Wednesday, 3 November 2021

ख़याल - VII

ये इश्क़ नहीं आसान, बस इतना समझ लीजिये,

समझ आता नहीं हमको और उनको समझाना है

ये लफ्ज़ मेरे हैं, पर यूँ समझ लीजिये -

ज़ालिम है महफ़िल और किरदार भी निभाना है

एक मुसाफिर ने कहा - साथ में चल लीजिये,

कुछ नहीं मुक़द्दर, ये सफर ही ठिकाना है

मान कैसे लें? सबूत कुछ तोह दीजिये,

तुमने ही कहा था बेईमान ये ज़माना है.

मुखबीरों का भी अब क्या यकीन कीजिये,

आज कल की बातों को कल फिर बदल जाना है

क्या हुआ, क्या नहीं, पूछ हमे भी लीजिये

फिर जो तुम्हे लगे ये वोही अफसाना है...

अल्फ़ाज़ों की गुस्ताखियां, दिल पे मत लीजिये,

बेरेहेम जज़्बातों ने बहोत आज़माना है

किसी और ने मंगवाए थे, लेकिन आप रख लीजिये -

फूल हैं परेशान के गुलिस्तां बनाना है

अधूरा है सुरूर साक़ी, कुछ तोह सबर कीजिये,

आये हो अभी और अभी चले जाना है...

हम फिर मान लेंगे, ज़रा तक़ल्लुफ़ तोह कीजिये

तुम कल भी गए थे और आज फिर चले जाना है

सजा--इश्क़ है हुकुम, अब तो रेहेम कीजिये -

हर रोज़ तुम्हे क्यों मुक़दम्मा चलाना है?

इन हसरतों का दामन थाम कर तोह देखिये,

क्या खोया, क्या पाया, फिर मुश्किल बताना है

मुक़म्मल नहीं मंज़िल, कुछ वक़्त और दीजिये

ज़िन्दगी ने अभी बहोत कुछ सिखाना है

एक सबक सही ज़िंदगानी, अफ़सोस मत कीजिये

क्या होगी कहानी ये तुमने बताना है...

एक याद ही सही, कुछ आप भी रख लीजिये

आज हम हैं, कल किसी और ने सुनाना है

कुछ सही है या गलत, ये अब आप तय कीजिये

हमने केह दिया वो जो सबको बताना है...

Sunday, 14 February 2021

ख़याल - VI

एक फितरत थी ये कभी,
जो ज़रुरत बनती जा रही है।
देखने हैं सपने मगर -
नींद कहाँ  रही है।
अब मेरी ही तरह ये कलम भी,
शायद यूँ ही चले जा रही है।
ये cigarette जलती जा रही है।
कुछ ख़ास है ये मेहफिल,
आज वो भी मुस्कुरा रही है।
हर सवाल के जवाब में,
दो और पूछे जा रही है। 
ये तेरे मेरे होंगे मायने। 
वो लड़की है वो तो बस,
बातें बता रही है।
जो भूल गया वो याद,
आज फिर याद  रही है,
ये cigarette जलती जा रही है।
कुछ सुधर रहे थे हम,
वो जब एक शाम लेकर आये। 
हम भी बिगड़ गए क्योंकि,
लफ़्ज़ों पे नाम लेकर आये। 
यूँ तो समझ गए थे वो,
की कुछ संभल गए हैं हम।
इसीलिए फिर भी शायद -
हाथों में जाम लेकर आये। 
अब हर कश से ये तलब,
कुछ और बढ़ती जा रही है,
ये cigarette जलती जा रही है।
खुद उनको था जो सुनना,
वो अनजानों ने ही पूछा। 
कुछ हमको भी था कहना,
वो यारों ने ही पूछा।
बातों की इन बातों में,
एक मसला था सुलझाना। 
तो पहले हमने तुमसे,
फिर बांकी सब से पूछा। 
तुमने कहा कुछ और,
दुनिया कुछ और बता रही है,
ये cigarette जलती जा रही है।
क़ुबूल हुआ ज़माने को,
वो सब पाक़ कर दिया।
जो मंज़ूर  हो सका,
उसको नक़ाब कर दिया।
हसरत--फिरदौस का जूनून,
कहीं मोक्ष की तमन्ना -
किसी ने दफ़न कर दिए अपने,
किसी ने राख़ कर दिया।
क्या करेंक्या ना करें?
कश्मकश बढ़ती जा रही है,
ये cigarette जलती जा रही है...

