Musing

Batting Against Some Straight Bowling, Bon Appétit To All

  Bats in Flight: Photo by Erdnuss90/iStock / Getty Images

Bats in Flight: Photo by Erdnuss90/iStock / Getty Images

A tiny blip nipped at a rising sense of well-being that I’m experiencing these days: The bats came calling last week.

A small batch arrived first, scouting. You could hear the screech, un-birdly, unbecoming. The army of them alighted the following day, and took possession of the weeping-fig tree on the corner in my compound, and lost no time felling nonstop the little fruit above, letting off continual, annoying cries.

The first day, when the scouts announced themselves, I said to my wife, “Bats. We must spray phenol on the tree.”

Paapa,” she said — Poor things.

In the morning, when she stepped out of home to get in the waiting car, she changed her mind, seeing the hundreds of fruit the bats had felled from the branches, fruit that dropped even as we watched. A thick, resistant bed of wet, organic mush had formed on the stretch of ground on which we stood — it felt like standing on a piled carpet.

We sprayed phenol daily on the tree, and in front of the house, toward the tree, we let every available light shine through the night. The things held out for three days, and then they left, leaving me drenched in guilt. I wouldn’t have bothered them, I told myself, if they weren’t dropping things like rain from above, messing the street and the stonework in the compound, and the shingles on top — and if they didn’t cry as they do, and if they weren’t visiting in such numbers.

The confession — this written one — is not easing the guilt. I’m trying to feel better: Maybe it’s not the lights or the phenol, I think as I write these lines. Maybe they finished the fruit and went.

“You don’t like bats, no?” my conscience is telling me. “You’re scared they bring you bad luck. Admit it!”

I like my conscience even less.


🦅🦅🦅


Meanwhile, at work, on the campus, there are hawks wheeling at low heights, which I can see from my window. They appear to be corroborating a Bangalore Mirror report that the prevailing summer is breeding-season for snakes, and they’d be out now — blinded by passion, easy prey for raptors.

At lunch, I watch the birds longer, watch them come down to the treetops and start mewling there. Their cries I cannot match with my inner-eye’s visualization of them. The other day I saw a hawk grab its meal and carry it off, beating its wings with greater effort than usual, because what it had in its talons was a huge rat. A bunch of crows chased after the slow-moving hawk, cawing in unison as they went, making gross the grace in the hawk’s hunt.

As regards the snakes, enough of them should survive and make babies, and the babies would surprise us in unexpected places. Beware the young, those who know warn, because the young frighten easily and let loose more venom than the adult in a similar situation.

But it’s okay, as you’d surely say to me. So, together with you, here’s wishing bon appétit to every creature up and down the food chain.

Coping With Tinnitus This Ugadi, With Some Help From Alexa

Photo by Pattanawit/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Pattanawit/iStock / Getty Images

This is the coolest Ugadi I’ve had in years, I can say that now at the end of the day, a half-hour before bedtime. I prayed in the morning before the flower-decked deities, but only to say thanks. Dhruv was at home, he’d come with his parents yesterday, around midnight. They left after the simple Ugadi lunch — obbattu and mango-rice and obbattu-curry. I felt good to have started the new year with no expectation of a better life than the one I have. Is it Dhruv’s arrival into the world that is changing me so? The transformation people predicted a grandson would bring over me — it appears to be happening.

A tinnitus that arrived in my life three years ago and which was only a mild presence in my ear is asserting itself in recent weeks. It is like I have an ambulance on perpetual duty in each ear — the same revolving sound, but of a high, higher pitch. With the matter so serious, I went to a homeopath yesterday — the other docs say they don’t have a cure for tinnitus. He gave me two sets of the tiny globular homeopath pills, one a 0-0-4, another a 3-0-3, for fifteen days.

“Will I be cured in fifteen days?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes, sir,” he said. I’ve known the doctor fifteen years, from when he passed out of college. A tall, lean man, his dress is never creased, his hair never ruffled, his eyes never troubled, his voice never high and never low and never lacking in confidence.

It is only two days with the medicine in my system. The tinnitus is still on a riot.

