Semiosis of the Cityscape: Part I

It is striking here that the places people live in are like the presences of diverse absences

– Michel de Certeau 

What is it to see the city stripped off its subjects; of its people and their perils. How would you ‘look’ at the space when all that is there to see is stillness. A still photograph imbued in a thread of many, unlike a movie, moving in time but not in motion. 

As I board my cab for the airport at around 2 am, I become one of such subjects. I look at the city, like the still photographs, passing by but not moving; with every frame, image, capturing a still scene of what may be the city’s identity, or the part thereof. What is this ‘city’ anyway? How and why do I perceive this space to be a ‘city’; that too a city very orderly differentiated and demarcated from the other spaces (maybe, other cities). What is it that propels an understanding within to see this space as a limited and structured display of self which is given to be demarcated from the limited and structured ‘other’; that ‘other’ being either experienced or imagined. Maybe, in that ride to the airport, I take this limited and structured demarcation to be a ‘given’; much like a Gramscian development of an internalised and rationalised hegemonic belief. Or, is it the pure ‘uniqueness’ and the aesthetic of the same, reflected in the stillness of the city-scenes, that lifts my conscience from the profanity of material understanding of meaning to the spiritual escape into the metaphysical. 

Either way, I continue to travel; being driven on the route predestined by an app that maps my movement, my journey from the start to the end, and introduces it to me in a faceless display with an alien voice. But, how much could the market and its technology  assert control over my journey? What is this ‘journey’ anyway? Is it the mere physical movement within the material space, or does it carry possibility of constructing non-physical movement termed as ‘experience’? If the literature of the past and present (and hopefully future) is anything to go by, the journey is more conversational than didactic. It is the development of oneself through an array of meanings, both constructed and understood. Yes, there is materialism, though not always, involved in what we understand as a ‘journey’. But the meanings that we construct are not always constructed upon or within the space orchestrated by such materialism. And, even if we do, let’s say, my journey is foundational and  is well within the voids structured by the materialism; there is no ‘given’ in terms of interpretations I gather off the well-defined material space. Neither, do I, bound myself to the singularity of meaning that the materialism of the space might expect off me. So, dear ‘mobile cab-booking app’, and the hideous display of inhumane manipulation of the space that you create by ‘mapping’ my movement, you can never control my ‘journey’. You might be able to control the fodder that feeds the construction of my meaning, my relationship with the space, but nothing of your volition will ever be able to decipher the understanding I rationalise through this self-driven ‘movement’ called ‘journey’.  

To be continued…


From Numbers to Recipes: Ankit Grover of Slice of Soul Walks Us Through his Inspiring Journey

We all carry stories that need to be told or at least reflected upon. This story is of a man who not only travelled three cities in pursuit of his dream but also three professions; and what diametrically opposite these professions have been. From Jabalpur to Pune via Bombay, this is a tale of Ankit Grover, founder of town’s most intriguing pizzeria called Slice of Soul, and all the ‘in-betweens’ of having nothing to having what contents.

A man, who is now an authoritative source of any knowledge regarding beer or pizzas, was once in a profession where he didn’t even have time to cherish them in his meals. A Chartered Accountant working in one of the leading companies in Bombay, Ankit found himself engrossed in numbers and data analysis. ‘I always had the dream of having my own setup but something had to be done before that’, he said. A stint as a CA was a result of not coming from an entrepreneurial background and a prospective foundation for taking a step closer to the dream. When his job became too small to contain his knack for new technologies and inventiveness, he bade adieu to a generously paying job and embraced a life where he had nothing to do.

The environment, the culture, and everything about that corporate life had become too one-dimensional for me. I anyway had to break away from that monotony today or tomorrow. I knew this job was not what I actually wanted to do’.

Months after leaving his job, Ankit started private practice and simultaneously began to think about opening up a cafe. Back at home in Jabalpur and away from the hush of a metro life, his mind was better placed and creatively more motivated. So, when he found himself at the cusp of taking a step forward and moving from numbers to recipes, he packed his bag and his mom’s faith in him and flew off to Pune.