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Master of the Game

The greatest players are the ones who make the difficult seem so easy that it seems they got some serious cheat codes up their sleeves in life. When the impossible is finally made possible, legends as such possess an uncanny knack of being found at the centre stage. And yet as the much-deserved spotlight inches towards them, they choose to gently recede away from the euphoria and towards their preferred state of equanimity, leaving the glorification for the rest of the world. Some call it chance, others heroism. But for the artist, it is just another day’s work.

Ever since Martin Guptill managed to disturb the stumps in the 2019 WC semi-finals with a direct hit that found him a few feet short of the crease – and entire India short of the shores of hope – followers of the game could see this day coming. ‘When’ was the only pertinent question and it has been put to rest today. Given the pace of happenings in 2020, this too shall pass. And that is perhaps the most appropriate phrase to summarise the extravagant legacy that is MS Dhoni’s contributions to the game of cricket, the awe-inspiring list of his achievements and his approach towards life at large.

2003 world cup was the time that 11-year-old me developed a serious fascination for the game and ever since I saw the men in blue lose to (arguably) the best squad ever assembled in the game of cricket, seeing my team lift that trophy was a dream I started sharing with a billion fellow countrymen. Our generation knew the folklore of 1983 and the sheer epicness of the occasion but would find it too far into the past to truly relate with. When a hitherto surgical Misbah ‘iceberg’ Ul Haq from Pakistan – enchanted momentarily by the devil perhaps – popped a deceptive slower one up in the air (when he could literally have done anything with that delivery) and into the hands of an erratic Sreesanth at short fine leg, it meant India were the winners of the debut edition of T20 World Cup in 2007. The sight of the long locks of Dhoni (recently dyed black from blond) flying in the winds of Johannesburg was not only a soothing balm over the wounds of the painful knock-out suffered at the hands of Bangladesh earlier that year at the 50 over world cup, but also one of the most joyful and vivid memories of childhood.

But the true longing was far from fulfilled. And it would come to our shores in 2011 in the next edition of the 50 over world cup. The long locks had vanished with the ravages of time and the toils of captaincy, transforming the artist into a stoic – unmoved by the fleeting vagaries of countless victories and defeats. The journey to the finals wasn’t as romantic as in 2003 but the finale at Wankhade amidst a sensitively passionate home crowd, was the biggest sporting event for 21st century India. It was a matter of collective pride for a billion, the biggest bet with everyone ‘all in’, the mauka, if ever there was one.

It is impossible to get even a hint of what Captain Cool would have thought or felt. When the Gods of chance – hitherto firmly by his side, evidently – had played one against him at the moment of his life as he lost the chance to bat first in a pressure game that would make even the depths of Mariana Trench crumble. Or when Jayawardene demolished his bowlers at the death overs, posting the highest ever score in a WC final. Or when he lost both his openers (legends in their own right) within the first 5 overs of the chase. Or when he walked into bat ahead of Yuvi (who had had a dream tournament with the bat and the bowl) with an asking rate of almost a run a ball and less than half the total runs required on the board.

