What are we, if not just
beings to block the light,
didn’t we all just cast shadows,
on things we loved,
and everything we held dear,
in that bright and beautiful world.

I grew up thinking I will shine,
that one day the light will be mine.
But didn’t we live in the shadows,
cast out in pale shades of black,
the color of doubts, faith,
or of sins, those unfulfilled dreams.

There was no escape,
not even in the dark,
but do I stop living,
I used to think. didn’t we all.
Life seemed futile
more so when one day
we knew it will end in a blink.

Everything I believe doesn’t exist,
except in the dark side of mind,
all I need, they advised,
was to turn around, face the light
and leave the shadows behind.

It made sense,
like everything does with age
and it’s been years facing the light,
there’s now a reason, a purpose to be,
and we keep going on, it’s not just me.

Everyone seems to have some talent,
doing well, toiling hard, without relent.
There’s just one thing
I dread when alone,
to look back and
find the shadows gone,
and that we all
just let the light through,
that it’s not just our success,
we all have become invisible too.


Moby Dick, Melville rambles…

Retrospection usually leads to insight, or realizations that the present deprives us of. We see patterns in behavior, common threads of logical reasoning of the events in our past, all in all it shows us the bigger picture, distant and therefore abstract. Rarely however, it makes us aware of the power of the present, the here and now person that we really are, the present that exposes the true existential nature of our being. No rhyme or reason explains certain things of the past, of our past. And often, for our own sake we tend to leave these anomalies unexplained, unreasoned, unacknowledged. Until it starts to bother us.

One such instance is my reading of the book ‘Moby Dick’. Unlike the momentary, or at least short-lived nature of strange behavior, reading a book takes time, way too much time when you read by taking notes, pausing to highlight a piece of text, imagine, or when you try to give a shape to the scene or a conversation. But with this particular book, the pace is forced upon you, as if the author desired the book to be read with much effort, and not finished. It took me months to finish it, and I did, to my own surprise. But there were many days, or rather nights when I almost gave up, cursing the author, the writing style, the recurring digressions and the incessant drag.

‘The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them’ – Chap 41.

It was not an easy read, not entertaining in the way classics usually are, but for some reason, I knew I couldn’t do an Ulysses on this. Ulysses is the book I have tried to read at least three times and wasn’t able to go beyond five pages. So I read, and read, as they say. Even after I was done with Moby Dick, I minced no words in telling my friends that it wasn’t worth the time I spent on it, and that I won’t recommend this book to anyone, not even one who enjoyed Wuthering Heights.

But does it mean that I didn’t like it?

Even now, I can’t answer that truthfully. I am not sure. For some time after finishing, I thought maybe it’s better to leave it at that, leave it in the cabinet of the unexplained and unreasoned and move on. But Ahab, the ship, the sea, the soliloquies, the whales, and the novel style of writing kept coming back, as if I almost wished there were a few more chapters. I knew I had to write about this book, not as a review but as a closure on the strangeness of my undertaking and the toiling that just went on and on. This consciousness of madness, and the futility in any attempt to get over is an overwhelming feeling that only a higher level of madness can comprehend.

‘They think me mad—Starbuck does; but I’m demoniac, I am madness maddened! That wild madness that’s only calm to comprehend itself! The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and—Aye! I lost this leg. I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer. Now, then, be the prophet and the fulfiller one.’ – Chap 37

So yes, in retrospect, it seems as if I was in the grip of the central theme of this book. If there was a central theme that is. The curious thing about the best in literature is how they make you realize that the cost of acquiring a conviction doesn’t ever justify the comfort or the authority that comes with it. Monomania seeped into me, and once you are caught in its debilitating grip there is no escape. I was obsessed with finishing the book like Ahab was with killing the great white whale. If Ahab had his missing leg to justify his madness, I had my Ulysses.

‘What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab?’ – Chap 132

But the book is not about monomania, it is, even to the most untrained eyes – about many more things, a fact that is made evident from the beginning chapters. People who look for narrative are going to be disappointed, especially after being charmed by the beginning, and not just the celebrated opening line. At first you start to think that the author is rambling, straying into a space because he knows what he is doing, and it might be relevant to the ultimate narrative, and it’s already too late when it hits you that narrative was never the real purpose. Melville makes it very obvious that this is a clever book, full of allegorical constructs, theology and philosophy written in a way that feels mundane. It is because he makes the heavy subjects so relatable, so down to earth that you tend to overlook, and keep searching for the narrative.

