Monday, May 29, 2006

last day extended

Update: I hear the last date has been stretched forward until June 10th.

There is a travel-writing contest on, for bloggers.

I had written back to the mail-sender, to ask what the selection criteria was going to be like, since this is intended as a sort-of reality show, of which I have an inherent suspicion. I didn't like Indian Idol, I detest Big Brother.

But the good lady wrote back to reassure me - "oktatabyebye has nothing to do at all with anything which even remotely resembles the indian idol madness. This is an experimentative idea where the winner will blog about the trip across India on the oktatabyebye blog."

She further says that the selection process will be like this - "after registrations close on 30th May, we are going to ask all who have registered to send in a small writeup on any of their prior travel experiences in 150 to 200 words. Once these writeups are scrutinised, further shortlisting will happen followed by personal interview. Sidharth,Webchutney's CEO and a couple of people from who are jointly supporting us are going to personally meet them. A final winner is then declared. Nothing emotional, nothing personal.... Also, this won't be on TV, its all online, travel and blog! That's why the initiative to talk about it through blogs and communities, if its online so should be the talk...."

So, it won't be on TV, all you've got to do is travel and write... that sounds ok-ish to me.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The dead fish that's making me gag

Recently, I finished reading a book called Machhli Mari Hui, by Rajkamal Chowdhary.

It is not a new book – probably written in the sixties, certainly set in Calcutta of that time.

I began by liking the book, especially since the introduction itself was written well. I liked the lusciousness of certain phrases. The extreme qualities of the characters, even though some of them didn’t ring true. The way the city and the stock market players are described.

There were flaws but one goes on, thinking the flaws are only logical, sequential failings… but by the time one gets to the end, one is worse than disappointed!

The author just doesn’t understand his material.

The trouble with books like Machhli Mari Hui is that they deal with multidimensional subjects with a unidimensional vision. Sex is a multidimensional subject. Homosexuality is a multidimensional subject. It is a mistake to approach such subjects unless you’ve either got some first-hand experience of it, or you’ve talked to a lot of people who had first-hand experience. This author, clearly, doesn’t know s**t about women’s sexuality or their feelings.

In the introduction, the author claims to have read almost everything there is to read on the subject of female homosexuality. From early medical books by psychologists, to Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. He makes references to Sappho, and to lesbians’ autobiographies. With this wealth of knowledge and this spectrum of perceptions, how he could end his book the way he did, is beyond my comprehension!

In the last chapter, his female protagonist Shirin is described as shedding her homosexual skin, and turning into a ‘woman’, instead of a fish. The fish is now dead. (That is where the title’s reference to dead fish comes from. In the book, the fish is used as a symbol of lesbian desire. The image of two fishes swimming are used to represent a lesbian encounter between Shirin and a younger girl, Priya)

What is most appalling is the sequence of events after which this ‘transformation’ comes about.

I’ll try to tell the story straight, in some sort of sequence as events happen, and not in the back and forth flashback style adopted by the author.

(Shirin’s husband) Nirmal Padmavat is the main protagonist, the ‘hero’ if you like.

He is a tall, dark, strong, hard-working, honest businessman with humble origins, who neither tells lies, nor bribes, nor discriminates on the basis of colour or religion etc. People think of him as either a magician or a monster.

From a village in Bihar, via Lahore and Bombay, he reaches New York, where he meets a beautiful woman called Kalyani. She used to be a medical student but has now become a ‘model’ (the author uses quotation marks) and a prostitute. She is sexy, fearless, alcoholic.

Nirmal falls for her.

Kalyani uses his support when she needs to. Hard times fall upon her. She empties his bank balance and offers herself to him. But there’s a problem. He loses his erection (or maybe ejaculates too soon – the details are not clear; there are euphemisms like ‘he was like a tiger/wild animal’ and then suddenly ‘he was cold; the fire was gone’)

So, Kalyani insults him and screams at him to go away and never come back. He never comes back.