These are equations and calculations that would make mere mortals shudder, let alone be able to compute or act. But in yet another mesmerising display of grit and his characteristic brand of rugged, street smart, unorthodox but highly effective batsmanship, the last Jedi managed to hail the Force yet again to accomplish the impossible. Ravi Shastri’s now immortal words declared it on air as MS Dhoni smacked the bowler straight back for a mammoth six, steady eyes following the projectile off his bat into the maddening crowd of thousands – who were collectively chanting Vande Mataram minutes ago – unwavering, unmoved as if failing to register the immensity of the occasion. It took a dancing and jumping Yuvraj Singh for him to respond in a manner fit for an emotional being, as he pulled one stump off the ground as a personal memento of victory – the most priceless one in his enormous kitty. The fact that Sunil Gavaskar wants the image of that six to be the last thing he watches before he dies is by no means an exaggeration. The cricket fanatic in me had finally seen it all, as had everyone who had ever watched the game or tried to mimic their idol’s stance in a gully or a ground.

Cricket was ushered into the collective conscience by Kapil Dev’s immortal heroics at Lord’s in 1983. It was carried through its most turbulent times under the quiet class of Azharuddin and completely redefined by the explosive swag of Dada. Greats of the game like Sachin, Dravid and Kumble also gave it their blood, sweat and tears. But it took the unassuming calm and unwavering stoicism of MS Dhoni to put together a team of 11 men who could make history repeat itself after 28 years. There are countless other times where his genius presence of mind, wicked (or weird – your call) strategic manoeuvres and lightning fast glove work both in front and behind the wicket have produced unforgettable moments of magic. But 2007 and 2011 are two memories most of us will carry throughout our lives – in 1080p.

The incredible journey from a ticket examiner in Indian railways who just loved hitting balls to becoming the most successful captain in modern cricket has been documented and recounted millions of times. His burgeoning legacy was so unequivocally impressive that it even ended up as a major motion picture on the celluloid at a time when he was still playing, believing he still had a few tricks up the sleeves for us. But sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. ‘You can’t always get what you want’ and even the mighty MS Dhoni couldn’t escape that heavy burden of always.

Beneath that helmet and under that jersey is a man all of us recognize but perhaps no one really knows. He is an iconoclast, an absolute enigma, a mystery we only believe we understand because the story always seemed too exciting to miss. But perhaps it was just an artist going about his work in the way he understood best, equally oblivious to both admiration and criticism. And that, unsurprisingly, was enough. He is less a man of words than deeds but the legend of Dhoni tells us what we have already been told several times before –

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you but make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same,
If you can make one heap of all your winnings and risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings, and never breathe a word about your loss,
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, if all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

O Captain, My Captain. Thanks for the memories.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

बोल के लब आज़ाद हैं तेरे

You do not always have deep disagreements with good, old friends on something fundamental or existential. But when you do, it makes you put your bum on a chair to spell out your thoughts. Not just for the record but because it also happens to be something that you have been thinking about increasingly over the past 5 years. What lies at the heart of these thoughts is what is going for the record here and has been duly summarised at the very end in just two lines for your convenient reference, in case you want to save yourself from the tyranny of few minutes of peaceful self-expression.

(Why 5 years you ask? Random and unremarkable, except perhaps for the fact that it happens to coincide with the first time yours truly made a choice of life and aspirations that was based on a delicate balance of ‘what we have been taught or told by people and institutions’ and ‘what we have learnt through our own individual learnings and experiences’, and not merely the former as had been the case until then. But perhaps I digress.)

Allow me to try to elaborate within the limits of time, personal wisdom and above all, the discretion that this exercise demands.

The disagreement – a tangential discussion on Swami Vivekananda’s speech at Chicago in the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 – began with the assertions (all quoted verbatim only to avoid any dilution by translation) ‘BC maine suna woh Chicago wala speech’, ‘aisa kuch extraordinary nahi hai’, which was duly seconded by ‘bring the hype down’ by another good, old friend in company. ‘International acknowledgement hai but aisa kuch nahi jaise humein market kara gaya hai’ was the contention. The POV was that back then there was no one ‘jo US jaake philosophy and religion pe baatein karta tha’ and ‘people were enamored’ by the fact that ‘in a world where (aero)plane invention was still some time away’, ‘an eastern philosopher’, ‘traveled in a ship so far away’, ‘not (to) Europe but (to) America’.