I had absolutely no knowledge about how the entire process will actually take shape. All I had, was an idea, a concept; and yes, a name which I wanted to give to my café.’ Ankit’s background in a corporate field came handy during the establishing days of his café. Every morning, he would head out and meet different people and hunt for a perfect place that would house his dreams. ‘Field Research was of utmost importance in the establishing phase of this journey. I knew I was taking a big risk, I knew I wasn’t a seasoned rookie, so I had to equip myself with the in-depth understanding of market and the trends.’ Pune is famous for the short lived journeys of food joints. They say, every day 10 cafés open up here and 12 shut down. However for Ankit, faith in the uniqueness of his concept motivated him to survive the competition.

Despite the well guided research and trustworthy connections, there were fall outs. Failures that shatter building faith in oneself and take one back to square one. ‘I would lie if I say that these failures didn’t shake me up from inside. I was terribly disheartened. I even started questioning my methods. However, this was the time when I gathered inspiration from my past. The transition from being academically below average to becoming a CA helped me in collating my strength back and refocusing my efforts.’ There were failures and then there were opinions that discredited his ideas; but his drive to fulfil his passions did succeed and led to the creation of Slice of Soul.

I not just wanted a pizzeria; I wanted one which is authentic. My idea of wood-fired oven seemed unattractive to many and now it is my USP.’ Many features of Slice of Soul are drawn from Ankit’s personal experiences and family outings.

My mom loved pizzas; so having pizzas for lunch was quite common. However, every time we used to go out for pizzas, there used to be quarrels and disagreements over toppings and the kind of bread. In the end we all had to make small sacrifices over desired contents. This was a driving force behind the idea of coming up with Make Your Own Pizza. At SOS, I wanted a food democracy and freedom for customers to not only choose their toppings but participate in every step of making their own pizza. And then, it was followed by Make Your Own Pasta and Make Your Own Salad.’

Many people dare to follow their dreams; but often there comes an interval called ‘backup option’. For many dreamers, this backup option becomes so consuming that it translates into the sad demise of what they actually wanted. Making that shift from a backup option to the process of actualising the dream is a small but the most difficult one and Ankit was glad that he made it without much hassles. However, taking this new step and new profession didn’t mean a total forgetting of the previous one. There were many takeaways from his stint as a CA and the most important of them being his Articleship and Strategic Financial Management that he studied therein. Although to Ankit, there’s a different takeaway which is much closer to heart – ‘After becoming CA, it was easier for me to convince my fiancé’s parents to agree upon our marriage. And it was a delight to have them at the café and prove my mettle in front of them.’

Striking a balance between taking risks and committing oneself to foolproof planning is a lesson that Ankit likes to impart to dreaming entrepreneurs. As a man who believes more in hard work than destiny, quite often uses a phrase ‘Kismat Buland Hai Apni’ as a sarcastic commentary on those who solely relies on destiny.

So if you ever wish to meet this dreamer and achiever in person, you can find him at 101, Fortaleza Complex, East Avenue, Kalyani Nagar, waiting there with his mouth watering offerings and a heart warming smile.

IMG_20170918_130256_163 (1)




I measure freedom with the

Stretch of my

Hands, my palms facing the  

Sky, fingers  


I dance today in my stillness, I fly

With the winds unseen, I give up on the

Retreating rays of sun, in the sky, 

All I see, 

Is Blue.  

I whirl my storms in an utmost peace, the

Silence sings my fortunes

I flow through

My trajectories in every sip of 

My tea

Take me nowhere, but here

Take me somewhere, but there

I dawn my light in 

This evening,

See love,

In nothing

And everything


From Have-Nots to Havelock: Understanding the Alternative ‘Now’ of Life

Between ‘one pint down’ and ‘thinking about another’, a conversation happened. Like most of my social outings, I didn’t exactly plan to meet the other party to that conversation, but I guess it happened for good; or, it could not have happened any other way.