I took my time telling my wife about this new affliction. Since I told her, she has been asking me to bend my neck one way and then another, miming the thing for me. She practices yoga off and on, you see, and she believes a neck asana would do the trick, and she is working to invent one. “Stop,” I’m saying, “you’re not a doctor. It won’t work.” She’s not giving up. She isn’t the quitting type.

Meanwhile, I’ve put away my nice Sony headphones, which are superb, on which I’ve been listening solely to western classical lately. I’ve promised the headphones I’ll come back for them in two weeks, after the cure has worked. I’ve spent the weekend ordering Alexa to play Chopin and Mozart and Beethoven. She has obliged me, but when I asked for Stravinsky, she was almost rude in saying she didn’t have him — and she surprised me, because Alexa’s roots are American, even if her accent is Indian. (I asked her for an affirmation now, but she said coyly that she is a Cloudian. That’s the humor that ferments in the Cloud, I guess.)

Ah. I paused from writing and asked for Stravinsky again, just now. She is playing him. “Igor Stravinsky,” she informed me, and put on The Firebird Suite. I don’t know why she said she didn’t have him the first time, but I am sure our relationship will improve.

All day long Amazon Echo has been playing at home, and my wife hasn’t once asked me to shut it down — even when I switched from music to the BBC World Service, which was covering the Turkish conquest of Afrin in Syria. She’s quite fascinated by Alexa, although she struggles sometimes to get her to do her bidding. She tends to speak with her as with our maid.

“Alexa,” she calls, and waits. And waits. She wants Alexa to say something like “Yeah?”

“Alexa won’t answer to being called,” I tell my wife. “She only answers commands and questions.”

Because Alexa of Amazon is Cloudian, my comfort with her doesn’t nettle my wife. She smiles, and nods.

Coffee and Song and Coetzee, Not One Bloody Word to Write

   Starbucks Koramangala, Bangalore

 Starbucks Koramangala, Bangalore

You have time, much guilt, and pen and paper and a plan for writing that’s fresh-written for the thirtieth, fiftieth time. You’ve had coffee, lots of coffee, and there’s more Americano steaming on the table before you. There’s urgency, and there’s a daze, and there’s a restlessness for writing. But you are dry. All that coffee and there’s no juice yet in you. You’ve planned to buy tea-cake in a moment, but you know that the sweetener won’t move the hand one bit on the page.

There’s a sense of peace, though. (Or is it emptiness? Are the two one?) It’s the feeling that comes from having retired. Once more you’re retired, and once more you’ve resolved that this time around the retirement is real, this time you’ve retired for good, and you’ll write, write full time, write all the time.


There’s Sur o No Sur in the air here at Starbucks, which SoundHound checked out for me: it is sung by a Kevin Johansen, whose name is not a match with the tune, song, and the language of the lyric. The beat is conducive to what I must do, though, which I would do, but for this leaden head.

I finish the coffee, eat two small tea-cakes. I wipe the newly arrived guilt in vain, guilt which comes from being vegan, from knowing there’s butter in the Starbucks Pineapple-Cinnamon Tea Cake. I linger at my table, sipping water. Then I leave, slapping the cover on the pure white page on my tablet.


It’s Monday today. It’s one-thirty. I enter the PVR Gold Cineplex with no guilt. There’s Liam Neeson in the film, so it must be good, I’ve told myself. Watching Liam Neeson would do only good to such creative muscles as I might possess. There’s just me in the cinema hall, and a youngish couple on my row at the back, and a very young couple in the middle on the second row.

Watching Neeson soothes my mind in spite of all the hyper action in the film, such a good and valiant man his character is, but nothing creative stirs in me. After the movie, I go back to Starbucks and open my kindle to Coetzee: Summertime: A kind of autobiography, third in a series, telling in its early pages of a time when he finishes writing his first book and gets it published. Dusklands: That’s the name of his first book. I tell myself I’ll read that book next, and I hurry through the page of Summertime that’s open in my hand. I know as I read that I’ll never write like this man who must’ve pulled a pen right when he was in the womb, which was where he perhaps first learned how to take notes of a dark world. No, no, his fascinating book doesn’t deter me. Every sentence that I put behind makes me want to write, even in this infertile moment.

