The thing that struck me most when I first started working was how, no matter what you felt in the morning, you had to haul your ass to work. For a college student, that is an alien concept. You went to college when you felt like, and you chilled in your room when you felt like. The notion that that choice was so severely restricted because of employment, because I was now paid for my time, that my time was bought, and hence it wasn’t mine to spend, was crazy.

And now, I’ve come full circle. Going back to college. Going back to owning my own time and doing with it as I please. I hope to translate some of the discipline that work has brought back to college. Now, more than ever, I need it.

court, the film

My first thought after watching Court was to dwell on the inhumanity of justice. The second thought was how inadequate the word ‘inhuman’ was to describe the criminal justice system in India. Inhumanity implies a negation of humanness. Sometimes that negation might be conscious. At times, as psychology has so strongly proven, inhumanity is unconscious. But either way, those actions are animated by a human intelligence. And, sometimes wrongly, a moral salve can be found in burdening that intelligence with the consequences of those actions.

That isn’t the case with ‘systems’. There isn’t an agency to pin down, the cogs keep moving the same even if you replace the actors. Hence, the word ‘unhuman’ came to mind. It isn’t individual malice that is driving the injustice, but something worse, institutional indifference. It becomes that much more frustrating when there isn’t a bedrock of moral guilt to lay the foundation of redemption on. It is just turtles all the way down.

But perhaps the genius of the film lies not in articulating systemic apathy, but in revealing the egos, faiths and intentions that interact with that system. Wildly different characters, each more thoughtfully fleshed out than the one before, expose issues of caste, gender, discrimination, and violence with such muted finality that any post-film ‘kaisi lagi’ discussions ring hollow. I was silent for long after I watched the film, and I’m unsure and insecure even as I write this.

I can’t think of many films as well written and shot. The unflinching, uncomfortably long shots; the refusal to use any music; the unornamental dialogue; it all comes together in a way that carves out a space in your mind, and then silently leaves without a word. This is a film that I’d like people to watch a 100 years from now.


I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing happens!
Nothing… Silence… Waves…

—Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

– Juan Ramón Jiménez

Change, like melancholy, creeps up on you. It’s easy to miss when everything around you slowly changes till you feel untethered from all that was once familiar. There are moments that betray that change. Yet you often feel it in your bones before knowing it in your head. But when you know, and in time you do, you cannot go back.

One such moment: The BBC made a documentary India’s Daughter about the gang rape-murder of a student in Delhi in 2012. The documentary featured an interview with one of the rapists. The Indian government, taking exception to this, as it takes to anything critical of India these days, moved to ban the airing of the documentary. Knowing that the documentary was uploaded on YouTube, and my first reaction was to download it before the government takes it down.

It was an act simple enough, yet one that wouldn’t have crossed my mind even a few years back. I had internalised the state censorship. I modified my behaviour to accommodate the strictures on my rights. Not to say that the previous government didn’t censor. All governments do. But this feels different. The rhythmic regularity of censorship is becoming a metronome to our collective everydays.

The censor board shuffle. Priya Pillai. The AIB Roast. Perumal Murugan. Puliyur Murugesan. Fifty Shades. The word ‘Bombay’. Beef. Filming partying foreigners.

None of this now raises eyebrows. Day after day, the Indian government shrinks the space for dissent. BJP politicians outdo each other in bigotry, sexism, and xenophobia. Politically useful rapists and murderers are given ‘clean chits’ or reinstated in positions of power. And this becomes a part of the our lives. The media, gagged in ways, grows tired of the shock value of it all. It is not spoken about for it has become unremarkable.

Like a well-oiled propaganda machine, the change has been successfully invisibilised. It is the new normal.


They were a slate grey pair of Lee jeans. This was 10 years ago. They were the classiest pair I’d ever owned. None of the airing the buttcrack, lowcut rubbish. Nor the crotch-grabbing ‘jeggings’ which appallingly find currency now. They were tastefully frayed at the edges, beautifully stitched seams running up the legs in charcoal grey thread. The pockets were elegant, forgoing the embroidered drama that played out on the butts of most jeans of the time. They fit like a dream. Snug around the waist, roomy for the bottom, and well-aired for my legs to breathe.

The first time I wore them was for physics tuition. In keeping with the post-class ritual, I went with the boys for some samosas and chai. Mehta was riding my blue Activa (plate no. 4900), I was riding pillion. Law College square, some sand spilled by a truck, a tad too fast on the brakes, and Mehta and I crashed down, skidding across the asphalt, Activa in tow.

First thing I check, naturally, were the jeans. A gash, almost surgical in its considered cruelty, ran across the fabric over my right knee. No other damage. Mehta was apologetic for having hurt us, but I was heartbroken for my Lees. A quick Dettol & bandage later (Mehta’s parents were doctors), I went home. Mum sensed the pall of gloom immediately.

The story was told, and she said, Cheer up! Rafoo kar lenge.