Sitting on a jute mat at a quiet Naga café, the guy across the table carried a life story that was very fascinating. In a capsule, he got drunk one night, booked a ticket to Andaman Islands with his friends and then never came back home. As much horrific it sounds at this juncture, the follow-up is just so dreamlike. He fell in love with the scenic nature of the Islands and decided to settle down there. To his good fortunes, he immediately got a job at a tourism agency with a humble pay for which he bade goodbye to his job in the States. Five years fast forward, he’s now a diving coach at Havelock Island (Andaman), has a girlfriend and is still dwelling in a small studio apartment where he comes back to sleep after his enchanting tryst with nature.

Now, with this sort of a lifestyle set as a premise, there wasn’t much left for me to boast about my life – a law student surviving on optimism and slugging through competition. However, I did feel a little hit in my wits (maybe because of that second pint that I finally decided to take) that made me think the other way; to see through the romantic construction of his life. It may have been anything else, but as of now, I think it was that one thing that he said during that conversation that caused the hit – how it feels like to live in the ‘now’.

A remote island 1220 km away from south-east Indian coast, Havelock Island is a much neglected, strategically significant and naturally gifted Indian territory in the Andaman Sea. This faraway land is much closer to nature’s bounty; devoid of accessible mobile or internet connections. It is in this environment that this friend of mine found a home like nowhere. He said that it is like living in the ‘now’; detached from the strings of past and future. The only access to the news about the ‘parallel universe’ comes from a newspaper brought to him once a month by foreigners working in his organisations who get a permit for only 30 days and need to return to their respective countries once in every month. So, it is the music of the winds and the vistas of the stretched out sea that entraps his conscience for the longest duration of time – a form of liberation, as he puts it.

Does that mean that the life I lead or is led by some of the people that I know is not lived in this idea of ‘now’? And, is it even worth harping about? Well, to each its own, can be a possible answer. However, to me, it looks more like an excuse than an explanation. So I thought more closely about it and did come across with certain explanations.

There are two ways one might feel like living a life of this diving coach from Havelock. First, it is a natural calling motivated by one’s deepest understanding of self or coming to know of the same. Second, the romantic construction of such a life in one’s head, more like a reference group, without understanding the correlation of the same with one’s understanding of self. I think for my friend, it was the first case that motivated his decision; even though I don’t know much about him. However, to a lot of people, it may be a motivation falling under the second category.

The information we receive about these referential lifestyles is mostly asymmetrical. We often tend to focus on the broader bright side of such stories to feed the voids existing in the understanding of our own life. This is how we create some sort of a mental equilibrium (or at least try to do so) by feeding hope and aspirations to an apathetic conscience. ‘Grass is always greener on the other side’ is a phrase generating from the similar mental construction. There are many philosophers and movies that have vividly romanticised this idea of ultimate liberation – a detachment from all possible human connections that take us away from nature. But is it the only form of liberation available or is it just a form of resignation disguised as one? I would say, it’s neither.

Nature itself asks to move away from structural and linear interpretations of life. The constant movement and mutations of smallest of cells is a reflection of the degree of diversity we are capable of. So, in this particular understanding of nature, the liberation and the lifestyle as fashioned by my diver friend becomes ‘one’ of the many choices available. Something which is neither smaller nor larger than the life we naturally desire to live and not romanticises about. It requires a much deeper and honest understanding of self to differentiate between the one wanted and the one fancied. So, the diving coach doesn’t live in the ‘only now’; rather, he lives in the ‘alternative now’ and so do we.

If I’m a person who seeks to outgrow his space and predictabilities associated with his identity, I’m a person of movement and not resignation. For me, liberation lies not in finding solace in a static life closer to nature but optimising my potential and energies in understanding the diversity this nature offers. This doesn’t put the orientation opposite to mine in a less important pedestal. It just gives me space and authority to respect and love the alternatives that I wish to choose for myself. There’s no pitting one ‘now’ against the other. It is about recognising self and nurturing it within the various alternatives of ‘now’.

