The delusion of Self-Importance and the truth of Existence

NASA’s voyager has sent many awe-inspiring pictures of the universe, the cosmos, the planets. One of the many pictures sent by Voyager shows our planet from about 6 billion kilometers. From that distance, the Earth appears no more than a speck of dust, a mere “Pale Blue Dot”.


This photograph inspired the renowned astronomer/astro-physicist /cosmologist Carl Sagan for the title for his famous book “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space“. In this book, Sagan pens down his thoughts quite poignantly on the significance of this image and the insignificance of our condition:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

From : Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

The words in bold above are not part of the original excerpt, Sagan did not call these words out, the bold typeface is my embellishment. I have been mulling over thoughts that are quite similar to the ones expressed in these words for over a year now. I have been grappling to come to terms with the reality of my “being” my “existence” and the ridiculously microscopic inconsequential aspect of it. Yes, a bit of a self-absorbed line of thought you can say while alluding to the “…our imagined self-importance…” line from Sagan’s writing above.

These feelings of “what matters?” and “why be?” got further fueled as a result of a traumatic incident in the recent past where I ended up losing a lot of material things causing a sizable financial loss. I do not care for “stuff”, “stuff” is replaceable (and there is no fake humility in this statement), so I did a minor shrug for the lost items and moved on. What continued to eat me at the core is the fact that with the tangible assets that were lost, I also lost a lot of intangible memories worth over a decade. Memories that were neatly stored in electronic form of photos and videos, which I would revisit every so often. I also lost a large collection of unfinished writings – my amateur attempts of writing film scripts, un-sent letters, unpublished blog posts, poems, random thoughts, ideas! All of which are non-replaceable, but here lies the quandary – as I am grieving for this loss, I am feeling a wave of guilt wash over me – guilt for grieving on something so inconsequential, so damn insignificant – if my existence doesn’t matter in the universal scheme of things, why should I then feel this pain? The fact that I exist (and hence my memories are real) is in direct opposition to the fact that my existence, and the events that happened in my life are of no significance. In the cosmic dust, there is no shifting of any balance if I ceased to exist…(for that matter if any of us ceased to exist). Why then should I care so much? This conflict spirals me into that ever mysterious question – “What is the purpose of my/our existence?”. To which many a scientists and thinkers would say – “It’s a stupid question. There is no purpose and hence the question is irrelevant.” I wish I could buy this statement, to me it seems like a cop-out from the scientific community. To draw parallels, centuries ago, questions like – “Why are there seasons?” or “Why can’t some people see colors?” or “Why does the moon change shapes every day?” etc. were probably met with a similar response – “Irrelevant questions”. Just like our collective knowledge in those days wasn’t sufficient to answer them, our extent of knowledge today is not equipped to answer this question. It would be a much humbler response to say “We don’t know the purpose of our existence, YET.”

I believe, there is some meaning to us being here…I am not talking from a spiritual or a divine point of view – for the record – I am an atheist – not an agnostic – an ATHEIST. So my quest for this is purely scientific, purely factual. I want to believe that my being matters, my doing things matter, my not doing things matter, my existence has some meaning – it is an essential piece in the completion of a mathematical or an astronomical theorem. Without me there will be a me shaped void, something will be incomplete – like how a small deformity in one of the legs of a chair makes it wobbly, like how a dash of salt completes a dish, like how one missing note can render a melody incomplete!

Tolerance & Pain

Tolerance – Is there another word that has such self-importance and patronizing tone built into it? It suggests, nay, declares that the one who is doing the “tolerance” is being generous to the one towards which this “tolerance” is aimed at.  There is a word “Upkaar” in Hindi or “Ehsaan” in Urdu, which loosely translates to “favor” or “benefaction” in English. For me, “tolerance” is loaded with “upkaar/ehsaan”! So when someone (or some society/nation/organization) says “I am tolerant of all races/religions/nationalities/sexual orientations, etc.”, I smell self-righteousness in their claim of “tolerance”. For true equality, there shouldn’t be a need for any tolerating, there should just be “acceptance” of “you are who you are”.

Pain – It’s not new news that a majority of the great artists from around the world, from the past or the present, were people who harbored great pain. Whether it be pain due to difficult childhoods or unrequited loves or substance abuse or personality disorders or financial issues or abusive parents or conflicts (war/ideological conflicts/persecution), each one of them were troubled in their own way. This pain translated into some of the greatest pieces of art – music, paintings, sculptures, films, performances, books, poems, etc. There seems to be a direct correlation between creativity and the degree of pain the creator is experiencing. So by deduction, great art is borne from great pain. As I said, not new news! What intrigues me is – do the artist’s have a predilection to continue to nurture this pain, not let go of it, to seek out even more pain, in order to keep their creativity alive ? Do they consciously not want to heal their pain or attempt to alleviate it? Is pain their addiction, do they really enjoy pain, do they even crave it ?

Lately, I have been doing some self-evaluation and introspection, what I have noticed is that I have been the most lucid in my writing when I am in a place of emotional turmoil/pain. Once I am in this state, I see things more clearly, I feel energized to exercise my creative side while all other parts of my biology want to shut down – sleeplessness, restlessness, snappy behavior with close relations, and a general lack of focus at everyday tasks – such as my job, household chores, socializing, etc. During this period, I feel like two different people are inside of me – one, which feels like it’s drowning and sinking into an abyss and another – who is charged up to “create” something. It’s an extremely confusing and exhausting period, but what I am coming to understand is that maybe, just maybe, there is a chance I actually enjoy being in this state. If this is true, does it also mean that I have an affinity to pain? And does it make my actions that cause this pain, masochistic?

