breathe

Any Time, Some Time : 2019
Published : November 2017 / December 2017
A First Book
And this is what I read and think to myself as the deadline looms and the writing starts its jagged flow :

“You must remember what you are and what you have chosen to become, and the significance of what you are doing. There are wars and defeats and victories of the human race that are not military and that are not recorded in the annals of history. Remember that while you're trying to decide what to do.”

― John Williams, Stoner (the novel)
My Story, My Calling
Published : November 2017


I’m a writer by profession and lately I’ve been reading what is every storyteller’s bible for structure and character development : Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces. The narrative is universal, the monomyth that is found in all the great epics – The Ramayana, The Mahabharata, The Iliad and The Odyssey. There is a protagonist, the Hero/ine, and through a series of trials and obstacles, through encountering tricksters, shadows, demons, guardians and mentors, he/she ultimately comes face to face with true self and life’s purpose. In that sense, the Hero/ine’s trajectory is synonymous with the experience of the Yogi, who starts a practice and begins that unavoidable inner journey towards self discovery, with all the freedom and discomfort that it has to offer.

Flashback to the spring of 2010. I was in my late thirties, burnt out from a hectic career of writing films and TV shows in Mumbai, exhausted from chasing unreliable producers for paychecks and cynical from too many ‘conditional’ industry friendships. I wasn’t in great health. I also needed a personal time-out from the long relationship I’d been in with my partner. I desperately needed a sabbatical to think about the future, and a change in not only my lifestyle but also in my world view.

While visiting my parents in Delhi, I stumbled (quite literally) upon a fitness chain that offered power yoga classes all over the country. I, who couldn’t do a surya namaskar to save my life, found myself at a dynamic flow class one morning at 8 am. Soon, I was an addict, doing classes thrice a day, and needless to say, within months found myself fitter, stronger and more flexible than I’d been at 20.

But this blissful Stage One came to a crashing end by the winter of 2014 when my trainer, a young chap from Bangalore who I had befriended and supported through difficult times, revealed himself to be deceitful, manipulative and emotionally abusive towards me. It was a betrayal of trust that left me shaken and feeling very stupid for having been so ridiculously naïve. I had thought I was entering a purist sanctuary of wellness and positivity, very different from the ‘toxic’ real world environment that I had been dealing with all my adult life. The truth couldn’t have been more ironic.

For the next few months, I was lost and depressed. I had achieved a level of physical fitness, but I could easily have gotten that by walking or running or swimming. What had yoga really meant to me these past few years, other than a feel-good high a couple of times a day? I felt like I had learnt nothing of real or lasting value, and I didn’t know how or where I could start to learn from what I saw all around me. The urban yoga scene was about Money, with childishly vain ‘teachers’ vying for clients by floating pseudo-spiritual memes promising love, light, peace and inner transformation. No, this wasn’t for me.

Disillusioned that I was at this time, I loved yoga and didn’t want to give it up. But I also knew that I was looking for the values that come with learning a traditional practice and the discipline, knowledge base and ethical foundation that the path of yoga involves.

Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long. My Stage Two began when I learnt of a traditional ashtanga yoga shala in Delhi. In the summer of 2015, I found myself enrolled as a student of the Ashtanga Primary Series. For the first time, I was under the guidance of mature and professionally qualified teachers. And I was dead nervous, as I knew nothing about ashtanga practice except that it was very, very hard.

Little did I know that I was signing up for the challenge of my life – a challenge that hasn’t eased in these past two and a half years!

Ashtanga is relentless, the postures often feel impossible (I am athletic, but certainly no gymnast, and I turned 45 this year). But I believe sincerely in ‘practice, practice, practice…all is coming’. I am inspired by the discipline and the sheer courage that a daily, committed practice requires. You are up at dawn, even in the freezing winter, and at the shala latest by 6 am. You practice in silence (aside from the sounds of breath in the room). You keep your ego in check because you will collapse countless times before shavasana (like a career in the arts, any sense of victory is fleeting and almost always followed by a slippery, sweaty slide into defeat). When you congratulate yourself at having gotten better at balancing in sirshasana, along comes a back-bending manoevre that you know will take you a year just to figure out, and maybe another three years to be able to do. If you are a person who exists with the highest expectations, who craves success, validation, appreciation for everything you do, who has never known patience, who is attached to extreme feelings of emotion, who has a quick temper, then you’re in for a tough, shaky and very humbling ride on a non-stop train called reality check.