Rafoo? I asked.

Yes, like a patchjob.

It’ll ruin the jeans!

No, no, no! They use the exact same thread colour, and it’s quite well done.

I agreed, unconvinced. The same tailor who had made my school uniform three years ago gave it a casual inspection, and in three days returned the pair with such fine rafoo that from a distance you couldn’t tell that the cloth was once torn clean through. What’s more, it added quiet character to the pair – like a discreet scar that holds a tale but doesn’t attract too much attention to itself. Something that won’t be exploited for cheap conversation. I was very proud of that pair. They lasted a good five years.


I’d worn this exact model of sandals for over six years now. They had been my only footwear apart from house slippers and running shoes. So when I was not home and not running, I was in the sandals. This was last year. The first pair had served three years before disintegrating. This one looked good for a couple more years at least. The sole was wearing thin, and I’d had the mochi stitch the straps once. But like that rafoo job, this couldn’t be faulted. But when work took me home and Mum saw them, she insisted I throw them away.

Why? I asked.

Because they’re old.


I’ll get you new ones?

I don’t need new ones.

And so on. Their only fault seemed their age. Perhaps that the mochi had worked on them. Maybe more that. The fact that they’d been ‘repaired’. I let that one go, as one does with mothers, and got two new sandals in different styles, though I only use the one pair.

But the more I thought of it, I realised that the idea of getting things repaired has somehow fallen out of favour within the last decade. That somehow having something fixed got equated with extending its life beyond what was meant to be. Electronics were the first to go down this road, I guess. The first TV I remember having two decades ago still sits in my house, functional but in disuse. The Sony Trinitron CRT that replaced it proudly sported many a repairman’s sticker.

But then it stopped. Planned obsolescence took over. And it permeated through all other class of products too. Clothes, shoes, bags, toys, stationery. What’s scary is how seamlessly we accepted this as the new normal. I can’t remember hearing anyone mention rafoo since 2010. The electronics repairmen were first to go. Then the ‘pen doctors’, and zip replacers, and bicycle repairmen. Yes, one finds them in pockets but they’ve been distanced from my lived experience. One thinks twice before taking hand-me-downs to baby showers. There’s an entire industry dedicated to fashion for toddlers – tiny humans who can’t stop drooling and shitting, and grow out of clothes every few months. And somehow that’s okay.

Of course, now social station is involved. Consumption was always a signifier for class, but never has the notion of consuming repaired goods been so negatively associated with lower rank. The effect is startling when one is at its receiving end. I pride myself on being a good listener and a curious learner. I’d relied on as much to mix at social affairs, and come away having a good time. Never did it occur to me that the assumed progressive circles I hung out with could sum me up, however covertly, based on the age of my clothing. It’s instant and appalling. I now understand that the old and worn look is available in the market, with all the right creases and time-inured wear and tear. Weather-beaten has to be made to look sexy, else it doesn’t count.

I feel misplaced. Everyone got on the fast train, and now they look at me funny. Getting my laptop bag sutured or cutting my torn trousers in half to make home shorts feels like taking a stand. I don’t want any of this. And the feeling is awful, when you don’t want the banal casualness of your actions to have meaning and yet they do. When mundane choices become micro-battles you don’t want to fight because you’re busy doing things that actually matter to you. This doesn’t look like it’ll change anytime soon.  The rafoos are gone, perhaps forever. Only the false nostalgia and invented charm remain. But that isn’t for me; I’ll leave that to writers aspiring to old world authenticity.

the ironman swim

There exists a difference between being physically capable of doing something, and being emotionally ready to do it. I’d always known this. There is however, a second difference – one between knowing something and understanding it. I only understood the need for emotional readiness in physical acts after I started running/swimming.

I’ve always been an emotionally driven runner/swimmer. The perk being that at all major upheavals in life, I’ve run/swum, at times oblivious of the undercurrents that were making me do so. The downside: the staid greyness of the working life offers little by way of upheavals, and hence I run/swim with a guilty irregularity. I remember one such run – a 10 km route I like – that I was running after months of not having run. I felt so broken by the end of it, I called Ansa out of sheer mental exhaustion. Yet, it wasn’t so much the run that challenged me – I’d done longer distances – it was the silent foment that happens without the knowledge of the runner. It can be devastating. However, that is what somehow propels you to do greater distances.

When Dagar was due to leave India for good, we decided it was apt to mark the occasion with one last swim. I’d seen her go from struggling to do 20 laps of the pool to doing over 50 now. My year so far had been unremarkable in terms of my fitness goals, so I thought I’d gun for the Ironman swimming distance I’d been eyeing for a while. 3.86 km at one go. I’d never done over 2.5 km before.

On the day, as the hour approached, it began to rain. The halting, whimsical rain added to the emotion of the moment – an impending  farewell to someone who’d been an unlikely friend. We drove in the rain, singing along with the radio, speaking little, laughing sillily.  We got to the pool, the rain had abated. The water in the oddly shaped 22 metre pool was surprisingly warm. I began to swim.

