How many times has it happened with you that you get to what seems to be a ‘vacant’ seat, only to sight a handkerchief, or an old newspaper, or a book or some object of similar value there. Standing in for the ‘owner’ !

In some time the ‘owner’ shows up, indicating that he had ‘reserved’ the seat. And lays claim to the seat with such ferocity that would put the Chinese’s claim of Arunachal, to pathetic shame !

I guess this is a uniquely Indian moment. I guess. I am not sure. Please correct me if i am wrong here. My guess is given shape by the fact that we have a chronicled mythological precedent. Of Lord Ram’s footwear standing in for the gent when he went into the jungle! So.

So, in a busy movie hall (or wherever else, esp if there are no allotted seat numbers) you can stroll around, ogle about, wander with a pop corn or a cone of ice cream. All this while the old dirty handkerchief stands in for you !!

In smaller cities and towns, this scene is so often repeated in inter city buses. Where the clamour to get a seat is only matched by the ability to reach a handkerchief, newspaper, belt, tiffin box to ‘reserve’ a seat !

If a ‘representative object’ (dirty handkerchief, shredded newspaper or whatever) of the dude in yellow trousers got to the seat before you, well, the seat belonged to the dude in yellow trousers ! So we have seen. And heard.

It was ‘refreshingly different’ to see this gent, and his mode of reservation. Aboard the river cruise on Goa’s Mandovi river.

He clearly had outgrown the handkerchief and belongings of low value. For friends of his, for whom he ‘reserved’ seats, he gave it his one whole leg and one whole hand !

And warded off every body else who came close to the seat with a dismissive disdain that perhaps would befit a Taliban war lord looking at his goats, whom he was going to have for dinner !

This is a new standard that must quickly be made known to the rest of the country. We need more people like this gent.

Wont you be happy with friends like these ? Especially considering that they would give an arm and a leg. Just to get you seated.

Residual Embers

Published in NYT here
This to me, is a defining photograph.

Of children.
Of technology.
Of adoption.
And of course, of death and sorrow.

What i would rather see as an an empty ad for a children’s drink with vague pictures on film heroes in the background, entertaining children, is not to be.

Yes, these indeed are heroes. Policemen : who lost their lives to terrorist bullet.

And ah, those kids. The taller kid is clicking a snap of the lifeless image of the shorter kid’s deceased father. Shot by a terrorist earlier. Now shot on camera, as he stares from a still wall. On a mobile phone. Perhaps to make that image as a permanent wall paper on the phone.

At that age, neither did i get to use a phone, nor did i get anywhere close to wielding a camera. But, my father sowed in me a overarching vision and a intimate voice. I wonder how the future will pan out for these savvy children with a voice stored in memory, photo stored on the phone and love stored in a vacuum.


We must move on. Each passing day strengthens that resolve. Images like these give a strange new purpose. That a worthwhile living, is one that is lived with a purpose. One that leaves behind a difference.

Today, a group of friends have had our first round of conversations on what perhaps can be done. Interesting ideas have emerged. Will keep sharing as we go on.

My regular posts will resume shortly. The mind and the mood bend the thought and the spirit. And i am staying there for a short while. With the bent thought and the strained spirit.

Its time.

I am publishing some incoherent thoughts here. Just vague brush strokes on a dark canvas. I stood back and saw possibilities of a wonderful picture emerge. But given the mood that i am in, neither completion nor perfection seems important here ! We need to run our relay race. My part is here. And i haven’t started yet.

Today, the first morning, where i didn’t have to go to the TV set to check if those blokes who came by sea were still firing away to glory. I stare into the Mumbai sky and realise that it still is the same. Its just that my stare has changed. Forever changed.

The resolve to do something is all pervasive.

If a 20 odd year old chap has the resolve to come by sea & hold a nation at ransom, well, each one of us can build the resolve fight those blokes. Let me speak for myself, i need to build the resolve to fight on. I cant tell the difference between a shotgun and a pistol. And the magazines that my hands turn are more for the eye and not for anothers life.

But its time now to stand up. I am sick and tired of waiting for change that the ‘next government’ would usher in. If bunch of college kids derived the strength to blow us up, i am motivated to protect what we won in 1947 from Ak-47 ! And i sure can promise the collective motivation of a billion people and the support of all the world, will blow to smithereens, resolve founded on a destructive ideology.