When I look back at the last couple of years, I see how I have gone through many different emotions through my practice. There is always the buzz of elation, but it comes mixed with fear, anxiety, pain and resistance, depending on the kind of day I’m having. But even so, I’m learning to relax more now, to go with the flow. Some days I need the grit and detoxifying sweat of a full ashtanga practice, on other days I prefer the calmness that comes from simple stretching and light pranayama. I remind myself that yoga has come into my life for a reason and that it has changed everything for me. I now know that any practice rooted in time-tested knowledge and positive intention – regardless of which tradition you choose – is the best thing you can do for yourself. It teaches you not to give up, to value the baby steps of real progress, to bond with a community of fellow practitioners, to open yourself up to a deeper education, to feel the desire for more and more study.

This year, while on a one month practice trip at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, I bought and read a book by Yogani called The Eight Limbs of Yoga (described as ‘a structure and pacing for self-directed spiritual practice’). Despite being the beginner that I am, I found the text easy to understand and applicable to all types of practitioners. It bases itself on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and prescribes the integrated practice of the eight limbs of yoga (asana is only one of them) as a means to purify the body and to stimulate the natural capabilities within the human nervous system. It is through this sustained daily practice, and through engaging fully in life, that we evolve towards self understanding, self acceptance and joy.

The book ends on a simple note : The Guru Is In You. Your journey is unique, your standards are your own, your battles are your own. Like in The Hero/ine’s Journey, you are the protagonist of your story, and only you can write it, only you can live it.

This appeals to me. The writer that I am, I will always be impulsive, anxious, independent-minded, opinionated, emotional. Through yoga, I have stopped fighting these qualities, and accepted that they make me who I am. Which is not to say that there isn’t work I have to do on myself.

Yoga has its way of tripping you up and correcting you. Constantly.

I’ve also gone through a phase where I saw my practice as an escape from life, as a kind of alternate universe, as an ideology of perfection that my type A personality made me aspire to. If I ‘failed’ at an asana, I would feel useless. If I smoked a cigarette during a break at work, I’d feel guilty. If I felt mistreated by someone, I would swallow the urge to tell them to fuck off and feel the hypocritical pressure to smile and forgive. For me, this proved self-defeating and unrealistic, like a forced separation of yoga from real living when the two are one and the same thing. And I have further come to understand, from myself and from others, that while yoga is an empowering practice, it isn’t an instant ‘miracle cure’ for depression or anger or sadness.

And so today, emotionally, I’m somewhere at the start of my Stage Three. I’m seeing yoga as a liberating friend, as an ally, as a tool for strengthening myself in the world I live in and the world I have to negotiate, as a practice that will allow me to use my creative talents and personality to their best potential. It’s time to finish writing my (first) book and to get it out there, to find a balance between my career, my relationships and other responsibilities, to develop the hardcore will it takes to cut down on smoking. It’s time to let go of situations and people who do not value or understand me, to not take for granted the ones who do. It’s time to be kinder, less stubborn, more empathetic.

Well, one day at a time.

May the Stages to come be Infinite.
#MeInfinity…
Published on : October 15, 2017
No one is more arrogant toward women, more aggressive or scornful, than the man who is anxious about his virility.

So said Simone de Beauvoir, born 109 years ago. And not much has changed.

Last month in The New Yorker : “Individual takedowns and #MeToo stories will likely affect the workings of circles that pay lip service to the cause of gender equality, but they do not yet threaten the structural impunity of powerful men as a group”.

