Saturday, November 29, 2014

Joy Forever - a story written by me

I want to share a story titled – Joy Forever - that I had written some time back.
Read or download from:

A little long, may be, but worth the time, I hope.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The One and Only Chetan Bhagat

I am one great admirer of Chetan Bhagat (CB, as I fondly call him). What an achiever, what a writer! He is such an inspiration for me. 

Now, I do know that there have been great writers in the past, before CB. There is Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, G.A. Kulkarni, Mahashweta Devi, to name only a few. But you know, a closer study shows that it was not so difficult for them to become successful and bestselling writers. All these writers had one common thing, which gave them an undue advantage. All their books had good stories, great narratives, with strong characters and deep insights into the lot of human beings. Now what’s the big deal if these guys ended up selling a lot of their books?

But CB… Ah! CB is the master. For his books have taken over the markets and the minds without the aid of artificial crutches like a good story, in-depth characters and such paraphernalia. 

Before I go further, I should make a confession, a disclosure here. I have not really read any of the books written by CB. Well, at least not fully. I have Half-Read one of his books. (Wasn’t that prescient of me, to say Half-Read?). His first book, Five Point Someone, was based on life in IIT, which I already knew about, being an alumnus myself. So I skipped it. But I did see the movie. The first question that came to my mind as I finished watching 3 Idiots was “So, who are the other two?” The first, obviously, being me”. (See here for a more detailed account.). As you can see, I have this habit of not understanding great works and end up asking very basic questions after reading or seeing them.

CB was a bestselling author by the time his second book, One Night @ the Call Centre came out. So I decided to read it. I read about 30 pages, before giving it up. My friend told me that I did not “understand it”. Ruefully, I agreed. I know I do miss out on great books because I do not understand them and I give up on them after reading some pages. I left Being and Nothingness after about 80 pages, and could make it to 227 with Catcher in the Rye. Surely, One Night… must be a much more difficult one, for I made it only upto 30 pages. 

CB smiling and walking all the way to the bank.
Pic Caption: Blog Author)

Author of blog (me) looking wistfully at CBwalking
all the way to the bank.  Note use of binoculars as the bank
is very far from me.

Then came The 3 Mistakes of My Life. To my great delight, I realised that this was one book I definitely understood. It was an autobiographical account. I mean, the title itself was so obvious. The first mistake was clearly Five Point Someone, the second mistake was One Night… and the third was a self-reference to itself. I thumbed up my nose at friends who had told me I “did not understand”. I was right, they were wrong. Here was Chetan Bhagat himself acknowledging his three as mistakes. To my surprise, the “mistake” was also a bestseller. But then, I told myself, so are so many confessional novels. 

But apparently, CB decided to keep making more mistakes. So 2 States followed. I don’t know how many people realised CB had used this title to project a secret message. (Just like all the ancient writers, painters, sculptors do, as anyone with reading of historical texts like Da Vinci Code would know). I mean, the ordinary reader would just take the title at its face value – two people from 2 states, their marriage and so on. But it’s really an insult to believe that a master like CB would write something so mundane, so ordinary. I explained the deeper meaning to my friends. CB, I said, knows exactly what he is writing. And he conveys that through his titles. (Remember the 3 Mistakes title?) Now look at 2 States. Didn’t you realise that it was totally different from CB’s titles till then? Think. Till this book, all of CB’s titles had odd numbers in them! Five, One, Three.  So why the sudden shift to an even number? Clearly, CB was sending us a signal to look deeper. I did. Now, any student of physics knows that there are three states of matter, not two. As an IITian, CB knows this. So why is he making such a basic mistake? Well, he is not. Through the title, two states he acknowledges – solid and liquid, and the book itself represents the third – gas! Wow, isn’t CB the master of secret signals?

This was proved once again when Revolution 2020 came out. Again, CB sent us a secret message through the title – that we will have to wait for 2020 for the revolutionary event – a CB book with a proper story, in depth characters and other such things. But wistfully, I saw that before that real revolution, other smaller revolutions have kept taking place, namely, the accumulating bank balance of CB!

But now he has surpassed himself with Half-Girlfriend. Even before the book is out, there is a tribute to him that has rarely been paid to any author. A full page, a full front page ad in leading newspapers. Now that’s something that only masters can achieve.

That is why I have always been an admirer of CB. And I have my own way of paying tribute to him. As they say, one of the biggest acknowledgements of achievement is envy. I not only envy CB, I am insanely jealous of him. Since many years, I have tried to emulate him, to reach the heights (and the bank balance) he has reached. But alas, it has not worked. 

Not that I have not tried. I have written so many books (manuscripts, really) which have been just like CB’s. In fact, I have the rejection slips to prove that they were so – publishers telling me that my manuscript was “fluffy”, had “no story”, had “superficial characters” and so on. But I guess one needs to be a CB to carry such things. It’s true, some things need the person of that stature to carry them. Remember Shammi Kapoor and his antics? Now, if any other actor had tried to do the same things, he would have been booed out. But Shammi the master, he carried them on his shoulders with great élan and to great applause. 

So I guess it’s not enough to write books of such type to be successful (meaning sell many, collect bank balance). One has to be able to carry it too, and for that, one has to be the Master himself.

So that’s it. I have to be resigned to my fate, that I will never be CB, or even like him. 

Come to think of it, may not be so bad after all…



I wrote this blog on 10 Aug 2014, and it was titled अगले जनम मोहे चेतन भगत किजो (Let me be Chetan Bhagat in my next birth). However, at that time I was not aware of Bhagat’s tweet in which he supports Israel’s attacks on Gaza and calls the Palestinians terrorists. This is completely unacceptable, and therefore, even in jest, I would not like to use the title I have used. Hence, I have changed the title of this blog post, and also changed the few last lines.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

IIT Bombay – Build, Build, but Where is the Imagination?

Indian Institute of Technology, (IIT) Bombay, now Mumbai – my alma mater – has undoubtedly been a happening place, even when I was there some 25 years back. Still, I was quiet taken aback to see how much was “happening” when I visited it sometime last week.  This was not the usual campus sort of activity. Rather, what is happening is that the campus is in the middle of a construction boom. It is abuzz with the sounds of excavators (popularly called JCBs), bulldozers, concrete mixers and the likes. Mingling amongst young men and women wearing the characteristic look – half earnest, half I could not care less – of students on campus, are seen men in plastic hard hats and bright yellow and green coloured reflective jackets. Construction is on everywhere.

Excavator at a construction site near YP Gate
Now anywhere in the world, construction is a sure sign of progress – or, to use a more nuanced and lively word, construction is a sure sign of “vikas”. In the last few months, the word (and its more mundane sounding English equivalent, “development”) has been much thrown around as India witnessed an energetic and loquacious election campaign. While India waits for the new government to unleash vikas, the IIT Bombay campus – as always – seems to be miles ahead of the country. 

Naturally, all this must be great for the campus and its residents. But somehow I am left feeling just the opposite. Not surprising, of course, because I am amongst the minority which believes in such odd ball things like rivers should flow, and dams that stop the flow of a river are not exactly great news; that open spaces are nice, nicer than glass fronted tall buildings; that mountains are great, particularly when they are not hollowed out and cratered by mine pits; that if we need to forego some coal extraction to keep in place centuries old forests, that’s not a bad deal; that animals, plants, fish – in fact, the entire non-human biota, have a right to live and a right to an ecological space that will ensure that they live; and that such a right accrues to them not because they are useful to the human race, but rather because its intrinsic to their being on this planet.

So when I saw the campus last week, I was, to repeat what I said earlier, quite taken aback. I saw in the happenings on campus a microcosm of what is happening in the larger world out there, things that go against the grain of what I have outlined in the earlier paragraph.

But I must qualify my above thoughts. I am not an extreme ecologist nor, to use a word that has often been thrown at me and my friends, an eco-terrorist. If I think a river should continue to flow, I also agree that it’s okay to extract some of its waters for human use. But some, not all. How much, and how to arrive at this how much, is a complex interdisciplinary field of science, technology, social, environmental and political processes, called “environmental flows”. Similarly, I feel that we need to mine minerals, but “how much and how” remains the crucial question. This approach needs to be extended to all things described above.
So when I felt bad at what was going on at IIT campus, it was not because open spaces are being eaten away rapidly, but because it seems to be done in a mindless manner. I understand that IIT badly needs more hostels, residential quarters for staff, departments and so on. Yet, I wonder whether all this cannot be built without destroying open spaces, dumping muck in the lake and destroying the greenery? 

Old Hostel 10 makes way for a new high rise 16 storey H10

Indeed, if there was one place where one could expect an innovative answer to this question, which is a smaller version of the larger question confronting humanity – how can we meet the needs of human beings at the same time ensuring that we destroy the surroundings the least – then it could have been IIT Bombay. It has the brains, it has the talent, it has the funds; what it probably lacks is the interest to take a particular approach to developing the campus. Else, we would not have a flashy new air conditioned sports complex coming up on the gymkhana grounds – a sports complex that takes away significant part of the sports ground itself! (Alumni may be interested in knowing that construction is coming up on all three sides of the gymkhana grounds H1 to H3 side, H4-H5 side and H8 side.). Or muck being disposed into the Powai lake. And so on. When I asked around if there was indeed a master plan, several people – who I know are sensitive and concerned campus residents – said if there was one, they were not in the know of it. 

While walking along the lake side path from the (old) guest house to behind hostel 8, (hardly a lake side path, now that the lake has receded so much), I wondered aloud: With so many alumni donating generously to the Institute for a variety of causes, including for big new departments and buildings (sometimes named after themselves!), why has someone not thought of donating funds with an express purpose of preserving a part of the campus? A sort of a no-build fund, a modified version of “debt for nature swap”? My friend, an alumnus and a faculty, Prof. Milind Sohoni, immediately responded saying that apparently the batch of 1980 had done something like this, giving funds to preserve the very stretch of the path that we were walking on. I also saw a small park called Kshitij built as a part of this. But it seems the authorities have renegaded on the promise to preserve the area, as there is a new big multi-storey guest house being built next to this very path. 

A heap of excavated debris piled up. A common site at several places in the campus

Certainly, part of the reason for me to feel bad about the campus is because I spent five incredibly great years there, and have a residual attachment to it. But I don’t want to make too much of this attachment – I no longer live there, and have visited it probably all of 10 times in the 25 years since I left it. But my disquiet stems more from a sense of missed opportunity. IIT could have showcased a different way of doing things, an approach that would not only keep the campus as beautiful it was, but would have also been an inspiration and guide for how to do things in the larger world outside. 

But then again, may be IIT, and the world outside wants to do things in this very manner, and they are indeed showcasing and inspiring the world with an approach they believe in?

May be I am really in a minority?

27 May 2014