The Nostalgic 90s – Part 1

Public Service Announcement – These series of posts are strictly for those who lived and loved the 90s, more specifically for those who have a curious fondness for the Hindi movies and music of this decade. If a mere mention of Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, Jaan Tere Naam, Anari, Kishen Kanhaiyya, Sadak, Khiladi, Lekin, Coolie No. 1 – make you a bit warm and fuzzy, then this series is for you. Ok, that’s all.

When 1990 arrived, I was in my prime teens – which equates to a sense of “I am my own person and nobody can tell me what to wear, what to eat, what to watch, where to go” and a general distaste for anything that had to do with OLD and OLD people. Facial hair were making their presence felt, acne were erupting with surprising speed & numbers all over my face, other physiological changes were screwing up everything that was holy inside my body and head. We have already established my love for the movies in a number of previous posts, but up until the last year of the 80s, I was still watching or listening to what the elders were watching or listening to – none of it was out of my volition. The 90s were different, I was choosing to listen and watch what “I” wanted – and boy did I want to listen and watch everything. I consumed almost all of the music and the movies of this decade with a ferocious voracity – at least in the first half of the decade, this consumption got a bit selective in the later years of the decades.

A bit of a background on the mediums of this consumption: For music in the early years of the decade, it was mostly via Radio, especially a program called “Chitralok” which showcased songs of unreleased or newly released movies. We did not own so much as a cassette player then. After much deliberation with my dad, we bought a Phillips two-in-one (with nothing less than two detachable speakers) which led to a ravenous phase of purchasing many audio cassettes, including blank cassettes. On these blank cassettes, I would record songs played on the radio, with my two fingers on the Record button so as not to record the commercials or the commentary. I must say I honed this skill over time, but my early recordings had a song ending with an opening of “Washing Powder Nirma” or the ending of “Paragon chappal”. Another way to get my hands on the news about movies and their stars was “Mayapuri”, a cheesy Hindi film magazine that was found in the barbershops of Nagpur. I devoured them like a person who is on a hunger strike would after he/she breaks his/her fast. I would be quite disappointed when my turn for a haircut would come if I had not gone through all the magazines.

Now to the subject at hand, the movies and the music of the 90s. This series is not so much about the quality of the movies or the music, which we can unanimously agree that, it was largely abysmal. This series is about what was popular then and more specifically, the dormant memories that these songs evoke for me. I am sure for those of you who also savor the 90s, you have your memories associated with these songs. So please do share them in the comments section. I have tried to break this series down by year, but may change the pattern depending on how it evolves. I am also providing some additional non filmy tid-bits about what was happening in my life around that time and any big news from the affairs of the country or the world. I am hoping this helps in coloring that particular year in more than just a cinematic hue.

A disclaimer: This series is not a factually researched piece of work, so I may mix the year of a movie especially if they came out during the end or beginning of an year. I am using the interwebs to fact check, but as we know, even the interwebs can be wrong. So if you see such errors, please let me know and I will update the posts as much as possible.

OK, lets get going.


The non filmy stuff: I was in my tenth standard and as was the norm, all of my energies were supposed to be focused on acing the SSC test. My family had high hopes from me, and I could feel the pressure physically & emotionally. Nonetheless, I was not the kind who studied much, I always had a radio or a TV in front of me as I studied, a habit which continued until the end of my formal education. I would always need another distraction while I studied – this is probably the reason why I was always mediocre in my studies (see how cleverly I shift the blame from my average intellect to external factors). There just wasn’t enough in any of the academic subjects (save for Geography) that could keep me engaged for more than 15 minutes at a time – I guess only now do I realize that academia was utterly boring for me…I would much rather prefer to live in the dream world…aka the “Movies” or the real world aka the effortlessly educational “Outdoors”. This was also the year when India’s then Prime Minister, V.P. Singh, had implemented the Mandal Commission report which was causing quite a bit of ruckus in the nation – news of people setting themselves on fire was an everyday affair.

The stars of the year: Anil Kapoor, Sunny Deol & Jackie Shroff were the established male stars of the time while, Madhuri Dixit was giving Sridevi a tough competition for the top spot in the world of heroines. The stars of the 70s and 80s like Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna, Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra, Jeetendra, Rekha, Hema Malini, Dimple Kapadia (who was back from a hiatus) were also putting up a fight to rule the box office. The youngsters like Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Juhi Chawla, were trying to find their bearings. Among the ones who were playing second fiddle but had a sizeable following were – Govinda, Meenakshi Seshadri, Sanjay Dutt, Chunky Pandey, Jaya Prada (her rivalry with Sridevi from the late 80s, was long over and Sridevi had emerged a more sustainable presence at the Box office).

Slide1The movies of the year: I remember the following movies from that year, and have tried to pen down a line or two of what has stayed with me.

Aaj ka Arjun: The hugely popular song “Goree hai kalayeeyan” and the obnoxiuous “Chali aana tu paan ki dukaan pe”. No amount of make-up, costumes, lighting and camera angles could hide the fact that Amitabh was almost 50 years old and was seen harassing a much much younger Jaya Prada to cavort with him. Creepers!

Aandhiyan : The only reason is Mumtaz – her of the heaving bosom and impossibly tight sarees – who made a disastrous comeback.

Aashiqui: Mahesh Bhatt created history with Aashiqui, the publicity poster of a girl and a boy under a jacket remains one of the most iconic posters of Hindi cinema. Nadeem Shravan’s songs have stood the test of time (even though a number of them were straight lifts from Pakistani music). T-Series became a music label that changed the game of how mass produced music was generated. They made cassettes affordable to even the likes of me! Anuradha Paudwal and Kumar Sanu became household names while Rahul Roy and Anu Agarwal struggled to stay as household names!

