Thursday, September 09, 2021



As a number, 37 is rather coarse and inelegant. Perhaps the only reputation a number like 37 may hold is that of being a prime number. The term ‘prime’ in there isn’t even coquettish — in the ‘in-one’s-prime’ sort of way — which could have made 37 at least mildly interesting. ‘Prime’ numbers are named so merely because all natural numbers are primarily their multiples — Mathematics, as most of us would appreciate, is not exactly a science with much literary flair or style (maybe because it was largely a dominion of men). When applied to the chronological age of a human, birthday number 37 remains, at best, a stodgy nondescript footnote in the bell-curve of life, a “use by” date on product packaging written in small font that usually gets ignored. It’s an odd number, like getting a Johnny Depp year while counting down life, when one would have preferred more of a George Clooney elegance. Scruffy, burly, inflexible, difficult-to-pronounce, and yet thoroughly quotidian, it’s the number where one has already dealt with all the midlife crisis life could possibly throw, stretched, yawned, and comfortably settled, possibly looking for chocolate and cheese after one’s next meal. There are no inspirational stories either that could possibly begin with “by the age of 37…”; any noteworthy mention of someone at this age would perhaps include a crime and subsequent arrest, or a premature death. If the cancel culture was more inclusive, I reckon it would have advocated for 37 being cancelled.

Two years ago, on my birthday number 35 as an exercise in vanity, I jotted down my learnings, considering the moment as a poignant half-life marker of my existence. My thoughts then fell short of prescribing what my tombstone should read or whether I would prefer a cremation, but they did have the distinguished benefit of digital permanence that would allow obituary writers a place to copy-paste stuff from, should I get the privilege of an obituary by the time I am done on the planet. In the intervening two years since expressing my ‘learnings’, I shared a pandemic-infested world screeched to a halt (the irony of just one mammal temporarily incapacitated by a pathogen declaring the world as ‘stopped’ didn’t escape me — as if the world were synonymous with humans), went through a divorce, emigrated from India, and shifted jobs from one where I was doing things to one where I had to tell others how to do things. The two years seem to have passed in a blip, much like the ‘Skip Intro’ button on Netflix, but they managed to substantially change my personal station in life.

A recent feedback at work encouraged me to be a direct communicator. In response, I think I would have really liked if the civilized world was more open to calling-out assholes, and I would have contributed wholeheartedly to any social media hashtag doing so. I would have been much less involved with movements encouraging expressions of gratitude in oral or written communications, since I already feel fatigued by the proliferation of insincere thank-yous at work. Digressions aside, in the spirit of more direct communication, perhaps there are two thoughts worth jotting down at my thirty-seventh milestone footnote for future reference.

One, it’s important to accept that the world is a messy enterprise. Cultures are good and bad at the same time, civilizations are sophisticated and perplexing, governance models have finesse and imperfections, states concurrently espouse both freedom and slavery, religions are both orthodox and emancipating, and the same person could be fantastic and a jerk at once. To enjoy this enterprise, I would probably do better by taking off the edges, being vulnerable, reducing the urge to classify people and things into admirable or worthless, and being capable of holding and critically evaluating opposing ideas and thoughts. Corollary: one can’t be the best version of oneself for everyone else in the world.

Two, life’s possibilities and optimism can be enjoyed in moderation. There are indeed things that are unlikely to happen in the rest of my life: playing guitar by the bonfire in a freshman party, winning a sports championship, restarting career from scratch, learning parkour, filing a patent in machine learning, or owning a yacht. But it’s also a phase where realization has set in about a precious few things that truly matter, and could be worth striving for — those aspirations and dreams that are sufficiently ambitious, but have nonetheless been tempered into pragmatism by an evolving mix of wisdom, skills, and an appreciation of real vs. perceived worth. And to accomplish and savor those would perhaps constitute the fullest life.

Time's sublimest target
Is a soul "forgot!"

— Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, April 13, 2021



The boats have returned to the shores of the Arabian Sea and are pulled up far back on the beach, far enough to keep them dry even when the tide gets high. The teamwork on display is nearly perfect: five men and two women sorting through the nets, wringing out half-dead marine life stuck in them with nudges, jolts, and, when needed, knives. This harvest of fish, mollusks, and crustaceans falls on the blue tarpaulin spread below, bluer than the sky and ocean combined. For a hunt that started at four in the morning, the overbearing empty blue spaces on the tarpaulin imply that this catch isn’t a bounty, but as with most matters of life, it may be considered a reasonable, though unnecessary concession ceded to the impoverished. The harvest has been dwindling over the years ever since trawlers were invented to monopolize the seas, outsmarting the humble outboard marine engines of these tiny fishing boats by a gap – understandably – as wide as that between the rich and the poor of the world. A woman is sorting the catch in buckets, classifying the creatures in a vocabulary well understood by humans, while ignoring their zoological taxonomy; the latter doesn’t fetch money. The sun is shyly rising somewhere on the other side of the mountains, and the teeming buckets slowly make their way to local markets, carried on the heads of the womenfolk. The nets and the tarpaulin are hurriedly stowed back in the boats, their sorting postponed to the latter half of the day: the more pressing endeavor of using the sunshine to earn a living reasonably takes precedence.

A man in bright red running gear has descended from the steps of the resort’s beach-access gate. It’s a fine morning, and while the western coasts aren’t the perfect settings for a sunrise, they are admirable for a fine detox. The town’s quaint villages, away from the hustle-bustle of the loud beaches are a must-visit, he was told last evening, and a stroll in one of the local markets is very much on today’s agenda.


The sun, almost double its usual size and bright orange in color, is floating above the calm ocean. Silhouettes of those manmade vessels that rule the ocean during the day are visible with their twinkling lights just at the horizon: perhaps a perfect composition for an earnest photographer who might want to capture this in a frame and title it with a phrase that might have something to do with earth, water, fire, air, and space. And undoubtedly, with an accompanying hashtag about the elements. A man bathing alone in the waters is heard calling out to his friends, apparently a group that might have descended in this town to breathe-in some nature: “Tum log nakli zindagi jeete ho yaar!” (All of you lead false lives). It might be an overdose of enthusiasm, or of alcohol, presumably both – a combination which has generally been known to bring poignancy and philosophical musings to individual minds – that has elicited this war cry from the bathing man. The evening looks promising, though, with flickering lights of beachside restaurants that will showcase the day’s fresh catch, and serve the patrons in a cooking style selected by them, accompanied with a choice of cocktails fixed to perfection.

Near the fishing boats that were moored at the beach earlier in the morning, a woman and a girl begin their evening enterprise: untangling of the fishing nets that were hurriedly stowed in the morning after clearance of the harvest. The process is elaborate and requires patience. The nets are long with a tendency to get enmeshed, and only a pair of deft hands hardened by years of seafaring life can skillfully make them ready for the next day's hunt in the cold, early morning waters. The job will take at least a few hours, and by the time it is accomplished, it will be dark; dark enough to successfully hide the nondescript lives of these two women amidst the brightness and noise of the restaurants and clubs.


The sands are lit up with neon lights in all shapes and patterns as far as the eyes can see. Tables are set on the sand almost until the edge of the water for hosting guests who would dine and drink in this electric atmosphere. Music oozes out loudly from individual shacks, superimposing on each other and competing to create a frenzy that hooks every soul who is looking for a good time. The air has whiffs of pan-seared prawns, grilled fish, and fried crabs, and every other species that made its way to the plate. At places, it is thick with the smoke of the sheesha. Alcohol is visible in the glasses set on each table, as well as in the breaths of men and women gyrating on dance floors set on the sand.

A woman is walking around on the sand carrying numerous woven handbags, jewelry crafted from stones and shells, and other knick-knacks, stopping by at each table with the hope of striking a deal with anyone who might get swayed under influence and actually make a purchase. It’s a sigh of relief when the girl stops her at a table; just the initial conversation offers the woman an excuse to place her load on the empty chair, at least momentarily. A sale is made, but she tries to prolong the conversation that might allow a few more moments of relief before she will need to get on with her wandering in the sands. A story is narrated about when she got to the beach (perhaps around seven), when she will return home (somewhere around eleven, considering the commute that will require a hitch-hike), and the displeasing thought of her kids waiting on her instead of just eating their dinner on time which she cooked before leaving home. The girl on the table asks her a question: “If there was one thing you could change about your life, what would that be?” The woman considers it, and replies: “I wish the smell of fish could leave my hands. It just never goes away!”

