Thursday, June 21, 2012


This one’s easy. Rule four – You’ve got to have a shared vision of the future in order to stay happy and together in that future. But surprisingly, when couples fall in love, or believe they are in love, the future begins with the wedding and ends with the honeymoon. Unfortunately, life is not like the movies. Happy endings don’t always lead to exciting beginnings. Most courting couples treat the future the same way cricketers treat the weather report. It could be good or bad but it will be what it will be and it’s not like you can choose it. You just want to play and so you get into the game hoping it will all be fine in the end. It’s just a peg to hang a conversation on at the best of times.

But should it be more? Should it really matter if my beloved is a business woman or a social activist, a home-maker or a film-maker, a massage therapist or a television reporter? Well, it might be politically incorrect to say so but I really believe that it has got to matter, and a fair bit too.

There was a time when work meant survival. It meant hunting, fighting and scavenging. It was not something one chose. One’s very existence depended on it. And up till the 90s, at least in this country, ‘work’ had remained at best a variation of the original theme. But then the economy slithered out of its strait-jacket and opportunities grew like fungi in the rain forest. Today, what I do defines me, my character and my choices. Undeniably pertinent markers all.

Those days, all a woman wanted to know was, “Can he provide for me and my brood?” and all a man wanted to know was “Can she bear me children?” But times have changed, and apparently for the better. Most civilised cultures have ensured that those questions are a given. A global economy doling out doles for individuals, states and nation-states ensures that providing for one’s family has become easier than ever before in the history of man. And advances in medical technology have empowered more and more women to safely conceive, deliver and rear children than ever before.

Now, that should have made life for a couple a lot easier. But nay, that is never to be. Each generation has its own battles to fight…

It was rather late, around 2300hrs, when the phone rang. I was reading myself to sleep when the once-black berry groaned to life. It was Mynah, a distant cousin and a close friend. She had been living in Minsk with her husband, who sells high speed elevators, for the last five years. We had remained in touch, often exchanging messages every other day in a week. This wasn’t her usual hour…

“I’m sorry! Did I wake you? I was so distracted, I didn’t realise how late it was back home…” I told her it was OK and that I was still an arm’s length away from Morpheus. But was everything OK? Well, yes and perhaps yes but she wasn’t sure… “We’re both really excited about work. Mayuk (her husband) is having the time of his life. Sales are easy and there seems to be a tower popping up on the eastern horizon every week. I might be leaving for a week long junket along the Baltic coast in a few days so work wise, things couldn’t have been better. It’s just that… just that we don’t seem to care... I mean we care about each other and I love Mayuk. He is the most important person in my life… but I can’t seem to talk to him about what I do… He doesn’t want to know… doesn’t seem to care. Can’t blame him. Neither do I… I just want to come home.”

And you are thinking, “So….?” Well, this was about a year ago. Mayuk is still there in Minsk, and might someday be packing for an assignment further west, but Mynah is back here in Delhi, waiting, for her husband to return and sign the divorce papers. It was her idea.

If you think I’ve lost my marbles (why that phrase should mean one has gone crazy is beyond me, but that is all it is meant to mean here) for suggesting that not sharing similar passions at work could drive a wedge so deep that it could split up a marriage, you only have to look at your own and wonder about the truth of it. But here’s my hypothesis for whatever it is worth…

Every few years in our lives, we come across these windows that shape us. For some of us, or some times, these windows open up every five years or so, for others in a decade and for some, it might take even longer. These phases are defining moments in our lives, like for me it would be the time I fell in love, knew what love is, at least for me, and realised how it was different from the other times I had thought I was in love. It would also be the week after I was first taken to a police station (long valiant story… saving it for another day). And it would also be the years I started playing competitive cricket, teaching and writing for a living. Each of these times, the people who were with me or had inspired these paradigm shift s left a bit of them in me.

Now, in our own life, and in the lives of our partners, if the paradigm shift s to come are not shared nor shaped by each other, each successive paradigm shift would pull us away from each other because we would inhabit separate worlds even though we live in the same house. At that stage Mynah and Mayuk might have recognised it for what it is and decided to call it quits while other couples might recognise it and yet want to give it another chance, while still others, expecting very comparatively little of their relationship, might choose to live on in silence, mistaking it for the ‘peace and quiet of home’.

When Mynah and Mayuk met in a B-school class room, they were immediately drawn to each other. Myna is intelligent, attractive and witty, just like the rest of her cousins, and Mayuk’s pretty much the same. They knew they would both have pretty exciting careers ahead of them and the small matter of one living off reading and writing books and the other only wanting to sell them, for a profit if he could, was never supposed to get in the way.

Well, it did. As the years rolled by, and they got better at what they did, their work started carving them to suit its own needs. Soon, though together and apparently in love, a small part of them became a stranger to the other. And the more their work defined them, the more it pulled them apart, and bigger grew the shadow cast by the stranger within.