Agneepath: Three words: Vijay Dinanath Chauhan! Amitabh aside, I was thrilled by the chawl scene – the one with copious amounts of water and mud and a massive crowd – Mukul Anand had at least one such crowd scene  in all his movies and he did shoot them with panache! I also remember Rohini Hattangadi mouthing “Apane haath dho le” and of course Neelam, I had a thing for her!

Agneekal: Abbas-Mastan who would make waves later on with Khiladi and Baazigar directed this forgettable film, the only reason I remember it is because of the song “Pankhida o Pankhida” that would play incessantly on the radio.

Appu Raja: I remember watching it in a theater called Regent which was entirely made of tin. It used to get as hot as a baking oven, but a dwarf Kamal Hassan was what made this movie a joyride.

Awwal Number: This is one of those movies – It’s so bad it’s good! Sunny Gavaskar made a cameo appearance in this ridiculous Dev Anand directorial mess which featured a newcomer called Ekta who was required to twirl a lot to showcase a collection of colorful underwears.

Baaghi: There was something refreshing about Anand Milind’s music and the song picturizations, I still love the way “Kaisa lagta hai” has been shot – it may be the image of Nagma dangling from a crane! I remember listening to these songs during the monsoon season, and even today every time I listen to them, they transport me to an overcast and wet Nagpur.

Dil: Honestly, I have not seen Dil, but the songs were everywhere….also a pimply Madhuri!

Ghayal: A true blue action flick which I absolutely LOVED. Sunny had arrived as a bonafide action star. Also, “Sochana kya jo bhi hoga” (another plagiarized tune by the Bappi!) was on my lips for a long time.

Jamai Raja: I have not seen this movie, but I would dig it’s songs..especially the cacophonous but well choreographed “tere pyar mein hum” which has been bizarrely shot on a set of a Western, and the sneezing effect in “Teri pyaari pyaari baatein much aaaaaachhhhiiiii lagati hai”!

Kishen Kanhaiya: The songs were a hoot, but what got people flocking to the cinemas was a bathing Shilpa Shirodkar! She is nowhere to be found now.

Lekin: Yes, the music (By Hridaynath) , the poetry (by Gulzar), and Lata’s home production! But what I remember is that my dad used to work in Bhandara then, and he told me, that his room-mate and him went to watch this movie one fine evening at a theater in Bhandara. While it’s surprising that this movie should play in Bhandara it is even more outlandish that my dad and his colleague/room-mate would go watch it – because, if you knew my dad, he doesn’t voluntarily go to the cinemas, and if you knew his room-mate, he didn’t know what “cinema” was! This event of them watching Lekin together baffles me even today.

Naaka Bandi: Absolute trash of a movie, redeemed by the bright lightbulb called Sridevi. This is one reason I like performers like her, they give a 100% no matter how ridiculous and outlandish the overall product is. They are fully engaged and honest in their work. Shahid Kapoor from today’s generation is like that! The self-referential song in the movie ” Main lagati hoon Sridevi lagati hoon” is a piece of awesome mimicry.

Sailaab: “Humko aajkal hai intezaar”….enough said! Did anyone honestly see this movie for anything else? If Youtube existed then, I bet it would’t sell half the tickets it sold.

Shiva: Ram Gopal Verma arrived with this….he brought back realism to mainstream movies,  making him a director to look forward to. Also, Amala – God I loved her! The minimalist all black poster of just a fist holding a bicycle chain with the words “Shiva” popping in bold red letters is also something that left an impression on me.

Thanedaar: The Tamma Tamma Loge controversy, but I also remember it because I liked two other songs from this movie: the hilarious Jabse Huye hai Shaadi by Amit Kumar) and the horrendous Aur bhala kya maangoo main rabse by Lata and……….Pankaj Udhaas!!!

Here’s a playlist of some of the popular songs from this year! Thanks to AB for the contribution to the playlist.

Today and the rest of “todays”

Been 14,600 days, today. Can’t say how many more! Important thing is to make the most of the remaining todays, looking forward to make them somewhat relevant before there is no more “today”. Until then, want to keep this hopeless optimist heart, loving and living, more importantly – Loving and Living with no receipts!

Predictably, borrowing Gulzar’s words to express my constitution today!

अभी न पर्दा न गिराओ ठहरो

के दास्ताँ आगे और भी है
ये इश्क़ गुज़रा है इक जहाँ से, इक जहाँ आगे और भी है
अभी न पर्दा न गिराओ ठहरो
अभी तो टूटी है कच्ची मिटटी
अभी तो बस जिस्म ही गिरे है
अभी कई बार मरना होगा अभी तो एहसास जी रहे है
अभी न पर्दा न गिराओ ठहरो
दिलों के भटके हुए मुसाफिर
अभी बहोत दूर तक चलेंगे
कहीं तो अंजाम के सिरों से
ये जुस्तजू के सिरे मिलेंगे
अभी न पर्दा न गिराओ ठहरो
के दास्ताँ आगे और भी है.…

