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

Religion has Nothing to do with Religion

Religion has nothing to do with religion – this is a fact. Sounds strange? Consider this: terrorism has nothing to do with religion. If terrorism has nothing to do with religion – a fact, despite the numerous frequently elucidated connections that some racists and Islamophobes try making between Islamic texts and the acts of Islamists – then religion has nothing to do with anything because once you deny the links between religion and religious terrorism – as we are rightly doing – then one can confidently say that religion has no link with anything. It’s like this: if you deny the link between the game of football and the football itself then it becomes very easy to deny its link with football boots, football teams, football grounds, sports, teams, competition, money etc…The obvious point here is that Islam has nothing to do with anything. 
If Islam has nothing to do with anything then only stating this is Islamophobic, gross, and racist (because naturally some people will be offended by the statement ‘Islam has nothing to do with anything’). So we must include all religions into this statement because all religions are the same and saying anything else is gross and racist. Conclusion: religion has nothing to with anything. And we do not use the word ‘anything’ lightly. We mean it. Anything includes even religion. What are we left with? Religion has nothing to do with religion. 
Say we allow that religion has something to do with religion. This is dangerous. Let’s work backward from this seemingly obvious and harmless statement. If religion has something to do with religion, then one could say that religious people are in some ways inspired to act in some ways by their religion. In what ways are people influenced by their religion? These kinds of questions lead to a slippery slope, where one could easily draw a strong connection between religious texts and the actions of its believers. This must be avoided at all costs. 
And so for the benefit of all, for everyone’s information, let us make the following a fact: religion has nothing to do with religion. 

Standing Up by Sitting Down

To anyone who’s been to a movie theatre lately it should be absolutely clear that authority doesn’t want you to have a good time. Or, if you are going to have fun, despite their statutory warnings and public service messages, authority will at least try to inoculate you against entertainment’s immorality by giving you a vaccine of nationalism. What else explains the mandatory national anthem before every film? What other connection exists between entertainment and nationalism than that authority thinks one is the opposite of the other? Entertainment – violent, sexual, comedic, Unindian – is immoral. Nationalism – somber, serious, patriotic, Indian – is moral.
We are so used to this attitude that I had forgotten that it is Puritanism, which, in the words of H.L. Mencken is “…the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy.” 
All this is saying that I don’t buy the Supreme Court’s rationale that the mandatory playing of the national anthem before every film is to instill “committed patriotism and nationalism.” I don’t think the Court is that stupid: can intelligent people really believe that playing the national anthem and making people stand up, converts anarchists and traitors into patriots and proud Indians? Do they really think people who have no love for their country can be forced to feel affection and pride by making them stand up before watching a movie?
Because let’s examine why somebody would be unpatriotic: one, he or she, is living an individual life, and does not identify with a mostly meaningless category called country, and is indifferent to India. He or she does not love nor hate this political entity because India allows him or her to live a healthy, happy life. Perhaps he or she should love the country for precisely this reason, but is forcing empty rituals on a person like this the best way to inspire a change in attitude?
Two: Our citizen is a rebel, finds patriotism and nationalism distasteful. It reminds the citizen of jingoism, bigotry, xenophobia and he doesn’t want to partake in symbolism which encourages these attitudes. He will not rise because he has been told to rise – if he feels genuine respect and love for his country he will express these feelings, not by standing which he thinks is a hollow and meaningless symbol but with words. But mostly he feels anger and hatred towards the country of his birth because he does not share the same values with the values that the government is trying to promote. Sure, he feels love sometimes but also hate. Is a love-hate relationship with the country of your birth unacceptable? Does it make this peaceful, tax-paying citizen a traitor?
Three, our citizen is absolutely hateful of our country. He feels no connection with its people, no sentiment towards its culture and no love for its religions. But he keeps these things to himself, incites no violence, lets his patriotic friends stand – is this person a traitor? Should he be charged with treason for this thoughtcrime of hating his country? 
And lastly, the person in question is an anarchist, a terrorist or a foreign citizen. This person cannot be expected to love this country, and no amount of gluteus raising his going to change his or her mind. 
And let say it does work, that people actually become more patriotic and loving of their country every time they listen to the national anthem and stand up; what does this say about these people? That they are so weak-kneed that a mere song makes their legs straighten? Do we want to be in a country filled with people who do not question thoughtless directions from the highest court and whose minds are so easily influenced? 
There’s a word that describes a country that forces love and adulation upon its citizens: totalitarianism. Are we a totalitarian country? Perhaps some people want it to be one, and if they make this clear it’ll save them and their resistors a lot of time and confusion.
But the most troubling instance of this totalitarian instinct came for me towards the end of the film ‘Dangal.’ When the national anthem played inside the movie, people began to rise one by one. It is possible that people were moved beyond words and rose automatically, but I am willing to bet that some people thought that it was now mandatory to stand every time the national anthem plays, even if it is in a movie and even without explicitly being told to. As Saul Bellow said in the Adventures of Augie March, “Everybody knows there is no fineness or accuracy of suppression; if you hold down one thing, you hold down the adjoining.” In this case, the ones who are being held down, are the ones who are standing.

11 Ways to Write Nothing

They say you must write what you know and what I know best is not writing. So keeping these credentials in mind, here are 11 ways to get no writing done for people starting out on their writing adventure:

1. Emulate: Everyone has writing heroes – mine are Orwell, Joyce, Nabokov, Hitchens, and others. But a sure way to get nothing done is to try and emulate their writing. What do I mean? Well, if you write something, don’t go back and read it and hate yourself because it’s not as good as Joyce or Orwell. The fact is, you will never be as good as Joyce or Orwell. The sooner you realize this the better for everyone; especially you, because instead of playing the genius game and losing constantly you can move on to what you’re decent at, like writing about not writing.   

