Tuesday, January 22, 2019


I lie flat on my back
life seeps through my pores
mingles with the earth
around me, saplings raise their heads
and wither

I count seconds with my heartbeats
time slows down
blood coagulates
breath freezes
it hangs in the air above my face
posing existential questions

The mind empties
one memory at a time
one thought at a time
until nothing remains
but your words
in what had once been
my brain

 Also published in the Issue #29 of Tipton Poetry Journal

Sunday, July 30, 2017

"Red Wedding" on the Scale of Poshness

"Does it really make sense to spend so much on a wedding that you feel bankrupt the day after?" asks the subtitle for Seema Goswami's column titled "Red Wedding" in Brunch today. Sensible question, one would say. Except that the examples of extravagance Goswami chooses to cite in her article are so many levels removed from the reality for me that I couldn't relate to them at all. 

Regular weddings are passe. Weddings are now supposed to be destination. So she says "... if the budget is tight... it will be an exclusive beach resort in Thailand or an opulent palace in India. If the money is no object, then the map will expand to include Florence, Venice, Vienna, or any other Historic European Cities." Of course Goswami means that choosing an exclusive beach resort in Thailand is extravagant too. However, for me, a sentence more relatable would have gone thus "... if the budget is tight... it will be Ajmal Khan Park. If the money is no object, then the map will expand to Hotel Ashoka."

From being "flown down in chartered planes" and "first-growth wines" being "on tap" to "trousseau" consisting of "diamonds for the mother-in-law, designer bags for the sister-in-law, a luxury car for the husband", Goswami slots all this as being over the top. The fact that I still by default refer to these items as "gifts" instead of "trousseau" says a lot about the gap between me and Goswami. We are at the opposite ends on the scale of poshness. And then comes the fact that I consider a bridal lehenga worth Rs. 75,000 over the top.

All this goes to prove that the reality is different for Goswami and me. While most people around me are still discussing how baraat bands have started charging more than 50K (Gasp!) for an evening, there is a section of the society that thinks that paying to be "given a tour of the Louvre afterhours" is over the top. The reality is that for people around Goswami, Hotel Ashoka simply isn't worth considering as a destination for a wedding. And for people like us, a wedding in Vienna is still hearsay.

So while Goswami is inundated with wedding invites accompanied by "handmade gourmet chocolates, silver mementoes", I nibble on the chocolate-coated almonds that a relative of mine (relatively speaking, ofcourse) has gifted with the invitation for their son's wedding.

I used to be a regular reader of Goswami's column in HTBruch, however, lately I feel I can't relate to them. At times I wonder whether I am indeed one of Brunch's target audience. I belong to the middle class that stays in two-bedroom flats. I am in a 9 to 5 job, and eating out is still reserved for occasions. The wine I drink is Sula or the Jacob's Creek, if someone is posh enough to gift one. I don't move around with the crowd that Goswami speaks to in her latest column. I have nothing against Goswami and her target audience, but I feel left out. Not a complaint. Just an observation.      

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Becoming Myself - My Toughest Challenge and Biggest Achievement

I have spent my entire life waiting for that one moment of inspiration when words would burst out, unbridled. I thought that it would happen in moments of intense pain, or may be when I feel a deep, passionate love for somebody. I waited for it to happen at times like these when someone’s advice refused to let me sleep. “Maybe it is not always advisable to say it out,” said a very dear friend, someone who has my best interests in mind, someone who I can trust with my eyes closed. This was a surprising piece of advice, simply because I never realized how and when I transformed from someone who needs to speak out, to someone who needs to be more restrained.


If I need to choose one word people have used about me in the past, I would pick “nice”. People liked me for this one trait. My presence didn’t make anyone uncomfortable, people “didn’t mind” having me around. I was the dhania powder in curry, the sada-bahar in the garden. But there is a price one needs to pay for being dhania powder. And I never realized this, but I was paying that price right from my childhood.

