Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Twist in the Tale

A long long time away
In a castle deep in the woods
There lived a young prince
‘N he was quite the goods
His frame was a sight to behold
Both muscular & lithe at once
Bronzed like the Greeks of old
Burnished by a thousand suns
O but hearts did rise & flutter
When he did deign to smile
‘N village belles & princesses alike
Trekked from across a million miles
They came to win his hand
Make him theirs for all to see
Riches & skill & smarts they had
N at times a bit of coquetry
But the prince was adamant
Wanting to feel the feel of love
A woman who above all else
Would fit him like a velvet glove
But woman after woman came
None could prove to be that match
Doleful sat his highness all day
What a fate for such a catch!
But he had no idea about
His vile & evil step-father
Who so jealous of his allure
Worked himself into a lather
His worthless sons, one fat one bald
Spent all their time at the races
He wanted the same applause for them
Renown from the same high places
So he hatched a plot to poison
His hotness, our prince so fine
Figuring with him gone forever
His sons would be next in line
Our prince had a chambermaid
A girl as plain as plain can be
She overheard step daddy talk
Airily to his sons at tea
She was quite clever though
She made a counter plan
‘N as a preventive measure she
Poisoned them with homemade jam
She put paid to the evil trio
But our prince with a heart of gold
Stood weeping over their bodies
She then decided he must be told
But not as a mere chambermaid
She came out of her disguise
For she was a beautiful princess
As brave as clever as tall as wise
She opened her heart to our prince
‘N he was stunned at first
But he realized something
- she was the answer to his thirst
She, who went the extra mile
To save him from his fate
Had to be his one true love
His savior, his soul-mate
So our hunkilicious prince of yore
Finally found his match divine
Together they ruled their kingdoms
With her wisdom & his grace benign

Tuesday, January 03, 2017


As the year draws
To its artificial end
I finally realise
At last comprehend
Why the words are slow
The rhymes lie low
And stories hibernate
Under pages of snow
It's a rich concoction
A thick creamy soup
The insides of my mind
Indiscernible goop
And every time
I open my mind
Stuff refuses to flow
Viscosity, I find
Viscosity, I find
Is behind this mess
A density of thoughts
I must confess
To pick & choose
I cannot justify
And for the first time
Even words seem shy
That's what they are
My beautiful words
They've lost their power
Oh my beautiful words
I feel for you
You've been so loyal
So lovely too
Although this year
This bloody damned year
Is beyond you lovelies
But don't you fear
Time will dilute
My mind soup goop
And you dear words
Will rally, all atroop
And then only then
Will I be able to sing -
Paeans, to the year
That changed everything

Sunday, November 20, 2016


She wasn't all bad 
Not even a little bit
She was just a girl
Brave enough to admit
Admit to wanting
To pour herself a draught
Just the slightest bit
Into nerves a wee bit taut
Ah the sweet release
From the trap of the mind
To fly beyond the senses -
The albatross to humankind

What Happens After The Leap

Lambent twilight
A gentle breeze
Are around me
As I attempt to seize
As I float on my way
Trying to gain footholds
But the limbo is pretty deep
It gets crazy at times
All howling hurricanes
And lightening crackles
Setting aflame our feverish brains
And then it gets serene
The silence of the wise
Of quiet confidence
Tiny in time, endless in size
Both these stay with me
In times when I flail
Coz there are those too
No discernible sail
Many a slip between
the cup and the lip
The cups are craggy tops
The lips many miles to ship
And yet I float, dip, occasionally fly
(Mostly) Enjoying the journey
To stable ground
Onward to another tourney