Cafe Samovar

The year was 1985, a time when one of the most exciting things about the week was the screening of a Hindi movie on Sunday evenings on the state owned (and the only) television channel Doordarshan (DD). Everyone in my household would finish their chores and be ready for the 6 PM start of whatever movie was chosen by the overlords at DD. One such Sunday evening, our Black & White Dyanora television showed us a movie called Choti si baat. Of course, these were the days of no internet, and hence no ready access to Chhoti_Si_Baatinformation on the movie one was about to watch – unlike current times when you get to tune yourself before watching any movie – you know the cast, you know the genre, you know the reviews, the IMDB/tomatometer ratings, etc. As a 10 year old in 1985, I had no such baggage. The only thing I would be interested in a movie was what we kids called “dhishoom-dhishoom” – aka action scenes – stunts, car chases, gun fights, sword fights, galloping horses, sword fights or gun fights on galloping horses – you get the idea. Due to the previously mentioned lack of the internet, there was no way of knowing whether the movie I was about to watch fed to this violent appetite of mine. However, I had figured out a way of finding out whether the said movie may have any of the dhishoom-dhishoom, I so eagerly wanted to see – I had figured out that if the opening credits showed “Action” or “Stunt coordinator”, there was a good chance that I will be a happy camper by the end of the movie. And if the credits did not mention these, well, it was time to find something else to do. After watching the credits of Choti si baat, it was quite clear that there won’t be any action – moreover one look at this Amol Palekar chap (the “hero” of the movie) and I knew it was a hopeless pursuit.

As a result, I ended up watching bits and pieces of the movie. Two things I remember from this first watching of the movie  – 1) the heroine of the movie (Vidya Sinha) did a lot of standing around at a bus stop followed by walking around on the streets of Bombay while being followed by the lame Amol Palekar & 2) the heroine and another character played by Asrani  along with Amol Palekar eating what looked like some delicious food at a cozy & comfortable looking restaurant. The restaurant/cafe is what left a mark on me : I distinctly remember thinking that this is unlike any restaurant I have seen in the movies – to remind you this was the 1980s, restaurants in Hindi movies were large, mostly windowless rooms with chandeliers and plaster of paris statues of half-naked women! These rooms would be filled with men in ill-fitting suits sitting around round tables while a svelte woman pranced seductively around them. These mustachioed men would cast occasional lascivious looks at the camera while sipping their beverages and puffing their cigars. The restaurant in Choti si baat, was nothing like these unattainable places, it seemed like a “real” place, a place where “real” people go – the decor had simple paintings, bamboo curtains, there was a hubbub that had a genuine restaurant-ish vibe about it and no svelte woman was gyrating about since this darn place seemed quite cramped – almost like a narrow hallway. There were no chandeliers for lighting, natural light was flowing in, you could

see the greenery outside, table fans were hung from the walls, a clumsy looking menu board could be seen in the background, the tables were too close to each other – overall, it was all very “non-filmy”. I distinctly remember, the 10 year old me wanting to go there and eat whatever the characters in the movie were eating.

Years went by, and as I started to get interested in music and movies, I happened to stumble upon Choti si baat once again in my college years. I must say this might be the first movie of the romantic-comedy genre that I enjoyed entirely – for its grounded characters, for its easy humor, for the wonderful lightweight performances by Amol Palekar, Asrani & Ashok Kumar, for its wonderful music (especially – Lata’s soulful Na jaane kyon and Yesudas and Asha’s lovely duet Jaaneman Jaaneman) and most importantly for its nonchalant depiction of realism by it’s director – Basu Chatterjee. The realism of his rom-com movies is unlike the ones from the rom-com movies of this decade, where the realism seems to be deliberate and created out of meticulous production design. Examples: Wake Up Sid, Life in a Metro, Band Baaja Baraat, etc. Seeing the restaurant scenes again, brought back memories of 1985, brought back that longing of going to that restaurant. This time around, I paid attention and the Asrani character says the name of the restaurant “Cafe Samovar”. I had no idea what Samovar meant, but the name somehow just sounded so perfect for that place.

Years passed, and every once in a while whenever a Choti si baat song would hit my ear drums, I would think of Cafe Samovar and the desire to go there would be awakened. I lie not when I say, I could literally picture myself in that place. I googled the place and found out that it’s in the Kala Ghoda neighborhood of Bombay inside the same building as the Jehangir Art Gallery. Knowing where it was, made my desire of visiting Samovar even more stronger. It was just a happy coincidence when I found out that loves Choti si baat too and would also love to go to Cafe Samovar someday.

I have visited Bombay numerous times over the past 20 years, sometimes staying there for weeks, but never acted upon the desire to visit Cafe Samovar. Until one sweltering muggy day in June of 2014 when me along with A, my brother, his wife, and his son found ourselves in Bombay. Come hell or high water, I had set my heart upon having lunch at Cafe Samovar that day.  After a bit of wandering around looking for the gallery and getting drenched with copious amounts of sweat in the process, we found it and made our way to the cafe which is tucked away in the right corner of the lobby of the building. We saw the sign of the cafe on its narrow doorway and as soon as we entered the IMG_4764restaurant I had a sense of being transported back almost 29 years after I had first laid my eyes on this place on the black & white screen of our telly. When one anticipates and desires something for a long time, the actual event, or the place, or the thing that one was looking forward to does not usually live up to ones expectations, leading to heartbreak and disappointment. This, however was not the case with Cafe Samovar, the moment I entered the narrow hallways, it was exactly how I had imagined it in my head for all these years. Sunlight was streaming in through bamboo curtains, tables were arranged too close to each other, there was non-pretentious art work hanging on its walls, there was a comforting hubbub of people, servers, conversations, whirring of the fans from the walls, clinking of silverware on ceramic plates, fragrance from parathas/chole/kheema wafting in the humid air – it was all too blissfully perfect.

