Against the Death Penalty

Before you trash this article as propaganda, let me make it very clear. This is simply an article trying to openly address the question that we, as a nation, and more importantly, as a race, as a species, as a civilization, need to answer. Can we justify and, to that extent, actually kill another human being? I’m probably an abolitionist, although I confess I do not have any material research to back my opinion herein. Simply certain musings and thoughts from my mind.

The death penalty (also called capital punishment) is punishing a criminal for an offence by inflicting death. It has existed for ages, yet as of today, it has been abolished in 139 countries across the globe. The methods maybe different and include, but are not limited to, hanging from a noose, shooting, administering death inducing drugs, stoning, and passing electric current through the body.

To ease my mind of my problem with the death penalty, and with regard to this entire process, I decided to write this article, working on an assumption that death penalty is a valid penalty and should be administered. I figured if I can poke enough holes in the very idea of the penalty, I will be able to conclusively answer the question.

Here’s why I struggle to grasp this idea: Every justice system in the world functions on certain basic assumptions and human constructs. The judicial system is vested with power by society to punish an offender according to the crime he/she commits. Society as a whole is more powerful than the sum of its individual parts. This power gives it the authority to back the sanctions the judiciary deems fit. The entire construct and the subsequent systems it creates strives to create a system that is fair, equal and just. For a second, let’s keep the definitions of those terms aside, we’ll get to them later. Let’s focus on the sanctions these constructs bestow upon a system. The sanctions seem ideal until the idea of a death penalty is invoked. That’s when I personally see issues with the system. Why? Well, for starters, the idea that a heinous crime deserves a heinous punishment is a flawed analysis. Say for example X kills a person. It is universally acknowledged as a wrong, subject to exceptions, which are obvious (self-defence for one), but in ordinary circumstances, is a universal wrong. X deserves to be punished. Agreed. So let’s kill X. This is what I struggle with. Quid pro quo sounds good for commercial transactions and barters but logically, it simply doesn’t make sense in a criminal system, designed for a civilised society, which emphasises on reformation and restorative form of justice, rather than endorsing retribution. If X killing a person, under whatever circumstances, is wrong, then how is killing X justified? One may say that it was X who committed a murder in the first place, and that offers a justification, and that’s reason enough to go ahead with the capital punishment. There are a few issues with this:

How different are we from X if we kill X?

X killed the person for a reason. He had a reason for it, which he deemed enough to warrant killing. He was punished for it, with capital punishment. We killed X for a reason. We deemed it enough to warrant killing. But we won’t be punished for it as we have the authority vested by society in us. Now, let’s examine something. Does society have the power or authority to legitimise killing? Every other incident that society regulates, either through morality, religion, governments, legal systems or any other route is an instance of regulating constructs that are human-made. Life is not a human creation. I don’t mean the act of creating life, but the prolonged idea of life itself. I don’t care if you believe in evolution or the divine theory, but the fact remains that we cannot create it (again, I emphasise, that life in this particular context is not just the creation of a biological being in the literal sense, but the entire process i.e. the experience of life, participation and interaction in the environment around a person etc.) or restore it or duplicate it. We simply cannot. We take away someone’s freedom; we can restore it. We take away someone’s life; restoration is not even a possibility. The action is permanent. If X is given the capital punishment, X shall cease to exist, and can never be brought back. Now this where the common argument comes in, “if he was heinous enough to do it, then he deserves it.” “He didn’t think about the person/people he killed, ergo he deserves to die”. This is where the idea of capital punishment develops internal inconsistencies and logical fallacies. So the assumption of validity rests on the idea that we as a society, are punishing an individual from deviating from a set of ideals laid down already. For the sake of argument, I am assuming these ideals are set in stone to ensure a utopian society that is again, fair, equal and just. But giving into the argument mentioned here means deviating from the ideals of society and adopting the ideals taken by X him/herself. Confused? Let me simplify. X kills 100 people by bombing an apartment building. Our reason for inflicting the capital punishment on him/her is that he/she didn’t care about them, so we shouldn’t care about him/her either. Well, if X is getting the capital punishment for killing people without caring about them, shouldn’t we be getting the capital punishment as well for killing X without caring about her/him? What puts us up on the moral pedestal that protects us? If the answer lies behind the fabric of legal and social sanction, we effectively create a major issue. Let’s address the problem behind claiming a socio-legal backing i.e. an argument rooted in majoritarianism. I shall address majoritarianism later in this piece as well, but in this context, the risk it poses is of us being non-uniform in our justice system as reformative legislations or provisions, or pushing for changes to ensure effectively address the question of equality and discrimination, lose steam by accepting this argument as most of them do not have societal backing, in terms of number.

