Saturday, October 23, 2004

Leh - Golden Roof

From the top of a monastery. The picture hasn't come out right at all. I wanted to capture how the roof shone golden in the sun; how the Indus river glistened, basking contentedly in the heat; how the trees meshed to form an orange and yellow backdrop. The picture doesn't tell you any of this. I've manipulated it a bit. Tried to make the roof a bit more like it actually was. But still... *sigh*

• • •

Friday, October 22, 2004


There is a chill in the air. The trees have lost their colour. Hastily dug out jackets abound. People hug themselves in vain. Fans shall not turn for the next six months. Airconditioners, unused, are about to gather dust. Blankets and rajais are being brought out from hibernation. Sunlight is sought, not earnestly avoided. A breeze bring shivers, not delightful coolness. 

Winter has arrived. 

Time for change: from 40 degree C to 05 degree C; from cotton to wool; from skirts and tops and capris and hats to sweaters and mufflers and jackets and gloves; from glare to gloom; from cursing the heat to eagerly welcoming it; from cotton sheets torajais; from airconditioners to heaters; from mangoes and musumbi to mushrooms and litchi; from sunscreen lotions and cleansers to moisturizers and lip balm; from cold water to hot.

From Summer to Winter.
• • •

Thursday, October 21, 2004


Brown sere hills, deadened by the onset of winter. White mountains, becoming whiter by the day. A hardy, uncomplaining people. Little plump-faced fairskinned children, their cheeks red with the cold, smiling unselfconsciously at me. Monastries with friendly, brown-clad monks; golden Buddhas behind gilded glass doors. Clumps of orange and yellow hued trees dotting an otherwise barren landscape. Olive green army uniforms and army trucks and army jeeps and army barracks. Me puking onto snow at 17,800 feet, sickened by the altitude change. Curvy mountain roads. Looking down from the jeep window at the precariously close edge of the road and REALLY fearing for my life. Yellow signposts like "Overtaker, beware of undertaker" and "Honey, I like you; but not so fast" and "This is a highway, not a runway; don't fly". 

Places I visited: The Shanthi Stupa, a couple of monastries, the Leh palace, a lake that lies both in India and China, the Magnet Hill, a gurudwara, 17,800 feet. 
• • •

Friday, October 08, 2004


I often think that Central Delhi is the most beautiful part of Delhi. Especially in the early mornings and the late afternoons, when the sunlight slants onto the trees and casts long shadows on the red walls. 

The other parts of Delhi are much too dirty to be really pretty. North Delhi is quite divine, except for the dirt and the people and the rikshas and the squalor. I suppose that some people find it pictaresque, like the descriptions I have read of Egyptian markets or the bylanes of Baghdad. But, for me, coming as it does after the cleanliness and the greenness and the orderliness of Lutyen's Delhi, it's a hot, sordid Hell. 
• • •

Monday, October 04, 2004

I Want

I want a life with lots of travel, so that I don't feel that I'm stuck in a rut. And I want a lot of money so that I don't need to be anxious. I want a simple, red-tiled, white-washed house on a tiny, green island, with golden sand and frothy waves and grey rocks. I want rain. I want lots and lots and lots of books. I want a room filled with books - floor-to-ceiling shelves full of books. I want a job in which, as the cliche goes, change is the only constant. I don't want to be bogged down by routine. I want to be able to go where ever in the world I want to go, whenever I want to go. I want to be able to help other people without having to worry about whether they'll take it the right way or whether I have enough money. 
• • •

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Of Human Bondage - William Somerset Maugham

Warning: The following pseudo-review could contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.

I have just finished reading Of Human Bondage by W.S Maugham.

I am speechless. There is nothing to say about the book that hasn't already been said a million times before. But, I must say something. I must express how the book fairly exploded into my consciousness and left me gasping at times, indescribably bored at times, and sometimes feeling like I had the meaning of life within my reach.

First of all, I must admit that I identified completely with Philip Carey. His shyness, his reluctance at intruding in other people's lives, his pride, his reserved nature that is usually taken for superciliousness - while reading the book, I was taken aback quite a few times by how alike Carey and I are. The way we think are practically the same, except that I would never have his unthinking generosity. 