If you look carefully, you will see such dynamics in more than one relationship around you; they might have chosen to stay together; they might laugh and share a joke or play together with their kids, but deep within they are both strangers living in different worlds.

A shared vision of the future means the world of my tomorrow and the world of her tomorrow should at least be neighbours if not the same. If I want to live with my parents, in the middle of a grassland in Botswana, and love quoting Byron in the bedroom, it just wouldn’t work, no matter how much we might be attracted to each other if she wants to live independently, close to a mall, but never away from Delhi, and hates poetry and prefers reading the Economic Times while I’m celebrating Byron. Yes, I can hear you mumble the dreaded C-word, a bonafide love killer – compromises.

But compromises work only as the exception that proves the rule.

The future is where we will live tomorrow. Whether you will live in it all alone, or with someone new walking in after every act, only to leave a short while later, still a stranger, or with someone who will hold your hand and walk with you till you both drop off the horizon would depend on you asking the right questions as you explore a new relationship.


Thursday, June 14, 2012


The still waters of the Dal rippled ever so lazily while the shikara drifted along, past a colony of sleepy lotuses. An arm’s length away, a lone coot poked around the pads,. Beyond the lotuses rose a rickety fence enclosing a small cucumber patch and a bearded billy goat staring meditatively at the water through half closed eyes. It was a little past dawn and I was still sleepy as I stretched into a long, slow yawn…“Good morning sir!” I turned and looked for the owner of the chirpy little voice… “Ah Zahid! Good morning!”, I said. “You live here?”

Last evening, I had taken photographs of a lone boatman silhouetted against the pink and gold sky. Then as night pulled an inky blue curtain over the sky, I began dismantling the lens while that boatman paddled up to me. “Good morning sir!” chirped the voice and I looked up at a cherubic little face and a beatific smile. The boatman was a tiny little kid in his little blue and battered boat. Even though it was clearly way past ‘good evening’, I replied with an equally cheerful “good morning”. The boy’s smile grew wider as he proceeded to show me his wares. My shikara-wallah, Yusef, told me that Zahid, for that was the boy’s name, sold little trinkets to tourists after school to help his father, a fellow shikara-wallah, keep the fire burning in what was by necessity, a very large kitchen. Twelve year old Zahid and I had a little chat after he’d fleeced me off a pair of 500s. I knew he loved going to school so I asked him why he didn’t look like he was going to school this morning, he said “chhutti hai!”

I waved good-bye as the shikara floated away languidly, but then it struck me that it was a Monday. I asked Zahid why was Monday a holiday. Zahid was about to say something when Yusef spoke to him in Kashmiri and then said, “nothing sir, his school teachers want more pay so they are on strike.” Ah! I lay back in the shikara and focused on making the most of my last few hours in the valley before catching a flight home. However, when I reached Delhi, I realized that Zahid’s school was shut because a group of separatist leaders had called for a ‘nationwide bandh’ in memory of a youth who’d been killed accidentally by a tear gas shell fired by para-military forces during a protest march. The separatists had urged the people of the valley to remember the ‘blood of martyrs’ and not forget their sacrifices. Yusef’s desire to bury this uncomfortable fact deep in the muddy bed of the Dal isn’t unique. Every Kashmiri who has anything to do with tourism, and that’s a whole lot of Kashmiris, would do their damndest to soften such truths beyond recognition for the treasured tourist this season.My man Friday for the trip, cab driver, guide and shayar extraordinaire, all rolled into a burly balding ball of a man called Majeed, was no different. In his mid 40s Majeed looks no younger than a 60 year old. He lost his hair and health during the decades when gun-toting militants had the run of the valley, but now that the tourists are back, he works with renewed vigour. “I got tired of resting”, he says. “No more rest days for me. I’m just happy I have work….” I asked him if things are fine now and he said that peace had returned to the valley more than a year ago. Every corner’s safe and every Kashmiri welcomed this new peace. However, later while out for a run around the Dal, I trailed a bunch of soldiers and they revealed that while Srinagar indeed had been free from incidents for about a year, out in the country, stray incidents involving militants still weren’t uncommon. When I asked Majeed about that, the usually garrulous transporter was quiet for a while and then mumbled something about the media hyping things up. The fact that I had been quoting soldiers and not journalists didn’t seem to bother his media cryingwolf- hypothesis much. There were other comforting truths though. As we drove along the Lidder, a river that seems to tumble down the Himalayas sparkling with joy and the stunningly gorgeous valleys of Pahalgam, I heard claims about how tourists had never been targeted by militants and how Kashmiri militants never wanted to take the battle beyond the borders of the state. And it was more or less true. Except for a bunch of attacks in 2006 and the Al-faran kidnappings in 1995, most tourist deaths have been rare and incidental. Indeed these have been the exceptions and not the rule. What about the Pandits? This question is the most difficult one for the Majeeds and Yusefs to handle. They admit that there were times when life was indeed difficult for the Pandits. They blame it on factions that don’t represent the majority and the madness of the moment. Then they get into a tourist friendly philosophical monologue about how life’s about ‘insaniyat’, not religious or regional divides. And then they tell you about this abandoned Shiva-temple near Gulmarg which had been without a priest for long and then a Muslim gent named Muhammad took over the priestly duties in the temple. Now if that isn’t secularism, what is? That day, drifting in the Dal, I wondered how long this peace would last. Kashmir had always been a handsome powder keg. Nearly a decade before this insurgency took hold, Kapil Dev’s world champions faced off against the West Indies in Srinagar and were greeted with boos and pro-Pakistan slogans. Every West Indian run was cheered and every Indian wicket jeered. An uneasy calm followed before the first gun battles in 1989 announced the insurgency.I reflected back on a class discussion I had had with my students in 1997 while discussing the idea of nation and ethnicity in the context of Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India, and BS Gidwani’s Return of the Aryan. I’d come to understand that what ties people to an idea of a nation is perhaps a sense of shared cultural values or a vision of the future but it definitely isn’t religion, neither is it a set of economic and political ideals. By that token, the idea of India is purely a British legacy. To have come as far as we have as a country must have surprised a lot of historians and defies a lot of established logic. Of that, we all should be proud. Having said that, unlike other states in the Indian Union, Kashmir never really had a choice.

