I sit at Powai Lake promenade, the circular platform at the IIT end. Fishermen are beginning to go back into the lake to gather the nets that were set in the morning. I stare at nothing, the point where the sun set not a half hour ago.

There’s the familiar Powai skyline and the ‘link road’ underlining it. Suddenly, the underscore begins to glow, all on it’s own, it envelops my vision and embraces the lake. The glow dissolves into traffic headlamps and street lights if I try to look at it straight and comes to life again the moment I go back to spying on the sun in the dark sky. It brightens up and becomes a pulsating constant, like the brim of a very wide hat, always on the edge of my vision.

The sparkling glow is a teasing temptation, desire. Look at me and I am gone. I wanted to capture it forever.

At the Powai Lake
At the Powai Lake

Light beams and fine mist

He takes off his seatbelt in the moving car.
“Can you stop by the side for a moment?”
She looks at him, surprised by his sudden request.
“Now? We’re in the middle of the road.”


Indicator light blinks, lanes change, the car comes to a halt just shy of the pool of sodium vapour glow cast by the street lamp. The wipers swish raindrops from the windshield like heartbeats.

“If what I am about to do turns out to be a stupid move, I want you to only remember it as proof, that I fell for you.” Then in a hesitant, confused moment before she could decide, he leans over and kisses her. She was still wearing her seatbelt.

This is where all our monkey contracts – marriage, morality, propriety – break down.

Vehicles swish by chasing the beams of their head lights, tires rustling up a misty spray on the wet road. The car remains silent, floating in a pool of light beams and fine mist, the indicator light is still blinking.

It’s a pure moment, new monkey contracts are born off of it.

There’s so much magic, I am yet to see

so much magic

I have a writing book

with perforations on the side

where it’s bound by a wire comb.

As I sit writing in it,

on a table with a glass top,

the sun falls in through the window.

The warmth

bounces off the white floor tiles,

filters through the glass top,

trickles up the perforations

and conjures a charm-cookie on my wrist.

It takes me by surprise.

To a man never there

The blue ambassador, you and me, in the back seat. You get a beautiful brown glass bottle, the sun shines on it’s neck, its full of beer. Mum was looking at us, imperious. You crack it open, you put crushed ice in it and tell me that someday when I grow up, we’ll have drinks together.

That day never came.

The ambassador turned metallic maroon and then went away, to ply as a taxi-cab for its new owner, who painted it again, a pall white. I have wondered, in moments sufficiently aloof, where that car, if at all living, would be today.

I grew up, fast.

Nowadays, you, very often would drink from a glass bottle, no ice. Sufficient mead and yeast in you, you would try to tell me a story. The same story, again and again, with no end in sight.

I grew impatient.

You would sit in the study cum bedroom, on your swivel chair, study table to your left, bed at your feet, your feet on the bed, me sitting on the edge, of the bed, facing you. The round red table lamp glowing with a yellow 100 watt bulb, too bright to read in, too bright to sleep in, your lit cigarette burning a hole in your thick woollen pyjamas. The bottle, now clear glass, brown liquid, no ice, half empty, urging you onwards with that very same story.

I grew impatient, and left.

Never again did we meet on good terms. You wanted fantasy in a life that had none. I wanted my life to become the fantasy it would never. I had an intuition that at the end of that story was a secret you want me to know, a catharsis, a moment, when we would know we were alive and it was important and it…we would hug dearly and cry. A moment I wished would never come, because I hated the stink of cigarettes and brown liquid. The moment never came, you never got to the end.

And then, you were gone.

Not forever, no. I intend to meet you someday, far into the future. You need to answer my questions. Including, ‘why? ‘

That secret you wanted to reveal in your stories is forever locked now. Safe. I still sometimes think of that time, that time of the round red table lamp, and feel a longing to know the secret. At times like these, when I am sufficiently lonely, I do miss you.

I have survived several heavens since you left, and a few hells, but, if there’s a final garden and I hope there is, then…

I can have anything I want. So, I want many of me. One of me, looking at all those moments. One of me, listening to that final secret you wanted to tell me and then one of me, in that blue ambassador, with you and your beer bottle, beautiful brown, crushed ice in it, the sun, shining on us.

And then one of me is telling you about that girl I miss, and that girl that never was, the girl I had a crush on and the girl who got away, the girl I am head over heels for now, the girl who has just blocked me away, the girl who is around me all the time and maybe that time is all in my imagination. Wait, I think I am talking about the same girl, but, why are you listening to my girl-rant? Stop prying! What the hell dad?! Stay the fuck away! I need my space!

