Many nights ago I was jetlagged and I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t seem to go back to sleep. As is the case my mind started to run and the conversations, events and people over the last few days started to run through my mind. This went for some time before I started to berate myself. What is the point of all this I told myself. Why can’t I rise up above this. I told myself where is my book going to come from, where is my first big idea, where is my philosophy to change the world. Like all other thoughts this too got lost in the chain.

My mind then turned to Delhi. I have had a strange relationship with Delhi. I love this city dearly and yet I dont know why I love it so much. This relationship is becoming more strange now that I dont live in Delhi. Everytime I come to Delhi, I dont feel like coming again and the more that I stay away from Delhi I want to go back to it. It is like i am straddling two boats and the boats are drifting apart. Unless I don’t resolve this quickly I am bound to fall in the middle and lose both the boats. My mind then moved onto why is it that I like Delhi so much.

For me Delhi has this energy that I dont feel anywhere else and I think I come back to feel this energy. This is the energy which comes from a city going about its business inspite of all the odds. There are power cuts, water shortages,high levels of pollution, extreme summer and a cold winter, lack of safety for women and children and yet the city shows up to work day after day. After work the city shows up in its now many malls, cinemas, late night marriages, night clubs in the middle of the week.They work hard because there is this immense desire to escape the tyranny of daily infrastructure management of fixing the inverter for backup power or ensuring that the water pump is switched on everyday or they will be no water.  To escape from this they pay astronomical sums for apartments in the middle of nowhere so they can get electricity and water at all times and so their children can be secure inside the ‘compound’. So while the administration falters in providing the basic services and regulating the private builders it overcompensated by allocating land to builders faster than you can say infrastructure.

Inspite of all this the city thrives.  It is probably the fastest going metro in the country and it will soon become the largest city in India if it is not one already. It is the laboratory of urban transport experiments like – more cars than anywhere else, more flyovers than any other city, biggest metro service and a bus corridor. The bus corridor is quite a sight. I used to see it everyday as it was on the main road near to my house. It is a sight I never thought I will see in Delhi. While the cars are stuck behind each other, the bus corridor offer a smooth ride to bus passengers who seem to alight and disembark almost lazily while the car owners look on. It is like as if the caste system has been reversed and even though you have spent more money you don’t get the right of way.

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I often ask myself at the end of a year – what I have a learnt this year or rather , and increasingly so, what I have managed not to forget this year. This list of what I have managed not to forget is an interesting and varied list and I want to put it down so I can look back at it later and laugh or cry depending on what I write !

So what I have learnt this year:

I have learnt that my father was right on one count atleast. He used to say that there should be one leader (and that was him) in the house, company or any other organisation. If that is not the case there is confusion. As I see the world becoming multipolar again and US becoming more of a mediator in more cases and enforcer in less cases there is an increased cacophony of opinions around the world. I say cacophony is because a lot of these countries are just speaking for the sake of it and don’t have anything interesting to contribute to the affairs of the world. Its like a little child who starts to speak and its gibberish for some time before any sense comes out. I read, watch and listen in vain for some sense to come out of somewhere to give me hope that a fresh new voice will come from somwhere. But so far my Dad is winning.

I have learnt that money has an interesting way of finding its way around, especially to the people who deserve it the least. Even if all the power of the world is against them receiving the money they will still get it and when they get it the world shrugs off and moves on. Its like this movie I once saw about the life of a bullet, I wish someone would do a movie on the life of a currency note. In some countries around the world, there should be no money (atleast no foreign money) if you believe the sanctions industry, yet money gets there in reasonable amounts. Too many undeserving bankers are still getting pots of money and too many talented artists are still begging for whatever comes their way. In the middle are people like me who are not bankers (so we think that we deserve some bonus), but also are not artists (so we can’t count a 10 sec longer applause as a salary increase). We don’t get the applause or the money. We don’t even get a Xmas party. Yet we are told we should be happy that we have a job. I didn’t sign up for this form of capitalism. Why is the invisible hand not shaking hands with me ?

I have learnt that global problems are actually global at a national/regional level. So my global problem is not your global problem unless you live next door. So environment is a global problem mostly in Europe and some parts of the developed world. Healthcare is a global problem if you read a paper in the US everyday. Poverty and hunger are global problems in big parts of the developing world but don’t really affect the developed world where as Xmas arrives lack of food is hardly one of the worries. If I make one assumption that we are all worried about death then the only global problem facing us is that we and our near/dear ones will all die one day.