Women do not only experience sexual abuse at some point or the other, by men they know or don’t know, they also fight a far more dangerous enemy : a systemic, subconscious, psychological abuse that is so widespread, so inherent in daily life, so damn naturalized, that most of us – men and women – don’t think of it as abuse at all.

There are so many men who never say Sorry, because Sorry is what girls say. There are so many men who don’t feel guilt, over anything at all, because guilt is a woman’s full-time job. There are too many men who choose to ignore a problem, who sulk in silence, who refuse communication, because finding a solution and arriving at any kind of compromise is always the female responsibility. There are “awesome” men who profess to have “respect”, “sensitivity” and “humility” – but only as long as their fragile egos are dutifully worshipped, and never challenged.

Many women have told me (and this has been my experience too) that when they have fought back or reacted with (justified) anger at male deceit, misogyny or injustice, whether in the professional space or in their personal lives, they have mostly been dismissed as “crazy”, “unstable,” “attention-seeking” and “hyper-emotional”. These labels, conveniently dished out by a certain brand of insecure, manipulative men, are almost always aimed at women who have achieved far more than they ever will, at women who have the courage and talent that they will never have and many times, at women who have simply rejected their bullying and opinions.

Complicity is everywhere, the chanting never stops. Suck it up women, if you want to be successful. Smile and let it go, don’t create drama, be philosophical, learn to play by the rules, here’s a free lipstick, stay peaceful and pretty. Nobody likes angry women. Truthful expression is a virtue only within ‘agreeable’ limits. No matter the exploding phenomenon of female depression and the rising suicide rate amongst women and girls – worldwide.

MeToo aside, women have done enough talking, enough thinking, enough fighting, enough of the hard work that needs to be done. They’ve been doing it since forever, and they’ve been doing it pretty much alone. According to The New Yorker : “The exploitation of power does not stop once we consolidate the narrative of exploitation. A genuine challenge to the hierarchy of power will have to come from those who have it, and that includes all men”.

In the words of Sushant Mukherjee (via my former school teacher , Mrs S Advani) : Male feminists ≠ dudes who think they are decent chaps, and who don’t beat, harass or humiliate women. That is not male feminism. What it needs to be, is a proactive, outraged, intentional movement of men not afraid to stand up vocally and relentlessly for equality between the sexes, and to listen closely and carefully to the experiences of the women in their lives, and in the public domain. Male feminists interrogate and challenge the power structures of gender - and also of race, and class and caste - that make this world such a dangerous and inequitable place for women, and then they write, mobilize, advocate, and organize concerted action to change the status quo, in partnership with women. If you’re doing anything less, then you’re complicit. Yeah, me too. #metoo

And here’s my PostScript on the Weinstein saga :

At this year’s Oscar ceremony, it was all the fashion to bash Trump. Meanwhile, Harvey Weinstein got emotionally referred to as ‘God’.

Hollywood La La Land, like all commercial art and entertainment communities everywhere, adores itself when it comes to championing righteous causes. Films exposing the horrors of Afghanistan and Syria. Documentaries lecturing the world on the disgraceful state of the Environment. Save the Walrus. Go Vegan. Fight for Global Justice. Art is Self Belief, Courage, Truth (and of course, Money).

Too bad that in the same holy industry, the rampant criminal sexual abuse and intimidation of countless women, over countless decades, got conveniently overlooked. Not only by fellow creative talent (some of whom may have been genuinely afraid or vulnerable), but by powerful agencies, financiers, executives and lawyers.

Self-serving hypocrisy exists everywhere, and sure, it’s as old as the hills, but even so, there is a limit, no?

