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I'm a freelance writer and editor currently based in New Delhi. I have previously worked at The Caravan and Time Out Delhi. More about me here.

This site is a collection of things I've penned or put together, from longer reported projects to short pieces; as well as random works in progress, sketches, translations, and so forth.

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Protected: Beva (بیوہ) (बेवा) (Widow) – Chapter I

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Published: December 4, 2014

Protected: Juz Qais (جُزقیس) (जुज़ क़ैस)

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Published: November 30, 2014

Protected: Jarahat tohfa (جراہت تُحفہ)

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Published: November 30, 2014

Protected: Beva (بیوہ) (बेवा) (Widow) – Chapter II

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Published: July 5, 2014

The company of strangers

In the neighbourhood ♦

I have never found Buddhist kitsch a particularly comforting form of interior decoration. But about two weeks ago, I found myself sitting in Hawker’s House, my neighbourhood’s beloved little sandwich shop, and something about the photo of a standing Buddha sculpture, its smooth, lean arm raised reassuringly in the abhaya mudra, and the roly-poly laughing Budai figurine near him, behind the cash counter, made me feel calmer than I had in days.

It was evening, but still hot; I had stopped by the store in front of Hawker’s to stock up on Rooh Afza, but had been lured into the long back room by the promise of strong air-conditioning and creamy cold coffee straight from the bottle. I squeezed myself onto a corner stool at the counter, which was crammed with young Jangpurians on their way home from work. Next to me, the woman at the till fielded phone calls, dispatching chicken sandwiches with their crusts cut off  and veg burgers in wax paper and issuing shorthand instructions to the delivery man: “Wahin, jahan Mr Rajat rehte hain – uske bagal mein.”

I sat dipping my toasted sandwich in green chutney, my heat-liquefied brain coalescing under the cool breeze of the fan, its sun-seared thoughts taking coherent shape. The plastic rotundity of the Budai’s belly in front of me was strangely soothing, but so was the pleasantly anonymous cocoon of strangers around me, a group of which I was both part and apart. With the ambit of daily life collapsed into a constant rotation of home-to-office-to-mediawallon ki mehfil, it seemed like days since I had seen an unfamiliar face.

The wider world—social media’s hollow promise of endless newness and unlimited connections—was limited to being accessed from my desk. “Facebook supplanted MySpace, which supplanted Friendster, which supplanted actually having friends,” John Oliver had quipped the other day in his tirade on net neutrality. “Do you remember physically having friends? It was awful. You couldn’t tap people’s faces to make them go away.”

Maybe the appeal of strangers is that even physical friendships nowadays devolve into “interactions”, fuelled by a relentless need to comment and share with competing wit, and interrupted constantly by the ping of another notification. Lately, some friends in the physical world had been discussing the new app “Secret”, which displays a list of anonymous comments posted by people in a user’s contacts lists. I am incredulous. Twitter has already reduced culpability into near meaninglessness. Secret pairs the titillation of good old-fashioned gossip and leaked fact with a complete lack of accountability—a joyful embrace of misinformation, cowardice and backstabbing.

When offline friendships tend towards extensions of online conversations, the thrill of intimate anonymity in the virtual world is perhaps understandable. But what happens when the corresponding lack of culpability spills out into the real world? As the restorative cold coffee worked its magic, the dark thing that had been lurking on the edge of my thoughts floated into the centre of the congealing soup of my brain.

A mob in Pune had run amok a few days earlier. The rioters had supposedly been spurred on by morphed images of Shivaji, model Kate Upton, Bal Thackeray and various animals—pictures posted by persons unknown, from proxy addresses halfway around the world. Enraged, perhaps encouraged, a bunch of young men went out into their city, singled out a stranger based on the markers of his religion, and beat him to death.

On my phone, I read the latest reports of the “violent response” to the “pictures and comments” defaming two long-deceased men. An FIR had been filed and the image-posting perpetrators of this alleged hate crime would be found, their whereabouts traced, IP address by IP address. The men who had reduced Mohsin Shaikh to a one-dimensional target would also be booked and punished, yet there was no official condemnation of their actions. Instead, there was an odd absolution from responsibility; BJP MP Anil Shirole told reporters “What appeared on Facebook was very painful. Some amount of repercussions was natural.”

In the physical world, a father, mother and brother grieved. A colleague recalled sharing food with the dead man. And the official silence gave weight to the idea that beating someone to death isn’t all that different from tapping an unpleasant image to make it go away.

The woman at the counter cut through my thoughts, calling out an address that happened to be on my block. “Woh kaahan padega?” the delivery man asked. I considered answering, but kept my eyes glued to my phone. Once he had left, I took a breath, looked up and smiled at the woman standing in front of Buddha. “That’s where I live too,” I told her.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, July 20, 2014

Published: June 20, 2014

Rain words

Compiled from John T Platt’s Dictionary of Urdu, Classical Hindi and English.

