Chittagong. Lucknow. Lahore. 

I was travelling in an autorickshaw. The traffic was stranded. I was stranded. My destination was close so I decided to walk. It was the older part of the city where antiquity still survives though with a little difficulty now owing to the commercial cult ever growing. As I ambled ahead observing the world around, I arrived at the gate of an old hospital and stopped.

It was the Ramakrishna Mission Hospital. A charitable institution from the time of the British Raj which served the old, poor and infirm. Clamped on the big metallic gate of the hospital was a “something” which set me thinking. Something which was poignant enough to fill one with joy, melancholy and a host of mixed emotions. It carried enough potential to send a chill down the spine of every history lover!

A cartographer’s handiwork, an image of a land mass from above. It was a map. But be not mistaken. It was definitely not just any other map. It was a map of undivided India. You no longer get to see such these days. Its an extinct species. I forgot the bustling traffic around, could no longer hear the perpetual chattering of the people and the incessant honking.

Like a shameless leacherous lover, I stared at the map. For twenty three years I had lived in this country and had absorbed three different maps into my psyche- Those of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But I had never imagined the three entities in one political map.

My Idea of India- the mental image of its map, would limit its territory at Rajasthan on the west. On the east, an aberration, a hollow, a stetch of nothingness existed between western part of Bengal and the eastern part of Assam.
But this map was contrary to that image. It perturbed the mind, it was revolting. Beyond belief. I had not thought of India as such. And I was ashamed.

The territories beyond Amritsar and the stretch of nothingness between Bengal and India’s northeast had been given a life in this map. It was no longer amputated. They fit in perfectly too. It appeared as if someone had found eventually found the lost parts of a jigsaw puzzle and put them together. It now looked complete.

Maps play a funny game with the psychology of the citizen. Maps tell us what is “ours” and what is “theirs“. Just as a person finally begins to believe the lie he keeps hearing all the time, similarly the national map too indoctrinates the viewer to define political limits. But when I stood there, outside that hospital- while people moved beside me, some brushed by my side, some gently nudging me to make way– all my preconceptions of us and them came crashing down.

I was looking at a piece of history and I was immersed in it. I wondered how nice would it be if I could just walk into Dhaka, just like that. No bunch of papers, No embassy hopping, NO FEAR. Just walk into Dhaka and visit the Dhakeshwari Temple.

Or how nice would it be to have nothing at Wagah just the endless fertile fields of Punjab and an unfetterred national highway between Amritsar and Lahore.
Why couldnt the map stay this way itself?

Why did it have to change?

Why cant a person from Peshawar visit the Taj Mahal without hassles?

Why cant I visit the Mazaar of Mian Mir without getting my currency converted?

It was painful to be there for too long. That thing was so beautiful, I knew she would never be mine. I decided to continue walking.

But no matter how far I get, that image stays etched in my mind. And it will stay that way. Forever.

It has altered my consciousness. Hitherto whenever I thought of India, only a single image came to my mind. Now two images of India find place in my mind. One is a broken image and the other is too lovely to be true. Both images cause hurt.
But such maps of our undivided country should remain. People on both frontiers should see them everyday and ask their souls if it was worth the fight. (No! It was not!)

P.S.- I have not the time, energy and interest to entertain historical debates on partition. What is done, is done. Well done Communalism. Fuck you!


Pack and Unpack.

Packing up is simple.

Gather all the books, separate the academic ones from the others, make a list and put them all in a box.

Take the clothes now, segregate the dirty laundry, box them up. Pack up the shoes, throw away the pair of those broken sandals, leave behind the newspapers and other papers to dance to the tunes of the wind in the empty room.

Pull down the curtains on your hostel life. Those curtains are heavier now. Filled up with some dust but mostly memories. There! look at the mattress devoid of the bed sheet, see the table deprieved of the books and stationery, look at those bare walls after you’ve brought down those posters and photographs.

The scheme is easy, work in a mechanical fashion. Do not be sentimental, do not stare at the things while you pack. Try not to think of all the episodes associated with all those items. Do not think of your friends and associates. Most importantly, try not to cry. You may experience a lump in your throat-ignore it- you may feel your eyes get welled up- subdue the feeling- big drops of water may trickle down your cheeks-wipe them- but just don’t cry! Stay Strong.

And then, everything is packed up. Everything is boxed up. All five years. One long journey, few small boxes.