But he returns to India when he hears of her death, some years later, in Calcutta. She is buried there, in a cemetery, by her husband - a well-known neurosurgeon, Dr Raghuvansh. The good old doctor has a daughter by Kalyani, six year old Priya.

A leap of some fifteen years - Nirmal is now a very rich man in Calcutta. Fortyish. He has built a thirty-storeyed skyscraper – the tallest building in the city – called Kalyani Mansion. He has married the socialite, Shirin.

She was married earlier to another rich businessman called Vijay Mehta, who made the mistake of insulting the dead Kalyani (he was one of her clients in New York). Nirmal punches him in the face. Shirin is curious about the man who punches her husband; she likes powerful men. So she lives with Nirmal and divorces Mehta (in that order).

Sex is awful.

Nirmal turns into a ‘wild animal’ (author's descrption; I don't believe wild animals behave as he does) and loses erection after erection, hurting Shirin both physically and emotionally.

In the meantime, since Priya is Kalyani’s daughter, Nirmal is attracted to her too. (The author suggests that she is both afraid and attracted, though she stays away from boys in general. )

The good old doctor smiles upon this, and is open to the idea of his daughter marrying her mother’s lover... oh yes, he knows all about his wife’s past. He is full of nothing but empathy for Nirmal.

Priya gets friendly with Shirin. They begin having sex. Shirin is described as ‘cheap’, as being obsessed with her looks and her body, and as scarred – because she saw her parents having sex, because her mother died during childbirth, because her mother disliked and was afraid of men, because her elder sister introduced her to some awesome lesbian sex.

In short, Shirin cannot enjoy men, because she is afraid of getting pregnant and wants to sleep with girls – like herself, like her elder sister. Her room has a painting of two women looking at each other with fire in their eyes. There’s a statue of a naked Negro woman, red eyes and red lips, in that room where ‘the two fishes swim and play’.

Nirmal wants Kalyani; he sees her image everywhere – in Shirin, in Priya.

One day, Nirmal goes to Shirin’s room. (The marriage is a clear disaster; they live on different floors of Kalyani Mansion). He begins making out, but loses it – both his temper and his erection. Shirin goes wild – calls him names, screams at him. Repeat of what happened with Kalyani.

At this point, Priya walks into the room. Nirmal gets dressed and orders her – Priya, not Shirin - to come to his own flat. Priya wants to go back to Shirin… Shirin is crazy already, and is tearing at her own body… but Priya is stuck with Nirmal. She is frightened, but reproaches him for mistreating his wife. Priya is a medical student herself and has seen the scars on his wife’s body.

Nirmal loses his temper and rapes her : please note, this time, no loss of erection... He rapes her repeatedly. He almost kills her.

When she leaves his place, she throws up, and rolls down the stairs. The lift-man and building guards have been warned to expect Priya, they come looking for her. They find her and deposit her unconscious body at Dr Raghuvansh’s house. He takes one look, and understands what has happened. Since he’s a doctor, he dresses her wounds, treats her, bathes her, puts her to sleep, and Nirmal calls to ask how Priya is, and this empathetic father says ‘she’s alive’.

After three days, Priya seems to be better. She doesn’t go out anywhere, doesn’t take calls. Not even Shirin’s calls.

Dr Raghuvansh sits down to write a letter to Nirmal, saying that he knows his daughter has been raped, repeatedly and brutally. He was afraid this would happen. But at least, he is glad that his daughter has helped him get over the sexual maladjustment (author’s words), for he knew Priya could cure him of it. He was hoping that Nirmal would marry Kalyani’s daughter, and would have if he hadn’t ended up marrying the unfortunate unhealthy homosexual Shirin (authors’ description) – whom he has tried to cure earlier (author’s words), but who is a gone case, quite hopelessly lesbian.

The empathetic doctor is also glad that his own daughter has been ‘cured’ of her lesbian ways; she is now 'healthy'. Normal. He insists it a great thing to be normal. It is easy to be extraordinary/abnormal (the author uses a word that is interchangeably used for both).

The doctor wills away his whole property to the medical college, leaving his brutally raped daughter penniless, and overnight, drinks himself to death.

His daughter goes through the funeral. At the funeral, she imagines that Nirmal is not only carrying the dead body of her father, but her own, and that of Shirin and that of her own mother.

But what does this girl do?

She takes her father’s last latter to Nirmal’s house. Back to the same house where she was raped. Puts the letter on the table, and offers to make some coffee.

Yes, coffee.

Shirin is still waiting – for Priya. For Nirmal. For somebody. And while she waits, she drinks and drinks, and drinks. If some cheap society ladies (author’s phrase, not mine) come to visit, she makes a little noise, then goes back to drinking, and waiting.

In the meantime, Nirmal has been surrounded by 'enemies', mostly led by the old and vindictive Vijay Mehta, whose wife got carried away by Nirmal’s power and stature, not to mention, relative youth. His little coterie of capitalists is bribing people in the audit and income tax department to ruin this honest ‘black prince’.

Nirmal’s little business empire is crashing because he refuses to pay bribes. And the workers are ungrateful – the more he does for them, the more they want. So he gets rid of them, by selling his mill to his arch-enemy Mehta. But still, he is losing everything. He doesn’t mind losing everything, only wants to keep Kalyani Mansion. His home, his sky-scraper.

Honest and incorruptible to the last, the black prince loses everything (how this happens is very vague). But to save Kalyani Mansion, he is forced to lie – that he had taken a huge loan from Kalyani, Dr Raghuvansh’s wife, to construct this building and that he is now forced to sell it to their daughter Priya.

Priya knows it is only a paper transaction, but she plays along.

At the end of it all, Nirmal realizes that he has never even looked properly at his beautiful wife, Shirin. Never looked into her eyes properly. So he goes to her room, looks at her, caresses her. She, meawhile, is all admiration and adoration. He spends the night. When he wakes up, he sees Shirin is emerging from a bath, with sindoor in her hair, and face glowing with empathetic love.

She is no longer dead fish. She is a woman (author’s description).

I cannot describe how I felt after readin that last chapter. It nullified the author and whatever virtues the writing itself may have had.

One can deal with complexes and sexual ‘maladjustments’. One can even understand a situation where a woman wants to be raped (have read of similar situations in other books, written much more realistically, much more empathetically). But one fails to understand the concept of a violent man and a lesbian girl being made ‘normal’ through rape. Or, that all this violence makes him into a tender, caring husband (with his dead lady-love’s daughter thrown in for free). It is more than unpalatable. It is disturbing.

The author is either completely insensitive, or completely clueless.

Homosexuals do not overnight become ‘normal’. After great lesbian lovemaking, somebody gets raped, and wham! Everybody’s happy...? Even if a reader goes along with the theory that a woman will feel ‘normal’ and wholly ‘woman’ only if she has sex with a man (idiotic though the presumption is, even if one agrees to go along with the theory), this book would have been worth the paper its printed on, only if the author explored the psychological complexity of the idea.

I personally do not like authors who think in terms of ‘fish’ and ‘woman’. But personal opinions aside, the book could have handled so differently.

Imagine the plight of a girl, whose father just died, deliberately leaving her penniless, leaving her at the mercy of her rapist, whom he is thanking for having ‘cured’ her of lesbianism. Imagine the plight of this girl who goes back to her rapist, knowing he was her mother’s lover, and that she might have to depend on him now – where else will she go? Imagine that she is love with this man’s wife…. Imagine what is going on inside the mind of the lesbian wife, who lives with a powerful man, who has just raped her lover.

Imagine what is going on inside the man’s head. This wonderful powerful incorruptible business genius – who has raped the daughter of the two people he loved most.

It is plot with potential, but the author fails it.

He thinks in grandiose terms – tall, black, strong, built like a rock, incorruptible ‘black prince’… the lesbian’s bedroom, the negro’s naked statue, red lips, an old empathetic doctor, a prostitute who loved so long, lived so little… Cliché-ridden to the last.

The author seems to be able to think only in black and white. His hero, Nirmal, is a larger-than-life hero: neither anti-hero nor merely human; his sexual ‘maladjustment’ is more like a fatal flaw, his hamartia, if you like, which, instead of destroying him, is sorted out eventually… at the cost of two women’s happiness and ravaged bodies.

When you finish reading it, you cannot help thinking that this is a judgmental book. That is the final, fatal flaw.

In some ways, it is a man’s book. I doubt if the author even understands women’s bodies. I doubt if a woman could have written a book like this (though I shouldn’t be making sweeping statements; time and time again, women have unpleasantly surprised me by going ahead and behaving exactly like men...much to our collective shame and despair).

A writer is a creator. Like all creators, he/she has to shed his/her skin. Nothing except your own writing style is permissible. You cannot be any gender, if you’re going to be a good writer. You can adopt the cover of a gendered voice. But your mind must be gender-free. Your values must be gender-free… and race-free, shape-free, nationality-free, colour-free, class-free, sexual orientation-free.

If you’re not free, you’re merely a peddler of words with X amount of skill... And words alone do not a writer make.

Money and my mouth

Here's another blog I’ve been following with a great deal of interest.

Via this blog, we hear of the great tragedy of the Jarawas, and how the law is being flouted with impunity, not to mention, with disastrous consequences. Not enough people protesting, and therefore, very little fear of being found out, being thrown out of office or being arrested for contempt of court and illegal construction.

At How the Other Half Lives (I’ve hopped on board recently) a maiden post led to a flurry of comments, some of which have made me think about myself and my take on the issue at hand.

Somebody supported reservation but not caste-based ones. Somebody else supports academic reservations, but not professional ones. Somebody asks me to ‘donate’ my job if I am such a great advocate of reservations in the private sector.

The first two have made me think a little harder about the precise form of affirmative action that I would like to see being implemented.

The third is a very pertinent question – because it all comes down to putting your money where your mouth is.

Would I?

My answer: firstly, reservations do not imply charity. They imply giving someone a leg-up.

Secondly, I do not control my own job. I don’t have hiring and firing rights, but if I did, I would still support a reserved percentage of positions in the organisation. Especially media organisations. (How many backward castes, or even poor people from upper castes, are represented in the mainstream media? Do a head-count. You’ll find a few answers as to why and how certain stories get covered) and if, as a result, my own chances of finding and keeping jobs is lessened, lowered… well, too bad. It won’t be the first time I’m sitting at home, jobless. And it certainly won’t be end of the world.

Let us assume that I did have hiring-firing rights.

Let’s say I have this little dhaba by the highway and I need a cook. Given a choice between candidate A and candidate B, both being competant, I’d give the job to whoever needed it more. And no, I would not give it to somebody who came with a hotel management diploma. I’d send both candidates to the kitchen and watch them roll out parathas – trying to gauge creativity, speed, and their enjoyment of the task at hand.

If there isn’t a vast gulf between the two candidates, skill-wise, I’ll look at their needs. Let’s say A is a runaway kid and this is a first attempt to make an honest living, or that A is the eldest child of retired parents and has two other siblings to put through school… if B has healthy parents and faces no immediate financial crunch – I would choose A over B, at least in the short term (in the long term, hopefully, such considerations would not be needed, if there aren’t vast gulfs between people’s assets and needs)

If I could give away four jobs, instead of one, I’d reserve one for a man who comes from backward origins, even if he is less competent than others, assuming he is eager to learn and work a little harder than the rest.

And I would hire at least two women, even if the men are just as skilled, giving preference to single mothers, divorcees, widows or just women with a very strong independent streak who want to live on their own. Because I have a vested interest in ensuring that women make their own money.

So yes, I’m willing to put my money where my mouth is.

Not as charity, but as a way of investing in people.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

An argument and a few stories

A story from nine years ago, in Lucknow.

I was enrolled at Aptech for a computer course and had shifted location to Lucknow during the summer vacations (for the record, I dropped out of the course, after the ignominy of flunking miserably in the programming module; in the instructor’s words, my efforts to write a computer program had ‘gone for a six... gone for a toss.’).

My old and mostly immobile grandparents lived in Gomtinagar; I had to attend classes in Halwasiya. It is a long commute, involving a ride over a bridge over the river Gomti, usually in a rickety six-seater called a ‘Vikram’, though I obstinately insist on calling it ‘tempoo’. It used to cost me ten rupees everyday.

One day, a tempo strike had been announced. In solidarity, all the auto-wallahs were also staying off the roads.

All of a sudden? Not all of a sudden - the tempo-walas must have given out a date and time when the strike would begin, which I didn’t know about.

After my classes, I stepped out and found that there was no way of getting back home, except a cab. I emptied out my purse – only thirty-three rupees left. Rs 33 will not get you a taxi ride to anywhere, not in Lucknow…not even round-n-round, in your own garden.

To add insult to injury, the clouds broke water and the rain came pouring down. All of a sudden… this was June. No umbrella, no raincoat, because monsoon was a month away.

No umbrella, no raincoat, no money for a taxi.

A very young and very clueless me, drenched in the rain, walking down Hazratgunj, getting stared at by loafers who had nothing better to do. It wasn’t pleasant.

And then, I saw a cycle-rickshaw. Not one, but many cycle-rickshaws. But the point was… would they agree? Hazratgunj to Gomtinagar takes half an hour even in a nonrenewableenergysource-guzzling tempo. No cycle-rickshaw would go that far.

Even if they did agree to, with this tempo-strike on, they’d want to make a killing. Anybody would ask for a hundred rupees. Even an auto-wala would have asked. But that day, I didn’t have that hundred; I had only Rs 33.

But the rain was pouring. And men were staring. So finally, I went up to an old rickshaw-wala, “Tees rupaye mein kahaan tak chhodenge, bhaiya? (How far can you take me, for thirty rupees?”)

He peered at me, surprised at the question. “Kahaan tak jaogi? (How far do you have to go?)”

I said, “Gomtinagar.”

He thought this over, then, agreed to take me as far as the petrol pump, just before Gomtinagar starts.

I agreed. The petrol pump was about a kilometer and a half, from my grandparents’ place. I could walk the rest, and hopefully, the rain would have stopped by that time.

The old rickshaw-wala put up the hood to offer me whatever little protection and privacy he could offer, and pedalled away. Through the rain, against the wind.

It was bitterly cold, and I can’t imagine how difficult this trip must have been for that old man.

Near the petrol pump, I got off, gave him all the money I had. Each paisa in my purse, and started to walk. It was still drizzling.

The old man called out to me. “Kahaan tak jaogi, bitiya (How much further, little daughter)?”

I told him, pointing, - the colony on the left.

He asked me to get back on the rickshaw. I protested, said I hadn’t have any more money.

He just said, “Ladkiyon ke liye theek nahin hain. Hum kone tak chhod aate hain. Phir chali jaana. (It isn’t safe for girls. I’ll drop you at the corner. Then you can walk.)”

And he did.

I can’t quite describe the feeling as he dropped me off at the corner of our lane. Partly, it was being eaten up by guilt at not paying him as much as he deserved… how much did he deserve anyway?

But mostly, it was the knowledge, that I could not pay him as much as he deserved. Even if I had a hundred rupees, two hundred rupees, five hundred rupees to give him - it would not be enough to repay him, now.

Because now, he was the bada aadmi; the big man.

He had done his good deed, and in my eyes, developed a stature that prevents me from monetizing the value of the service. He left me spiritually bankrupt.

Today, people ask why cycle-rickshaws should stay – in a city that is crawling with cars, autos, taxis and cows – where is the place for these shabby, skinny men who bring nothing to this city except their sweat and sinew?

I have the standard arguments - the ‘cycles are easy on the environment’ argument. The ‘need for cheap modes of transportation in smaller geographical units’ argument. The ‘right to livelihood’ argument. The ‘who are you to decide who stays and who goes’ argument.

But those are not real arguments.

My real argument is that memory – of an old man who took pity on a hard-up young girl in the rain and pedalled and pedalled, all the way to a distant suburb, when he could have made five time as much money, if he’d hung around in the market-centre, to take advantage of an auto/tempo strike.

My argument is not his sweat and sinew, or his right to life. It is his calling me ‘bitiya’ and taking me that extra mile, that had not been agreed upon.

My argument is that I have a debt to pay and I will go on arguing for cycle-rickshaws as long as there are men who want to pull rickshaws for a living.

Because transport is not just about fares or convenience. It is also about journeying. Low fares, quick modes, quality service and all that jazz… but what about lasting memories?

Transport and commutes are about stories.

You want to hear other stories? I have more. Many more.

One of my favourites is about my friend, G, who used to study at Allahabad university, and lived in Civil Lines; a cycle-rickshaw was appointed to take her there and to drop her back home, everyday.

As old men do in bhaiyya-land, this man used to call my friend, ‘bitiya’. Little girl or daughter.

This shabby old man who had nothing to offer but his scrawny muscles, but he didn’t just stop at calling her ‘bitiya’. You see, in north-India, according to tradition, you do not touch your daughter’s money. So he would not accept money from G’s hands.

She tried to explain, to protest. But it was no point arguing. He would accept money only on days when G’s parents paid him.

Silly traditional nonsense? I know.

Pointless sentiment injected into, what was essentially, a commercial transaction? I don’t know…. I don’t know about that.

Because, this man is another of my personal arguments. A man who knows how to treat you like a daughter, when he addresses you like one, is worth having in our cities, don’t you think?

I can also tell you about the young boy who helped me bring up mattresses to the third floor, when we didn’t have a lift. Yes, I paid him extra, but that’s not the point. He is not a loader, he is not a coolie, he is not a manual labourer – he pulls a rickshaw and his job only required him to drop me at my doorstep. But I asked for help, and he agreed to help.

I can tell you that some of my most beautiful childhood memories are from the time when six of us kids would be on one rickshaw, me standing on a narrow plank behind the wheels, holding onto the hood for support, the wind in my face, shrieking with delight.

I can tell you of the look on the faces of some of the rickshaw-walas, as they turn to look over their shoulders, meeting this delight with their own smiles.

I can tell you of the time in Ajmer, when six unruly college girls hailed a tonga, took the reins from the driver’s hands, and bullied him into letting them drive. I can tell you about all the crazy men who deck up their cycle/auto-rickshaws like new brides. I can tell you about boring flights too. You can see for yourself which is more fun, or worth holding on to.

Some day, maybe I will acquire and learn to drive a khataaraa piece of metal, and start navigating the roads myself. Some day, maybe I will not need the rickshaws. But if I ever forget that old man who left me spiritually bankrupt at the corner of a lane in Lucknow, may the gods strike me down, when I take the wheel... Because if I forget the things that make life worth living and fighting for, I might as well be dead.

My point:

When I began writing this, it was in an entirely different context – the context of anger, alienation and the difficulties of transportation in a western, modern society... Their clean, clean roads and their organised, rule-bound traffic. Cars and buses only. Bicycles being the only alternative.... If there is one thing I miss in this small Scottish town, it is the cycle-rickshaw… no, that's not entirely true: I miss seeing dogs and cows too, and the occasional horse or elephant or camel.

[Those who think they’re are a traffic menace, I’d like to point them in the direction of a certain busy road near Andrewsganj, Delhi; with mine own eyes I have seen a row of cows balancing delicately, all hoofed fours, atop a narrow road-divider, patiently waiting for the traffic to slow down before crossing. Which is more than you can say for half the speeding guys on speed, who treat narrow kuchha lanes like virtual superhighway]

Then, I began thinking of those people who actually believe that cycle-rickshaws are a menace!

