Thursday, November 27, 2014

the agency

​This place is a madhouse. 

There’s someone wanting to breed cows, there’s an ex-chef of a fancy hotel, there’s an angry young man threatening to leave every day (“fuck you all!”), there’s another stumbling about drunk and grinning stupidly at everyone. There’s this chap who simply refuses to look anyone in the eye or smile, there’s a girl who blurts out what she thinks with an endearing lack of discretion. There’s the rights activist posting frantically on facebook, there’s that guy walking up and down in a silent, unnerving way, sneaking up behind our computers. There’s the world-weary, resigned chap in the corner, there’s the unperturbed illustrator lost in his own world. There’s the tomboy, with unexpected displays of girlishness, there’s the classroom bully with a heart of silly putty. There's someone killing us a little bit every day with his bad jokes, there's someone else who mysteriously disappears for really long hours during work, calling it lunch. There’s someone who laughs to himself periodically, making us all wonder whether he’s insane or whether he’s secretly laughing at our insanity.
Mornings usually begin with the santoor, go on to Telugu carnatic remixes, touching some Illaiyaraja on the way, before drifting into 90s Hindi film songs and some clean blues guitar. At exactly 10:30 a.m. every day, the gratingly overdone Nothing Else Matters is played by aforementioned angry young man with a seriousness I find amusing. On darker, busier days, Sadhguru spreads his gyan to a mix of believers and skeptics, after which plays a song about samhalofying zindagi such that it doesn’t become mauth. On some afternoons, violins and flutes spring to life, and on others, stand-up comedians on YouTube have their stage. Dog videos are regulars; whole movies are watched.

There are politics, there is bitching, there are friendships.
Everyone seems be ready to attack, counter, defend, prove. The energy level is high, frustration levels are higher, and heated exchanges take place every few minutes. There are arguments, disagreements, disappointments, pull-your-hair-out moments. Heads come together to put together some brilliant stuff, whiteboards get inked in and abstract ideas bounce, fly, spin, shape up and get converted to the tangible. Brains tick, fingers type, hands draw, and the greys take on colour. Sketches are shared, criticism is selectively digested, approval is received with relief. 

It’s incredibly satisfying to have cracked something and see it come to life... It's like learning animation and finding that something actually moves. 

After five years in academic publishing and working with scientists, educators, researchers and professors (your typical khadi-kurta crowd), this is a breath of fresh air. After five years of Dears and Warm Regards, the lack of salutations is strangely liberating. After five years of careful, polite speech, the vocabulary took on colours within a week of being here. After five years of a silent editorial floor, the noise is more than welcome. I desperately wanted change, and that part is taken care of. 

The very newness of it all is enough to sustain interest. There is constant food for the brain, there are a hundred stories and comics packed in a twelve-hour span. There are enough characters to fill a series. At the end of the day, everyone’s passionate about something, be it at work or outside work. There’s never not enough to talk about. Conversations aren’t boring. People aren't boring.  Everyone comes in a distinct flavour. Everyone brings a different approach. Everyone draws a different tangent to the circle - and that's making this ride worthwhile.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A story worth telling

I was travelling to Chennai by train in a third class compartment. There were six of us – me, one uncle and four aunties. We silently stared at each other till it was time to eat, during which I made some small talk to break the staring match, and then we ran out of things to talk about so we sat and stared again till it was time for us to put up the beds and go to sleep. I was on the upper berth, much to my relief, and I gladly made my escape.

I climbed up the iron rails and heaved myself onto the berth, when suddenly I felt something cold on my arm. I looked down, and to my horror, my left arm was covered in blood, which was steadily dripping onto the blue leather. I instinctively covered my hand before opposite Uncle could see it and make a fuss. I tried to discreetly slink (well, I don’t think I can slink with my bulk, but I tried) down to see what had happened, while trying to casually retrieve a piece of cloth from my bag at the same time. Unfortunately, I was right under Uncle’s nose and he saw some blood drip from my arm. I smiled wanly at him, while he exclaimed loudly,

“OMG! You are hurt! How did that happen! OMG! Blood is coming!”

“Er, yes, Uncle, it’s nothing, not even hurting, see I’ve got some tissue...”, I said, desperately hoping to get him to lower his volume.