I have been shopping all day today. It’s a special day, the day he proposed to me. Now I know, I know, we Indians greatly misuse the term. Or at least how it was used centuries ago, by long dead Britishers, so alienated from us in their habits and hues as to render their views on our language, quite irrelevant. Coming back to my special day, yes, he asked me out today. Told me he loved me, was in love with me. With a steely glint in his eye, a determination that one associates the better with marathon runners in their last kilometer or observes perhaps in the eyes of patients about to pop in some nasty medicine. You see, I had tried my best to discourage him. I knew this declaration, a thing with a life of its own, equipped with its own pair of tiny lungs and a fragile puppy heart, this declaration, I knew would change my life. It was scary. 
So, I am dressing up for him today. He likes me in yellow. Truth be told, he likes me in anything really, but I know he is partial to yellow. And I want to make it a thing, you know, our thing. Sometimes these traditions, remembrances start to mean more than what had sparked them off in the first place. We need that amplification. 
Like the meal I am going to cook him. It’s his favorite, he is not a foodie, but he likes paneer butter masala. I had to travel a bit to get fresh paneer, the Indian shops are all situated in an older part of the city; it’s slightly seedy, this locality. I know he wouldn’t like me to go there alone, but I can’t really serve him rubbery paneer, today of all days. 
The neighbors all know today is special. Ordinarily I am a little reserved with them, you know, strange place and all that. But I couldn’t help but notice their enquiring glances as I worked like a maniac yesterday, spring cleaning my house, disposing of the millions of articles that find their way in and build up into a mountain of junk. You know, the boxes, and bags, and the ubiquitous stack of bills, papers, pamphlets. My apartment is tiny, at best slightly larger than a doll’s house, and I run the risk of drowning in this rubble if I don’t drain it out routinely, and yet I don’t till the waters come rising. He keeps telling me to clean. Like every day. It’s the first thing he notices. And so as a gesture to our special day, this time I cleaned. Can’t wait for him to see. 
As we approach the hour, I look around pleased. The house is spotless, the masala is simmering, and my outfit is laid out, ready to be worn. Now the only thing I need to buff and shine is my own self. Oh yes, you bet I will! I am going to be first thing in his line of vision, and I want to fill his senses, fulfil his senses. He loves my skin, he always says it was the first thing he noticed about me. Tonight, I am going to make it sing. 
And so it arrives. The moment of truth. I am a mass of sensations, surrounded by a mix of aromas, the luxurious waft of the paneer butter masala mingling with the fruity fragrance of my DKNY Green Apple. I open my laptop, and there it is, right by the clock, at 3 am Greenwich time, a video call from him. 
It’s the third year of our marriage. And our fifth year apart. There were a lot of naysayers, with everything from logistics to law thrown into our faces. But like the language of speech, the language of love adapts with changing times too. And we are pioneers, a generation of explorers charting the rules of cross-continental living, and loving.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil

The first time he had seen the painter, a mild tremor had run down his body. Something about him, his eyes maybe, had that seismic quality. But that was before he heard him speak. He realized that the eyes were merely complicit in the crimes his words perpetrated - each one polished to perfection, never a second too early or too late, opening his mind up to possibilities and to the possibility, of something emerging from all this.
His own was a profession of creativity, he was into the business of bending music to will. But never before had art as intrigued him, as when he stood in the painter’s gallery, trying to piece together the jigsaw that was his personality, each part hidden in a separate painting.
The painter himself had been there; not alone, with a glamorous wife in tow. They said she was a poet, and his muse.
Their eyes had met yet again, they even exchanged a few mundane words. And somehow, somehow, he discerned the painter’s loneliness, that no ordinary muse, no matter how beautiful, could dispel.
They played a game of cat and mouse for an appropriate amount of time, each trying their best to not make the first move, yet always be within touching distance of it. And then finally it happened, a memory of which he had felt upon seeing the painter for the first time; call it memory or omen, time can run in either direction.
Finally, it happened, a coming together of his music and the painter’s art, of his rhythmic fingertips and the painter’s aesthete touch. He felt as if the entire world stood still, as audience.
Except, of course, that it hadn't stood still as much as it had carried on, business as usual.
As he rubbed sleep out of his satiated eyes the next morning, he noticed a few missed calls. They were from his girl-friend. The two of them were college sweethearts, their love made sweeter by the fact that each had rebelled to be with the other, she against her entire family, and he against his own instinct.
But missed calls were of no consequence that day. This weekend was to be theirs, his and the painter's, no interruption big enough. They spent large parts of it talking to each other about this and that. From dreams to delusions, from poetry to playlists, they discussed it all, walking arm in arm, knowing they were away from all prying eyes.
He’d spoken to the painter about his girl-friend, and her hold on him. She was in love with him with an intensity that was all hers, he could never begin to reciprocate and they both knew that, to varying degrees. So far, he had stayed, drifting with the flow, but at the end of that idyllic weekend, as he alighted from the painter’s mustang and turned around to walk the few blocks to his home, he made his mind up to leave.
Things took a strange turn after that. She had not believed him, not that he wanted to leave, and especially not that it was for another man. So much so, that he’d had to fabricate another woman into existence, the one, the other, for whom he was purportedly leaving her.
Her, the woman who’d stuck with him through thick and thin, through his playing in seedy bars, and even on the streets; who’d left her plush existence behind just so that she could leave a trail of ash-filled whisky glasses in second grade motel rooms, accompanying him and his washed out talent, once so vibrant, like his love.
He realized that this was her narrative, her little story of betrayal, that gave her the strength to move on, fanning the flames of a love, that was all hers. He was a man of few words, unlike his painter, but in one of his more lucid moments, he’d spoken about the power of one-sided love, about its purity, its unadulterated longing, undivided by each individual’s interpretation, unbesmirched by expectations – lofty or mundane. He had felt a tiny swell of pride as the painter had watched him, solemn, struck by the loveliness of his words, haltingly spoken though they were.
Many years later, he came home one day, to find a letter from her, his one-time girl-friend, now wife, saying that she was leaving him, was, in fact, gone. It was a letter of love, of tender remonstrances, and deep deep pain. It ended with a thought, a shadow of another he himself had had long ago, on the power of unrequited love; the thought had undoubtedly made the rounds of much better company than his own in the intervening years, in being articulated much better, rather like an Urdu couplet than the broken introspection of a man of no importance such as himself, a mere DJ, DJ Ali.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Jaipur Literature Festival, 2016