āb-i-bārān (m) Rain-water.
abr-i-āẕur (m) A cloud without rain.
abr-i-ʻālamgīr (m) Rain clouds which cover a large extent of country.
abr-i-qibla (m) Clouds which come from the direction of the qibla; clouds heavily charged with rain.
idrār (m) Lit. ‘Causing milk, urine, &c. to flow copiously’; involuntary or copious discharge of urine, diabetes; hard rain; munificence.
akāl vr̤ishṭi (f) Untimely rain.
ālā (adj; f.-ī), Wet, damp moist, saturated (especially with rain).
amī (f) Water of life, nectar; water, rain.
āhar (m) Reservoir for collecting rain-water for irrigation, pond;—pile of cakes of cowdung in a furnace, fuel made of cowdung.
ايت ईति īti (f) Any calamity of the season (as drought, excessive rain, noxious insects, &c.).
باران bārān (m) Rain; rainy season.
باراني bārānī (adj) Depending or rain; (f) Land depending on rain, unirrigated land (in contradistinction to ćāhī); a woollen coat or cloak to protect one from the rain, overcoat, water-proof…
bārānī khet  (m) A field the irrigation of which is dependent on rain.
بارش bārish (f) Rain.
بارندگي bārandagī (f) Rain, raining.
بارنده bāranda (adj & m) Raining;—that which rains or showers.
برس बरस baras(m) Year;—raining, rain.
برسات बरसात barsāt (f) Rainy season, the rains (the third season, of the six, from the fifteenth of Ásārh to the fifteenth of Bhādoṅ); rain (in general).
برساتي बरसाती barsātī (adj) Relating to rain, rainy; belonging to the rainy season;—s.f. What is sown or produced in the rains; clothing or covering for the rainy season, or against rain; water-proof; apron of a carriage; portico;—name of a disorder in horses, the farcy (which usually breaks out in the rainy season).
برسانا बरसाना barsānā (caus. of barasnā) (vt) To cause to rain; to shower down, pour down; to scatter, sprinkle; to winnow.
برساو बरसाऊ barsāʼū (adj) Raining; pertaining to rain, pluvious, rainy; ready to rain, threatening rain.
برستا बरस्ता barastā (m) Rain.
برسن बरसन barsan,  برسنا बरसना barasnā or बरिसना barisnā (m) Raining; rain:
barsan-hār (adj) Raining; rainy; about to rain, threatening rain
برسنا बरसना barasnā (vn) To rain, be wet; to fall like rain, fall in showers, be poured or showered down; to be showered, shed, scattered; to shed or cast forth beams (of light), to sparkle, glow; to burst, discharge (as a boil); to be winnowed, be sifted (as grain).
برش बर्ष barsh, बरष barash (m) Rain.
barsh- (or barash-) kāl (m) The rainy season.
barsh- (or barash-) kālī (adj) Pertaining to the rains, of the rainy.
برشا बर्षा barshā (f) Rain; the rainy season.
barshā-bindu (m) Rain-drop.
barshā-r̤itu, barshā-r̤itu kāl (m) The rainy season.
بشٿي बिष्टी bishṭī (f) Rain.
بوچهار बौछार baućhār, بوچهاڙ बौछाड़ baućhāṛ (m) Wind and rain, driving rain, heavy shower of rain; drift, spray: baućhāṛ karnā, To shower, pelt down (rain); to raise a spray.
بوند बूंद būṅd (f) Drop; drop of rain.
بوندا बूंदा būṅdā (m) A large drop.
būṅdā-tāi dī (f) Small and interrupted dropping of rain; drizzle; distillation, filtration.
بوندي बूंदी būṅdī (dim. of būṅdā), (f) Small drop; small rain, rain-drops; droppings; a kind of sweetmeat like drops; comfits.
بهرن भरण bharan (f) Heavy shower of rain.
bīr-bahuṭṭī, bīr-bahūṭī, bīr-bahoṭī (f) The red-velvet insect, the scarlet or lady-fly, Buccella carniola (commonly called the “rain-insect,” as it makes its appearance when the first rains have fallen: it is covered with a downy exterior resembling velvet, and of a scarlet colour:—syn. indra-badhu).
پانی पानी pānī (m) Water (syn. jal); rain-water, rain.
pānī paṛnā (vn) To rain.
پاوس पावस pāwas, पाऊस pāʼūs, पाउस pāʼus (m) The rainy season; rain.
paṭ-par, paṭ-paṛ (adj & m) Level, flat; bare of trees, &c.; a bare plain, a desert waste; moist land caked by sunshine after rain or a flood.
paṭ-ā-paṭ, paṭ-paṭ (m) Continuous sound of beating, or of falling rain, &c.
پٿيرا पटेरा paṭerā  (m) The plant Cyperus hexastachyus communis; the reed or flag Cyperus papyrus; a long coarse grass (used as fodder for elephants, and made into mats, and rain-cloaks or hoods for the poorer classes).
پربرشن प्रबर्पण pra-barshaṇ (m) Raining, causing to rain.
پرجنيه पर्जन्य parjanya (m) A rain-cloud, thunder-cloud; rain; the god of rain.
پرچها पर्छा parćhā, pharćhā (part) Cleared up (as the sky after rain).
پسلا पसला pasalā, paslā A shower, torrent of rain.