In the comfort of my home, I was a rebel. I held a morcha on my cycle when I was 5, writing “egg cake” with a chalk on every door, simply because my parents refused to buy me a proper cake on my birthday as it was navratra/shraadh. I stood close to my grandmother’s funeral pyre in a silent rebellion against my uncle who had earlier burst out asking,“what is a girl doing at a place like this?”

Among my cousins, I am the shrew who cannot be tamed. To many in my family, I am nalayak, the girl who refuses to be the one to manage the kitchen, one who doesn’t prioritize her marital home over her birth home. How all this makes me feel is probably enough material for another such post, so I will save it for later.

However, the fact remains that when compared to my elder sister, I always fell short of expectations. Relatives and friends have often told me how my sister is prettier, gentler, kinder, smarter than I am. She is all that and genuinely so, and, gosh, I love my sister more than I love anyone else in the world. She is my best friend. However, the truth is that I have spent a childhood, and even some years of my adulthood, trying to become more like her.

I tried to imbibe her mannerisms, her hobbies, her aspirations, and her ambitions. I became a fan of Imran Khan when she became one. I refused to leave her alone with her friends. I tried to sing like her. I even subscribed to Brilliant Tutorials in a bid to clear a medical entrance. Hell, I must have annoyed her a lot! I desperately wanted people to like me, but I had learned from experience that this could not be achieved by being myself.

After years of trying to alter my personality, I did manage to convince some relatives, and even fooled myself, with this “transformation” in me. I felt a short-lived deliverance when I heard words like “she is a much nicer person now.” The rest of the world almost never met the real me. However, the fact is that I felt fake. I had this nagging doubt that I was incapable of feeling any emotion deeply. I was in fact failing miserably. I couldn’t become my sister and I couldn’t be me. I was lost. I spent several precious years of my life in this state of a limbo.

It was a fear of judgement and a fear of disapproval that made me suppress my individuality. But at the end, it was just “fear”, which is after all based on imagined circumstances. It took one huge jolt (+ some years) to help me get free of this fake “niceness”. I have grown up more in these 5 years than I did when I was actually “growing up”. And my friend’s advice has made me realize this today. I am now the garam masala in the curry or the cactus in the garden. I am not everyone’s cup of tea, and I am okay with that.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child || A Shot of Gillyweed for those Drowning in the Muggle World

When I heard there's a new Harry Potter book out, I couldn't believe it. JK Rowling had made it pretty clear that there won't be another book ever. But who's complaining? There can never be enough Harry Potter books. So what if Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a script instead of a novel? So what if all the characters are two decades older? So what if many of our beloved characters don't get to play a part in it? It is still Harry Potter, and it is still magical.  

The story starts almost two decades after the great battle at Hogwarts and follows the escapades of Harry and Ginny's younger son Albus Severus Potter and Draco's son Scorpius Malfoy. Bogged down by the weight of carrying two huge names and of being Harry Potter's son, Albus reluctantly boards the Hogwarts Express. On the train he runs into Scorpius and the two boys instantly hit it off in ways that their fathers couldn't through the seven books. At Hogwarts, however, Albus's worst fears are realized when he is sorted into Slytherin instead of Gryffindor. In a bid to right some wrongs and also to prove himself worthy of being Harry Potter's son, Albus embarks on an adventure, accompanied by Scorpius, armed with a stolen time turner. The two boys are on a mission to save Cedric Diggory from being killed by Voldemort. What follows is a roller-coaster ride through some of the most evocative settings of Potter books and through time itself.
Starting with what I loved about the book. The characters retained their layers that were brought out beautifully through their interactions. With much less scope for exposition, it is harder to establish the back-story and the flaws in a play, but the scriptwriters did this beautifully. This is the main reason why I forgive the fact that the stories of many of our beloved characters weren't carried forward in this play. It isn't possible to do justice to characters in a play if there are too many of them.