Holding Vivekananda’s ideas against contemporary philosophers, admittedly, far more worthy of adulation and following, like Nietzsche, the friend’s discontent was with the fact that ‘Indian people have literally started taking him as a God’, ‘just like some Indians do with Sachin Tendulkar, Rajnikant and all’ ‘just because he was the first to take it to the West’. The core point of contention, in case you have missed, was also duly explained later with - ‘we dont have many idols around, who broke the barrier and shone at (the) world level. Whoever does we make him a God.’

Now obviously there are a lot of subjects worth extensive debate in that just another casual interaction between 20-somethings. But dwelling on them here would be as pointless and unproductive as blankly holding any one individual/opinion in this exercise as right or wrong. However, what reminds me and makes me share what I have been thinking about increasingly over the last 5 years, is the bitter denouncement of the element of (allegedly - exaggerated) veneration of a person, whose ideas remain one of the most shining emblems of our culture, just because you ‘read his teachings’ and arrived at the conclusion that you ‘didn’t find anything interesting other than to control temptations of life like sex, money etc’ (which BTW is also the reason you feel ‘Osho makes more sense’) like ’sex mat karo’, ‘tamas ko control karo’, ‘mirror fenk do’.

This, in my humble opinion, is what happens when a little intellectual masturbation by self-proclaimed liberals and progressive individuals leads to a delusional sense of premature enlightenment at best, and at its worst, violent expressions of misguided iconoclasm that deeply affect our society today. Like I was constantly trying to assert during our conversation, such things come with their deep seated and highly sophisticated socio-political contexts and nuance which one must account for with the associated benefit of hindsight that lies at our disposal.

It is the same even while critically evaluating any person or ideology from history, for that matter. To elaborate my POV, while it is absolutely alright (even necessary) as a 20-something to disagree with Vivekananda’s views on the importance of Brahmacharya towards achieving one’s goals in life OR to criticise elements of your culture that don’t make sense to you as an individual, it is downright unjust to diminish someone’s life’s work or teachings for carrying nothing remarkable except regurgitation of ‘4000 saal pehli ki teachings’, just because one of the many happened to be a commitment to celibacy for self-actualisation that you fail to understand. To my mind, this is a gross oversimplification, misinterpretation and shallow understanding of the ideas which the spiritual leader stood and worked for in his entire short and troubled existence.

You can discover and critique his teachings or thoughts on neo-Vedanta on your own and it is not my intention AT ALL – to either defend or espouse them here, or even to talk about the historical relevance of his Chicago address. In fact, I simply can’t because I not only find myself intellectually deficient due to the lack of knowledge and profound life experiences in these domains, but also perhaps because I stand at the wrong stage of life’s journey, so as to have had adequate time for any form of spiritual development. Perhaps unlike in the late 19th century, sadly those aren’t the tools and toils of youth today. But I cannot ignore how difficult (even impossible) it is for people, even as learned and informed as me and my friends, to be able to observe and rationalise things with due context, reverence and, above all, the humility that a journey of self-actualisation asks for.

And I cannot ignore how convenient it has become in this age of internet, social media and sensationalism to develop and successfully deploy straw man arguments not just as a means to disagree and misrepresent a culture, a history, an ethnicity, a nation, a religion, an institution, a political party or an individual, but also use the same to stoke ideologies that foment feelings of divide and unrest. And I find it painfully ironical when the underlying subject itself is the primal and oldest human endeavour to further social bonding and foster collective identities which are the source of our power as sentient, intellectual, emotional beings in an unforgiving universe devoid of inherent meaning (aka religion).

To summarise, while I applaud and stand by all your rights to self determination as a means to self-actualisation - whether or not they happen to overlap with the much larger umbrella of our shared culture - I have also come to realise that it is equally important to call out the sharp edges of derogatory assertions, oversimplification, misrepresentations and misunderstandings that only serve to dilute complicated areas of human knowledge and experience by cutting them down to just a few incorrect conclusions.

