Portrait of a Writer as a Failure

The failing writer is more honest and self-reflective than the successful one because once he tastes success the tendency is to assume that every word he bangs out is wrought in gold. The failing writer goes back on every word a hundred times and even the 101st time he is convinced that his brain is made of liquid shit and the carcasses of diseased rats – how else can such pure drivel erupt from one’s fingers? 
That under-confidence and crippling self-doubt, if left alone (and alive) for long enough can create great things. Unfortunately that under-confidence and crippling self-doubt also affects other parts of his life and more often than not the failing writer either gives up or puts a shotgun in his mouth before he can finish what would no doubt have been a great piece of writing. 
A confident writer once he has felt the heady buzz of success can respond in two ways – either he remains on Earth and uses his success as evidence that he can, if he wants, create good work if he tries hard (which is rare). Or he can let the success get to his head and write everything as if, the moment he received that e-mail from a publisher stating the publishability of his work, he was possessed by the spirit of Vladimir Nabokov. And if this is the case, everything that flows out of his brain, through his fingers and onto the screen is platinum class, whereas, in reality, he is putting out half-assed garbage, without the stringency that self-doubt and low self-esteem guarantee. 
Another reason the failing writer is more honest is that after many, many years of writing and nobody giving a shit, he stops to give a shit about others giving a shit, not out of some hardening of character, but rather out of sheer exhaustion. Once he stops giving a shit about what people think, he taps into a deeper (and often darker) part of his psyche. He begins to form a twisted mass made up of his reality, his fiction, his mind and his body. Soon he is no longer writing a book – he is just trying to climb out of a grave that he himself dug, in which he buried himself. 
Thus writing becomes a way of saving himself, of getting through the demons of the day. 
The successful writer is already out of the grave, has already saved himself from himself, and even though it is a cycle – because eventually even the successful writer will find himself in some dark hole and will have to save himself again – one can expect a few books that pander to ‘target audiences’, full of lazy cliches and weak words. 
So if you are a failing writer, almost paralyzed by self-doubt and no esteem, keep at it – once you’re done with that work give it up to someone who you know will send it to a publisher (because you yourself can do no such thing) and you might be surprised how successful it turns out. 

A Long Break

Coming back to writing after a long time, I find that my mind is much more scattered, much more thoughtless than the state in which I had left it. The break was not really a break – it was a mild shattering of the writing mind, which has morphed, at least superficially into a lazy, distracted, and jumbled mess – a regular mind to put it bluntly. 
Every break from writing has a similar effect – the last one dissolved my hard-earned discipline of the previous few months, with a lethal infusion of nicotine, alcohol and joyful leisure. When I came back home, I no longer felt the drive to write (a drive which I had cultivated by ignoring my lack of drive). But after having so much fun, it didn’t seem that important anymore to ignore my feelings. 
It is not permanent thankfully, as evinced by this thing that I am writing – eventually, the obsessive, compulsive writing mind whispers and knocks at my insides (but it does it slyly and destructively showing itself as anxiety and restlessness. Why can’t it just make itself obvious? It wouldn’t be the writing mind then would it?) and eventually my legs take me to my desk and my fingers begin to tap away. 
It never gets easier, even though I know the logistics of these conflicting creatures within me – the happy creature and the writer creature. I know the signs that one is showing itself, I know the tricks that the other employs to make me obey its desires – yet I am helpless to their rise and fall. And I am ok with it to a certain extent – as always, it is a balance I need to find and not an absolute solution. 
And so here I am writing again, happy that I’ve come back to it, mad that I’ve taken such a long break, tortured, anxious, satisfied, relaxed, and ready to write, write, write, until the next break, and after that where this whole tragic, triumphant drama will play itself out once again. And again and again till I am cold and dead. 

Delhi – A Fair and Balanced View

It might seem obvious that nothing much needs to be said of a place that brings about nausea and a headache on first contact. But something does need to be said of Delhi because it is home to 45 million people, unlike Chernobyl, and many of these 45 million people have a lot to say in its defence.
So here I am saying something about Delhi in a fair and balanced way.
I fucking hate Delhi. I hate it for many reasons – most of them subjective – but I hate it most of all because I could not breathe the air. In my opinion, there is nothing more objective than breathing (because you do it without thinking about it) and not being able to breathe is a pretty good reason to hate a place.
I hate it also because it is the heart of the hypocrisy and irrationality that is India. It is the heart of this mangled, spread-eagled corpse that we are supposed to love and respect. It is the heart of a hurricane of lies and corruption, of cynicism and manipulation, of the machinations of a carefully controlled democracy, controlled by people with not a single democratic bone in their bodies.
Now that I’ve run through the objective reasons of why I hate Delhi let me give you some observations that perhaps feed into this intense hatred I have.
1. The people on the streets stare at you with either a terrifying dullness or inexplicable aggression. We spoke to one man who would lose to a tape-worm – lose at anything, including giving directions. 