We settled into a table and ordered a plethora of things – I ordered what Nagesh ordered in Choti si baat  – kheema paratha! We also had chole, dahi wada, neembu paani, lassi, egg curry, aloo paratha, etc. As the food arrived, we IMG_4766gobbled it up with much love and fervor. It was delicious, satisfying, and what can I say, but you had to be me to really feel how I was feeling! I was sitting there in Cafe Samovar lapping up every moment and I hear my name being called out from a table two rows from where we were sitting. Needless to say I was quite surprised and saw in the general direction of the sound to find an old friend from college beaming at me. PB and I had not seen each other in over a decade, and it was quite pleasant to meet him. He was on a day trip to Bombay with his wife and they had decided to come to Samovar for lunch. Serendipity or Choti si baat, whatever it was, this added to the whole experience of Samovar. IMG_4768After catching up with PB, exchanging our phone numbers, and paying the bill, we left the cafe and browsed a bit in the art gallery.

A few weeks back, I got a text on my phone from PB that Samovar has closed. There was a small cloud of sadness that followed me for some time, but it cleared off pretty soon, and was replaced by a feeling of contentment of having been there, and having experienced its “being”. I am not going to get in the matter of why it closed etc. Simply because, I do not want to know and will leave it to the fact that, it’s the way of the world and life – Old has to go to make way for new.

We all keep the memories of places and people we love and are no longer around, inside of us. It’s a natural human condition. Although even before Samovar closed, I had brought one little relic of Samovar into Washington DC. I put Kheema Paratha on the menu of a cafe (Pansaari) run by a friend. A and I can frequently be found making and serving food at this cafe. Everytime I explain the food to the customers at Pansaari, I upsell the Kheema Paratha – and when they order it, I get a warm feeling. This is how I have managed to keep my Samovar alive.

P.S: Writing this post has been a good reminder that what and who I love today, may not be around tomorrow. Loving them fully and unconditionally is the only way to keep them alive for as long as I am alive.

ना जाने क्यों होता है यह ज़िन्दगी के साथ, अचानक ये मन किसी के जाने के बाद, करे फिर उसकी याद

छोटी छोटी सी बात….

Learnings from 2014

  • We are all racists, I am and you are, you may deny you are not, but I assure you, you are
  • It will never be out of fashion to drop everything you are doing for a friend in need
  • A song to be good must have good words, composition isn’t enough
  • Kids can be evil and babies can be ugly
  • Religion/s should perish
  • Border/s should vanish
  • Foxcatcher is a steaming pile of poo
  • The guiltless have a gala time
  • Angry activism is counter-productive and alienating
  • Indians have a low tolerance to humor aimed at India/ns
  • If you stand against or for something, don’t just fucking stand…DO something (just tweeting & “liking” shit on Facebook isn’t DOing)
  • Americans scare easy
  • Everyone lies and judges, often at the same time
  • Real and honest food has no short-cuts
  • Science and mothers can be wrong
  • Acting ones age maybe the norm, but the opposite is not ‘exceptionally’ wrong
  • Being guarded and in control is dull, not to mention, exhausting
  • True Detective is worth all the hype and then some
  • Conservation for the sake of it is a convenient cop-out
  • Normal is relative, Normal normal is a fucking bore
  • Atheists need to relax (see angry activism above)
  • Kangana Ranaut can act
  • Must teach kids to question the uniform more than to respect the uniform
  • Louis CK is extremely funny and extremely sad
  • Giving & letting in will always make me happy
  • I hurt those I love

With that, I resume another Gregorian year!

Best of 2014 – Movies and TV

A list of movies and a tv show that reached out to me in 2014 (not in any order of liking):

2014 movies

Boyhood: I had liked the first two “Before” movies of Linklater, but by the third installment I got weary of the pseudo-existential-crisis of two self-absorbed individuals. So when Boyhood arrived in the cinemas with its back-story of having been shot over 12 years with the same actors aging in real time as the fictional characters they play, I approached it with excitement tempered with a bit of skepticism about the “12 years in the making” being merely a gimmick. All skepticism disappeared in the darkness of the cinema once the movie started, it touched me and talked to me. It was life unfolding on the screen – no big melodrama, no cinematic-ally styled conflicts and resolutions, just daily life in all its beauty and pain. Sounds dull? But so is everyday life if you had to watch it on the screen.

Ankhon Dekhi: The only movie where I got misty eyed this year. Babuji is tired of the lying world after being party to an incident which he regrets when he finds out how wrong his actions were, actions which stemmed from hearsay and not his first hand experience. There on he decides to believe only in those things that he has seen and experienced with his own eyes. What follows is a delightful take on life, love, family, relationships, everyday life, and subsequently death.  The house that Babuji and his family inhabits is captured so beautifully on camera that I have not felt so “lived in” in a house since Satyajit Ray’s depiction of the house inhabited by Arati and Subrata  in Mahanagar.

Snowpiercer: An experiment to thwart global warming fails and the world freezes. All of humanity has perished except for a few hundred who are on a train called the Snowpiercer that’s circumnavigating the planet. The train houses a microcosm of the global society – class, income inequality, power struggles, all of it! A visually arresting piece of film-making that shows a mirror to the existing state of the world and delves into evolution and creationism at the same time.

Queen: A film about self-discovery of a diffident girl-next-door. The film is a triumph in the genre of character driven cinema. Have written at length about this one here. Kangana is my pick of actor of the year (male or female).

A Most Wanted Man: Phillip Seymour Hoffman‘s last lead role and as expected he owns the part of a disillusioned CIA operator who is struggling to find the validity of his work and his life in the murky world of espionage and the war against “terror” waged by the super-powers against an enemy which they try to manifest to maintain themselves as a relevant force for global peace.

