Thursday, September 4, 2014

'One Kind of Happiness' VIJAY NAIR 1962-2013

“If those whom we begin to love could know us as we were before meeting them … they could perceive what they have made of us.” Albert Camus

In his 50 years, Vijay refused to be cubbyholed. He was a writer, a playwright, a poet, a good actor (mostly off stage), a bad singer, and an even worse dancer. He kept his role of a corporate trainer but spiked it with generous dose of theatre and creativity.

How can then one even begin to comprehend the irony when his life now is so definitely contained in between the years he came and went from this world?

It is too early, too soon.

Through these images I would like to share my memories of him which flit about knowing no boundaries.
Memory is like that. With different people it assumes different shapes,” he wrote in his unpublished book, ‘One Kind of Happiness’.

I choose to shape mine in a full moon, drawing solace from the reflected sunshine.

This floor-to-ceiling bookshelf was especially made for Vijay in his study in our new house. He organized the shelf himself (a rare event considering being organized was not his habit) though in no particular order much to my consternation. He never worked in the study though, choosing the dining table instead to do all his writing.

Vijay’s idea of a holiday was a comfortable hotel room with the television on at all times, except when the new Harry Potter series was out. Here two people read, no, consumed ‘…the Deathly Hallows’ in one go. That’s how Vijay inculcated the love for reading in Dhruv since he was two. Reading stories out loud was almost a ritual before bedtime.

Vijay loved to eat and cook for others. In 2012 when he went to Pittsburgh on a Fulbright Fellowship, he had practically opened an Indian eatery in his residence. The friends he made there would often cook up some excuse or the other to drop by. He loved making chana masala, jeera rice, chicken curry, and mushroom stir fry for them. Once he even fried puris setting off the fire alarm!

If he had had his way, every weekend would have been a party in the house. In Pittsburgh, he did just that. The fridge was always stocked and the door always open! Writers and poets, lawyers and librarians to mill workers and managers, he entertained an eclectic crowd. He had a knack to draw out stories of other people. ‘How else will I write my books,’ was his justification.   

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In Defense Of Rahul Gandhi...


My subjective evaluation of him hinges to a large extent on the first memory of seeing him on television. It was during his grandmother’s funeral and Rahul Gandhi was 14 years old at that time. He was standing next to his younger sister in front of the funeral pyre. I don’t think the enormity of what had happened had sunk in for both of them.

Their cousin Varun was a toddler at that time. Maneka Gandhi had made a dramatic exit from the Gandhi household along with her infant son after her husband’s death and ensured the press had arrived at an opportune moment to capture the family feud on camera. Maybe Rahul and Priyanka had slept through the entire sorry episode.

As soon as Varun arrived with his mother, a smiling Priyanka forgot the seriousness of the situation and ran to hug her cousin while Rahul looked on indulgently. Neither of his parents had made a foray into politics at that time. And it was evident to the entire nation that both the children had been brought up well. The poison of broken relationships had not afflicted them.

I would notice him again, seven years later. At the funeral of his father, looking distraught. Trying to come to terms with yet another blow life had dealt him.

It can be argued that both his grandmother and father had fallen victim to their own political machinations. It’s no secret that Indira Gandhi had created the Frankenstein of Bhindranwale and the entire tragedy leading to the storming of the Golden Temple and her subsequent gunning down by her bodyguards felt like a vicious circle. But is it fair to expect two children barely in their teens to understand all this? They had lost their doting grandmother in the most brutal manner.     

Rajiv Gandhi too meddled unnecessarily in Sri Lanka and earned the ire of Tamil separatists. It was to cost him his life and come as a lesson to the entire nation that unleashing violence always begets violence. It’s a self defeating process.

While Rajiv Gandhi was as culpable in the genocide of Sikhs in 1984, as Narendra Modi was in the genocide of Muslims in 2002, there has not been one irresponsible communal statement from Rahul Gandhi in all the years he has been dabbling in politics. He has been raised by a mother who was raised Catholic. I don’t think Hindu fundamentalism makes any sense to him.  

It is easy to ridicule Rahul because of his perceived failures, especially in UP. But that may very well be the plight of any decent person who ventures into politics. He is as clueless as you and I. It is also apparent that if it was not for his mother, he would not be playing the political role assigned to him currently.

That’s very Indian. Mothers being pushy, that is. One more reason most men in the country should have empathy for him. And did he lose to a better man in UP? Look at how that state is turning out to be under Akhilesh Yadav and his party of goons?

I am surprised at how many rude jokes there are about Rahul Gandhi. Have any of us ever tried to place him in the context of the violence and trauma he has gone through while he was growing up? Just because he comes from a privileged background does not mean he is immune to the pain of losing loved ones to bullets and bombs. Maybe his reticence is because of all the tragedies he has encountered in his life. He comes across as a decent person and I think we need decent people in politics. Rahul Gandhi does not scare me.

Narendra Modi scares me.

After Manmohan Singh made public his intent of wanting to run for office for a third time at the ripe age of 81, he too has started scaring me.

Advani scares me.

Sushma Swaraj scares me.

Mulayam Singh Yadav scares me.

Mayawati scares me.

All of them behave as if they could do anything to stay in power.  

Rahul Gandhi does not give me that impression. He seems to be indifferent and that’s what I like about him. As far as I am concerned, he is one of the two candidates who should be our next Prime Minister.

Nitish Kumar is the other one. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pittsburgh 12

the young tell me their stories about crust punks
and cults, the edge, food not bombs,
bands from the past and eating from the dumpsters

there is one in the Strip where they throw
chocolate fudge sometimes, a young woman
reports somewhat disinterestedly over dinner

a stray memory rests over the leftover food
and i want to know from her whether she
wants to die before she turns 30, the familiar story

of the need to escape before you travel the world
hope for love at least in tea spoons and learn to
separate the art of existing from disenchantment

not wanting to confront the day when friends stop
talking because of things they never cared about earlier
the wisdom of keeping faith in long never ending treks

the aversion towards finite milestones to measure
all that was lost on the way; the unspoken fear
of a child when the sudden storm blows the fuse

spring arrives before the question could be posed

Vijay Nair

Monday, April 1, 2013

Pittsburgh 11

You can play this game,

be as patronizing as you want to be
affect that tone and pretend my words
don’t reach you, practice the cultural deception
with ease, be close and distant in turns,
hide behind niceties and talk about the weather,
make me understand your ways to hurt are more
subtle, and that the difference lies in the degrees
of havoc we are both capable of wrecking on this world

I know
I understand
I comprehend sometimes
the distance between us
is no wider than the floating clouds
I spy from my window some days


If we meet on a sunday afternoon
on familiar roads we have walked
together and separately, with no place
to hide, no boundaries to retreat
we may discover the restlessness in
our eyes struggling to get the words out

what was the point in creating an elaborate
charade of stories with guns and violence
how did it help this bleak barren landscape
to know we are just as likely to sin like our
fathers and that it was useless to imagine a
world ruled by the mythical phoenix

You can play this game.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pittsburgh 10

We are waiting,
the river and I
to get acquainted

There have been days
of temptation when I
wanted to take the
steps and go down

Walk by its side, all the
way to the prison, that
stands waiting and weary,
if I trek long enough with
an enthusiastic friend

The intimidation is not
from the bars, not even
the cold, although one
morning, pausing on the bridge,
I prayed for the glitter of
sun on its grey stillness

But no, not for this river
the religion that makes
water pompous in
some familiar lands

It has turned into a recluse
content to wash away
this jaded baggage of  turmoil.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pittsburgh 9

So this is how
the two worlds
come together

the subversion of jazz
Thursdays at cjs in the strip

men with skin burnt
different colours play
the keyboard
the drums and the trumpet
the saxophone, the clarinet
and the confusing double bass
looked up on internet later

make music together

like the smile
some dreams leave
on happy mornings
to defeat the demons.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Pittsburgh 8

And then you wake up
one morning, feeling free
not uncertain, not timid
anymore, just happy that
you tried and failed

nothing matters anymore
the words don’t sting when
they say you are too involved
it is just a warning after all

one set of folks force loud
cheerfulness on the streets
and inside the Dollar Store
the other draw invisible boundaries
talking about everything that matters,

new landscaping in the
old houses and extension of the
front porches, the menace of squirrels
and deer, to leave you with nothing

the writer tells you in a crowded bar
he doesn’t watch films on insanity anymore
you want him to stop
that's a story you are familiar with
and not from him

the evening is dense with birds
you make your way to the place
where you live; you switch the lights
on and reach out to the melancholy
set it to boil in a kettle and drink it
with tea

you will be home soon
and this day too shall be a memory.