X should be killed because society wants that

This argument is a dangerous proposition in itself. The very idea of doing something simply because ‘society’ wants it scares me, because it is bloody dangerous. Think about it. I think all of us agree that everyone has a unique thought process. Everyone has different ideas and different opinions, and in most situations, complete consensus is an impossible ideal. So firstly, when the above-mentioned argument is raised, it stems from an assumption that the majority’s opinion is de facto everyone’s opinion. This proposition is scary as accepting it involves a blatant disregard for minority opinion/rights and leaves no room for alternate thinking. To sample a real life example, here are a few things from the past that the majority believed was ‘right’ – slavery, racial discrimination, imposing taxes on a religion that is not the ‘majority’ or ‘not in power’. These examples are proof that the second assumption, which is that the majority’s opinion is always right, is a delusional assumption. Something that directly flows here is the scenario wherein everyone (both the majority, and assuming a consolidated minority) agrees upon something. Would that make the act acceptable? I still think my answer remains no, as from where I look at it, life, or rather the right to life, is a fundamental guarantee every human being has by the virtue of her/his birth. Let’s address this argument next

X should be killed because even the fundamental right to life has restrictions like other fundamental rights

This argument has one flaw. It places the right to life as a fundamental right at par with other fundamental rights. The right to life is one which is not granted by society but which an individual possesses by virtue of his/her birth. The right to equality is a relational right i.e. it exists in a society, in conjunction with others. The same goes for other basic fundamental rights such as the right to freedom etc. The right to life is an absolute right which one possesses in isolation from everyone, and even in conjunction. The part that is in conjunction with others, deals more with the quality of one’s life, and its nature, while the absolute right is simply a guarantee of not being killed. It is not granted to someone simply because they are a member of a society or citizen of a country, but by the mere fact that you are born as a member of the species homo sapiens.

Something that I have not addressed here is the element of guilt: whether or not an accused is guilty of the offence. That is because this entire argument is based on the idea that there is no offence that warrants the death penalty, hence there is no element of guilt involved. In fact the idea of defining certain offences as ‘worth awarding the capital punishment’ introduces elements of being perfectly assured and completely sure of an accused’s guilt, which is an unachievable goal. The idea is to separate the concepts of guilt determination and sentencing. At the outset, the idea is to ensure reasonable punishment. No one is denying the guilt of a prisoner who has been convicted after due process. However, that element has to be separated from the sentencing of the convict.

Another obstacle I encounter is being confronted with whether someone from my family has been subject to a crime that warranted the death penalty, and would I argue for non-imposition of the death penalty for the accused then? Here’s the deal. Call me naïve if you want, but the very fact that we have a mind capable of understanding logic and reasoning is what makes us human beings. I know it is idealistic to say this, but there have been many situations when people have shown true humanity by arguing for non-imposition of the death penalty for those accused of committing heinous crimes against their loved ones. Again, here the idea is to ensure reasonable punishment. The argument is in favour of the maximum possible punishment, say life imprisonment, but mine, or anyone else’s conviction against the death penalty arises from rationality and logic, hence anger and rage are not factors that should be playing a role in changing it.

What I am trying to say can possibly be summed up like this – Taking life, under no circumstances, including State-sanctioned ones, can ever be legitimate. I realise this article in itself is subject to criticism and probably has multiple flaws, or leaps, in logic. But the very purpose of this article is to express an opinion, maybe an ill-informed one at that, but an opinion nevertheless, because when it boils down to the life of a person, every last bit counts.

This Unquiet Land: Stories From India’s Fault Lines by Barkha Dutt – A Book Review

NOTE: This piece was written by me for the 10th issue of Audi Alteram Partem, NLU Delhi’s college magazine.

This Unquiet Land: Stories From India’s Fault Lines by Barkha Dutt
Release Date/Month: December 2015
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
This Unquiet Land: Stories From India’s Fault Lines by Barkha Dutt
 
Journalism has a penchant for narratives, which are mainstream, and rarely steps into the realm that addresses the other side of the debate. However, Barkha Dutt is one of the handful few journalists who has often transcended the border between the two sides, and has given mainstream reportage a depth it unfortunately lacked. This Unquiet Land, is essentially a reflection in retrospect by Barkha Dutt, on the ground reality she experienced in her nearly 25 year long career, while at the same time, providing critical commentary on the fractures that have put India in a cast.
Primarily an on-air journalist (of course, with the occasional columns in prominent newspapers), this is Barkha’s first book, and this fact is bluntly obvious. Despite having a flair for words, the narration, or rather the flow of the book is scattered, and open-ended. Several important issues are raised, discussed, dissected and analysed by her, but cumulatively, the book fails to make a point except for a reiteration of the status quo i.e. the dark yet colourful paradox that is India.
That being said, the content of the book is riveting. Narration of horrifying events that actually occurred, without resorting to dramatization, while simultaneously breaking the walls of privilege built around the reader to expose her to the horrors faced by people, is extremely difficult and Barkha does an excellent job of the same. Covering a wide spectrum of issues that the country was confronted with, she does a stellar job hitting the right nerves at every required instance. One of the major stimulating factors, is of course the fact that she is one of the first on-ground female reporter India saw in the post-liberalization era, and that in itself provides for an unique read. At multiple instances, the book talks about unique anecdotes and incidents from Barkha’s life as a reporter, and how the same influenced her, changed her or forced her to think beyond the theoretical jargon one graduates with.
To be fair, the book also acts as Barkha’s venting zone, as she tried to subtly include replies to certain allegations against her as a part of India’s narrative on major issues, but the subtlety was lost in the harsh barrage of words against her detractors. At this point, I must express my personal displeasure at the same. Not due to the content, but due to the simple fact, that those rants lacked context. A book claiming to explore India’s fractured lines has no context for replying to accusations and allegations which are personal to the author.