pan-badrā (m) Rain and sunshine.
pan-kāl, paniyā-kāl (m) Scarcity of water, drought;—famine caused by excess of rain.
pan-mār (m) Soil submerged by floods and rendered unfit for cultivation; low lands where water lodges; a crop ruined through excess of rain.
پهڙپهڙ फड़फड़ phaṛphaṛ (f) Flapping (of wings); fluttering (of a flag); crackling (of stiff paper); pattering (of rain, &c.); rattling (of musketry), &c.
پهڙپهڙانا फड़फड़ाना phaṛphaṛānā (vn) To shake, shiver, to move with convulsive motion, to struggle, to be agitated; to flap (the wings), to flutter, to wave, to twinkle; to crackle (as stiff paper, &c.); to patter (as rain); to rattle (as musketry).
پهوار फुवार phuwār, फुआर phuʼār, پهونوار फूंवार phūṇwār (f) Small fine rain, drizzle; mist, fog; small spot or drop:—phuʼār paṛnā, (vn) Small drops of rain to fall; to drizzle
پهونہي फूंही phūṅhī, پهونئي फूंई phūṅʼī (f) Small rain, drizzle.
paimāna-é-bārish (m) A rain-gauge.
ترشح tarashshǒḥ (m) Sweating, exuding, exudation; dropping, dripping, distilling; sprinkling, small rain, drizzle;—adj. Manifest, apparent:—tarashshǒḥ honā, v.n. To drizzle (=phuʼiyāṅ paṛnā);—to be apparent, to appear, seem.
ترنت तरन्त tarant (m) The ocean; a heavy shower, a torrent of rain; a fog.
taṛāke-kā (adj, f. ī) Pelting (as rain); violent (as a storm); intense (as cold, &c.); noisy, bustling, brisk (as a business); loud, gaudy; brilliant, splendid, magnificent.
تشار तुषार tushār (adj & m) Cold, frigid, frosty; dewy;—cold, frost, ice, snow, hail; mist, dew, thin rain, fog, blight;—a crop that ripens in the cold season.
ٿپ टप ṭap (m) Covering, cover, the upper part or fly (of a tent); the hood (of a carriage, &c.); sound of dropping (as of rain, &c.); dropping, patter, drop (of rain, &c.).
ṭap-ā-ṭap, ṭap-ṭap (adv) With a sound like that of a dropping liquid; drop-drop, patter-patter; in continuous drops, in a shower (as rain, tears, bullets, &c.); one after another, continuously, successively.
ٿپکا टपका ṭapkā (m) Continuous dropping, dripping; a drop (of rain, &c., cf. ṭipkā); fruit falling when ripe (particularly mangoes), a windfall
ṭapkā-ṭapkī (f) Continuous dropping, dripping, trickle; a continuous dropping or falling off (as of fruit, or customers, or of men or animals under epidemic or murrain)
ٿمٿم टिमटिम ṭim-ṭim (m) Soft or gentle rain, drizzle; a soft sound; a sound.
ٿوٿنا टूटना ṭūṭnā to fall in torrents (as rain), be poured forth, be rained or showered copiously.
ṭūṭ-ke girnā (vn) To fall in torrents (as rain, &c.)
جوهڙ जूहड़ jūhaṛ, जोहड़ johaṛ (m) A pit or tank (not made of masonry) in which rain-water, &c. collects; a pond, inundated land.
جهارا झारा jhārā (m) A kind of sieve; Drizzling rain, drizzle (syn. jhaṛī; jhīsī).
جهاڙ झाड़ jhāṛ (f) Sweeping, cleaning, &c. (see jhāṛ-nā); a purge; a shower, continuous and heavy rain, downpour.
jhāṛ bāṅdhnā (vn) To shower, to pour down, to rain without ceasing.
جهالا झाला jhālā (cf. jhārā), s.m. Local rain, rain which falls on one spot and not on another close to it.
جهپاس झपास jhapās (f) A sharp shower; driving rain (see jhaṭās)
جهپٿا झपट्टा jhapaṭṭā vehemence, violence, fury (as of fever, wind, rain, or fire)
جهٿاس झटास jhaṭās (f) Squall, driving rain; gust
جهجها झज्झा jhajjhā, झझा jhajhā (f) A violent gust with rain, a squall, &c.; see jhanjhā.
جهڙ झड़ jhaṛ (f) A falling, fall (of leaves, &c., e.g. pat-jhaṛ); a shower, downpour, heavy or continuous rain jhaṛ-ā-jhaṛ, adv. In showers; heavily, incessantly, continuously (raining):—jhaṛ-batās, s.f. A storm of wind and rain, a squall.
جهڙي झड़ी jhaṛī (f) Continued rain, showers; pickings, perquisites:—jhaṛī lagnā, v.n. To rain continually.
جهکورا झकोरा jhakorā झिकोरा jhikorā (m) Waving, shaking, agitation (of a tree, &c., by the wind): gust, blast (of wind), current (of air); a squall, a heavy shower, driving rain; a large wave; a shove, push, impulse, drive.
جهکورنا झकोरना jhakornā (vt) To shake, to put in motion; to drive or beat (as wind or rain); cf. jhakolnā.
جهماکا झमाका jhamākā (m) Beating rain, a heavy shower; crash (as of breaking glass, &c.);—quickness, celerity, haste, dash, &c. (=jhapākā, q.v.).
جهم جهم झमझम jham-jham (m & adv) The sound of heavy rain; dashing, beating (of rain), steady downpour;—heavily and continuously (raining).
