Wasting one’s life

One tries to make sense of life either when one is very young or when one is very old. Being neither an adolescent nor a geriatric, I do not really qualify. But I do tend to think about Life at times, the one with the capital ‘L’. Don’t you?

Why are we called human beings, for example? Why the humble & lowly present participle? There are human has-beens, of course, which is present perfect though the individuals in question were far from ‘perfect’ even in the past. Then there are the would-be humans, that’s future conjunctive – just watch the hooligans at the next Euro football championships and you’ll know that evolution is far from complete. And what about the (gramatically) imperfect ‘used-to-be-humans’? I could name any number of polticians past & present who’d fit into that category. All in all, except in the narrow biological/anthropological sense, shouldn’t most of us be called human becomings instead of human beings?

It seems to me that just as the child grows into an adult, the human becoming has the possibility of metamorphosing into a human being – but only the possibility, not a guarantee. Most of us remain half-hatched & half-baked. God’s poultry or pottery will have to close down one of these millennia if it goes on like this.

Okay, so we know that waste is a principle of Nature. I was standing with a forester friend of mine among fifty metre tall beech trees in a grove on one of the slopes of Siebengebirge, the Seven Hills of Bonn. The forest floor was littered with fallen leaves and tiny seedlings, each with a stem and a pair of leaves. Some of those seedlings were already in the process of turning into saplings. My forester friend asked me if I knew what kind of plants they were, which I did not. Those seedlings were all children of the mighty beech trees whose smooth, elephantine trunks rose like waterspouts all around us – my friend said, cocking his hat. Each of those seedlings carried the potential of turning into a majestic arboreal monolith, given a hundred years or so. As for the rest of the seedlings, they’d go waste, or most of them. The rest would make up the beech grove of the future.

I once saw a whole bunch of apple-cheeked tiny tots spilling out of a kindergarten and thought, there goes the humankind of the future. I greet every baby in a pram as a future taxpayer and hence a future contributor to my pension fund. That baby is my future reader as well as Shakespeare’s. Without that baby or such babies Michelangelo’s David is an oblong, funnily carved piece of stone with nobody to look at it.

Waste? I’m absolutely convinced that unless there are millions of us trying to paint and failing miserably, you do not get a Monet or a van Gogh. Do we really want to know how many John Lennons and Paul McCartneys ended up as garbage collectors in the Liverpool of the ’sixties? Genius is like a human lottery, a human jackpot, with the whole of the human race as the winner. Think of the number of suckers who go empty for someone to win the lottery. And yet there wouldn’t be any lottery winners without us suckers. In every race and every competition, think of the number of losers for that one winner – and I say ‘one’ advisedly. I was the runner-up, a pretty girl told me once, while marrying a handsome friend of mine.

So have I wasted my time, worse, have I wasted my life in trying to – ahem – ‘write’? It was Bulwer-Lytton of The Last Days of Pompeii fame who coined the phrase The Great Unwashed for the lower classes. I belong to The Great Unpublished of the lower middle classes. There’s millions of us ‘writers becoming’, would-be writers, striving like those beech seedlings for their bit of space, air & sunlight.

Until Time with a capital ‘T’ relegates us to that very special limbo reserved for writers who-have-never-been.

Have we never really been? I seem to remember amateur singers pumping away at their harmonia and trying to sing Tagore songs who’d have made Tagore wish he had stuck to writing poetry. I have known poetasters whose rhymes can cause nausea as well as vomiting, though there’s no statutory warning on the back flap. I know painters I wouldn’t trust to do the bathroom door. Yet all of us are convinced that we are creative, that we are doing good work, even great work.

And then I met the Almighty and was about to congratulate Him on Creation when He said: ‘I botched it up so badly that the debris is still flying around after 14 billion years. But there’s this little planet that I made, a perfect little thing with fire inside and water outside, and a bit of green as well, with everything from ants to featherless bipeds crawling around on it – this was after somebody threw a meteor and broke all my dinosaurs. It’s still a cosy little nook compared to the mayhem that’s going on in the rest of the universe, that’s why I call it…’

‘Tell me some other time,’ I excused myself. The Almighty might have all Eternity, I didn’t.