Okay. So I shake out my cold nervous fingers to get some heart back into them, a spiritual response to the gargantuan task of chronicling the phenomenon that was the Jaipur Literature Festival, 2016.

Here goes.

JLF, the world's largest free literary festival, is quickly becoming a must-do for us. We went for the first time in 2014, and left fascinated. 2015 saw yours truly participating in, and winning, one of their contests, and consequently becoming the recipient of free accommodation for the duration of the festival, but due to unforeseen circs, in the form of upset innards of the significant other, the year failed to see our jubilant selves at ye olde Diggi grounds. Though the final month of the year more than made up for the disappointing start, when we did the litfest circuit with IIMBUE at IIM Bangalore (though technically not a litfest, but a not-so-distant cousin) and the Times Lit Fest in Mumbai.
The shenanigans at these two are now the stuff of legend, and I am living in the hope that the day shall dawn when, in between writings of great import, of the suitability and non, of girls and boys, by dint of a charitable soul and a curious mind, a two-line or even less expansive missive will be scribbled and sent on wings of ether, to my inbox. Mr Seth, I live in the hope :)

2016 dawned bright and fair. Truly, it felt like the year of change. It was time to lay in stone this new family tradition, of the annual pilgrimage to dear ol' Diggi.

This time too, I tried taking part in the creative writing contests, 'tried' being key here as I found myself having exceeded the word count on the story, and having created a beast of no mean exoticity in the poem. Of course, one cannot discount the possibility of both of these being simply underwhelming, but intact entries they were not.

Under the tyranny of not having got anything for free, one fine day we saw our bank balance visibly shrink as hard-earned cash dissolved into plane tickets and hotel bookings. But you know, we are what you call - hedonists, out and proud.

So, we arrived in Jaipur on the third day of the fest, determined to stick around till Diggi shut its gates on us on day 5. The air was nippy with promise. Color shone everywhere. The sounds of silence had given way to erudite speech, with tent upon tent of people - curious, energetic, insatiable - people.

It was a magical three days. We have come a long way in the last two years, and the span of things that interests us now is much wider, the knowledge we already hold much deeper. Made the experience even more pleasurable. I am going to try and capture some key highlights here, and to make it palatable, let me do it via my favorite social media tool of the moment - the tweet.
Now I am quite a social media savant, wearing different accounts like a modern day Edward De Bono. At JLF this time, I decided to live tweet my observations, partly to have a lasting memory of the many ideas being thrown at me, and partly to engage with others similarly inclined. Turns out I ended up belting out more than a 100 tweets over the three days, and even won a prize for one or the other - a signed copy of one of William Dalrymple's books. Some consolation :)

So am going to pick out some of the more evocative tweets, and try and transport you to those sessions, those ideas.

"The next time you see a hijra on the road, and she isn't Laxmi, show her the same respect" - Jerry Pinto, at the end of the session with Laxmi, the famous hijra.
India is indeed at some strange crossroad today, on the one hand, an unconventional person like Laxmi beams into every middle class living room as part of the BiggBoss family and on the other, women are still raped for - simply existing. I saw the crowds interact with Laxmi that day, and she was like opium for the masses. They cheered her on, applauding all her provocative sound bytes, and paying her the biggest compliment of all - that of attention. There is no doubt that India is changing, changing out of its straitjackets into garments that allow movement, but the real test of its newly minted mindset will be when no family will feel compelled to throw their gender-bending child onto the streets.
In the meantime, my review of Laxmi's book - here.

"The public doesn't want to pay for media, leaves them to the mercy of advertisers, outside funding." - Shoma Choudhury during the debate on 'Trial by media'.
Now, Shoma C is a wonder woman. Rarely have I seen somebody with such well-thought out views about such contentious topics, The panel was one of journos, from Madhu Trehan to Avirook Sen. Trial by media, that insidious outcome of a damaging set of inputs, the inputs including the usual suspects, corporate interests, favoritism culture, governmental threat but the biggest of all, without which none of this would have been sustainable - the two-headed monster of public voyeurism and public apathy. The public craves sensation as if it were a drug, and in chasing that immediate gratification of having the fastest information, it does not stop to think if it is accurate information. Living in some sort of narcotic-induced haze, neither does it care for accuracy, nor does it want to pay for it. It is indeed tragic that today public sentiment can force media outlets to take unconsidered stances that have such disastrous effects on people's lives.

"The Arab spring has told the world that we are not happy and we are unwilling anymore to live in chains." - Mona Eltahawy, the revolutionary.
Yes, we had a flaming red-haired revolutionary on the panel for the debate 'Beyond the Arab Spring'. It spoke about whether the revolts having taken place in 2011 in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere had failed or whether they were simply seeds sown, waiting to reap fruit over time. It was an excellent panel, comprising academics with deep knowledge about the Middle East, immigrants impacted by the dictatorship regimes and revolutionaries ready to die for their cause. You know, there is such a marked difference in the way an academic speaks versus how a revolutionary speaks. While the academic infuses her speech with refinement, a flattening out of every statement in terms of intonation, even-sounding, the revolutionary speaks with a crescendo building up towards the end of every sentence, that feeds into her next, herself getting more and more impassioned with every argument, culminating into an explosion. In this case, it was an explosion of applause that greeted the end of every one of Mona E's fiery speeches. What an experience.

"He is not serious enough to have a sense of humor." - Oscar Wilde, channelized by Stephen Fry. It was mostly entertaining to listen to him, but at times, awe-inspiring as well. And what inspired awe in me was the same old chestnut that I have been struggling with for so long - a life spent in pursuit of what you really love to do - to be or not to be. Mr Fry is a case in point, as was Mr Wilde, one with a happier story than the other. Stephen Fry's reverence for Oscar Wilde is not unknown, but I had not known how deep a connect the former feels for the latter. It is amazing and gratifying to see people live on, immortalized in another's life, inspiring generations separated from one's own.

So these were some of the sessions I loved the most. There were a host of others that were equally thought-provoking, with panels ranging from lawyers to politicos, to doctors, and social workers. From talking about the possibility of a 'Partition museum' at the borders, to a new way of looking at geriatric care, from Shashi Tharoor's intellectual quips to his equally shameless BJP-bashing at the slightest chance, from Irving Finkel's witty enthusiasm to Desraj Kali's languorous irreverence, it was a feast for the mind, heart and soul.

And how can I end without touching upon the grand debate? The debate to end all debates, that took place at the end, as a fitting climax to the five days of stimulation. Well, that's what it was supposed to be, but it turned out to be a war zone with these usually sane individuals turning into rabble rousers. And as you know, it is mighty easy to rouse the rabble these days.