Overall, I must say that I was disappointed. Not because the book was disappointing. In sum, the book is average at best, but perhaps I had come to expect more from one of the better journalists in the country, who has often also written scathing columns along the same subject matter the book revolved around. This is not a book that you have to read, but it definitely is one that you should read for a rude shock about what India really is, along its shaky faulty lines.

Click here to buy on Amazon or Flipkart

Because Love is not always Blind



The light in her bedroom went off. Praveen continued staring at that window, as he had for the past thirty years, every night, religiously and ritually. Even though her house was a block down the street, and admittedly, his abysmal housekeeping skills ensured a layer of perennial dust on his own window, Praveen could describe each inch of the window he had longed for opening. It might seem to be a feat, given his current age, but well, staring at a window that was slightly dented towards the upward-left corner since the past thirteen years, three months and eleven days, does that to you. He stubbed his cigarette as he reached the filter, and exhaled. Another night of a struggle before he could sleep. He almost smiled at the prospect. Almost. The thin lines of his mouth, ever night, cracked towards an upward curve, but always stopped midway. You see, the brain is an organ with an absolutely cruel sense of humour. For reasons known best by itself, every moment brings its cost, and every love struck human, always has the pang of sadness weighing down every chance of happiness. It was the same memory, always. The day when he first met Meera.
He was sixteen, and had just moved to the neighbourhood. His father, a district administrator, was already at his office, and his mother, a home administrator, was readying hers. As she unloaded, unpacked and arranged the seemingly infinite number of boxes into the maze of drawers and cupboards in the kitchen, she realised that she had run out of ammunition for the afternoon luncheon with their neighbours, and that is how Praveen ended up at the supermarket at ten past eleven, on a sunny afternoon in Mid-April, in the row for household spices, searching for chillies, and lost all semblance of flavour, as nothing quite tasted the same since that day. It was an innocent tap on his shoulder, and an extended arm that a small packet on the uppermost shelf which her hands couldn’t quite reach. He grabbed it with ease, a natural height advantage that he took for granted by now, and turned. That’s the first time he saw Meera Joshi. Even today, as he sees her come back home every night at 9.45 PM, she steps out of her car, waves at him with a smile, and goes back in, yet his reaction, as though frozen in the space-time continuum remains the same. A smile plastered across his face that simply refuses to leave. He had handed her the packet and she left without a thank you, and that was it. He was in love, and he never would have guessed the curve his life had taken.
Praveen, as every night, lay in bed and thought about the same thing he had thought about ever since that night, with alarming consistency. He thought about the curves of life. About its adventure, about its uncertainibility. Strange isn’t it? What if he had decided to leave home a mere few minutes later that day? What if his mother had not run out of chillies? What if he had entered the other supermarket further down the lane? The small things of life somehow influenced you and shaped you in ways you never realise until you have reached a time when you can look back and connect the dots. For thirty years now, Praveen had spent every night waiting for Meera to come to her window, and for thirty years now, Meera had not shown. He had fallen for her slowly, and at once. He fell for her, bit by bit, and for her being her, all at once. He couldn’t quite blame her for though. He had never spoken to her. The hundred feet journey had remained so, and he never had crossed it. He loved her from afar, too scared of the consequence, to scared of her reaction. Well that’s not true. He had spoken to her once, and she hadn’t replied. He had spent his entire life waiting for that reply.
It was a bustling day in the market, years ago. Sometime back in early January. He was nudging his way through to the bookstore, and suddenly he felt his breath leave his body. It was Meera, but not her sight, but rather her elbow-in-his-rib-cage as she tried to make her way through the crowd. She looked so beautiful, he thought, the slight nervousness of being in a crowd, of being a tiny person in a crowd full of humongous human beings. Recovering, he grabbed her arm, and she turned, with a look of surprise on her face, but the emotion disappeared as she saw his face, and turned into the smile that has haunted him ever since. “ An apology wouldn’t have hurt” he said with a laugh, but it apparently fell on deaf ears as she seemingly ignored it. Praveen found in him, a confidence, which he never knew he ever had, as he pulled her closer, leant in, and whispered into her ear, “ I love you”. It was as if he dispelled his courage with those words, as if they broke him. He suddenly felt empty, and he could hear his heart pounding, and his mouth went dry. As suddenly as he had gripped her arm, he let it go, and started walking away. She stood there, to his astonishment, with a confused look on her face, but not the kind he was expecting, not the kind one faces when one is expressed with the emotion of love. He halted, turned and shouted, “ I’ll wait for your answer”, and ran. Meera stood there staring after him, not realising what had just happened.
Praveen sighed as the memory of something that changed his life over two decades ago, flashed with clarity quite peculiar to beloved memories. He had held his word. He waited for her response, and still was waiting. He had never tried to ask her again, or approach her again. Love, was not something, in his ideal, that could be forced. He never understood the idea of making people fall in love with someone. How could it be love if it needed external stimuli? He never believed in love that made “sense” because in his books, it never did. He stepped out of his apartment and went down to the mailbox. It was an odd ritual this, the absurd checking of his mail everyday after his nightly smile and wave of heart-breaking love. But, he couldn’t help but feel that there was something down there, waiting for him. He went about the ritual daily, and he was disappointed daily, but he still did it, daily. Funny, how the most absurd of things are the things you can’t explain, and the things you can’t explain, are the ones that pull the strings of your four chambered monster.
No mail again. This time he smiled completely, more out of self-pity, and went back to his home and jumped into bed, and lay there thinking, and dreaming, and eventually drifting off to sleep, but at every moment, loving the word that ran through his blood. Meera.
The next day
