He once believed every story she had to tell.

I’ve never been the kind of person who bumps into friends in malls or movie halls. I can probably count all the friends I’ve ever had and still have some fingers to spare. I don’t know how I have more than a 100 people on my Facebook list. (Although I’ve unsubscribed from all but about 10 or so.) And as you can deduce, I don’t make friends too easily. You’ll probably not like me if you met me. You’d probably wonder who this asshole thinks he is, standing in a corner and smoking, smirking at your jokes and not bothering to utter more than one syllable at a time.

But, despite not ever being the popular one, I’ve often told myself, admittedly with a bit of pride, that the few friends I’ve had have been real friends, in the old-fashioned, pre-social-graph sense of the word. I’ve believed that my friends are not the sort who’ll hug me on the street as if they can’t believe their luck to accidentally see my face, and then never breathe as much as a virtual hello to me until the next pleasant surprise.

So, as basic mathematics dictates, since I have far fewer friends than most people, I devote a much higher percentage of my emotional energy per-friend, than most. Sounds like bollocks, I know, but true nonetheless. Because of this, it becomes a bit difficult to let go. Luckily most of them are still around. But there have been a few who have, well, faded away.

I don’t know why it happens. It can’t be the oceans between us, those have never mattered, not since the age of MSN. It can’t be that we’re different people now. How much can a person change in a few years? Perhaps it’s something you say in passing, words read in the wrong tone of voice, a look that gets twisted before it reaches the other’s eyes. Or perhaps it has nothing to do with you; you, who loves to build improbable plots around oblivious actors. It could be that it’s simply how it goes. As everything else in existence – the brightness of a star, the chill of winter, the tide of the sea – things come and go, in waves and phases. All you can do is accept that simple law of nature; to not give in to foolish, childish beliefs that what you have will last forever; to hold on until you can, and then let go when you have to. All you can do is remember.

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Morning, October.

It’s 4 am, and I’m 27 years, 57 days and 18 hours old. Right about the point, I think, where two things start happening. One: You start worrying about things like your weight and your diet, that you should exercise more and cut down on the carcinogens, and all that nonsense grown-ups used to fret about. Two: You start believing in bullshit like God or fate or, I don’t know, democracy. And stop believing that you can change the world.

I see the late 20s and early 30s walking around in the glass ghettos of Gurgaon, and I despair. Striped shirts, middle-parted hair, frame-less glasses, laptop bags, smartphones, pot bellies, slouched shoulders. The kind of people I used to sneer at. It’s funny, how up until about 25 or 26, you are young, you are right and you are fucking bulletproof. There’s nothing in the world that you can not do. There is nothing you dare not dream about. Fate? Fate is an excuse for the cowardly. Fate is just another name for indecision.

Yesterday, while I was busy thinking, an asshole stopped his bike in front of me and started asking for directions to Hauz Khas Village. And I gave him the right directions! A couple of years ago, that would never have happened. He would’ve ended up at Badarpur Border, like he deserved to.

Next thing you know, I’ll be talking on a bluetooth headset and helping idiots back up their cars.

I have Yellow Ledbetter on repeat, and I have a feeling I’ve done this before, written this exact same post too.

And there, you see, lies my problem.

 

 

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Look, what a mess.

Inside this little head of mine, there’s been a lot going on lately. I’ve spent a couple of days trying hard not to fall into one of those masochistic spirals, the kind I thought were behind me now, along with the other maladies of youth. Turns out I’m still on the edge.

One side effect of such phases is the added burden that my already suffering lungs have to endure. The other is insomnia. Last night, I spent a few hours trying to negotiate peace between my graceless body and my unyielding bed. But there was a mosquito in the room. And it was no ordinary mosquito. It had evolved to be invisible to human eyes, and had developed a deafeningly high-pitched buzz that made the dogs outside howl in agony.

Enraged, I found myself sitting on the terrace, smoking.

I live in one of the better areas of this city, which means there are wide roads, grassy parks and bright yellow street-lights all around. It still has a load of rubbish everywhere, of course. I remember such sleepless nights spent on the terrace, watching street sweepers appear at the break of dawn, waking up the birds with the sound of their brooms. They’re gone now. In their place are the harbingers of a ‘world-class’ city: two trucks that trundle around at night trying to vacuum the streets.

I watched the first one crawl by, its flashing yellow lights reflecting on every closed window. It had rotating brushes on the front and sides, which gathered the dirt and trash and led it to a suction pipe attached to its rear end. In theory. In the real, dark, hazy world, they just created an awful mess, leaving bits of garbage in the middle of the road. On its side, it claimed (with what seemed a proud upgrade from “On MCD duty”) DWM. Delhi Waste Management.

I suppose the cleaners do come later. After all, somebody has to clean up the mess left by the management.

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O cruel hope, wonderful hope.