So, as we bade goodbye to each other and I headed for an eagerly awaited family function, I settled my bill and scribbled a little note for my diver friend that read –

“I would love to walk your land, or the only land you know. I would love to wrap my head around the liberation that you understand. But I will soon grow different and might want to sail away. For the island that brought me liberation once, might also bring rising waves within that hit the rocks hard and then retreat back to the sea, defeated.’



One of Those Starbucks Stories

I think I always conflicted with an idea of having a single identity. One name, one man, all leading to one destiny. I’ve always seen myself as a diacritical sort of a human. One that grows to fill certain voids, then go on to outgrow those very voids in search of other. It is in the fluidity of meanings, the ever evolving spaces of reality, that I find some sort of sense. Maybe, my peace lies not in rest but in mobility.

As I take slow sips of my hazelnut latte, extra caffeine and not usual, I don’t find my answers in the space that presents itself to be real to my senses. I find it in the melodies of old Hindi songs. As I feel the long raked up unfinished thoughts  surfacing to scratch the walls of my brain, and probably my heart, I immerse myself in a dialogue with the voice of Lata Mangeshkar. I don’t think I can ever restrict her songs to compartmentalized meanings of aesthetics. Like my own identity, I see these songs transcending structures of predefined voids and conquered territories of reason. I see them forming a new representation system that feels personally customized to engender within me this catharsis of sorts which is not of heightened degrees of emotions but of calming sensibilities. I can feel my thoughts getting reorganized, things being cleaned and sorted, and during this process, emergence of some lost things that I don’t even remember losing but recognize their importance. This voice, these songs, are nothing less than a revelation to me.

So, as I wait for my another cup of coffee, I don’t expect to be called out with my real name. Yes, I have multiple Starbucks names. I don’t know whether it’s even significant or not but it feels good to be someone else for a while. No matter even it is for few seconds. Well, why call it being someone else? To those who tend to outgrow, this is just an another form of being oneself.


Toast to Embarrassments

If I am, 

I will celebrate my imperfections, 

Raise toast, to 

My embarrassments, 

For tonight, 

My body has many stories to tell


As It Happened on Radio

When the clock strikes 9, RJ Anmol mans up the microphone of 107.2 MHz which is not so famously known as Radio Nasha. After a day of grueling legal manoeuvring at my boss’s chamber, I had finally boarded that late night metro to home that is always decorated with tired homecoming lullabies being reflected in  their beholders’ eyes. Irked by the mechanics of a routine life, I decided to give preference to radio over my iPod playlist for this not so long but weary journey. And as far as perks of this choice are concerned, I was quite satisfied by the welcoming melodies of Dhal Gaya Din. 

Well, the soothing voice of Lata Mangeshkar was not the only thing that touched my heart that night. More profoundly, it was the request made by a man with a thick voice – Tahir.
RJ Anmol has a special late night segment where he randomly calls one of his listeners and tries to fulfill their one request. On the auspicious night of Eid, one of the lucky listeners for this segment turned out to be Tahir. “Eid Mubarak bhaijaan” said Anmol while familiarising himself with the man on the other end of the line. “Aapko bhi bohot bohot Mubarak” replied a spontaneously charged up voice. After explaining the theme of the segment Anmol asked Tahir for his one request to which the middle aged man replied – 

“Bhaijaan, meri bas ek hee khwaish hai. Meri ek paanch saal ki beti hai jiski awaaz sunne ko main taras gaya hu. Agar aap mujhe uski awaaz sunwa do, Allah talah ki kasam, main do saal tak koi khwaish nazdeek nahi rakhunga”. 