2. The people at parties stare at you with a sick hunger or a terrifying fullness.
3. The best thing about Delhi are the Uber drivers, which shows that Delhi cannot save itself – help must come from outside. 

4. A piece of layered fabric designed by some foreign multinational that goes around your nose and mouth is your best friend in Delhi.
5. Wealth must be displayed. If it cannot be displayed it is not wealth.  All this is coming from a person who travels around Delhi in air-conditioned sweetness, who visits in multi-story homes, who wears tailored suits and tuxedos to wedding parties. I can only imagine what a person who lives on the streets of Delhi has to say about its toxic air and its putrefying wealth.
If you are at all sensitive about inequality then Delhi will fuck you up. If you are at all sensitive to the environment, Delhi will fuck you up. If you are at all sensitive about superficiality, about fake things, about the quality of human interaction, Delhi will fuck you up. In other words, Delhi will fuck you up. It will fuck with your brain, with your eyes, nose, and throat, with your lungs and your stomach. It will fuck with the very blood that flows through your veins. Then it will spit you out – a glob of dirty, coughing, waste into planes or trains or automobiles and when you return to your city, it is like walking out of the smoking area in an airport – the air smells pure and cool, the people are breathing healthy air, knowing that every breath they take isn’t killing them, and the world opens out. Then you feel truly grateful that you are not living in that festering anus (an anus so close to the brain is never a good thing) that is Delhi.

Opinions

Everyone has opinions. But can we agree that some opinions are stupid and some are not? This is different from accusing the opinionators of being stupid or clever. We are talking about the validity of the point expressed, not the intellectual or aesthetic tastes of the expresser. 
For example, if you think Ronaldo is a better player than Messi, that is a stupid thought – it doesn’t make you stupid. It could be the case that most people who have this thought are generally stupider than those who think the other way, but that is a different matter and must be concluded only after a competent scientific study. 
What about the opinion that ‘Breaking Bad’ is a better show than ‘The Wire?’ There is no language invented to describe what a stupid opinion this is. It is stupid on so many levels that you are tempted to question the upbringing and general living environment of someone who expresses this opinion – Who traumatized you when you were young? What hazardous chemicals do you breathe on a daily basis? What did you put in your morning coffee? 
But we must resist this temptation. Perhaps they have an emotional connection to Breaking Bad, some deep, subconscious association that is ignited whenever the show plays. Or perhaps they haven’t watched ‘The Wire.’ Either way one must not jump to conclusions about the kind of books they read (do they read?) or the kind of conversations they have (do they listen?). 
But seriously, we must recognize that some people just don’t know enough about particular subjects and still have very strong opinions about them. They love having the opinion because it affirms their spirit, makes them feel like they have an opinion (which they do) but they do not take the time and effort to form a responsible opinion. They do not recognize the privilege of having an opinion and having the freedom to express it – it is a power and must be used responsibly. Sometimes when I express an opinion, and just after I express it, I ask myself what I just said, I feel ashamed of having opened my mouth. What was the need to say that? I don’t know anything about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. So why did I just say that the people who think it is a good book are unhealthily stupid and if we are ever to go to Mars, they must be kept here on Earth for the very important job of making sure everyone gets on the ships and to hang around just in case someone else is left behind. Am I expressing something I truly believe and have examined, or am I just trying to imply that somebody I knew who once expressed this opinion is unspeakably idiotic? I admit it, it’s probably the latter. And now that I think about it, it feels like this whole piece I’ve just written is of a similar nature. Thus, it is best ignored. 
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. 

A Train Journey

I’m quite certain of the existence of vast quantities of literature on trains and train journeys, but I am also quite certain that all of it is very different from the other. I know this because trains are unpredictable: they have not yet come under the purview of internationalism and professionalism, and differ vastly between not only countries, but between regions within countries, and indeed vary temporally too––the same train on the same day, in the same berth and coach, but with a gap of a month, will be quite different from the one taken earlier. Unlike flights, which have been hammered into uniformity and smooth shapes, by a combination of the possibly terrible consequences of even a slight disturbance, trains remain from an earlier generation, in which the suffering of a traveller is assumed, his expectations unexpressed (or even unthought), and if articulated, his complaints remain completely ignored. Though at times frustrating, tiring, and discouraging, train journeys offer some interesting experiences.