Her average imaginary smile

I am not sure what to make of her. She looks so familiar and interesting.

A white full sleeved kameez with sheer black ‘paneling’. Is it black net or black lace? Either way. Kohl lined eyes, hands on her lap, a bangle, red churidaar salwaar, drinks on the table, right in the middle of the uncool part of the coffee shop. It’s too crowded and noisy this evening. I sip my brew then go back to ignoring all but one in the herd.

She has a face that looks like it would break into a smile any moment now, but it doesn’t. It just looks bored.

It is easy to talk of a woman’s face, her imaginary smile and give an impression that she must be pretty.

She is not. She is, statistically, 51% good looking. A 5. Large eyes, full face and the chest length hair cut in ‘layered’ fashion that so many women are so into these days.

Even her company – median height, medium build, almost balding, narrow rimways, grey stubble, red T, khaki shorts, too many pockets – is unrecognizably familiar.

I don’t know whether to like them or hate them just yet. I did feel, at that moment a few paragraphs ago, that I wanted to know them better.

She catches me staring at her. I fail to avert my gaze in time. Embarrassment, sip brew, count to 5. She looks again, with her bored expression, catches me, again.

I want to know her better.

If opposites attract then a 0% goes with a 100% and a 49% with a 51% while the perfect 5s and the unique 50%s amongst us look like they might smile, at any moment now.

Comfortable Strangers

A couple, pregnant wife, sit silently for 20 minutes, hooked to their phones, each almost oblivious of the other, at ease with their reciprocal’s absence, and presence.

Sometime later, the girl points out that her tea-bag is not paper, but, a nice silky one. So nice. He nods, smiles, checks his phone one last time before pocketing it in his knee length tartan striped shorts, then he stands up. His grey t-shirt proclaims him to be deep yet cool. He finishes his fancy coffee.

The girl straightens her back, flips the cover back on her phone and gets up from the sofa. She smiles again, adjusts her striped hoodie, then puts a hand in the pocket of her comfy yoga pants, stepping behind him as he turns away and leads.

They leave the cafe.

He did not even hold the door for her while stepping out.

I write this on a tissue while a lady sits next to me scribbling strange scrawls in a notebook, oblivious of my presence and my absence.

Edit: Polyethylene Terephthalate aka PET aka food grade nylon. My mental spell checker breaks down while writing it. Ph and th in the same word, makes it sound doubly cancerous. She should not be using a tea bag at all. No one seems curious or worried about it. Maybe it’s that corn plastic thing – Poly Lactic Acid, nope still doesn’t sound safe.

Magic spells and wizardry: Cinema Hues from the ’30s till date

Every second of a film, compressed into a line 1 pixel high.
All such seconds fused, into a single image.
The colours of the film, laid bare.

All the 30 films, together

The three building blocks of cinema have been the light, the sound and most importantly, time. It is the relationship that time has with light that this experiment is all about.

When colour first came to mainstream cinema, it brought with it, a quality of realism and reverence. Try to place yourselves in the shoes of those first cinephiles. It would have been mesmerizing to see the first moving colour images on the big screen. What feats of thaumaturgy could conjure visions of such beauty and charm?

The present experiment started with me trying to better understand how cinematography works in telling a good story. A little more study and I wanted to investigate how colour and cinema have changed each other over time. How the cinematography has affected the narrative and contrariwise. The phantasy and the phantasma. The light fantastic.

I came across several fascinating artifacts. One of them were the movie-barcodes. The ones I found available were not fit for study, detail wise and quality wise. There were a few films, for which the barcodes did not exist at all.

So I decided to make my own.

First, I carefully selected the films that I thought were really good examples of cinematography colluding with the narrative. Instances where the camera worked for the story and where the story was better because the cinematography was such. I deliberately avoided ‘pretty’ pictures – where the camera work was extraordinary, but, the film left a lot to be desired (Recent examples: Memoirs of a Geisha, Avatar etc.)

To keep the study within my limits of comprehension, I divided the films into two buckets, those before and the ones after “The Wizard of Oz (1939)” – the first mainstream, widely released, Technicolor event. Historically, there were a few colour films before TWOZ, like The Garden of Allah (1936) which I did analyze, but eventually decided to leave them out, because they seemed like regular films, only shot in colour. TWOZ seemed like the first film that truly justified the use of colour. There’s always something I don’t know, so correct me, if you see a flaw.

I eventually selected the films that represented the cusp of each decade. For 1940, the films were selected from 1939-1941, for 1950: ’49-51, and so on.
From all the possibilities, the choice boiled down to about 30 films.

