A room full of books

I’m moving again, and I'm thinking about my books.

Growing up, I’ve always looked for spaces where I could sit down and think. And to me, thinking means writing, and reading. In the different houses I’ve lived in, I’ve tended to find these spaces and sort-of claim them at specific times. At university, this was the volleyball courts at 6 am, where I could sip my coffee, a magazine open in my hand, look up at the hills, and think. At home, this was the terrace in the evenings, where, refreshed by gusts of southern breeze, I could be alone for a while.

But this time, in this flat, I’ve filled a room with books, made up a sitting corner with cushions, and got one of those writing pad-things. 

I love it.

I’ve always known I’ve wanted this, a room full of books; From the time my old man took me to book fairs in Pondicherry, from when I pestered him to buy me books from those Scholastic brochures at school, from when he enrolled me in a local lending library, to when my reading matured and found its own way, I’ve always wanted this.

My books are ridiculously eclectic, there being no real theme in the selection, perhaps my love for travel writing and Naipaul the only stand-outs. There are more unread books than read ones, also because I acquire books constantly. And I think I like that too.

As Nassim Taleb writes in Black Swan, "Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books."

I think I believe in that more than is good for me.

There is less than a month for me with this particular space, to enjoy it a little bit more, to make sure I remember it a little bit better. 

And I really hope to remember all this: the slowness of the ceiling fan, the droning of my refrigerator, and the Madras humidity that makes me sweat as I hunch over my laptop, trying hard to get a sentence right, hitting backspace over and over again.

Written in January 2020 in Madras.

In defence of the university

In 2014, I was invited by my alma mater, Amrita School of Business, to write a short piece about my time there. This was for a popular MBA student forum, advertising of a kind. But I couldn’t say no. 

I remember missing the deadline, but write I did.

I’m reproducing a few passages of what I wrote, edited for context.

The business school you attend will not just give you an education and a degree, it will give you a worldview. So do all colleges, you might argue, but no, business school happens at the age when you become aware of the world around you, how things function and why they don’t, and you begin to question things. Thoughts become ambition, and a young mind tries to figure out its place in the world. It’s a very important time.

I went to study business at Amrita. I don’t remember making that choice very consciously; I had a few other pretty prestigious places to choose from. I just looked at the choices I had, and said this is where I’m going, to this lush green campus at the foot of the Western Ghats.

And it made me who I’m today – a left leaning, bookish professional with a healthy distrust of no-holds barred capitalism. But that’s just one thing Amrita moulded me into. It nurtured the romantic in me, made a writer out of a lover of words. It made me a walker rather than a runner. It made me conscious of history, geopolitics, and the need to give back to the not-so-fortunate. It rounded me up, chipped off my edges as best as it could, and sent me off into the world.

Was I a good student? Not really. Though I tried sometimes, when I had time off from the endless walks on evenings when the wind brought rain and shook the trees. But something did happen to me, in the roads and paths I walked on, in the mountain rain, in those corridors and classrooms. Something happened, and I changed, and I became ready to go face the world.

Amrita was where I was first humbled under the weight of all that I did not know, a humility I learnt to carry and use. Amrita was where I learnt that the world isn’t all about money and ways to make them. But most importantly, it was where I understood that learning to learn is an education in itself.

If what you read makes you think I was in love with the place, I was. But it wasn’t just that. It was where I felt I was first taken seriously, where the sometimes ridiculous ideas of an idealistic 22 year old were listened to with attention by people who cared, and encouraged to pursue. It was where I could sit on a rainy evening and discuss Amitav Ghosh, old cricket advertisements, and your term papers, all in one breath.

That place was where I first learned to be me.

For those of us like me who come from India’s small towns, confined by familial expectations and the narrowness of mind that sometimes characterises the Moffusil, universities are the first real intellectual spaces. They are where we are first free to express ourselves. Without the physical space that Amrita gave me to be, and become, I would never be the ambitious, confident professional I am today.

It is this physicality that I lament today, as education moves online. It’s all well and good for the city’s young people, but it sends those of my kind, from the backwaters and beyond, immediately on the backfoot, especially young female students. And in all this din about online education and the obsolescence of universities, everyone seems keen to forget about the value the physical space of the university provides.