Put into such a small area, with no escape, passengers begin to talk, as this is seen as the best way to pass the time. Very few people actually see the time as something to be used; rather, it is seen as useless time, the time between work, or between family. Passengers are seen generally supine and snoring, or in animated talk about small things (important topics are generally avoided, possibly because of the lack of an escape route in case of a disagreement––is this conscious?) The tone is cordial and polite, and seldom are people rude to each other. Probably, this too is a measure taken to prevent uncomfortable situations and not a reflection of the quality of the people present. This shows also, that even the rudest and most beastly of people, feels personal discomfort at being rude to others, and generally does it only in open spaces and or if they are in a group. Indeed, a group of young men, even in the casual laboratory-experiment atmosphere of a train journey, are bound to misbehave, especially if there are some pretty young women around. But on the whole, we make a pleasant bunch.

If you are young and alone, attention is bound to fall upon you. Elderly gentlemen will engage you regardless of your lack of reciprocation and will insert small details of their life into the questions they are asking (because let’s be honest; people are more interested in themselves than they are in you).

In India, where boundaries between private and public do not exist, if one is slightly “different” (the difference lies more in quantity and not quality), the conversation is bound to get uncomfortable very soon.

On a recent journey, the eldering gentleman in my compartment yanked the direction of the conversation to religion with a simple question: ‘Hindu or Muslim?’ His omission of numerous other religions was out of ignorance rather than bigotry, and his reaction when I told him that I was in fact neither, and not only neither of these but none at all, was mild shock, followed by amusement. The conversation went like this (he spoke in Hindi, and the curious abruptness of his initial question and subsequent responses is unfortunately not clear upon translation):

Man: ‘Hindu or Muslim?’

Me: ‘Neither.’

Man: ‘You have to be one or the other.’

Me: ‘No. I’m nothing.’

Man: Arre, you have to be something or the other.’

Me: No. I’m nothing. I am, what they call ‘Naastik’ (atheist).

Man: Accha, you’re an atheist!

Me: Yes.

Man: I see, an atheist! (chuckles with amusement). He wore a dirty, golden-brown safari suit and a cheap golden watch and told me that he had been in a car accident near his hometown in Rajasthan––I never asked. The safari suit wasn’t the only thing ugly about him––in fact, everything was. The hair on his cuboidal head was oiled and lay plastered like thick, flat snakes. He had a look of utter boredom and on numerous occasions asked if I had movies on my laptop (the use of the word ‘picture’ to refer to the medium of film perhaps is an indication of his generation). And this wasn’t the only thing that betrayed his anachronism. Soon after finding out that I was on my way to meet my girlfriend, and armed already with the knowledge of my religious views, he probed further into the cast question, (identity is the only thing that matters to some people), and seemed disappointed when speaking about the unimportance of such matters in big cities. “Boys and girls just get married,” he said, “without regard for cast or level of household.” Ill-disguised was his follow up statement: “There’s a lot of goondagiri in Bangalore. So many prostitutes near Majestic.” Soon he realized that I wasn’t much for talking, but my change of compartment had more to do with the conversation ending than this revelation. Presently, I heard him talking to someone else about the car accident and happily for him, he had found some people who agreed that his unquestioning belief in God was what saved him from that brutal wreck. Perhaps now God could save him from the brutal wreck that was his life, I thought.

The Success of Friends

The successes of your friends are always a complicated thing; because unlike the successes of your enemies you can’t hate them for it. You like your friends and you want them to be happy, but their success reminds you of your failures and you find yourself  in two minds. One one hand you would rather not hear about their impressive accomplishments because they make you feel useless, a blight on the earth; on the other hand, you need to show off to people what your friends are doing, in the hope that at least by association people think you’re cool. 
It is difficult to not feel jealousy – it is human to do so. With people you don’t like the transition from jealousy to belittling and hatred is an easy one. They probably don’t deserve their success anyway because they are stupid jerks and sleep around. With your friends you can’t slide into hatred; they definitely deserve their success and are nice people (why else would they be your friends?). So the jealousy lingers for a while. Sometimes, like milk, if the jealousy is allowed to stand, it will turn sour and begin to eat away at the foundations of your friendship. Sometimes it dissolves into admiration and pride. Mostly it just fades away with memory, till the next time your friend succeeds, and then it comes back and lingers again. Unless of course you have in the meantime succeeded at something impressive. In that case you have something to say for yourself and you neutralise each other’s stories. 
All this makes sense in the first place only if you think of yourself as a failure. If you think of yourself in impressive terms, the coolest cat around, then no achievement by your friends will make you jealous or confused. You are, after all, the shit and you have an impressive number of stories to tell; so many in fact that your friends can barely get their stories in. 
Eventually, if you like your friends enough, you will stop feeling jealousy and come to terms with the fact that they are amazing people, much more amazing than you will ever be. The sooner you have this realisation the sooner you can go back to having a good time as they wax eloquent about their numerous and varied accomplishments (or the accomplishments of their successful friends). 