جهنجها झञ्झा jhanjhā (f) Wind, wind and heavy rain, a squall, gale, hurricane;—a clang or sharp clanking sound, jingling, rattling:—jhanjhānil (jhanjhā+anil), s.m. Violent wind and rain, a high wind in the rainy season, a typhoon, or the sort of tempest frequent during the south-west monsoon:—jhanjhā-vāt, s.m. Wind with rain, a storm, squall.
جهوسا झूसा jhūsā (m) Fine rain, misle, drizzle (=jhīsī).
جهوسي झूसी jhūsī (f) Fine rain, misle, drizzle (=jhīsī).
جهيسي झीसी jhīsī (f) Mist-like rain, misle, drizzle, shower.
چاتك चातक ćātak (m) The pied cuckoo, Cuculus melanoleucus (syn. papīhā, living, according to the legend, only upon rain-drops).
چمربرهے चमर बर्हे ćamar-barhe (lit. ‘That which increases the ćamar or ćambal,’ q.v.), s.m. pl. (dialec.), The rain which falls about twelve days after the end of the cold season, winter rains.
چوکا चोका ćokā (adj) (prov.)=ćokhā, q.v.:—ćokā-bāg, s.m. Seed sown immediately after a fall of rain.
چهاج छाज ćhāj ćhājoṅ meṅh barasnā or paṛnā, Rain to fall in torrents.
چهمچهم छमछम ćham-ćham (f) Sound of heavy rain; tinkle, jingle (of small bells, anklets, &c.), tinkle-tinkle.
چهمچمانا छमछमाना ćhamćhamānā (v) To sound (as falling rain); to tinkle, jingle.
چهينٿا छींटा ćhīṅṭā (m) Shot, spot, splash, &c. (=ćhīṅṭ); a sprinkle, a slight shower (of rain);
دڙيڙا दड़ेड़ा daṛeṛā (m) Impetuosity, violent attack; hard or pelting rain.
دهار धार dhār (m) lit. ‘Supporting, support’; a hollow tree inserted in the mouth of a well (in the Tarāʼī) to keep it from falling in;—a sudden shower, a sprinkling of rain;—end
دهارا धारा dhārā (f) A line of descending fluid, a stream, current (of water, or of a river, &c.), a channel, a water-course; a torrent; a flood; a hard shower (of rain)
dhārāsār (m) A heavy shower; a large drop (of rain)
دهوندهوکار धूंधूकार dhūṅdhū-kārs.دهوندهونکار धूंधूंकार dhūṅ-dhūṅ-kār (m) Heavy rain obscuring the whole heaven; gloomy or cloudy weather, clouds; gloominess, cloudiness, obscurity; desolateness; vaporization; evaporation; waste;—name of a game;—adv Heavily (raining, so as to obscure the sky).
رحمت raḥmat (for A. رحمة, inf. n. of رحم ‘to have mercy’) (f) Mercy, compassion, pity (=raḥm); divine mercy or favour, pardon, forgiveness; a gift of the divine mercy, a blessing from on high; rain
رم جهم रिम झिम rim-jhim (onomat.), adv. With a pattering sound, patter-patter (as rain).
sāwan-bhādoṅ, (m) Sunshine and rain
sāwan-kī jhaṛī (f)  The constant showers of Sāwan
سبل sabal (m) Falling rain (before it reaches the ground)
سرکي सिरकी sirkī s.f. Reed-grass, the upper joint of Saccharum procerum (see sarkanḍā); a inat made of this reed (used as a covering to keep off rain).
سناٿا सन्नाटा sannāṭā (m) Loud or violent sound, rumbling noise, clatter (made by wind and rain or hail, &c. at a distance), howling (of the wind), roaring, roar (of waves, or a conflagration, &c.); violent blast or gust; a dashing or driving (of rain, &c.); ringing, whizzing, whiz (of bullets, &c.)
سوات स्वात swāt swāt-būṅd or swāt (f) A drop of rain which, falling into a shell when the moon is in the fifteenth lunar mansion, becomes (according to popular belief) a pearl
sūkhe dhānoṅ pānī paṛnā  lit. ‘Rain to fall on dry rice-fields’; rain to fall opportunely; to get new life, to be revived
سيکر सीकर sīkar (m) Fine rain, drizzle
شيکر शीकर śīkar (m) Fine rain, drizzle; rain driven by wind; spray; mist; a drop of rain or water
طل t̤all (inf. n. of طلّ ‘to rain small rain,’ &c.), (f) Drizzle; dew; mist.
طوفان t̤ūfān (v.n. fr. طوف ‘to surround, go round, envelop,’ &c.), (m) A violent storm of wind and rain, a tempest, typhoon; a flood, deluge, inundation; the universal deluge; a flood or torrent (of obloquy, &c.); t̤ūfān-t̤arāzī, s.f. Deluge-making
غدير g̠adīr (v.n. fr. غدر; see g̠adr) (adj) Unfaithful, treacherous, deceitful, not to be trusted;—(f) A pool of water left by a torrent (and liable to fail); a place in which rain-water stagnates.
faiẓ baḵẖsh (adj) Bestowing favours or bounties, bountiful, beneficent, &c.; fertilizing (rain, &c.)
قطر qat̤r (m) Dropping (of water); falling in drops;—drops; rain.
kaṛāhī ćāṭnā To lick the pot (it is a superstition among Indian women that licking the pot brings about the ill-luck of a fall of rain on the wedding procession of the person given to this habit; hence, on the occurrence of such a contretemps the women abuse the bridegroom for having licked the pot)