Those who are making the loudest noise about this either seem to be from the west, whose generalised wisdom seldom translates well to the Indian context, or from folks who are invested in companies which sell education online.

Except online education can’t replicate even in part what universities actually give us.

Because if it was just a degree, a piece of paper, a credential, sure, the argument works. But our colleges and universities are more than that. They are spaces where the befuddled, narrow young mind first opens itself up to new ideas, new people, new surroundings, and has the option to transform all that potential into something meaningful. Where it learns what it can be, what is open to it, what it can achieve. Where it meets the world and learns something about itself it did not know before.

None of this will happen in front of a screen, none of this will happen tap-tapping on a laptop, none of this will happen on Slack or Teams, however much you improve the technology and the experience.

And finally, in an India that has changed, where differences are being weaponised every day, where the other is for some reason an enemy, we need places where our young people can just be. We need places where our disparate cultures can meet and engage in the conversation that characterises community and democracy. We need places where we can learn about each other without judgement, without the poison of our politics. 

The university campus may well be the last of such places in our beleaguered nation. We it need now more than ever.

Written in August 2020.

A good year

It's 2003, you are 16, and you are in your maths tuition. You’ve claimed your place in the middle of the side-bench and resumed whatever nonsense it is that keeps you laughing like a maniac through those years, and which cement your reputation as an obnoxious, loud troublemaker. You are having the time of your life when in walks a girl who stuns you, and the entire room, into silence. 

You are smitten. Your friends notice, they tease you.

You don't know that a year later, you'll hold her hand as you walk through a Pondicherry evening.

But for now, you are just quiet.

The blackboard has trigonometry on it, which you are good at. What you aren’t good at is differential equations. You hate those. But those come later.

Your red bicycle is outside; you'll have bhel puri on the way home, to watch World's Most Amazing Videos on AXN at 8.

Dinner is mom's delicious fish curry with dosas, and you tease your little sister for a bit before your old man whacks you.

You are reading Michael Crichton’s Timeline, a weird time-travel book which you love because you are a bit of a nerd and there’s a lot of shit in it that sounds like science.

There’s a match tomorrow and you make a mental note not to go to your slower delivery early in your over. It tends to get hit. But if you get it right on the 4th or 5th delivery, you are in with a good chance of hitting the stumps.

The book sags, and as you nod off, you think of her.

Life is good. For a while, at least.

Written in December 2019.

What I miss when I miss chai

I miss chai.

It’s a ridiculous thing to be missing now, you might say. And you will be right. But for someone whose rhythms of life are dictated by it, normalcy is chai. I miss it a lot.

Not tea, mind you. Not tea, the posh, dipped in hot water variety. You can have it all you want. It’s a soulless, vapid, foul thing, tainting chai’s name worldwide, and I want nothing to do with it. What I miss is the proper Indian version - boiled with milk, ginger, cardamom or other spices, had with a biscuit or two, downed with conversation and snark. The ones which always, always remind you that though life may be tough, the breaks can be delicious.

And if you are wondering if I’m one of those annoying, insufferable chai tragics, make no mistake, I absolutely am.

There are two shops in the lane where I live, and both serve the lovely, fragrant, Irani chai I’m so fond of. One is a sit down, get-a-biscuit-too version, which I visit in the early mornings with a book. The other is the very Puneri, very rude, take-it-and-walk stand, which I love even more.

These days, every time I walk past their downed shutters, I feel a pang, and wish they were open. 

But my favourite, the one I take all my friends to, is not one of these two.

It’s further ahead, past the Aga Khan bridge and the Kalyani Nagar crossing, past the Mercedes showroom, and the cooperative bank building. It’s barely a shop - just benches and a table, but at 5 am everyday, you can see groups of people congregating for that heavenly little cutting chai they serve. I have never had better chai, and believe me, I have had it everywhere, from Delhi to Varanasi to Madras to Lucknow to even Ahmedabad (their Wagh Bakri blend is what first hooked me on to the stuff). Once I observed an older lady getting off a car with a notepad, and writing down how the chai was being made. No one batted an eyelid, she seemed a regular. Noticing me watching, she told me that that she had tried to do this multiple times, but never could get that taste right.