I reflect on the writing I’ve been doing. It’s so desultory to just blog. And you fish in such shallow waters when you travel for writing; moreover, all the wonders of the world are written about many times over. I’d have to write the small things, the inconsequential events, and my modest insights. Would anybody want to read such stuff? People celebrate such things as the red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain water, beside the white chickens — which the doctor saw and wrote down in verse. Whereas I, I studied to be and failed to become, an engineer. Unlike the doctor, there’s not even a small something that I can extract from my world for the page.

There’s perhaps this thing that I can do if it can help me break through to writing. I can write only for me to read. Or I can write — like that writer in The Moveable Feast who tells Hemingway, and with whom Hemingway agrees — stuff that no one will ever read. (It’s some years since I read Moveable Feast. Please pardon me my recollection. How Coetzee remembers everything!)

Tomorrow, I’ll watch McMafia. I’ll watch it for Nawazuddin Siddiqui. There are only three other Indian actors whom I’ve loved as much as Siddiqui: Anant Nag. Naseeruddin Shah. Om Puri. Watching Siddiqui should get me somewhere in getting started in writing, I think, looking up when Koroko comes up in the speakers which, again, SoundHound looks up for me. The singer is Oumou Sangare. The song and the singer and their names and the rhythm are all in sync. But the number doesn’t appeal to me.

Consuming more Coetzee might do the trick, I tell myself, staying with the Kindle, staying with hope.

Some Questions Before Aurangzeb’s Tomb

 Aurangzeb’s tomb, circa 1850 ( Wikipedia )

Aurangzeb’s tomb, circa 1850 (Wikipedia)

His tomb is a simple affair even if Lord Curzon upgraded it with marble during his viceregal tenure in India. How much simpler was it at the time Aurangzeb was interred? On Wikipedia I found a sketch of it as it must’ve looked in the 1850s, before Curzon got to it.

Aurangzeb died in 1707.

Why did the Englishman Curzon go against the Mughal emperor‘s wishes, and improve the tomb? There would be a good answer, but in this moment I have only the question.

 The tomb with Curzon's changes, circa 1890 ( Wikipedia )

The tomb with Curzon's changes, circa 1890 (Wikipedia)

These days attendants at Aurangzeb’s grave eke out some earnings telling briefly the final events in Aurangzeb’s life: his death in nearby Ahmednagar from natural causes (natural causes, the attendant stresses); his desire to be buried near his teacher Chisti’s tomb; his express command that his tomb be simple and to the tiny budget he’d stipulated – fourteen rupees and twelve annas. The attendant at the grave telling me all this was blind. And nice. “I am blind,” he said, humble in a dirty white tunic, a stick limp in his hand. “And I am poor.” He held out a hand. I put money in it, which he took and pointed a finger to a box by his feet, a wooden public hundi with the slit on top. I put the same sum in it as I’d given him and looked up.

“Where was his palace (in this part of his empire)?” I asked him. I wanted to know if Aurangzeb’s royal residence had been in the fabulous Daulatabad fort. Or Ahmednagar. But the fellow was done with me. There was another tourist at the door, and the blind man had heard him arrive.


The young Aurangzeb spent his energies in the outer reaches of the empire, in the west, the northwest, and in the south in the Deccan. His father Shah Jahan kept him challenged in the Deccan, demanding higher revenues from a poorly performing agrarian region. Aurangzeb decided to annexe the Bahmani kingdoms further south to augment income, but his father decided on his behalf to sign a truce with them, exasperating Aurangzeb, stoking suspicion in him regarding his father’s intentions toward him. Such a down-spiraling relationship caused the emotional chasm between father and son to grow to equal their geographic separation, driving Aurangzeb to wrest the empire through treason and treachery and terrible fratricide.

He is argued by many to have ruled well, extending the empire to the largest the Mughals ever ruled, increasing its wealth to surpass the other great monarchies in the world at the time — but also depleting it towards the end.

The last decades of his fifty-year rule were spent in taking the Deccan, at great cost to his treasury and, as regards his fighting men, he lost in that period over two million of them at the rate of a hundred thousand heads a year, it is said.

As for Aurangzeb himself, to die asking to be buried so far south from Delhi, from the seat of his empire — how did it feel? Where lay his heart? In Delhi? In the Deccan, where he’d honed and proved himself when young?