Meera Joshi had passed away in the quiet of the night, which was strange. She had passed away in her sleep, a cardiac arrest, sudden, quiet, and deadly. Meera had no family, and had been living alone since the death of her father fifteen years ago. The usual crowd had gathered, neighbours, and friends, and of course, the relatives Meera never knew existed, except for her Aunt who lived a couple of miles away, and was reminded of her love for Meera every year only on Diwali. Praveen ran to her house the moment he overheard the milkman gossip about it to Mrs.Dey, the old widow who was the only other occupant on the floor, with the other apartment, 113, being vacant ever since Praveen could remember. Praveen couldn’t place his emotions. He had loved this woman from afar for thirty years, and suddenly she was gone. Dead. Praveen fell to his knees when he saw her body, covered with a white cloth, and cotton stuffed in her nose. He had loved her, and “why” was not a question he could answer, or even thought about really. She was his drug, his addiction, his habit, his life. It was the strangest thing, giving someone a place on a pedestal in your life, when your interaction with the person had never crossed the puny limit of ten words, and of course, the million of thoughts that raced through his mind when he saw her every night.
Musing mentally, Praveen quietly stood up and strode over to a corner. He didn’t want to talk to people, or couldn’t rather. No one should see his tears, for he didn’t know how to explain them. He slightly turned away his face, and the tears continued coming. He couldn’t particularly place a finger on his emotions. If logic had taught him anything, all that happened was that he lost a daily waving partner. He tried to stop the tears. He really did. He wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve, tried crunching his face, tried thinking about happy thoughts, but all of it failed, especially the last one. Each happy memory reminded him that he couldn’t share it with her, and now, he never will.
“Excuse me?”, a voice interrupted him, and he turned to see Ravalli, Meera’s friend, he assumed of course, as he had often seen them together. “I’m sorry, but are you a relative of Meera’s?”, she asked with what sounded, suspicion and inquisitiveness in her voice. Snivelling, Praveen replied, “ No, I am Praveen. I live in an apartment in the building across the road. You can see it from this window. We were friends”. The disjointed sentences were quite unlike Praveen, but the past tense in his last statement pushed him over the edge again, and in that moment, one could swear that every teardrop was a waterfall.
“Oh! You’re that Praveen!” she exclaimed, and started off with a rant he never thought he would hear. Meera had loved him, since Ravalli could remember, and that would be a long time, as they had been friends for decades now. She didn’t know if he remembered, but Meera had never forgotten that moment in the supermarket, when they were fourteen, no sixteen, no seventeen, Ravalli said she couldn’t remember, but sometime in the past, he had handed her a packet at a supermarket, and their fingers had touched. Meera had never forgotten it. She had always thought he never reciprocated, and had always lived with the ache that only a love-struck heart knows. She always wondered why he didn’t reply to her letters. She wrote him one every year, on 17th January, a day she told Ravalli, she would never forget. The first time he spoke to her, and it always hurt her that she didn’t reply. How could she? She had waited for his reply for years, but never asked anyone to take it up with him. She believed that love couldn’t be forced, it never could be love if people came together just because it made “sense”. Each sentence broke Praveen into pieces. He wailed, and for the first time, he thanked God for the setting, because a mourning was where that wailing belonged. Love in itself is somehow, the easiest yet the most difficult thing we do, and somehow, a little bit of heart was all that was needed to bring the two of them together, and yet ironically, that is the only thing they lacked. He couldn’t stand to be in that room anymore, the air somehow was getting heavier than lead for him. Heaving slightly, he stumbled to the door, when something flashed in his mind, and he turned to Ravalli and asked, “these letters…are you sure she wrote them? I never received any”. For a moment, he wanted Ravalli to tell him that it was nothing but a lie, and that Meera never loved him, for it is better to have loved and never had the love you longed for, than to have loved and not have had it for the lack of heart to walk up and claim the very same. Praveen prayed silently, but perhaps God is cruel, or maybe she is a playful tease, or maybe she just doesn’t exist, and a human’s prayers are nothing but cries bouncing off the chasms of the universe, for Ravalli replied, “Yes! She definitely did. She would herself go and drop it off into your mailbox. 113 right?”
Praveen ran back. His brain was frozen, and he wanted to do nothing but find a hammer and break open the mailbox for that wretched apartment. Perhaps it was luck, or sheer coincidence that he found the handyman near the gate of the building, who when told that the postman had unfortunately slipped his salary cheque into the mailbox of the abandoned apartment, immediately agreed to help, crumbling about the postman’s inefficiency, something about this being the fourth such instance this month. Poor postman, another innocent injured in the world’s oldest sport, wooing. The mailbox appeared to be full and bursting, and behold! There they were, about 25 envelopes, each ageing in its own way, but the same rounded handwriting adorning the address on each, the black ink almost mocking Praveen. The handyman quietly walked away, for in all his life, if he had learnt something, it was that if a man sobs like a new-born baby on seeing a letter, he is best left alone.
He read every letter. He wept for the two hours it took him, and some more. At 21, she told him that she had fallen for him, at 27 she told him that her office timings have changed, and she’ll get home an hour early, but she’ll still wait for him to come to the window with his cigarette, at 9:44 PM sharp, so that she could wave to him before walking back home. At 33, she told him she admired him for his schedule and his discipline, that she had never met a man who stuck his guns, and everyday, for years together, would appear at the same place, at the same time, for the same act. At 40, she told him that she did not like being alone, and she kept wondering why he didn’t reply. Maybe if he could tell her that he did not love her, maybe that’ll stop her. She retracted that at 41, saying that even if he did not love her, she would always love him. At 46, the last one she wrote him, she looked back at her love for him, and said she didn’t understand why she loved him, they barely knew each other, she wished she could talk to him, but she couldn’t. All she knew was that she loved him.
Praveen’s tears didn’t stop the entire night. He let them flow, for he had no idea how to let thirty years of emotions out. It was dawn when the last of his tears dried on his cheeks, and he decided that a fresh breath of air wouldn’t hurt. He walked down the street, ambling in his pyjamas; hair all messed up, as he saw Ravalli outside Meera’s building. His lack of courage to approach people had deprived him of a lifetime of happiness; he wasn’t going to let that happen again. He walked up to her and asked her, with the bluntness of dull hammer, and strangely, with the sharpness of a knife, “ Why didn’t she ever say anything? Why didn’t she ever speak to me? Why?” Ravalli, turned to him with a surprised look on her face, which somehow even bordered disgust and in the flattest of tones replied, “ only if the mute spoke, and the deaf heard, the world would have been a different place wouldn’t it?”. Strange are the ways of the world aren’t they? Two lovers, never united. One, for his heart never let his tongue speak, and the other, her tongue couldn’t even her heart wanted to.

