Postcards from Chopta and Tungnath

Campsite below Tungnath, the highest Shiva temple in the world (elevation of 3680 m.)

The Shiv temple at Tungnath (literally translated as 'the God of the mountain peaks')

The Shiv temple at Tungnath (literally translated as ‘the God of the mountain peaks’)

Sheep dogs of the mountain villages of Chopta - Tungnath

Sheep dogs of the mountain villages of Chopta – Tungnath


A Liberal In Public and A Fascist In Private?

As I finished watching a late-night screening of PK on Monday, I was struck by a deeply unsettling thought: what if I had a daughter who wanted to spend her life with a Pakistani? Would I be okay with it? Despite professing to be a liberal, I was ashamed to admit that I had my reservations about the idea. And as I began to probe the reasons behind this hypocrisy, I realized that my prejudices were a partial product of growing up in a system that constantly views Pakistan as the enemy. Our books paint their heroes as antagonists. Our movies treat their government and people with disdain. Our media, riding on the viewership that comes with such jingoistic and pseudo-nationalistic agendas, feeds our xenophobia. And as we continue to thump our chests and take pride in the histories of the wars we’ve fought and won, and as we revel in our purported superiority over our neighbors, we forget that there exists a similar set of people plagued by the same set of problems we encounter – education, poverty, unemployment, religion – on the other side of the border. And then there’s the question of my own beliefs; if I can firmly endorse freedom of choice and speak-up for the lesser fortunate and marginalized, how is it that I have a problem with this thought? Is this the limit of my liberalism? And therefore, am I only a liberal when it’s convenient and visible? I’m not a father… But I hope that when the time comes, I am able to give my children a future unencumbered from the prejudices and biases of our history.

The Saffron Undercurrent

As Modi, a self-proclaimed Hindu nationalist, attempts to provide the panacea to all that ails this country, a steady wave of saffronization is spreading, one that is barely perceptible but very much extant. Nehru’s legacy is questioned; Nathuram Godse is called a patriot, and it is suggested that he should have killed Nehru instead of Gandhi. And the leader of the largest secular democracy of the free world gifts a copy of the Gita – the guiding light of those who bask in the glory of Hinduism as a way of life – to another world leader. Maybe I read too much into it… But when a respected Parliamentarian and a Union minister calls for the Gita to be declared the National Book of India, I sense a saffron undercurrent. I sense it when money is raised to fund conversions of Muslims and Christians. I sense it when those self-appointed guardians of the Hindu culture and chest-thumping pseudo-intellectuals dictate the heroes I should worship and the language I should speak. I sense it when textbooks are purged and history is rewritten in hues of religion. It is only a matter of time before the parivaar and its perverse ideology merge with the party, and one will become an extension of the other, if it isn’t already.

PS: This post isn’t meant to disrespect anyone or offend any sensibilities. I have read a part of the Gita (an English interpretation) and I believe in a lot of what it says… Having said that, I think it is extremely inappropriate to politicize the scripture, and use it as a means to spread a right-wing agenda.

A smiling usher, some popcorn, and a movie

Over the weekend, I discovered a “new” single-screen theater in Lower Parel; it used to be a dilapidated building sitting at the edge of the intersection of Pandurang Budhkar Marg and N. M. Joshi Road. Deepak Talkies, which now houses the auspices of the Matterden Center for Films and Creation, underwent a transformation early this year and screens art cinema and classics that pander to the tastes of movie-buffs across the city. I bought tickets for a late-evening screening of Gone Girl and was pleasantly surprised to see the usher – and I should add here that he didn’t look like one – standing at the entrance, warmly greeting patrons as they made their way inside. Continue reading

The Prisoner’s Dilemma & That Toilet In Your Office

Imagine you’ve had an early start to your day. And as an extension, you need to take care of your “business” and make a “long call” in the office washroom. You walk in, and you scan the place. The washroom isn’t crowded… Just a few folks and cleaners loitering around… You proceed to turn the latch and open the door to the first cubicle on your left. There’s water on the floor. You try the next one. Water on the floor and used tissue scattered all over. The third cubicle is a little clean but there’s no tissue roll. Not cool. Two cubicles on the other side are occupied. Someone comes out of the last cubicle at the far end on the other side and you know you won’t be able to use it till the seat is a little less… Warm… You finally find a cubicle you can use; it’s relatively clean, there’s tissue roll, and no vestiges of anyone having used it that morning. You thank your stars and rush in. You take care of your “business.” Now you’re faced with a slightly complex problem. Do you ensure that you throw the used tissue in the bin on your left? Is it worth the extra effort, when you know that the same cubicle will be a mess later in the day? And that the person who walks in after you will, in all probability, litter the floor and keep it that way for those who use it after him? After all, you only have to make one “long call” in the day, and if you have to make another one tomorrow, the toilets will be cleaned overnight by housekeeping anyway. So, should you bother? To those who are offended by my temerity to suggest that we are actually disgusting enough to consider these calculations, I say this… Look at the state of the washrooms in your office in the morning, at noon and in the evening. Continue reading