Both she and I agreed then that she probably never would, and solemnly drank up.

I remember this one monsoon morning when a couple of my best friends had moved into my flat for a short while, having been driven out of theirs. I woke up very early, as I’m used to, and found Ashwin up. We started talking. We talked for a long time, about products, marketing, life and cricket. First we talked at home, and then got on my motorcycle and zoomed around Pune’s streets. We downed 5 cups of chai at (at least) 3 different tapris, including the one I described above, my favourite. We talked and talked and talked. I don’t remember any part of our conversation, but I remember the chill in the air, how the morning felt, and all that flavour.

Well, almost, but isn’t that enough?

In Madras, the tea is not as good, but I know where to get a decent cup. Our office had tea made for us inside too, but that misses the point. You have to go outside, have a couple of bajjis lathed in oil that are definitely not good for you, and talk. It is a communal activity - an excuse to get together at 5 pm and enjoy the balmy (okay, hot) evening. 

There are so many stories I have like this, and I could go on, but I won’t. Except maybe that Delhi’s best little kullad is from the man opposite the Hanuman temple on Connaught Place. Go there and have it, if you can. In the winter, preferably. After a Sunday morning trip to the Daryaganj Book Market, even better.

I’ll leave you with this video I love. It’s a creative for Society Tea, made by the agency Black Swan Life. It illustrates everything that I feel and love about chai as our country’s national drink. I don’t think it’s ever been made official. But who cares? 

If that’s not true, nothing is.

Written in Pune in June 2020, during lockdown extensions.

An evening in lockdown

The new flat isn’t done yet. Especially my room. I have to get some furniture, more bookshelves, but obviously that isn’t happening anytime soon. There are books strewn around the house, TV shows paused in-between, work is an effort to get to, and every look at the news makes me anxious. It is a very strange time.

It started raining mid-afternoon. The skies went dark, and the air felt cooler, lighter. I lay on the bed listening to raindrops pattering on the air conditioning unit and fell asleep.

When I got up, the evening still felt empty enough to try to fill up with something. So I dragged a chair out to the balcony, put my feet up on the large pot with the dead plant, and started Paul Theroux’s Riding the Iron Rooster, an account of his overland journey to China in the 1980s. I didn’t particularly take to his writing the last time I read him, and this seems as good a time as any to give people a second chance.

The rain fell, slowly then quickly, then becoming one of those comforting, calming drizzles.

My first-floor balcony has no view. It’s blocked by thick, heavy boughs of what we call the golden shower tree, the Indian laburnum. I know it from university, it is the tree under which I learnt to dream. The rain makes its yellow flowers look prettier. The tree’s branches fall lustily over the railing, obscuring the three money-plants that travelled with me from Madras.

A conversation drifted in from below, it grew darker, and the watchman went by, switching on the apartment’s corridor and stairway lights. I couldn’t hear any traffic, and this is unnerving to me. I’m used to the noise and the bustle of restless, modern India, and I have realised, several times during my trips abroad, that nowhere else can be home.

In the book, Theroux was talking about the greyness of suburban Paris and the ugliness of most of modern Belgium; he was looking through the windows of a train.

I understood what he was saying, but I couldn’t see, couldn't place the scenes. I was thinking about something else. 

On train journeys in India, I wait and look for a scene that’s very important to me. Now that I think about it, it’s laughable, but I always look for the railway crossing in a small town, or a the sight of the station-master’s musty cabin over a lonely platform. Behind this is usually the railway quarters, recognisable by the compulsory rows of bougainvillea and jacaranda and gulmohar and champa, and of course, laburnum. 

I lived in quarters like these once, when my maternal grandfather worked in a sugar-mill, and the house we had looked exactly like this. Later, my uncle, his son, lived in Perambur in Madras, where the Integral Coach Factory is. When I was visiting, I would try to find some time to drive over to the road where the quarters were, and there that familiar scene would be, all the trees and flowers I knew but could not name, a few Anglo-Indian aunties sitting under them.

