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A Letter to Arundhati Roy

Dear Arundhati,

I couldn’t get through your first book because I was too young when I picked it up and your English was too you. They don’t teach that kind of grammar even in English-medium schools. They didn’t even tell me ‘English-Medium’ meant that the medium of instruction was English. For many years I harboured a deep, unspoken irritation that my parents didn’t bother to send me to an English-Large or English-Extra Large school. Why Medium? Is there is a test I can take? I will take it, I swear. I will ACE it. Just let me.

Anyway. I’ve read several of your essays now. And interviews, etc. I’m writing to request you take a few minutes to give some advice to a young writer who is at best feeling lost and at worst has become lost.

I’ve only really had two struggles in my life till now. School was a breeze. I always won all the competitions. I was obedient. I managed to cultivate Reading as a hobby. (I’ve picked up the capitalizations from you, I hope you don’t mind. And the parentheses also. Flattery? No – arrey I happen to write like this too, I’ll send you my plays as proof!) I found two incredible girlfriends. The second one is now my wife. We’re happy, as far as it is possible to be happy in the grotesque world you so mercilessly keep reminding us of.

So eventually the struggles have simply been struggles of two great migrations. I moved to Singapore from Delhi when I was 15. Then I moved to Mumbai when I was 24. Both moves were traumatic and exhilarating in their own identity-defining ways. But I’m telling you this because both moves prompted me to write my two plays.

The first – The Good, the Bad and the Sholay – we staged in Singapore, and I had my own sudden and unexpected moment in the sun just like you did with God of Small Things. I mean, honestly, nowhere near the same scale, but it felt huge at the time.  Still does, on floody Mumbai days. Felt also like now only death will end my story. My solace was a little speech that Elizabeth Gilbert gave on TED – she said don’t worry you’ll write even better things, so I believed her.

The second play – A Fistful of Rupees – (I know, I know, I’m sorry about the names! I was particularly tired that evening, and after that it was too late) we’re now staging in Mumbai and around. The play is a small eyebrow-raise to the people who profess to love Mumbai (and India). My move back here from Singapore was difficult only for this reason. All the people I talked to told me glorious tales of golden, sagging clouds like giant ball sacs from which wealth rained like non-stop spunk into the laps of the talented, skillful population, just as long as they kept working it long enough. In fact, Mumbai is a shithole like no other. I’m sure you know. From Antilla to Dharavi on the economic spectrum, there is no respite here for anyone. No one is happy. No one has the time for that beauty you keep saying exists. Writing the play was my only reprieve. I wrote it angry, directed it slightly less so, and am now touring it like I was never angry in the first place. So I guess it helped.

There’s a tremendous energy in Mumbai though, egging you onwards towards ‘success’. There is a definition of it lurking in the rat-infested shadows here, but I never seem to be able to completely see it, just like the rats. The second play was runner-up in the Sultan Padamsee Playwriting Awards, so that felt like success, but it wasn’t, really, in Mumbai’s eyes. Success looks closer to directing a Salman Khan or Shahrukh Khan in a multi-crore super-duper extravaganza hit-blockbuster type thing. But you know, with heart, not just aiweyin. With substance also. Both things. Commercial, but with heart. Thoda thoda everything. That’s the Bollywood genre, na? Full Thali, with dessert also. Must have a happy ending, just like those famous Bangkok massages.

It’s an odd situation now, in my brain. There is a roof over my head, but there isn’t much money in the bank. My moral and academic life is vibrant, I think. I’m reading your new book, for example. I’m learning to read Urdu. I’m writing a lot (though what I write isn’t what I want to write too much of the time). But in my head there is still a need to be successful that plagues me – despite the fact that I don’t have a clue what that might mean. I just don’t know what it is. Something in your description of success, about the pursuit of the freedom to behold and rejoice in beauty, something made sense, but not entirely. Something is still not clicking into place, mentally speaking. I’m suffering from acute Bombay.

Still. I’m living here. I hate the city, but I’m making lovely, precious friends. I want to have kids, but I don’t want all this for them. You have to be quite sadistic to bring new people into this. I’ve opened a production house now, hoping to make meaningful films and all. Pat on my own back. But there isn’t any money for that yet, so I’m currently writing Punjabi dance numbers in the hopes of networking and insane virality and resultant unimaginable popularity and affluence.

I don’t know what I’m asking, to be honest, so I won’t waste more of your time. God knows you could’ve written another searing essay by now that the world needs. But if you could send through a couple of sentences of a little something, perhaps it would help. Or it would just bring me joy, so that’s also worth your time, maybe?

Thank you for all your writing.

Love and pairi pona,

Shiv

PS: Please don’t read anything else on this blog without asking me first.