The writing style is distracting, and makes reading more arduous than what the incongruous content of the many small chapters would have warranted. The long sentences, use of semicolon; and the hyphen; the endless digressions exacerbate the issue of the author relapsing into another essay – on whales and whaling. But once you get into the groove, you start seeing the greatness it is trying to achieve, as you can see in the excerpt below.

‘but lulled into such an opium- like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent- minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half- seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly- discovered, uprising fin of some undiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it. In this enchanted mood, thy spirit ebbs away to whence it came; becomes diffused through time and space;’ – Chap 35

All the chapters on whales, their types, physiology, color achieve nothing in terms of creating a clear picture of the whale. All they highlight is how difficult it is to correctly assess the enormity and the significance of the species. But the pursuit goes on, or the lack of it, as we are made to dive into yet another attempt, and yet another chapter. For Ahab, it translates to defining the ultimate purpose of life, for what we ultimately desire is difficult to describe, it’s as unassailable as the task of achieving the goal. A perfect life, a flawless philosophy, a definitive theory of God, a meaning to the world, none of which can ever be clearly defined. All this makes you wonder, if in a way, we all spend the lifetime chasing our own great white whales.

But this is one of the many such thoughts that visit you during the course of reading the book. Melville gives more than just hints on the interpretative nature of the text. The religious topics come with biblical language and characters, philosophical ramblings employ natural phenomena and human nature, poetics are overtly presented, even in the most unpoetic of the contexts.

‘Other poets have warbled the praises of the soft eye of the antelope, and the lovely plumage of the bird that never alights; less celestial, I celebrate a tail.’ – Chap 86

‘The sky looks lacquered; clouds there are none; the horizon floats; and this nakedness of unrelieved radiance is as the insufferable splendors of God’s throne.’ – Chap 118

‘when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and, by their soft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude;’ – Chap 51

Now that I see the list of highlights and notes on my Kindle, I realize how leisurely I have gone about reading this book. Even reading the notes, one can see how Melville uses the alternative chapters on the materialistic topics, like whales, whaling and history, following it with chapters on human nature in the form of ruminations by the characters, expositions on morals, and rationality. Even intertwining the poetic prose with lacklustre; run on sentences describing the ordinary is striking. This book is full of analogies, the contrast between nature and the world juxtaposed with soul, and thoughts, is beautifully presented.

‘O Nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies; not the smallest atom stirs or lives on matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind.’ – Chap 70

The amount of research Melville must have done to write this book must be as lengthy as this book has turned out to be. He seems to be the type of author who goes deep into a subject, including its peripheries. The reason why he stopped where he did can only be due to the lack of available resources. But it is evident that he didn’t let any of it go waste, all the hours spent on research didn’t just participate in creating the backdrop of the story as sensible writers do. Instead, all of the research have been made part of the novel, and in a way that the reader starts seeing a purpose, and the relevance in the grand scheme of the novel. It is a rambling, but an unabashed and put-to-good-use kind of rambling that is unparalleled in other works of fiction that I have read.

‘God keep me from ever completing anything. This whole book is but a draught—nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!’ – Chap 32

Maybe there in lies it’s charm, maybe this is what kept me going on. In retrospect, it seems like madness to read this tedious, digressive, rambling of so many chapters, but it is a madness fueled by things a reader longs for, when reading a book. I still won’t recommend this book to anyone, but I am sure whoever reads it wouldn’t find it a waste of time and effort, at least not after the madness of reaching the end and killing your white whale of the never-ending book fades away. In retrospect, it was a strangely fulfilling experience.

‘rainbows do not visit the clear air; they only irradiate vapor. And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.’ – Chap 85


Links to posts during my ‘reading the Mody Dick’ days:

Lightning strikes in Moby Dick and South Carolina

Whale meat tastes like nationalism

Link to my review of ‘Wuthering Heights’:

Wuthering Heights


A Valentine’s day kiss

We the children
of the late mornings,
of dead nights
that never end,
our teachers and fathers
rendered helpless,
mothers have
given up mourning.
We imbibe the
ubiquitous digital droning
with honey and lemons,
of a delusional detox,
drinking teas that have
a sickening shade of green
or is it our eyes,
our thoughts, and reflections,
we might feel
everything is known,
even pain and ecstasy
all at our fingertips.
But a stray look at the sky,
at smiling faces,
the warmth of a few hugs
under the february sun,
and a few laughs,
reminds us that salvation
may indeed be found
in the simple things,
and there’s a reason
why ignorance is bliss
it all starts to make sense
after an unexpected
valentine’s day kiss.


Momentary lapses

The difference between poetry and prose is the same as that between love and making love.