My brother is a lot older than I am. I was only about six when he was in his late teens, and although I don’t remember much, I do recall his room. There were posters of Elvis and Michael Jackson, and a huge framed picture of a Lamborghini Countach. There was a red, press-button phone by the bed; a leather jacket covered in patches hung perpetually on the door; a Hi-Fi double-deck cassette player; a bongo; and later, there was even a magical, fake-wood-panelled air conditioner. So yes, it seems that in late-80s India, he was a bit of a spoilt kid. The room, naturally, was the envy of his countless friends who hung around all the time, squatting down and talking to me as if I was an idiot.

(The other day, I was watching Maine Pyaar Kiya and it dawned on me that his room was heavily influenced by that movie. The red phone, the posters, the jacket, it’s all in there. Prem had a “Billboard” sticker on his red sports car. My brother had the very same sticker on his red Maruti 800. Anyway, best not to read too much into that.)

I, you may not be surprised to know, grew up almost like his mirror image. I seldom had more than 4 friends at any point of time, at least one of whom would always be invisible to everyone else. Plus, I had access to a computer from the age of 13, so I didn’t really need friends. (Yes, the computer was his too.) For a long time, I did not even have my own room. In general, I grew up in a situation where I learned to accept that life will not always hand me what I want; I’ll often have to fight for it, and be prepared to lose. And more importantly, the belief that even if I lose, it’ll be okay. I’ll fight another day.

The point? Well, I’m doing something now that I’ve dreamt of for long. I’m betting everything on a meek glimmer of hope. In the worst case, I’ll be left with absolutely no money – with considerable debt, in fact – and a defeated ego. If it comes to that, I hope I can remind myself of what I’ve learned, and not lose the heart to try again.

 

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The middle of the night.

Yup, still in the mood some top-quality pseudo-leftist bullshit.

Open magazine had an article last week on our revolutionary anti-corruption revolution that eventually turned into something much like a Monty Python script. It was written by Manu Joseph, who apparently riles up a lot of people with his unabashedly opinionated words. Irrespective of his writing, I’d say that’s 20 points in his favour to begin with.

In the article, he writes that the resident Indian middle-class loves to stuff its face with the fruits of the corrupt system, and the inequalities it has created. It’s not just that we’re pampered by servants and maids and drivers who cost next to nothing (although it doesn’t keep us from outraging about their temerity to ask for more (“My God, do you know the maid even has a washing machine in her jhuggi!”)), but we’re privileged in almost every aspect of life.

If you’re born in a non-poor, upper-caste Hindu family, it’s the equivalent of the “I’m too young to die” difficulty level in Doom. (Double ammo, half damage, wasn’t it?). You can fuck about all your life and still manage just alright. It’s what gives the whole country a glib satisfaction with its mediocrity, which is momentarily shattered only at times like the Olympics, or when S&P or someone downgrades us to a pile of steaming junk.

This is not news, of course, though not many like to admit it. But he goes on to relate this privilege to the reasons why all non-resident middle-class Indians seem to become overly patriotic and nostalgic for India. Because in the first-world caste system, we’re not on top any more. If anything, we’re close to the bottom. We actually have to earn our privileges. People don’t call you ‘saab’ and open the doors to the Adidas showroom so you can walk in with a an entitled swagger, as if the door opened itself on seeing the Honda key-chain dangling from your front pocket.

“Nations that are filled with the poor are feudal in nature, and therefore excellent homes for the middle class. India is probably the best.”

You can read it here, if you’d like to.

In the middle of a hot, still night some years ago, I was standing at the window and smoking, as I do. Across the park, there was the boundary wall of another apartment block, and I noticed a man perched on it, trying to lift a bicycle across. He was obviously a thief (he looked poor, you know). I called the police. I was surprised when, not two minutes had passed, I heard a siren approaching. The man had almost heaved the cycle out, but he left it and ran. He was caught just as he was climbing over the park fence. I saw the policeman who called to inform me, and said they don’t need anything else from me. From my dark window, I saw the thief-(not)-to-be, scared to death in the back of a Delhi Police gypsy.

Even as I had made the call, the panicked thought had started shaping up in my head.

I thought about the bicycle I used to have. It spent a few years chained to a pillar in the parking lot, along with several others like it, all covered in dust, their tires flat and half-buried in the mud. Eventually, it was sold to the kabaadi for the price of a modest dinner.

The one he was stealing was probably just like mine, probably belonged to some kid who was now a fat bastard who couldn’t pedal to save his worthless life. Between him and this guy, this scrawny little man, whom would you choose if you had to give out a bike? There was no contest. A poor man was getting his soles smashed in while some middle-class asshole was feeling smug for a being a model fucking citizen.

One of these mornings, the people left outside the walls will lose their patience. It won’t be a good day for the cycle-owners.

But until then, some people will never know what if feels to live life on the high difficulty settings. Stepping over the denial, however, can be a start.