2. Stylize: Similar to the first point – don’t try to write in a certain way. You do not have the skill to pull it off yet. Write content first and ignore style, at least for the first draft. And you don’t have content and have only a style in mind, don’t write till you think up some content. 

3. Edit before finishing – Once you have an idea, or a vague idea of what you want to write, start and finish before reading it and editing. If you keep editing, your brain will go into detail mode and lose the bigger picture. If you finish and have a whole, it’s much easier to go back and edit. 

4. Worry – If you start worrying you will write nothing. Forget what people will think of you or your work and just write. If it’s no good, start a business – at least you know you’re not a writer. If it’s good, congratulations, you achieved something very few people achieve. 

5. Depend on inspiration and creativity – Inspiration and creativity are both highly unpredictable and irregular visitors. Sometimes they arrive early morning and stay the whole day, drinking all your booze and producing some genius level writing. Sometimes they just drink all the booze and do no work. Sometimes, it’s months between visits. And they never warn you of their unscrupulous plans. Depending on those two fuckers will ruin you completely, and probably leave you a drunk. So don’t depend on them. Depend instead on discipline – he (he would be a she if I was a woman) might sound boring and unromantic, but he’s the only one who comes when you need him and doesn’t leave unless you tell him to leave. In the end, discipline is your only true friend and only he will give you freedom (see Jocko Willink). 

6. Talk about your writing – Writing is a messy, strange, confusing, numinous and largely unconscious process and the last thing you want to do is to start talking about it. It’s like making soup – you put everything in, you stir it, and you let it simmer and cook till the final product is ready for consumption. Would you suddenly put a hole in the bottom of the vessel and let things out? I know you’re thinking it’s not a good analogy because speaking doesn’t empty your brain, but in fact when it comes to writing I think it does exactly that. Let your subconscious work with the mess in your head till the exact moment you have to put it down on paper (or screen). Fiddling with this primordial soup will tip the balance between spoken and the unspoken, said and unsaid, and take away some from your final effort. 

7. Sit in front of the screen before you know what you’re going write – The computer screen is like a brightly coloured black hole – it sucks your attention and focus and tears them to pieces. Always decide what you’re going to write before you open a blank page on whatever software you’re using, or you will get distracted, annoyed, depressed or plain lost before you type one word. 

8. Check Facebook – If you’re writing a book, chances are you have low self-esteem, low-confidence, have some form of anxiety or depression and haven’t achieved much for a while. None of this is good if you want to check your feed on Facebook, which shows only how awesome other people are doing. Check once a week, after a dose of artificially induced confidence preferably. 

9. Write only one thing at a time – When you write you get stuck: this is a fact of the universe as sure as the speed of light and the idiocy of Trump. If you’re writing only one thing, you will abandon it and watch YouTube videos and you will become depressed and hate yourself for the rest of the week. Instead, work on multiple pieces, which provide varying degrees of challenge. If you can’t seem to get ahead in the novel, switch to your piece on how VR porn will likely ruin relationships. Switching to something within the domain of writing will distract you just enough without allowing you to lose your focus. 

10. Calm the fuck down – Don’t stress. Stop mid-sentence and take a deep goddamn breath. If you have the ideas and you have the discipline something will emerge. Patience is a great tool to increase the rate and quality of your work.  11. Accept – Accept the kind of writer you are and stop trying to be the next Joyce or Rowling. If you’re good this won’t stop you from becoming better. If you’re bad, it will allow you to accept that maybe writing should be a hobby and not a career. 

Radius of Flag’s Patriotic Effect Unclear – Government Enquiry Ongoing

The government today initiated a high-level enquiry into determining the radius of the patriotic effect of flags. “Since we are installing flags at a cost of about 45 lakhs in all Central Universities, we thought it fit to study the radius of the effect of nationalism that these flags will have on students,” said Mr. Vikram Chauhan, Minister of Nationalism. “We cannot afford to have fringe elements not affected by the flags. Hence, we will make sure the flags are installed at the right height so as to instil pride and patriotism in even the farthest corner of universities such as JNU.” As per the initial report prepared by the team, the patriotism cast by the flags is in a conical shape, the apex of which is the topmost part of the flag (not the pole). The cone forms at angles of around 47 degrees from the apex towards the ground, where the base is a circle of pure, optimum patriotism. “We have found that people outside this circle often have anti-national sentiments such as no respect for our culture, for Gow Mata, for our vision of a Hindu nation. They have no hatred for Pakistan (those choothias) and think beating is not a good response for anti-nationalism. But when we threw them into the circle, in about 10 minutes, they had miraculously reversed their opinions and some even started chanting our Honourable PM’s name, which was unprecedented.” When asked if their change of heart had anything to do with conditions of the experiments, Mr. Chauhan said, “No, it had nothing to do with us. We surrounded them only to observe and the sticks in our hands were to mark out the effect of the flags on the ground. They were not afraid at all.” Mr. Chauhan, newly appointed Minister of Nationalism also stressed that they have no problem if the effect of the flags went beyond the boundaries of the universities. “We can expect an overflow of about 5-6 percent, but we think it is a good thing because passersby will also benefit. They may leave home thinking of not voting for BJP but by the time they reach work, they’re dressed in saffron and have Rajnathji’s face imprinted on their t-shirts.” He also said that they took the decision only after a 5-hour long high-level meeting on whether there was any better way to spend 45 lakhs. They concluded that there was not. In the future, the government will consider installing a 10000-foot high flag to solve all the nation’s problems. “This flag will have a perch on top to look into Pakistan,” he added. 

Photograph ‘Flag is Torn’ by Roshan Ali