Tag Archives: the new indian express

The Venus Flytrap: A Sonder


Lovers of language will be familiar with The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, an Internet project that creates new words to help describe emotions that are, well, difficult to describe. The project is a beautiful experiment on the fine line between babble and Babel. Among its more popular invented words is one you’ve very likely seen in a meme or a listicle somewhere, whether or not you knew of the Dictionary in question. That word is “sonder”.

            The Dictionary defines the word as follows: “the realisation that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”. That’s the abridged version. An achingly hipsterish video accompanies the entry: it reminds the viewer that while they are the protagonist of their own life, around them are a supporting cast and a multitude of extras, each with a life that pivots around themselves. And there, the viewer in question is only an extra.

            I understand the popularity of the word. It gives a person pause, and for a few seconds or minutes they experience the humbling amazement that there are realities, perspectives and stories other than their own (honestly, not much of an epiphany at all if one likes to read). But what does that realisation really do other than reinforce the centrality of one’s own narrative? The truth is, every single day we rub up against the narratives of other people. And too often – out of urgency, protocol, fear or sheer indifference – we fail to register them, unless something they do or say or don’t imposes on our attention. If you really think about it, a sonder (the Dictionary defines it as a noun) is not a moment of connection; it is simply a break from a permanent cloud of self-involvement.

            I’m not sure if The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows has a word for the opposite of sonder, the feeling I’d describe as the wall one hits against in certain individuals despite one’s core curiosity about and attunement to others. The people you see often, who allow you only the most functional and superficial access to their nature. You have to know them, professionally or circumstantially, and you form an impression of them that has nothing to do with who they think they are, only what they choose to not do.

            Surely that is not such an obscure sorrow, the knowledge that someone trusts themselves so little that they do not trust the world.

            What makes me like a person, whether at first impression or as I’m getting acquainted with them, is a willingness to not conceal the fact of an interior life. Not the details, necessarily, just the fact itself. A lightness with which the intricate is yielded: a mood, a glint of the eyes, a curve of the lip, a few open words. A lightness that is partly the absence of guile, but more so the acceptance that this is how we are, all of us, no more than pure emotion scaffolded by body, name, role, place. And how sad and wasteful it is to pretend otherwise.

            You will come to know a person whether they let you in or not. And they will come to know you, or a version of you, composed of the truths you give away and the lies you live by. Even if I’m wrong and a dramatic sonder is the most us egotistical human beings are capable of, imagine: in that moment of sondering, when someone looks up and catches some deep, unguarded glimpse of you – do you think you’ll like the you that they’ll see?

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on November 2nd. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Mondays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: A Reunion


I am delighted that my column, The Venus Flytrap, is back in The New Indian Express after a 5-year hiatus! The first piece is below. An edited version appeared in the newspaper on October 26th. The column appears on Mondays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.


What do you say to someone, an old friend of sorts, after five years have passed, out of touch? Let me try. Think of this as me greeting you as you find most appropriate: with a hug, a handshake, or maybe just the hope that you still remember me. Do you? Walk with me a little while, if you will. Let’s take for granted that much happened, as was only necessary. Five years is a long time to waste, and a short time to spend. You aren’t the same person; I assure you that neither am I. Yes, I still love to laugh, and I live by the moon even more than before. Yes, there’s indigo in both our throats now – and on some nights, it’s an arrested poison, and in some lights it’s a hauntingly beautiful blush. You, I can see, still seek out challenge, are charmed by caprice, still wear your circumstances like a loose collar, so that nothing gets in the way of a deep breath. Still look for yourself in the reflections of others, and delight in how similar and similarly entangled we all are.

Let’s say, also, that some things stayed the same, even as others changed.

I hope you still have more fingers than mistakes to count on them, and that you do not do so often. Which is to say – I hope you always knew the difference between a risk and Russian roulette. I hope they threw carnations at you more than they did arrows (you know who they are). I hope all the love you ever threw out there yourself boomeranged right back, full force. I hope your elsewheres still fill you with sweet nostalgia, and your somedays have inched ever closer.

Me? There’s plenty of time for that later. But I will say this much: there’s a mountain inside each of us, beyond which no one can hear us screaming. I have conquered mine. But this is also true: Rumi wrote, “There is a kiss we want with our whole lives.” And I am still waiting. And that is probably why, my dear, that I am still here.

I still have a heart like a pair of saloon doors, swinging open at every chance.

What fills your life now? Who are you becoming?

I thought of you sometimes, and of what I would say if I knew you were still listening (and at other times, I thought we’d never see each other again). I thought of you when I wept with joy in the Tuileries one dying summer, and when I looked over a bridge into a lagoon in which a mermaid lay silenced through thirty years of war, and always when the Madras summer does to the jacaranda and rusty shield-bearer trees what a greater poet’s spring did to the branches of the cherry.