So what can we do. My mind races in multiple directions.

As Sreeram Chaulia suggests, how about a community led role ? We have got to get there. Lets not stay with fiddling with the TV remote and passing acerbic judgements about the incompetent, insensitive politician or that inept bureaucrat.

Many nations have conscription! Now that could sound as a preposterous suggestion. But isn’t the situation that we are in preposterous. OK, lets stop half way down that road. How about basic, practical education on survival in tough circumstances for everybody. Everybody. From schools, colleges, offices. Where we learn to protect ourselves. We have to do our bit.

All of that is for facing any eventuality.

And then of course, its time to sow reason. Pragmatism. Saying ‘no’ to and shunning jingoism and spreading the debate. We need to educate. We need to reach out. We need to share our shoulders and our arms. We need to be together.

We need to campaign. For responsible politics. For better arms for our troops. For responsibility and accountability in journalism. For peace. To be tolerant of opinions but to be intolerant of divisiveness.

‘We’ ! Yes. Its you. Yes. You as you are reading. And me. And the people that we know, between us.

So, when last did you unpack a ‘Do-It-Yourself’ kit….

Its time.

My day today. When Mumbai was beseiged.

Late last night, oblivious to all that was happening in the same city that is home, under the same sky, i blogged, read, chatted and went to bed. Only to be woken up very shortly later, by a call from my boss. At midnight you don’t expect your boss to call. ‘All well ?’, he asked, and proceeded to check if i knew of people in our organisation who were traveling to Mumbai.

My sleep drenched hand searched for the TV remote. As i absorbed the images. numbed for sometime,i took in heavy heaps of air, as much as my lungs could fill. I distinctly recall the slight quiver in his voice. And the tremble in my heart.

‘Is there anything that i can do ?’ I asked. He replied in the negative and hung up. It was an uncomfortable call.

‘Is there anything that i can do?’ is the question that stayed with me through the night as i shifted and turned uncomfortably.

After a stern night, i wake up early, switch on the TV, only to realise that night might have been over. But ‘stern’ was far from. I decide to step outside home to gather some fresh air. Not great dare devilry but just a walk within the precincts of the apartment complex.

At the entrance, is the security guard. Actually, an ordinary middle aged man, wearing an uniform. Nothing more. A gent who chats up rarely, but watches carefully. I doubt if he is trained on combat or whatever. But he still is there.

On other days, i greet him. Today, i walk past. My mind absorbed with the images on TV. I stand there and look into the sky, to ask ‘why’.

Today, he tells me as i step out : ‘Take care. But do go out. I am here to protect. Nothing will happen.”

I look at him for a stupefied second. I think : Forget RDX. This gent wont last a ricocheted bullet from a pistol. But that didn’t stop him from saying what he did. And doing so, held my attention. It seems that i don’t have to look any further for answers to the question that kept me up for most parts of the night.

My eyes moisten, and i tell him, ‘You take care too’. He nods his head.

We stare at each other. We are just two plain men. With a shared skyline, a wounded psyche and a determined spirit. The silence lingers for a while. His presence comforts me. In the ordinariness of his form and but the power of those simple words that touch me. Just letting me know that grief was not mine alone. He was with me. And so were many others.

Many hours later, i am at home. Wielding the remote. Jumping from channel to channel. Rejoicing in small mercies and wallowing in a strange syncretic grief. Offices have been declared closed today.

My hair is disheveled with hands running through them as i answer calls and watch TV. My heart is at multiple places. South Mumbai. In the shoes of all those held hostage. In the pall of gloom that would pervade the homes of slain police officers. In the anxiety of friends and relatives of people close to action. And so on.

I write. And that appears to resonate with people like Sundar, sitting many miles away.
And then, the doorbell rings. Breaking the footage monotony of policemen, rabid media & gun shots. I wonder who it could be.

I open the door, to find the courier boy delivering mail. A trifle surprised that this mail delivering was happening as the city was held to ransom, i collect the mail. And just as i am set to close the door, i tell him, ‘ Take care’. I swallow hard.

And he stops. A trifle surprised. Lingers for a while and states with a nonchalance of a commando.