It is because it is these sharp edges, which when left unchecked, can gradually get machined into lethally poisonous ideological daggers that carry the potential to rip apart the very fabric of the society over which all of us have thrived and prospered for the last few millenia (at times, apparently, too ignorantly and arrogantly as well). A fabric which has been stitched together over centuries, all the way from the gifted philosophers who conceptualised its tenets OR the generations of courageous believers who helped preserve and improve them even against constant forces of aggression OR the selfless souls who endeavored to use it to make this world a better place in deeply racist, feudal, casteist, colonial times, right up to simple individuals like you and me today who may choose to practice them in order to discover some meaning in our existence.

OR as Nietzsche would subscribe - after proclaiming 'God is dead' - in our quest towards Übermensch.

The later realisation that this discussion had to transpire today exactly one day after Swami Vivekananda’s death anniversary (which also happened to be a Sunday afternoon) was the cruel irony of circumstances that brings me (and you) here. In other news, Kanye West marked 4th of July with the declaration that he will be contesting the 2020 US presidential elections. If an avant-garde rap artist with all his flaws, stands un-apologetically for his questionable, albeit harmless and unique brand of self-expression, as a means to discover and shape ones identity in a world where death is the only truth, who are we if we cannot even admit what we believe?

"उसूलों पे आंच आये तोह टकराना ज़रूरी है,
जो ज़िंदा हो तोह ज़िंदा नज़र आना ज़रूरी है"

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Left Right Left

“Nothing exists apart from atoms and empty space. Everything else is opinion.”

I remember coming across this ancient Greek wisdom some time in my undergrad years. Being as philosophically loaded as it is, my mind would always refuse to accept the underlying cynicism and generalisation. Trained in the scientific school of thought as most of us are (at least through the bulk of our formative years), we invariably - albeit at times only subconsciously - grow to respect, love and prefer the beauty of determinism and order in all walks of life. And while at one point or another we may end up surrendering the joys of scientific pursuit to the more brilliant of minds amongst us, it does not happen before we understand, accept and start experiencing the universe as an objective reality governed by infallible principles, laws and truths that help separate right from wrong. This means opinions can only begin where the unflinching grasp of the truth ends.

But life is more than just science and math. In fact, as we break the shells of childhood, adolescence and eventually teenage, and endeavour to discover the world on our own (beyond the vestigial learnings accrued from the preceding generation), we also break past the comfortable determinism of science and start venturing into the maddening chaos of fields of knowledge such as sociology, economics, politics and psychology. The scientific temper in us rebels at the realisation that in the multivariate analysis of life, these complex subjects carry a much bigger coefficient than science and math. This disappointment stems partly from the fact that unlike science, these fields of practical knowledge are/can-never-be correctly/exactly taught/simulated in any classroom environment (without significantly diluting their objective essence), and partly from the sheer existential dread from the realisation that in these areas of human experience, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ almost always lead to an incorrect over-simplification culminating in nihilistic self-doubt and identity crisis.

The universal lockdown of the past 2 months happened to perfectly coincide with a transition phase in yours truly's professional life. Relieved vastly of the usual toils of work, I ended up condemning my mind to immerse itself into the everyday developments across the world, just like you.

Back when I had first stumbled on to the quote, I was what I would now describe as a left liberal, and a lazy one at that. Riding high on the youthful exuberance of premature enlightenment, right wing ideologies & institutions would always seem authoritative and conservative to the extent of being dogmatic and regressive - like unnecessary relics of the past. Examining these subjects and several socio-economic developments of the times in isolation with a myopic world view, it would always seem fashionable and at times heroic to consider oneself an iconoclastic renegade, at least in thought and principle. This ideological inclination resulted from an absence of consequences for a privileged dependent adult who was still learning and living on his parent’s earnings, blissfully shielded against the direct ravages of the society (and the world at large) by the guardianship of the government institution of learning to which he belonged. Rebellion had not only seemed convenient but also the right thing to do.

