Thursday, March 25, 2010


Brothers, this one’s for us. Our very own rant against sniggering women, thoughtless Mother Nature and the unimaginative tailor. You see, irrespective of whether you happen to be a Brad Pitt or some dim loony wit, or anything in between, there are just three truths that rule your, and every other man’s life – death, taxes and the undone fly. That’s correct– the undone fly, because it doesn’t matter how cool you are and how dazzling your sartorial tastes might be, beware, for the undone fl y is not a possibility but inevitability… happens to the best of us. Like it did to Brad Pit at the ‘Benjamin Button’ premiere. So if, or rather when, there’s that moment when you walked out of the office washroom and everybody looked at you as if you just stepped on a land-mine, and following their gaze all the way down you remember wishing you much rather had stepped on a land mine instead, take heart, for you’re in a good company.

Why, not too long ago, I too had the unenviable opportunity of stepping on a bit of a private land mine myself. I’d walked in to office in a slick new suit and all along the corridor and past that aisle, I felt row upon row of eyes following me to my corner. That’s when you usually know a suit’s really worth what you paid for it. I stopped to chat with the two ladies who shared the cabin next door, a rather elegant pair that didn’t waste their smiles on much, and yet here they were smiling and blushing in that giggly-giddy weak-kneed manner that one thought only a movie star could inspire… and so, I lingered a little longer. Somehow, everything I happened to say seemed remarkably amusing to them. To be fair, encouraged by their giggles, I did make some lame jokes but when they erupted in a frenzied fit of snorting and laughter well before the punch-line, I knew something wasn’t quite right. When I mumbled if, “ everything’s ok?”, the two women didn’t quite know how to bring up the delicate matter which had hitherto, obviously, escaped my attention.

After a bit of humming and hawing and a few more bashful sniggers, one of them managed to draw my attention to the off ending article. And here’s the other end of the problem… what, and how, do you do, when someone helpfully points out what shouldn’t be? Do you nonchalantly, while in mid sentence, pull up what had remained undone, and go back to whatever you were saying without breaking a sweat or worse, or do you instead apologise, turn appropriately red, look for a corner to dig hole in and die a short death before zipping day without any memory of all that just happened. I guess I ended up doing a bit of both, but later research suggested that I could’ve taken a leaf out of a certain Mr. Winston Churchill’s book, a man who has apparently had considerable experience in such matters. up and returning as if you just turned up for the day without any memory of all that just happened. I guess I ended up doing a bit of both, but later research suggested that I could’ve taken a leaf out of a certain Mr. Winston Churchill’s book, a man who has apparently had considerable experience in such matters.

Churchill, legends would have us believe, was prone to leaving matters ‘openended’, shall we say. And yet, when associates would point out his malfunctioning wardrobe to the British political icon, he always responded with a ready repartee. On one occasion amongst many, the venerable Brit was attending a party meeting when one of his MPs handed him a note that said ‘your fl y is unbuttoned’, and without moving a muscle on that famous pout, Churchill scribbled back saying it didn’t matter for ‘aft er all, dead birds don’t fall out from their nests’. Dead birds might not fl y but it takes a lot of wit and those things they play football and cricket with to say it the way Churchill did. As for the rest of us, maybe we’re better off hoping and waiting for someone to attach one of those buzzers, the kind that goes off in modern cars if you aren’t wearing a seat belt, to the impertinent fl y; or perhaps something like the auto pop-up mechanism from our ubiquitous toasters. The latter, I realize could have painful ramifications though, if matters aren’t timed to perfection. But add a sensor like the one on an elevator door, and voila, your wardrobe’s become embarrassment-proof.

But until then, all you can do is check for land mines whenever you see people looking at you as if you’re wearing the emperor’s new clothes. As for those of you who’ve helplessly sniggered but never figured what exactly to say when you spy a lazy fl y, I did some online snooping for your sake… Take your pick and button up if…

Someone says, “You’ve got windows in your laptop’

In Poland, someone insists that ‘the elevator’s gone down.”

In Spain, someone says, ‘Little (?!) Plane! Little Plane!’