kanyā-vāṇī (f) Rain that falls when the sun is in Virgo, September rain.
کهار खार khār (m) Rough or rugged ground; ground cut up by rain
کهوکهي खूखी khūkhī (f) A small insect that appears in wheat and barley after heavy rain and produces a red blight.
کهوئی खोई khoʼī (f) A hood-form covering of leaves, &c. to shade plantlets, &c.); a kind of hood (worn as a protection against rain); clothes folded up and put on the head (as a defence against rain, &c.).
gadhā-gadhī-kā biyāh (m) ‘Ass’s wedding,’ symbolized by sunshine and rain (cf. the English ‘fox’s wedding’)
ganda-bahār (f) Rain which falls in the cold weather
گولا गोला golā-dhār barasnā (vn) To rain a pelting rain, to rain in torrents
گهار घार ghār (m) Land worn away by running water; a ravine; clay soil in low situations (where rain-water lies for a time).
گهونگي घूंगी ghūṅgī, or घोंगी ghoṅgī (f) The tying the end of a blanket in a knot and so placing it on the head as a protection against rain; a hooded cloak or covering;—a cloth folded up and put on the head (as a defence against the rain);
لباده labāda (m) A cloak for rain; a quilted cloak; wrapper; great-coat; pelisse.
مزروع mazrūʻ (part) Sown; tilled, cultivated; under cultivation;—(m) A sown field;—seed-produce that is watered by the rain.
مسل मुसल musal long, heavy, wooden pestle used in clearing rice from the husk musal-dhār, (m) ‘The bearer of the club,’ an epithet of Baladev;—ʻclub-stream,’ very heavy rain:—musal-dhār barasnā, To rain very heavily. mūslā-dhār, s.m. ‘Club-stream’; heavy, or pelting, rain;—mūslā-dhār barasnā, To rain very heavily, or in torrents
مطير mat̤īr (vn. fr. مطر ‘to descend with rapidity;—to rain,’ &c.), (adj) Raining; dropping; rained on.
موچا मोचा moćā crops beaten down by wind and rain.
مہاوٿ महावट mahāwaṭ = H مہاوٿهہ महावठ mahāwaṭh (m) Rain which falls in the month of Māgh (Jan.-Feb.), winter-rain.
ميگهہ मेघ megha, vulg. megh (m) A cloud;—rain (i.q. meṅh);—name of a rāg or musical mode, appropriated to the rainy season, and last watch of the night before the dawn of day (said to have proceeded from the head of Brahmā, or from the sky);
megh-rāg (m) The musical scale megh, q.v. (it is supposed capable of bringing down rain from heaven):—megh-rūpī, adj. In the form of clouds; cloud-like; resounding, or thunder-ing; black and threatening:—megh-kāl, s.m. ‘Cloud-time’; the rainy season, the rains
megh-nād (m) ‘Cloud-noise,’ rumbling or thundering of clouds; sound of rain; thunder;—an epithet of Varuṇ, and of a son of his, and of a son of Rāvaṇ
مينہہ मेंह meṅh, and (corr.) मींह mīṅh (m) Rain; a shower:—meṅh ānā, v.n. Rain to come, or to threaten:—meṅh barasnā, or meṅh paṛnā, v.n. Rain to fall; to rain:—meṅh ćhūṭnā, v.n. To rain hard.
نمچی नमुचि na-mući and H. नमुची na-mućī, (m) Name of a demon slain by Indra and the Aśvins (lit. ‘not loosing the heavenly waters,’ i.e. confining the clouds and preventing the flow of rain):—na-mući-sūdan, s.m. ‘The destroyer of Namući,’ an epithet of Indra.
naw-jal, or nau-jal (m) The rain of the rainy season
نوڐ निविड niviḍ (adj) Without spaces or interstices; close, contiguous; thick, gross, dense, impervious (as a forest, or darkness, &c.);—coarse;—heavy, hard (as rain, &c.); sound (sleep)
نيسان naisān (m) Name of the seventh Syrian month (corresponding to the Persian Farwardīn, and the Hindī Baisākh, April-May):—abr-ě-naisān, or abr-ě-naisānī, s.m. ‘The vernal cloud,’ spring showers;—the rain which falls while the moon is in the mansion svāti (and which is beheved to produce pearls if it fall into shells, and venom if it drop into the mouth of serpents;—cf. swāt-būṅd).
وپريت विपरीत viparīt (f) Adverse circumstances; mischief; rain.
ورش वर्ष varsha, vulg. varsh, and H. वरष warash or warsh (m) Rain, raining; a shower of rain; sprinkling, effusion;—the rainy season;—a cloud;—a year (see the pop. form baras)
varshāvasān (m) ‘The close of the rains,’ the autumnal season, autumn:—varshāyut (˚sha+ay˚)
ورشا वर्षा varshā (f.) rain, a shower:—varshā-r̤itu, or varshā-kāl, s.m. The season of the rains:—varshā-vindu, s.m. A drop of rain, rain-drop.
ورشٿ वृष्टि vr̤ishṭi (f) Rain; a shower:—vr̤ishṭi-kāl, s.m. The rainy season (syn. barsāt).
ورشن वर्षण varshaṇ, (m) The falling of rain, raining; rain.