"Have never seen such a politicized atmosphere in India as in the India of today. Every debate is a debate of political affiliations." - Me.

So the debate was about Freedom of Speech and more importantly whether it should be absolute or not. It had entities such an Anupam Kher and Suhel Seth on the Nay, and Madhu Trehan, Salil Tripathi and Kapil Mishra on the Aye.
It was a crazy debate, surreal, with each speaker playing to get the maximum cheers, claps and whistles, trotting out flogged-to-death arguments that a high school student could have thought of. Some bits were illuminating like Madhu Trehan's examples from her early journalistic days and her information on why article 19 was laden with qualifiers (was due to Nehru's personal insecurities as per her, have to read up on this), as were some of Salil Tripathi's comebacks acerbic enough to raise a laugh. But mostly they all of them missed the essence, choosing to debate more about Freedom of Speech and less about its Absolute-ism.
It was fun though, good to see some good ol' punch-in-the-face tactics sometimes.

And so the event wound up, and one thing that stayed with me as the organizers and festival directors said their good-byes, was Namita Gokhale invoking that rarely called upon entity, Saraswati, to bless everyone.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

When Bertie Met Jeeves

Guys, wrote this poem for a ‪#‎Zeejlf‬ contest. Reproducing here. Think not many may get the context given is based on two authors and their works. Will be ecstatic if proved wrong.

    A knock on the door
Followed by light throat-clearing
Startled little Bertie
Shook him off his bearing
    Coz it was half past nine
In the Pollock household
But then you might ask
How was Bertie being so bold
    As to be up at this hour
with Mama Pollock next door?
Well, it was imperative
As he needed to make sure
    He needed to make sure
That his mum did not intend
To attend the school annual day
As the year wound to an end
    And you might be forgiven
For thinking ill of him
But if you knew the plight of B.Pollock
You'd not take a view so dim
    You see there was an essay
He’d written in ‘Evolved Thinking’ class
About (hypothetical) mothers who smothered
It’d been graded as well above pass
    And now as was the norm

It was to be displayed
At the year end jamboree
    It would be an understatement
To say his soul was afire
To prevent Mum from going
Was his only fervent desire
    Checking the RSVP box
On the frustrating invite
He saw a large green tick
That intensified his fright
    Right, back then to the knock -
dignified in timbre & beat
With heart beating hard
Bertie crept with silent feet
    He peeped through the keyhole
Saw a chap, tall & serene
And perhaps it was the angle..
But he had a pretty large bean
    Suddenly Bertie understood
It was the fellow from the papers
The one who promised
To clean up after capers
    Now Bertie was no average kid
He was well above par
On intellect & sensitivity
And he knew this was bizarre
    A chap from the papers?
He had certainly thought twice
Before ringing him up
And seeking his advice
    And here was the guy
Come down to assist
To save his mum the pain
And get her to desist
    So he let the fellow in
And a good decision it was
Coz even in mellow light
He looked imbued with cause
    He looked like a saviour
A sartorially impressive one
With a calm, intelligent face
And a head that weighed a ton
    And in quick hushed whispers
Bertie told the sordid tale
Never once did the man flinch, though
he might've gone a bit pale
    At the mention of the mother
His gaze did seem to haunt
As if recalling another world
Awash with strident aunts
    So Bertie stood politely
Till he returned to the now
‘Well Sir, this is quite a pickle.’
He said with raised brow
    But we shall find a way
To get Mrs Pollock to stay away
To put her off the notion
Of attending the annual day
    With that promise, he glid away
    A week hence this incident
A gent came home to talk
And it would not be amiss
To pronounce I.Pollock in shock
    You see she’d been propositioned
No, not of the indecent kind
But one that meant to compliment
Her apparently brilliant mind
    You see the national paper
Led by a Mr Reggie Jeeves
Wanted to do a piece
On I.Pollock & her peeves
    Capture her very essence
Get her views to share
And if you knew Irene Pollock
You’d know no paucity there
    And as you might guess
There was only the one day
When said interview could happen
Old Murphy again, you could say
    She tottered toward Bertie
With a deeply worried expression
Young Bertie was alarmed
He was a child with consideration
    Then she said to him,
‘Bertie, what dilemma!’
‘My life has become’
‘No less than comic cinema!’
    Attending your annual day,’
‘You know is so very vital!’
‘But to edify young Scotland’
‘Is bigger than any recital!!’
    And dear Bertie,’
‘I know you must feel so bad,’
‘But I have the only one chance’
‘And it simply must be had!’
    I shall make it up to you,’
‘My sweet boy so kind!’
‘My gracious polite son,’
‘Do you terribly mind?’
    Young Bertie kept his face
Steady as can be
And with sweetness & grace
Set his tortured mother free
    So it came to pass
D-day passed without comment
But Bertie learned a lesson
Of never to (accidentally) foment
    And he remained forever grateful
To Mr Reginald, that gent so sage
Especially when his mum’s article
Featured on The Scotman’s front page