‘Or you can read about it in my –’

‘Book?’

‘No, in my blog, I was going to say.’

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Blogging is…

… as much an activity as it is inactivity. Blogs have no gist or substance. Blogs are pure style. Blogs are a fashion statement. Clear as mud?

Before anybody pipes up and complains that the fellow doesn’t even know the difference between a blog and a post, I do know that a blog consists of individual posts but I simply cannot reconcile myself to the idea of asking the unwary to look up my last post, which would be the b flat bugle call for the British infantry or the e flat trumpet call for the British cavalry, we ex-colonials know such things, don’t ask me how or why.

The kind of blog I write begins with a mood rather than a subject or a theme. It’s like music, really, the theme develops as you go along. It’s like going for a walk in a strange city, roughly in the direction of that funny sort of park or that crazy sort of building; what you see on the way is the real attraction & the real gain. You might even be going round in circles, so long as you are amusing yourself. And others. We meander to wonder & muse to amuse.

Otherwise bloggers & their readers are not very close. Rather like chance acquaintances who got to talking (at least one of them) on a train (rather than on a cruise ship, at a bus stop neither). The reader – like as not a chance reader who was googling something entirely different like Sex – takes the blogger for a crank or a nut, even a streaker, what’s this guy doing tearing his passions to tatters in public? Doesn’t the (blanked out obscenity) know that nobody reads a blog, or rather a post till the end, that most of them are just checking to see what kind of a wack you might be & whether you write better than them & whether you are funnier than them & the rest?

I blog the way one goes out for a walk and picks a posy for – well, a girl I used to know. In music, the notes come to the musician like little birds. In poetry, the words come like little birds and take their self-appointed place in the line of verse. In blogging, the thoughts do the same. It’s all a great coming and going of thoughts of the same feather & of different feathers & even borrowed feathers – a very lively scene. And then suddenly the calls of the words cease, everything falls silent, there is somnolence and the blog hardly stirs, but the meaning of it all dances like a mote in a sunbeam. Your blog has arrived, it has completed the four stages of its holometabolism, from embryo to larva to pupa to imago. Pupa is Latin for doll. The pupae of butterflies are called chrysalis whereas the pupae of mosquitoes are called tumbler – all the mad poetry of chance knowledge which is the modern world for me; it is also the world of blogging. Blogging is like scavenging the land fills of human knowledge & human experience. It is the recycling of all that is utilizable in human thought. Bloggers are the ultimate ragpickers of human existence, of human civilisation in the 21st c. Historians of the future will be turning to us for an explanation regarding how Donald Trump won the American presidency. “Cuz you weren’t lookin’,” we’re gonna say.

Otherwise I’m not a political blogger. I’m a literary, even a lyrical blogger, I’d like to claim (though no insurer is going to underwrite that claim). Blogging is my way of writing poetry without anybody noticing it; it’s like graffiti. I remember they’d just built the new Wallraf-Richartz museum near the Cologne cathedral and I’d gone to the toilet, which was dazzlingly new & modern & white, except that in one of the cubicles somebody had scribbled with a marker: “A museum of modern art without graffiti?” That is blogging for me. Blogging is like the scavenging peacocks of Gonda, Uttar Pradesh, India (back in the late ’seventies), birds looking like stolen bits of semiprecious inlay work from the Taj Mahal scraping garbage heaps for worms with their feet. That again is blogging. Watching it rain all day long in the Kolkata of my childhood. Hanging around the Ballygunge Railway Station level crossing watching the signals hang their heads. And much later in Europe, everythng packed and all ready to go for the holidays, the two big suitcases & the bag can go into the boot but where does the rest of the stuff go? Kasia is asking belligerently.