I’m often asked, what goes through my head while I run/swim. I don’t know how to answer. I distance athlete isn’t often in control of his  thoughts. The thoughts (if they do, when they do) happen to you. In the pool, as always, I focussed on counting my laps. The first 50 went by easily, no surprises. This is the point during which I get into a sleepy rhythm. The act of swimming is a sensory reclusion of sorts.There are so many components to it – the coordination of the limbs, the optimal time to gulp air in, the length and duration of the stroke, the pace of exhalation under water, the cadence of the swim – and though all these become sort of automatic after a point, they leave no room for conscious, controlled, sustained thought. Sight is reduced to following the line on the floor, with the periodic splash of other swimmers’ bright bodies. Sound is reduced to the guttural echoes of one’s breath, consuming and soothing. There is little to taste but for the occasional accidental swig of chlorinated water. Water leaves little to the tactile sense.

100 laps go by.

By this time I’m close to the most I’d ever swum. I don’t feel particularly fatigued. I press on. After lap 120, I start to feel a disinterested ache in the muscles of my upper back. The pulls on the water aren’t as strong. I check my watch, I haven’t lost pace. By lap 150, all I remember is a phantasmagoria of depletion and determination. I have another 26 laps to go. At every turn at the wall, as I push off into another 22 metres, there is moment of perfect stillness as a glide a metre or two before beginning the stroke. My body is in one straight prostrate line, palms joined in front, shoulders covering my ears that hear nothing, legs together, toes pointing out, a moment of streamlined serenity. At every such moment I have an intense urge to stop swimming and drown. In retrospect that sounds too dramatic, but in that moment, I’d rather drown than give up on the swim. There is an emotional stubbornness to this swim. I remind myself to start the stroke, and so it goes.

At lap 176, I’ve finished the distance I wanted, but I turn around and press on anyway. I do a total of 182 laps that day for a total distance of 4 km. I touch the edge of the pool and hit stop on my watch. The time reads 2 hours 5 mins 1 sec. The exhaustion is the kind I haven’t felt in months. My upper body already feels sore, and my legs quiver as I sit by the edge of the pool. I’m smiling. Dagar does 100 laps that day. It is a befitting end to an extraordinary friendship, however shortlived. Once out, we guzzle down a glass each of nimbu-paani and say our final goodbyes.

As I take the metro back home, the next thought of course is to swim 5 km.

food love in ethiopia



2014-05-26 09.29.19 2014-06-22 13.45.35 2014-06-24 08.01.02 2014-05-25 06.25.14 2014-06-01 15.48.40 2014-05-26 19.47.36 2014-05-26 19.47.17 2014-05-26 19.23.44 2014-05-26 11.45.46 2014-06-22 13.44.39 2014-06-22 13.44.20 2014-06-22 12.06.50 2014-06-14 11.48.53 2014-06-12 16.25.34


My fondest memories of Ethiopia have centred around food. It’s a country that loves its food. Everything is slow cooked, and the idea of quick service restaurants hasn’t found much traction. Ceremony is important, whether it’s in how the coffee is made, or in how the food is served. Eating together out of one big plate with your hands, sans cutlery or bowls, has significance. The act of eating morphs into one of sharing, even if you split the bill. Given the strict taboos about food and sharing in India (househelps/drivers served in different utensils), the absence of such distinction gave me great pleasure. I ate with farmers and friends, chauffeurs and children, strangers and seniors.

The food is healthy. Teff, the crop most grown in Ethiopia, is used to make injera, the dosa-like bread most eaten in the country. It is naturally gluten-free, and rich in iron – especially black teff injera. Meats,vegetables, and shiro – a thick chickpea dal – are all prepared with little oil. I had access to a swimming pool for 10 days while travelling, and every time I ate injera I felt like superman in the pool. Maybe the iron-rich diet coupled with high altitude suitable for physical training has something to do with why Ethiopia has produced such world-class endurance athletes as Haile Gebreselassie, Abebe Bikila, the Dibaba sisters, etc.

Lastly, and this is important, people enjoy their food. Most locals I ate with had an appetite to match mine – that’s saying something! Eating was a time not just to nutritionally fill-up, but also to talk, laugh, and listen. Everyone is a food critic, some passionately so. I felt at home in a country where food and eating were more than just that.

Special mentions:

  • Bozena shiro in Adama
  • Chikina tibs in Shashemene
  • Kaai-injera (black injera) and Ambo (natural sparkling mineral water) everywhere
  • Fresh fried fish by and from the lakes of Hawassa
  • Avocados & chili with bread and authentic sedama coffee for a breakfast of champions at Wondo Genet
  • Moussaka, Greek salad and spanakopita at Santorini, Addis Ababa
  • Better Italian food (owing to the war, maybe?) than anywhere in India