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Potential to Kinetic

Find what you like
Not like what you find
No, don't you just settle
No, don't be that kind
(of person)
You are so lucky
The world's at your feet
Opportunity's round the corner
Believers crowd your street
Out of your bubble
Folk that pull u down
They're just pure trouble
You don't need anyone
But yourself, I kid u not
U do have to work
At figurin' what u're about
But once that's done
Or even half-way through
Just start from there on
Ur journey ho gayi shuru
And there comes a time
In everybody's life
When u gotta get simply -
- fed up of the strife
You are SO much
So find your own synergy
And help ur Potential
Become Kinetic energy
Hope we all find occupation that is a natural extension of ourselves and of our unique passions. Nothing else should do.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My life in books - 2015

Childhood dreams are a great thing, sometimes they bring you back to reality.

My childhood dream was a simple one, to live in a library with an unending supply of Maggi. It may have been simple, but as it turned out, not easy.

To cut a long story short, it's been a while since I rediscovered this dream, along with my childhood ambition of becoming a writer, which I did fulfill if this blog and countless other spur-of-the-moment outbursts plus elaborate projects are to stand in testimony; I am a writer, just not the kind, yet, that gets paid in money. Or at all.

This post though is less about my awakening and more about what's helped keep me awake this year - my books. It's a bit of a narcissistic journey down my reading list and an attempt to parse it for meaning.

2015 started with me reading '2014: The Election that changed India'. This was the year I discovered the joy of reading non-fiction, as is evident from the others I also read - 'India in Love: Marriage & Sexuality in the 21st century', 'Introducing Marx', 'Why is Sex fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality' and 'Human Universe'. And those I couldn't complete, but which equally satiated my curiosity while opening up new doors of wondering and wandering. Now, before I get into summarizing these books and their relative or absolute merits, let me add a dash of personal insight here. Fiction has been my poison all along, I think the first book I ever read was at age 6 or 7 and it was the 'Famous Five and the Z-rays', if I remember right. To an introverted, shy kid who never really felt at place in most groups, and consequently believed there to be something the matter with self, this world of make-believe was very very real. More than twenty-five years along, I can still recall the feeling of having a new Enid Blyton in my hand, the smell of it, the feel of my fingers on its shiny embossed cover page lettering, the absolute ecstasy of looking forward to reading all summer. Reading fiction gave me another world to relocate to and I needed that, then. But over the years, I have become more confident, more able to navigate society and my personal social anxieties, so much so that sometimes I fool even myself with respect to the I vs E question :) I think this and other factors have led to a central shift - from me wanting to escape the world to me wanting to understand it better. And that's where the non-fiction comes in.
So of all the books I read, I loved every single one. Politics is another (genetic) obsession, and 'The Election' helped me apply a strategic lens to, as well as understand the nitty-gritties behind, the election to beat all elections, the grand 2014 dance of democracy. Coming to something very different but equally if not more compelling, 'India in Love' was a collection of anecdotes from across the length & breadth of the country and spanning every segment possible, and as the name suggests, these anecdotes were about how India has loved in the past and is changing its game, real fast. It was peppered with a high quality of quantitative data, that mostly served to edify. A couple of examples to illustrate its illuminating power: apparently one in every fourth man in Urban India is having an extramarital affair and around 70% of all homosexual men are married! It's a wonder the wedding industry continues to grow in size and complexity every year, given how the marriages it leads to today are likely to be as short lived as the ceremonies themselves. Similar in theme, but addressing the Why rather than the What, was 'Why Sex is Fun'. Written by Pulitzer winning scientist Jared Diamond, this book was a synapse-coupler. Understanding that we are what we are, from our sexual habits to our social structures, because of natural selection across the millenia of evolution, is eye-opening. 'Introducing Marx' was like a crash course in the history of philosophy, leading up to dear ol' Karl. What a guy, no other thought school has had the kind of lasting impact on our world that Marxism has had. I don't pretend to know everything about it, and will need to keep revisiting this and other material to gain a deeper understanding. But while 'Why Sex is Fun' is about unconscious acts on the part of our ignorant ancestors, 'Introducing Marx' introduces us to the brilliance of our first scientists, philosophers and other challengers of the status-quo. I remain fascinated. And lastly, Human Universe, positioned as a love letter to mankind, is breath-taking in scope and jaw-dropping in content. Written by a British physicist, Brian Cox, it covers everything from the origin of the Universe to present moment (give or take a few years) and is equivalent to marathon training for the brain cells. Not an easy read but then the Universe wasn't created in a day, not even by God.

