Saturday, October 28, 2006

With the lights out...she's less dangerous

Note: 1) The first half of the post was written pre-Diwali, the rest I wrote today.
2) I don't smoke.

There are many things I’ve been wanting to write about for some time, and seeing that I can’t find the energy or the time to do that, I will have to content myself with writing a lot of small posts about a range of things that trouble/intrigue me.

This would be a lot easier if people didn’t keep buzzing with stupid “Happy Diwali” mass greetings. I appreciate the sentiment as much as the next guy but “Happy Diwali” spam is rather pointless. Everyone gets so many of these that no one remembers who wished them and who didn’t, so the sentiment, my spammer friends, is sadly wasted on me. However, it takes no extra effort to send a mail to a thousand people instead of a couple, so I see your point too. I was just talking to someone and was asked what gave rise to “Happy Diwali”. I think it might have something to do with “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year” – these must have been the only greetings in English early translators of indigenous greetings could model English versions of vernacular greetings on. So instead of wishing each other an “Auspicious Diwali” we wish everyone happiness and mirth, which is okay too.

One of the things I wanted to write about, and which I now will proceed to, is my liking for darkness. Or, my dislike for the well-lit. My own room is almost always dark except for the single weak source of light from my table lamp. Since I have limited plug points and only one of the lamp or the mosquito repellent can draw power at a time, I often have to work in complete darkness except for the light from the computer screen. I invariably watch movies with all lights out, which is also why I enjoy watching movies a lot more at night than in the day when my white curtains can’t keep all light out. I choose dark corners in the canteen, never mind that I can’t see my food very well. I fantasize about smoking in my dark room and watching the glowing tip in the mirror come alive and advance when I take a drag.

Smoking, by the way, is a totally night thing. It’s harmful and will cause you to die sooner but I can understand why people who understand the sheer beauty of the smoke, smoke. Unlike alcohol, the other vice that it must immediately be compared to, a cigarette is alive, animate. Alcohol gives you a high, sure, but it’s just fluid that’s sometimes nice to look at in a glass that is sometimes nice to look at and hold. You can swill it, observe the sparkle and play of light and smell it, but ultimately you can’t do much more than drink it up and wait for the time when you’ll be saying things first and understanding them later. Drinking is not a process that you can observe or participate in like you can with smoking.

When people sit together and drink they have a lot of fun and their interaction is lubricated by the alcohol. But ultimately, every one of the group has her (*) own drink. The drinks don’t become one in the way smoke from every individual glowing tip rises and mingles and rises some more and disappears. People can bond over smoking the way they never can over drinks. No one shares drinks, and a smoke is nearly always shared. Not only does it make economic sense to share a cigarette, it also leads to a tremendous sense of shared peace and contentment. No wonder the Indians smoked peace pipes after burying their tomahawks. The real Indians too smoked hukkas to relax and sharing hukkas perhaps fostered a spirit of companionship. Of course, Indians look at smoking from a very different perspective if language is any indication. The Hindi verb for ‘to smoke’ is in fact ‘to drink’. In other words, we not only drink our drinks, we also drink our cigarettes.

Which reminds me of a rather literal example of ‘drinking’ a smoke. A friend of mine and a regular and satisfied smoker (he knows he may die early and he likes that, so there go your class action suits) was on his last cigarette in Goa and it didn’t look likely that he would find another any time soon. He had a bottle of mineral water with him and he came up with a novel idea to preserve his supply of nicotine. He started exhaling in the bottle and shook the water so that the smoke mixed well and finally when his cigarette was spent he had a bottle of nicotinized water that he kept swilling for the rest of the trip back to civilization and cigarettes. Passive smoking obviously works.

* “every one of the group has her own drink” – This is a good example of a recent phenomenon I’m sure you’ve noticed in newspapers, magazines and perhaps books as well. Five years earlier, I’d have written ‘his own drink’ without a thought, or perhaps ‘his/her own drink’ but now it’s ‘her’ and not ‘his’. These days, when a pronoun has to be used to indicate a general person from a group, it’s the female pronoun.
This is of course a conscious effort to make up for the automatic assumption for centuries that we’ve all been guilty of making that all anonymous people were male. We went through a brief period of giving assorted anons of the world the option to choose their sex, by using ‘he/she’ or ‘his/her’ but this was awkward and ugly. English has never taken to the idea of making unknown people sexless by using ‘it’ and ‘its’ unlike several other languages. I suppose ‘she’ is just as good as ‘he’ and women do have a point when they take offence to everyone being male by default. Why shouldn’t the burden of proof shift to the men of the world?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I think I should
And I would if I could
But I can't so I won't
But I should try
Because if I don't
I'll never know if I could have
Done what I should have
But didn't try
And therefore never could decide
Whether I chose correctly
In not doing what I didn't

Note: I think a couple of lines in this poem might have grammatical errors, I'd be glad if you could point those out. Grammar's a slippery friend.

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