The story had a moral and though at points there was a hint of didacticism, it still managed to move the reader and hit home. There were moments of profound wisdom. Consider this for example:

Harry: Those names you have -- they shouldn't be a burden. Albus Dumbledore had his trials too you know - and Severus Snape, well, you know all about him --

Albus: They were good men.

Harry: They were great men, with huge flaws, and you know what - those flaws almost made them greater.

The friendship between Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy is warm and relatable. Both the boys are lonely and feel like misfits - one from being overshadowed by a father who was a hero and another from being related to a family of Deatheaters. It is no surprise then that they find comfort in each other's company. Much like the friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, the boys, too, bring out the best in each other, help each other deal with their inner darkness, and support each other through their moments of weakness.

The story is a complex one, not just because of the layers in characterization and the subplots, but because the story deals with time travel and alternate realities. Within the confines of a play, it is commendable that the writers were able to do a convincing job of it without once dropping the ball.

However, there were some significant misses too, such as the vomit-inducing friendship between Harry and Draco. We could have done with a little more bitterness, some snide remarks, and some left-over hostility there. Instead, it turned all sugary-sweet where a wiser-beyond-belief Draco turns a philosopher and frequently lectures Harry. Snape's character too, in one of the alternate realities, is friends with Hermione and it just doesn't work for the readers. Neither friendships sound convincing.

Though the writers did a great job with most of the characters, their portrayal of Ron is one-dimensional. Though Ron stays goofy and funny, he is but a caricature of himself. He is almost the clown of the story, whose only purpose is to provide comic relief. This really isn't fair to a character that developed so much in the seven Harry Potter books.

So do I recommend the book? Not particularly strongly, especially if you like to wield your wand and cast a curse at the slightest provocation. In that case, you will find it difficult to forgive the scriptwriters for the misses and also me for recommending this book. But if you are drowning in the muggle world and are grasping for a life-saving supply of gillyweed, you can read it once. Is it as good as the seven books? Not even close, so don't go in expecting too much. Is it terrible? Not at all. It is different, and that it was bound to be.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Royal Bengal Tiger - Bring Back the Roar

Many of us were introduced to limericks with this verse:

There was a young lady of Riga,
Who rode with a smile on a tiger.
    They returned from the ride
    With the lady inside
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

Those of us who studied literature and even those of us who did not are probably familiar with William Blake's poem The Tyger:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Will H. Drake, logo and illustrations for Kipling's story "Tiger! Tiger!". St. Nicholas Magazine, February 1894. (Public Domain)
We find mentions of tiger all over arts and literature. Ruskin Bond's stories from the jungles are incomplete without a prowling tiger. Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book features a tiger Sher Khan as the ultimate villain with malice in its heart. Short Stories such as Mrs Packeltide's Tiger trivialize the killing of the magnificent beast to induce a little laughter.

Henri Rousseau's Tiger in a Tropical Storm (1891) {PD-India-photo-1958}
Tiger in a Tropical Storm, a painting by Henri Rousseau, got the artist his first brush with fame. He went on to produce several other paintings with tiger at their center.

Tiger is part of our folklore. Goddess Durga is often shown to be riding a tiger, a symbol of courage and strength.

In short, tigers are all around us, and so they have been for ages, evoking fear and awe. Graceful and perpetually nonchalant, these beautiful beasts are worshiped by many. However, we humans have a strange way of worshiping things. While we light incense sticks in front of a tiger idol, we do not care if the actual beast dies off.

It gives me the shivers when I think of how close we had come to losing all our tigers. I cannot imagine our jungles without their king, the beast with orange and black stripes and fire in its eyes. Dreadful and yet beautiful.