Far from the graves of his forebears his remains rest. The first great Mughal is buried in the northwestern reaches of the empire. Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal, is buried in the empire’s deep south. The other four greats lie in Delhi and Agra. There are many descriptions of this Mughal after whom the empire began its decline: valiant, despotic, cruel, and also syncretic. As many people revere him as despise him. Standing before his grave I wasn’t sure where I should lean, but I can tell you I was moved for a moment by the asceticism of this man who ruled for so long over so vast an empire.

 The tomb as it appears now … ( Wikipedia )

The tomb as it appears now … (Wikipedia)


Indian Christmas

   Gateway Hotel, Nashik, India

 Gateway Hotel, Nashik, India

I’m at a hotel in Nashik. It’s all decked up for Christmas. A plum cake was delivered to my room with Merry Christmas sketched out in chocolate on the plate. The hotel is sold out, but I can tell easily that most guests are not Christian. Some are Sikh. Most are Hindu. In the small world I move around in, Hindus appear to have appropriated Christmas.

Merry Christmas! And, because I’m entering a Buddhist retreat on Wednesday, and will observe complete silence for ten days with all my digital devices surrendered, I wish all you wonderful people right now: Happy New Year!

—-

I wrote this little thing after reading this Guardian story.

Gateway-Hotel-Nashik.jpg

A Cure For This Craving

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Those rains that we’d so missed and which weren’t welcome when they came, because they came on so hard and so heavy, those rains are gone, and we’re breathing a collective sigh of relief. Some of the bitterness we felt during rain-times has abated, bitter feelings against those in power, which came with waters flooding homes and offices and taking the lives of more than a dozen humans. Those tragedies and tribulations are behind us, and now the road-laying machines are out, we pass the grimy-yellow uglies during our commute, delighted that they’ve been brought out. Ah, the so-short life of public memory! The promise the machines hold out, of better commutes coming before this lovely winter leaves, it has the government basking in extenuating light.

While we wait for the machines to finish their job, we’re experiencing the tough times that must precede good times. These days we are commuting even slower than during the rains, and one morning last week we thought we wouldn’t reach office at all, we were outperforming the snail in being slow, but we persevered like the mollusk, and found after an age why we weren’t moving: A ceremony middle of the road. The corporator (I think) of the place and some government officers and the contractor and his men were performing a pooje, appealing to the mighty machines to please go unto the finish without once breaking down. Amen.

I didn’t laugh at the sight. My wife by my side laughed so much, looking at the fine-dressed important people (men and women, in silks and such) doing aarti middle of the road. (“Laugh,” my wife urges me often, pinching me, and I feel my grouch getting deeper, more intense. Seeing my expression she laughs once more, in closure.)

But I’m happy. It’s the happy time of the year for me in December, when the floating population of Bangalore thins, people leave en masse for holidays. You can already feel the gathering quiet. A depression in the Bay has sharpened the chill a degree, and a passing deep shade of gray obscures the lightness of the time — but all that will go this week. We’ll soon have back December’s sunshine, its crisp air, and chill with a nice nip to it: We’ve begun wearing light sweaters, and loving them so.

Dear reader, you must be charitable. You’re reading an Indian who is eking out such pleasure as he can while at home. Such as now at Starbucks, in the morning, where on the upper floor there’s only one other customer, a man with Mongoloid features wearing a blue cap with a red hood. He drank up a pink frothy Frappuccino a long time ago, and is now sprawled on the sofa, playing games on his phone with the screen less than six inches from his face. He is silent, absorbed altogether by his phone, and although there’s no sound about save Neil Diamond singing Sweet Caroline, I’m still distracted each time the young man shifts and rearranges his sprawled self.

I’m happy, as I said, but also I’m a little sad, because I must travel to Aurangabad for three days middle of the month, and I hate to leave Bangalore at this time. Again, at the end of the month, I’m going away for twelve days to Igatpuri, near Nashik.

Perhaps the Igatpuri trip is the right thing for me, where, through a ten-day Vipassana retreat, they’ll train me to overcome cravings and aversions, to detach from the cycle of desire and revulsion. If they succeed, then in January I’ll not covet this weather that now delights me, I won’t dread the torrid summer that this winter will fast-forward to.