But as one eventually sheds these temporary institutional asylums that foster collective identities (read ‘herd mentalities’) and strives to carve one’s own individuality and place in the world, one starts gaining cognizance of the much larger forces at play. Like a young scientific mind that wakes up one fine day to the infinite vastness of the universe, this is one of the most revealing and humbling experiences of life. Learning to watch our own backs in a world with consequences attached to every action forces us to descend from the comfortable intellectual & moral high grounds and empathise with the ideologies and institutions that we had once abhorred with misguided pride and prejudice. This happens because the cosy controlled confines of college classrooms and corridors (please appreciate the delicate alliteration) get swiftly replaced with the real world where nothing exists and happens in isolation. Every event is embedded in a context which is part of an infinite chain of causality running across ages, cultures and geography, too complex to be comprehended in entirety by any single mind.

Given enough time like one enjoys during a professional transition in a global lockdown, one gets to endeavour to peel away the multiple layers of convoluted nuance attached to any socio-economic development to try to unravel the elusive underlying ‘truth’ - constantly switching between the ideological left and the right in attempts to rationalise both perspectives in the process. Eventually, hours of aimless scrolling over endless news feeds on social media force you to return to the timeless wisdom of the ancient Greeks- that sentient intelligence evolved over millennia has helped us build a world that is too complicated to be examined and governed by just one view or ideology. Moreover, it would be pointless to force the other side to do so.

This is because in the information age constantly fuelled by technological progress, subjects like sociology, economics, politics and psychology have become such seamlessly integrated with one another, that it is virtually impossible to make an argument – ideologically left or right – in one without an implication or inherent assumption in one or more of the other. In short, the biggest problems of the 21st century are so complicated that they demand a highly sophisticated and conscientious approach towards solution.

The latent problem is the vast intellectual differential among the masses, all of whom now possess the ability to communicate (read ‘indoctrinate’) at unprecedented scale and speed. This knowledge gap is being exploited 24X7 by carefully, and at times unwittingly, crafted social media bubbles – toxic and violent echo chambers of both the left and the right and their respective ever expanding followers – that always refuse to agree on anything under the sun.

As a result, everything is an outrage or an outrage against an outrage or even an outrage over the lack of outrage, over one thing after another, day in and day out with extremely limited room for tolerant consideration towards constructive criticism. Those who even attempt to bridge the gap are labelled hypocrites or deluded and are mercilessly shamed or ostracised, until a small minority is forced to resort to unscrupulous or even violent means to get their voices heard. Such socio-political movements often culminate in a revolution that comes at the cost of years of peaceful progress and resets the game all over again. The degree and extent to which social media has normalised violence, hatred and death is a shocking testimony to same. This doesn’t end up deciding who was right, it only determines who will be left – to survive and eventually start playing the game all over again. These violent delights have violent ends.

To you, my truth will seem just like an opinion, and vice versa. 'We do not necessarily need to agree and arrive at a consensus, so long as we agree on the ground rules on how we would disagree without a consensus.' Sadly, this fundamental tenet of progressive democracy is easily lost in the complicated, fast paced, noisy and high stake socio-political discourse of our times, where vested interests and extremist ideologies keep running over the bitter truth until it looks familiar and acceptable. Perhaps like Neo from the Matrix, more of us need to be unplugged and awakened to the power of causality and consequences in the real world. Else the anomalous Agent Smiths among us and their malicious codes will continue to wreak havoc and revel in the chaos by constantly playing both sides of the table.

Or we can choose to go back to the blue pill of a comfortable work life in a metro city and simply forget all this even exists, except for that occasional small talk and WhattsApp forward.

Left or right, the problem – as the Architect explains in the movie with delightful verbosity – is choice.