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Dusting the past

“Did you know that cleanliness is next to godliness?” it asked him, hoping to strike a conversation. It knew that the task ahead was arduous and lonely, and the human mind often needs indulgences to accomplish such things. 

He was perhaps absorbed in his own thoughts and didn’t need small talk to get through this. He replied half-heartedly: “Not really. Who told you that?”

It tried again, this time with apparent erudition: “I just hear it a lot. If you think about it, the company you keep matters. It’s the same way with your habitation, the objects you surround yourself with, and how you treat them. A cluttered environment is a sign of a befuddled mind, while an unkempt environment is a sign of a vacuous mind. Surround yourself with beauty and aesthetics that speak to you, and you have the power to anchor yourself to the rhythm of the universe. That’s as close to the idea of God as one can get to.”

He wasn’t used to deference in the face of such commentary which he considered as opinions garbed as wisdom. He retorted with a completely off-the-track remark: “Quite wise. And where do you fit in that description? The last I called you from amidst the objects I surround myself with, you were hanging behind the washing machine in the rear balcony.”

It knew that a nerve was somewhere touched, and replied patiently: “Well, the last time you dusted the bottom shelf of your bookshelf, you read the forgotten tiny note she wrote for you on the inside cover of that red book and cried a little. Those are the moments when the universe speaks to you, and you get stronger.”

He was exasperated: “I wish I had a Roomba instead of these damn dusters that can’t keep their trap shut.”

Sunday, April 05, 2020

The tempo

“Hey, you got a minute?” she called out to him. Her voice seemed raspy from days of non-stop counting, as if they were spent measuring each second and each minute for which the earth had been breathing.

He looked around with mild curiosity: “That’s ironic, coming from you.”

“Well, sometimes I can be like that. So anyway, when was the last time you thought I added value to your life?” she settled straight on her question. She gave the appearance of someone who wasn’t used to small talk and pleasantries, and might even look upon such indulgences as being extravagant with one’s time.

He wasn’t sure of what to say, and stuttered in his diffidence: “I don’t know. I think you are pretty. Everyone thinks so as well.”

She refused to help him out with his apparent discomfort and continued with her drill: “You know that my existence isn’t defined by how pretty I look, right? I am expected to serve a larger purpose.”

“Yeah, I know. But hey, the world is different. Our lives look nothing like how they used to, just fifteen years ago. Things change!” He tried being cheerful, evidently in vain.

At this point, her eyebrows went up and it seemed for a second that she might be impatient. But if there was one thing she epitomized, it was patience: “You realize that you are talking to me about time, don’t you? Don’t tell me that the world has changed and is constantly changing. You are scared to acknowledge that you only have a finite time to live on this planet. You are frightened when thinking about how many years it has already been since you took your first breath and what is it that you accomplished during all that time. You live a dichotomous life of constant trepidation about the future, and a baffling temerity about the present. Think about my purpose in your life, instead of whiling your days away.”

He gave up: “You know what, it’s a bit warm today and the air-conditioner’s remote isn’t working. I will just take out your battery and put it in the remote. These days, I need nine hours of good sleep. Of course you know that.” With that, he took the wall-clock off the nail it was hanging on, and pulled the battery out. Her tick-tock of a heartbeat died instantly.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Five senses

“Do you have feelings?” she asked.

He was a bit perplexed with this seemingly innocuous question: “What do you mean? Everybody has feelings.”

“I mean, do you ever pause, reflect inwards, and try to recognize how you are feeling?” she explained her question and converted it into a leading one, perhaps sensing that she already had her answer.

“I still don’t get it,” he stood awkwardly, bewildered.

She began her erudite response: “You see, this is what social conditioning does to you. Your culture never prepared you to answer the simple question: how am I feeling today? In all these years, you could never develop the faculties that can parse the happy moments from the deluge of mindless ones, until someone else validates them for you. You cannot tell you are feeling like shit, until your body revolts and makes you restless. You never learnt paying attention to yourself and communicating with your soul.”