I have learnt that it is never about what you want , but more about how you go about getting it. You can get pretty much anything possible if you go about it in the right way. This sort of feeds back into something I remember that the path is more important than the objective.

I have learnt that morality is subjective. One man who sleeps with some women is forced to defend himself over and over again, while one who lied to the world and invaded two countries is probably sharpening his powerpoint skills for his return to the lecture circuit. How is one worse than the other ? Who decides that ? Where is the moral code for humanity which decides what is moral and immoral and why is one more immoral than the other ?

What have I managed not to forget:

I have not forgotten the nights I used to be up doing absolutely nothing. Most of the writing that I go back to has been written in the middle of the night. For me , the nights are the time where abstract comes close to reality and I feel I can touch both at the same time.

Some of the most interesting people (apart from my love) that I have met , I have only met for too short a time. I wish I could meet them again and again. Some I have not even met although sometimes I make myself believe that we have met. They’ve influenced me in more ways than possible and I can never forget.

When I am distressed, I somehow seem to remember my time as a 16 year old. It wasn’t like I was having the time of my life, but it was the innocence, the complete lack of ambition and lack of awareness about the world around. Its a wonderful feeling.

Cynicism is the only way for me to stop myself from going mad !

What to write ?

Should I talk about how I see myself becoming more and more cynical about things. This cynicism is sometimes like standing in a smokers room and it makes me yearn for something different, for some fresh air. When the fresh air arrives I miss the cigarette smoke to go along with it. A better analogy is of a rat. I often look out for rats on the London underground. I marvel at how close they are to me, to the expensive shoes, to the posters of the latest new musical in town. I sometimes make myself believe that the rats are looking at us. Then I think about their view of our world.I wonder if they get to see the dirt under the shoes, of trousers hems showing signs of age, do they get to see hairy armpits, hair inside the nostrils , sweat on hot summer days. Do they get to see everything that we try so hard to hide and pretend that it doesn’t exist.

My rat eye view tells me that there is a negative to everyone and everything. When I say negative , it is not what I perceive as negative, but what people perceive as negative in themselves. This is what people try to gloss over, put make up over and hope that no one notices it. To me that is the most fascinating part of that person and then that becomes the start of my journey into a person’s mind. So you have a good job, but are you really happy ? Is this really what you want to be doing? More importantly this also helps me to manage expectations (which means to keep them low) both with myself and with other people. It helps me understand why politics is the way it is and also why the business of AIDS has been a shot in the arm for faith-based organisations.

It helps me understand why Copenhagen is mostly about politics and environment is almost a side product. The leaders who get together could be talking about anything. It helps me see that the leaders for this summit are not even half as scared about this issue as they were about economic recession. They know that their governments are not going to fall, the majority of their electorate doesn;t really care much beyond their local recycling measures, the world is not coming to an end before the next election and more importantly this is the last photo-op for the year before everyone goes off for their ski holiday.

Some days when I need a laugh I wonder about how will the aspirations of a generation of Indians will be changed in a generation. They’ve just grown up being brainwashed to the aspirational western way of life – of unlimited food, water, electricity, where you are only limited by your imagination and not by natural resources. Just when they feel that utopia is within the reach, just when they feel that they’ve earned it through their long hours at work, broken relationships and the penthouse on the 20th floor where even the rats can’t reach, they are told that they were swinging in the wrong golf course. They are now to be told to use public transport again, to not overtly try to control the weather around them, to not take flights at the drop of a hat and not waste food. How can you change the definition of a good life ? even God doesn’t have the right to do that.

Then there is Tiger Woods. Or rather the rise and fall of Tiger woods. What is our fascination with perfect people. People who are committed to their families, jobs, charity and what have you. Not one step out of line, not one hair out of place, perfect families, kids, houses. And then it all comes tumbling out.  Why this fascination with perfection when it doesn’t exist ?