In the meantime, it would be awesome if The New York Times did an expose on Bollywood and the free, open, joyful and unlimited exploitation of its female workforce.
Good Karma And All That…
Published on : October 9, 2017
Sometimes I wish I’d been born to be a banker or a doctor or a home-maker or … anything but a writer. SUNDAY. Morning breeze, I am in an auto on my way home to Yari Road, after doing self practice at a friend’s empty house nearby, feeling very good about life. I pay off the auto driver and as soon as the auto disappears from my building, I realize I HAVE LEFT MY YOGA MAT IN IT!!! This mat has been everywhere with me for the last two years. I run out the gate, but obviously the auto and its driver have taken off at the speed of a Mumbai local. I curse my stupidity – where is your mind, Selina? – then, feeling totally defeated, I calculate how to go about getting a replacement mat immediately and that too, with my budget being at NOT GREAT. I calm down, tell myself worse things happen in the world, just detach, breathe, it’s not like anyone is dying, it’s just a mat. Forget it, let it go, it’s gone anyway, and what’s gone is gone.

I decide to make a list of things to do, and how to go about sorting the situation. I think maybe I can calm down by reading my horoscope, checking Facebook and posting (maybe I can borrow or hire a mat for the next 10 days?), I want to check my email, do all the normal stuff that makes me feel grounded.

So I switch on my laptop. The laptop BLITZES – yes – it EXPLODES and goes BLANK. ALL my work files are on this laptop, all my notes for the book, all the scripts and articles I have ever written, work contracts, EVERYTHING. My schedule is on it. My whole life is on it. It’s too late to start over. I freak out, and start to tremble and cry. Well-meaning people are like “Think positive” (a line that should never be used on me in situations like these) and “Don’t be so spoilt and attached” and “If you practice yoga, how come you’re so unstable when minor things happen? How will you ever face the major stuff? Grow up!” etc, etc. In a panic, I call a friend, who services computers and who is used to dealing with writers and other non-tech types, and he’s like all cheerful : Arrey, don’t you have back-up for your files like the rest of the world? I lose my temper and say : Really? Back-up? Thanks for THAT advice, it’s MOST helpful right now.

I am dazed for about 15 minutes. I switch the laptop off. Then, still in a comatose state, feeling like, what more could I possibly have to lose, I try switching it on again. It starts. Everything is normal. I burst into new tears – tears of relief. I call my friend back, and he patiently instructs me on how to back up all my files. It takes three hours, there is stuff on this laptop that dates back to the Nineties. But I do it, and I make a prayer to God, saying thank You, thank You for giving me this one chance to save myself.

I go back to worrying – now what to do about the mat? – when the bell rings. It’s the auto driver with my mat. He says : You left this in my auto! I break down again – tears of total joy. The auto driver’s name is Sayed and he is my hero. I offer to pay him for his trouble, but he says there is no need, he is just doing his duty. I feel very humbled, ashamed of my spectacular self-absorption. Sayed lives in faraway Ghatkopar, with a family of nine, and he drives his auto all day long, smiling and just doing his duty.

After all this crying, mat drama, laptop drama, I am so exhausted that I just go to sleep, telling myself that in all this, there is a huge lesson for me and I have a lot of deeper learning to do. In the meantime, I will always back up my files. And maybe it’s a cynical world, but I will always have faith in the kindness of strangers.

And so on with Any Time, Some Time, my forthcoming book of stories, which I believe is now blessed by a higher force. Amen.
No Heroes, No Villains
Published on : September 14, 2017
Some months ago, in Hampi, I re-read The Difficulty Of Being Good by Gurcharan Das. He analyses The Mahabharata and its obsession with the elusive notion of dharma – in essence, Who am I? What should I do? What is right? The epic beautifully and timelessly engages with the world of politics, property, power, society and personal relationships.

When King Yudhishthira feels guilty for killing and wants to renounce the world, his grandfather Bhishma tells him that the dharma of a leader cannot be moral perfection. The Mahabharata is suspicious of ideology. It rejects the pacifist position of Yudhishthira as well as his enemy Duryodhana’s aggression. It tends towards the pragmatic evolutionary principle of reciprocal altruism : adopt a friendly face to the world, but do not allow yourself to be exploited.

There are no “heroes” (Yudhishthira loses everything due to a gambling addiction, and the Pandavas are not always honest in battle) and there are no “villains” (Duryodhana and the Kauravas, for all their evil ways, are the bravest and most skilled of warriors).

