“RN by any chance? Read your Taco Bell article and took me back to early 90s Clemson. Were you HN and/or A’s roomie??” read the message in Facebook Messenger last week. I instantly recognized the sender and I was happily reacquainted with a friend whom I had last met in 1994. This was the second such instance of a friend from Clemson reaching out to me after having stumbled across my blog on Taco Bell.
While it is wonderful to be reacquainted with old friends, it always makes my day when I read the responses to my posts. The blogs relating to my school are bound to elicit responses. I’m writing about teachers, buildings, and memories that are common and dear to many of my schoolmates. These posts get circulated amongst various WhatsApp groups and reasonably wide distribution is expected. But then, these memories probably don’t hold much interest to other readers. So when I read the responses to other posts, there is a sense of satisfaction that my blog has rekindled old memories in the minds of perfect strangers halfway across the globe along with a sense of gratitude that they have taken the time to read my post and comment on it.
Speaking of interests, it is sometimes hard to predict which blogs might find favor with readers. When my wife finished reviewing “Panorama – A Selection of Poems” (my high school poetry textbook), she grimaced and said that it would draw less than a dozen views. I counted the people I knew who would likely read it and had to revise the number down to ten. Her implication was that it was such a niche topic that it would hardly interest people. It has turned out to be one of my most popular blogs! My wife is seldom wrong, but on this occasion, she probably underestimated the nostalgia that this textbook evokes in a certain set of students of my generation.
My posts on Nikhil are probably read mainly by family and friends. The viewership comes primarily from my posts on Facebook. However, my blogs with the most views have come from organic searches on Google. This accounts for the popularity of the post about my poetry textbook. If for any reason you search “Ghalib Whiskey” on Google, my blog is the first hit! And accompanying it is the fantastic sketch of Ghalib by my immensely talented friend Naren Kini. A search on “Brigadier Desmond Hayde” lists my post on the first page and the keywords – “Desmond Hayde Dograi” ranks it slightly higher.
Fake news on WhatsApp and Facebook has certainly helped boost one of my articles. Not that I’m propagating any falsehoods. Ms. Sangita Nerurkar is a fantastic singer, her renditions of K.L. Saigal’s songs are outstanding. I mentioned this in my post on K.L. Saigal. The hits on my blog have continued to go up ever since a video of her singing one of Saigal’s songs started circulating on WhatsApp with the false claim that she was the great singer’s granddaughter. “Is Sangita Nerurkar Saigal’s granddaughter” is the search that leads people to my blog where I mention that she sings K.L. Saigal’s songs very well. No false claim that she is his granddaughter.
“WhatSap are you?” is my only blog that is not based on my memories, on books, or on people. It reflects my observations of the different kinds of personalities that I have come across on WhatsApp. I must confess that I lack the imagination to write fiction. Many years ago, I wrote pieces like “If Humans had tails” but sadly I don’t have copies of those or the imagination to write anything similar to that now. If you haven’t read the post, you might want to take a quick personality test!
Blogs on Nikhil or on my family are easy to write and are usually completed in a single sitting. The thoughts and emotions flow freely and I don’t have to plan what I write. Other posts take longer. The one on “BTS Memories” (Not the music group but Bangalore Transport Service) lay partially written for a couple of years until I got back to it. The ones on Panorama and Indoor Cricket were never planned but were written immediately after a conversation with my brother. The post on Brigadier Desmond Hayde took the longest. I read his book on the battle of Dograi and then had to reread parts of it as I wrote the blog. In all, it took me probably 18 hours to write it, fact-check, refresh my memory, and try to make sure that I got all the facts right.
The blogs I’ve particularly enjoyed writing are “Chasing the Monsoon“, “Ghalib’s Favorite Whiskey“, “WhatSap are You” and “Cat of Nine Tales“. “Chasing the Monsoon” rekindled old memories of growing up in India during the monsoons as well as the wide variety of topics I could touch on. An additional bonus was the book that inspired me to write the blog, was a delightful read. “Ghalib’s Favorite Whiskey” was a topic that I loved to explore. Granted, there was no original insight and it was based on online research but it was fun trying to deduce the Whiskey (or Gin) that prompted Ghalib to stay on in Delhi after the fall of the Mughal court when he could have lived a life of luxury in the royal court of Patiala. I love reading books and lurking somewhere deep inside me is a tinge of sadness that Nikhil will never know the joy of reading and enjoying a finely written book. “Cat of Nine Tales” therefore was written with the joy I experienced when I discovered that Nikhil enjoyed the stories of a cat named Pete. Nikhil has since moved on from Pete the Cat. Like any other teenager, his interests change as the years go by.