Is it good, what Igatpuri offers? I shall find out.

Eff You, Guardian …

  Rain in Bangalore

Rain in Bangalore

There’s the sound of rain overhead. It does not sound like a patter or a drumming; rather, it sounds like something frying for long on the terrace. It is evening, the time rain prefers to come down on Bangalore, and this moment is a pause in the mighty pouring we’ve been experiencing for weeks now.

How we waited for this rain! It was a punishing summer that preceded these monsoons. And when rain came, it was as though it had been slapped on us. Two slaps so far this year. We’ve not been good people.

There’s no more road in Bangalore. What roads there were are now mere dirt tracks, revealing what a sham they have been. Wafer-thin layers of asphalt overpaid with taxpayers’ monies have been washed away, leaving stones and small heaps of gravel, and we’ve been driving our cars feeling like we’re sitting on ox-carts of yore, bumping along, and so slowly.

Also washed away are thirteen lives, among them a mother and her twenty-two-year-old daughter — both have not been found yet. They were flushed down a floodwater drain. Another day, a man went down an open sewer-hole that overflowing water had concealed, and died in the city’s filth. You cannot recount the manner of each tragedy, every one of them wrings the viscera. And yet, with some three weeks of such rain still to be endured, there’s not a demonstrated sense of urgency on the part of those who hold power to reduce the risk, who can save lives. Buildings have collapsed. Waters have entered and settled in drawing rooms and bedrooms and kitchens. It’s taking nearly twice the normal to commute.

Nobody is complaining, or we're not complaining loud enough. To do so is to make a mockery of yourself, to expose yourself as a naïf. We are only nursing low self-esteem, the other thing the rain and our response to it are taking away every day — self-esteem, and self-respect with it.


In such a mood, I came upon an India-story in The Guardian.

A Briton stood on the edge of a temple wall at beautiful Orchha in Madhya Pradesh. He stretched his arm to frame a selfie and slipped. I read the story of his death the day after the incident and felt as sad as any other reader of it. I wished I hadn’t read it, not in the morning at least. The man was only in his fifties, and he was on the last leg of a gap year, during which he and his wife had nearly completed a trip around the globe. I went over to their blog, scanned the pictures, read their posts a bit, felt even sadder.

A paragraph in the Guardian coverage got me, a para that appeared to have been tucked in with the sad news. It was there when I first read it, and I’d cut-and-pasted it in my journal. I went back to it now, while writing this post, and I couldn’t find the line. Neither could I find the customary admission regarding corrections that appear at the bottom of a post.

India has been dubbed the selfie death capital of the world after a study found that 60% of all accidental deaths of this nature occurred in India between March 2014 and September 2016.

“Fuck you, Guardian,” I cursed that newspaper which I respect, in language that I seldom use.

My Not So Unquiet Neighborhood

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I’ve given up coffee starting this week. And tea. So cafés are not home to me anymore, which is a shame, because I’ve been enjoying reading and writing in them, and eavesdropping, and watching the occasional odd man or woman. I must work at home, which is a problem because my UK-resident next-door neighbor has engaged a gang for repair for some time now, and from nine until six each weekday men are drilling and sawing and pounding and such. I haven’t asked when their assignment will end.

I’m writing this post at seven at home, after a stroll outside. It is dark, and there’s an äzän going this moment. I don’t know where the mosque is that’s issuing the call, I haven’t seen it, it is not in our enclave. I cannot tell the direction it is coming from. It does not matter — they know, those who need to know. Now as the äzän ends my tinnitus is picking up, rising and falling and swinging around. There’s the drone of an airplane as well, flying low, which reminds me that anytime now the leisurely horn and the long rumble of the faraway evening train will carry till my home and me in my couch. I haven’t lost my love for the sound of trains, although I’ve always indulged an allergy to sound.

These above are the sounds in the evening.