The Difficulty of Being Good shows The Mahabharata as especially relevant in modern times. Duryodhana’s Jealousy (How can I let my rivals succeed?), Draupadi’s Courage (Whom did you lose first, yourself or me?), Yudhishthira’s Duty (I act because I must), Arjuná’s Despair (There are no victors in war), Bhishma’s Selflessness (Be intent on the act, not on the fruits), Karan’s Status Anxiety (Why am I illegitimate?), Krishna’s Cunning (That’s the way it is), Ashwattama’s Revenge (Now I feel the force of Time), Yudhishthira’s Remorse (Victory feels like a defeat to me) and ultimately, the elusive questions of : Who am I? What should I do? What is right? There are no answers, only interpretations, not even interpretations, more like things to think about, especially when you are writing fiction where characters come in all shades of grey.
I Am A Knife, He Is A Gun
Published on : August 18, 2017
In all this information overload, I love when art is precise. Sharp writing in books and films, the silent beauty of a single image, the simplicity of the count during practice, and so many other things.

Last year I taught a writing workshop in Mumbai and all I could think of to say was what I constantly learn and re-learn myself : Express whatever you must. But know the craft. Less is more. When you are so confident in your technique that you can say a whole lot in a very brief time and space, then you can leave it to others to interpret its meaning.

This is what I love about Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women, in which she describes the power dynamic of a certain relationship :

“I am a knife. He is a gun.”

It is only the opening line of a story, but it tells you everything in eight words.
Summer 2017 : A Prelude For All That Is Coming...
Published on : July 21, 2017
This year I have a deadline. I will complete my book, a collection of short fiction, by December 31, 2017. Well, the full first draft, for whatever it’s worth. Its tentative title is Any Time, Some Time. And it couldn’t be more apt.

So I’ve been reading a lot lately. Not just the usual mix of online scandal and tragedy that I’m hooked to, but some seriously awesome writing. Like Arundhati Roy’s masterful debut novel, The God Of Small Things, which has been around 20 years. Better to have read it late than never. And Haruki Murakami’s new short story collection, Men Without Women, and its stunning, heart-breaking first narrative, Drive My Car. “Smoking is a killer”, Kafuku tells his nicotine-addicted chauffeur, Misaki. “Life is a killer”, she replies.

Finally, I discovered Roxane Gay, through her cool essays in Bad Feminist. Gay is a simple, stunning writer. I read Difficult Women, her collection of short fiction, up in Landour, Mussoorie last month. And just before that, her memoir Hunger. It takes guts to write a memoir about your body, one that weighs 570 pounds. It is compelling reading. There are no solutions, no weight-loss triumphs, no victories. It describes the writer’s sexual trauma (Gay was raped in her teens) and the binge-eating that has followed in the 25 years since. I love what she says : “I’m so over being raped. I will never be over the way I’ve been treated by society for being fat”.

When I first read The World According To Garp (by John Irving), I was 20. It was only recently, upon re-reading it, that I was struck by its genius, its darkness, its lunacy and its sorrow. It tells the story of a young, struggling writer, T.S. Garp : “Writers, Garp knew, were just observers – good and ruthless imitators of human behaviour”. It is the story of Garp’s mother, a feminist icon way ahead of her time, who has published a famous manifesto called ‘A Sexual Suspect’ and who tells Garp : “Don’t worry so much. So what if there’s no life after death?” Her trans-sexual friend, an ex-football player, is also trying to cope with the world : “All men are liars, said Roberta Muldoon, who knew this to be true because she had once been a man”. The novel is a tragic-comic ride through love, sex, death, art, gender roles and politics in 20th century America. It is serious and irreverent, and it is a sharp, loving exploration of human relationships, for “in the world according to Garp”, it concludes, “we are all terminal cases”.