After all, its all dust. Its just bricks and concrete. But stay there for sometime, fill it up with people, with friendly conversations, with personal items and voila! you have a home.

Pack up one chapter of life and unpack another. That is how it always works.

World Book Day- 2017

For me, the love for books came first, reading itself came later. Ever since a kid, I loved buying books- lots and lots of them. I did not read much those days but that never stopped me from buying new books everytime my father took me to a book fair or when we were at the railway station. The mere idea of possessing a huge stack of books was so fascinating. What started as a desire to accumulate, ultimately turned into an affair with fiction. Yes, I prefer fiction over non fiction. Not because I regard non fiction as boring. I love reading non fiction too but we all have favourites. Fiction is a cruel deceit, it removes the reader from the realities of life and places them in a world of lies. I like being led into the world- it is a better world anyday. Fiction has always been my drug and shall continue to be so.

Today on the ocassion of world book day, I would like to mention five of my favourite books that I read in the past one year. The list is in no specific order. I love all my books. 

1. Snow by Orhan Pamuk- Pamuk’s stories carry the essential ingredients of love, nostalgia, intermingling of cultures. So when a journalist arrives in the town of Kars to investigate certain strange happenings, he no longer remains a mere observer and finds himself between circumstances beyond the power of his control. Pamuk’s writing is so captivating, it does not let the reader lose interest for even a moment. It is fast, gripping and catchy.

2. The Enigma of Arrival by V.S. Naipaul– Naipaul has the most keen sense of observation. A sense observation so acute it hardly seems human. The enigma of arrival does not have a central story, what it contains are reflections and thoughts. For over two decades,Naipaul lived in a small cottage in Wiltshire, England. His life and times in that cottage have been summed up in this work. The Enigma of Arrival is one such work which is so beautiful it should be read atleast five times and everytime it will appear powerful and poignant. The Enigma of Arrival is however not for beginners. If you are new to the world of contemporary literature, avoid reading this work. This one, unlike the other books on the list, is like wine, you have to develop a taste for it

3. सूरज का सातवाँ घोड़ा (Suraj Ka Satwan Ghoda) (Hindi) by Dharam Veer Bharati– This one is a novella less than a 100 pages but dons several hats. A societal critique, a romantic work, a personal story and many others. The story is set in Allahabad, where Manek Mulla tells his young friends stories of his past, of the women he has loved and lost. Intriguing and interesting this novella was written way back in 1952 but remains strikingly relevant even today. 

4. Gora By Rabindranath Tagore– I regret to report that my knowledge of Bangla is very limited. Hence I read the Hindi translation of this evergreen classic by Agyeya, one of the stalwarts of Hindi Literature. The translation was a scholarly one which preserved the essence of the novel. Also this very translation had won the Sahitya Akademi. I prefer reading Hindi translations of original Bangla writings because Hindi is more closely, culturally associated to Bangla than English. So, Gora is the longest novel by Tagore which beautifully captures the essence of Indian Society, Culture and Religion. Tagore, like an arist, mixes up the issues of feminism, discrimination, romance, freedom struggle, caste and humanity on his literary canvas.

5. The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple– If you love History, Dalrymple is your man! Pounce on his writings. Dalrymple writes history with a completely different perception, rather than being a observer of past events, Dalrymple gives you a very personal account of the events. This book describes the fall of the Mughal Empire in Delhi and unlike many books written on the topic, this is the first one which relies on the Indian accounts too and not just the British. Throughout reading this brilliant book, I felt I was in Delhi, sometimes with the mutineers, sometime with Zafar and sometime with the ordinary residents of the city.

So these were my five favourite books I read last year. What were your favourite books that you read last year? Tell me in the comments, Feel free to like, comment and share. 

Thank you for your time. 

Things coming to pass

As an infant, I had long hair and wore earrings. I was often mistaken for a girl. And I despised it. I despised my feminine voice and longed to possess a heavier tone. I always wanted to be an adult when I was a kid. But I was small and thought it would take forever for me to achieve puberty. But that day did indeed come. Testosterone spiked.My voice cracked. Hair sprouted on my hitherto tender cheeks and voila! 

In 2012, I joined the law school. I was due to graduate in 2017. When I joined the Law School, there was a President who had just occupied the Rashtrapati Bhavan and Uttar Pradesh had chosen its youngest Chief Minister. It would take a long long time before 2017 shall arrive-I told myself- 9 semesters later, 2017 stares me right in the face. 