However, a few things about the book irritated me. His masochistic affair with Mildred, for example. Surely, he couldn't possibly behave like that? It's not in his character at all. Another peeve is the climax. One gets the feeling that the author was getting tired of the book and, wanting to finish it off, had taken the first possible ending he thought of. There is no way that Philip, exposed as he was to greatness - through books, paintings, sculpture and his own reflections on life - would have settled down to a normal life, with its drudgery and its anxieties. He would have wanted to make his life count, somehow or the other. That is why he took up art. And that is why he dropped it too, knowing that he would be no better than second-rate, no matter how hard he tried.

There are several poignant moments in the book - for example, Philip's fellow art student who commited suicide because of poverty. What is poignant is not the suicide itself, but the fact that she had been a worse than mediocre artist, with no skill in sketching, no eye for colours, no vision. Another example is one of the women Philip comes upon on his rounds as a doctor on call - she dies at eighteen, leaving a new-born child and her husband of few months behind her.

Such poignancy is scattered throughout the book. But what catches one's attention are not these moments, but Philip's reflections on life. These are myriad. Of a naturally introspective nature, Philip feels that he will be able to grasp the meaning of life if he thinks enough about it. His habit leads to a hunger for books on philosophy and theology, his loss of religion, the birth of cynicism in his nature, and, finally and irrevocably, his understanding of what his friend Cronshaw calls "the meaning of life". This last event does not change his life; it merely changes his outlook. It enables him to survive a period of poverty and face the bitterness of life with equanimity.

But, as I mentioned earlier, the ending leaves one cold. I actually threw the book away in disgust, because the climax did not suit the rest of the book at all. The book is supposed to be semi-autobiographical and perhaps I was looking forward to relishing Philip's growth into a writer and, perhaps, it was the realization that Maugham intended him to be a normal, staid country doctor that disgusted me. I like to think that that was not what Maugham intended. Perhaps, realizing that if he continued moulding Philip along his own lines, the book would grow too long to be fashionable, Maugham decided to end things differently. After all, it's undeniable that the book ends quite abruptly. The reader is left wanting more of Philip. At least, I was.

Of Human Bondage is considered one of Maugham's masterpieces. I don't know if I quite agree. Bits of the book are quite preachy and, therefore, quite boring. And yet, some of the reflective bits, especially the ones on posterity and the futility of life, got me thinking quite deeply. They made me yearn to do something that would make my name live on through the ages, like Maugham or Dickens or Shakespeare or all the thousands of writers of eras past whose names and thoughts and ideas live on through their writings.
• • •

Friday, October 01, 2004

The Peculiar Romance of Sodium Lamps

I was thinking of the peculiar romance of sodium lamps the other night, sitting in an auto under the Lajpat Nagar flyover, waiting for the traffic lights to change.

A line of orange lights was my first view of Dubai from the aeroplane, when I went there a few months ago. I was sitting in the window seat and, taking a break from the book I was reading, was staring down from the window at the inky blackness that I presumed to be the sea. Suddenly, I saw a meandering string of orange lights in the distance. Exhausted as I was from the flight, the glittering thread of orange assumed a magical quality and I could only stare as it rushed towards me. Soon, other pieces of orange string started appearing, forming a crisscross pattern below. By this time, our plane had started descending. I could make out the lights of vehicles travelling along the strings and I realized that the orange lines were roads, lined by orange sodium lamps. But, I will never forget that first sight of land - that orange necklace separating civilization from the empty wilderness of the sea.

I am quite sure that, looking back on my Delhi life, the predominant memories will be of speeding in my Dad's car along nearly-empty, sodium-orange Delhi roads at night. Delhi doesn't have a night life and, by eleven, the roads are quite empty, except for a stray gang of youth in a flashy car here or a stray beggar wandering dazedly there. The flyovers form unofficial night-shelters for the homeless of Delhi - the poor labourers who pour in from the surrounding countryside in search of a better life and get trapped in the glamourous web that Delhi weaves. The orange glow of the road lights gives them comfort at night, bathing the atmosphere in a surreal, fantasy-land glow.
• • •