Meanwhile, Aunty in opposite middle berth saw what was happening, and springing up (banging her head on the upper berth in the process), started fumbling about in her handbag which she was clutching:

“Oh beta how did you hurt yourself! Wait put some cream to stop the bleeding! Tie a handkerchief round your hand! Let us ask for the first-aid box!”

And then she said this..

“Oh no beta, I only have Fair and Lovely! Will that help?”

I smiled at her and said it was really okay, and that the bleeding would stop soon. Except it didn’t.

I inched closer to the edge of the berth and noticed a large nail sticking out of the side. So that was the culprit! I examined the wound again, wondering if there were chances of an infection, wishing everyone would shut up and go back to sleep.

Meanwhile, everyone in my compartment was up, and before more suggestions were made, I asked one of the Aunties for talcum powder. Opposite Uncle suddenly looked excited and said he had a small dabba of talcum powder in his shaving kit. He scrambled down the berth, looking very pleased to be of help, switched on all the lights, pulled out a large suitcase from underneath the lower berth, and proceeded to unpack. I didn’t protest, feeling a bit silly, a bit guilty. He pulled out a bag, from inside which emerged a pouch. He unzipped it and handed me a small Ponds talcum powder dabba triumphantly. I put some on the wound, tied it up with my stole, and thanked him relievedly. I switched off the lights before any further ado and the night went on peacefully.

I went to Pondy after that, where I spent a lovely weekend playing music and watching crocodiles with the boy. I had a waitlisted ticket for my journey back to Hyderabad on the same train. My mother was travelling on the train too – both of us were in separate coaches. At the last minute, my ticket was confirmed and to my surprise, it was the same berth and compartment as it was on my onward journey. I went to my mother’s place and gave her company for some time. I told her the story of how I hurt my arm, and she said, “Of course you’re going to look out this time, considering you know there may be something on that berth that can hurt you.” We had dinner and I left back to my coach.

I held on to the ladder rails and hurriedly climbed up (I was afraid I might step on lower berth Aunty’s toes), when I felt something cold on my left arm. I looked down, and my worst suspicions had come true. I had done it again! A symmetrical, deep cut now dripped blood, just below the previous wound. I messaged my mother, who came to my berth, did some first aid and rubbed the embarrassment in.

After some time, the attender came to my berth with a giant pair of pliers, asking where this nail was. This was my mother’s doing. He yanked at the nail and pulled it out, thus ending the story.

It’s been over three years since this happened, and I still have two scars just below my elbow on my left arm. They look like they’re going to stay.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


She found herself like an eighteen-year old again, getting lost in the corridors of the buildings, moving past pillars and bulletin boards, trying to find her way to class.

Only to quickly find a way out once she got there.

She was constantly running, looking for something, looking for an outside.  Always guided by a shifting focus, she went where it took her, exploring abandoned cowsheds and unearthing hidden wells among the paddy fields.

There was excitement then, a curiosity, a yearning, a thirst. A rush of energy that exploded in a mad mix of creative satisfaction, surging hormones and stimulated nerve endings. 
That was then. And maybe, like all our stories, it ultimately fell to clichés.

Six years later, she found herself being held together by everyday routines, circumstances, and things to do. She was drifting through the days...
Drifting. Another cliché.

This time, she was too listless to question, less curious, less excited, less trusting.
Just hungry, searching.

This time, she was not so much pushing for meaning as she was pushing for more.

She was tired now… she had been tired for some time. She packed her days, as always, like a suitcase overflowing with things of perhaps not much importance but which kept her sane, nonetheless. 

Back then, she had found solace in the hills. She loved the feel of the burning sun on her palms as she'd place her hands on the rocks in the midday heat. It seemed to take away the unease, the overload, and seemed to burn it away. Once she'd reach the top, she'd heave a sigh of relief and sit down, to watch the beetles dig into the mud and the leaves laze on the trees.
She hated the concrete. She craved for the new. She craved change.
She travelled. She walked through busy city streets, empty forest paths and sat on cross-country trains. She wrote. She drew. Story after story, comic after comic, on atm slips, on pretty notebooks, on Photoshop.

Work was a distraction. It filled a big chunk of the day, and paid the bills. Sitting in a box, within the limits of her cubicle, it caged her, yet in a strange way, it allowed her to escape. 
The more she wrestled to get away, the deeper the routine pulled her in.