Into the blog, perhaps? I venture timidly.

The blog & the book

The first thing they tell you when you’re thinking of starting a blog of your own is – “Don’t!” Reminds me of that sign on the wall behind a fire hydrant in downtown Ottawa: ‘Don’t even think of parking here!’ And then they tell you to go and check up on other blogs, find out what other bloggers are doing – and thinking.

Because blogging is basically a social & a communal activity – like football. You can be Ronaldo or Messi but you’ve got to play by the rules. Blogging says we are all about as clever or unclever, as educated or uneducated, as biased or unbiased, as prejudiced or unprejudiced as the rest – of us.

Communal, not individual. Blogging is like a football game with one player scoring own goals both ways while the stands are packed with fifty thousand referees – if you’re lucky! ‘Foul!’ we all cry and Macbeth trembles in his grave.

The unwary blogger will find out soon enough what the price is for being – different. You can be vulgar and kinky and outrageous but not – different. A community is based on common principles, shared beliefs, shared emotions and sentiments. There can be two communities bashing each other’s heads in – I won’t go into that, but think of religion! But be different and you’re open game for both sides, for all sides. It’s that fundamental, almost Newtonian opposition between the herd instinct and the nerd instinct. The days when the herd used to applaud the nerd are over (except for The Big Bang Theory). These days, the herd tends to go on a stampede and trample down any & every form of intelligent life when they are dissatisfied or angry. But why are they so angry?

Little things, like not having enough photographs on your page, or not changing them as often as you’d change your underwear. What about video material with that triangular click button in the middle? All you need is the video function on your smartphone, what’s that for, d’you think? How can you invite people to your party – or to your blog – and not have enough to eat and to drink, to watch and to hear (all the audio-video, multimedia stuff), generally have fun, in short? Not going to lecture people on an empty stomach, are you? Give them some belly laughs, at least, be a stand-up comedian or his gag-writer. If nothing else, hain’t you got a grumpy cat? A surfin’ rat? A roller-skatin’ dog? All those critters are better’n youse, even if we’re talking YouTube now. You’re still a lousy blogger.

Writing a book is of course a very private affair, mainly because you can’t afford to talk about the Work in Progress to anybody. So you walk around mentally pregnant and smiling like Mona Lisa (latest theory of the Gioconda smile: she was thinking fifty shades of grey). While people wonder what’s wrong with you.

Writing a book is like Antoni Gaudi working on his Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (couldn’t even finish that one, poor fellow, they’re doing it for him now); it’s like Michelangelo working on his Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. It requires time, grit, vision and infinite patience. Writing a book is like a love affair whereas a blog is like a one night stand – and more fun at times, some people claim.

Writing a book is like building a palace or a bridge; takes mindlessly long to complete – and even longer to be satisfied with. Let me give another example: ever written a love letter to your girlfriend? Haven’t written a letter in your life? Just sent mails & messages or called? Even better. Now think of writing two hundred and fifty love letters to your girlfriend, all sequential and inter-connected and non-repetitive and with a story-line to boot – only that you can’t send the love letters one by one to your girlfriend; she – and you – have to wait till the whole bunch is finished, paginated, printed and bound, finally published – that’s when you can give it to her, while putting it up for sale at every bookshop and every newsstand in the vicinity. The whole world – including your girlfriend – is reading that open love letter of yours – to life and to living – and either laughing, or being reflective, or sad.

Or is a blog just that first act of love which sets the whole process in motion? I hope it is.

A nauthor

Who am I writing for? The question was put to me years ago by a very good friend of mine who lives in London and amuses himself in his spare time by acting as a reader for various publishing houses as well as for aspiring authors – mainly by way of telling them, ‘This won’t work’. Despite the fact that this is not his main occupation or preocupation, he wet-nursed an international bestseller to fame in the nineties.