Many of us turn our face in disgust whenever National Geographic, Animal Planet, or Discovery play the footage of a tiger tearing apart its prey. We squirm with fear when we see the video of a mahout riding an elephant being attacked by a tigress that jumped out at him from the bushes. What we fail to see is that the tiger is just following its instincts. Just like any other living being, a tiger has to eat. And in the second example, the tigress who attacked the mahout was angry because she had lost her newborn cubs. You happened to be in her territory when she was in a foul mood. Too bad! It is time for the entire story to be revealed and for tigers to be redeemed.

They are not the terrible beasts that Kipling portrayed them as. Nor are they trophies, as Saki pictured them. They are our fellow earthlings, who have as much right as us to live here.

And it is not only for the sake of art or literature that we should save tigers, it is also for the sake of our planet and ourselves that we should be worrying about them. You probably learned the concept of a food chain in your primary classes, and would perhaps know that when a tiger hunts and eats a deer, it is not because a tiger is a mean, cruel villain who takes pleasure in inflicting pain upon hapless, weaker animals. It is because it too has to survive. And if it doesn't eat and perishes, you will be left with more deer than you can handle. These deer will then chomp away happily on the foliage, stripping forests of their green cover. And once that happens, we will all be roaming around with an oxygen mask strapped to our faces. Would you like this to happen? Moreover, imagine the earth full of just one type of creatures, us human beings. Will it be any good? Will it be as much fun? Will it be as beautiful? Definitely not. And that is why we need a new narrative.

Apart from what the government is doing, there is a lot that we, the common people, can do too.

1) People in creative fields can help develop a new narrative

A tiger is a magnificent creature, and its beauty doesn't only lie in its skin, its eyes, its claws, or its teeth. Its beauty lies in the way it prowls in the jungle, the way it ambushes its prey, the way it brings up its cubs. It is not a mean, stone-hearted animal. It is much more than just a beast that lives in the jungle. Some people like Raghav Chandra, author of Scent of a Game, have made an attempt to explore the issue of the tiger objectively. But sadly even in their story, we do not really get to understand tigers any better. Perhaps we need a Lion King like narrative for tigers. So go ahead. Paint a new picture. Write a new story. Sing a new song. Give the tiger its due.

2) Parents can inculcate curiosity and compassion in their children

Many parents make up stories to narrate to their kids. Many of those stories are Panchatantra-like where the tiger is often the bad guy. We need to change this perception of Good and Bad. Educate your kids about tigers as a species. One example of a message that you can give your kids through your stories could be "A tiger will kill you and eat you if it gets a chance, but it isn't really the tiger's fault because it is just being a tiger. You, like any other sensible animal, should try to stay out of its way." And besides teaching this to your children, it is also important that you understand this yourself. When the white tiger in Delhi zoo killed a man who had fallen into its enclosure and when Ranthambore's T-24 killed a forest guard, so many grown-up and so-called "sensible" people screamed all over the social media that game hunting of tigers should be allowed, that all tigers should be shot down. Can you think of a more irrational response? In no case should you promote such beliefs or discussions. In both the cases how is the tiger at fault? It is just following its natural instincts whereas we humans commit heinous crimes to satisfy our egos, lust, and greed. If the tiger deserves to be wiped out, we humans deserve much worse.

3) Align yourself to campaigns like Aircel's #AircelSaveOurTigers

Apart from the government, corporates like Aircel are doing a good job. Through its #AircelSaveOurTigers CSR initiative, Aircel provides vehicles and devices to the rescue teams that operate in case of human-animal conflict. They have also being reaching out to the masses through bloggers and school children. If possible, support them in their initiative. Write about them and their cause. Spread the word. Only then can the situation actually change.

4) Know and talk about the species that have already been lost to the world forever. And talk about the cause.

Dodos, Bali tiger, Asiatic Cheetah, Eastern Cougar have all become extinct. And we are losing species at an alarming rate now. The problem with extinction is that it is permanent. Once gone, these species cannot come back. Centuries that went into their evolution have gone waste. Isn't it sad? Read about these species and how and why they went extinct and you will be surprised to note that there is one common cause behind all these extinction - human activity. Without doubt we are more aware than our previous generations about the harsh reality of extinction. Then, do we really want to inflict the same fate on tigers? Will we be able to take the same pride in ourselves if we wipe out the animal that we love so much? Initiate this debate in your circles and keep it going. You never know, this might be the butterfly effect that will ultimately change the mindset of humans.