In Denmark, someone says, ‘Watch out for the birds (they might get the worms)

The Swedes inquire, ‘If you’ve been ‘partying with the girls’

In Australia, they accuse you of ‘flying too low’

In the United States, they ask you, “Are you afraid of heights?” (cause your fl y apparently is)

But if all else fails, you could still save yourself the blushes by chucking the trousers and drawing on the strings of the ever faithful pajamas. Cheerio!


Thursday, March 18, 2010


“It was my first time on the road as a volunteer with the Vamans. Through the day, both husband and wife gave tireless discourses on the healing power of meditation to growing throngs of both the merely interested and the deeply devoted. We wrapped up Pune and reached Nagpur. Crowds lingered, speaking to the Vamans about surprisingly intimate personal, professional, medical and financial problems. The Vamans gave them a patient hearing, off erring solutions and support.

Later, after dinner, I was turning in for the night when I heard a knock at the door. It was a fellow volunteer… ‘Vamanji has called us for a meeting…’ she said. We reached the Vamans’ room and the volunteer who’d come to call me didn’t bother to knock and instead just pushed the door open. And… and… I didn’t know what to do… the two of them were… aah… I… I just turned away in shame….”

Patricia Ganguly lowered her eyes as she drew irregular shapes with her finger on the drops of water I’d split on the table. Patricia was upset. She’d called us, her oldest friends who’d stuck with her since school, because she was disturbed. Just months ago, Patricia was singing paeans in praise of the Vamans, who’d apparently devoted the remainder of their middle-aged lives to public service, helping those in emotional and physical need through meditation and spiritual healing. She’d heard of astounding miracles and claimed to have benefited from the practices the Vamans had suggested for her. And yes, one had to admit that Patricia did seem calmer than she had in the past. Some others amongst us had also been drawn to the Vamans and their mystical charms. Someone had a strained relationship with his parents while another had been battling arthritis and they all followed Patricia to the Vamans.

While the spell lasted, it was beautiful. My friends found hope and happiness in Vaman’s words, and those were good words mind you, that spurred my friends to try and become better people. They are all nice people, these friends of mine but the pace of our lives has a way of sucking us in and making it impossible to look at life beyond the horizon of our lives. But the Vamans inspired them to teach children with special needs or give away money they would’ve spent on toiletries and tees on blankets for the homeless instead. Undoubtedly, they’d changed, and for the better. I too wanted to visit the Vamans as soon as possible.

And yet, just a week after I’d asked a delighted Patricia to take me along the next time she went for the weekly discourse, here we were, holding our heads in our hands and asking each other ‘How could I be such a fool?’

And it’s a pertinent question. Though unquestionably smart, my friends had turned over the reins of their lives, their resources and their selves into the hands of the Vamans. And I might well have followed. What great miracle begat such faith? Sitting around that table that day we realised that we all had yawning gaps in our lives. Needs – emotional, physical, physiological and financial – that craved fulfillment. And at such times, the seductions of miracles and hope are irresistible. Unless we learn to recognise these yearnings within, take responsibility and solve them on our own, we’ll always be looking for someone to take over the reins of our life.

When I wrote last week’s story about Vamans and their ‘sexual experiments’, a friend who I’ve bullied into reading my stories asked if the Vamans were an alias for the infamous Nithyananda who too had claimed that he was ‘experimenting’ when caught canoodling on camera with a starlet. For the record, though names are changed to protect identities, I’m not talking about Nithyananda here. Nor do I think that there’s anything wrong with two adults indulging in consensual sex. However, the reports I read failed to state whether or not there was a contradiction between Nithyananda’s teachings and practices, for only then is there reason for his critics to feel outraged, for his followers to feel betrayed. As for the Vamans, based on Patricia’s and other accounts and after some independent research, I’ve come to the conclusion that they weren’t all bad to begin with. Their ‘sexual experiments’ weren’t necessarily depraved acts but basic Tantric, Taoist and Wiccan (remember Jacques Sauniere, ‘The Da Vinci Code’?) rituals which Osho for instance has been candid and honest about while the Vamans and Nithyanandas haven’t had the courage to own up to them. What is also true is that in Tantra there’s a fine line between a collaborative practice and an exploitative practice and it is difficult to tell one from the other, even for those involved in the practice.

So here are my learnings from our experience…
Ask why you ‘need’ a ‘guru’
Look upon even the best of gurus as ‘experts’ or instructors – people of skill and learning who can teach us about an aspect, and only an aspect, of our lives. Anything more is asking too much of any (wo)man and bound to result in disappointment.