All the things that we love, we do not love them enough till we either lose them or are on the verge of it. The fear of loss increases our love for something manifold. So I missed my childhood only after I became an adolescent. 

I am in my final year at the law school. With just one semester to go, my sense of attachment with my alma mater is strengthened with each passing hour. But one semester is all I can hold on to it. 

I spent the first year cribbing over the fact that despite my good rank in CLAT I failed to secure the law school I aimed for. But later the feeling faded away and all I felt for my college was affection. When my ninth semester was over and I packed my bags for vacations, I realised how much this departure pained me. 

Life is full of changes- both desirable and undesirable. We all know that there are many things which we wish to keep tucked away in the back of our minds and focus on the present. Leaving the college is one such thing. But no matter where we may try to bury those things, what is meant to arrive at the right time, will indeed arrive, things destined to occur shall inevitably come to pass. There is no remedy for it. 

Time has let me down. I am deeply disappointed in it. Why does it have to travel faster in moments of emotional upheavel? 2016 shouldn’t have ended this fast. 

I hadnt hoped 5 years, five long years would fleet in such haste.

I hadn’t hoped departure shall come so, so soon.

On Acting and Opportunities. 

Let me declare this from the rooftops- of the very few talents that nature has bestowed upon me, acting is one. I have always, always loved to act. The idea of theatre, the idea of living a different life altogether, the sheer joy of being someone other than yourself is inexplicable.

Ever since a child, I used to spend my time imitating relatives, teachers and my friends. Unfortunately and Fortunately, since I spent the major part of my school life changing schools, I was never a really successful actor in school. By the time I was settled in one place, it was time to shift. The other major problem which I perceived to heavily exist in schools was favouritism. I was never any teacher’s favorite so no good roles for me! Probably because I talked too much! 

It has only been here in college that I have been able to fully express my theatrical talents all thanks to the amateur theatre society of my college-Naqaab (which loosely translates as the The Masque) Since its inception in 2013, our theatre group has staged atleast 6 times. And everytime it has been a more enriching experience for me. 

On the 17th of August, my college completed 10 years of its inception. On this great ocassion, we the theatre society performed a play called “Haveli ki Deewar” (The wall of the Mansion) 

The play was set in early 20th century Bengal. It was a story of a Zamindar family. (In British India, Zamindars used to be landowners who held almost all landholdings and in order to allow the poor to work on them, charged exhorbitant taxes. This system was called zamindari.) 

So the story went like this-  A progressive zamindar in 1951 tells his daughter an old anecdote of an elderly zamindar whose who did not have a grandson and remained worried about the fate of his zamindari.Despite having married thrice, his son had failed to deliver a progeny. Slowly and slowly the zamindar becomes convinced that his son is impotent and that he must get his daughter in law impregnated through other means. 

My close friend Utkarsh Singh played the progressive zamindar with Chandni Singh as his curious daughter. While I played the elderly zamindar, my good friend Soumya Tiwari played my mother. Anushree Moitra played my wife and the very talented Sonakshi Banerjee portryed the role of my daughter in law. Chandan Maheshwari played my son. There were three servants in the play and all had crucial roles. Aman Shukla, Vinay Sheel and Sheetal Singh Tomar carried out their roles with great finesse. All in all, it was a multiple starrer play and all thanks to the amazing Director, Harsh Pathak assisted by Abhilasha Singh and Anshita Mani the play was a success. My friend Bhavesh Yadav compiled great music for the play and Akanksha gave us the look that we needed to carry throughout. 

The brilliant cast of the play. I am in the centre on a rocking chair.The person in blue, right behind me is Chandan Maheshwari, the woman on his right with the baby is Sonakshi Banerjee and on her right is Utkarsh Singh. The actor in white on extreme right is Soumya Tiwari and on her right is Anushree Moitra. The two men sitting at my feet are Vinay Sheel and Aman Shukla. The girl in orange is Sheetal Singh Tomar and the one with a huge smile and blue dress is Chandni.

This is a candid backtage shot of me and my daughter in law. In our final rehersal, we had messed up an entire scene. This image was taken right before our performance. Oh the terror on our faces! Thankfully, nothing went wrong in the play. We got a standing ovation. 😀

Perhaps the best part of a performance is always the preparation. I loved the entire journey of this play with the most talented team. We joked, laughed and chatted away most of the time but never allowed the level of our performance to go down. We were backed by the most hardworking back stage crew led by Himanshu Chaudhary and Vishal Sharma. 