You may read prose, and try to imagine, relive, identify yourself with the characters and the story. But when it comes to poetry, you just have let it take hold of you, to overwhelm your senses, transport you. It’s not always a pleasant feeling though, don’t we all like to be in charge, to make love instead of being in love.

Throughout the history of mankind, philosophy and science have been fighting this feeling, to break free and not be at the mercy of elements beyond comprehension. But what about the artist, or the lover, who live their lives wondering why the heart beats with an urgency, as if life is running out, and where does it want to go, it’s not the moon, or the stars or back to that bench by the lake.

You wonder and wonder, till the wee hours of the night only to realise you were really looking for that lost metaphor in the hundred lines of the beautiful verse. It’s always about a lost moment, when on the bench she paused between her beautiful laughs and gave you that meaningful look. You let it pass then, only to be haunted by it every other night. Why do these moment lasts forever.

You can’t sleep, and you know you have to take control of the situation. Life is no poetry. The story must go on, to the next chapter, and many such moments which you would let go unnoticed. This one was not so unique. You were never in love. You seem convinced, if only because you know without this hope you would never wake up from these momentary lapses, the ones that won’t let you read more prose.

Fun, Poetry

Love, love, love

Let’s love three times baby!
Yeah love, love, love!
Lets do it till I am done, oh yeah
Love, love, love!
Three times and you feel
like a fat ol dove.
Oh don’t look at me that way,
I am not talking about world peace.
Though I dont mind discussing now,
the world, over a cigarette,
but it’s a friday tomorrow
and it’s probably getting late.
Untie the knots, handcuffs and the leash,
don’t look at me that way my wet fish,
don’t tell me you want more,
for more than three is always a crime.
A fourth they say makes you a sexist,
sickos worse than those love supremists!
Well we could get a third person next time,
even the dirty sounds good in third person.
Love, love, love, one for each,
if that’s what you need, maybe I do too,
everything is good when it’s more than two.

Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest #57!

Fiction, Fun

Stage-shy bloggers get no likes

The crowd is slowly building up. Looking at the size of the hall, you realise that this is bigger than what you were told. Even the walls have soundproofing, and the stage a little too lit up. Limelight is always bright light, you tell yourself. There’s just one aspect of the whole scene that you are not surprised about, the large number of women. Do all of them write, you wonder, looking at how decked up they are, and how clueless they look, or maybe it’s just you. But of course you are clueless, you have always been. You shake off the women and get back to assessing the stage. It seems to be wincing under the light, like you would do if you were to stand there and speak. The thought itself makes you queasy, and you would have winced too if it wasn’t for the soothing, calming sight of the woman walking on it, the only person in the whole arena that seems to have a purpose in there.

You snap back from watching her because someone has asked you a question, you stare at the enquirer for some time till he gives up. Your thoughts are back on the stage. Public speaking is as terrifying as speaking to the woman who you have been ogling openly for the last ten mins, more so when you find that she is one of the organizers and to add to your woes, she puts on specs with one of those chic looking frames and looks very similar to the one who occupies your fantasies lately. But the dream is broken, slowly, as you realise that she is indeed walking towards you, and not in slow motion. You try to act cool and look past her only to find the stage staring back at you, mocking you maybe. This was always a bad idea, there is a reason why they say you shouldn’t listen to friends, especially the ones who act like they are your well wishers.

So what do you do now. Your mind takes pace throwing the usual ideas at you – running away, acting as if you are someone else, or just being yourself, that is dumbstruck, all seem to be wise choices. Stepping down and chickening out are things that have been berated throughout history, but not because of the fact that lack of courage is looked down upon, but because these acts of disgrace deprived people of entertainment. There is self humiliation and there is public humiliation, but today you decide to take the chances with bespectacled humiliation. After all no one would know, and it will be yet another failed attempt involving you and a female with an overtly intellectual disposition.

The conversation is surprisingly smooth, but circles back to why you won’t go on the stage, after all you had enrolled yourself. It is not a bad idea to start tonight, she says, given that your writing is better than others, definitely better than the rest of the speakers tonight. You discover that she really loves your writing, and she has no qualms in admitting that with a coy smile. Maybe she does that with everyone, but one doesn’t get the opportunity to be gullible to someone beautiful very often. You feel all pumped up. You start believing that it might not be a bad idea after all. She tells you things like how success these days demands things beyond writing, it’s your appearance, presentation, oratory skills, and you agree, mostly because you lose the thread everytime the strand of hair falls on her face and she swipes it out. From the way she has tied her hair, it’s evident this strand was left out for the purpose it is serving now.

You end up saying yes. She ticks off your name in the list and walks away with a winning smile. You watch her walking away, and how mesmerizingly non-intellectual she looks from this side. You would have continued watching if your senses were not assaulted by something sensually strong, flowery, yet strangely spicy smell that you wouldn’t forget for a long while. It feels like you have had a bite of a forbidden smell and it has gotten stuck in your throat. The woman wearing a saree who has passed by leaving this overwhelming trail walks up to the stage and starts introducing herself to a big applause. You don’t know her but you clap with limp hands so as to blend in as you are feeling a little out of place. The feeling grows when she starts reading her poetry, with elaborate gestures, the next speaker talks about how the surreal themes are exploited these days to produce absolute nonsense. He then proceeds to read one of his own, thus proving his point.

After three more, you feel uneasy and not just out of place, but out of the times these people are living in. The recurring subject of pain seeps into you in the form of a headache. You search for coffee, your bespectacled beauty, or even the woman in saree only to make sure she doesn’t come anywhere near. The current speaker talks in a droning voice, as if her mind is elsewhere, maybe she has been assaulted by perfumes too, maybe she is surreal. You realise your thoughts are losing shape, and then someone at the back starts coughing. As if on cue, someone on my left joins in with a tentative cough, there’s someone clearing her throat now, it seems to be spreading, and people get restless thanks to all the coronavirus news and related whatsapp forwards. The guy sitting in front gets up and leaves, and you follow him, all the way out of the auditorium.

The filter coffee and the smoke feeds your ailing soul, like raindrops on a toad. You take your time relishing the rejuvenation. But then you realise it’s getting late and your turn to speak must be drawing close, but so is the dusk. You choose to appreciate the evening sky for a while, not because you are feeling poetic, but you are back in your senses and scared of the stage all over again.

The woman in specs is frowning at you when you go to find out, you have missed your slot she says in a voice mixed with accusation and sadness. Your heart melts. She called your name five times, she says, and you can’t help rejoicing that your name was announced five times among budding writers and such a big crowd. She sees your face, and probably the celebration going on beyond the face and walks away. You feel sorry for her, for yourself, and for your heart that’s broken because of her exit, but wait it just melted and is probably still liquid. You reassure yourself on the heart front and remember that you have forgotten to ask for her number, like you planned over the coffee. But she is walking away and you don’t want to stop her, because you would rather watch her walk away.


The old tree

I pause everyday when I pass by the old tree, with shedding bark and roots bulging out of the hard soil, and reaching almost to the edge of the road. It somehow makes me wonder that somewhere, in this whole wide world, or probably in my mind there lies a undeterred clarity that I seek. A phophetic, disturbing clarity that will anhiliate everything, not just my doubts, or my concerns, and probably everything I think I am.

But the same mind mocks at the tree, and any such notion of a universal, absolute truth. With its various appendages borne out of conceit and an arrogance of wisdom, the mind uses its tools like imagination, ego, acumen, enabling us means to break free and to soar high in the sky beyond our mere existence.

If there is anything that acts as a check and keeps us down to earth, it is our past. The past that forms the roots of the tree that we are with all the branching persona, the manifestations of self that we have experienced. To get rid of the past, of all the conditioning that the world has brought unto us therefore feels like liberation.

But isn’t liberation just another form of condemnation, once liberated are we not condemned to become the masters of our fate, relinquishing the cushions of faith and destiny, and forfeiting the sympathies of the social norms. All these safeguards are there for a purpose, and used as excuses by the rational men, though deep down we all know it is a small price to pay to get that high, of breaking free.

But as I go further on that road, shedding the inhibitions, unchained and untethered, and as I come out of the shackles, I realise how I resemble an uprooted tree, standing exposed, bent and broken as the present ticks away and the shadow of helplessness obstructs the future. I know it’s not the right way, acceptance is the first step to shunning, the old tree seems to be telling me.

‘But what would you achieve standing erect like the old tree, without any seeming purpose, facing the winds and braving the storms’, they ask.

I attempt to answer, if only to myself, but all that comes to me at such times is my past. The anguish of living in an unfair world instills a scorn for everything, if not hatred. But I have been no different, it tells me. That sweet taste of freedom which lingered momentarily on the tip of my tongue everytime came at the cost of bitter memories. These victories and failures, by which I assess my existence remain etched at the back of the mind, choking me everytime I stand in front of the sad, stolid tree, standing undeterred by anything that happens around.

If only it had a conscience, I say and walk away.