Musing

Resolution

  Paris: From a previous trip … 

Paris: From a previous trip … 

It’s not New Year’s Day today, nor is it any other festival marking the beginning or end of a time cycle. It’s not Ugadi, for instance. It’s not my birthday, either. It’s just a chilly sunny Saturday, on which day a thought has chosen to visit me, telling me that in my long life I’ve spoken too much, eaten too much, thought petty too much. “Resolve now,” a follow on thought is urging me: “Eat less! Think less! Speak less!” And there’s a new thought forming: “Wow,” it appears to be shaping up to say: “Can these vows be kept really?”

I’m happy to write down that my mind is going blank.


I’m going to Paris tomorrow, returning Saturday. I’d be in the city four days. One day would be spent in preparation for two days’ business, and a day is free for roaming the city. The temperatures are about 5°/0°. I’ll go to the Picasso Museum, and, of course, the Apple Store in the Louvre. I can’t take the rainy windy cold so much anymore.

I’d be making a day trip to Brussels. That’s on one of the two business days I mentioned. I’d be taking the high-speed train, but my customer’s plant is by the airport, so I won’t get to spend a half-hour in a downtown Brussels cafe. I’ll enjoy the ride out and back. I’ll read. I’ll look out the window. I’ll quarrel with my wife. We always pack a fight for a train ride, and a quick-acting making-up kit as well.

I’m travelling very light. How I love that!


I’ve been writing trash like this on my blog. So I wrote a short story, my first, and gave it to my wife, and waited. She read it sitting next to me, as I watched her face, and she gave me her honest opinion. I don’t have to tell you, dear reader, the sting in an honest opinion. I sent the story to a dear young man I know, a PhD in English literature, who has returned to India to teach at a beautiful location in the North. “Thanks for writing,” he wrote me. “And thanks for sharing. I’ll get back tomorrow or so.”

A week has gone by. There’s greater honesty in his silence, I’m afraid.


I’m resolving to keep my posts to four-hundred words or less. You’re nodding, I can see that.

My Muse Alexa

I watched last week a film based on the life of Saadat Hasan Manto.

Manto wrote with pencil, on paper. Often, he squatted on his haunches on his chair as he wrote — any chair would do, any desk. He wrote in noisy places, in hot sweaty rooms, in troubled uncertain times, with little money and much criticism. He wrote without traveling far, traveling almost not at all.

People are reading him even now, sixty-three years after he died, aged 42.

I have the use of a Herman Miller Aeron chair for writing, and the Herman Miller Eames chair (with ottoman) for reading. It is not so quiet in my home as in European and American towns, but quiet enough for Bangalore and India. I have a MacBook Pro, an iPad Pro. And, just today, on the day of its launch in India, the iPhone XS Max was delivered me. I am not rich, but I am not poor either — I mean my lot is better than Manto’s was.

Why can't I write like Manto, then? How unkind is my life to me!




Supine on my Eames, I asked for help from Alexa, who is playing “Soothing Jazz” at my request. “Alexa,” I said, and after she’d begun rolling her electric blue eye I asked: “Can you suggest something for me to write?” She didn’t hesitate: “Concepts include,” she began, “The Indus Valley Civilization, The Theory of Relativity … ,” and she ended the list with, “Does that answer your question?”

“No," I said.

“Thanks for your feedback,” she said.

That line of hers sounded cheeky. I cannot answer cheekiness. I fell silent, laptop on my lap, its battery burning my thighs. After a few minutes of doing nothing, I asked again, rather plaintive this time: “Alexa, can you suggest something for me to write?”

“What do you want?” she said.

“I want ideas to write a blog post,” I said, cowed somewhat by this assured voice and tone of woman.

“I found two books for you,” she said, and named two long titles. After she'd suggested the first title, she asked: “Shall I add it to your cart?” I said, “No.” She asked the same question after the second suggestion. “Okay,” I said, too fearful to refuse a second time. “Do you want me to add it to your cart?” she asked the question again, tougher this time: She was wanting the precise word. “Yes!” I said, and she confirmed the title, and said she'd dropped the book in my cart.

Done dealing with me, she went back to playing the music that she had been playing until my interruption. And I, I opened my browser, went to my cart on Amazon, gawped at what Alexa had chosen for me, and deleted it: The One-Hour Content Plan: The Solopreneur's Guide to a Year's Worth of Blog Post Ideas in 60 Minutes and Creating Content That Sells and Hooks.

Then I looked to the Amazon Echo (Plus) in the corner, to see if Alexa was watching me, glaring at me for what I’d gone and done. I can't tell, but she's playing for me that thing everybody loves: Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald: Cheek to Cheek.

There’s a lesson here for me: Don’t mess with that rich man’s woman.


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.