Let us put all our resources together and make this happen. Let us revive the tiger population. Let us learn to live with tigers and other animals. And let us do it now. Because, seriously, there's no other way, and no better time than now. 

About the Blogger:  

Vibha Malhotra is a writer, blogger, poet, editor, and translator, and the founder of Literature Studio. At present, apart from running Literature Studio and teaching creative writing to all age groups, Vibha works as a Consulting Editor with Dorling Kindersley (Penguin Random House), plus several online literary portals. Before  embracing writing as a career, Vibha worked as a software engineer for almost 10 years. She holds a Master of Arts in Creative Writing from Newcastle University, UK, and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Delhi University. She is a nature lover and is passionate about wildlife and landscapes.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Literary event to look forward to - Readomania #TalkFest

For as long as I can remember, I have held this belief that while science and technology are the body of a society, arts and literature are its soul. No society can progress holistically if both the aspects of its being do not evolve in sync with each other. 

For the longest time, there was a lull as far as literature is concerned, or perhaps I was oblivious of what was happening in the society. But recently there has been a surge in literary activities. My organization Literature Studio is just one such organization trying to make a difference. There are many others. The good part is the peaceful co-existence. 

One prominent organization that is doing good work in this field is Readomania. The organization is run by the very dynamic and inspiring Dipankar, and is a literary brand with interests in e-library for fiction and poetry, publishing – digital and print, literary products and events. Readomania’s online avatar has a membership of 10000+ literary enthusiasts and boasts of a collection of 2000 e-publications that are freely available to readers. Their publication division is five books old with ten more in the pipeline in this financial year. The focus is on innovative ideas like a composite novel, a fiction-nonfiction combination apart from novels and anthologies on unique themes.

Readomania has now come up with an innovative concept called the #TalkFest, which is a new platform for talks, lectures, debates and discussions around the theme of literature and art. The objective of Readomania #TalkFest is to bring in new ideas and different perspectives on literature, art, reading and writing and in the process encourage interest in the subjects, in books and in reading. Readomania #TalkFest will be held in the first week of every alternate month starting from November at India Habitat Centre. 

This actually seems like just the platform we need. The profile of the first speaker is pretty impressive too. I think almost everyone knows Avirook Sen by now. His book Aarushi created an uproar recently, but that isn't all there is to Avirook. For those who were off vacationing on another planet, here is who Avirook Sen is:

Avirook Sen is an independent journalist based in Gurgaon. He has been a reporter and editor for 25 years, working in print, online and broadcast media.  Sen launched the Hindustan Times’ Mumbai edition as resident editor, edited Mid-Day, and was executive editor of the news channel NewsX. He has written on a wide range of subjects, from cricket to terrorism and, most recently, crime. His work has appeared in India Today, Hindustan Times, The Express Tribune (Pakistan), New Scientist, NDTV, DNA, Firstpost, Mumbai Mirror and a number of other prominent publications.

His first book, Looking for America (Harper Collins, 2010) was described by Vogue magazine as a ‘Kerouac-like’ travelogue, and enthusiastically reviewed. 