Highway: Another movie about self-discovery with a mix of the Stockholm syndrome plus parts of Dil-se plus an oedipal complex plus a road movie! Imtiaz Ali’s most honest movie in my opinion (save for the last 15 minutes – which I am willing to let go of) with a heartbreaking performance by Randeep Hooda (who is right there with Kangana as far as performances of the year go). The Indian highways and the scenery that forms around it is a thing of un-capturable beauty but Anil Mehta’s cinematography presents it with its natural raw quality without overtly romanticizing it.

True Detective: The police procedural aspect is a mere excuse for this gripping human drama. Matthew McConaughey’s Rustin “Rust” Cohle must go down as one of the greatest on-screen fictional characters of all times. Rarely does one see a character with such integrity and genuine-ness in fictional contemporary art. The ugliness and the beauty of humanity was never laid out so starkly. Rust mouths some of the most memorable dialogs about human nature and human evolution like the one below which is my favorite quote from this year :

I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, this accretion of sensory experience and feelings, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody’s nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is to deny our programming. Stop reproducing. Walk hand in hand into extinction. One last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”



P.S: I read the list above and I realized that all of my picks of the year are on the themes of self-purpose, self-worth, and the quest of why-we-exist. It cannot be merely a coincidence, it cannot be!

Best Hindi Songs of 2014


2014 was an average year, musically speaking (of course in my non-academic-no-formal-knowledge-of-music opinion). There wasn’t a whole lot of experimentation or “newness” in the compositions or arrangements. Almost all the usual names played it safe and stuck to their respective strengths (does not automatically indicate that their music wasn’t good). If I had to choose one soundtrack that stood out in experimentation and mixing different genres to a mild success was Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s Kill/Dil (punjabi rock, spaghetti western sounds, Haryanwi folk).

Here are some of my picks of the year.

Legend: Song/Movie/Composer(s)/Singer(s)/Lyricist


Zehnaseeb/Hasee toh Phasee/Vishal-Shekhar/Chinmayee, Shekhar Ravijani/Amitabh Bhattacharya

A dulcet tune sung with an equal dose of sweet-ness by both Shekhar and Chinmayee. Vishal-Shekhar leave the instrumentation to a minimum (compared to their other compositions) and Amitabh’s lyrics convey direct emotions, which is unusual for a mushy romantic song such as this. His use of “ameer/garib” reminded me of one of Gulzar’s forgotten compositions from Khatta-Meetha: “tumse mila tha pyar kuch acche naseeb the, hum un dino ameer the jab tum kareeb the“.

Patakha Guddi/Highway/A R Rahman/Jyoti & Sultana Nooran/Irshad Kamil

Earthy singing, earthier poetry, and a soaring tune – this song is a thing of timeless beauty. After a few meddling soundtracks (Lekar Hum Deewana Dil), Rahman struck back with a soundtrack which grows with repeat listening (just like the movie, which remains one of my favorite movies of the year). Irshad Kamil’s words are lit with a sense of wild abandon – his metaphor for a firefly as “patakha guddi” (firecracker doll – damn it the translation shits on the essence once again) is brilliant. I love the song in its entirety but the lines that have me in a tizzy are:

Rasta naap rahi marjaani,
Patthi baarish da hai paani,
Jab nazdeek jahaan de aani,
Jugni maili si ho jaani..

(this damn girl wanders a lot,
this naughty one is like rain water,
as soon as she gets near the world 
this firefly of a girl will be dirtied..)

Now, if you haven’t seen the movie, these lines are the definition of the Alia Bhatt character – Heera.

Heera/Highway/A R Rahman/Shweta Pandit/Sant Kabir

Santoor, flute and Oboe and Sant Kabir’s beautiful words. Listen to this with your headphones on, it sends me in a trance everytime. Who knew we would listen to Kabir in a hindi movie in 2014?

London Thumakda/Queen/Amit Trivedi/Labh Janjua, Sonu Kakkad, Neha Kakkad/Anvita Dutt

The entire soundtrack of Queen is exquisite, regardless of the fact that some songs remind you of Amit’s previous work (such as Kinaare = Naav from Udaan). While his music stands on its own merit, I am surprised how he teams with film directors who weave his music seamlessly in their films, and Queen is no exception. Every song flows with the narrative and establishes a mood for the characters and the situation they are in. This boisterous song right in the beginning of the movie creates a personality of Rani which no amount of dialog and scenes would have : she is giddy about her upcoming wedding, she is shy but open to a bit of mischief, she adores her family (watch out for the glances she throws at her parents). Anvita Dutt’s lyrics are fun and inventive where she blends London landmarks (Big Ben, Trafalgar, Southhall) with earthy Punjabiyat, effortlessly. I swear, if this one doesn’t get you shaking your hips, well then I must say, you are not invited to my party.

Raanjha/Queen/Rupesh Kumar Ram/Rupesh Kumar Ram/Raghu Nath

A minimalist song, about heartbreak and that crushing pathetic feeling of having been chewed and spit out by the one you loved the most! The lyrics, the singing pack a massive emotional wallop on their own but are also mighty effective on the screen as well when Rani is dumped by her fiancé and her whole world has been turned inside out. I do not know who this Rupesh Ram is, but I hope we get to hear more of him. On an aside note, watch Kangana go through the stages of an emotional breakdown in this song from a state of shock to utter despair – she has her lips slightly open and a blank stare at the beginning of the song – she is still digesting the shock of being dumped – and then gradually her eyes well up and her grief comes out in uncontrollable spurts in the rickshaw, but she holds it in since she is not the kind to have a breakdown in a public space, then she arrives at her home where the wedding decorations are now almost mocking her and seeing her family she is at once engulfed in self-pity, shame, embarrassment (for them and then for herself), and not to mention a bleeding heart which is about to explode any second. This song to me is the “hook” scene of Queen, this is where we as the audience undergo the pain that Rani is going through and want her to come out of this, the rest of the movie is all about us rooting for her. A false note in this scene would dampen the impact of her tragedy, and Kangana hits all the right notes. After this scene, we are on Rani’s team all through the end – cheering her through her adventures.