Something about these scenes of domesticity, of stability, have always remained important to me.

I read on, and when night fell, I came in. I left the chair there. Maybe it’ll rain again in the morning.

Written March 2020, in Pune, during the first lockdown.

We will never be here again

I've been writing and publishing essays on startup marketing for a few years now, only lately assembling it all in a newsletter.

Every time I’m ready to publish one of these, I look for pictures to put it up with. As most marketers know, there is a (rather lazy) template for such accompanying photographs: laptops (preferably MacBooks), tables with stationary artfully strewn around, a few good-looking people pointing and gesturing, whiteboards with intelligent-sounding nonsense on them, and so on. I usually choose one with the least distractions, and don’t think about it beyond that.

Sometimes during such banal searches, a picture suddenly comes up that stuns me. I stop and stare; I know this is special, I download it if I can. But it saddens me for a minute, this travesty: this is not the place this picture should be. Someone made this photograph, a piece of art evidently of some aesthetic value, and this is where it ends up, on a random stock photo site on the internet, for strangers like me to peddle ideas with.

That’s how it is with all art, you may argue. Who decides what has value, and what doesn’t, you may ask. And you will be right. There’s so much stuff out there in the world now, and there obviously isn’t that much time in our lives. 

Or is there? 

With the amount of pictures, and memes, and gifs we make and share, aren’t photographs, in whichever way we engage with them, the predominant idiom of our age? The smartphone’s democratisation of creation, access, and distribution means that it is easy to see, rather than hear or read, in these times of short attention spans. 

In Known and Strange Things, Teju Cole’s wondrous collection of essays, he writes:

Photography does not share music’s ability to be fully remade each time it is presented. It does not have film’s durational quality, in which the illusion of a present continuous tense is conjured. A photograph shows what was, and is no more.

In a world where the future is uncertain and the past is subject to an incessant wrangling over its meaning, it is in the photograph that a generation is trying to hold on to whatever is visible to them. That is why Instagram is so important now, that's why it probably will remain important for a while.

Near the end of Wolfgang Peterson’s 2004 movie Troy, Brad Pitt’s Achilles has something to say to Rose Byrne’s Briseis. It’s probably my favourite movie dialogue of all time, and I come back to it often:

I’ll tell you a secret. Something they don't teach you in your temple. The Gods envy us. They envy us because we're mortal, because any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we're doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again

In the moments that we are able to capture, share, and go back to, we have paused the past, defeated it for a second, even. Who we are in that photograph is who we will always be.

We will never be here again.

Written in November 2019. Photograph taken by Karthik Pasupathy in Yercaud.

Fever dreams

I was rendered useless by a fever most of last weekend.

Most friends told me to read a book and relax, or watch a movie and distract myself, but I am smarter than that. I remember a fever a few years ago in Madras when I decided to read the World War Two book Flags of my Fathers. I was beyond 150 pages before it dawned on me that this was a bad idea: I now had pictures of battlefields and soldiers and big blasts in my head, and I wasn’t able to get rid of them. That night was filled with nightmares and visions of soldiers, wars, and blood. I swore to myself that night, delirious and sick, that this would be the last time I went near a book with even a hint of a fever.

But as with such things, the promise didn’t hold.

As I sat around the house recovering this last week, I started a book called Against a Peacock Sky, about a British anthropologist’s years in a Nepali village. More a researcher’s lived experience than travel literature in the strictest sense, it’s still a good look at rural life in a country then very unexplored. From an Indian perspective, what is familiar are the religious rituals, poojas, and certain superstitions; what’s different is the landscape. The fatal winters, the livestock which had to go south for the cold season, the travelling tourneys of traders from Tibet and the southern plains of Nepal, all of this was coloured, transformed, and lent sharpness by the vagaries of the cold.

I don’t know if it helped me recover, but it certainly didn’t give me nightmares.

As I finished it, I started thinking about this particular and peculiar couple: books and fevers. The easiest book-memory at that intersection for an Indian reader is Amitav Ghosh’s The Calcutta Chromosome, his absolutely brilliant novel of history, mystery, and myth. Published in 1995, it is still one of the better science fiction novels India has produced. I won’t give away spoilers, but If you haven’t read it yet, please do. It celebrates a kind of mysterious open-ended storytelling that is somehow, and you’ll understand this when you read it, very Indian.

