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.

Monday 5 September 2022

Thinking about conversion

There are four reasons (that I can think of) why people change religions.

1. A change from within, a new belief system.
Faith change is deeply personal and the business of nobody but the person converting.

2. To-be spouse of different faith wants religious marriage ceremony.
Often just for convenience, an on-paper conversion that is only of concern to the hopefully-happy-ever-after couple, and the spiritual advisor from the religion being converted to, and maybe their families.
Basically, also not the business of the rest of the world.

3. Being at the wrong end of something sharp and/or pointy.
This has happened often enough historically, as religions and kingdoms warred with each other. Obviously, it is reprehensible, and right-thinking people must oppose it, condemn it if it happens now. (Yes, if you know me at all, you know I am anti-religion, and loathe organised religion and its stakeholders, but I support the right of people to find comfort and safety in religious belief.)
The problem, though, is that this cause is being ascribed these days to what is a very different reason, the fourth item in the list.

4. A better life.
That is, someone sees advantage to themself, their family, if they espouse a new religion. Maybe education, food security, acceptance. Those invested deeply in the religion being converted FROM must ask themselves why they did not provide this former faith-mate with a better life when they could; they must ask why they could not feed her family well, educate them, make them feel cherished and part of the community.
Agnostic, anti-religion me also wants to add this: if corporeal things like food, education, jobs, etc., can attract people to another religion, perhaps your religion — any religion — really isn’t very strong at all.

(That last bit also applies to anyone who takes offence on behalf of their god. How weak is your divine being that anything a mere mortal human could say or do could endanger or harm it? How weak is your faith that a non-believer’s non-belief could threaten your all-powerful icon?)