The other day a friend remarked that I could cross TEDx talk off my bucket list. I don’t have a bucket list, but I smiled and said ‘Yep.’ As a child I was very social and had absolutely no fear of meeting and talking to people. Once, when I was a pre-teen, my aunt asked me to sing a Hindi song while we were riding a crowded bus in London… and I did. ‘Imagine you are auditioning for a part in a Hindi film,’ she said. ‘Pretend you are sad and disillusioned with your life.’ I pretended, staring into space, past puzzled British citizens, as I belted out ‘Mere Zindigi Ne Mujh Pe (ehsaan kya kiya hai)’. How naive children are! Fast forward almost thirty years later and I still love meeting and being with people. But a talk? That too a TEDx talk? I don’t think so. TEDx speakers were innovators, changers, and inventors, whereas I was just a poet. ‘We want to hear more about poetry,’ I was told.  And so there I was, on a lovely spring March evening, on a stage marked with a big red dot, a giant bindi, if you will, and a carefully curated crowd, as the bindi on my own forehead pulsated.  I was nervous, my legs ready to become one with the ground, and yet I managed to talk for almost 18 minutes. I wanted people to fall in love with poetry the way I had, to embrace its power and feel its strength in encapsulating human experience within a few lines.

Did I succeed? You be the judge. The talk just became available on youtube this week. I’m just grateful for the experience to share what I love. Enjoy!


We have been subscribing to DNA (Daily News & Analysis) for almost a year now and have been satisfied with it, for the most part, despite its political leanings towards the BJP. Times of India had too much gratuitous oomph in the form of risque pictures (although Times of India’s Crest edition has redeemed their reputation significantly.) and I was looking for something that was crisp and creative. DNA initially gave me that impression. I always enjoy their Sunday Mag section, because it gives me something to think about, whether they be opinions or book reviews. I might not agree with everything, but that’s what freedom of expression is all about. And then enters Grumpy Gay Indian Man who doesn’t seem to like society in general. I know, on the one hand BJP and then Gay rights? Well, that’s the beauty of Indian democracy and I love that DNA has no qualms in representing a spectrum. However, I was quite disturbed by what I read in the October 7th issue, in an article by the ever controversial and outspoken Ashley Tellis. I had a problem with Tellis’s strong views in the past regarding Jeet Thayil’s Booker Prize nomination and blogged about it  This time, Ashley’s ire is targeted at gay Indian men, in a piece called ‘The Bad sex award goes to Indian Men.’

In the first paragraph, Ashley Tellis says:
‘One of the best-kept secrets about gay life in India is that almost all gay sex here is lousy. I have to report that I have never had decent sex here, and I don’t think I ever will. Apart from the fact that Indians in general are lousy at sex and have all sorts of weird hang-ups about it, gay sex here has a particular set of sicknesses associated with it. So, Indian men who want to and do have gay sex also have no qualms about being disgusted by it and doing it badly. Culture legitimises that.

The subsequent paragraphs go into graphic detail about gay Indian men and their sex practices

Now if this article appeared in OUT magazine or in Trikone, I’d have read it and said fine. But the Sunday newspaper which my children flip through? I’ve never seen an article like this in The Hindu, The Times of India or Indian Express. Which makes me wonder what is DNA’s agenda? What tone are they trying to set. Every paper has an agenda. I went to journalism school, I read Noam Chomsky’s book Manufacturing Consent. All media persons would agree that a newspaper has an agenda. But something here just doesn’t seem right. I’ve lived in two of the most gay friendly cities in the world and had vocal gay/lesbian professors/friends, but have never seen this type of bitterness/disdain for their society and people. Which brings me to the question, ‘What is Ashley Tellis’s agenda?’ Is this all just a publicity stunt for both the DNA and Ashley Tellis? After all, I’m talking about him and I’m sure others are too. To balance the spectrum, I’ve never even seen an article on heterosexual sex like this in the Sunday newspaper. Trust me, my reaction would be exactly the same.

Could I be overreacting? Am I a prude? Read the article and tell me what you think? Would you want your children reading this in the Sunday paper? Obviously, if I don’t like it, I can stop reading it, which is probably what I will do. I’m giving my DNA subscription till the end of this month.

All those in passionate pursuit of preserving the good old Sunday Newspaper, say aye!


Jaipur Literary Festival, 2011.

Yes Folks, it’s that time of year again. Literary festivals are popping up like wild mushrooms all over India and the next few months offer a cornucopia of events for the literary inclined. The Kovalam Literary Festival (KLF) kicked off the season last week, with an event in Delhi and a weekend litfest in Kovalam, Kerala. Poet, writer and Booker Nominee Jeet Thayil was the star attraction at the Delhi event, in conversation with Aleph Books founder and writer David Davidar. Close on the heels of KLF are Literature Live in Bombay (OCT 31-NOV 4), The Poetry with Prakriti Festival in Chennai (slated to be in early December), The Bangalore Literature Festival (DEC 7-9), The Goa Arts and Literature festival (DEC 13-17), Mumbai Fully Booked, a Times of India initiative (slated for December), The Hyderabad Literary Festival (JAN 18-20, 2013) and the grandest of them all, The Jaipur Literature Festival (JAN 24-28, 2013). Those who can’t make it for any of the above or who haven’t quite got their fill, can get a taste of more literary action at Mumbai’s most popular arts event, The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (FEB 2-10, 2012).