Another book that comes to my mind when I think about fevers is Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis, a novel I absolutely adore. It is in every way a Bombay book (a genre in itself, this). The sprawling city is both the hero & the villain of the story, a story that will take you to back alleys, to the politics of Mao's China and back to the changing metropolis, which keeps trying harder to blow itself up. Visions of colour, light & dark, good & evil, haunt the characters, but they have no idea which is which, and neither, as the reader, do you. I was talking about fevers, was I not?

In 2013, the first real winter I was experiencing in years, I was in Delhi, and the bitter wind would freeze me half to death every time I stepped out. Not very surprisingly, I ran myself into a week of high fever and general misery that I only remember parts of. However, sometime around that episode, I summoned enough willpower and stupidity to go see the Taj Mahal for the first time in my adult life. I wouldn’t have told you this as I chattered my teeth away that night, but looking at that great marble mausoleum in the winter moonlight was worth it; every coughing, sneezing, wheezing second of it.

I remember thinking what a terrible, almost unimaginable potion of pain, loss, ambition, and vanity someone must have drunk to even think of creating something like that.

But then, isn’t love a kind of fever too? Perhaps the most potent kind?

Written in November 2019.

Memories of monsoons past

My earliest, and perhaps fondest, memory of rain does not involve rain at all. It’s from Shillong, and I have this vague picture in my head of my father and I with a red plastic bucket. Hail fell around us, and even as my mother shouted from the door of our little airmen’s quarters, we collected as much as we could. It was dangerous of course, blocks of ice falling from the heavens at speed, and with our only protection being a black service-issue umbrella. There was no reason to collect that ice, we had no use for it, and all I did with it was watch it melt. It drove my mother mad. But I remember that laughter, and the cold, crisp air of the high east for what it was: pure, unadulterated joy.

In Jamnagar, in Gujarat, we were ready for school at half past 6, and would be herded into an Indian Air Force truck, rain or no rain. I would fight to find a place for my little sister to sit, and once satisfied, would resume conversation with my gang of merry men. It was only after we reached school that we would realise that it was closed. You see, there were no phones then, no local television, and news would only arrive if someone brought it to you. The driver would ask us kids to sit tight as he checked for any other children to be ferried back home. In that time, we would start up a cricket match. The western rain was no joke; I used to own gumboots for the monsoon. And so we would run in the rain, get drenched, bowl fast, fall down, splatter mud over each other. And in the 30 minutes that it took for our driver to return, a 5 over game would be done, complete with a fight, a man of the match, a sore loser, and bragging rights for the way back.

The rain in Pondicherry is unpredictable: it's cyclonic, and there is no real set season. It usually comes around my birthday, in October, and it's a lovely time to be in my town by the sea. There's a particular laziness then, the mood of a small town having coffee and reading its magazines by the window. Not much moves in the cobbled paths of the white town, the paved roads of the Tamil enclave, and the dirt streets farther out, except perhaps a sullen, wet cat trying to find a place to lay low in. The power goes out sometimes, and when the town quiets down in the evening, I can hear and see the rain falling down the sloping roof of my father's house.

I went to college in an even smaller town 200 kilometres to the south, and there was a spell of record breaking rain in my first year. We were stuck in the hostel for 4 days. Food was brought out to us in an Ashok Leyland truck requisitioned for it. I used to sit near a set of stairs where the wall had broken down, and dangle my legs over the adjacent field, flooded and full. The rain would hit my legs and I would sit there listening to music on the radio of my flip-phone. Some of those songs stayed with me, and when I listen to them even now, I’m reminded immediately of the days I spent stranded, surrounded by water, sated.