He fumbled for a befitting response, but the best he could come up with was a counter-question: “Do you feel?”

“You might not have paid attention. But I know when I am too cold, or too hot. My heart feels deep blue in peace, amber in distress, and the color of the forest in joy. I know when I am the elixir, and I know when I am the toxin. I bubble, I swirl, I rise, and I fall; I breathe life, and I am life. I am the wave of the poet’s finest imagination as well as of the sailor’s worst nightmare. I am the…”

“Thanks for giving me a headache,” he interrupted her flow by turning off the faucet of the water purifier. “I will now pour you in a tray, keep it in the deep freezer, and use you this evening to fix my drink. That's what I feel like.”

Friday, April 03, 2020

What a wonderful world

He looked out to the street swelling with pride. Spring was in the air, rains from the day before could still be felt on the skin, and the birds were singing with joy. The streets themselves were covered with foliage: tuscany and crimson and jade and every other color from the palette. The entire creation seemed to celebrate with boundless joy.

“You know what they say? That when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it,” he satisfactorily made the solemn observation to his neighbor.

“Never heard of that! What does it even mean?” The dinky neighbor half-heartedly responded to the seemingly useless philosophical musing of her counterpart while regurgitating on what appeared to look less like food and more like compost.

“Did you ever imagine this day? Blue skies, clean air, no noise, other than those of the universe itself. When the wind blows, it’s like you can hear the earth turning! I dreamt of this for such a long time!” He seemed to be lost in a form of exhilaration unbeknownst to the entire human species.

“Yeah, whatever. I think this is just a pretty background for the desktop wallpaper.” His neighbor curtly expressed herself, hoping to end this conversation and regurgitate at peace.

“You have no soul, just thorns,” he pronounced in a deep voice, almost sighing at this conclusion.

His neighbor stopped chewing. After a brief pause, as if waiting to choose the right words, she delivered the final blow: “And you are just a bougainvillea. At least us, the roses, will be found in the centerfold of books five years from now and be loved even in our afterlives.”

Thursday, April 02, 2020


While the whole world was silent, there was a whirring noise coming from a nondescript corner of the reticent house. All one could see of the house from outside was the scabrous plaster coming off at places, with the faint yellow paint sticking out like dried leaves holding on to the stems for a few brief moments before getting lost into the oblivion. The noise seemed to disturb the tranquility of the street dogs, already attuned to the silence of the times.

“You know that we are critical in ensuring that the world continues to function with sanity, right?” the voice called out to him.

His mind was absorbed in a maelstrom of thoughts ranging from the stock of vegetables in the refrigerator, the piling dishes, the temperature of the last shower, and the background needed for the upcoming video call. He decided to ignore the voice, after judging it to be someone’s self-righteous proclamation he didn’t want to indulge in.

But the voice persisted: “The first problem with your generation is that you do not appreciate the magical world you live in. Anyone who walked this same planet just half a century ago will be thoroughly nonplussed at your privilege. Just look at us for that matter, we clean all your dirt without as much as a whimper, and you fail to acknowledge even our existence.”

He was far from being flummoxed despite the obvious provocation.

The voice intensified its accusations: “The second problem with your generation is that you are never in the present. Look at us fastidious old timers. We focus on the task at hand and enjoy it all the same, instead of thinking about what’s happening elsewhere or about the past or the future all the time.”

He calmly listened to all this, waited for the customary three beeps, and added with a perfunctory smile: “You can’t even clean lipstick marks from the shirt. You need to be more in the present.” 

He then turned the washing machine off, and the voice went dead.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020


“You need to take a shower,” she said matter-of-factly.

“I had my shower in the morning, and you don’t need to remind me about tomorrow already. Just sit still for at least the next hour and stop complaining. I am not going to bother you for an entire hour and will go watch my movie instead.” His unwanted belligerence hinted at his annoyance over other matters, perhaps spilling over to her.

She kept her cool and continued nonchalantly: “Anger is a wind which blows out the lamp of the mind. It’s an enemy of correct understanding.”