This is the entite team which was the driving force behind the performance.

I am in my final year now. I do not know if I shall ever get a chance to act again in life or not. Here in India, amateur theatre outside academic institutions is almost nil and especially when it comes to theatre which caters to the needs of the working, well. That’s non existent.

I had once read somewhere that no matter how talented you may be, your talent is futile unless the society you are born into is ready to accept and hone your skills. Here I am in India, born with the talent of acting. The chances of me being able to turn amateur acting into professional one is virtually impossible because theatre as a profession in this country is locked from the inside, there is no entry unless you have resources. No wonder theatre in India is dying. 

Anyway. I should get back to my law books. 

Heat and Dust

Indian Summers are pathetic. Lets face it. They are torturous, painful and sweltering. From the foothills of North India to the coasts of the Malabar, The black tar roads radiate heat and the night is devoid of winds. For mercury, sky is the limit and for the masses, heat stroke, a perpetual and imminent threat. In conclusion, Mother Summer makes an entire nation prostrate before her cruel authority.

What good could ever come out of such ruthless climate? But be not mistaken, becuase for millions in this country summers bring along the smells of memories and the spices of nostalgia.

The greatest gift that Indian Summers have given us Indians (apart from the mango) are the vacations that we are forced to go on owing to the weather.

I still remember the days of my infancy when the school would be shut down for the summers and I would be all around the place. To give you an idea of what being all around the place means let me tell you that atleast once in every week, I came home with a bruised elbow or knee, hitherto I have had a bleeding skull just thrice in my life- which is attributable to my vacations and so are the stitches I have on my face.

Of all my summer memoirs, there is one clear winner, the times I spent with my grandparents. (Both maternal and paternal)
It was always imperative to spend time at both maternal and paternal homes. The visit and stay was always characterised by great food, greater home made pickles and greatest grandpa stories. My grandparents lived in a different town while we travelled the country thanks to Dad’s job. So for many like me, vacations was the only time to bond with grandparents.image

This was also that part of the year when I used to meet my cousins, uncles and aunties (or what we call in Hindi- mama, mami, mausa, mausi, bua, phupha, chacha, chachi)
Cousin Fights were serious stuff. It never never ended till either was down or till grandma lectured both. The arguments between us cousins did get heated and Toy Sharing Treaties were entered into but there was nothing that the roadside cheap orange ice stick couldn’t fix. (I cant eat that thing now. Its way too unhygienic. Or maybe because it stirs up too many memories.) For the lack of electricity in Uttar Pradesh those days, boardgames were the only way to kill time. Whether it be snakes & ladders (सांप सीढ़ी), Picnic or the evergreen Ludo. To this day I am of the opinion that my first cousin knew a secret trick to roll the dice and the get magic number so often.

Now, none of my cousins come down in the vacations they used to back then. Some have started their own families and the others are on the verge of doing so. Some are abroad while others toiling on their jobs. No one has the time to come down and chat over a game of Ludo.

With every passing year, summer vacations began to acquire to completely different meaning for me.
As an Kid, summer vacations meant fun and frolic, as a Teen, it was the time to explore and understand body and self, As an adolescent, I spent most of my vacations in coaching classes and as a Law Student, my vacations were spent interning and worrying about the future.

As I write this piece, enjoying my last summer vacations, sitting in my long departed granddaddy’s room, I cannot thank the summers enough for what she has given me- Memories, Memories and countless memories.

P.S.- The title has been taken from a novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.

Agle Janam Mohe CLAT aspirant hi Kijo

imageThe excitement surrounding CLAT is so gripping; it is indeed an experience of a life time. And the various facets of it spread across that short period of our lives like colors splashed on a canvass which make those few months of our lives really worth the stress. It is those moments of success, failure, pain, joy and regret that create a great learning curve in our lives.

The Preparation– When you attend demo classes at no less than 5 coaching classes, keep scanning through free websites, looking for GK capsules, Legal Aptitude questions and any form of model question papers that may help you in anyway, you subscribe to The Hindu merely because your GK teacher at your coaching asks you to do, most of your time is spent collecting resources rather than studying them.