To: Friends of the Castiko Space

4th June, 2019

Dear friend,

By now, you may already have heard that Castiko is moving out of our beautiful home at 121, Aram Nagar 2. If you haven’t, please consider this as us letting you know. We’re moving out. It’s the end of a brilliant, iridescent chapter in our lives. I hope the Space meant as much to you as it did to the people who made it come alive.

This is going to be a short letter of thank you – and a brief note on the future.

Thank Yous

Thank you Nitin, Aakash, Rochelle, Jacques, Nipun, Bhaskar, Shubham, Kamini, Ashima, Malvika, Devyani, Asheesh, Madhav, Nidhi, Nishant, Manish (both of them), Preeti Bua, Shambhu, Sameer, Soniya, Lourdes, Sonika, Veera. Thank you all for being part of this journey with me and creating a magical, open space where nothing was perfect, but artists still generally managed to have a great time. I’ve never been so out of my depth, and yet so  at home. I’ll write longer paeans about specific glorious achievements and epic failures, but in another post.

Thank you to all the artists and friends who called it home well before it had even come together properly. (Loop 2020’s bizarre rehearsals started before we even had any furniture!) So many people created their beautiful, hilarious, heartfelt, powerful art works at space. It’s because of you that the Castiko Space had this mythical “vibe” that everyone seems to love. Thank you for doing what you do, and being who you are.

Special thanks to three people. Susan – thank you for being my friend through all this. Thank you also for making 75: the place we first envisioned The Castiko Space! Dheeraj – thank you for your friendship and guidance. There’s always been a problem at Castiko, and you’ve always got a solution somehow. And Maanavi – I’m sorry I put you through all that I did! Thank you for bearing with it all, and pushing and challenging me throughout.

Crazy Visuals from The Castiko Space

What next?

We tried many things with The Castiko Space, but always, our hope was to make it an arms-wide-open space for artists. We tried to keep the prices low and the spirits high. We greeted everyone who stepped in with a huge smile. That, I think, was our biggest achievement. Aram Nagar is a paradox: it is where so many of Mumbai’s best and brightest hang out, yet all the spaces around are, understandably, closed-door offices of studios, production houses and casting directors. Aram Nagar needed, and still needs, an open-door, public, free-to-use, community arts oasis. And The Castiko Space experiment proved that it can be done, and viably so. Maybe the next great step forward would be for spaces to start sharing resources, calendars and community, and more vividly establish Aram Nagar as an abstract ideal, composed out of many spaces, full of opportunity and excitement, but an ideal that is far larger than the sum of its parts.

The Castiko Space’s values, spirit and community shall continue online, and we hope to help support whoever feels they can use that platform. We don’t have a physical performance/rehearsal venue for now, but that might change soon again. In the meantime, Castiko is moving to another premises in the same neighbourhood, where actors are still always welcome to chat about the Castiko app. More on that soon.

I don’t know yet what 121’s future looks like. I hear some good friends and fellow artists are taking it over. I’m sure they will share their plans for the space with you in due course.

At this point, I can’t help but slide into hapless nostalgia. Can you help me with that? If you can take out a minute, please drop any photos/videos you might have taken at The Castiko Space in this shared album.

I’d also love to hear from you about your favourite memories, things we did well, things we could’ve done better… Do please take the time to write to me – I’ll make sure I also share your message with the whole team. 🙂

Let’s celebrate!

6th and 7th of June, 8pm onwards, I’ll be at The Play Shed, playing some nice music and we’ll order in some food too. If you’re around, come by, say hi! These things are fleeting, so I’d love to have a moment with you to smile.

Onwards, then!

Afreen Afreen – Two More Versions

I’m obsessed with this song.

Here are two versions of the lyrics, 1 verse each. Best enjoyed by humming along.

1. I LOVE YOU, SONG (seriously):

Nazm-e-Akhtar ki taareef mumkin nahi
Afreen afreen, afreen afreen
Tu bhi sunle agar to kahe humnashiin
Afreen afreen, afreen afreen

Aisa suna nahi dil nawaaz koi
Lafz jaise mohabbat ka saaz koi
Lafz jaise tassawwur pe qaaboo koi
Lafz nagma koi
Lafz jaadoo koi
Lafz jaise ke behti huyi bansuri
Lafz jaise chahakti huyi aashiqui
Lafz jaise ke paigham-e-rooh-o-nafas
Lafz jaise ke baarish ki boondon ka ras
Lafz tarshe huye dilkash o dil-nashiin
Makhmali makhmali
Man-kahi man-kahi

nazm-e-Akhtar ki taareef mumkin nahi
afreen afreen, afreen afreen
Tu bhi sunle agar to kahe humnashiin
Afreen afreen, afreen afreen!

