John Le Carré’s novels have set the tone for my new and improved writing aspirations. It took me a semester of putting-off and procrastination and re-reading the parts I forgot but I finally got through The Little Drummer Girl and what an exquisite story that proved to be! Tragic, but only as much as reality permitted; comic, but from a satirical viewpoint akin to Dante’s Divine Comedy; a plot as intricate as Tolkein’s finest work but condensed into one book instead of three. I was three-quarters of my way through The Constant Gardener but accidentally left it at home so I probably will not see where the story takes Justin for another year. I have not watched the movie version but I don’t wish to either. Forgive my crude metaphor but I compare the story-lines of most of the novels I’ve read so far to squares, clean and mostly linear plots with few sub-plots and layers that at most serve a two-dimensional view of everything, leaving you feeling rightly accomplished at the end of it, having finished a few hundred pages and being able to move on to the next book without dwelling on the story too much. Le Carré’s books are not just maze-like, they’re QR codes. They’re intricate oriental tapestries that you lift up to find a secret door opening up to a tunnel which will lead you to an entirely new universe at the end of it, like in Narnia except that it’s all in the real world. The best part about them, at least IM(not-so-H)O, is that they are all about the evils of the real world. He didn’t spin the political, corporate or social battles in his books out of thin air, as he could well have done; he chose instead to build tales on existing problems, maybe let people realize that fact is stranger than fiction. In an interview where he spoke of The Constant Gardener, he mentions that the situation in the real world is a hundred times worse than what is portrayed in his book; Big Pharma already own our souls, they have already won the right to test their drugs on third-world populations before declaring them safe for first-world consumption. I was told that his fiction is brilliant, but not how it’s actually his masked non-fiction that’s pure genius. He weaves sub-plots into twists into inexplicable turns and deals humor with a deft British hand. The Little Drummer Girl throws light on all that is wrong with the Israel-Palestine conflict, the brutality of both parties (but one party obviously more so than the other) and the self-victimization of the Jews; it also humanizes the Palestinians and their camps, which are still being indiscriminately bulldozed for Israel occupation. I hope to attain his proficiency in masking non-fiction for the general public one day. But for now, I’ll settle with buying Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Yes, it’s a sad title to start the year off with. But this year, I’ve decided to push aside all concerns of making the happy happier and instead shine some light on reality and how we can roll out of our comfortable bubbles and start to care about the planet, about humanity and the lack of it, about nature and the rape of it, about the countries that aren’t superpowers, about whales and plankton and everything in between.
My bae asked me (part-jokingly) to run away with him and join Wattpad. Now I don’t use sites such as those so I may have overlooked their good side a bit, but my response went on for a tad too long and then I realized that I’d put into words everything that I disliked about tech startups popping up like bubblegum and mimicking the Silicon Valley culture. So here’s why I told him I’d love to run away but not to work for them.
I don’t want to work for another pretentious corporate that lives in its own little virtual bubble and does nothing to tackle reality and the problems that humanity has caused or to spread honest news, promote transparent, unbiased journalism instead of catering to the mollified middle and upper classes who prefer to cry over fictional characters and incidents instead of actual ones. Not for a company whose hot, vegan, multi-ethnic, hipster, bearded, supermodel-like employees have never known the travails of the workers who stitched their plain white t-shirts that they paid 100$ at Kanye’s store for. I don’t want to be part of a smug, self-proclaimed elite in an American neighborhood that calls itself ‘hip’ because they think that overpriced bookstores and cafes with trendy interiors are what matter in life. I don’t want to have to drag my happiness out of a bong with my mouth at an after-work shebang with a bunch of literature graduates who term science-loving academically-inclined people like me as nerds and then would ask you to help fix their toaster because they don’t know the difference between the types of engineers; or maybe at a late night soirée with the techies who have worked their whole life to support a virtual economy that would come crashing down like dominoes once the world starts realizing it has actual problems that threaten our basic needs. I don’t want to wear the MAC nude palette on my lips, Bobbi Brown naturals on my eyelids, Estée Lauder matte foundations and organic false lashes made of horse hair in order to chime along with the other ladies at work when they claim that natural beauty is the best and that’s why we need au naturale makeup to have that organic glow when we go for our early morning workouts in our hot yoga pants and sports bras and then complain when those ‘creeps’ stare at us. I don’t want to pay thousands in rent to live remotely decently in a ‘trendy’ area and struggle to have some sort of vegetation on my itsy bitsy balcony and wall gardens when I have acres in a less fashionable town in a less fashionable country where I don’t need to pay a few hundred dollars to erect some matte black flower pots on an IKEA frame and grow only the plants that ‘match the overall decor’. I’d like to eat fresh but not by supporting farmers’ markets in a white mans’ land where farmers aren’t looked down upon but their equivalent counterparts in the rest of the world who struggle to make ends meet and who are facing a mass exodus in silence. I’d like to write stories but not about how great Romeo is at sex but fact-based tales that hopefully open up minds to plausible situations and stimulate action the way Animal Farm did. I’d like to fix what’s wrong with reality before I get paid for work that could be done better by a linguistically proficient teen smoking pot. I don’t want to help build another Pandora’s blog to help distract the already distracted.