My blogs on Stoicism and Hindi Songs were personally very satisfying. Like many other people during Covid, it was written during a spell of introspection. I’ve been drawn to Stoic philosophy and it was interesting to try and match themes from stoicism to my other love – old Hindi songs. If there is one aspect of me that infuriates my wife, it is my inability to remember the lyrics of songs that I’ve been listening to for years. It’s bad enough for her to be in my company when an earworm has burrowed into my brain and she has to listen to me sing or hum a song incessantly. It is worse when I can’t get past the first line and keep singing it ad infinitum. Or if I do get past the first line, I completely massacre the second line or blithely juxtapose one from a different song. My wife has sadly been subjected to such musical atrocities throughout our married life. So it was a pleasant surprise for her and an enlightening experience for me when I researched the lyrics of the songs before writing them down. I forgot them soon after.
The Blogs on my family and friends are a way for me to express my appreciation for them. I find it easier to do so in writing than to express them in words. In retrospect, I wish I had conveyed my thoughts to my mother, my uncle Vijmaam and my friend Prakash when they were alive. Instead, I ended up writing eulogies for them. My blog on my dad’s 85th birthday was an effort to express my gratitude to him for everything he has taught me in life. Similarly, the blog on my brother is a reflection of the positive influence he has had on my life. If you’ve read my blogs, you will notice that I hardly write anything about my wife other than mentioning her in passing. And that is by design. She is definitely my better half by some distance. It would embarrass her a fair bit if I were to write about her. When it comes to my writing, she is my greatest supporter, reading my blogs patiently, correcting my grammatical errors, asking me to add more context and always keeping me grounded.
I’m often struck by how the experiences that I write about trigger different reactions in people. My blog on “Chem Club” where I wrote about my high school teacher drew positive responses with a couple of readers recounting how that teacher inspired them to pursue a career in science. However, in private forums, a couple of friends mentioned that they recall those classes with dread and they disliked the teacher. My memories of my high school are uniformly joyful and I view them through rose-tinted glasses. I’ve since realized as I’ve talked to other classmates that they do not share the same happy memories. They either had problems at home or school that affected their school life and their memories are starkly different from mine. The blog on BTS was another such example. I recall my days of traveling to school with mostly fond memories. I was told by my wife and by other female relatives that it was a nightmare for them. To put it mildly, they had to be constantly on their guard to avoid being touched or groped by men on the bus.
There are two topics that I don’t write about. Politics and religion. I’ve been asked by a couple of friends why I don’t write about them. My honest answer is that I have nothing original to contribute. Individually, they are potent subjects, but of late, across the world, they are combining to form an explosive cocktail. Religion, especially, I think should be personal and one’s religious beliefs should not affect others. “Two Elections” is the closest I’ve come across to writing anything remotely about politics. This was influenced by my personal experiences growing up in India.
“24 Shantinath Bhavan” is a very personal recollection of my visits to my grandparents home in Bombay in the seventies and the eighties. Those visits hold very dear memories and harken back to a time when I reveled in the company of my cousins and my relatives. It was the era before social media, computers, and the world wide web. It was a time when we actually spoke to one another, conjured games, and read books. We got into fights and patched up in no time. We spoke frankly to each other about our dreams, aspirations, infatuations, and fears. Earlier this year, my daughter visited India with me. We had gone down to attend my nephew’s wedding. A week spent in the company of her cousins and their extended cousins. She returned with very fond memories and I suspect an altered view of family and relationships. In this day of the internet and virtual friendships, I think she experienced a sliver of what I experienced and took for granted when I grew up in India.
And finally, that brings me to the topic of this post. If you have played cricket or are an avid cricket fan, you’ve no doubt felt the agony when you have been stuck on 99 or watched your favorite player scratch away at deliveries trying to get to the elusive century. The last few months have been particularly busy for me and I’ve not made the time to write. So it gives me a modicum of satisfaction to report that this is my hundredth post! “100 not out” reads the imaginary scorecard in the “Lord’s” of my mind as I prepare to take fresh guard for a longer stint at the crease. I hope you keep me company and I thank you for your interest and investment of time in my writing!
The featured image is a modification of the image on the cover of Neville Cardus’s classic “Cardus in the Covers.” My daughter who has better digital chops than me replaced the bat with a pen. My apologies to the publishers of the book!