2.THE LAZY SONG (jokingly):

Utth ke jaana toh hargiz mumkin nahi.
Aalsi Aalsi Aalsi Aalsi
Lagta hai nahi hilega tu kabhi
Aalsi Aalsi Aalsi Aalsi
Utth ke jaana toh hargiz mumkin nahi.
Aalsi Aalsi Aalsi Aalsi
Peeccha chhode agar, aalsi hi sahi

Aalsi Aalsi Aalsi Aalsi

Utth ke jaana toh hargiz mumkin nahi
Utth ke jaana toh hargiz mumkin nahi

Kabhi dekha nahi aisa moorakh koi
Jism Laughing Buddha ki moorat koi
Baitha jaise ho mandir main saadhu koi
Jaisa halwa koi,
Jaise bhaalu koi
Baitha jaise ke taangon main mom bhari
Baitha jaise ke taangon main gond bhari
Baithe jaise badan ka ho sau ton vazan,
Baitha jaise ke zang se bhara ho badan
Jism sadta hua betaasir buzurg ji

Sarkaari sarkaari daftari daftari
Sarkaari sarkaari daftari daftari

Utth ke jaana toh hargiz mumkin nahi.
Aalsi aalsi, aalsi aalsi!
Utth ke jaana toh hargiz mumkin nahi.
Aalsi aalsi, aalsi aalsi!

Orange Man with Dick Out

I went up to the top of the highest mountain
There was a man there, they had told me.
A man with shadowy eyes and long, flowing white hair
A man who could turn invisible at will
A man whose orange skin was so bright
It could blind you even before you could open your mouth
And therefore a man I’d have to kneel before,
A man I’d be forced not to look at,
A man who would answer all my questions, but
A man perhaps who wasn’t even there –
For all I knew, these people who talked
About the orange man of dreams and whispers
Knew nothing at all – for not one of them could say
They had laid eyes on him,
Yet every single one had heard his voice –
Heard his shadow falling blandly across the ground near their knees
His hair flowing in a breeze that they could not feel
Even though they too were there,
In that same place
As the orange man with shadowy eyes.

So I climbed, in the hope of finding this man,
Perhaps I’d take his picture.
I had nothing to ask, or know,
Just a burning curiosity,
Because the eyes that had spoken of the orange man
Those eyes were always burning.

The mountain was harsh. The snow came and went,
The sun bore into the back of my neck,
My toes were cold, but my head was hot,
The trees flapped mercilessly around as I –
I couldn’t stop –
There wasn’t anywhere to stop, so I –
I just kept on walking,
Paying no attention to the toll it was taking,
My body, that is, the toll
That
My body
Was taking
With every step
Higher and higher.
Breathe. Breathe or you
Will never even get there.

I did get there.
The peak was the highest in all those around.
I could see the rest, much lower now,
And there atop this forested mountain,
Was the promised cave of the orange man.
The orange man. At last. At long, long last.

So I went into this cave.
And there he was.
Standing, as promised, with no clothes or pretention
Just a man in the wild, standing,
With skin as orange as the last rays of a dying sun.
He looked at me, and laughed, quite riotously.
“Why have you looked at me, you idiot?
That’s not the drill!”
I asked him – “sure, very funny. but tell me –
what’s with that nonsense about your shadow falling where I kneel –
I don’t get it –
I never did –
Here you are, in a cave,
There isn’t any light,
So – um, that’s always bothered me.”
He laughs even more.
“At least that made you come, eh?
My marketing team is pure genius.”

“Wait, what?

so you’re

a start up?”

Orange Man stops laughing.
Yeah dude. Just got funded, in fact.
And I thought that was obvious by the name – no? Orange Man?

Oh yeah, I thought. Must’ve been tough to get that domain name?

Got in early, dude. Got very lucky. Red man, blue man, purple man
All sounded better. But, you know how it is.
They were all taken.

I was starting to enjoy this. Sat down.
He still stood there, awkward,
Orange dick hanging loose and all –
You don’t want to…sit, bro?
Nah man. Vision Mission Values – I gotta keep standing if visitors come.
Kind of sucks, though. Some of these idiots sit here for hours,
On their KNEES, would you imagine,
Just crying and sweating, and sinking and sludging,
Just fucking – shit, sorry, not allowed to swear –
Just blathering away in their own damned tears and mucus
And I have to stand there like an idiot
Hoping my balls don’t hit their heads.

I can think of worse jobs, I said.

Yea, for sure man. My last job before this – I was
A call centre executive.
That was way worse.
Here at least I get to speak my mind.

You get to speak your mind?

Yeah, that’s why I got into this shit.
Orange Skin transplant hurt like a mother-f- damnit.
Hurt a lot, is what I’m saying.
But you know, I get to say this and that
Apart from cuss words
So it’s worth it eventually.
Plus, dick out bro. That’s a HUGE deal.
I fucking -shit, whatever – I hated those modern undies dude.
Rashes, balls always sweaty.
This is so great.
And our customers LOVE it.
They just LOVE seeing my balls.