 

Published: May 25, 2014

Poster politics

Theatre of persuasion ♦

Last month, a strange plant took root in the hard soil of the Capital. Its season is rare – roughly once every five years; and its life cycle determined not by the laws of nature, but by those of the nation. Its steel stems and plastic foliage flourish in a hotbed of corruption, fertilised by the scum of ill-gotten gains. Gone now, its flowers – the beaming faces of our political hopefuls – briefly colonised every Delhi road, blooming black and white, orange and green, lotuses rising out of the muck.

When, as in this election, there seems to be no ethical lines left uncrossed, one turns to aesthetics out of a sort of desperate petulance. The two are fairly inextricable when it comes to political advertising; spending on “outdoor activations” (ie, eyesores) and other marketing tools has been particularly egregious this year. It’s difficult not to wonder what this expensive, collective subjection to billboards plunged into the ground and tacked over the sky is all for. This onslaught, in what Susan Sontag has called the “theatre of persuasion” of public space – compounded with the incessant phone calls and radio spots, the infinite regress of social media  updates, and high-pitch television coverage invading private space – is a convincing sign that electioneering in India has reached an unapologetically commercial apex that is disturbingly reminiscent of high-spend campaigning elsewhere in the world, particularly the United States.

In 1969, Sontag wrote about political posters in Cuba in an essay (“Posters: Advertisement, Art, Political Artifact, Commodity”), in which she argued that “the aim of an effective political poster is rarely more than the stimulation (and simplification) of moral sentiments.” Expanding on this, she wrote that the most common way to simplify “a thing or an idea”, in political advertising is to attach it to “the emblematic image of a person… the heroic figure.” During this Lok Sabha election, the campaign posters in Delhi were limited to celebrated leaders, and contained the innate tension between elevating these men as heroes, and projecting their humility as self-effacing saints – what Sontag described as a “willingness to renounce private desires and liberties”. The theatre of persuasion began to look more and more like a theatre of the absurd, entirely divorced from reality. The audience of journalists and commentators watched each new act with increasingly weary fortitude. Liberals grew exasperated with other liberals, trolls trampled over all sensible dialogue and the unending debates over the existence of various waves could actually induce seasickness in our landlocked city.

If the circular public conversation remained focused on ethics, in private, a lot of frustration found its final expression in the form of juvenile bitchery about the physical repugnance of the men holding court over our streets. Given the advertising invasion and its emphasis on candidates’ blown-up faces and bodies, this was understandable, if not entirely excusable. More than once, serious discussions ended up fixated on this one’s deceitful, pillowy lips or that one’s smug, doughy dimples. In a more dismissive tone, that one’s bristling, indignant little moustache.

I think there was a real sense of betrayal animating these private, surface judgments – an unedited response to the hypocrisy of can­didates who are supposed to represent the people, but have made themselves the objects of veneration instead. Take, for example, the creepiness of the now ubiquitous candidate masks that turn a nameless and the faceless citizenry (sometimes identifiable only by essentialising sartorial markers) into politically-branded bodies, literally poster-stands for the logo of a candidate’s face. Or the #SelfieWithModi campaign that turned photographs of voters into an interactive online mosaic picture of the man himself – each supporter a tiny piece of his famously wide chest or grinning face.

Then there was the attempt at self-abnegation in the catchphrase “main nahin, hum”, which rang entirely false when coupled with the heroic, paternalistic political imagery of campaign posters. And the petty fight between the Congress and the BJP, over which party deserved “creative credit” for that profoundly disingenuous slogan, really said it all.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, May 2014.

Published: May 17, 2014

A Strange, Familiar Place

This Place ♦

By Amitabha Bagchi
Fourth Estate / HarperCollins, New Delhi, 2013, 253 pp.,
Rs 499 (HB)
ISBN 978-93-5116-018-2

thisplaceAfter being suspended from his government job, Naresh Kumar, the title character in Amitabha Bagchi’s previous book, The Householder (Fourth Estate, 2012), finds himself a stranger in his own house. He waits desperately for the evening, “The time after which this house, which he had plotted and pleaded and sweated to have allotted to him, this house where every single object, durable and consumable, had been bought with the money he had earned, this house where every single person ate because he worked, this house that didn’t seem to possess the generosity to keep him during the day, this same house would open up and welcome him back. Shamelessly ignoring the fact that he had not left all day, the house would readmit him into its rigid routine.”

“This house” is the particular locus of Bagchi’s second novel, but the question of how people make and unmake – and are made and unmade by – place is present in all three of his books, which have sometimes been slotted into categories circumscribed by setting: the campus novel (Above Average, HarperCollins, 2007), the Delhi novel (The Householder), and the immigrant novel (This Place).

This Place takes in the larger reality of an entire city, Baltimore, but focusses its plot and action around one stretch of 26th Street, where its small cast of characters live. Compared to Naresh – a man mired in his relationships with the world, whose form of rebellion (a contemplated affair with his secretary) is almost as tawdry a cliché as the confines of his mundane middle-class life – the main character in This Place, Jeevan, is a cipher. Formerly a taxi driver, Jeevan has been in America for a long time but never quite lived there. He looks at other immigrants, settling into their new lives and sometimes tries “to want the things that they wanted”. Early in the book, he walks into his house and “for a moment it felt like he was visiting himself, Jeevan Sharma, an old acquaintance. He felt a twinge of curiosity, as if he had known this Jeevan Sharma when they were both much younger and was eager to see what his life was like now and how he kept his house.” In a sense, This Place is the story of how he discovers himself through the people around him on 26th street.