I hope to attend three of these events at least, especially the granddaddy of them all-The Jaipur Literature festival. Hope to see some of you there as well. I’ll be the one wearing magenta 😉


Narmada Valley villagers protest illegal dam water levels

There are days when things hit you, one after the other, and you wonder what is the world coming to? You feel grateful for all that you have and feel sheepish for ever complaining. Are we ever really free, you wonder, after seeing the pitted and swollen soles of a woman who has been standing chin deep in water for 15 days, to protest the illegal rising of a dam that will wash away her village.

A villager’s feet after standing 15 days in water

Are we really ever free, you wonder, after seeing a cartoonist getting arrested for drawing a  caricature of government corruption.

The caricature that got cartoonist Aseem Trivedi arrested

Are we ever really free, as body after body lie down, in silent protest of a new nuclear power plant, that will bring with it the threat of radiation.

The pictures are heart breaking, but I post them to bring perspective in our own lives. Perhaps we will be moved to take a break from our usual routines and find a way to help those whose very existence are under constant threat.


Just got The Collected Poems of Arun Kolatkar in English, published by Bloodaxe Books (UK),  and what a treasure chest of poetry it is! I love Kolatkar’s poems just as much as I love Neruda’s and Lorca’s. Actually even more, because I can relate to their Indianness. His poems are like arrows that hit the heart straight. There is reverence for the mundane, humor and irony of how the lives of man, animal and landscape collide, and irony in how things come together and fall apart. Kolatkar is the real deal.

Can there ever be poets like him and his Clearinghouse gang in our generation? Now that I’ve thrown myself back in the poetry ring, I’ve come to realize how fickle the business of poetry has become, with more poets focused on image and publicity, rather than the power of their words and the inspiration that propelled the whole process. Kolatkar, Chitre,  and other poets of that generation knew that their words, once put down on paper, became avatars of their own and they respected that. Call me an idealist, but I long for those endless cups of chai, wrinkled manuscript in hand, type of meetings with poets and writers, where the laptop and cellphone are absent and our minds are focused on the craft and its numinousity (this should be a real word, an extension of numinous).

P.S.  If nothing else, one should read Kolatkar’s poem BREAKFAST TIME at KALA GHODA (p. 125), to see how beautifully this maestro of poetry conducts his orchestra of words. The poem in itself is an opera of Indian street life. How I wish I could have met him.


Folks in Bangalore,

Mark your calendars for SEPTEMBER 29, for an evening of poetry, music and awareness. I am so very excited to be involved in this event. 100 Thousand Poets for Change (www.100tpc.org) is spearheaded by an American poet, Michael Rothenberg, to bring writers, musicians and artists together, all on one day, in different parts of the world, to raise awareness on issues that affect our society and greater world. To learn more about the Bangalore event, visit the FB page: https://www.facebook.com/100TPCBangalore

I have always been a believer in the power of words to create/promote social change. Mahatma Gandhi, through words and action, was able to arouse a whole nation to fight for their freedom. Martin Luther King through his famous speech, I have a Dream, was able to inspire African Americans to fight for their civil rights. And singers like John Lennon, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, through their songs, have been able to help us ‘Imagine all the people, living life in peace.’

Poets like June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Gloria Anzaldua and Carolyn Forche`, have moved me with their commitment to embrace social change though their writing. I remember cracking open Adrienne Rich’s What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics and being flabbergasted  that one could be so honest in exploring activism through art. Indian poets like Namdeo Dhasal and Meena Kandasamy have blasted through stereotypes with their powerful poetry, exploring issues of caste, class and religion.  There are so many writers and artists, who through their words, have touched our lives, and will continue to do so.

What can you and I do? We can believe that nothing is too small or insignificant. Every word, every notion, every emotion counts. Drops do form an ocean. A simple poem can touch us and move us to action. Maybe a poem about a school under a tree, will make us want to volunteer once a week at a government school or help fund a new school. Maybe hearing a poem on domestic violence will give you the courage to approach your friend who’s been hiding her bruises We have the opportunity to put belief into action. And while I am not sure how things will evolve, I will be there to see the power of words bring us all together. Hope to see you there too.


A few days ago, India celebrated 65 years of Independence. It was a bright, breezy day in Bangalore, as the saffron, green and white of India’s flag flapped away on car hoods, auto rickshaw sideview mirrors, and from tall poles. We went to our children’s school Independence Day celebration, where everyone was dressed in their ethnic best: tunics, dupattas, skirts, and salwars in bright colors. There were songs, a play, and dances, and a speech from the chief guest, telling the children they made up 50% of India’s population and that as India’s future, they needed to think about what freedom means and how to preserve it. Most listened, but there was a general restlessness among the younger ones, who wanted to celebrate freedom by running around and playing. These younger ones stole the show with a song that they enacted, dressed in costumes from different parts of India. I had never heard this song-my kids are older now, listening to rock and pop, instead of nursery rhymes-but this song stole my heart with its beautiful message of unity in diversity. It’s by Usha Uthup, India’s sultry voiced-Bindi Babe, who is Just Like You 😉