For each of the 30 films, I then wrote a program, that would extract 3 frames per second, compress each to an image 2 pixels high and then join all these images together. The resulting mosaic was the shape of a tall pillar that looked like the spectal analysis of the entire movie. To view it better, I rotated it by 90 degrees. I finally resized all the film mosaics to the same size – 3ft by 1 ft, 300 DPI. When viewed from a distance these images give a charming insight into the minds that made the movie.

Observed closely, you can almost demarcate different scenes, see how the pace of the film varied. Towards the very right, you can even see how long the end credits were, in comparison to the rest of the film. Endlessly fascinating details come to light each time you see these images.

The first images in this album carry a mosaic of 3 films each, for every decade studied.

To me, they are a new kind of photo. An entire movie sans the fourth dimension.

A photograph of time, frozen in time.

The photographs from the experiment are available on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151266425282880.469852.686507879&type=1&l=fa73ee7b03


Him. Her. Car. Traffic Jam. Din. Honks. Headlights. Red light. Rain.
It falls from somewhere beyond the yellow glow of the street lamps into the puddles on the road. It falls on the windshield and the windows. Light, drunk on the raindrops, gets into the car and dances on her shoulder. He can’t help but steal a glance.

A raindrop begins a leisurely downward glide on the glass, it’s shadow inside the car is made of light. A drop made of light glides down her forehead, to her cheek. It comes to rest right at the corner of her lips. A kiss he could never get lives in that corner. He thinks of Peter Pan and Wendy. He realizes that he is staring and turns the other way.

Concurrences and happenstance. The two of them in the same car.

She is mildly irritated. Getting tired of the traffic and noise. The silence in the car isn’t helping. Time, too slow for her, too fast otherwise.

Selfishly, he does not want the rain to end or the traffic to move. He doesn’t even want to stop staring. If only he could say something now.

What interests her? I don’t watch sports. You don’t talk about sports to a girl! What do you talk about? She’s a near stranger. Be funny. Yeah? and say what? What did you say to get in the same cab?

“Oh! you are going there too?”, ” I hear it’s a good one!”, “…we could share the ride.” A little courage, a lot of luck.

So, back to now. He wishes there was a sentence where the words hope, faith and divinity could meld with dirty, erotic, mystery. He could really use that sentence right now.

She is right there, half your wish come true. Now what will you do? 

She impatiently turns towards the window, away from him. Shadows shift amidst the sparkling lights. His resolve breaks, a gaze, just one more.

It’s a white top, no a light pink one, are those flowers? green? Wait, it’s this light, what is the color of her…oh God! his eyes are not behaving themselves.

This is getting awkward, if he could say the right thing now, break the silence, she would be happy again.

And then, they would kiss with abandon. Oblivious of the crowd. And the drops of light would dance. The earth would spin around them and hum happily ever after.

Desires. Dreams. Stop stargazing and start being present. Last chance.

Restlessly she turns back, looks at her mobile phone, dials.

“Hi! Is there another show of the movie today? It’s such a beautiful romance and I’ll miss it because of this stupid traffic right now.”

Red lights turn green. He looks to the road. Cars begin to crawl. A skipped beat from his lower left ventricle goes unheard.

Din. Honks. Headlights. A little drop of light is left behind.

Dreams And The Truth: The Plays of Manav Kaul

1. Too Long, Didn’t Read

I saw two plays – Laal Pencil and Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale by Manav Kaul. The plays are Brilliant! No, they are better than brilliant!
Also, when compared to his contemporaries who murder Ghalib/Faiz and as shaggy haired, mustachioed, pseudo-philosopher-artist-types peddle boring trash, Manav Kaul’s work is not only heads and shoulders above, but also light years ahead in every way.

If you’ve not seen his plays, try to catch them at the earliest.
They are, in one word, magic.

2. Not Nostalgia

This year started with me making a trip to my home town after 7 long years. A place of painful memories and fortuitous events. The Swimming Pool From The Past

There, the dried up carcass of the swimming pool, I had so loved once, wanted to talk to me. Today’s fat Shaurya floats, unlike the lean shark that rocked those waters of the past. I also visited my school and touched the trees that still stand in its playgrounds. I found myself thinking of the things gone by.

I week later, I was back in Mumbai and watching Midnight In Paris for the umpteenth time. Somehow, Cinema Paradiso, Amelie and Waking Life also kept cropping up in conversations.