It was like music. Structured and patterned, yet the very pattern allowing for a flow, begging freedom.

The music got louder and louder, the riff penetrating her bones, reaching a shattering crescendo before a ear-splitting hush.

It was an old trick that musicians used. Everyone knew it was the pauses that mattered, the in-betweens. It worked, every time. 
In the silence, she found a grip, all over again, on a nearby rock, as she scrambled up. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The budday post 2014

The world is full of amazing people doing amazing things.
People kept telling me the other side of 25 sucks, but two years down, and it really hasn't been so bad.
In fact, it's been pretty kickass.

After five years in publishing, I switched jobs and joined an ad agency.
Ad agencies seem to be madhouses.
But music plays all day long, which is a plus. 
I might like to have a cat someday. I love the feeling of cats rubbing themselves against my legs.
I've gone a whole year without one train journey and it's making me miserable.
There's something about watching the whole world move in front of the window.
I like being around lots of people. Crazy, happy, nutty people having nonsensical conversations.
RC whiskey still transports me.
​I watch orca videos when I'm low.

I discovered Andy Gibb this year.
I have a crush on every other guy I meet.
My latest is this guy who washes cars near our office. Damn sweet chap, looks after our adopted stray puppy.
I've a weakness (and weak knees) for guys who are good with animals.
Also guys who make good dosas. And omelettes.

I was at the receiving end of the following comments this year:
You're cut out to be a writer, you're not cut out for advertising. (wtf?!)
You've got a cute nose. (many hours were spent examining it in the mirror)
You're full of surprises. (Now we're talking yo​.)
How many works you have? Why you are doing so much works? When do you play? (Colleague's son, who spent a day with me at work)
Let me give you some advice. Listen carefully to people and then go ahead and do whatever the fuck you want. (This is a good strategy.)
I dislike driving in cities. 
Baby you can drive my car.. and maybe I'll love you.
I've learnt to be suspicious.
Trust doesn't come easy as you grow older.

I get a kick out of meeting people who are everything that I am not.
This new age traveller-tourist debate drives me mad. There is responsible tourism/travel and irresponsible tourism/travel. End of story.
It's like we want to define each and every thing and slot people according to the category they fall into.
We want to divide, divide, divide - whether we say it out loud or not, our minds are judging, allocating, classifying.

I am prone to feeling caged.
Open spaces attract me.
Openness attracts me.
I am impressed by people who have a single-minded focus.
I like doing multiple things at once and I've realised that's what makes me who I am.
My face is an open book. I suck at hiding what I think or feel.

I think I might be good at public speaking.
Being a Boss is tough.
Being a good one is even tougher.
I think I would like to be a Boss someday.

I'd be patient and calm and kind and inspiring and everyone would love me so...

​Family is steadying.
Love can be unsettling.

I love the sound of the mandolin.
I need to move to Bangalore.
The thought of moving abroad is just scary.
Mostly because you can't have 5 rupees chai on the roadside at 6 am.

I love white flowers. Peace lilies!
My favourite colour is green.
I hate groups that are formed by a mutual dislike for another person.
I'm an escapist more than ever now.

Try your best to keep away, but some songs just stick.
Ab blue hai paani paani paani paani paani paani
I've learnt the importance of trusting that good things will happen.
Sleep is a highly underrated activity, especially by creative people.
Good, uninterrupted, deep sleep is a blessing.

Photographs used to be such a special thing. A birthday, a family outing, a school farewell, sunset from Tiger Hill. Now they're just setting suns from everybody's balconies, new hairstyles, owls, and selfies with disproportionate forearms.
I find the word creative overrated. Again, a divide.
Everybody on this planet is creative.
I can wear kalamkari clothes all my life.
I always wanted to be dark and skinny, with curly hair. 

​I'm stubborn.
​I love making things for people.
I believe in aloe vera.
I'm a sucker for children's books.  ​
Birthdays make me happy.
​There's cake. 
I will go and kindly do the needful.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Saarang, Spandan, Pegasus, Riviera..

​I don't feel like it's been too long since we were all out in the open, feet in the air, about to hit the ground, only to take off once more, as we put all the energy in our bodies in sync with the screeching guitars. We sang in harmony, trying to hear ourselves above the vocalist, the air lifting our voices and  offering it to the vast starry sky above. Wisps of smoke wafted among us amidst the shadowy blacks. Frayed edges of jeans dragged under floaters, bits of mud sticking to them.