Speaking of honest journalism brings me to my next topic. I recently stumbled on John Pilger and his documentaries (thank you RT), and I knew the world was messed up but his documentaries shed a new light on the degree of said ‘messed up’. But then I began worrying about the lack of such journalists and filmmakers, who would go to any length to uncover the truth. John Pilger is pushing 80. In a world like this, where every sector, every seemingly functioning entity you turn to, is a battleground, I wonder who will take up his cause. Arundhati Roy, in her political and social essays, parallels his concern for injustice and dares go where no self-preserving human would. Honest journalism and its pioneers are facing near extinction. The ability to read both sides of a story is a privilege now; a privilege that not even the literati can afford, something only those who have the patience to hunt for an alternate to the mainstream media’s headlines are rewarded with. But who’s to tell you where honest journalism is anymore?
When entire populations swallow misinformation just because it’s on the internet, the situation resembles mass evangelism. This is worse than physical death. The death of intellectual curiosity, of basic honesty and the lack of desire for it, will plough its way through generations of minds. It has to stop but as all things manmade, it won’t because of our innate desire for self (and planetary) destruction.
Watch all of John Pilger’s documentaries here.
Jaywalker flying, drifting
across lands, roads, rivers
sidestepping stepping stones
wading into the deep blue
Sinking better than standing
shouldering the weight of the world
responsibilities like quicksand
sucking, pulling, defeating
navigating life, running
through a tall hedge maze
with no end, no beginning
square circles, circle squares
an eternal quest to escape
loving at someone’s expense
love is resistance
or so they say
take a step back, take a breath
take a minute, take a pass
to understand, to comprehend
the situation, its gravitas.
You mask your scent with perfumes, your face with makeup, your body with clothes.
You mask your strength with guns, your beliefs with religion, your ego with jargon.
You mask your love with doubt, your relationships with milestones, your children with fear.
I stand naked and proud yet you call me the stealthy one, crouching tiger, but who are you, hidden dragon?
Stand outside my college gate for a day and watch the traffic. In a few hours you would have spotted a few Audis, maybe a couple of Range Rovers, definitely a dozen or so BMWs and Mercedes Benz luxury sedans. You’d think in a country like this, there should at least be some who can afford to spare a few bottles of water. O.P. Jaisha fainted after the Women’s 42km marathon in the Rio Olympics. Why? Because a country that sent a couple dozen officials in Business Class flights to display their ugly faces at the Olympics couldn’t afford to put a few water bottles at their stands every 2km. How much would that cost? Let’s say she needs a can of Red Bull (I honestly don’t know what they drink, but I’m taking a random overpriced energy drink here) and a bottle of water at each pit stop; that’d amount to around 140 INR. Let’s say there are 20 pit stops she could take refreshments from, that’ll amount to 2800 INR. I have seen ladies here spending 10,000 INR on something they wear once and throw away. 2800 INR is what a middle class Indian would pay for a watch from Flipkart, a pair of Vincent Chase frames from Lenskart or a pair of sneakers from Amazon. Excuse us for thinking that India can afford to buy their athletes water. WATER! It’s not as if they treat them with any dignity or respect once the atheletes are back on home turf. It’s common knowledge that all the major league teams in India, be it of any sport, are all made up of half-assed players who are there only because their uncle/second cousin/brother-in-law/some distant relative has political connections and wants them to get a sports scholarship to go and study abroad; “Beta INGLAAND mein padte hein” (He studies in England). Me and my friends personally know exceptionally talented sportsmen who were rejected by government sports organisations because they lacked the necessary political connections, the money or the corrupt mindset expected of any Indian in any government position. Dipa Karmakar trained on a vault assembled from parts of an old scooter. But c’mon, if we can’t even afford water for one person then forget gym equipment, that’s just asking for too much isn’t it? *Looks around at all the loaded businessmen and millionaire politicians*; yup, we’re just too poor.