Question your teachers for how else will you learn. Anyone who, like the Vamans, discourages questions or doubts, or is surrounded by contradictions is definitely no guru.

And last but not the least, oft en a good book and an honest mirror make the best teachers…Keep the faith!


Thursday, March 11, 2010


I’ve known Patricia Ganguly since ninth grade - an attractive young girl with dancing eyes and a wild mop of hair. Now in her 30s, she’s a fierce career woman and still single. She’s been in relationships but consistently picked the wrong guy… Just too involved with her job to not take the guy on face value. If he looks right and talks right, maybe he is right, had been her dominant logic. But after each of these abusive relationships, it was a disturbing sight when this headstrong I-know-what-I-want-and-how to- get-it sort a woman would slump into a crumpled, battered and sobbing heap.

After her last, Patricia stayed away for a while. She missed some reunion dinners too, until one evening when she showed up looking decidedly radiant. She had a calmness about her that had replaced the whirlwind of hyper energy that used to surround her. All through the evening, Patricia, who in the past, couldn’t stop raving about her job and the tectonic shift s she was effecting at the workplace, was now quietly listening to the rest of us talk. There was something very wrong, or very right about her. We teased and pulled and coaxed but she just smiled and shook her head… We tried the guessing game… New guy? New boss? The new neighbour? New job? A raise? A pet? … She didn’t budge… But eventually, Patricia surrendered.

“I have found my guru”, she said. This was rather anti-climactic… No new guy? Just a guru… So who’s this guru, we asked… How do you know he isn’t a fraudster? “It’s not a ‘he’ but a ‘she’ and I know because she doesn’t claim to be a guru… She’s a Hindu and we’re Christians and yet she speaks of God and my faith as if she were Christian herself… She’s more than 50 years old but doesn’t look a day older than 35. Both she and her husband have been on the path of spirituality and healing for decades. And they never take money from people whose lives they’ve transformed. And when I say transformed, I mean it because people with debilitating diseases have been rescued from the pits of hell that their lives had become, through sheer faith… Look at me. I used to be an emotional wreck and yet today, I’m untouched by turmoil… I’m not needy anymore.”

She had a point. She did look and sound better and more balanced than she ever had. Over the weeks, she narrated amazing accounts of miracles that this husband- wife duo had selflessly performed for those who were in need. Eventually many of our friends started visiting this couple, seeking salvation, and solutions. The respect my friends had for the Vamans (that was the name the couple went by) was obvious. The Vamans never asked for anything and yet my friends were queuing up, volunteering service and funds for their charitable projects; some had removed Victoria Beckham or the Ferrari they had driven during their trip to Nice from their desktop and installed the Vamans there instead. Our reunions became a celebration of the wonderful world of the Vamans. Patricia and the others deified the Vamans and spoke of them with missionary zeal. Intrigued, I gave in… I would go too…

A week later, Patricia called. She whispered “maybe my phone’s being tapped… there’s trouble. The Vamans are weird folk… Tantriks! They’ve been using us…Can’t talk over the phone. Let’s talk over lunch tomorrow.”

Next day at the cafe, other friends had also arrived, and with some people I hadn’t met earlier – fellow disciples of the Vamans. They all had a story to tell. It wouldn’t be fair for me to reveal too much because all I heard was one side of the story, and since these are real people, it’d only be fair to both the Vamans and my friends, and you too dear reader, that I spare you the details… In brief, the Vamans apparently tried to seduce Patricia, who had by now become a part of the inner circle of devotees, into joining them in their ‘sexual experiments’. The other disciples in the inner circle were apparently already “in league with the Vamans”. Patricia was seething. Others had stories of minor financial irregularities; one had even been involved in intimidating a land grabber on behalf of the Vamans. When they all started talking about their experiences, gradually the oath of secrecy and their allegiance to the Vamans crumbled as they discovered that the Vamans had told each of them something unpleasant about the other… These ‘observations’ weren’t necessarily lies but might’ve been exaggerated and were a violation of the faith with which they had confided in the Vamans.