“All behold the wise one!” he shouted with a derisive laughter, looking up at the invisible sky; “you clearly learnt a lot through second-hand means!”

She mused in her characteristic sonorous tone: “Learning is a journey: from facts to knowledge, on to understanding and eventually wisdom. You might have read books and learnt facts, but that’s not the entire journey. And at the same time, vidyā dadāti vinayam, vinayād yāti pātratām – Knowledge makes one humble, and humility begets worthiness. Try being worthy of me.”

“Sometimes I wish I had an electric chair instead.” He kicked the rocking chair which he used for reading, and walked angrily to his room. The chair rocked for a few minutes and slowly went back to her deep thought and stillness.

Sunday, March 29, 2020


“आज ही है। शाम को सात बजे। जाकर तमन्ना पूरी कर लेना।”

“तुम्हें कैसे पता बे?”

“अमा यार, कहते हैं तो सुना करो। गर्ल्स हौस्टल की गतिविधियों का थोड़ा-बहुत ज्ञान हम भी रखते हैं।”

“हाँ तुम बहुत्ते तीरंदाज़ हो, इसीलिए आज तक यूनिवर्सिटी में अकेले घूमते हो। भईया ई शहर है बम्बई। यहाँ हर आदमी कुछ न कुछ पा जाता है। और तुम साले ज्ञान के अलावा और कुछ न पा पाए!”

“बेटा थोड़ा संभाल के। जिसका डाँस देखने के लिए तीन दिन से आँख में गुलाबजल डाले पड़े हो वो 24 में से 28 घण्टे लाईब्रेरी में ही होती है। तुम्हारे जैसे चौपाटी पर ले जाकर प्रपोज करने वाले दिलफेंक लौण्डे उसकी लीग में नहीं हैं।”

“हाँ हाँ भईया तुम बटोरो भरपूर ज्ञान, और करो उसकी लीग की सोलो-स्वान मौडलिंग। एक्स्ट्रा मिर्च डाल कर चौपाटी की पाव-भाजी लड़कियों को कितना भाती है ये तुम नहीं समझोगे।”

“हाँ यूनिवर्सिटी से निकल कर तुम चौपाटी पर ही पाव-भाजी बेच लेना। हम अभी निकलते हैं।”

“कहाँ निकलते हैं भईया? पौने सात बजे एण्ट्री कौन कराएगा? पढ़े-लिक्खे लौण्डे ही तो काम आते हैं एण्ट्री पे!”

“नहा-वहाकर, सेंट लगाकर आना शाम को। देखते हैं।”

आज घड़ी जैसे चलने की बजाय रेंग रही थी। वह नहा चुका था, इस्त्री किए कपड़े पहने थे, और किसी सस्ती विदेशी इत्र की बोतल को कपड़ों पर उड़ेल चुका था। बालों में जैल, आँखों में गुलाबजल, और कैन्वस जूते। उसे मालूम था कि महज़ किसी तरह अन्य दर्शकों की भीड़ का हिस्सा बन जाना प्यार जतलाने के करीब भी नहीं है। पर उसे ये भी ग़ुमान था कि प्यार करने का मकसद बस प्यार जतला देना नहीं है, और शायद दूर-दूर से चाहने का लुत्फ़, पा लेने से ज़्यादा सुकूनगर है।  इस तरह बड़ी-बड़ी शायराना बातें सोचकर दिल के अंदर मचती जिस्मानी हलचल को भी कबूलने से बचा जा सकता था, वरना अपना ही प्यार छोटा लगने लग जाए। कुल मिलाकर आज उसके लिए पूरा कलीना कैम्पस हसीन था, मिज़ाज रंगीन, और ज़िन्दगी गुलज़ार। बस थोड़ा इंतज़ार बचा था, जिसकी शायराना अंदाज़ में नुमाईश कुछ बेपरवाह लिखने वाले लोग शायद कर ही डालें। पर आज रहने दीजिए साहब, क़िस्सा अभी बाकी है।