In other words, his judgement is as acute as it is astute and his chance remarks have always had this annoying habit of following me around like the hound of heaven and howling like a banshee in my dreams. Such as that million dollar question: ‘Who do you write for?’ It was on the phone, and he might well have said ‘whom’, which will roughly indicate just how long ago this conv. must have taken place. I’d written three novels by then and intrepid as my friend is, he had been kind enough to look through at least two of them. Decency demands that his comments remain as unpublished as the novels in question.

My friend was a bit doubtful about my English too. You see, my English is like Oberon’s Indian fairy-child deserted in the ur-forests of Germania and raised by wolves which have strayed across the border from Poland or the Czech Republic. This has resulted in my English fermenting into a very special kind of brew which few can imbibe and even fewer recognise as one of the more exotic flavours of their beloved lingua franca. Further, my English being practically self-taught, there are large gaps in it, call them blind spots. To give you but one example: I have a penchant for such tantalising words as ‘demotic’ which crop up in connection with Eco’s The Name of the Rose, for example. I check the meaning every time and conveniently forget it after use, so that I have to google the damn thing all over again the next time I’m thinking of using it. Demotic, for instance: does that refer to simplified ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs or to a form of Modern Greek? And it’s not me who’s doing the bullshitting, believe me.

Okay, so it’s Google and not the O.E.D., is it, even for somebody like me who ‘belongs to an older semester’ (which is the polite German way of putting it)? The answer is yes – I confess shamefacedly. These days, one outsources one’s memory to Google/Wikipedia and most people are unperturbed by the fact that their phones are probably smarter than them. It’s a comfortable situation, really: your head is in a Cloud, the rest of you walking the earth like a zombie.

I have not always been this modern, remember. There were the times when everybody else was running around with an iPhone and I was telling them that I was the only person carrying a uPhone – what’s that? They wanted to know. It means that I’m not going to call you, you’d better call me. Not I phone but you phone, that’s uPhone, in pidgin, I told them. You know the problem with a uPhone? It never rings.

And now I’m going to give away a business idea which will probably be snapped up by Apple: I’ve been thinking of a smartphone which will be an electric shaver as well so that you can switch over to the shave function when the conversation gets boring. The phone will be as loud as it will be sensitive so that the ladies can use it without interrupting either their chat or the depilation.

Thank God all that is behind me now and this is just a blog – I love that ‘just a blog’ demurral – so my reply will be ‘Dunno!’ every time you ask who I am writing for. The Germans call it Narrenfreiheit, fool’s liberty, meaning of course the Fool or the court jester of medieval times, like the one in Shakespeare who used to call King Lear ‘nuncle’.

Now there’s a funny word. I’d always taken it to be Shakespeare’s, until I googled it and discovered that it’s only the archaic or dialectal form of ‘uncle’, risen apparently through the rebracketing of phrases such as ‘an uncle’, ‘mine uncle’, ‘thine uncle’ and so on. Dunno about my phone, but Google is certainly smarter than me, at times.

Though I still like to think that nuncle is the negation of uncle, it’s like fooling Uncle, nuncling him, nuncling the nuncle, if you know what I mean. You don’t? Let’s go back to the Wiktionary: nuncling means to cheat or to deceive. Perhaps also to deride?

Well, if Lear can be a nuncle, I can be a nauthor too. Yes, that’s what I’ll be, that’s what I’d like to call myself, rebracketed and transposed, not an author, but a nauthor. Any objections?

The cricket of blogging

If blogging were a game – as it probably is – I’d compare it to cricket, more specifically to batting. Think of the stance, which is supposed to be relaxed and balanced and comfortable – though naturally you can make it much more open and aggressive à la Sachin Tendulkar, the Little Master.

Then there are the strokes: the block or the forward defensive as well as the backward defensive; the glance and the drive; the cut, the pull and the hook, not to forget the sweep. I won’t even talk about the more unorthodox ones like the slog, the switch and the scoop. But all these strokes have a defensive or an offensive purpose: you’re either trying to save your wicket or you’re trying to score runs.