So, what’s your…core offering?
Your revenue model?
Competitor analysis?
SWOT?
Do you have any…big hairy audacious goals?
A theory, I mean, about how you’d scale?
A hypothesis?

Well, of course man, we have our whole deck.
Powerpoint.
Want me to show you, or –

No, just, you know,

Sure, yeah, yeah, no problem, so –
Just, we hang out here. My team is just down this hill on the other side,
Crunching numbers. You’ve kind of come here in the off-season.
November to Jan are the busiest.
So these people come,
They tell me their issue,
And I just get to – be harsh, man.
Just tell them to their face.
This one time I told this woman to kill her baby, dude
Just to see if she’d agree,
And shit, just took me three minutes to convince her.

So she killed her baby?

No dude, are you mad? I retracted it later.
Just wanted to test my theory. Are you insane?
What do you think I am, some roving maniac? Haha
Anyway, so these people just come
And give us a shitload of tax free cash, man.
Big operation we’ve got here. Very little costs.
The office guys have wifi, because
They get bored otherwise.
But that’s about it.
Free mountain. Weather does the rest.
This orange skin thing helps with the temperature changes,
So I just get to stand here and jack off most of the day.
Seriously though – the coolest thing is –
If your dream is to just jack off all day,
Naked, and orange,
On a mountain,
You really can man. That’s what’s amazing. It’s amazing what
Bizarre dreams are possible,
If you just dream them properly.
Or just meet the people who know how to dream properly. LOL.
What a waste.
I’m bleeding, calves are hurting, my eyes are bloodshot,
And I’ve just spent a month’s salary getting to this
Godforsaken place.
Next to upstanding orange naked dude
Who turns out to be
Not a mystic who can disappear
But just some…guy.
I have to make this worth it.
What do I ask him?

So, man, how did you meet those people then?
How did you – get this job?
You’re not a cofounder?

No dude. I was in finance
I just … wanted a change of scene.
So applied for this job. And. I guess the interview was good?
I was just honest, and
Apparently, that’s what got me the gig.
The investors had a whole hiring process
And I walked in, and told them how stupid I thought their whole idea was
And how…wrong, really. Morally, I mean.
You can’t just put some random guy on a mountain
And hope for the best!
But they loved that. They hired me on the spot.
By the way, listen, you wanna go down for lunch? Kind of getting hungry.

He guides me down the other side –
Which has a series of escalators,
Very industrial chic. Just engraved straight into the side of the hill.
We take – four? Five of them. Get to a landing,
He scans his thumb on the biometric thing,
And we enter a – cave?
No. Office. Office, yeah. Shit.

He says
We’ve been cashflow positive for a few months now,
So we were able to upgrade some of the furniture.
Better spaces, better work, man.

Hey, listen man.
Is this all a sham, or –
I mean, I came all this way –
And I don’t mean to be rude, but
Shouldn’t you at least give me something of VALUE
I CAME ALL THIS WAY man.

Hey, hey, settle down puppy.

No, SERIOUSLY.
I’m FEELING REALLY CHEATED RIGHT NOW.
(I’ve obviously been getting quite angry this whole time.)
(Even I didn’t realize.)

He gently pats my dick.

What the HELL are you even –

Sorry – sorry, my whole – perspective on penises
Has kind of changed.
Ok look – hey, hey, don’t be angry. OK? Come on.
Look, ok, I’ll tell you what. Come to the conference room.

We go to the conference room.

You want coffee?

He makes me an espresso.

You want a lollipop?

He gives me a lollipop to suck on.

Ok, you’ve come all this way.
How can I help you?
You want to just ask me something, and
I can just give you my honest thoughts?
That’s…technically my job,
And what you came for, no?
You get the coffee and conference room and airconditioning free.
Good deal? Happy customer? Great service? Yeah?
Will that work for you?

I…nod. The coffee is oddly comforting.
I ignore the lollipop.
But what to discuss?
I don’t even know what my problem is.
So I just sit there,
Enjoying the smell
Of the coffee that’s oddly comforting,
And reminds me of home –
Multiple homes –
Some cafes also –
Just reminds me of a lot things. A lot of
Places I’ve been.
Places I’ve been for coffee, that is.
And I just sit there.
Traveling, mentally.
As orange man sits amiably silently
On the other roller chair,
Occasionally creaking and shifting,
But generally patient. Must be all the hours
With groveling, kneeling, puking assholes
Who I imagine would
Weep pitifully, hoping for salvation,
Then kiss the very ground
They wept on.
Who didn’t dream properly, I suppose. That’s what Orange Man would say.
Fucker.
Still there,
Waiting, hoping I’d actually have something to say.
But by now,
I’ve realized,
I just don’t want to talk.
I just want to sit here,
In someone’s dream office,
And savour my coffee of a million memories.
So I do that.
Silent.