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No country for heretics.

Keeping with our theme of covering events of earth-shattering significance, Happy Independence Day is upon us. Keep those little painted-tiranga images superimposed with appropriately vacuous quotes ready for easy sharing with your friends.

I’m not just being cynical here (though I am), and I’m not going down the smelly path of “What Independence Day means to you.” There is no way to answer that. It’s a silly question. First, you have to know what the country means to you. For that, you have to think about a lot of things which, I get the feeling, is too much to ask for on a national holiday.

I, on the other hand, am bored. And insomniac. And in a soapboxy kind of mood. So allow me to indulge myself.

Our country was drawn up – broadly speaking – by 2 bureaucrats, a delusional politician, and a bit-of-a-cunt-ish viceroy, and rubber-stamped by a faraway parliament eager to get rid of it. Large parts of it were then ‘acquired’, almost exactly the way they had been by the East India Company not long ago. The idea of an eternal, undivided India has been drilled into us by school textbooks, citing Iron Age kingdoms and the irrefutable Vedas. But it’s largely a delusion. That’s why we need an absurd number of guns and laws like the AFSPA to keep that idea intact.

But anyway, nobody wants to hear about all that boring stuff.

Even if I were to believe the story, I’d still find it hard to proclaim much pride and joy.

I’m a good citizen, I think. I do nothing to avoid paying taxes – something universally labelled foolish even by the most ardent patriots adorned with ‘I am Anna’ hats. I vote, despite realizing the utter pointlessness of it. And despite an aversion to sports, I do feel happy seeing an Indian athlete (if that isn’t an oxymoron) win a medal at the ‘lympics. (Although I was disappointed by both boxing and wrestling. I kept waiting for the referee to drop to floor and do the countdown. I think I had ‘WrestleMania’ in mind.)

But am I patriotic? To me, patriotism* seems to be in the same league as religion – blind devotion to a loosely-defined idea and complete intolerance for anything or anyone that ‘offends’ it. So, no, to put it gently, I’m not a fan.

*Patriotism, in our country, seems to be becoming synonymous with nationalism. The difference is complex, but in the words of George Orwell, “Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power.”

What I find amusing is the mindless torrent of Facebook updates from people ‘proud to be Indians’. What does that mean? I thought you could be proud of things you have achieved or created or, I dunno, done? But you’re proud that you were born in a certain geographical location purely by coincidence? Way to go.

It’s even more absurd when you think about the real reasons why somebody would be chuffed to identify with our country. Because you have a #ThatAwkwardMoment when you struggle to go beyond platitudes like ‘diversity’ and ‘culture’. But if you’re asked to name one fucked up thing about us, I bet you could come up with a very specific and recent example.

You’ve thought of a couple already, haven’t you?

Which is why it’s strange to see India tirelessly ranking at the top of global patriotism charts, and which is why I think it’s more about nationalism.

Orwell again: “The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him.”

The fact that ‘facts are overwhelmingly against us’, is probably why we feel this need to constantly (and tastelessly) shout about the greatness of our country. The reality is just not so … cool.

But anyway, don’t let wannabe intellectuals, ignorant cynics, spoil the party. Be proud. Watch Border or something.

Or, if you really want to do something patriotic, you could donate some money to a charity. Almost the entire country has less than you do, and what better day to help the unfortunate, right? Oh, and under section 80G, it’s 100% tax free too. Win-win.

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Notes from a twenty-something.

In a few hours, Curiosity will land on Mars. It is amazing, the things those Americans do even when they’re supposed to be past their glory days. I hope it doesn’t blow up, and finds water or 3-nippled-aliens or something, so I can see humans walking on Mars in my lifetime. Little dreams.

In a few hours, I will suddenly be a year older, as if I weren’t steadily hurtling towards death with each passing day. But I suppose we like our little milestones, our neat divisions and labelled sections to help us make sense of this mess.

Anyway, since I spend an inordinate amount of my limited time thinking about such things, here are some questions for future me, to be answered ten years later on this night.

Are you doing what you want? What is it?

What/whom do you love? List all applicable answers. Don’t say why.

Are you dying to do something, to get somewhere? If so, what are you doing for it.

What are you most afraid of?

Do you have a child? Why?

Sub question: Are you teaching it to be a punk? How?

Name your friends. How many of them have you spoken to in the last 2 months?

Are you still using Facebook? [If answer=yes, exit( ); else, goto next;]

Do you have more money than you need?

What was the last thing you did to make someone smile?

What’s the bravest thing you’ve done lately?

If you met me,

 

Wait, I’m not sure this is a good idea, actually. It just struck me that if things don’t work out so well, future me might have some uncomfortable questions for present me. He might even lose his decency; want to take it outside and all. Who knows, he might be that sort of asshole. Not that it would matter. I won’t exist any more. I’d be past me.

There was a point somewhere. An important point.

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