In a bid to educate myself a little more deeply, I’ve spent the last few months trying to find my way through the basics of yoga philosophy. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for Beginners – a foundational classic. The Difficulty of Being Good, by Gurcharan Das – which brilliantly analyses the epic Mahabharata for contemporary times and argues the impossibility of defining Dharma.

And then there’s this slim green book, simply titled The Structure and Pacing of Self-Directed Spiritual Practice : The Eight Limbs of Yoga. I bought it from Green House, Mysore this past January. I have never been able to read books with the word Spiritual in the title. But this is a simply written text, just 100 pages, a kind of guidebook for anybody who is curious, and it is full of common sense, humour and positivity. Yoga, as a practice of self development, espouses the principles of truth and non-violence, self knowledge gained through direct experience, self restraint and self reliance. These are easy to understand, but often hard to follow.

However, what I liked most was the author Yogani’s long essay that basically says (paraphrased) :
In all art, in all practices, in all relationships, in all cultures, through all of life’s highs and lows, what ultimately matters most is the ability to have empathy, to value the role of others, to face and not escape from life, to have the guts to confront when necessary, to trust in one’s own intelligence at all cost.

The Guru Is In You.

----- Yogani
The Love Song of Amrita Pritam
Published : Autumn 2016
The first time I met Amrita Pritam, she told me that a smoke is one of the few pleasures of life. I knew then that Amrita Pritam was the writer – and the woman – I wanted to be.

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Amrita Pritam : The Red Thread Zens



YouTube/View Here.
There's Something about Sylvia
Published : Autumn 2016
In "Rustom", Sylvia Nanavati is portrayed as a repentant wife, awash with tears. But the real Sylvia would not be relegated to the role of the adulteress.

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Playboy and America's Naked Truth
Published : Autumn 2016
Playboy's brand of intellerotica is dead. Sexy has found itself traded in for crude sexism, just as the word "liberal" has been shown the door by a right-wing nationalist vocab.

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In Search of India's First Female Serial Killer
Published on : July 5, 2016
The psychosis of Ramanna in Raman Raghav 2.0 is predictable. I wonder why Cyanide Mallika, the notorious killer who poisoned six women, has never captured a filmmaker's imagination.

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Breathing Behind Bars
Published on : June 21, 2016
Yoga and meditation programmes in prisons have been known to bring real rehabilitation and long term change, especially for inmates dealing with trauma.

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Meditation Lesson #101
Published on : March 1, 2016
Meditation is not your gig. You do not know how to live in the present. You get lost in the past, fantasize about the future. The Now is your enemy.

The Now is a numb series of distractions to endure. A moody zone of restlessness and rootlessness. A cycle of manic exercise, feverish writing, fits of OCD and sleep.

You think you don't need meditation. You exist with only the Highest Expectations. When you are angry, you abuse. When you are inspired, you create. You write with courage. You practice with boldness. You can do tough physical asana. You are successful. Best of all, you are free. Everybody loves you. And yet.

You are always in motion, but you are not seeking. You are ultra-flexible, but far too stubborn. You want answers, but you refuse to listen. You take pride in your wisdom, but you are unable to learn from experience. You believe you have conquered Ego but your arrogance is terrifying.

Today you are here. In a room. You are cynical. Remember. Meditation is not your gig. But you like the instructor. He gets you. His energy is healing for you. So you are giving it a shot. You close your eyes. Breathe. You are self-conscious. But Padmasana is easy. Back straight. Breathe. Tune out. See? Easy.

Eighty seconds later. Boredom, knees hurting, Padmasana is not easy, back straight is bloody hard, tuning out is now inviting you to tune in. Tune in to the need for a cigarette. Did you leave the gas turned on before leaving home? Oh fuck. Anxiety. Remember the time you were with him and you thought his place would blow up because of a gas leak, and you both had a paranoid laughing fit?

Today you are not laughing, for a year you are not laughing, you want to kill him. And others like him. For breaking your heart, poisoning your soul, smashing your faith.