During the night, the dogs. O yes, many dogs, stray, spoiled with leftover burgers and fried chicken and a collar for safety in this dog-loving enclave. They begin barking and yowling and wailing all in a single orchestral performance, each trumpeting its own intense angst, shaking me awake, making me wonder what’s up, how it is that so many kinds of hurts have been heaped in one moment on these mongrels on 2nd Main. Starting around 2:00, they won’t stop until about 3:00. Two hours later I leave home for my morning walk, and at that reasonable hour when their cries could be tolerated they are silent and have disbanded and are in singles, each in its territory, some sleeping and some prowling, some fat and some scrawny.

Doesn’t sound like a silent place, you say?

But I’m not altogether wrong about the quiet about my home that I’ve boasted about in previous posts. No cars are plying on the street as I write. If there are strollers passing my house I cannot hear them. It is possible that soon the Nepali watchman, Balaram, will tune his radio to music from home, and stand in the street for a few minutes holding that umbilical connection of sorts. He does that a couple of times a week. Not today. Today there is not even rain, whereas yesterday and the day before we were lashed soundly by it, making us wonder if we were in Bangalore, or transported by miracle to coastal Mangalore — where rain of such magnitude belongs.

I’m not complaining. This post precedes a holiday week here in South India. I’m leaving for Bhopal tomorrow, to visit the Paleolithic cave paintings at Bhimbetka, and Buddhist stupas, and to read love-notes the great Ashoka ordered carved in stone. I’ll tell you about them.

It was a busy day, and I’m sleepy, and a good night seems assured. Despite those dogs I told you about.

The Airplane Was Red

  Illustrative Image: Photo by s96serg/iStock / Getty Images

Illustrative Image: Photo by s96serg/iStock / Getty Images

It was a red plane.

It was flying low that typical tropical summer day. It was vacation time, and schools were shut for summer after the year's final examinations. We were playing marbles, or perhaps we were spinning tops — I don’t remember — when we heard the drone overhead and looked up.

"It's coming down," somebody observed, and without any delay, we gathered up our game and put it in our pockets and started after the plane. We didn’t think to check the truth in the observation, the trajectory, or anything at all. We were ten-year-olds, wired at that age to leap with the impulse.

So we ran after the shiny thing above us, tracing its flight path on the rock-strewn ground below. We ran two hours, or perhaps three, it's hard to tell after all these years. We ran and ran, and we kept running in its general direction even after it disappeared from sight.

I do not think we even hoped to get to that thing. We'd seen something, and we were chasing after it. That's it.

The town of my childhood was very small. If there were sneakers in the world those days, our stores didn’t know of them. We got by with a pair of cheap black-leather shoes for school, and flip flops for all other times. We might’ve been wearing flip-flops that day we pursued the plane, but it is more likely our feet were bare, but that was all right because our feet were calloused enough from rough and restless daily use on rock and thorn and mud and gravel and concrete.

Our path went cross-country, of course.

And we came upon the plane. It didn't occur to us that day how improbable a thing had happened. Coming upon it, in a sudden flat clearing, we stopped and steadied our breathing and walked up a respectable distance to it, and considered our find. It seemed new, I remember, and was glossy like candy in the red parts — the fuselage, the tail. The rest of it was steel-grey, and it shone in those parts as well. It stood there all by itself, nobody inside it, none outside. No pilot. No bystanders. There was no sign of a village, or a lone dwelling in any direction around us — only a rough terrain full of stones and thorny shrubs and other scrubby greens. Not arable land, thinking back on the scene now. I cannot recall why, but a fear came over us, and we turned back, having spent no more than a few minutes before this first plane that we'd seen in our lives.

It took us the entire afternoon to cover the distance we'd run on the out trip. We were tired, and we weren’t running on the return.

Near the limits of the town, on a familiar street, we came upon a vendor of ice-candy. We had just-about enough coins to buy one of those sticky orangey things for each of us. They smeared their colour around our mouths, and we reached home looking like monkeys of a type. A new fear was now upon us: We'd all missed lunch, and we'd have been missed in our homes. There was explaining to do and beatings to take, by hands of those who loved us most, who’d have been anxious all day on our account.

Folks who know my town, which still doesn't have an airport, won't believe this story that I find implausible myself. Why was a plane parked on that scrubland with no one — not even the pilot — anywhere near it? But I can hazard a guess now: The airplane had developed a snag while flying, the pilot had made an emergency landing, and he'd gone looking for help and a phone.