I have been measuring myself. Its not my height, its not my weight and its certainly not my hairline ! I have been measuring how often does something come into my head that I want to blog about. In the past week or so, something new has come into my head every 2-3 days. This new thought/idea has a life of its own.When it comes its all powerful and almost seems life changing and it forces me to blog. I sometimes do and then it goes away. But when I don’t blog, usually because of lack of time, this idea sits and festers in my head. It takes different forms and shapes. Then finally it goes and merges with the other ideas that came into my head and  I never wrote about them. So when,like today, I try to write I somehow have to make sense of this mishmash of ideas. That usually involves separating each idea out.

But today I feel taking this entire mishmash and dumping into my blog. I feel today is the day when I will find the invisible strand link that connects Obama, Japan, India, Hillary in Asia, African aid, my new house and my lack of free time, all together. By the time I am done I will have clarity on why exactly Hillary went to Asia first her choice of stop overs,  why will the Japanese PM be the first foreign leader to meet Obama, why I am confused about African aid, how I think my books add color to my new house and my number one rant that I don’t have enough time to do the things I want to. Or I could let this mismash remain as one and write about something else.

I don’t really do movie reviews. Actually I can’t do movie reviews as they are done.  It is hard for me to just talk about a movie and not talk about issues around the movie. So if the movie is say about an event, how can I not talk about the event. I have wanted to write about Slumdog Millionnaire (SM) when I first saw it. I really liked the movie and I am really glad to see that the Oscar judges agree with me. But that’s not my point. My point is why are they so few movies about our slums. Its not like they dont exist, its not like we don’t know that they don’t exist. Yet we never seem to talk about them in India until there is a big fire or a big demolition drive when the politician suddenly decide that they have become eyesores and want to send them somewhere else. Where that someone else is no one knows. To me Slumdog demonstrates again that it is possible to make a hugely entertaining movie around a real social issue. It is so entertaining that one is tempted to disregard the real issue as something made up the director. My response, everytime someone talks to me about the movie is that it is real and very believable. This is more to remind myself than anything else. It is to remind myself of the smell of a slum, that I first smelt I as a 16 year old when I first went to a slum. It is to remind myself of the filth, of the squalor, of people jostling over every available inch of space. It is also to remind myself that how the houses inside are spotlessly clean, of the people and how their ambitions and dreams are so similar to mine, of how with very little we can really do a lot.

I now stand reminded and will never forget again. Thank you Slumdog.

I used to have an interesting fantasy about moving. I believed that I could move any day and I should be prepared. This could be a forced move or a planned move. An example of forced could be, they could be an earthquake tommorow and we would have to evacuate the house and I should have a suitcase at hand with all the stuff I need. Or my favourite uncle would come and this time he would really take me with him. Again that one suitcase would be handy. Another example was that I would have this big fight with my parents over some big issue(like I never want to study again etc) and then if they didn’t agree I would walk out leaving them astounded. If they didn’t call me back I would need to have that one handy suitcase.

In all this the recurring theme was of that one handy suitcase. I believed very strongly that all a man ever needs could be packed into a suitcase. What couldn’t come in it was not needed and could be discarded. I thought to myself that at any time in my life I should be able to stick by this rule. The trouble was when I made this rule I had no money and no hope of making any and so it was easy to construct and live by these ideals. When the time came to move finally I realised that there was no way I could fit some 30 years of my life in one suitcase. But it all fit in the back of a car and so I didn’t feel too bad. Also I argued myself that my clothes still came in one bag, rest was all books and music which can be discarded easily.And then in a couple of years it was time to move again and this time I realised my belonging had grown exponentially and worse I was calling furniture and other knick knacks as my belonging.And now I move again. I move tommorow and this time it will take a truck to fit our stuff in.

I still haven’t given up the ideal of packing it all one day into one suitcase, in one mind and eventually in one earthen pot.

As promised in the last post – the mini rant magnified into a major one. The holiday is now over and I am out of a cold , foggy Delhi into a colder , snowy London. Bit like from the freezer to the glacier. On the flight back I was thinking how increasingly I feel estranged from my country. If I can’t connect to a place where I was born and spent most of my life, I don’t know how I can connect anywhere else. The more I see of India, I feel I know less and less and I want to see more. But the more I meet my fellow Indians of various ilks and sizes the more I feel I have seen enough and I don’t want to meet one more.