The Exam-   2 days before the exam the aspirant is numb. On the day of the exam when you reach your center the most abstract thoughts and ideas float your mind, seeing all kinds of people at the center is both hilarious and depressing. And along with the aspirants, one can also catch a glimpse of the parents. There are always some parents who are there only to remind their children that they must do better than Sharmaji’s!

The Result-   If there is any night worth remembering let it be the night before the results are announced. Sleep evades you, all night one only keeps turning. The next day too, no morsel of food enters ones mouth till the results are out. You only keep refreshing the CLAT website till the poor thing crashes only to be restored in some time.

What Next-  The results are just the beginning, for the ones who decide to answer the exam again the next year the cycle turns for them again, but for the others, the result opens up a whole new world , your preparations come to a close, thus something ends but something bigger and greater begins.  It is the beginning of something more beautiful, better and lovely.  It’s called the law school.

It’s the beginning of the love affair which cannot be described in words. The preparation for CLAT, making new friends at your coaching class, being separated upon getting different law schools, making false promises to stay in touch, packing your bags, listening to endless advice from parents, relatives and siblings and the list is endless, As I sit in an office cubicle interning, away from all the din, I only think that if the concept of rebirth is real, I would love to be born again and again as a (successful) CLAT aspirant and go through all the rigorous strain of preparation only to feel that exuberance, that Adrenalin rush and the uncertainty of life of what beholds next. Also I pray to get the same law school in every birth (RMLNLU), so that I may get endless opportunities to fall in love all over again. After all, love happens just once. Doesn’t it?

PS- There are a number of studies conducted by fools who determine what college is good or bad. Take my word- No college is good or bad. If you are ready to work hard enough, sky’s the limit for you!

Why do I write?

Let me start with the beginning.

I am a mediocre law student. I am in the fourth year of my law school at Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow. I have always been average at school. I like reading and talking. Apart from Dramatics, I dont think I have been bestowed with any great gifts either.

But since a long time, I have had the desire to write. A desire I am fulfilling right now. The obvious question that arises is why do I write? I am not an exceptional writer. My writings are basically influenced by the good number of novels that I have read all my life. Whether or not I am an original thinker or not, I do not know, I leave that to the judgment of the dilligent reader.

So coming back to the point, why do i write?
Three reasons essentially which I shall elucidate in detail.

I shall be using ALIF, BA, DJIM to indicate A,B,C. These are alphabets of Ottoman Turkish. (Why I use them? Well… Its just classy. Deal with it)

Alif– In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin states an important reason for his writings, his desire to leave something behind for his posterity. In other words, a legacy. We inherit the earth for a very short period and that is the only time we have to leave a mark that people can remember you for. I strongly believe that there are two chapters in every person’s life. The first chapter consists of her physical existence, as long as the person continues to breath. The second chapter of her life starts upon the end of a person’s mortal remains. Yes, the idea of dying without a voice scares me, I dont wish to fall silent without letting the posterity to know about me. I dont want to die without telling my story. Even if there are no takers for it.

Ba– I also write for my family and friends. I am aware that my elder brother Shashi will undoubtedly read and scrutinise every word I produce and so will my father. Among my friends as well, there are atleast some if not many who wouldnt mind sparing some of their precious time to read the junk I generate. My friend Abhilash too religiously reads my writings.
If you have a following, you can never cease to make them happy can you?

Djim– But the most important reason why I write is for myself. I write for pleasure. As stated above I hardly have much purpose in my life. In a life full of sham and dissapointment, writing is perhaps the REAL thing- one which makes me fuller and happier. As Osho Rajneesh had said- One must learn to be selfish. If you cant be selfish and love yourself, you cant love others too.
The greatest Hindi poet, Goswami Tulsidas who wrote the Ramcharitmanas, the epic surrounding the life of Lord Rama in the 16th Century himself stated that he had written Ramcharitmanas not for the world, not for the sake of praises but for himself. For his own happiness what he termed as स्वान्त: सुखाय।
Newton too worked for himself taking most of his researches and discoveries with him to the grave, revealing only a limited extent of his work in Principia Mathematica.
So, being selfish aint that bad either. Well, Ayn Rand has written an entire book titled THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS. I hope to read it someday.
This is why I write. It is however a pity that the idea I hatch in my mind does not fully take the form of words, but whatever little meaning it conveys is true and real and beautiful.