With a straight chin, a fulgent gleam and a young mind , he speaks. ‘Nothing will happens sir. We just need to be more careful. And besides i have mail to deliver & much work to complete. I cant be afraid of these people, sir’.

I keep staring at him. As he disappears into the lift.

I close the door with a strange resolve. I switch off the TV. And open the laptop. And begin work. I am a Mumbaikar. I am Indian. I am a citizen of the world. I am not going to be cowed down by terror.

I know we will get them. I know we will win. At the nucleus of that victory will be this spirit. This spirit of labouring on, spreading the message and just going forward immaterial of whatever happens.

And friends call. There seems to be a resolute need to do something. And their anguish spills out as war crys and oaths, strange resolutions and ideas emerge. ‘Form vigil squads’. ‘Learn martial arts’. ‘Basic weapon training.’ ‘Spreading the message of love’. ‘Lets galvanise action and people’. ‘Lets blog more’. Etc. Etc.

I realise, ‘ I want to do something’ seems to be a core message. There is an educated mass, able, willing and wanting to do something.

Somewhere between the resolute yet concerned quiver of the first call, and the spirit of the security guard and courier boy, and the anguish ridden restive energy expressed by fellow men and women : i realise, that we need to carry on with our work, yet seek out and do what we can, in our spaces.

We are hurt. And perhaps bleeding. But still not dead. Never will be. The soul is new. And tomorrow, when the same sun lights a new dawn, and when we get back to work, we will not be wallowing in questions of ‘why us’.

It rather will be ‘From here, where ? How ?

I seek your help. We seek your ideas.

We Will Get You

So you had another swipe at us again. Like you did some months ago. And some years ago. Like you did at some other place. Ok.

But lest you rejoice that you won, i just wanted to write and say, we’ll get you. I may be a little perturbed today. My fingers sport a slight tremor as i type this. & the soul reeks of anger like a broken perfume battle. Images on TV are indeed depressing. But make no mistake, we’ll get you.

Three police officers & many innocents lost their lives. They fought you & in their life time, got many of you. And there are many others who still will fight on. The might of our nation resides in the glory of our history and the possibilities for our future. We will not let those possibilities be still born. Mark my words, we’ll get you.

Our politicians are infirm. They are out to exploit every crevice to establish a valley. And you have thrived by opening new crevices and fronts. But for the man on the street, the one who gives a day long toil a hard sinew, these crevices dont matter. And with the strength of that twisting sinew & noble thought of the men, women and children on the street, i promise you : we’ll get you.

For long now, we have remained silent. Our ministers spoke the same speeches with different suits. Enough. Enough. Its time to stop all of this. And dont even hesitate to think, ‘if’ we will get you. We sure will.

You may wonder where i get such confidence from, when you have struck with impunity.

My confidence stems from what we have inside us. The strength of our spirit, the resilience of our soul, the grit of our grip and of course, the blood that has dripped by on the floor, all far easily outweigh the combined might of all strings of bullets and the stream of bombs that you can muster.

We will get you.

PS : I have been dwarfed by the depth of concern and voices of support from the world over. Friends, relatives, people who just passed by this blog and of course fellow bloggers, who i havent met at all. The phone has been constantly ringing or beeping. The mail box shows ‘new mail’ almost as a permanent addition. Thank You !

For an inconsequential chap like me, this is overwhelming enough. It seems to me that the weight of the world, measured in gold backs us up. That to me is the strength of the spirit.

I can almost hear the keyboard cringe in pain, as i key in each alphabet with emphasis and force :

‘We Will Get You’.

Awake ?!?

Yesterday, i was watching NDTV. 76% of Mumbaikars thought Mumbai is for everyone !! But that also meant 25 % felt otherwise or did not feel so! I felt pained. A deep & distinct pain.

Many years ago we had a prayer in school. A poem by Rabindranath Tagore. Everyday morning we use to sing it. It didnt make much sense back then.

“Where the mind is without fear and the head held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

Now it does. Big time.

Here we are, talking about the world becoming a small place. About how borders between countries are getting irrelevant.

It seems to me our minds are becoming even smaller and that the barbed wires in some of our minds are becoming sharper. When will we awake ?