A Guide to Travelling Well

Dear All, 
As you know traveling makes you great because it has been said so by many people. ‘The more you travel the happier you will be’ is an incontrovertible fact. In fact, there is a theorem called ‘The Traveler’s Co-efficient’ that states: With every 10 km increase in travel distance, a human being’s sadness will reduce by an absolutely whole number such as 3 or 4 depending on location of travel and number of Instagram posts created subsequently.’ 
The second part of the theorem states:
‘Coolness, as indicated by the definition of Ram and Shyam (Cool, Not Cool, 1973), as being ‘The net amount of casual conversation one can successfully emit in a social occasion’ increases dramatically with the number of km traveled. But this occurs in a non-linear manner and is sometimes known to work the other way. Of course, this depends on if you have a Facebook account.’
As you can see, traveling is recommended by almost everybody as a great way to be satisfied with your miserable existence. You can see things and at the same time be cool by eating a large variety of food items. Hence I have decided to explain how best to travel: how to prepare, what to do while traveling to most efficiently make everyone else feel like shit, and most importantly how to convincingly tell people that you had an incredible time even though you didn’t and would rather have laid in bed for a week and watch shows on Netflix (but this as you know would not show up on your passport). Let’s begin okay?

1. Pack for the trip you want to have not the trip you’re actually going on: 
This is an important but tricky one. If say you’re going to Pune but you want to go to Egypt, throw in a pair of stuffed camels – trust me it’ll help with the photographs later on. 
If you’re traveling to London but would rather come home to your family in Chitradurga, make sure you carry lots of Vicodin so you can appear thrilled in your Instagram photos and write that you ‘feel blessed’. 

2. Always keep in mind that the very fact that you’re traveling makes you a superior being:
See, you’re going to Jamaica. This makes you better than anyone who hasn’t been to Jamaica ok? So relax and be secure in the fact that everyone else knows that you’re way cooler because you’ve been to Jamaica. 

3. Everywhere is beautiful and a lovely experience:
This is very important: every breathing second of your existence in any place that is Instagram or Facebook worthy is an immeasurable and unparalleled experience that touches your very soul, understand? There is no fuzz on this. Be sure to include the following terms in your fascinating posts: ‘Amazing people’, ‘amazing food’, ‘peaceful place’, ‘rain-kissed’, ‘life-changing experience’ and most importantly ‘blessed.’ There is no travel unworthy of traveling because the very concept of travel is superior to the specifics of the travel. 

4. If someone stabs you don’t talk about it. 

5. Once your travel ends, make sure everyone knows about it:
As you know, you cannot travel or enjoy travel in a vacuum. Your happiness depends on the deeply spiritual experience of traveling and also how many likes you get on Instagram or Facebook. What is the point of going to Chile if you also can’t tell everyone and their cousin about how incredible you are that you’ve been to Chile? Did you go to Chile or did Chile come and beg you to visit? Why is your face all over the landscape? Share your happiness with everyone and know that there is no happiness without other people. 

6. Selfie time!
Lol, did you think I was going to leave out the mighty selfie? Among all of man’s inventions surely this is the greatest. It allows you to plaster your face on the pyramids of Giza, to display your grinning mug on the slopes of the Himalayas. The scenery is meaningless unless superimposed by your goofy face to show what a good time you were having! Part 3 of the Traveler’s Co-efficient states: ‘The sum total of a holiday’s success is directly proportionate to the number of selfies taken during said travel multiplied by the number of likes on social media.’ 
Why would you even consider that your friends want to see where you went and not your dumb face? That is an absurd and unscientific belief. 

7. Lastly, have a great time because otherwise, nobody wants to hear about it alright? And since you always want to talk about it regardless of whether people want to hear about it, make sure you had a good time even if you didn’t. 

Photograph ‘The Colosseum is Large’ © Roshan Ali