Your meditation is really just thoughts of revenge. Your pranayama is actually the fantasy of karmic justice. Really? Revenge against whom? And what injustice? He was a confused kid, and had even more issues than you, was drowning faster than you, did you even bother to see that? But as usual, you were selfish and vain and playing your favourite game : Drama. You wanted to be saved when you should have done the saving. Anyway, the past is done and cannot be undone.

Time seems to have stopped, your knees are good, your chest is calm, but your legs are like lead. Breathe deeply. This is nothing. Your grandfather, aged 27, fell to bullets on the Russian Front. Your patient mother has given birth three times. Your sweet neighbour is undergoing chemotherapy. What are you whining about? Someone's I-Phone screeches. Let it be. You are a baby, and you are safe in this womb.

You lie down in Shavasana and the pain releases, like one thousand needles through your skin. It feels alright. Yeah, it will take years for a creature of such extremes as you. Years of learning. Time is running out. Time goes so fast. Maybe you don't have years. Maybe you don't have even ten minutes, because what if you walk out of the Bhakti Wellness Centre, in thoughts that have nothing to do with the present, and get hit by a truck and drop dead and learn nothing?

Relax. You are doing fine. For all your madness, you are brave. You are a survivor, a thriver, a lover. You are so lucky. Be grateful.

Forgive yourself. Let it go. Move on.

Now open your eyes.

(In memory of brief acquaintances)
A Smoker's Rant
Published on : December 11, 2015
I hate the anti-smoking brigade.

This awareness hit me yet again on a 6 am flight to Mumbai recently, when I lit a Gold Flake in the open air outside the terminal – more to prep myself for the 14-hour work day that lay ahead than anything else. I smoked neatly; no spilling ash (I carry an eco-friendly portable ashtray in my purse), and am extra careful to never ever blow noxious fumes in anyone's face by mistake (yes, even at a party, where everyone's too high on alcohol to care). Anyway, so then, a woman walked past me, her bratty 5-year old in tow, screaming and running circles in his Superman cape. Instead of controlling her spoilt offspring, and having the grace to look embarrassed, she raised her eyebrow at me in that way people do when they think they're better than you. Because they don't smoke, you see. Because you're making the planet a messier, more selfish place. Ironically, her screechy sprog ended up right across from me on the plane and left me with a migraine that lasted a week.

In oh-so politically correct 2015, smokers are treated almost on par with terrorists or pedophiles. But mothers like this one expect the world to not only accept but indulge their ill-mannered children. How can you not smile at that cute little boy, at the innocence he represents? He is the future, after all. You're just a toxic addict, damaging your health and that of others.

Ah, health. The one argument that's supposed to bring you to your knees and writhe in shame every single time. Somehow I don't think the state of my lungs is a concern the Indian government has, what with pollution levels being out of control thanks to fuelwood burning, biomass burning, vehicular emission, traffic congestion, large scale crop burning, and a whole lot of other kinds of poisonous activity that we all like to ignore, because the real enemy is this little cancer stick here, and whoever takes a well-deserved private moment to light up and relax a bit.

Smokers, like fat people, like lazy people, like unemployed people, are judged. Constantly. For being weak, for being indisciplined, and worst of all, for being self-centred. They're not self-centred. Smokers tend to be a meek, respectful group, for the most part. When was the last time someone lit up in a non-smoking home? They'd never get invited over again and they'd be treated to a moral lecture from hell. When was the last time somebody puffed away at an indoor bar or restaurant? They'd be thrown out and fined a month's salary, if not arrested or humiliated in other ways. And yeah, inhaling a pack a day isn't the greatest of character-building habits to have but there are world leaders who lie and people who make fun of disability and friends who don't return phone calls because they owe you money. And none of this lot seems to feel any guilt whatsoever.

A shared activity – even if it involves a smoky puff or two – bonds people in so many ways. My bored friend met her husband because she was the only one at an uptight soiree who could offer him a light for his Marlboro Red. And writer Nick Hornby talks of how he met Kurt Vonnegut, his literary idol and inspiration, at a claustrophobic book reading. Both escaped to the terrace. Vonnegut had run out of smokes, Hornby happened to have some unfiltered Pall Malls and that's what led to them exchanging emails for months, discussing all the things that make life really worthwhile, like Arsenal and '60s pop (well, according to Hornby, that is).