The Day Coffee Wasn’t Bought

Credits- dreamatico.com/data_images/coffee/coffee-3.jpg

Standing on a balcony is never a boring endeavour. I stood, in what people say is my usual pose while having coffee, with both my elbows on the ledge, the left hand propping up my head while being balled into a fist, and the fingers of my right, curled around a cup, leaning against the wall of the cemented barrier between me and the sky. I always enjoyed these moments. Regardless of the world’s reprehensible mood swings of inflicting insufferable weather, this was an act, which never lost its charm. Today, particularly, was a warm, cosy day on the verge of turning gloomy. I always found the beauty of nature in change. Think about it. That moment when evening perks into the night or when the night finally makes way for the day. Dusk and Dawn. Twilight. The beginning of a rain shower on a sunny day or the emergence of the sun after one. The view from my balcony was not worthy of inspiration though. It looked out towards the parking lot of an apartment building that opened onto a closed street, and even on the most exciting of days; failed to evoke an inspiration in Hemmingway’s soul. Don’t get me wrong; it was a quaint, nice view, but nothing worth the ink it would consume on paper. The best thing about it probably would be the view of the open sky, which never fascinated me. Isn’t it the same old sky everywhere? Sure, the clouds and their patterns are different, but essentially it is the same, isn’t it?
The smoke rings curled up, and disappeared, as things always did. I smiled as I saw the source. A couple was standing in the middle of the garden slightly to the left of the building, making something that would barely pass as a bonfire. They waved, and I waved back, and immediately forgot about it. I returned to my musings, and sipped my coffee. Perhaps it is the aroma, or the caffeine itself rather than the aroma of exotic Java Chip coffee, that made me notice her. A girl, barely 14 years past her first word, was walking across the dull, parking lot. I was immediately bewildered, and I couldn’t place the source for it. In an instant, my mind made way for my brain, and the rowdy game of analysis began. The brain is an insane computing machine. I do not necessarily mean that in a good way. At its whims, it can process thousands of different information pieces in less than a second, and at times, it struggles to comprehend even a singular piece of data.  For now, it was struggling to trace my bewilderment. Was it the girl? No, a girl walking across the parking lot is hardly bewildering. Her age? Definitely not, given that my brain already knew that the apartments in this street were mostly residential apartments meant for families or married couples. Accounting for a total of 822 apartments and an average of 3 people in each, a healthy figure of around 2500 is reached, and it is hardly a shocking occurrence to see a girl in her early mid-teens in a group as diverse as 2500 people. Suddenly, it hit me. The bewilderment presented itself not because of anything off about the girl, or the location, or the environment of the occurrence, but rather myself. I was bewildered by the fact that I had noticed the young girl.
Curious, I observed the girl. She continued walking across the parking lot, when suddenly, she stopped. She quickly slipped a hand inside her jeans pocket and fiddled for a bit, before extracting her mobile phone. If I had to guess, she received a call, as she proceeded to go stand by a car, slightly leaning on it, while she answered the call. Clearly, she knew the person, as her immediate answer and slight smile on her face betrayed, and she clearly wasn’t expecting to hear what she heard as she suddenly fell to her knees. The suddenness of the act was debateable as from where I stood, and from the observation I made keenly, I detected a hint of wobbling in her knees as the call progressed which progressed into a literal knock from an invisible hand, not the one Adam Smith spoke of, though both had the same effect viz. knocking out the very props that kept something up, albeit in a correcting manner. As the economy corrected itself, she answered while on her knees, crying. Again, it was perspective that mattered, as for an average passer-by, it could have easily been the pain of hard yet soft knee caps bumping on the cemented road, but only an observer who had insights into the moments leading up to the incident, or even had seen the girl in the moments preceding it, could swear that the first tear drop hit the ground before the girl’s knees did.
The teardrops never stopped, as the girl’s voice cracked, for she was wailing, and in a moment, her persona had changed. No longer was she an average person walking down the road, with an air of careful dressing up, slight cheerfulness and purposefulness. No, she had suddenly become one with the wild climate, as her hair turned slightly frizzy and her face betrayed the darker spots. Maybe it was the light playing its games, I would never know, for that very moment, her tears disappeared into the sudden outburst of rain. The moment was rich with clichés and ironies as the girl sat on the cemented ground, on her knees, one hand holding the phone to her ear, trembling all this while, as the other ventured through her hair, grasping at nothing, venting for a frustration that was still born. The wailing of the heavens brought her to her senses, as a strong wind buffeted against her face, and the rain splashed against her. She quickly pulled the hood of her jacket over her head, and made a dash towards the entrance of the apartment building, but all this while, one of her hand remained on the phone, and the phone on the ear, as if glued together by the conversation she was having. She disappeared into the lobby, and that was the last I ever saw of her.