All amazing books.

Another niche I read was African origin literature. 'Americanah' and 'Half of a Yellow Sun' are both very interesting books, shedding light on what has remained largely under wraps for most of us confined to western culture and its writings apart from our own. Nigeria is more than one thing or two things, its stories are both extraordinary - as in 'Yellow Sun' about a country fraught with strife - and ordinary like in 'Americanah', speaking about the lives of people like you and me, except with a different starting point and hence a different trajectory. I liked both of them, 'Americanah' more than 'Yellow Sun' because it was better written (although by the same author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and was more like the kind of storytelling I like replete with the nuances of human emotions.

This was also the year I finished reading 'Anna Karenina'. And read 'An Equal Music'. 'Anna K' was everything it promised to be - intense, thought-provoking and a difficult read. Tolstoy leaves no thought un-inspected, ranging from the insecurities of Anna to the agricultural and political pursuits of Levin, and this could be tedious for many, it was to an extent for me too; but the chance to time-travel to the Russian society of the 1800s made up for it, for me at any rate :) The best part of the novel though is how feelingly Tolstoy writes through a woman's eyes, capturing her trials and hopelessness, being both a superb author in taking us along in her madness, and also an extremely progressive human being in defying through an impulsive, confused but an extremely honest Anna, the mores of the time. 'An Equal Music' was disappointing for me at least, but just the kind of thing you could expect from Vikram Seth - a writing for the sake of writing. I cannot overstate how much I admire his writing and now after having heard him talk, him. So I wish for my sake that the novel had been more mainstream, about something I could connect with, but it was what it was, a largely esoteric piece of literature combining two of the author's passions - writing and music.

Coming to some light literature, I read some stuff from my old favorites this year as well - 'Career of Evil' by JK Rowling, 'The Girl in the Spider's web' by David Lagercrantz, 'Go Set a Watchman' by Harper Lee and 'Ideal' by Ayn Rand. 'Career of Evil' was better than the previous two installments of the series (both of which I loved as well, JK R can do no wrong in my eyes) and getting more interesting by the minute with regards to the Cormoran-Robin equation. Nobody quite creates characters the way JK R does and I am eternally grateful to her for bringing all the people she has into my life :) Btw does anyone else think that the trio of Cormoran-Robin-Mathew is reminiscent of Harry-Hermione-Ron? If so, give me a shout. 'Spider's Web' was good, and I am thankful to Lagercrantz for giving us another installment of Lisbeth Salandar, I only wish he hadn't infused her with normalcy. She appears more emotional, more human in this one and no, that's not the Lisbeth I know. Harper Lee was another who could do no wrong, and I was of the same opinion about Atticus Finch, but in 'Go Set a Watchman', she decided to shatter my little bubble. I know people are never what you build them up to be inside your head and that is one of the reasons most of my heroes are either dead or imaginary. Having said that, I also liked that she infused him with some grey - fiction with a touch of reality, a beautiful reminder of the fact that nobody is perfect and if we set such an expectation, we are bound to be disappointed forever. As for Scout, I doubt if she will ever manage to accept a society that has such a different value system from her own, even if it is to try and change it gradually, but it's an interesting thought, one that rebels like me need to think about while hibernating in our ivory towers of disengagement. Now for Ayn Rand; I had an intense love affair with her around ten years ago, but gradually realized how dogmatic she was and regurgitated her out of my system. Picked up 'Ideal' on a whim, and was completely taken aback at the memories it brought back. I realize now how fundamentally her beliefs have shaped me, and while I may have broken out of the rigidity she imposes, the conflicts I face at many points in my life as well as the values I revere arise from her work. It was shocking to me that I could have been in denial for so long. In that, this book, though a slim volume, was a very rich experience.