Dipa’s coach has told us of the conspiracies, so have thousands of Indian athletes and their coaches, all of which only come to surface every four years at this time of year; for 15 days, people care, or at least talk about the issue. Then it’s back to forgetting that sports exist, back to googling the best entrance coaching class for your kid who’s obviously meant to sit on his ass and code all day, working for a pittance for some American corporation that’ll suck his soul out but he’ll be too busy to notice because he’ll be living the American Dream in Silicon Valley. Let’s face it, sports? Seriously? Why that when you can live a comfortable life, have a 9 to 5 job, a gold digging wife and 5 brats (because obviously 1.3 billion Indians aren’t enough). We have people with brains to work out highly complex algorithms and build technologies for other nations but when it comes to putting a bottle of water on a table so that our fellow countryman won’t have to finish the race on the verge of death, we’re stumped.
I’m sorry O.P. Jaisha, about the water. I’m as much a part of the problem as are the other 1 billion or so people who claim to support you but have never actually done anything about it. I’m sorry Dipa, for not having thought of crowdfunding quality gym equipment for talented people like you, because we all know the government would never bother. I’m sorry to all the athletes and sportsmen who go through so much, get hurt and beaten to the ground by their own country and yet still brave everything to represent it. I would never have the strength to do what you do. Thank you for teaching us a poignant lesson. Seeing how we treat you, even 2 medals are more than enough.
I saw the crumbling walls partake
In a tango with Death
Never to be fully alive again
But never short of breath.
The gold plated pillars of the Basilica echoed
With the voices of the faithful
But the real prayer rose from the shush of the garden,
the blooming trees eternally grateful
For they were yet to be felled as their kin had been
to make way for casinos and resorts
where the trees are of a different pedigree,
always trimmed and shaped, ready to greet foreign passports.
An old man selling trinkets, pulled me aside
showed me rosaries and garlands from all over the nation
Can you blame him for taking part
in an ancient trade, the business of religion?
The museum displayed its wares, the stories
In granite, polished and taken,
Its makers long dead, their lives a prelude
To a fugue of events lost and forgotten.
In Altinho the roads twisted and turned,
framed by mansions, each with a magnificient balcao
‘This land that once was ours, now beyond our reach,’
thinks the boy pushing along his cart full of pao
I heard the locals sigh with relief
‘Off-season at last, the party animals won’t be back till December
Now it’s time to welcome the monsoon
let’s hope climate change doesn’t frown on us till September’
The lakes, the waterfalls, the little spaces
that act as escapades for animal and man alike
from the monstrosity of globalization, the new mall
a new eyesore, like a head stuck on a pike
Bicholim, Sanguem, they’re untouched, they say,
no tourists, no drugs, peace and quiet they say
but little did they expect visitors in the form of giant red gashes
the hills torn open for iron because who can make do with clay
Off season for the whites, in-season for the browns, from the concrete cages
of Mumbai and Delhi, with their aviators and chubby brats in tow
they arrive armed with their selfie sticks
‘If you haven’t clubbed at Cabana then what do you know’
‘I studied in Miramar’ he says, ‘I grew up in Sanquelim’,
the tremble in his voice betraying the thoughts he would not name
‘There were no ugly buildings here in my childhood, no garbage.’
‘Some say it’s the tourists but I say we’ve only got ourselves to blame.’
Maybe it’s time you stopped and looked
at the prostitution of Miranda’s art,
or the exploitation of the old world charms,
at the way this land has been made to sell its every part
Maybe you’ll see the wounded land partake
in a tango with Death
Never to be fully alive again
but never short of breath.