Aaj laagi laagi nai dhoop/Ankhon Dekhi/Sagar Desai/Kailash Kher/Varun Grover

A small song from a small film that went unnoticed. If I had to choose my favorite film of 2014 – it is this. This song is a perfect summary of the journey of the central character of the film – Babuji. Babuji decides that in this duplicitous world, he is only going to believe things that he sees with his own eyes – literally. Everything else he considers as fictional. In such a state, all attached and perceived meanings from all objects are erased and what remains is matter in the purest form. The song is an allegory for Babuji’s transformation in “seeing” the world with a renewed sense of truth.

ke deekhe dhuli saaf man ki chadariya,

bina daag sari dagariya,

duson disha aaj sawariya liye naya roop,

aaj laagi laagi nayee dhoop..

Bismil/Haider/Vishal Bharadwaj/Sukhwinder Singh/Gulzar

At the outset, let me say, this is my favorite soundtrack of the year. The Gulzar-Vishal team delivered after the not-so-great-but-still-decent soundtracks of Ek thi daayan, Matru ki bijalee ka mandola, and Dedh Ishqiya. Haider is based on Hamlet and this song is a play within the play where Hamlet(Haider) enacts the murder of his father to an audience of his Uncle Claudius (Khurram) and mother Gertrude(Ghazala). It cannot get any more meta than this! Gulzar’s lyrics narrate the story with all the violence and melodrama but with a Kashmiri core, since Vishal’s adaptation is set in war-torn Kashmir (yes, I choose to say “war” and not “terrorism” – why? that’s for another time). Vishal’s composition is also laden with Kashmiri sounds and instruments and Sukhwinder sings with the required gusto, angst, and pathos. On a completely aside note, if I had to ever choose a top 10 list of best choreographed and directed song sequences of Hindi cinema, this one will certainly be on the list.

Khul Kabhi/Haider/Vishal Bharadwaj/Arijeet Singh/Gulzar

Arijeet Singh is going from strength to strength. In another year, Vishal would lend his own voice to this trademark slow burning jazz song, but I am glad he let Arijeet sing this one, and boy does he deliver. The melody and his voice are like soft snow-flakes falling lazily without so much as a whisper.

Gulon mein rang bhare/Haider/Vishal Bharadwaj/Arijeet Singh/Faiz Ahmed Faiz

This old classic ghazal penned by Faiz and sung in the past by such stalwarts such as Ghulam Ali and Mehendi Hassan is reimagined by Vishal in his own style and sung once again by Arijeet Singh without feeling burdened by the history of this ghazal.

Aao Na/Haider/Vishal Bharadwaj/Vishal Dadlani/Gulzar

A grunge rock song in the same soundtrack that delivered Bismil, Khul Kabhi, and Gulon mein rang! Vishal Bharadwaj – you can write, you can sing, you can work the camera, you can compose in almost every genre – what the fuck man? Is there anything you can’t do? Oh yes, you can’t sing rock – that’s when you get Vishal Dadlani to fill that handicap. And sure this other Vishal can open up his throat for this kind of a sound without breaking a sweat.

Kill Dil/Kill/Dil/Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy/Shankar Mahadevan, Sonu Nigam/Gulzar

S-E-L, Shaad Ali, and Gulzar team up once again quite successfully with their third outing after Bunty aur Babli & Jhoom baraabar Jhoom. Just like the previous soundtracks, here too they manage to create an environment and imagery with their sounds and words. I have not seen the movie, so can’t comment on how the songs flow with the narrative. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t say that this is a stellar soundtrack, but it is interesting and daring enough to make me revisit some songs. The title song is definitely one of the tracks I play often – Shankar and Sonu Nigam seem to be having a lot of fun with this one.

Sajde/Kill/Dil/Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy/Arijeet Singh, Nihira Joshi-Deshpande/Gulzar

Arijeet had hit it big with Ashiqui 2, but honestly I thought those songs were inundated with sounds and words to force feed an emotion – a very 1990’s approach to film music. With 2014, he got to sing with long established composers like Vishal and S-E-L. Two very different camps of composing and he excelled in all the songs that were dished to him. While he sang Vishal’s slow songs with aplomb, he hits the high & low notes in this excellent composition by S-E-L. He is ably supported by Nihira Joshi – the last I heard her was in Salaam-e-ishq where she sang the remixed version of Babuji Dheere Chalna. BTW, that sound of hitting a tennis ball in this composition is a quite innovative, no?


Before I wrap this post up, let me talk about Gulzar. This year he wrote songs for three movies  – Dedh Ishqiya, Haider and Kill/Dil – movies that could not be any farther apart from each other and, in all of them his poetry adapts to the starkly different worlds of these movies. This man has been writing for Hindi cinema since 1956, that’s just 3 years short of 50 years . Think about that for a minute. This consistency and commitment to ones art at the ripe age of 80 is remarkable – that he manages to convey the emotions of the characters (less than half his age most of the times) is miraculous. Gulzar-saab, I am lucky to have lived in the times when you have been around. Your words bookmark events of my adult life. Wrapping up 2014 with these lines from one of your creations :

kuch bhi nazar na aawe

ankhiyon mein jaala lage re

dil waali naukari ne maara….

zindagi uljhaa hua sauda hai, 

umrein leta hai ek pal dekar,

main baawra…baawra…baawra!