As an aside, for those who have persevered through this piece thus far, kudos. You can most definitely make it through 'Anna Karenina' and Levin might just be your soulmate.

Talking about favorite authors, I doff my hat to Alexander McCall Smith, whose writing is so ethereal that few people get its charm. I love his Scotland series, of which I read copiously this year. He is the kind of writer who can make the most basic of actions seem rich in meaning, and I believe they often are - we feel a myriad of emotions in the blink of an eye, past biases, self perception, value-system all coming together to decide the course of action, what we then endeavor to rationalize ad infinitum. It must be said though that his 'Emma' was an unqualified disaster, but then Jane Austen is, well, Jane Austen.

Some other light reads were 'The house that BJ built' by Anuja Chauhan, a couple of Georgette Heyers, the 'Rosie' series by Simsion Graeme and 'Yes, Please' by Amy Poehler; three of them being romantic fiction approached from very different angles, and the fourth a true autobiography in that you would do well to pass time with it during commute.

And then there were some quirky ones, like 'Panty' by Sangeeta Bandopadhyay, 'Dangerous Women', a compilation by several authors and 'The Stranger' by Albert Camus. 'Panty' was odd and other-worldly, the kind of book that is open to interpretation. 'Dangerous Women' had some good tale telling, especially 'Second Arabesque, very slowly' by Nancy Kress, a story set in a post apocalyptic world where any form of art is heresy. 'The Stranger' was strange, the kind of book one reads because it so defies any tenets of good story telling, coming deep from the author's psyche and speaking of his anguishes and turmoils.

And now we come to the ones that truly influenced me one way or the other. '40 Rules of Love' by Elif Shafak, 'Middlesex' by Jeffrey Eugenides and 'Rustom and the Last Storyteller of Almora' by Gaurav Parab. '40 Rules' was that catalyst that accelerated a very fundamental shift in how I interact with the world. Given as I am to intense self-scrutiny and reflection, I know increasingly better with each passing day where I stand and where I don't wish to, and I have always struggled with how to balance openness with discernment. Openness for a multi-centric humanity that is a mix of very different value systems, some of which I might have a strong point of difference with, AND discernment or an expectation for some amount of value match, at least on the core ones, with everyone I interact with. Increasingly this year, I had been feeling a pull towards the former, openness and acceptance, and that in tandem with this affection-inducing book, and a conversation with Rashmi, set me on that path with even more angularity. So much so that I started an initiative (Ze Salon), whose primary objective is to meet new and different people and perspectives. Mighty influence :) Similar was my experience with 'Middlesex', which in addition to being informative is also an extremely touching and engaging story about a hermaphrodite, and it again brought home how different people are, and that it is okay to be a freak, imperfect, abnormal, for who really is normal? I highly recommend both these books to everyone, they will bring you closer to accepting others and more importantly, yourself.
Now 'Rustom' is a special book, it has been written by someone I know (Gaurav Parab), who had done a great job of not only writing it well with an original and engaging plot but also of making it a success, all the while paying obeisance to Corporate life on the side. It is inspiring, and 2016 will be about me trying to walk in his footsteps.

This brings me to the end of this post and this year, give or take a day. I am glad I did it because it revealed to me how significant these books have been, the whole for each being far greater than the sum of its parts.

And now as I watch the sunlight around me gently wave farewell, its warm fingers lightly grazing my cheek for the last time (or nearly so), I decide that next year, I want it to be more of this year, and I want myself to be - nothing less than the Sun.