That strange evening, a god became the devil, on that table, and in our heads, within a matter of minutes… and we didn’t know what to think of them and of each other… What would you do when faith, borrowed faith, crumbles against insight, borrowed insight? If you have a suggestion, don’t hold back. Meanwhile, I’ll let you know what I make of the situation in a week’s time.


Thursday, March 4, 2010


There’s a magic portal on a narrow street that runs off a highway from Antwerp, many miles away… It was a grey and wet day, like all the others in Belgium that summer. As the car skated along the thin film of water, wading through the soft spray churned out by the wheels of a colossal 18 wheeler, I peered at fat drops of rain going pitter-patter on the pane. In the fields that lined the highway, I could see small herds of hornless cattle, marbled rumps and sirloin steaks on four legs, grazing in the haze. Further away, standing tall against horizon stood a row of wind turbines extending all along the highway. After driving west for nearly a 100 highway kilometres, I could see a little lane drifting away to my left . And that little lane tugs at every heart, promising seductive adventures and delicate delights, so I veer off the highway, ducking under a green sign and into that narrow lane that leads to a world from another time… incase you haven’t noticed, the sign says, ‘Welcome to Brugge!’ (that’s how the local Flemish folk spell it anyway… and the way they pronounce it is Broogah – the first bit like brew, as in tea, and the second syllable sounds like a man trying to cough up something he’s choking on...)

At that moment, as I was about to leave this dull grey lane and enter the portal to this magical and enchanting town, I was reminded of the words of a dark-haired damsel I’d met by a lake amidst the serene beauty of a paradise valley called Interlaken. She had been to “Bruges” (that’s how she and the rest of us pronounce it, rhyming with rouge, as in cosmetic) earlier and “it was simply the most beautiful and charming town in the world, preserved just the way it was in the medieval period… a living breathing city suspended in time between the middle ages and the 21st century”. That day I resolved to one day visit Bruges and see this town for myself…

And Bruges was definitely unique… The road along the lane transformed before our eyes into a cobbled path with clumps of grass growing on the fringes. The driver slowed down and parked by the kerb. Cars aren’t allowed in most parts of Bruges. We stepped out into the dull drizzle and walked round a corner and voila…! We’d left behind the rain and the gloom and entered a world where the sun, it would have you believe, always shone. Cobble-stone paths under our feet led us into a town square that looked like a movie set for a ‘King Arthur’ film. Medieval spires and towers shot up at the clear blue sky and in the centre was the town square with its assortment of true-blue Belgian stores, some selling chocolates in all shapes, flavours and sizes while others were devoted to displaying intricate patterns of Belgian lace… In any other setting, these stores would’ve smacked of kitschy commercialism, a fl y-trap for the bus loads of tourists that throng Bruges, come sun or snow, but here it only deepens the romance. Beyond the sloping roofs, stands the towering Belfort - Bruges’ bell tower, an 83 metre high structure that has stood there all alone for nearly a thousand years. I walked towards it, drawn by the whispers of stories that lie buried in its stony heart. What sights it must have seen as the years and heads rolled and kingdoms and the dust on them settled and swirled… But it’s not just the Belfort. All of Bruges is almost just as old… and to think that people live and go to work in these beautiful and ancient structures.

Suddenly I heard the clippity-clop of heavy iron shod feet. It was a horse-drawn carriage… I almost expected to see armoured knights with lances getting off the carriage but had to make do with the sight of an old German couple in the carriage, brandishing their Nikons as they hurtled along… Not perfect but beautiful nevertheless. Such horse-drawn carriages are a great way of moving about town. But the best things about Bruges are these beautiful winding canals that run across the lap of the city. In this Venice of the North, with its handsome willows, arched bridges and little boats reflected in the still green waters, you could spend days drifting from one picturesque corner to another. But a trip to Bruges is complete only with a visit to the magnificent spires of The Church of our Lady where hidden from the world behind ornate stained glass windows sits a gorgeous and ancient masterpiece, faithfully preserved and perfect, just like the town – Michelangelo’s magic in molten marble, the Madonna and Child…

Bruges seduces like no other city can for there is none that blends dramatic architecture with an all pervasive sense of history and an immediacy that allows you to touch the waters of the canal, the lace in the stores, the stones that speak and the history that lives in this town just as easily as the town touches your soul…

Here’s another one for your bucket list…