On one level, Jeevan already knows that this closeness to his neighbours goes beyond proximity and has a premonition that “he could stay in this place for a long time”. Besides Jeevan, on the four houses on 26th street there’s Miss Lucy, an elderly black lady who plays the organ and makes him pancakes; Henry, who never missed a day of work before he retired, and whose idol is Cal Ripken, Jr (the Baltimore baseball player who holds a record for consecutive games played); and the younger, more transient characters Matthew and Kay, a couple with marital problems who have just moved in. Jeevan’s Pakistani boss, Shabbir, owns three of the four houses and holds court at his Food Point restaurant nearby. As the diversity of the characters implies, this is not the “immigrant fiction” of the ghetto, but the story of a few people at a crossroads, unrelated by blood, yet functioning like family.

Bagchi is also especially interested in characters in transitional places, whether it’s The Householder’s government flats (where “there was always a near or distant future looming ahead… they would have to return this house to the government, ‘surrender it’…”) or the IIT-Delhi campus in Above Average. In This Place, Baltimore itself is in upheaval at the end of the 1990s. After years of neglect, the city administration, with the backing of Johns Hopkins University, is taking over 26th street for “urban renewal”. Bagchi casts “The City” as a larger entity, imposing its own agency upon its inhabitants. “The City has exercised its rights,” one of its representatives tells Miss Lucy. “The City has the power, they are using their power,” Shabbir tells Jeevan, “And we are all going to benefit.”

Larger economic shifts may be driving the City, but it is Shabbir, one of its newer residents, who celebrates and implements its decisions. “This hell will become heaven, Jeevan bhai,” Shabbir says, anticipating how highly he will be compensated for his property, “and we will be landlords in heaven.” Attachment to the old buildings and old neighbours is foolish, Shabbir explains to his son, who wants to help save the houses by registering them as historical landmarks. “What history is there in this two-hundred-year-old country anyway? In Lahore, every mohalla had a six-hundred-year-old-building just sitting there with birds shitting all over it.” He takes Miss Lucy to a new house and she protests that “I didn’t birth two children here… My husband didn’t fall down dead here.” He replies, “Your final home is in the sky with your god. Till then, if living here is your destiny, you must accept it.”

Bagchi is a writer who flirts with stereotypes, complicating them through his characters’ actions. While Shabbir’s motivations are primarily pecuniary, this “greedy man’s ruthless acquisitiveness” is tempered by “a version of honesty”. Jeevan is Shabbir’s accountant and moral compass — accepting his shady business dealings while drawing a line when the landlord tries to keep his ownership of Miss Lucy’s house a secret and to profit from it. Jeevan may be putting down roots in shifting ground, but it’s precisely this churning that allows him to realise the extent of his attachment to other people. Another character reflects that “This time it wasn’t he who would leave but the place itself.” The threat of a reverse type of displacement compels Jeevan.

Bagchi also excels at monologues and dialogue, and he often uses both to stylistically reflect the book’s themes. Henry’s uninterrupted retelling of his past in an early soliloquy mirrors the stasis (soon to be shattered) of the city he has known for “seventy some” years. During a dinner conversation between Jeevan and Shabbir at a Chinese eatery, intrusions by the owner and delivery boy and the random dialogue of fellow diners captures the fragmentary, cheek-by- jowl nature of urban life. Readers who liked the compressed style of Bagchi’s previous books may find This Place disappointing: the writing feels sparser than the college slang-filled dialogue and almost fetishistic descriptions of Delhi in Above Average, or the thick descriptions of babudom and domestic life in The Householder. In some of This Place, Bagchi uses the lighter touch of short story writing, inviting sustained intimacy through a description or a dialogue, but dancing away from overly long digressions in favour of punch and concision.

Bagchi wrote This Place before he wrote The Householder, but the subtle stylistic difference seems more like an authorial choice than the result of a lack of experience. Bagchi has described in a note how he wanted This Place to echo the emptiness of the paintings of Edward Hopper, “landscapes marked by human habitation but empty of human figures,” that imply an understanding of “the essential transience of human life and [a] hope for permanence” on what humans build. At the end of each chapter, Bagchi appends a coda that riffs on a word or a theme from the preceding pages through a conversation between anonymous strangers or a description of the cityscape. Some are oblique, such as a conversation about homemade versus box pancakes overheard on a bus. Others are heavyhanded; one chapter ends in a vision of decrepit, bullet-riddled walls and then an assertion, almost in the voice of the City: “What do we do with this place? … Perhaps the best way is to start from scratch. Demolish them, each last one of them. Pulverize them. We need to start afresh. A clean slate. We won’t make the same mistakes this time.”

These codas, and Bagchi’s excursions into characters’ back-stories and inner lives, all accumulate to create an excess of incompleteness, an almost claustrophobic lightness. He approximates the surface emptiness and sudden intimacy of urban American life itself. Space – a limitless resource to be conquered, administered and turned to profit – supersedes place. When Kamran and Kay dissect the significance of the words “our past” in the criteria for registering a historic landmark, Kamran says, ‘“I don’t think that their ‘our’ means us,’ … ‘It’s like, you know, a bigger ‘our’.” “Yeah,” said Kay. “That’s what’s funny. It’s an “our” that includes us, but it’s so big that it doesn’t mean us.”’