कौलेजों में पढ़ने के बाद भी अगर महिला छात्रावासों के बारे में आपकी जानकारी मुख़्तसर हो, तो समझ लें जनाब कि आपने ज़िंदगी थोड़ी-बहुत जी तो ली, पर बड़े नहीं हो पाए। ये जानना बेहद ज़रूरी है कि इस तरह की इमारतों में आपको यहाँ-वहाँ लोहे की जालियाँ ज़्यादा दिखेंगी, वैसे कपड़े सूखते देखेंगे जो आपने सिर्फ़ फ़िल्मों में देखे हों, और खुशबू के नाम पर कोई गुलबदन हसीना की महक नहीं, बू-ए-डिटर्जेण्ट ही मिलेगी। आज की महफ़िल नीचे के कौमन रूम में जमनी थी। चारों ओर गेंदा के फूलों की माला से वातावरण को मोहक बनाने की साज़िश की गई थी, शायद इसलिए कि मुल्क के हर कौलेज की तरह यहाँ भी ‘मय’ और ‘साक़ी’ सरीखे सजेस्टिव लफ़्ज़ों पर पाबंदी थी। कमसकम फूल लगा देने भर से कोई लफंगा महफ़िल से रुख़्सत होने के बाद फ़ैज़ साहब वाली डींगे नहीं हाँक पाता, कि – “न गुल खिले हैं न उन से मिले न मय पी है, अजीब रंग में अब के बहार गुज़री है!” कमरे को सजाने वाले ने अक्ल खूब लगाई होगी: गुलों को पिरो कर चारों ओर लगा ही दिया गया है, “उनको” दूर से देख लेना जब टाईम आए तब, और मय वापस घर जाकर पी लेना। शायरी हाँकने का कोई मौका नहीं! कमरे में थोड़े गुब्बारे भी थे, जिनका मकसद शायद खुदा जानता हो, या शायद वो लोग जिनके पिछ्ली पार्टी के गुब्बारे फोड़े नहीं गए थे और यहीं खम्बों पर चिपके रह गए थे।

महफ़िल में शिरकत करने वाले कद्रदान दिल थामे एक-एक करके ऐसा चेहरा बनाए अंदर आ रहे थे जैसे एक-चालीस की विक्रोली वाली लास्ट लोकल पकड़ने आए हों; छूट गई तो बाद में किसी को मुँह न दिखा पाएँगे। अंदर आने वालों में ज़्यादातन इसी छात्रावास की छात्राएँ थीं, और कुछेक लुच्चे-लफाड़े लड़के, जिनकी पढ़ने लिखने-टाईप वालों से एण्ट्री करवाने भर के लिए जिगरी दोस्ती थी। दो हसीनाएँ (या फिर उसे लगा कि हसीनाएँ) माईक पकड़े, टखनों तक लम्बी स्कर्ट पहने (या फिर उसे लगा कि ये स्कर्ट ही है) खड़ी थीं। माहौल बन चुका था – दर्शक-दीर्घा की छात्राओं ने तशरीफ़ें चारों ओर सीढ़ियों पर टिका लीं थीं, और छात्र पीछे की तरफ़ दीवारों से सटकर खड़े हो लिए थे, शायद इसलिए कि कभी भी अगर ऐसा लगे कि “व्यू” ठीक नहीं है, तो तपाक से जगह बदलने की फ़्लेक्सिबिलिटी बनी रहे।

एक हवा सी चली। बयार-ए-नसीम। चारों ओर ऐसा सन्नाटा जैसे परवरदिगार ने हल्के से इशारा कर दिया हो कि सारी क़ायनात दो पल के लिए थम जाए और चमन हो जाए। आँखों के आगे ऐसा मंज़र कि उसे लगा बस इन दो पलों को अपने नसीब में पाकर वो खुद शाहकार-ए-खुदा हो गया हो! सामने था वो कमाल-ए-हुस्न कि पूरी महफ़िल में अगर कुछ सुनाई दे जाए तो सिर्फ़ धड़कनें। रंग-ओ-बू का वो सैलाब कि गेंदे की उन तमाम लड़ियों में पिरोया एक-एक फूल शर्मसार हो जाए। काले ख़ुशनुमा लिबास पर पीली चुन्नी ओढ़े आई थी वो। पैरों में घुंघरू जैसे नायाब सुख़न-वर, चाल जैसे किसी कू-ए-गुलिस्ताँ से इठलाता आया हो एक मोर। आँखों में सूरमा, कानों में सोने की चमकती बालियाँ, नागिन सी लहराती काली घनी ज़ुल्फ़ें। वक़्त कब का थम चुका था, और उसे लगा कि बस अब दिल का थमना बाकी है। ऐसी ख़ुशगवार बातें उसके ज़ेहन में उफ़ान ले रही थीं, तभी किसी ने पीछे से सीटी बजाई। पूरी महफ़िल तालियों से थर्रा उठी, और उसे लगा कि अब ख़्वाब से बाहर आ जाना अच्छा रहेगा; ये मंज़र एक्स्क्लूसिव बिल्कुल नहीं है, और इंसान को अपनी औकात नहीं भूलनी चाहिए।