Knocked about by circumstance, politics and pride, Kashmir had been set upon by a pack of wolves that seem to have agreed to rend the state into bite-sized pieces to suit their own political appetite. India, Pakistan, China and even power brokers within the state-nationalists, separatists, activists and terrorists, we’ve all had our own axe to grind on the river stones of the Jhelum. My Kashmiri friends say that ‘the rich want to stay with India, the middle class is divided between India and aazadi and the poor want Kashmir to become a part of Pakistan’. But even for them, Pakistan isn’t a political choice. The poor welcome any change as a possible harbinger of better times and opportunities and that is what prompts the disfranchised to look westwards. Perhaps history and culture tie Kashmir closest to India. Religion does not unite nations. If that were to be the case, why would Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, India and Nepal, Japan and Korea be separate countries? Someday, Kashmiris who insist otherwise would see that too, but not if we take away their right to see and choose for themselves. The rest of India has to accept that Kashmir’s history is different and if autonomy is what a people want, beyond a point of persuasion they must be allowed to, and in fact it is their right, to have it. Indian fears about border security etc. have multiple answers, and as for pride, is it fair to sacrifice soldiers, resources and the dignity of a people on the altar of mere collective pride? If India really is the best bet for the Kashmiri people, then time will bring them back. I might sound hopelessly idealistic, but it has happened before, and why should it not happen again. A fragile peace brews in the valley for now. Pack your bags and see how gorgeous a land can look with your own eyes and you’ll know that while it is definitely a land worth fighting for, nothing is worth killing for; it is the soul of the people that needs to be won, and guns would only help one win over them but they would never help us win them over. What was it about loving someone enough to set them free, and if they come back, they were meant to be ours, and if not, it was never meant to be…? Well, if it works for people we love, why should it not work across, states and faiths? Why should we let cold manipulations of politics and the heat of war get in the way of love? So go, fall in love, and reach out to the people as much as the place, and irrespective of which side of the border it ends up, you would have done your bit for Kashmir to be yours too…


Thursday, June 7, 2012


If you want to believe in love and happy endings, don’t read this book you see in my hands. Relationship gurus Barbara and Allan Pease are fun to read but in their international best seller, ‘Why men want sex and Women need love’, most of the pages seem to break love down to a reaction to a chemical cocktail triggered by evolutionary impulses. Well, the bad news is that that loving feeling owes more than you know to those tall ones served up by that bar-tender called evolution, but evidently, there’s far more to it than just that…

The Peases say that all you, dear sir, look for in women is their hip to waist ratio. (really, sir..tut tut) And ma’am, is this really true that for a man to be a better lover he needs to have a large…. Er…. Ahem… bank balance?? What about all those songs that said a big heart was all we needed or those magazines that said a big… Well, never mind the magazines. The fact of the matter is that scientific studies of the kind quoted by the Peases insist that under that designer dress called romance and that fine tux called love lives a hairy truth called procreation. All the laws of attraction (more of that in a later issue) and love are but mere tools for ‘life’ to manipulate us into giving her what she wants – babies! Thanks to hevea brasiliensis (the humble rubber tree) andJulius Fromm (the Pole who showed the world there’s more than one way to wearing rubber), ‘life’s grand design has been thwarted, but the rules of the game still seem to be pushing us in the same direction. Love, they seem to say, isn’t this divine cosmic bond that unites two, (or more, subject to culture and geography) half souls with a family being the incidental by-product but the ultimate goal instead, with everything else in between a mere charade to get us there.

