in the early evenings. Sushama kaku would be in the kitchen. Pappu mama would be in the front yard. Aaji would be doing puja. And Shashank, Mithila and I would be in the TV room.


Dad's love for music was much subdued and deep, my brother's more forceful and strong, and both left quite an impression. I believe I learnt to love music from dad, and to perform it from Aks. There are so many songs I heard dad sing at home and play on mandolin...and so many I saw Aks perform in his college orchestra.

I followed Aks to all his orchestras and heard him sing, and later on sung some of these songs myself in my college dos, and we tend to bond a lot over them:

Jaan-e-Jaan - Jawani Diwani (1972)

Neele Neele Ambar Par - Kalakaar (1982)

Ai Kaash Ke Hum - Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa (1994)

Dad is a much-in-demand singer among family and friends. Everyone is stuck on their own favourites of his which he must have sung a lot when he was younger:

Ye Raat Ye Chaandni Phir Kahaan (Jaal, 1952)


Kisiki Muskuraahaton Pe Ho Nisaar (Anari, 1959)


Time to introduce you to the song that had become a family anthem of sorts, especially during and around our yearly Kerala visits. From a movie called Darshan (1967), made in then East Pakistan. I don't know how someone got hold of this song, but my hunch is that some Malayali family friend who travelled to mid-East in late 70s-early 80s must have got hold of it, brought it back with him, and then someone in Danagram must have heard it, and then that's how we got to hear it. It's one of the earliest memories I have of Kerala, and is still reminiscent of mango and coconut trees, the old house,the old wooden treasure full of Amar Chitra Katha, the cultural programmes in the evening, the dinner by the lanterns, the careless abandon, love and trust with which all four of us spent time with each other and with other brothers, sisters, aunts and grandpa. There was so much love and joy...


I had a peculiar habit throughout my adolescence. I would put on music in full volume while having lunch before leaving for school and college. That was one time when no one used to be at home, and hence my music time. The home in Gopuri was such that I didn't have to worry about noise levels since the green fence insulated everything. The music chosen was decided completely randomly. So some days it was the 90s Hindi film music which I really liked, but most of the time it would be old music or Indian classical music since that's what we had most in our collection, and sometimes it was even Malayalam and Tamil music. Mom had brought a sizeable collection to Wardha from Danagram. The odd times when mom and dad would be at home at this time of the day, it was perplexing for them to see and hear me listening to something that I am not really expected to listen to. I did not especially liked this music or sometimes didn't even understand it, owing to the era, style or language, but I couldn't really change my own rules. There was in fact just one rule. Listen to all the cassettes one by one. The reason was very childish but logical :) I knew that some cassettes are heard more often than other. So the cassettes that are not heard had to feel left out and ignored and that when all of us slept in the night, and when all the 'non-living' objects came to life, the ones that are ignored must be feeling shitty when they heard the popular ones bragging. So my project and responsibility in life at that point was to make all music cassettes feel wanted. This began as early as middle school I think. This sounds funny, but that's how listening to everything, even things you didn't understand and appreciate, began. Later of course, the emotional and equality part of the reasoning disappeared, but by that time I was already hooked onto these different styles of music. This democratic style of listening to music helped me to not just broaden my taste and ear for different styles of music, but also made me more open to listen to anything without pre-conceived notion.

Monday, December 09, 2013

The Invisible War..

...is a disturbing documentary about women sexual assault in US military. The issue itself lends more than enough impact and credence to the film. Ghastly statistics.

16000 women candidates face sexual assault per year in US, only 20% of which are reported. 
Out of these ~3000 reported cases, only 175 or so reach the final stage of conviction.
The conviction rate is thus 1%.

The reason for this abominable conviction rate is the current lack of provision in US constitution against crimes committed by or on military personnels to be tried in civil courts. They are carried out completely under the jurisdiction of the military. The perpetrators are thus also "the judge, the jury and the executioners".

Many of these women are in turn relieved from duty, after giving as long as 10 years of their lives to the profession and to the country. Not only relieved, they were in turn convicted for deliberately acting like a victim and fabricating false cases. The accused however kept rising in ranks, and perpetrating crimes. Many of these men are serial sexual assaulters and will keep repeating this.

The movie ends on a positive note saying that the rights of US military to have the sole right to prosecute its personnel were taken away. But don't be fooled. A little reading shows that this is wrong. The military still holds complete jurisdiction over the crimes committed in its premises, and by and on its personnel.

Felt more outraged than distressed, but most of all a gnawing helplessness. Kept thinking whether India or US, things are not very different for women. Womanhood should be appreciated and valued by each man. In today's world, it's precisely the opposite. It's molested, persecuted and victimised.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Whatever Works

There are days when I feel I am on fire, and can take on anything and accomplish it. Today is one such day. I approached an unfinished manuscript with great wariness, but have been successful in editing and almost finishing it to my own manic surprise. If I knew what's it that I did differently today that's contributing to such output, I would create a secret formula for myself and stash it away in my treasure trove, but no such luck. Everything has been done just the way it usually proceeds. In any case, glad to have such surprisingly productive days once in a while.

PS. There has been a scientific study which says that if you want to come back to your unfinished task with enthusiasm, leave it at a point when you are happy with it rather than when you become tired. If that's indeed true, I would hardly get anything done!