In the quieter corners, couples and groups of friends  huddled under the trees,  laughing, holding bottles of liquid that shone in the moonlight. Different colleges made friends by exchanging lighters, discussing the JAM or Mad Ads that were held earlier in the day. Late night matches were held - volleyball, football, tennis. Chants of every kind filled the air - winning chants, booing chants, cheering, hooting, chants in kannada, tamil, english. Orange slush was served at the stalls, congratulations were exchanged.
In the darker lanes, bushes shook with frenzied activity. The less adventurous couples walked hand-in-hand, some swaying gently. In the more frequented paths, lamp-posts stood at regular intervals, giving off a warm yellow light that bathed us all. There was something about that light.  In those three days of madness, it connected us together - a hotch-potch of faces and places - reflecting itself on tired but shining eyes, toothy smiles and knobs of acoustic guitars. It enveloped us in an energy that can only be found at college fests, and made us feel that we were all connected by a common thread. It established itself as a filter we would apply to pictures that we would revisit in future.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


​Having had enough time on my hands in the recent past with not much to do, I've been generally pondering.The last few months have taught me to be grateful, sensitive and most importantly, patient. Though the health issue was (is) only a treatable and thankfully controllable condition, it has been a testing time physically, mentally and emotionally. And now is the time for the quiet after the storm - this is the period of recovery and healing.

Everyday activities had become painful events that would take me time and effort. I broke down one day as I struggled to wear my clothes and do up my buttons with my hands shaking uncontrollably.  And I was relieved to find out that most of the problems were due to deficiencies that could be made up for with time. But I was also exposed to a sort of physical pain I had not experienced before which frustrated me because of the way it affected simple activities. It humbled me. Being unable to draw or use my hands much, I was able to get in touch with a totally different side of me - a side which was not constantly working, planning, doing or thinking - a side which needed to simply rest.

I was also touched by the love and support I received in various forms - from surprise visits and gifts to my maid trying to chase evil spirits out of me. 

We do take the small things for granted. I remember how relieved I felt after I discovered I could walk straight, after I discovered that I could write again without making spelling and logical errors. I have really been forced to step back, to relax and to take care of myself. When things get divided into what you can do and what you cant, patience and determination automatically come into play. (Aside: whether you've got balls or not, we all grow them when we need to!) And it seems to me like overnight, I've grown older. 

I think of people around me, people I see on a daily basis, those I've admired for long, those who've fought real, tough battles. And I feel even more humbled. It wasn't from being unwell that I learnt, but more from the overwhelming care I was given. I was able to spend quality time with friends - how are YOU doing? I have all the time in the world to listen. I spoke to a friend after ages recently, for example, and got to know he'd broken his shoulder.

I have found renewed faith - a faith I believe is here to stay, that no one can question or take away from me. It's a quiet presence that is beginning to anchor me.

I've become more focussed, more conservative of my energy and time, and definitely more peaceful. I've rediscovered the me which used to feel so joyful at simple things - watching a plant grow, listening to a favourite song, feeling the early morning chill in summer.

There are things you can control and things you can't. After the alarming diagnosis of a stress disorder,I have realised I need to have my mind-body co-ordination in place first and give them both the rest they deserve.  I have discovered that I can control the palpitations most of the time, that I can move away from what has potential to disturb. That the energy spent in being disturbed can be well channelised somewhere else. That peace of mind can be cultivated in the hardest of circumstances. That when you fall, you fall hard, but it's in your hands to pick yourself up. That only you are responsible for yourself. Do your best, be in control and leave the rest. And, most importantly, in the words of a friend: drop the inessential.

Something has changed within me - hopefully for good.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Suddenly all I can think of is riding my bike early in the morning to Ananda Vihara, down the road, up the hill, with the early morning chill biting my face and hands, and with the silvery sun rays through the trees. 

And I want to walk up the never ending flight of stairs, up to the entrance of the hall, look back and see the view, plump clouds that melt into blue at the horizon, the sweeping landscape of half of Secunderabad, the Buddhist monks playing downstairs with the garden hose. 

I want to sit in silence at the foot of the beautiful statue, close my eyes and get lost. 

When I get better, the first thing I'll do is this...