Already on an overdose of, what I thought was, fond nostalgia, I got a chance to witness two plays – Laal Pencil and Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale by Manav Kaul. This shook me up enough to bring this blog out of its stasis. It was not nostalgia that I was brooding upon. It was romance. A different kind of romance, that I found the two plays echo as well. Read on.

3. The Writer/Director

A good director, in my humble opinion, must be a courageous, honest, thieving, cheating, immoral, arrogant, rouge Saint. To an extent, this applies for a writer as well. He must know how to channel his talents or passions through hard work and honesty. To be able to objectively grade his work, be a litmus for his own benchmarks and yet love it all like his own baby.

Like a snake with a sweet tooth, a vampire in love, a kind carnivore or a benevolent dictator, the director must be a dense, charming bag of contradictions. Manav Kaul, comes close.

He is the best that Prithvi has on offer, today. While some of his ilk are craftsmen of repute – their work all polished and sanitized, Manav Kaul represents the other end of the spectrum, the very best of art – fresh, spontaneous, ripe with meaning and a sense of purpose.

I am a fan, you should be too. Further, for your sweet reference, check out: Aranya Theatre’s WebsiteManav Kaul’s Blog.

4. The plays

Laal Pencil and Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale – like a young, confident magician, whose sense of romance is still alive yet one who wields complete control on his craft and expression, Manav Kaul has woven two beautiful tales of dreams and truth. They are full of metaphors, of multiple layers of message and meld truth with beauty. The narrative is immersive and engaging, it is extremely uncommon to find a play where the transitions carry as much coolth as the scene they flank, this is that rarity.

Laal Pencil – The red pencil in ‘Laal Pencil’ is a metaphor for all the false facades, the superfluous skills, that we acquire choosing to mask our incompetence and emptiness instead of addressing the problem directly. It is a metaphor for the easy way out, for the quick and dirty solutions, for the grab-job mentality. Like pivot tables and charts a McKinsey-ish MBA ponders on instead of trying to understand how to actually run a project. Like the over-rated, unneeded ‘educational’ degrees we acquire to vainly adorn our resumes with. Like the photoshop filters or CGI that a photograper uses to mask the flaws of a photograph. There is a red pencil for us all. There’s one in your pocket and in mine too. The play then urges you to reject these facades and embrace the truth. To recognize the beauty of truth, like the beauty of grand, rock-hard, cut-you-hurtful, dangerous-cliffed-yet-grand mountains. Recognition of the beauty in the reality, it is a difficult fist step towards true greatness. The nobelest of pursuits, even if it demands the rejection of the immediate praise, prizes and validation of your peers.

Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale – Mammtazbahi’s kites are a meataphor, a mirror, of dreams as well. Representing our desires. The play plays upon the constant struggle between living for the art/dreams vs. the livelihood of commonplace existence. Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale’s protagonists need the constant din of jokes to insulate themselves from being reminded of their dying dreams. Meaningless cheap comedy, jokes, funny SMSes – anaesthesia to the painful tedium that we tie ourselves in as we ‘grow up’ – marriage, vocation, money, matters material and mundane. The grown up Vivek a perfect counterpoint to the child Bikky.

The scenes of intentional cacophony and gibberish dialogue carry more meaning and emotion than pages of philosophical monologue (like this post). They are not only surprisingly musical, but also, poetic (sometimes).

The best part of the plays are the endings. They leave a hole in you, that may egg some of us to wake up and act. Try to live and break the status quo.

I found the plays talk of a different romance. The same way Peter Pan is a romance. They were intricate romances of reality, told in fables and dreams.

5. The Cons

There has to be a negative right? A friend keeps telling me to not dwell on other’s shortcomings too much. So I’ll keep this short. There’s very little to complain anyway.

The biggest sore thumb in Laal Pencil was the performance of ‘Pinky’. WTF? She delivers her dialogue like a spoilt little brat. Always whiny and complaint ridden. Fumbling and forgetting her dialogues, uncoordinated movements and wierd graceless gestures are jarring to your nerves. Like nails on a blackboard. One bad performance lets the stellar efforts of the rest of the cast down. Folks sitting around me (and I saw five different shows of this play – yes the play is that super-good) never stopped complaining. It is to the director’s credit that this harsh sore is reduced to a mere road bump for the over all play.

In the case of Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale, the music left me a little cold. Although, in all fairness, I still found myself welling up in several scenes (all credits to the cast and the writing). I have just seen one performance of Mammtaz Bhai Patangwale, so I am hoping the music will grow on me.

6. All In All

Great Plays! Awesome work! Wait, WTF? Didn’t you read the beginning of this post?

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