Any time someone allows you into their lives is a privilege. Any time someone takes two minutes of their own time to listen to you is a chance.

Walk with me, again, a little while. And thank you, old friend, for letting me walk with you.


Some Recent Press


I talked to Isahitya (October 2012) about vulnerability, mysticism and the book I’m concentrating on now.

And to Doodleblue (August 2012) about my old column, “The Venus Flytrap”, and what I dislike about India.

And to The New Indian Express from London (July 2012) about participating in Poetry Parnassus.

A Little News About The Venus Flytrap


Those of you who read The New Indian Express would have realised by now that the Zeitgeist supplement, in which my column (“The Venus Flytrap”) ran continuously for almost three years, has come to its end.

At the moment, I don’t know what the future of “The Venus Flytrap” might be. I’m very attached to the column and I’m hopeful that this is not the end of the road. This is just a note to thank all of you wonderful people who have read it, shared it, commented, or otherwise been a part of it. I hope you’ll continue to share my journey as I wait to see what’s around the next corner.

Featured On A Full Page (More Madras Week)


A full page in today’s Expresso! Knock aside the food listing and the film ad, and you have an article apiece about “The Sea Story” and the readings on the first night, the theme for which was Cities+Pride.

Five more nights to go! Yesterday’s was Cities+Envy, which went splendidly in spite of the rain and the delay caused by the rain, and tonight’s is Cities+Wrath.

You can check out our full page spread at the e-paper here (available only for today — hopefully I can scan it up by tomorrow). Expresso section, page 6 (Madras Week feature).

The Venus Flytrap: At The Mercy of Her Bite


Let me just tell you straight up that I have penis envy. Every Rorschach test you could possibly give me will prove it. Like O’Keefe, like Freud, like – Oh! – Hinduism, I can’t get the nethers off my mind. I discern shapes, nature and various abstractions as phallic or vulval. The latter I find sexy, spiritual, artistic, but complex, unlike the former. The former make me laugh, they make me ogle. The former have me fascinated by their humour, simplicity and ultimate alienness. For a pretty ballsy woman, my lack of supplementary equipment entertains and holds my attention to no end.

There, now that that’s out of the way, feel free to celebrate my complete discrediting from the feminist movement by lighting up, very aptly and traditionally, a cigar.

It was a cigar and a conversation with a male friend surprised by the sight of a woman smoking it that got me thinking about my penis envy and expressions of it. Coming to consider this, it surprised me too how few women take to the cigar. Like all the usual paradoxes of the more tasteful vices, it seems the premise of only sophisticated men and strange women.

From Che to Churchill, bastions of masculinity seem to like sticking big long objects in their mouths and sucking on them. Cigars are sexier, less subtle versions of the sceptres and swords of yore. The underlying motivation is practically kindergarten-level Freud to analyse, but worth the giggle.

Yet it remains risqué for women. Someone suggested it’s the gracelessness of it; essentially, one fellates a cigar. But if that were the case, we wouldn’t eat in public, either. Anything involving the mouth – including speech – is inevitably sensual.

After all, it’s mainly a decorative accessory; cigar-smoking is an art, not an addiction. And what could possibly be more sensual than a woman sitting by herself in a dress too fancy for the bar she’s in, sipping a gin and tonic, wearing shoes to tango in, exhaling from a Cuvee Rouge as she looks you in the eye?

I heard your breath still. See what I mean?

But back to business – do other women not smoke cigars because they do not have penis envy? Or could it be because – let me just throw this wild card in – the idea of a woman controlling a phallic object, having it literally at the mercy of her bite, is too disturbing to the (male) viewer to digest?

It’s important to note, of course, that as far as phalluses being evocative of power go, only the erect ones count. So good girls can eat spaghetti, no matter how long and uncut, without conjuring up any primal images in the onlooker. This is also why the cigarette, too skinny to be of consequence, is invalidated. Penis envy is not sex – on this count, size definitely matters. If it’s not obscene, it’s not an expression.

Let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that the rooster-synonym is king. Men have their walking-sticks, their neckties, their Papua New Guinean penis sheaths. As well as their fleshly counterparts. What’s a woman with penis envy to do to take her power back but put a symbol between her teeth? What better way to deal with an object that can’t be owned than to objectify it?

A parting-shot defense of penis envy, then (because while it may be true that I’m a gay man stuck in a woman’s body, I’m thrilled it happens to be this one): war, after all, is just a manifestation of menstrual envy.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement.