Thursday 25 January 2024

Poetry in Parks

A few of us in New Bombay who love poetry and the profusion of parks we are blessed with have decided we will combine the two.

We meet once in four weeks on a Saturday, in the early evening, in a public park (different park each time), and read each other poetry we love and discuss the poems and why we love them. Some of us write too; but we do not read our own work.

You can find out about future meetings and keep in touch via our Instagram page, where we also share recordings of our past meetings. You can also hear the recordings on our YouTube channel. If you want to join in, you can get a calendar invitation and location pins for upcoming meets by emailing at gmail.

To participate bring at least three poems (not your own) to read to us and tell us why you loved each poem. Poems can be in any language, but with poems not in English please also bring a rough translation or summary in English. We record video and take photographs, but it is perfectly fine if you don’t want to be recorded or photographed.

We will probably sit on the grass, so you may want to choose clothes compatible with that or carry a handkerchief, piece of cloth, newspaper or something you can sit on. (But we will definitely sit near a park bench so that folk who can’t sit on the ground have a choice. Also, we’ll go to a park that is wheelchair-accessible.) You may want to bring a mosquito repellent.

Sunday 19 November 2023

Christians and Israel

Some folk are mystified by the unconditional support for Israel from some Christians. (I don’t mean governments in Christian-majority countries — there’s enough out there to explain that — and I don’t even mean the suckers who fall for the scams of the very rich people behind the megachurches. I mean ordinary Christians with seemingly sound principles and solid family values and all that.)

I am, as I have said often here, devoutly agnostic and the opposite of a fan of religion, and deeply suspicious of organised religion. But I grew up in a Christian family, was a believer myself, went to Christian-run schools and colleges, lived in Christian neighbourhoods half my life, and though I began walking away in my teens, I can tell you that that upbringing does condition one to think of things in certain ways. Add to all this that most of what I read was by British or USAian authors, and ditto with what little television and cinema I was exposed to. I am of very mixed heritage, but I grew up as pretty much a white Christian under a brown skin.

And from that kind of upbringing, what one subconsciously imbibes is that the whole Israel enterprise is not just right but divinely ordained. Remember that the Bible’s Old Testament is pretty much the story of the Jewish people — the ‘chosen’ people, the ‘promised land’ — and that Christian and Jewish (and the Islamic, but that’s not germane to this topic) texts only diverge on the matter of whether Jesus was the messiah promised by the prophets.

With the more modern stories in comics and books and the very limited television and cinema I was exposed to, I continued to hear the same kind of story, of the plucky Jews fighting the heathens to claim the holy land. And of course the atrocity that was the holocaust could make any reasonably sane and vaguely human person feel sympathy for the followers of Judaism.

Now, add to this the acts of terror committed by a few batshit extremists who were technically followers of Islam which got far more media exposure and public discourse than similar acts committed by folk who claim other religious affiliations, and the very little exposure that Israel’s acts of discrimination, violence and colonialism got.

Of course the precise mix will differ from person to person, and my hybrid experience will not hold true for all. But I can tell you that as a result of the way I grew up, it took the Israeli attacks of 2014 — you recall the visuals of Israelis cheering from their deckchairs while they watched bombs land in Palestinian areas? the defiant foot-stamping dance of young Palestinians while black smoke billowed behind them? — for me to begin to question my conditioning and read more history.

I must also mention here that one thing that had begun to propel me on to this path was a piece by Sundeep Waslekar in my then-workplace, Forbes India, in 2011 about the ‘business plan of terror.’ I worked on our covers then, and so I was also privy to the conversations that happened before the story came out, and it was a major reorientation for me to learn about how terrorism took root in different parts of the world. (The piece, and the podcast episode that accompanied that issue.)

If you know me, you know I’m a fairly liberal person, someone who tries to understand other points of view, reasonably eager to learn. But it took this much for, to use a, hehe, biblical phrase, the scales to drop from my eyes.

Tuesday 31 October 2023

Mathew Perry

I find it a bit sad that so much of the sorrow being expressed after Mathew Perry’s death is centred around a character he played in the 90s.

Before I go on, I watched F.R.I.E.N.D.S off and on, and I enjoyed it. It was an international mega hit, it defined the time for many people of my generation and it still connects with young people today, despite often valid critique. The ‘who is you favourite Friend’ debates were the ‘who is your favourite Beatle’ conversations of an earlier time, fun, and also revealing of what we projected on our icons. And to be part of that phenomenon was, indeed special, and to be defined by it was perhaps inevitable, and applies equally to his co-stars except, and only to an extent, Jennifer Anniston. It is also natural, I guess, for actors to be defined by the roles they play.

And, no, no, no, I have nothing against one-hit wonders. And I’m well aware that it is one hit more than I have had or ever will in all my careers. (Have you seen James Blunt’s Twitter? It is one of the few reasons left for me to use that platform.)

But, F.R.I.E.N.D.S was an ensemble show, and to me the writing was as much a star as any of the people who appeared on camera. (And here I also acknowledge that each of those actors shaped their characters too, and that the writing then played off the characterisations, in a beautiful symbiotic way.) Chandler Bing was beloved, but Chandler Bing was the creation of many, not just the man who played him. Chandler Bing was fiction.

I come not to bury Chandler Bing (or F.R.I.E.N.D.S).

What I most admired about Mathew Perry was his openness about his own struggles with mental health and substance abuse. That he fought long and hard to overcome them and reclaim himself. That he used his celebrity status to help others who were fighting those battles.

That his life ended when he seemed to be more at peace with himself, that he didn’t get to grow old and weird and wonderful: that makes me sad.

Chandler Bing will live on, maybe even finding future generations whose truths he will speak, who will identify with him, love him and own him.

I come to mourn Mathew Perry.

I would like to be remembered as somebody who lived well, loved well, was a seeker. And his paramount thing is that he wanted to help people…
I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life. I’m still working through it personally, but the best thing about me is that if an alcoholic or drug addict comes up to me and says, ‘Will you help me?’ I will always say, ‘Yes, I know how to do that. I will do that for you, even if I can’t always do it for myself!’ So I do that, whenever I can. In groups, or one on one.
And I created the Perry House in Malibu, a sober-living facility for men. I also wrote my play The End of Longing, which is a personal message to the world, an exaggerated form of me as a drunk. I had something important to say to people like me, and to people who love people like me. When I die, I know people will talk about Friends, Friends, Friends. And I’m glad of that, happy l’ve done some solid work as an actor, as well as given people multiple chances to make fun of my struggles on the world wide web… but when I die, as far as my so-called accomplishments go, it would be nice if Friends were listed far behind the things I did to try to help other people.
I know it won’t happen, but it would be nice.
~Matthew Langford Perry
(August 19, 1969 - October 28, 2023)

Sunday 10 September 2023


I haven’t written here in a while. Bu this is just to note that it is 20 years to the day that I first posted here. The wee thing I had written that the post links to does not exist any more. And of course the blog layout has changed. And it was to be another three months before I wrote my second post. But hey, there it is.

Monday 14 November 2022

Jolene, this is just to say

You took the grapes you took the limes
But you went too far this time
You stole my only breakfast

You know that this is zero-sum
Yet you went and ate the plums
And left a poem on the fridge

Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
I'm begging of you please don't be William
Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
Please don't take my cold sweet plums

Sunday 16 October 2022


I saw a post on Twitter (screenshot below, but I blurred out the OPs’ handles and display names because what I have to say is not about them) which provoked much comment. And I had some thoughts.

I’m single. I’ve aged. Parties haven’t died out: they’re just different kinds of celebrations and gatherings now, some raucous, some have dancing, some are quiet. Health issues? Hell, yes.

And friends have taken turns sitting beside my hospital bed, paying my bills once when I was broke and could have died. Friends have helped me bury me entire immediate family, stretched out their hands when I was weak and needed a pull or a push, fed me when I couldn’t feed myself. Friends have held me through loss, through heartbreak, through penury.

I’m not single because it is some inviolable credo of mine. I’m not against marriage and stable long-term relationships and romantic love and all that — close friends have those things, and it’s lovely that they do, and I see that it works for them and a true partnership is a beautiful thing — it just never worked out that way for me. I have never lived with a partner long-term and planned a life and home loans together, never raised children or even took responsibility for a pet. These are not doors I have closed, but neither am I sitting there waiting forlornly for someone to walk through them.

And I’m also not denying that being alone and single can be hard for some, and that there are many people who would not have the kind of friends I do, or inhabit the privilege I have.

You can be miserable and lonely in a family, or you can be held and nurtured by them. You can be happy and content alone, find companionship in an animal, find peace and purpose in the wilderness, or it can drive you to despair.

All I want to say is that none of these is the only truth. Most of us live on the spectrum between them; some of us may spend long periods at different points in the course of our lives, sometimes the exact same equations change when you and the others in them change. We search, sometimes we don’t succeed, but sometimes we find our tribes, our meanings, our comfort levels, our selves.

Sunday 18 September 2022


Your friend the ceramist, who you regularly pester with n00b questions, has suggested making a plaster slab as part of your clay sculpture tool-set.

For this, you will need to make a frame to pour plaster in to set.

You remember that you have a bag-and-a-half of plaster of Paris. You go look for it, and in the finding, you spot the polystyrene sheets you stored away from the last house move, thinking you might have a use for them. That day has come, and with it vindication for your habit of not throwing stuff away you might one day find a use for. Jolly good, Jeeves.

You retrieve these, and also your long steel ruler and cutter. In doing so, you spot a bottle of glue you bought three years ago and haven’t used up. you shake the bottle to confirm that the glue has not dried. Praise be: it has not. You were going to merely assemble the pieces on this night, and go get glue tomorrow, but now you can finish the whole thing here and now, and it will be ready to use tomorrow. Hallelujah. The slight sleepiness you felt at a respectable time has also evaporated, which may or may not have something to do with the cup of tea you absent-mindedly drank not long ago. Never mind. Come, Watson, the game is afoot.

You look for paper to put under everything, to collect spills. Though you have not purchased a newspaper in two years and ten months, you find some. A modern-day miracle! Minus 10 points for bad housekeeping, plus 10 for project.

You assemble the materials. You cut the base, and then the strips for the sides. There is a flurry of polystyrene flakes, but you shrug philosophically; there are brooms in the house; there are dustpans; there is tomorrow. You will not be deterred at this glorious moment.

You place the parts together to check for fit, make minor adjustments. you swear as one of the side-walls disintegrates. Perhaps these sheets are too thin? Now is not the time for questions, Sancho. Onward and upward.

You cut another strip of polystyrene, and more snowflakes surge upwards. Never mind. Onward, Tenzing.

You shake the glue bottle again. You open the cap, upend the bottle. Nothing comes out.

Perhaps the nozzle has clogged. Maybe you could clean it out. Or maybe you could just give it a gentle squeeze. No one has won a battle they have not fought, troops. Carpe diem!

Seize the bottle. A gentle squeeze. No luck. In for a penny, and all that. More elbow, Rafael.

The bottle is clearly an Indian cricketer; it cannot take the pressure.

It disintegrates.

(A pause here to have you note that plastic crumbles past a certain point, and to urge you to curtail your use of this material for the sake of our planet.)

It disintegrates.

Glue, imprisoned 32 months, erupts, eager to fulfill its dharma and find things to stick together.

You are cross-legged on the floor. The glue, yielding to gravity, descends from mid-air, and falls. On your hand. On the inside of your knee. And the outside of your knee.. And your calf. And on the bit of exposed skin between lower hem of shorts and knee. And some between hem of shorts and thigh. And on the bit of floor between you and the newspaper you had spread out. And on the polystyrene pieces you had cut. And the cutter. And the steel ruler. And the cutting mat you had put aside after cutting the polystyrene.

Fuck, you say. That’s another fine mess you got me into, Stanley.

Fuck, you say, with more feeling. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. You channel Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuckity fuck.

You take a deep breath. Never mind, Sundance. This glue comes off easy; remember how one would play with a similar glue in school, letting it dry and then peeling it off like dead skin to the delight of one’s classmates? (It was a boys’ school.) And the floor, well a wet rag will do the trick: it is a water-soluble glue, after all.

You feel the beginnings of an urge to pee, but you push it aside; there are things to be done first. You use one of the ice-cream sticks you have on hand for carving, armature-making and similar arty-crafty things to scoop up dollops of glue from leg, shorts, floor, cutting mat, ruler, remnants of bottle, and put the frame together. There is now glue on everything within a one-kilometre radius, so you say fuck it, throw the ice-cream stick aside, and just use your fingers. One leg is going to sleep, as its owner should have hours ago if he had any sense. You uncross your legs… calf and thigh are lightly stuck together… careful now… and cross them the other way. The glue now gets on to the other leg. Never mind. Everyfuckingthing is sticking to everyfuckingthing anyway. One of the fucking sides is too fucking long, so the fucking box will fucking warp. There is fucking glue on the fucking cutter anyway, so you use your gluey fucking hands to pick it up and trim it. Fucking snowstorm. And now it’s too fucking short. You cut another fucking strip from the big sheet. This works. But the other three fucking sides are fucking sagging a bit. You cut small squares of fucking polystyrene to use as reinforcement for the fucking joins. It sort of works. Language, Timothy.

You sigh, lean back. The other leg, you now discover, is lightly glued to both floor and its counterpart. You gently separate all of them. Good job, Batman.

You begin peeling off the ‘skin’ anticipating reliving the innocent joys of schoolboy years.

You did not have hair on your legs when you were a schoolboy.

You are preternaturally calm.

You pause to reconsider.

You now also really need to pee.

This is a dilemma.

You reconsider the pause.

You saunter to the loo, turn on the tap, hose down hands while doing Kegel exercises and then proceed to take care of urgent business, hoping that body parts thus far protected will not acquire adhesive coatings. Whew. All done. You flush.

Then you turn the tap on again, and wash off the glue from legs and shorts. You give thanks to what gods there may be for the fact of the glue being water-soluble.

You come out, muttering a few dark oaths, and are cheered by the fact that you can mix plaster of Paris powder and water tomorrow and make the slab.

With this frame you made as a mould. A frame held together by glue. A glue which is, as you have noted, water-soluble.





So, how was your night?

Saturday 10 September 2022

Lessons from comedy

I was thinking the other day about the arts and making a living doing art. And I went from there to thinking about stand-up comedy as an arts and culture ecosystem that has taken shape right in front of our eyes.

Not too long ago, stage comedy was mostly slapstick or mimicry, often by people who were the comic relief in Hindi cinema. On TV, there was the great Jaspal Bhatti, and for Hindi comics, a platform in the raucous Indian Laughter Challenge. Shekhar Suman had a talk-show, Movers And Shakers which was, um, I guess, kind of funny. The Week That Wasn’t with Cyrus Broacha was, IIRC, the first proper TV satire show in English. But stand-up as the art form it is in the USA wasn’t really a thing.

Arguably, bootlegged Russel Peters videos played a role in showing aspiring Indian comedians that a brown man — even if one who had grown up abroad – could make a career in stand-up. And the Comedy Central channel brought some of the best talent in the world to our screens.

Comics like Vir Das and Papa CJ made their bones abroad, doing the grind of performing at open mic after open mic, tiny gig after tiny gig. When they came back to desh, they hired writers, trained them, and played a crucial part in creating a new generation of comics, who then helped create a stand-up scene. In Bombay, the erstwhile Comedy Store played a big role too; for aspiring Bombay comics, it was stage, refuge, home.

We now see comics in multiple languages, doing Netflix and Prime specials, online talent shows coming back with more seasons, genres of comedy taking shape.

Its nice to see early comics paying it forward too, teaching, hiring people, mentoring them, promoting them.

Of course the comedy scene isn’t mature yet. There aren’t enough venues or audiences, or enough people training and mentoring new hopefuls. (And there is the little matter of free speech, comedians getting arrested for jokes they never made, threats, y’know…) But that so much has happened in the space of around 15 years is remarkable.

And food for thought for me, for one, as I think about ways to make other arts commercially viable occupations.

Wednesday 7 September 2022

Making art, making a living

The problem with artistic / creative pursuits is making a living doing them, especially early in a career.

A few, very few, will make it to the top and earn good money; many others will get better over time and make a decent living, but starting out is tough.

The rest of the world does not value the labour of early-career artists, by and large. Which means that only people who inherit some privilege can afford to persevere through to the times when they can get by on their own. (And it’s not that arts education is cheap.)

Things have changed a bit, and there are, of course, grants, fellowships and other kinds of support. Often, though, the pursuit of these can take up inordinate amounts of time, time that could have been spent being creative.

And yes, privilege still counts, not just in who gets this kind of support but even in just hearing of what is available, getting one’s foot in the door.

For the rest who are driven enough, it means making far less money than their peers in other walks of life.

Or working in some other — hopefully allied — field and creating in one’s free time. And, maybe, later, with savings banked away or spousal/family support, try again.

Nothing wrong with working in an allied field; one can pick up extra skills, build networks, all that. And a world view, experience in life, which is invaluable, possibly informing one’s creative vision, making one a better artist. (In the creative world I know best, writing, I know very few people who were able to get a novel or volume of poetry published early in their lives. Most writers had — and many still have — day jobs.) And nothing wrong with working in a non-allied field either. For some people, in fact, it actually works better to have that unconnected day job.

It’s just that… wouldn’t it be nice to devote oneself to an art and make a living at that art, starting modestly, as in any other profession, but at least making a decent wage?

In other words, wouldn’t it be nice to have a decent arts ecosystem? An ecosystem that gave creative practitioners the choice of working and growing within it?


It is hugely encouraging to see the work people I know and am proud to call friends are doing. Rashmi Dhanwani, who with her team is doing the kind of work too many creative people consider unsexy, like research and documentation, aside from the more visible work of building community and platforms and necessary conversations; Arundhati Ghosh, Menaka Rodriguez, and Darshana Dave raising funds and seeding work; Hemant Divate and Smruti DIvate who are doing the unthinkable and publishing books of poetry; Ranvir Shah growing a foundation and platforms for the arts and also growing people like Meera K, who are the glue that binds the arts without ever taking centre-stage themselves, more and more smaller venues, from ones that have been around while like Prithvi Theatre, the ones that host events aside from the other work they do, like the British Council and Alliance Francaise branches, to new places coming up all around us.

I’m sure I’m forgetting lots of people and things — and also oversimplifying the work of people I have mentioned — but I am not an authority on the field, and this is not a speech, so I can come back and edit it.

Tuesday 6 September 2022


I just realised that one of the things I miss most about Chembur, where I lived between ten years old and mid-20s, is the number of people I could hang out with who lived within walking distance, or, when we moved a little further out, a cycle ride away.

College and work expanded my circles, the online world expanded them even more, and over the years I have found many who are my tribe, who matter deeply to me, so I don’t regret these for a second.

But there is something to be said for having friends whose homes you could stroll over to on a whim, to play a board game, watch a movie, have a snack, just chat and lounge around, and then walk back.

The more scattered friendships of choice all require some planning and coordination, some effort, some expense, just to hang out. Of course Chembur has changed, my old ’hood is almost unrecognisable, most pals have moved elsewhere.

Besides, there was much about life there that was very… narrow, many of the ‘friendships’ were really just because of proximity, some of those folks were really rather toxic.

You can’t really go back; ‘home’ is both a place and a time.