It has been 4 years since I went back. 4 surprisingly long years since I saw home. That was always the last thought I had before I fell asleep. Always. Every day, for the past 4 years. Something had always come up. Work, travel, engagements, something. It was an unfortunate thing, but just like all other things human, and all other things unfortunate, couldn’t be helped. It just had to be dealt with. It was an odd feeling, the longing to be back home. It gnaws at your insides, but soon morphs into an itch that just stays. The year was 2004, and mobile phones had just gained immense traction. Only last week, I purchased one and had performed my weekly ritual. Every Friday, as soon as the sunset, I would walk out of the apartment and approach the nearest calling booth. 326 steps was the distance I remember, because I remember each step, each pace, with each beat of my heart. The mechanical art of dialling the number which magically connected me to someone thousands of miles away, was dull, yet I suppose, when the ends matter more than the means, the means gain a charm themselves. The conversation was never anything special, a casual conversation with my parents, just as the one you have at the end of the day, when you get back home. The only difference was that our day lasted seven days, and of course, the distance factored in, but the love, the magic, remained the same.
Sundays were always hard for me. Waking up alone, in a place that is not your own, neither in terms of belongingness nor in terms of how much at home you felt, nor in terms of the familiarity that hung in the air, nor the awkward silence when you woke up in a room with shut windows. One would expect to find peace and tranquillity in silence, but I found chaos. Mad, pathetic chaos. The mind is a strange tool in that regard. A perfectly normal, silent moment can be the worst situation your mind can be in. Over the eons, the greatest minds of the human civilization have postulated that mankind seeks order from chaos. The implied underlying statement is that chaos exists, and has to be cleared. It has to be fought, it has to be tamed, it has to be handled, it has to be undermined, it has to be won over, it has to be defeated, it has to be lost to. But all in all, it exists, and therefore is. Therefore, I was slightly taken aback, albeit in a good way, when I woke up on 7th November 2004, not to the chaos of thoughts and everything hence, but rather the order of silence. A smile adorned my face as I woke up and splashed some warm water on my face, and looked at myself in the mirror, and the image of my ghost stared back. I was past the point when my haggard look shocked me. But for some reason, it made me realise how people are. Each human being is different, and reacts to different actions in different ways. We are a culmination of each moment of our life, and ergo, since it is impossible for two humans to have exactly the same moments for the entire life, each human is different. Yet, for a reason that I never understood, we seek to establish uniformity. We want people to be the same. It is a constant battle actually. Everyone should be dressed in the same fashion, according to what is the latest fashion trend, yet the latest fashion trend has to be different. We want everyone to behave in a set manner, governed by rules of the society and etiquettes and categories, yet each one is encouraged to be individualistic. The very idea is self-contradictory in itself, yet our world loves to engage perpetually in this insane chase.
I walked over to my kitchen, to make my usual cup of coffee. Yes, I was a coffee person, and it was what started my morning. I opened the cupboard and saw an empty jar, and for the second time in two days, I realised I have run out of coffee. Determined to not ruin my Sunday ritual, I decided to quickly head down the road and purchase my drug. A quick look outside the window, and the slight cool breeze made me grab my jacket from the back of my chair as I quickly dashed down the stairs. As I exited the building, I saw a couple standing at the back of their car, unloading groceries from the trunk on to the floor of the parking lot. They noticed me and waved, and I waved back, and immediately forgot about it. Today was a good day. Sunny, slight breeze, actually the perfect amount. Cold enough to warrant a jacket, yet warm enough to not zip the jacket up. I hummed a song as I walked, feeling the sun getting heavier on my head as I started perspiring. Abruptly, I stopped as my phone rang. It was my mother. The smile on my face grew wider, as I slowly leaned by a red car, with just the slightest apprehension at the unexpected call. The cold, broken hearted voice which came through could not have been my mother’s as no mother can ever say her son’s name, and make him feel dead. Yet that voice did. My name is barely two syllables, but those two were enough to break me. I asked her what’s wrong, and all she could do was cry. The sound wrecks you. It always does. I felt my legs begin to lose the strength to stand as she spoke. I couldn’t process a lot, but I understood what she said, and with each moment, my face drained away the red liquid, which keeps us alive. Sudden cardiac arrest is what they called it. He was barely 55. He calmly finished his tea, she told me, and suddenly his left hand clutched his chest and he fell on the bed. In my head, he fell with a grace that I had associated with him in the 23 years of my existence. In reality, he had lost all sense of grace or etiquette or any other human social construct. Hell, he lost his motor skills, and drool pooled over next to his face, as the odour of urine arose, mixed with something else that my mother couldn’t discern. It took 3 more years, and another encounter with death to gauge the quaint, horrifying scent of death. Without me realising it, my legs had given up, and I was on the ground, on my knees. The rough concrete scuffed through the jeans and hurt my flesh, but the tears in my eyes were not a result of exterior pain. I am an atheist, yet my creator was dead today, simply snatched away from me, without as much as a farewell. A sudden splash of water on my back made me turn and I realised the sprinklers had been switched on in the park, and I was on my knees, in a drizzle meant to invigorate life, yet life is what I felt leaving my body.
I don’t know how long I was there. The phone had long slipped my hand and fell on the concrete ground, exposed to the elements. A decade later, or perhaps, a second later, I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t. I tried again, and was successful, albeit a bit shaky on my feet. I craned my neck and looked towards the sun. The blinding light of the sun directly in my eye was disorienting, but as I saw the building directly beneath the sun, I swear I saw a girl, barely 14 years past her first word, nod at me, with a cup in her hand and a sad smile on her face. I nodded back and headed my way. Needless to say, coffee wasn’t bought that day.

To Be or not…Just Be

Somehow, inspiration is easily crushed. The human brain, for some reason, has a tendency to not let the euphoric feeling of inspiration last, and the crude pull of reality steps in. But here’s the thing. Often, reality, and when I say that, I refer to the scenario imagined by your mind based on your experiences as a human, in all probability, comes out as a negative push. Should I think about applying for that job? No, my grades are too low. Should I tell that girl that I am attracted to her and would love to spend an evening with her by the riverside, lying on the grass, staring at the sky? No, she’ll think I am insane. I feel like humming the tune of that song that has been stuck in my head, singing it at the top of my voice and doing a little dance with it. Should I? No, people will stare and think I have lost it.
This is a common experience for all of us, isn’t it? Not doing things, or doing things, based on a perception we have built up in our head over ages. Our experiences, our interactions, what we read, what we watch, what we hear, what we see, everything around us culminates into that moment of truth when you take decisions. The banality, or at the other hand of the spectrum, the importance of the decision, doesn’t matter. The simple choices of life too, are influenced by this. Now, the point I am trying to make is best put in one of the most profound lines by Rudyard Kypling in his masterful work, If

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;”

The thing about life is that it is unpredictable. All your intuitions, knowledge, wisdom etc. can fail in the crucial of times, and equally be valid at the same time. In each of the scenarios I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, the polar opposite results were possible with equal probability. Unfortunately, the human brain, on occasions more often not, tends to favour the probability of things going wrong. Let me explain. The brain operates on logic, reasoning and syllogism-like thinking. If something has the potential to make us either happy or sad, our mind would logically opt to not do it, and give proof to the adage “prevention is better than cure” i.e. the mind works in a way to prevent us from being hurt or saddened, rather than risk the possibility of letting that happen. However, in the process, the mind, and by definition, we ourselves, shut off numerous experiences, which could have possibly made us happy. We as human beings want certainty, and not probability. We will do something only if it is beneficial to us. By beneficial, I do not wish to restrict the definition. Anything that inspires a positive emotion in us maybe. Makes us happy, makes us joyous, makes us feel satisfied, brings a smile to our face, makes us jump in the air, makes us…feel good. Here’s the problem. You feel with your heart. Yes, even you science nerds who dismiss emotions and feelings as nothing but a reaction inspired by chemicals acting in our body, emotions, experiences etc. are felt. The logical fallacy in our lives is that we think before we feel. The heart feels, not thinks. The mind thinks, not feels.
At the outset, the status quo seems to be perfect. Feel, but think about it as well. Think, but feel about it as well. Fall in love, but maybe not with a murderer. Take up that high-paying job, but maybe not if you hate the field of work. I suppose, it is the best of both worlds. But in that pursuit, we are missing out on the extremes of each side. Pure, cold, thinking. Pure, uninhibited, unhindered-by-thought feeling. How many times have you done something purely instinctively, based on that gut feeling, or just because you felt like it? Hug that person standing on the road with a sad look on their face. Make conversation with that interesting looking person with the same cup of coffee as yours. How many times have you divorced feeling from a decision and simply made a choice only on thinking and rationality, devoid of all feelings? Take the shorter route because you need to be on time, despite the longer route having a view you like. Point out the mistake made by a friend bluntly because it is a major blunder.
If you’re like me, or any average human being (I like to believe I am both, average, and a human being), these decisions are either rare, or unchartered territory for you. The brain has an uncanny ability to exhibit its superiority. Evolution has made us into beings who strongly depend on the powerful brain, the same, complex organ, whose power and sheer capabilities set us apart from all other species on earth. Think about this for a minute. How frequently do you subject an emotion or a feeling to the processes of intellectual rigour? The frequency is so high; it is almost second nature for us to think our feelings through. The opposite on the other hand, is a less frequent occurrence i.e. subjecting our thoughts to the test of feeling. It does happen, in extreme situations, but rarely overall.