His bestselling second book, Aarushi, (Penguin, 2015) has reignited a national debate on the criminal justice system, on media ethics, and Indian middle class attitudes. The book has been described as ‘masterly’, ‘disturbing’, ‘meticulous’ and ‘explosive’. Ian Jack has said: “Few accounts of modern India can match its compelling story and unforgiving light - it matters to the here and now as few books do.  I found it unputdownable.”
Well, Readomania has my attention now and I for sure will attend the #TalkFest. I bet you too are interested. If I am right, here is where you should RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/1482027965434633/.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Tiger Tales from Ranthambore || Ustad (T-24) - The Tragic Hero

We visited Ranthambore in May 2014. Back then T-24, or Ustad, still roamed the jungle. Forest authorities were fiercely protective of the tiger even though he had already been blamed for the death of three people by then. "He is NOT a man-eater!" countered Mr. Yogendra Kumar Sahu (the Conservator of Forest & Field Director), when one of our fellow bloggers referred to T-24 as one. And from what we had heard from the people who work in the jungle, the safari guides and forest officers, everyone was in awe of this magnificent beast. "I saw T-24 today," someone who had chanced upon the tiger would proudly proclaim. The tone was that of pride and respect. There was no sign of any hatred or indifference anywhere. We felt reassured that tigers, including the ones that are more tigerly than the others, were safe in Ranthambore. During our entire trip, though we weren't fortunate enough to sight T-24, its presence loomed large on our breakfast discussions, our safaris, and our dreams.

And then in May 2015 came the news that Ustad had attacked and killed yet another forest guard barely 100 metres from the park entrance. After some initial reluctance, the magnificent tiger was moved to Sajjangarh Biological Park. Social media erupted in outrage. T-24 was being persecuted for its natural instincts, some cried, while others claimed that there was no solid proof to tie T-24 to the crime. It was easy to get swayed by all the sentimental rooting for the tiger. Fingers were pointed in all directions - towards the hotelier lobby for being the reason why the tiger was shifted out of the forest and at the forest authorities for carrying out the operation covertly. Some felt that the tiger was being victimised, while others felt that the decision to shift out the tiger was a prudent one and was carried out for the greater good of conservation.

I have so far found it difficult to take sides in this debate. While I would love to live my life knowing that T-24 is free in its natural habitat and its ferocious roars still echo through the jungles of Ranthambore, I cannot bring myself to doubt the intentions of the forest authorities, people I had the good fortune of meeting and talking to, people who so passionately defended T-24 against the stamp of a "man-eater", people who carried on with their duties fearlessly for years in full knowledge that a tiger who has been known to kill people might be lurking behind the bushes. I refuse to doubt compassionate people who seal routes in the jungle to shield a tigress with newborn cubs from prying tourist vehicles, a decision that some conservationists do not agree with. I cannot bring myself to question their dedication to the cause of Tiger Conservation.

I have, however, often wondered what caused the forest authorities to lose their faith in T-24, what shattered their confidence, what caused the forest guards to threaten to stop patrolling the sanctuary unless T-24 was removed. Before we start judging these people, we need to remember that this is the sanctuary where tigers have wonderfully bounced back, that now houses more than 60 tigers. But at the same time, we need to be informed that this sanctuary is perhaps the most lacking in discipline as far as tourist behaviour is concerned. Anyone who has been to Ranthambore would probably have witnessed how uncomfortably close tourist vehicles are allowed to get to the tigers. So while I do not doubt that the forest authorities only relocated T-24 to Sajjangarh Biological Park to protect it and rest of the tigers in the wildlife sanctuary, I do hope steps will be taken to rein in the uncontrolled tourist activities as well.     

The question of Tiger Conservation has to be larger than merely the number of tigers in the wild. It has to encompass the health of a tiger's habitat and the safety of wildlife and human population in zones where there are high chances of human-wildlife conflict. Tiger conservation has been brought into the mainstream thanks to the conscious, consistent efforts of organizations such as Sanctuary Asia and Aircel. However, the cause of conservation, though rooted in emotions, needs to be pursued with practicality, and if in the larger interest of tiger conservation, one tiger needs to be relocated to an enclosure, then we may just need to control the urge to unleash our injudicious outrage upon the forest officers who have dedicated their lives to the cause. It may be time to look at the larger picture for once. It may be time to trust the decision of those who have worked so hard to help revive the dwindling tiger populations.