आगे जो हुआ उसे वो बस ठिठककर देखता रह गया। लबों से छिटकती तबस्सुम की सरकशी, आँखों के इशारों की ख़लिश, और वो बेहतरीन अंदाज़-ए-बयाँ कि मोम बिन आग ही पानी हो जाए। इधर वो लहरों की तरह बहकती, उधर भीड़ बेताब हो मचलती। उसे लगा कि इस समंदर तक वो आ तो गया, पर अब डूब जाएगा। इन मदहोश हवाओं में उड़ पाने का ज़र्फ़ जिन परिंदों में है उनके नाम शायद लाईब्रेरी की उन किताबों की जिल्द पर लिखे होते हैं जिनकी सूरत इसने तो कभी नहीं देखी। इसी उधेड़बुन में था कि आवाज़ आई – “हैलो!” हसीनाएँ सभी से हैलो बोलती हैं ये तो उसने सुना था, पर उससे वो हैलो बोलेगी ये नहीं सुना था।

“और हीरो! हम तो तुम्हारी एण्ट्री करवा के निकल गए थे, पर सुना है बड़ा हाय-हैलो कर आए हो आज?”

“हाहा! हाँ! अच्छा ख़ैर, आज ओल्ड मौंक से काम नहीं चल पाएगा। कुछ अँग्रेज़ी पीओगे? एक-आध पैग लगा लेना मेरे साथ फिर चले जाना अपने लेनिन और कार्ल-मार्क्स को पढ़ने।”

“हाँ पी लेंगे। क्या कमाल करके आए हो वैसे डाँस प्रोग्राम से?”

“यार हैलो वगैरह हुआ और क्या। किसी बौयफ़्रेण्ड के साथ थी, कुछ अंग्रेज़ी में नाम था। इण्ट्रौड्यूस करवाया था; अब टेढ़ा नाम था याद नहीं आ रहा।”

“अच्छा कहाँ पीओगे?”

“वहीं। लाईब्रेरी के बाहर ऐज यूज़ुअल!”

Friday, March 27, 2020

The murderer

“Don’t you like me?” asked the voice.

He paused, heaved a deep sigh, and attempted to hide the pensiveness in his look. This wasn’t a question he had been asked before, or at least he didn’t remember the last time things had come to this.

“That’s not the point,” he replied.

“Then why would you do this?” the voice persisted.

By now, his furtive glances could not be hidden anymore. He knew if he raised his head and saw himself in the mirror, it would be hard to meet his own reflection. It was he who always wanted time to come to a standstill, and it seemed like the universe had finally bent itself to his wishes. Or perhaps, he was too proud to believe so. Until now, when the question from the voice was somberly hanging in the air. It only meant that life had continued to move on despite his delusions.

“Look I might sound ridiculous. But heck, even your previous girlfriend liked me. Why would you just uproot everything now?” retorted the voice, sensing his heart’s inner battles amidst his body’s stoic silence.

This recrimination defeated him. The universe was playing games, and he felt like a dejected soldier standing on the Grand Design’s abstruse chessboard. 

In a final act of defiance, he gathered everything he held inside of him, picked up the razor, and slid it across his own face, almost lacerating it in one swift stroke. The voice of the hair, now uprooted and stashed away in the silence of razor’s blades, awaited being washed off under the washbasin tap.