Ergo, the point I am trying to make is that maybe it is time for us to let our heart think and let our minds feel. The ends of each spectrum, feeling and thinking, have undiscovered wonders waiting, and it is high time we access them. Unshackling the shackles and flying has for long been a fantasy that all of us have burned into our neurons. Ever thought why is it just a fantasy? It is worth a try isn’t it? I am no one to judge or to tell anyone how to do things, but perhaps, it is my mind taking over my heart here, so I’ll just stop and say this. Do what your heart says, it knows what it wants, and you deserve every bit of it.

What if I fall? What if you fly?

Top 5 Ways To Distinguish Non-Mumbaikars on Locals

Hey people! This is the ninth post of a new weekly series called “Saturday Top 5”. I guess the title is self-explanatory and anyway, it shall be on a pilot basis due to a great response,this will be a regular series. Here’s the last post of the series (LINK). Please leave your feedback about the idea and suggestions as well for the next post in the series

Mumbai locals are the lifeline of this magnificent city. No one can survive without them. But unlike most other things in the city, the Mumbai Locals are less accepting then this overflowing pot of mixing culture. You see, there are multiple unspoken rules and regulations which are too sacred to be broken. Yet some people do it daily. We call them Non-Mumbaikars because it is simply impossible for a Mumbaikar to not know these things. So call them Dilli ke launde or too cool for the humidity Bangaloreans, sorry Bengalurueans, I point out 5 ways to catch these odd ones out in the pool.


1.They never know which station is on which side


Dead giveaway. A Mumbaikar always knows which station is on which side and accordingly plans his relative position inside the compartment. I mean which idiot will get on a train at Goregaon during peak hours and then try to reach the seats, knowing that he or she has to get down at Andheri? Hint: The idiot calls Pani puri “Gol Gappe” and complains about humidity.


2. They get on a 8.17 Fast and ask “Aaj bheed zzyada hai na?”


Yes. These people exist. They climb aboard a 8:17 Virar Fast and ask in slightly suffocated(trust me, given the sweaty armpits, the awkward Statue of Liberty like positions and the desperate scramble for holding on to anything while the train moves, “slightly” is a blessing) “Aaj bheed zzyada hai na?”. Only a non-Mumbaikar is capable of this. This and trying to get off at Andheri on a Virar Fast.


3. Their bags are on their backs and not on their front, baby carrying style


Who doesn’t do this? Everyone knows that bags on front is the most efficient way of protecting your valuables from getting damaged or stolen. Plus you can use them as battering rams when you bulldoze through the crowd to scramble on to the train. This point does come with a caveat though. I like to call it the ” Experienced Uncle Variable”. A passenger may carry his backpack on his back if his EUV value is over 20 according to the following formula:
EUV= (Number of stations traveled daily X Number of years of regular local use)/The class of your compartment

For example a person who has been commuting from Kandivali to Andheri for the past 10 years in a second class compartment has an EUV of 25( 5*10/2). So this guy can carry a bag on his back, he has earned it over the years. I bet he’ll have train buddies on his usual train and route who’ll actually even pull him,and his bag in.

4.They get paranoid about not being able to get down


If these poor souls somehow manage to get on the train,they somehow are paranoid about not being able to get down.They start sweating and panicking on seeing the crowd.They start chanting prayers and curses,both with equal fervour. A true Bambai wala never bothers with all this. He puts on his earphones,awkardly paws around for his phone in his pocket,desperately trying to not touch the person around him’s ass, but never sweats about not being able to get down. Abbey funda simple hai. One station before you get down,ask the guy in front of you if he’ll get down at that particular station or not. If he isn’t, just push ahead towards the door bro! If he is,do it anyway 😛


5.They never get off or on to a moving train


Lastly, one of the key differences. Non Mumbaikars are absolutely terrified of getting or off a moving train. Absolutely petrified. “Pagal hai kya!” is their reaction.They wait for the train to come to a complete hault while the entire compartment pushes past them and get off. In fact by the time the train stops,half the people have already got in and most of the people who wanted to alight have done so already. Again a simple law will guarantee safety in such matters. All you have to do is get down in the direction in which the train is moving and keep running for a few steps. Same for climbing aboard.


Well folks, that’s it for this time. Sorry if this post didn’t live up to your expectations, a better one shall be up next week.