I went to business school in a university by the hills and fell in love with the place irrevocably. This was the Palakkad gap of the Western Ghats, and this was mountain rain. People carried umbrellas everywhere and the roads would be filled with yellow flowers after. I never had an umbrella but I had friends, and that’s the same thing. I remember different kinds of rain-drenched days there, but what I remember most is one of the first evenings, when we walked to a welcome dinner from our faculty, and and the mist fell on us in waves, white and heavy and cold and gorgeous. All of us seemed magical, ghostlike figures. I carry that dusk around with me still: It was the first time I thought I was, you know, somewhere.

Around late January, there is a short spell of winter rain in the capital. I was told that this happens every year. It’s bone-chillingly cold already, and the rain doesn’t help. But because I couldn’t do without my early morning tea, I would take my umbrella, wear three layers of clothes, and walk to the little stall in the next street. There would be a fire going, and I would wrap my hands around the plastic cup. Breathing out my own personal mist, I’d take in the tea’s sugary, cardamom-rich warmth. My companions at that time were mostly rickshaw pullers, and they came to know me well. Once in late winter, I carried my Kindle out because I wanted to read as I had tea. They examined the device thoroughly and asked me to read out something for them. The next day, having downloaded a Hindi book, I did so. I remember how they listened, and how their eyes glistened in that light.

Rain in Madras was beautiful, and it always messed up roads, traffic, and your plans. It gave brief respite to a hot city, and even though I was there three years, I can’t seem to remember particular occasions. Except one. We were going for dinner. She had dressed up. The cab arrived at the gate, and we tried to run into it. But she'd forgotten to close the umbrella, and fought with it frantically for a few moments before she succeeded. Water dripping off our heads, we got inside, looked at each other, and burst into laughter. I’m sure she doesn’t remember this at all, but it’s enough that I do.

Written in October 2019.

The extraordinary courage of ordinary lives

The thing no one tells you about chemotherapy is how it gives you no time. My wife was barely able to recover from the last dose that the next one would be upon us. She was almost always in tears when we had to go, but we would trudge down from our flat without fail, and our driver would bring the car out. His name was Muthu and that year he drove our red Polo to the cancer hospital at the opposite end of town every second Saturday.

He was a short, thin, hardy man, with rough palms that had stories to tell. He smiled easily, but the lines in his face were from more than his laughter. He had been with the family for more than half a decade, before I came into it. I knew he enjoyed talking. But all through that year, when he drove us to the hospital, he would be quiet, understanding the gravity of what my wife and the family was going through. 

He knew everyone in Secunderabad. Everyone waved at him, and he would call out to them, sometimes looking back and telling us who this person was and why they were important in the area. He spoke Dakhni Hindi, of course, but it was also weighed down by his native Tamil, so it was a complex, at times confusing tongue.

I got to know him well. The local barber told me about Muthu. I got a few other details from neighbours and a few from his own mouth. There’s not a lot, but I guess there’s enough.

Muthu came to Secunderabad from Madras years ago, part of a long legacy of Tamil working class migrations that began during colonial rule, and that some might argue has never stopped. Tamil migrants worked in Australia during the world wars, fought in them, went to Malaysia and Guyana and Suriname to farm sugarcane, went to Burma and Indonesia to make money, and now go to America to run technology companies. Muthu just came some distance north, but it must have been an uprooting nevertheless. We Tamils are a fiercely proud people, and to leave home is the toughest thing for us to do. Our ooru is who we are.

He was a troublemaker by his own admission. He wasn't educated, and lamented that he should have tried harder at school. He told me how his father died a broken man because Muthu would not work or become responsible. He told me about the legendary fights he would get into, the people he had beat up. This was backed up by others I talked to. He was a fighter in his time, I was told, and feared as a local enforcer. This obviously wasn’t very respectable, and he could never hold down a job. He was also a terrific drunk, and would drink himself to oblivion almost everyday, and had to be picked up by friends or family in the morning from a ditch somewhere.

His children changed him. It must have been an effort, but he tried to straighten himself out, and worked as a driver so he could send his kids to school. His daughter made him proud, she was a college graduate and worked in an office. He worried about her future a lot, but not as much as he worried about his son, a happy-go-lucky young man who took after his old man’s worst tendencies. Muthu did slip up once in a while himself, once memorably when he was in our employ. He got himself drunk one night and turned up late the next day, bloodshot and dirty, whereupon he was asked to go home.