I am writing this post, because too many people have been lobbying to allow fewer and fewer cycle-rickshaws in Delhi. First it was just the heart of New Delhi; now, there are moves afoot to keep them off the suburbs too. I could cite reports by way of counter-argument.

But the point is this - we talk about giving the public a choice.

So, I want that choice. Have low-cost airlines by all means; I want those too. But I also want buses. I want my tonga, I want my metro, AND I want the cycle-rickshaws. I see absolutely no reason why not.

The roads are public property.

The rickshaw-pullers are as much the public as the cabbies or pilots. If you want them out of the way, build separate tracks for rickshaws, and then talk about speed and safety issues. Delhi does have separate 'priority' bus lanes, in some suburbs. How difficult would it be to just plan for different sets of tracks, in different regions, starting right now?

Make it a part of the master plan. Listen to the experts. It is not undo-able.

And if it is undo-able, tough!

Learn to drive slow, and pay at least as much respect to the man pulling a rickshaw, as you do to the cows. Defer. Slow down. Wait to let them pass.

For the world-class wannabes, a reminder: out here, in the UK, cars wait, while a duck waddles across; those are the rules.
This year, I have not been able to read properly.

I am reading, but in fits and starts, as if I have lost the art of being absorbed. Or at least, of being absorbed in a linear, narrative fashion… I get fascinated by an idea, then I let go. I grasp again, cling, flounder, tentatively touch, but then, float away.

I go away from a book, but return a month later. I run beside one author, but abruptly abandon him/her, change tracks and start running with another. This is guilt-inducing – because I usually don’t leave authors in the lurch; I’m a faithful reader. Or was, until now.

Now, it is impossible to become one with a book; my whole brain refuses to be dragged into the experience of reading. Part of the problem is being bilingual.

It all started when I began to read Hindi literature seriously again, some time last year.
As a result of being more or less equally fluent in both English and Hindustani (my real mother-tongue is Hindustani, which is neither pure Hindi nor pure Urdu, but a colloquial mixture of the two), there’s this corner of my mind that begins to translate it back to me. Hindi to English.

This corner of my mind is busy translating simultaneously. Each word, each sentence - this corner pokes at it, picks it up as if it was a curio and then translates it into another language, to make it a souvenir.

This corner wants to feel the intricacies, the fine-ness of the ideas, in another tongue. I like to wrap my mind around the words and turn them over and over until they’re something else, and yet, the same.

Sometimes, I even go from English to Hindi. Especially when the book has an Indian context. The bilingual corner of my brain immediately begins to wonder how this would sound in Hindustani: would it sound better? Worse? More natural? Would this narrative sound as if this could be any place, in any other nation, if I put these thoughts into English? Would the flow be more delicate, the language more impactful, in Hindustani? Suppose you mixed up the two?

Most recently, this habit has transcended books with an Indian context. I find myself trying to translate Orhan Pamuk and Murakami into Hindustani – just to see if it works.

Unfortunately, this means that there’s a one-second time lag between one part of my brain and the other. Sometimes, I get stuck, because the part of my brain that is translating is stuck for a word or appropriate idiomatic transformation. It gets larger and more assertive and refuses to let me read further, until I can solve its bilingual dilemma.

Sometimes, I must take a firm stand and yell at the corner – ‘I don’t care what this means in English, okay? I want to finish the damn story!’

Sometimes, I go and google up the word in an online dictionary. Sometimes, I run down my address book, to check if there’s somebody whom I could randomly call or email, to see if they’d help me with word-meanings.

And sometimes, I just content myself by telling unsuspecting bibliophiles - ‘Read this, read this; get a translation. Is there a translation? There should be a translation; why doesn’t somebody do a translation?’

All the same, it has become impossible to read with the old fluency of thought. Maybe I should just translate something and exorcise the ghost, once and for all.

A story

I'd come across this story weeks ago. It's worth reading. It's worth replicating.
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