I can’t see anything (without you),

my eyes are covered with cobwebs,

this job that my heart does (of loving) has ruined me..

life’s such a tangled transaction,

it takes away a lifetime from you by giving a single moment….

i have gone insane..insane..completely insane!

The Border-less

5052744574_cc6c7338be_oHas this ever happened to you? You are traveling on a long distance international flight and are staring outside the aircraft window, planet Earth is slowly trundling under you and you see a stunning vista of a vast desert or snow-capped mountains or a little town in a verdant valley. You think to yourself – what place/what country is that? Then, you turn to the little screen in front of your seat and switch on the “flight info” channel to look at the location of your aircraft on the world map. You see that its Algeria or Kazakhstan or Austria because the screen shows the digital aircraft flying over a conveniently penciled-in world map with borders and names of the countries. You are pleased with the recently acquired knowledge and you shift your gaze back to the scenery outside the window.

The point I am making (if it isn’t obvious), is that boundaries and nations are artificial and aren’t apparent when you look at the Earth from up above. Elementary, you think, and elementary it is. What I really want to say is that the creation of these artificial boundaries has led to the phenomenon of a) being attached to, b) identifying oneself, and c) subsequently taking pride in ones “nation”. This is commonly referred to as “nationalism”. It has been around as long as we have been marking the planet with “this nation” or “that kingdom”.  I strongly believe that “nationalism” is an orthodox, divisive, and a regressive concept, an unnecessary by-product of the our race’s act of creating nations. You can very clearly draw parallels of nations and nationalistic beliefs to the creation of religions and religious beliefs. Both are equally divisive, equally unnecessary, and highly volatile when people from antagonistic beliefs (nationalistic or religious) get together.

From early childhood, we are told, nay – we are indoctrinated to be “of a nation” and to be “proud” of being from our nation. While this may seem innocuous, it actually instills a false sense of pride that somehow my nation is better than any other. Those of us who grew up in India would remember the countless recitations of “saare jahaan se accha hindustan humara” and “hum sab bharatiya ek hai“.  I find it quite ironical that we are taught a lesson of unity on the foundation of divisiveness – as in “we are united as Indians”- subtext being – we are not united with the rest of the human beings who belong to other nations . In my opinion, such nationalistic indoctrination is no different from religious indoctrination of children. Don’t get me wrong, teaching children their heritage, their culture, their arts, is one thing, but teaching them that theirs is the “best” or “better” than anyone else’s in the world, is what I take objection with. This may sound like a “mountain out of a mole hill” issue, but it won’t take you long to go through any history book of the world to understand how nationalism has been used (along with religion) to wage many wars.

Of course, the extent to which one adheres to this nationalistic pride varies from person to person (just like how people vary on the scale of their religious beliefs/fanaticism). Regardless, of what the degree of ones nationalistic leaning is, it clouds the way we look at the world. Objectivity gets lost when pride takes over. I have seen seemingly open-minded, well-read, well-travelled people get agitated when they hear criticisms about their nation, regardless of how reasoned that criticism is. The roots of this irrational reaction can very well be traced to the early indoctrination of nationalism. Take this to an extreme and you can very well see how some individuals took (and continue to) full advantage of a mass hysteria of nationalism in their populations for their own egoistic conquests. Fanning nationalistic emotions are as easy as fueling religious sentiments and are time and again used by the ones in power for exercising control, wielding power, and vanquishing reasoned voices. I see it happening in my nation of birth (India) and my adopted nation (United States).

One may say that this world without boundaries is an idealistic, impractical, and a naive idea – and that’s a fair statement. But, for any naive and impractical idea to take root and thrive, all it takes is enough of us to believe in it. In my travels, I have come across people who share my view of the world, who are absolutely border-less and do not care what nationality I, or anyone else wears. So I believe, I am not alone in this romantic border-less view of the world. I am not very optimistic that we will realize this vision of the world, but for now I find solace in actively trying to propagate this idea (this blog post is one such active step). Trying to stay away from conversations which have nationalistic leanings and not associating myself with groups that are purely based on the basis of national origin or language is a passive way of dealing with this. What gives me most joy however is when interacting with the little ones – when I try to bring up the idea of belonging to the world and not to a certain nation – this notion summed up so beautifully in the Sanskrit shloka:

”अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसाम् | उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् || ”.

Loosely translated as : This one is a relative, the other one is a stranger, these are traits of a narrow mind; for those with an open mind, nothing less than the entire earth makes up their family.

I can only hope that this border-less idea of the world reaches critical mass in my lifetime and eventually all political and physical maps are rendered irrelevant. All we would be left is the natural and truthful beauty of a topographical map of the planet!

(Photo from NASA’s flickr feed)

For Kaka Puri

शेरों में जिनके जयपुर के रंग है और

गीतों में पंजाब की बदमाशियाँ,

बातों में जिनकी मशोबरें की वादियों की गूँज और

आँखों में स्यालकोट की यादें ।

चार दिनों के लिए ही सही,

पर काका पूरी, आपके आने से पंसारी में जैसे राजस्थान, पंजाब और हिमाचल आ बसा ।

अगली बार तक हम इन तीनों के सहारें शामें काट लेंगे।