I mean, who couldn't do with more moments like these? This is what I loathe most about that smug anti-smoking brigade – they're missing out on life, but that's not enough. They have to deny the rest of us one too.
“I wanted the whole world or nothing. Find what you love and let it kill you...”
Published on : July 15, 2015
“I wanted the whole world or nothing. Find what you love and let it kill you.”

So writes Charles Bukowski in Post Office. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of Bukowski. A bold novelist, a hard drinker, a passionate lover. An intellectual mind, a simple heart, a deranged addict. A sexy, all-or-nothing person. Above all else, a free man.

Writing. And Yoga. My own two drugs of choice haven’t killed me (yet) but I have found what I love, what sets me free, and it’s the difference between the whole world or nothing.

As a writer, I am wild, loving, angry, impatient, obsessive, compulsive, impulsive, spiritual, material, adventurous, ambitious, vain, nervous, excitable, calm and…Oh. So. Restless. As a student of yoga, I struggle with many of these qualities and contradictions. Yet there is an acceptance of the fact that this is me, and that I can and must improve, but that it’s all really quite okay (the Bukowski shadow again).

For me, writing and yoga share a beautiful synergy. Both are personal, free-flowing discoveries of the self, yet each demands the steady, daily discipline of sweat and skill. Both respond to a special innocence and vulnerability while ruthlessly rejecting self-consciousness and superficiality. Both are nurturing; while one agitates and sharpens the creative and intellectual instinct, the other agitates and streamlines the body and its myriad powerful energies. Both can sometimes isolate you onto a little fantasy planet of your own, and yet both have the power to awaken that magical Third Eye of broader, deeper awareness.

There is an adrenaline that comes from perfecting a chapter in a novel, from finding the right phrase for a sentence, from nailing the killer climax scene in a movie or TV script. There is a similar exhilaration from achieving a challenging posture after months of falling, failing, despairing and almost giving up.

Author Deepti Kapoor says : “Ego is integral…while in yoga one is supposed to keep the Ego in check, be mindful of its rise, eventually try to eliminate it, in writing, Ego is essential. Not the kind of Ego that says ‘I am great’, but the kind that says I create, I exist, I want to mark my presence on the world.” Yes, without this Ego I cannot write. But it is also this very Ego – an Ego that strives hopefully towards greater self potential as well as kinder human connections – that pushes me at sports, at fitness, at mental concentration, at trying to improve my practice. This Ego is how I breathe.

My experiences as a writer and fledgling yogi-in-development have taught me a few things, even if at random bursts of wrong timing. The hardest lesson has been that while the art of writing is pure, while the practice of yoga is beauty, the other bits and parts of life can often prove disillusioning. A wizened emotional objectivity can be learnt. But bouncing back from a weakened state with renewed faith comes from a place of raw courage.

These last six months of my life have been tough in many ways, but I can feel that this phase of transition has pushed me towards a far stronger writing career and yoga practice than I would ever have thought possible. As of today, in July 2015, I continue to be a work-in-progress, but a happier one. For this, I must thank some incredible people. My writing collaborators and creative colleagues, my yoga teachers and generous encouragers, my amazingly unique family, friends and Anil Senior : this blog and website are with my gratitude.

Selina Sheth, born 1972 in India, has a postgraduate degree in Media and Communications. She has worked as a broadcast journalist, a network commissioning executive, a screenwriter for film and television and as a freelance writer and content editor in print and on the web.

Based between New Delhi and Mumbai, Selina is currently developing Any Time, Some Time, a collection of short fiction for publication.

In addition, Selina is a dedicated student of yoga practice and philosophy. Other healthy addictions include reading, travel and connecting with people. Vices such as Facebook, black coffee and procrastination will, hopefully, soon be history.