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Excerpts inserted notes in the draft manuscript of Dilip Chitre’s

forthcoming book STANDSTILL: Unfinished Requiem for a Lost

----which is an account of the author’s sinking into deep depression,
followed by inexplicable euphoria, and a condition that was his
brush with madness that he fought to overcome.


The world's oldest hospital was established, for the care of those who
were considered mad, in England more than seven centuries ago. This
is the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London. It was founded in 1247. The
word bedlam is derived as a corrupted colloquial version of Bethlem.

The recognition of madness as a condition in which the sufferer is

perceived as someone who needs to be segregated from the rest of society
for his or her unruly and unacceptable behaviour goes back thus to at least
the 13th century. The Bethlem Royal Hospital was established for the
care and cure of such people.

That was the first madhouse or asylum in the world.

To recognize some people as mad a family, community, or society would

need to notice repeated unruly behaviour on the part people who are
perceived as a category or a class in themselves, and that may
obviously be the reason or rationale in wanting to keep such
individuals together and away from the rest.
Did madhouses and asylums exist in India before Indians met
Western civilization? Does Ayurveda, for instance, have anything on
treating the mentally ill, the behaviourally violent, and the socially

In the South Asian, as also in other civilizations, religion and the

supernatural give an ambiguous status to people who do not
conform to the norms of civil behaviour; also, people with
extraordinary gifts such as poet-singers, eloquent speakers, actors,
artists, innovators and inventors, and even philosophers are
considered mad but not in a pejorative sense.

Perhaps, our South Asian civilization is unique in its forest heartland

where a tribal 'civilization' that contrasts with 'city-based'
civilizations grew and it nourished its city-dwelling agricultural and
mercantile contemporaries in many ways until the latter started
poaching upon them and vandalizing the treasures of the forest.

Madness, perhaps, belongs to the forest that can heal it because most
madness in our world seems to have origins, at least partly, in the
ruthlessly competitive consumerist civilization that looms large over
the entire planet, the only habitat of homo sapien sapiens--our race.

Melancholia or depression is a civilizational disorder encountered at

the level of a few victims who report at hospitals or clinics for
treatment. Mania is its other pole and is as rampant. Among people I
know, there is hardly a person who has not suffered from mental
illness at some time or another. It is perhaps the one invisible killer
disease that is the least recognized and therefore assured of a
sweeping success in our pathological midst.


Certain sects of Indian religions have men and women whose

behaviour does not conform to the majority's norms. However, the
majority's attitude to them is permissive and liberal. At gigantic
pilgrimages such as the Kumbh Mela, hundreds of thousands of
people congregate to watch the varieties of sadhus and sadhwis
whose deviant behaviour does not lead the other participants to raise
an eyebrow or bat an eyelid.

Madness in some persons and in some forms is not only tolerated but
it is actually appreciated at times. There are people who are said to
have been possessed by benevolent spirits who speak through the
person they possess. They are asked questions about the future and
their answers are taken seriously.


An English physician, Dr. William Sergeant has written a book----The

Mind Possessed---on the subject. Dr. Sergeant has an interesting
finding about physical and mental exhaustion leading to highly
suggestible states of mind.

I have myself seen possessed people at the Somavati Amavasya

Festival at Jejuri near Pune. The possessed people as well as people
who watch them believe that the spirit of their deity has entered the
body of the possessed. They appear to be in a state of trance. They
dance and their bodies are in a state of accelerating convulsion until,
exhausted, they fall to the ground. They do not recall what they were
saying or doing.
Years ago, I made a Hindi feature film---Godam---in a state of
continuous 'possession'. I had written the screenplay, composed the
music, and directed the film. I stopped all other work and spent two
years working on the design of the film. I 'purchased' from my friend,
Marathi writer Bhau Padhye the option to adapt one of his short
stories to write a screenplay. I worked on the screenplay for a whole
year, entered it in the National Film Development Corporation's
annual competition for film scripts, and won their best script award
for the year 1982. Part of the award was 100% finance to make a film
on the winning script. I launched the film Godam in early 1983.

I visualized Godam in such minute detail that my actors and crew

knew only the broadest outline of the film. Very often, they were
puzzled by what they felt were spontaneous departures and
deviations from the script they had been given to read and realize.

They were right. My shooting script was not exactly what the
screenplay was. They thought I had gone mad because I insisted on
their doing what I told them to and I discouraged discussion. I was
seeing the film and hearing it with great clarity and in fine detail.
They were right in thinking I was mad because my thinking was
inexplicable. They as well as I worked under severe tension. I became
autocratic, even dictatorial, but I got them to do exactly what I
wanted to see on the screen.

On the last day of filming, as we packed up to go home to Mumbai

from the location, I gave each member of my team a small metal
image of Khandoba, the leading folk-deity of Maharashtra. Then I
drank some undiluted gin from a bottle in my satchel. Suddenly, I
felt free of all constraints. I let out a full-throated scream hailing
Khandoba and to everybody's astonishment, ran into the darkness of
the night.

That was an act of climactic madness.



For the last three years of his life, Ashay chose to live like a recluse
mostly shut in his own room in our two bedrooms flat in Pune. We
heard from his room his favourite music. Sometimes it was Bob
Marley, Jimmy Hendrix, the Beatles, Carlos Santana, and sometimes
Ustad Vilayat Khan, or Pandit Ramnarayan, or Nikhil Ghosh. Of late,
he had taken to listening to the mercurial- voiced Nusrat Fateh Ali
Khan, the Sufi singer from Pakistan, or the female singer Abida, or
our own home grown Marathi Varkari bhajans by unknown pilgrims
to Pandharpur.

Then at times we heard him play his bongos, his favourite drums
since his adolescence. When he was in Iowa City, he actually played
them as a semi-professional at a bar called The Mill with a group
known by the name Los Latinos. He was the only Asian Indian
member of that Hispanic American graduate students group and he
was just a high school kid then.
Burt Blume ---a Program Assistant at the International Writing
Program of the University of Iowa who looked after the Visiting
Fellows---was a special friend to Ashay. They shared a love of Jazz,
the Blues singers, and Afro-Latin American music----the whole 1970s
mood in music.

Ashay's musical taste and interest was influenced, from his infancy,
by my own.
It received further boost from his childhood idol, my friend Bhola
Sherestha who was a composer of Hindi film music: and from my
brother-in-law Arvind Mulgaonkar, Ashay had inherited an
uncompromising taste in Indian music, especially its rhythmic
component. The popular film singer Kishore Kumar and the
composer R.D. Burman were his favourites, too.

Ashay was isolated and distanced within his own family and circle of
friends. Though deeply unhappy and despondent as he had become,
Ashay craved for human company. He was not unsociable or anti-
social. Communication was a vital component of life for him. He also
felt the urge to tell his story to a world that seemed to have forgotten
Bhopal and moved on.

It was obvious to us that Ashay was suffering from acute mental

agony. He seemed to have developed an obsession that drained him
of all his available energy. We thought he needed psychiatric help.
We suggested to him that he should see a psychiatrist. He was hurt
and angry. " You're trying to get rid of me," he once said, fuming,"
You escaped Bhopal. I didn't. I couldn't. That story isn't over for me
yet. It has damaged my life and it is taking its toll---even now."

Ashay did not suffer from something physically obvious that people
hide for the fear of being stigmatized---such as. For example, poor
victims of AIDS (though that infection is non-contagious except
through sexual transmission, anyway) or from something such as
advanced leprosy that makes its victims physically fearsome or
repulsive and yet unable to hide their lesions from the world.

Neither was he suffering from some contagious disease such as the

dreaded bubonic plague, or the myriad variety of microbial infection
such as killer forms of encephalitis, or treatment-resistant influenza,
malaria, or tuberculosis.

He was clinically 'healthy', except that he was very skinny and

underweight, and looked fragile. He looked much younger than his
age and let others treat him as such due to his diffidence and shyness.

Nevertheless, Ashay was mentally ill, and our ignorance made us

indifferent to the gravity of his illness and its possible root cause.

He was a manic-depressive, but he was still spared of its more

malevolent forms that are seen as madness.

People meeting Ashay after the Bhopal disaster did not know that he
was haunted by his experience of a trauma that--- in one night---
snatched away from them of thousands of human beings their entire
future. It continued to agitate and pain him.

He was not mad in the sense a lunatic disturbing public peace is

insane. His mental illness, though, was moving from mild
melancholia to deeply entrenched hypochondria. His social sanity
and public sobriety is vindicated by the fact that he worked, until the
very end of his life for a living, with a motley crowd of commercial
Hindi filmmakers, despite the handicaps inflicted upon him by
Any reminder of Bhopal upset and unsettled him although we
expected the passage of time to heal the wound that should have now
turned only into a mental scar.

He was seldom violent, except with those who were in his close
circle. However, if he was stopped from bringing up the subject of
Bhopal, he became furious. He remained obsessed by that one
experience that separated him and other victims of the Bhopal
tragedy from us and the rest of the world.

Otherwise, Ashay participated in events his family and friends

celebrated, his own mood-swings notwithstanding. He attended
such events with a shy smile on his face and a distant, wistful look in
his eyes.

Weddings, birthday bashes, and anniversaries were not anathema to

him. We were in Germany---Viju and I---when Ashay made it a point
to attend the wedding of a cousin in Mumbai so that he could meet
many of his granduncles, grandaunts, uncles, aunts, and cousins.
Within the next few days, he died of accidental asphyxiation---and all
However, he was a person who went into a state of periodic
depression due to a trauma that no one, except other similarly
traumatized victims of the Bhopal disaster, could sufficiently

First, the Bhopal catastrophe made Ashay a victim: and later his
entire close ones including I made him a victim--- with the exception
of Viju, his mother. The rest of us tried to distance ourselves from
him. He must have perceived this as though he was being shunned.
He felt increasingly alienated from our normal lives and us.