I’ve always found cricket to be colonial because the batsman – or the two batsmen on the crease – get much too much attention and have a ball of a time while for the rest of the players, life is anything but a ball game – well, they have to throw the ball first so that the batsman can hit it; and then they have to run after the ball and go and get it like the ruddy ball boy in tennis, if not like the bally dog on the doggie playground. I used to dream of a wildcat strike by the fielders, all standing around with their arms akimbo, telling the batsmen to go and get their own balls. Who do they think they are? The sahib and the memsahib? Et cetera.

Otherwise blogging is about style too, like cricket. Blogging, like cricket, is not a body contact game – you’ve got football for that, and politics. Blogging, like cricket, is a leisurely activity – remember what NY’s mayor Rudy Giuliani said when they went to him asking for a cricket field? ‘Oh, that game where you can watch the grass grow?’ Giuliani is supposed to have said. That’s when the IPL decided to get those American cheerleaders to pep things up.

Clever as you are, you must have noticed that blogging can’t be like cricket at least on one count: you can’t play cricket alone, you need a bowler as well as a batsman – whereas the blogger fields and keeps the wicket as well. The only thing the blogger cannot do is the umpiring. He publishes his post and days afterwards, a troll cries “Howzat?” upon which the umpire unfriends him and the spectators unfollow him. The blogger is suddenly the loneliest cricketer in the world, standing on the deserted pitch in the failing light, surrounded by empty stands.

What does the blogger do in that kind of a situation? I’ll tell you. He suddenly catches a glimpse of his prolonged shadow on the green grass, his head practically touching the stadium roof… he swings his bat experimentally and it turns out to be a gargantuan, epic sweep from stand to stand, shadow to shadow… he takes his stance all over again and tries out his favourite shot, the square cut, not like Rahul Dravid but like the blogger’s very own compatriot Sourav Chandidas Ganguly – and the sun goes over the horizon for a clean six in the eternal one-day cricket of the gods.

When Sachin Tendulkar the Little Master was little, he was practising his stance in front of the mirror – might even have been his famous straight drive or the equally famous leg glance. That’s when they asked him: ‘Sachin, what are you doing? Watch out! Don’t break the mirror!’

Little did they know that Sachin would be breaking records, not mirrors, in the future.

‘Isn’t that bat a size too large for you?’ they kidded.

‘You just watch. I might be a blogger today, but I’m going to be a novelist someday,’ Sachin threatened.

Well, as we all know, Sachin batted and bowled right-handed but writes with his left hand!

It’s what the blogger does too, in case you haven’t noticed.

Love & Sex

I’m learning how to give catchy titles and keywords, see? Just imagine: you walk up to a desultory group of completely unindividuated men and women making small talk at a party, and ask them what they’re talking about and one of the ladies looks at you archly and says – love & sex. Bet you won’t walk away!

Funny thing is that if she’d said ‘Love’, or one of the men had said ‘Sex’ – with a grin – you’d have taken it for a joke and walked away. So my lesson is, your lesson is, if you want to get the attention of the women as well as of the men, never talk about the one or the other – love and sex, I mean – but about both – love and sex, I mean – see how clever I am? See how fast I learn? You’ve got to repeat the keywords as many times as possible – love & sex e.g. But that brings me to another thought.

Love and sex, men and women, Venus and Mars, women give sex for love, men give love for sex – that’s when I thought, why don’t we divide the world up into two countries, one for the men and the other for the women, with proper trade and diplomatic relations? The currency of the women’s country would be Love, a ‘soft’ currency. The currency of the men’s country would be Sex, a hard currency approved by the World Bank and the International Amatory Fund and trading well from New York to Shanghai.