In this trip, someone told me about the Mahabharata and how it was time for the earth to be rid of millions of warriors and how it is time for a nuclear war to do the same in the subcontinent !  Its a strange spiritual bent to a hideous thought. Travelling in and around the country directly and indirectly I wondered more strongly than ever on how does this country function. I wondered how the focus on the trivial assumes paramount importance over everything else. I saw a movie where one of the characters talked about how a woman’s conduct and bearing is more important to us than her death. I read as many newspapers I could lay my hands on and I wondered if they are really serving the needs of a multicultural , billion plus democracy. Sitting in one of the many coffee places, I observed people and I felt very disconnected. Even though they spoke in a language I call my mother tongue, and they spoke about issues that are not foriegn to me , I felt we were from different planets.

But then there were times when I did feel connected or atleast the need to connect. Driving through the streets of Delhi I felt this urge to sleep under the flyover for one of the cold nights. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful way to connect with the city ? I love it how the street kids sell magazines. Even though they are illiterate they know all the magazines and what they are about. They do a brilliant pitch in 15 seconds. I think management theory should look at co relation of sales with time since last meal. Driving through South India, I felt connected with the roads, the smells and even the honking. The roads felt very Indian, the smell of Indian petrol and the honking was of an India in a hurry to get somewhere. I think honking is one of the good examples of national integration. North, south, east, west we honk and we understand the language of honking.

So what am I saying ? I connect to India but not to Indians. Is that really possible , or am I just manufacturing my version of the reality ? How can I distinguish a country from its people ? I think I can. The country is about ideas, about dreams and aspirations of the independence movement, about the ‘satyameva jayate’ on a rupee note, about its many languages and cultures. While its people are like me, who go once in a while, criticise and come back.

So it has been an eventful 3 weeks atleast by my blogging standards.  I have written 3 posts on the same point and somehow managed to not write 5 more and I also managed for the most part not to be my cynical self. I have talked about the issue, the players, the band and even speculated about a dark knight. When  I am not writing about it I am either thinking about it, or talking about it with someone. I am now tired and I need a holiday. Holiday from writing is not possible so i’ll try to have a holiday from the mumbai, india-pakistan and related issues. I have to be cynical and say this is like a typical hindi movie where you can go out for a smoke, loo break and a chai and not miss a thing. I am trying to style myself after one of those fancy columnists who read 10 books a month, write 1 column a week and go off on frequent holidays. While i think I’ll be lucky if i can read 10 books a year, take 2 holidays a year, i am not a coumnist, atleast not a paid one!

But there is something that I have which is the urge to travel. I have grown out of a lot of urges but this is one which has stayed with me forever. As I start to pack my bags a strange sort of thrill overtakes me. It doesnt matter whether I am packing an overnighter or a suitcase for a month. As the day comes closer I tell myself that I will be sleeping in a different bed tommorow and the thought of it is strangely thrilling. But then when I get to the different bed I wonder what exactly was I thrilled about. I think it is the joy of the journey. I never want journeys to end. I usually never want to get anywhere because then I will not know what to do. If the journey gets too long and boring I can always change my destination half way. Journeys also imply a state of motion, of fluidity, I am constantly assmilating what I see around me and that gives me more things to talk about and write about. And so I am off soon to sleep in a different bed. I hope for the sun to shine more, I hope to have interesting experiences, delicious food, a lot of reading and a lot of sleeping.

I have always wanted to look at the future and predict. Just like the Economist, and other media organisations, which puts out a lookout for the year ahead. I used to think that I can’t look ahead without first understanding what is behind me. By understanding the past I could not only tell what was happening in the present but also predict the future more accurately. But it doesn’t quite work that way. I have tried to understand the past and that either gives me no clue to the future or in most cases a pessmistic view of the future. Bascially, the world and society has been like this only and change in most cases has been excruciatingly slow and that then leads to cynicism, atleast in my case.  I still want to predict though and so here is my prediction for 2009.

I think South asia will be a different place by this time next year. I am still not quite sure how! I say that because for the first time, atleast to my understanding, I am now seeing the war on terror be linked to India and Pakistan relations. Another episode of the Great Game will be played out over this year as India grapples for influence in Afghanistan, Karzai seeks to hold on to power and the US turns its entire might to that piece of land that has never been fully conquered by anyone. Plus there are elections due in India and Bangladesh, there a war in Sri Lanka which is entering a significant phase.

May we all live in interesting times.