That was the last time, he swore, and it was. He never did anything like that again. I will never forget how he was there for us, no questions asked, when we needed all the support we could get.

Muthu passed away last month. He had had a heart attack. I went to his house, comforted his son, paid my condolences to his family. He had not been working with us for a while, but we were heartbroken too. The people who are with us when we are down are the ones we hold on to the most.

On the back cover of the 40th anniversary edition of Graham Swift’s celebrated novel Last Orders, is a phrase I remember often: the extraordinary courage of ordinary lives. Ours is a large country, there are too many people. We need to remember. We need to bear witness. 

Muthu was our driver. He wasn’t perfect, but he loved his family and conquered himself to provide for them. There was pride and courage in his life. He had fought his way through, and got somewhere. He had a family, he had friends, he had a job, and he was loved. May he rest in peace.

A blog of one's own

The first thing I ever wrote with some regularity and intent was a cricket blog I started during my undergrad years. This must have been 2008 or 2009. I called it A View from the Pavilion, and it wasn’t bad. I know this because I sent a piece to the former England correspondent of Cricinfo, George Dobell, and he was quite happy with it. It was probably the first time someone told me I was a good writer. 

For some reason, I grew tired of it, stopped writing, and deleted it. Not the writing though, just that blog. I started writing on another blog - it’s still up - a few months into business school. I would usually be able to write one post a month, at times two. It was angsty, romantic, sentimental stuff, and I cringe when I read it now. But some of it is still surprisingly readable, even good. My professors encouraged me, and gratified by the attention, I kept at it. 

That blog got me the most important break of my life. When I applied for a marketing role at a small startup called Freshdesk, the founder, Girish Mathrubootham, read it and decided to hire me.

Through those years and after, I kept writing. I wrote everywhere. I tried Wordpress, Tumblr, Medium, but was never happy.

I like classification, order, and neatness. None of these spaces gave me that. I was too lazy and technically inept to make something for myself, but I kept writing. I published a piece in the Hindu, a few pieces for Scroll, and worked on a book. This was all during a gap year when I was back home in Pondicherry.

Returning to work after, writing took a backseat and life took over. But soon the restlessness came back, and I craved a creative outlet of some sort. And now I had a few things to say about work. The CMO Journal was the result. A newsletter on marketing, I have been writing it for 2 years now. It's easily the most satisfying writing I've done, and it’s added so much value to so many people.

Around the same time, I also started writing another newsletter called East Coast Road, for other things I'm interested in. I have quite a few pieces up there now.

But late last year, as I was thinking about starting on another long term writing project, I realised I had to tighten it all up a bit. My writing was thematically scattered, and it couldn't be found and read in one place even if people wanted to.

I realised that East Coast Road was not a newsletter at all. It was a blog, an old-fashioned personal blog. But again, I had the problem I had since the time I began writing: There were too many places to write. I needed a simple personal blog, I didn’t want to sit and code it up, and I didn’t want it to be fancy.

That’s when I found Posthaven, where you are reading this. It’s a blogging platform whose promise is that it will stay online forever. I love its simple clarity, and I love that I can just spend my time writing, not worrying about how things look, what I can fiddle with, and so on. This is exactly what I wanted.

So, over the next few months, I will be migrating every single thing I’ve ever written to this place, this blog of my own. I will also be deleting my other blogs when all that is done. East Coast Road will go down, so will my old college blog.

Simple, then: The marketing writing will go to my newsletter, The CMO Journal. Everything else will be here. 

Why do this now?

A huge part of this is just me indulging my order-obsessed brain. I'm absolutely certain no one else cares. But the other is that once this is over, I will have the clarity to launch a couple of projects that have been in my head for while. And having one place where all of my work can rest, and be read, is something I’ve always wanted.

What does this mean for you, the few of you who think my writing is worth reading?

It makes it simpler for you to follow my writing. All you have to do is click the Follow this Posthaven link underneath this post, and the posts will land in your mailbox, much like Substack. And finally, I will be revisiting, editing, and publishing again my older work. I get to go back down memory lane, refresh a few things.

There will be a lot to read. And I hope you do.