(Brother, I have a daughter for whose voice I have yearned for years. If you could make me talk to her, I swear by God, I won’t ask for anything else for next two years) 
Startled by this request Anmol asked the man about the reason for this request. As he’s usually met with requests for old love songs or funny confessions, the thinning of his voice evidenced the fact that this is probably the first time that this cheered up quirky RJ is taken into a sentimental ride on his own show. Talking further about his request, Tahir mentioned that 3 years ago he was separated from his wife Reshma who also managed to get the custody of their only daughter. Since then, Reshma has put an embargo on Tahir’s any communication with his daughter. Despite understanding the extreme difficulty of fulfilling this request, Anmol promised Tahir that he’ll try his best to fulfill the request while the mystic music of azaan provided for an unexpected yet contextualised divine interruption. 
After taking Reshma’s number, I was again introduced to some music.  As Asha Bhonsle’s Aao Na Gale Lagalo Na transpired me to a much needed groovy state, a part of my mind was stuck on what would happen to Tahir’s request. After a couple of interluding songs, the time finally came when Anmol called up Reshma. 
Anmol: Hello Reshma ji, Eid Mubarak

Reshma: (in a joyous voice) Eid Mubarak, aap kaun? (Who’s this)

Anmol: Ji main Anmol bol raha hu Radio Nasha se, meri ek choti see request hai. (Ma’am, I’m Anmol. I have a small favour to ask for)

Reshma: haan boliye (yes..) 

Anmol: Mere ek show hai jisme main sabki ek request poori karta hu. Ek request mere paas Tahir jee ki hai jo apni beti se baat karna chahte hai. ( I run a show where I fulfill people’s requests. One of those requests is from Tahir who wants to talk to his daughter)

Reshma: (suddenly the tone becomes distantly and anguished) ji ye nahi ho sakta aur hume is baare main koi baat nahi karni hai ( Listen, this can’t happen and I don’t want to talk about it) 

As Reshma was about to put the phone down…

Anmol: Bhabi Bhabi suniye.. (Ma’am please listen…)

Reshma: Hume koi baat nahi karni ( I don’t want to talk)

Anmol: Bhabi aaj Eid hai. Humare khatir nahi toh Allah ke khatir hee kisi ko uski khushi ada kar de. (Ma’am, it’s Eid today. If not for us, at least for Allah’s sake, please agree to offer a man his deepest happiness by fulfilling his innate desire)
After seconds of awkward silence and building tensions, the pause finally breaks with Reshma’s voice.
Reshma: Aarzoo idhar aao.. (Aarzoo come here..)
As the line was held for Aarzoo, not only Tahir but I guess every listener must have waited in sheer anticipation to witness what might unravel in just minutes time. 
“Hello..” said Aarzoo sounding clueless about the nature of the conversation she was about to indulge into. 
After that hello, what happened for next 30 seconds warmed my heart to its every vein. As emotions swelled in Tahir’s throat, his voice became thin and his tone gentler. In a brief period of conversation where he could only share greetings ended with his daughter saying, “Abbu, aap aajao mujhse milne” (dad, won’t you come to meet me?). Sensing the baritone of the exchanging tones, Reshma abruptly intervened by saying ‘that’s enough’ and disconnected the call. 
After the abrupt disconnection of the call an awkward silence followed which was for Anmol to break. As he began to ask Tahir about his feelings, a voice from the other end, that has undergone a multiple variations in tone throughout this outplay adorned satisfying gratitude. “I don’t know how to thank you” he said. “What has happened to me today, I’m not sure whether I deserve it or not, I would never cease to be thankful for it.” 

As the last word had been spoken, last tear, shed, Anmol went back to his chair and I was again treated with some serenading melodies. This time, Geeta Dutt.


The “In Betweens” of Life

So, how do we start sentences when there’s no one left for us to hurt, no one, left for us to please? Maybe, talking about mornings is a good start. After spending good couple of weeks in sinking deep into quilts and reading vintage spy novels ( more of non fictional accounts of a condemned PoW), I was yet again pushed by life to stand somewhere in the middle of the queueing up crowd of Delhi metro. 