The problem will be that men hold all the reserves of Love that the women want and vice versa – it’s as if the currencies had got mixed up in some way. So the only way to fix the problem is this slow transfer which has been taking place for ages, men have been exchanging Love for Sex and women have been exchanging Sex for Love, for centuries…

The joke is that Sex is found in abundance in the women’s country whereas Love is a rare commodity in the men’s country. So the men have always been getting more Sex for Love and the exchange rate has been getting worse and worse as the centuries roll by.

‘How much Sex do I get for my Love?’ the typical – male – question at the border. ‘What’s the exchange rate today?’

‘It’s a great day for poets,’ the dealer said. ‘They’re exchanging sex only for poetry today, just words, can you imagine?’

Yes, but keywords, I felt.

The very first blogger

The very first blogger was Love.

I mean that first love letter I wrote at the age of seventeen or eighteen to – we’ll let that be – in chinese ink, for God’s sake, with a sketch at the end of it like the illustrations to begin and close the chapters in an old Mitra & Ghosh publication. What did I think I was doing? Creating epistolary literature and ‘illuminating’ my manuscripts both at the same time? The lover and the poet? The poet and a novice monk out of Umberto Eco?

There used to be a large dose of asceticism as well as aestheticism in those analogue blog letters of mine, or should I say ours? After all, I’m talking about My Generation, about to disappear from view as if on a revolving stage. We were prudish too, hence no overt sexual allusions or innuendos in our letters. And yet sex used to rise like sap in those innocent scribblings. It was like W.B. Yeats the Irish poet going into the woods and crying out loud to get rid of his sexual frustration – as an adolescent. Same fellow would be writing the Crazy Jane poems later.

I couldn’t talk about what I really felt, in my very first love letter, so I talked about everything else – the parah or the block that we lived in, the city of which our parah was an insignificant part and I don’t remember what else. But I discovered the blog in the process, long before anybody had ever seen or heard of a PC – at least in Kolkata.

A blog is an oblique, crab’s way of approaching things. You watch a blog move and you’ll realise how naturally the thought runs this way and that, over this and under that, seems to go nowhere and then in circles – and still manages to do and to get what it wants, which can be food or sex or poetry. Blogs are insect life among the grass roots under the fallen leaves. Blogs are the biomass making up twelve percent of world literature.

Two of my girlfriends from the days when Muhammad Ali used to be Cassius Clay are still holding on to my first blogs, which they believe are love letters – as if every book were a love letter to the person named in the dedication.

In our days, love letters were the young man’s and the young woman’s first brush with literature – nothing adventurous like Hemingway going out and shooting greater kudu in Africa; maybe just that glimpse of the tiger in the reserve forest, of the lion in the game park, of literature in all her majesty yawning at the games that people play. Huh, Cassius Clay!

All literature is written as if a young girl were listening to it – like someone reading out Goethe’s Wahlverwandtschaften lying on a scented meadow in Falkau-Altglashütten in the Black Forest, while the girl chews absently on a grass stalk, otherwise stares dreamily at the silver fox farm on the opposite slope. Is she listening? And who cares whether Goethe wrote the stuff or I did?

All literature is narcissism – and that pond, that pool of water in which the poor fool saw his own reflection and fell in love with it, is the face of a young girl, a young woman, reading her first love letter – or what she thinks is the first love letter written to her, specifically to her. Let’s go back to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, if anybody still knows who the bugger is, or was.

Narcissus, totally in love with himself, was walking in the woods when Echo, an Oread or a mountain nymph, fell in love with him. Narcissus could sense he was being followed, so he cried: “Who’s there?” Echo only dared to echo back: “Who’s there?” When Echo finally told Narcissus that she was in love with him, Narcissus naturally told her to eff off – which left Echo heartbroken. She spent the rest of her days in lonely glens echoing her own sentiments and ours, I believe, in the process.

A blog is the echo that remains of all the unrequited love – for a girl, for a man, or even for art and literature –that life is made of and that we all carry in our hearts.