Take for instance this ‘scientific’ assertion that says that when you feel like you are ‘crazy’ about someone because you’re in love, it’s because the brain is juggling the hormones in your head and stirring up a chemical concoction that mimics the pattern of an OCD. And why does the brain play such tricks? Because it tries to trick us into forming a pair bond so that a slow growing human infant gets a good start in life... ! And in about a couple of years since you first ‘fell in love’, this cocktail in your head starts evaporating.. And omigosh, by extension, so does love...

Now, here’s the good news. Firstly, genetically advantaged people fall in love with and marry the ugly and the sickly, the queer and the poor and even the wimp and the limp all the time and in every culture. Love therefore has to go beyond the cold logic of evolutionary biology. But more of the why’s of that later.

Secondly, I’ve been married for about a decade and half and I’m more in love than I’ve ever been. So this chemical high, if that’s all that love is, can’t be a one time thing and nor is it merely a ‘splash about’ in the chosen gene pool.

Having said that, there are times in every relationship when passion ebbs just as much as it flows, when physical desire waxes and wanes, and that might have something to do with that whole oxytocin serotonin withdrawal business. It’s nature’s way of pushing a healthy individual towards new potential mates to ensure greater genetic diversity. This is the point where couples start doubting their love for each other, spend more time with the television and get disillusioned with their own dreams and give up on their expectations from love. ‘It’s different now! We’re married!’ they tell themselves, and the fabric of love comes undone as the hands of the clock meet and the grand wagon becomes a pumpkin again. I have seen umpteen marriages lose colour and flavour and descend into ordinariness when couples accept the waning of that rush to be the new nature of their old relationship.

And if your relationship feels a lot like the previous paragraph, it’s time to swallow the bitter pill! And that is that you were never in love in the first place because you broke the third rule of love – assumed you were in love when you weren’t even friends! Yes, rule three says you cant be in love unless you are friends, the best of friends! Between a parent and child, maybe love can exist without friendship ever having much of a say, but between two adults, the foundation of a romantic relationship has to be a deep honest friendship. If you don’t wait to bake that friendship in the heat of time and shared experiences, and mistake that rush of passion and excitement that shadows every new liaison to be love, you would have fallen in nature’s trap. And if you act on that feeling and get hitched or make commitments too soon, then when time and nature restores balance to the chemical equation in your head, you suddenly wake up next to a stranger and wonder why… Some of you would find comfort in the tales of your friends who will assure you that marriage does this to the best of them while others would squabble and fight their way to separation and disillusionment. But in either case, you really are barking up the wrong tree. The fault lies neither with marriage nor love, but squarely and entirely at your door for you mistook mere hormones for love and broke rule three.

So how does one know if what one has is true blue friendship, the foundation of love or mere affection, or even just raw lust?

For starters, if you’ve been together for a while, a good way to check if you guys got into the game for love or lust is to ask yourself if in the evenings you’d be happier watching television and talking office gossip or would you rather go out for a drive and sing along with the car stereo for the other’s benefit or/and cook the other a barbecue dinner under the stars and talk of dreams old and new? When it’s time for a vacation, are you happier dragging your friends along because the thought of that quiet intimate weekend with just each other bores or worse, scares you or do you look forward to long walks by the coast, or along the edge of a cliff, hand in hand, bathed in the pink light of a beautiful new dawn?

Secondly, do you look forward to doing things together? Do you go in search of those shared experiences that are to be the glue that will keep you together (refer to issue dated 27th May 2012).

Thirdly, are you comfortable discussing awkward, even intimate topics, about the past, about each other’s dreams, even fantasies, likes and dislikes? Friends discuss such things all the time, and yet lovers who are supposed to be the best of friends often don’t… Insecurity, fear of judgment and the like often dissuade couples from such discussions, but really if you’re friends first, why should you stop chatting like friends just because you are also lovers and partners today.

And last but not the least, are you best-friends enough to be honest with each other and also love the other enough to accept honesty in the other, without conditions or judgment. Do you have enough compassion to say, “I love you and you can tell me anything at all. I’m not promising I will agree with you but I will understand. And I promise I will not walk away from you… because I know you, love you, understand you and because you are my best friend”?

You make sure you say that to your best friend, and honesty will flow both ways, from then and from there.

Please forgive me if I got more than a little preachy but we, the love and the light of my life and I, have and will go through these tunnels of love too, for they keep coming back and these words are as much a reiteration for us as they are a message for you. If this page goes even a little way in helping you, and us, take an honest and tender new look at the one(s) we love, I would have earned my keep for the week.