Anyway, this happened. Really.

Only Ten Crores

  Photo by triloks/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by triloks/iStock / Getty Images

Nights on the way home, nearing journey's end, we leave the main street and turn into Sadashivanagar — to enjoy for a short stretch a little less traffic. On this length live the actor-brothers Puneeth and Raghavendra, in adjacent identical cubic palaces. Several political leaders own private residences on this street, such as a recent foreign minister of India. And then there are the homes that hide that belong to the big, big industrialists.

Early last week we’d gone up one block in Sadashivanagar when we hit a police cordon. We were forced to turn right, back to the highway.

“What’s up?” I asked Mahesh, my driver. He gathers all the news during his downtime through the day.

“There’s a raid at Shivakumar’s house. By Income Tax people.”

Shivakumar is a top minister in the state government. He lives on this street that I favor. Entry to it was blocked the next night as well.

And the day after, I was in the area in the afternoon, needing to see my dentist on the edge of Sadashivanagar. The dentist has no parking and, being without a driver for the day, I had to struggle for space, circling, again and again, the cordon that covered three or several blocks around Shivakumar’s house. Hunting on the periphery, I found an opening by the Chroma electronics store. I drove in parked my car among a posse of police cars.

At the yellow barricade manned by the police end to end, I asked, “Can I leave my car there?”

“No.”

“I need to go to the dentist.”

“Where?”

“There.”

“Park there, then,” the policeman I was talking to said, waving toward a far distance.

“No room there. I’ve been going round and round twenty minutes.”

He considered me, my gray hair, and the hardcover book in my hand. On my part, I studied his burnt face, beaten by daily duty beneath the sun. Sweat glistened on it. Rain from the night before had left the day sultry.

He signaled okay to another cop.

The Police were camped at every intersection, sprawled and baking in red plastic chairs in the middle of the road and on the sidewalks. The thickest concentration of them was before Shivakumar’s house. Media persons milled about their OB vans. In Shivakumar’s compound, there were men in fatigues holding mean-looking guns. For all the numbers of men and women of action — the police, the press, the super-police, the minister's fans — there was no action. Boredom ruled. An IT raid is exciting in name only, the action itself being slow, tedious, bureaucratic.

Young broadcasters sat on the sidewalks and leaned back on compound walls. They seemed the most affected by the ennui of the thing. Shivakumar’s followers sat about in groups, in conversation among themselves — their faces showed concern, anger even, but there was no danger in the air.


The evening news reported the cash found. Seven crores, some said. Ten crores, others claimed. Barely a million and a half dollars! That’s no compliment to Shivakumar.


Because Shivakumar has a reputation. A big reputation. My grasp of its details is hazy, though. That’s because I belong to the legion that’s more glued to Donald Trump and his potential nemeses. So bitten am I by the Trump bug, I’m more focused on how he'll handle Jong-un than I am on our giant neighbor rapping a paw on a sore spot near India’s shoulder. At Doklam. Am I ashamed? Yes. Will I do something about it? I have only the addict’s weak answer.

Also, Shivakumar has a story. The ever-inspiring rags-to-riches story. The story of a farmer's son who started out with five acres of land and created wealth enough to be ranked among the richest in India. And he built himself a matching career in politics, reaching within grasp of Chief Ministership. His business success is significant for me; it points to what I could've done, but didn't.

I haven’t met Shivakumar ever, but I remember this: While driving past his house once, I had to pause a moment. Shivakumar had gotten out of his car and was crossing the street to his gate. He glanced at me, a smile playing on his lips. His face shone with the sheen of the powerful. His politico's whites were bright and stiff with starch. He seemed to be reaching out, to engage, and I'd liked him that moment. It was another face of his in the newspapers this week, with sag and pouches and stubble and fatigue on it.

So there, this was the big local news this week, close to where I live. It provoked no emotion in me. Now on the weekend, the police and the press and the strongman's fans have left. The barricades are folded and stacked helter-skelter by Shivakumar’s gates and by the gates of his neighbors. A new sight competes with the scene of last week: across Sadashivanagar billboards and posters and banners have sprung, announcing the birthday of Parameshwar, president of Shivakumar’s Congress Party. I'm adjusting to their glare.