These characters try, and fail, to resist the erosion of place – “This place will not be here in a few months’ time,” says Jeevan – but find what refuge they can in planning a future together — “And all of you will be in all the places you’ll be in,” answers Matthew. The idea echoes Walt Whitman’s “A Song For Occupations,” (Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman / James R Osgood and Company / 1881-82), which encourages “You workwomen and workmen of these States”, who build the nations’ cities, to make some meaning too, out of each other’s company:

Will you seek afar off? you surely come back at last,
In things best known to you finding the best, or as good as the best,
In folks nearest to you finding the sweetest, strongest, lovingest,
Happiness, knowledge, not in another place but this place, not for another hour but this hour,
Man in the first you see or touch, always in friend, brother, nighest neighbor…

Originally published in the March-April 2014 issue of Biblio.

Read as a PDF here:

Published: April 16, 2014

Chukandar chop

Beetroot patties ♦

beetrootHere’s a beetroot, juiced for breakfast and its fibrous bits turned into patties for lunch. With lettuce and tomatoes from the veranda gamlas.

Beetroot patties: Fibre of one beetroot (also happened to be two carrots, a cucumber, and mint in there, but only because this was all juice byproduct); 1 egg; bunch of dalia flakes; half a small onion; some garlic; whatever spices were in reach (bunch of fresh basil, dried red pepper, oregano, pepper, salt)… Mushed up, moulded into four patties, pan-fried in olive oil, consumed.

 

Published: April 12, 2014

Here’s looking at you

The eyes have it ♦

On the occasional morning, a tall, dark, handsome man and his short, dark, even more handsome Labrador visit the pocket-handkerchief of a park opposite my house. Once in awhile, the man happens to look up towards my balcony and, suddenly, the world is transformed. The scraggly park becomes a charbagh set with generously leafy trees, rustling and reticulated in myriad shades of green, from parrot’s feather to peacock’s tail. The weedy flowerbeds into which the dog is relieving himself become a many-splendoured gulistaan. And I’m no longer a half-asleep lecher in rumpled nightie with a pillow-streaked face, but the girl in a Bru ad, looking out mysteriously over a suggestively steamy mug of coffee, my cheeks dewy and flushed, hair impossibly kempt.

Then he guiltily looks down at his mobile, and I dart back behind my newspaper, and the spell is broken.

I’d almost forgotten, over the past year or so, about this game of harmless flirtation, played with two pairs of eyes, and with no real object but momentary elation. From newspaper articles to Internet forums, concern about the violence of the male gaze has been so much more in focus. As a viral video released by film students last December 16 suggested, all escalating eve-teasing – brushing, nudging, whistling, pinching and worse – is built upon this foundation of ladki ko galat dekhna. In “Dekh Le”, the ogling men find their daft expressions reflected back to them when the object of their gaze slams down a visor, slips on a mirror pendant or dark glasses, or adjusts a purse. In this fantasy, the daily negotiation of public space is won by women who put the coffee shop creeps and scooter sideys firmly in their place.

But if the current moment is all about reflecting and correcting the inherent violence of the Indian leer, a part of me still romanticises the abundant celebration in our art – in poetry, film and fiction – of the look of lust. If the brazen, impudent looks of the drunken lout worry us now, it was also the mischievous, flashing eyes of the lover that drove the poets to drink. I may be ideali­sing an aesthetic device; nigahon ka khel is a safer game in theory than in practice; but I still hope that between nazron ke teer chalana and aankhon pe mar jana, there’s some possibility of agency, and pleasure, for both parties.

I remember the summer of my awakening, in my early teens, into a world of unfettered visual impulse, of constant sizing-up of men. Until then, I was mostly disdainful of the hot gossip of who-liked-who and who-did-who that kept the pubescent student body of my American middle school on a constant boil. But on a visit to India that summer, my dormant hormones kicked into high gear. I couldn’t stop ogling and mentally ordering. I became a connoisseur of jaw-lines, hairlines and degrees of stubble. You name it, I objectified it: men in tight jeans with non-existent asses; men in uniforms that creased awkwardly around their hips; men in bright spandex shirts and cotton bush-shirts and particularly men in graceful kurtas and flowing pyjamas; men with puffy hair like old film stars, or centre-parts like Salman Khan; even Salman Khan himself, larger than life and hotter than the summer sun, a star fixed in a firmament of PVC flex.

Eventually superego caught up with id and I learned to look away, or not at all. For women on the street, it’s easier to think of men as one undifferentiated pack to be avoided, rather than a species with many variations, to be observed with curiosity, to be considered individually, or catalogued for future fantasising. We use the phrase “shamelessly ogle”, but it seems to me unfortunate that the familiar male stare is always either laden with shame, or else lascivious, but laced with moral judgment.

The past year has brought editorials, articles and umpteen tweets suggesting that India needs a sexual revolution – a good cleansing romp and a round through the wringer to rid us of our dirty shame. I fear the reality of such a revolution would be even more excruciating, and even less cathartic, than sitting through Imtiaz Ali’s Highway.

But I do wish there was something between engaging with the unbearably cocky head-to-toe appraisal and going around blinkered like a gelded horse – and not just in the socially sanctioned spaces of the city where the rules of class and gender are complex but clearly understood.

Maybe romance is just the art of channeling the heat behind an initial look, through the complicated conduits of language, and back to pure heat. Still, what separates the men and women from the dogs and pigeons is the ability to indulge in the pointless yet pleasurable exchange of glances that can be its own reward. I believe the man with the Labrador in the park understands this. We’ll probably never exchange more than a half-smile each, but he knows I’m keeping an eye on him.

Originally published in Time Out Delhi, March 2014

Published: April 12, 2014