It’s so unveiling of capitalism to put such diverse stories that move all over the metro premises into contexts that suit its definitive convenience. So much so, that a broken heart would rather roll with the corporate rush rather than rolling in the deep. 

Standing on escalators as they transport me on and off the concourse, I wonder how would I just end up staring at one place for so long.  How could I zone out to the most insignificant of spaces knowing that I’m still dwelling in a world where I’m in the process of fulfilling a practice. But I do. And I do it to the railway track across the concourse I’m standing on, or sometimes, to the long black handle of the escalators. 
Off the station and on the roads. It’s sad that even though you change your spaces you can’t seem to escape the contextualised rush. Well, not always. I tend to get hit by random shreds of unexpected happiness quite often. While on my way to work, riding on a rickshaw, I met an orange butterfly circling me for good. A few seconds of  beauty that has become so rare in the city life was enough to touch me deep within and force a smile somewhere from the inside that I knew would not be tapped upon anytime soon. 

So, I guess the trick to start a sentence without involving others in it is to make yourself the other you always want to have these moments with. There won’t be any quantifiable analysis of the magnitude of happiness you gain from seeing a butterfly but I’m sure that it’ll be your very own. Since it doesn’t subject itself on someone else, nobody would ever take that away from you. 


On Kochi Strike

It was when the roads were brave with

No soul treading upon it, but

Fires silently flaming high upon the falling

Tree trunks and giant logs

All so silent,

Silence that embezzles every shred of reason

Out of a worn out mind


The language was not mine, not

Even the faces or reflections

Any similar

I was getting into this unseen, unfelt stretch

Of land with nothing

But what the land offered me quite



I had known of the red, and

Every anger and dissent that flows

From that land, but

This anger was saffron, it

Was unafraid as if to have that

Cunning smile, concealed somewhere beneath

The scenes of basic deprivation

And fear, just fear


With every passing of a burnt tree, of

A shut house or burnt effigies, I

Saw the life running away from life, I

Saw resistance not in rebel

But in regret, or

Better or worse, in



So, the streets of Alavu rendered

Me a poem,

A poem that is about protest, about

Us versus them

About every tick of clock spent in fevered perspirations

The streets made me see life

As life that never made sense to me when

I ever made sense of politics and


The rebel bloomed like a lotus, over

What seemed like settled mud.  

And I,

Well I waited for the dawn.


A Note From The Freshman Year

A note from my freshman year

Precisely a rant

In I don’t know  how many languages,

Scribbled on a handmade paper, maybe

Never to be read ever again.

Not quite sure, whether

Written for a me ‘then’ or a me ‘now’

But definitely written,

In a space that knew no lure to fall into

And no limits to halt itself to.

Three years later,

Hours and days and months, of

Becoming a thing that made itself to be seen

And those rare moments, of

Unbecoming to see itself.

All this while I never knew that I had an existence beyond myself

I had myself imprinted, reflected

And then closeted to oblivion.

But loss made me curl up myself and shrink

And love; made me reach out a little

So, there I stumble upon this relic from the past

That seemed like a fossil of myself

My truth reduced to words that were unbound of grammar,

Or bereft of language

And quite surprisingly, I did not shiver

Now that the dirt has enveloped, the corners

Curled up and the surface yellowed by age

The paper still felt so alive

So familiar

The note felt like myself, not so distant

So, as I began to read it, I

Felt very uncomfortable of the things I hide away from

Some truths too innate came

In like confessions

Whatever it was, wherever it came from

It was not a mirror to me,

It was a revelation.

A couple of reads and a mixed ride of emotions later

Silence made me travel time and let me

Come face to face with this belittled and confused self

And I couldn’t help but to embrace him

And much like yesterday, and a day before

We both smiled and cried at the same time

So, here I am

Making sense of the world that once noosed around my neck

And putting a brave smile to that love

Love that speaks my language,

Love that sings my songs

The note that I now safely put back to the closet

Is no more a discarded rant,

It’s an escape that shall take me to my roots, and

Remind me of

Where I come from.