A melancholy person is not pleasant company. His or her state of

mind is such that he or she is pushed into enforced solitude and
hypochondriac brooding.
Ashay's shattered world was exclusively his own. Nobody would
share it with him. Everybody takes evasive action when confronted
by a sick person. They even refuse to admit that such a person's
illness is a real sickness, not a feigned one. They turn their backs on
him. His trust in them begins to crumble.

As the person nearest to him who judged or misjudged him too

harshly, who had stopped listening to his genuine complaints and
real problems, even ignoring Viju's plea to talk more to him at a
personal level, I feel guilty. I feel even guiltier as I realize now that
had I been in closer touch with him, he would not have died alone
the way he did.
Until the bitter morning of November 29, 2006 ----Viju and I enjoyed
our visit to Germany as though it were a second honeymoon.
Henning had designed our entire visit in such a way as to make it as
much ---or more----celebration than business. I enjoyed my lectures
and interactive seminars at both the universities of Wurzburg and
Tubingen. Heidrun Bruckner and Rainer Kimmig were old friends,
and Mirella Lingorska became a new one.

In or near Feldafing were warm and generous friends such as Gerd

Holzheimer and his wife Inge, David---or John David Morley, Gert
and Gisela Heidenreich, Sabine and Peter Erlenwein, Wieland
Grommes. The list is not too long but at least twice as long. Albert
and Elke Volkmann have a special place among them. Albert is not
only my publisher but a very warm friend and Elke, his wife has a
very special bonding with Viju.

On an earlier visit, Albert and Elke hosted us at their farmhouse and

orchard in Southern Portugal; and on the same visit, Henning took us
to Venice. To anyone whose early Western rearing is on a tasteless
Anglo-Saxon diet of fewer dos than don'ts, Europe is nearer to older
and more nourishing ideas of civilization and culture. Of course,
even that Europe is fading out faster than India with its mindless
equation of money with accomplishment in all fields.
Insert#3(make this an endnote with a number)


Mixing mourning with anger is a volatile cocktail.

I am saying this perhaps because the attack on the Bhandarkar

Oriental Research Institute in Pune took place during the period of
my unfinished mourning and my brave effort to release my grief was
itself given an unexpected turn. One comes face to face with sorrow
not by shunning society but by mingling with one's fellow human
beings and by sharing one's life with them in happiness or sorrow.

However, by a strange coincidence, my privacy was invaded by the

state, playing its usual role of an idiot 'Big Brother' in matters
concerning our liberty. They protect hoodlums and also protect
innocent citizens threatened by those very hoodlums in the name of
peace and order.

India is a dangerous place for any kind of non-conformist thinking

and expression----and in that sense only a nascent republic far from
being a state that graces a rich and plural society. Here is what
interrupted my most grievous and irreparable loss of my only son. I
found, for about three months, an armed cop posted at my door for
the fear that some cultural chauvinist vigilantes would tar my face or
beat me up in my own house in Pune or in broad daylight anywhere
in public.

Here is what happened and how.

The 'Sambhaji Brigade' and its guiding lights among politicians and
the media led to the vandalization of B.O.R.I. The vandals claimed
that they perceived some scholars (identified by them as Brahmins by
caste) had helped a foreign, American scholar--Professor James
Laine.They were his co-conspirators in casting doubts about the
parentage of a historical figure lionized by the whole of Maharashtra.

They accused the Institute of harbouring and hosting prople such as

Laine who were enemies of Maharashtra and India. They accused
James Laine of maliciously maligning Shivaji the Great, founder of the
dynastic Maratha State. Shivaji's iconic image has become part of the self-
concept, and self-image of every Marathi speaking person since the 17th

Professor Laine has meticulously and generously thanked all those

who had helped him in writing his book on Shivaji. I was one of the
people thanked in his 'Acknowledgements'. Every person in Pune---
who was thanked as a helpful individual in his 'Acknowledgements'
---in Laine's allegedly offensive work was hastily, provided armed
police protection. Thus, my door was darkened for three months or
so by the ubiquitous shadow of my 'Big Brother' the government of
my home state of Maharashtra.

I had gone on a pugilistic counter offensive, using my pen (or rather

the keyboard of my PC) inviting further hostile attention all during a
period when my family and I were mourning the loss of my only son.

Yohul was most upset when I was given 24 hour armed police
protection and Viju had to explain to him that both as a writer and as
a friend of Jim Laine, I could not tolerate the vituperative campaign
against the book, and the government's ignoring the vandalistic acts.
I was stressing the point that in a civil society acts of vandalism in the
guise of protest, and the manhandling of scholars by a bunch of
people who could do with better education, were a dangerous thing.

Yohul just shrugged his shoulders and said something to the effect:
don't forget I live with you too; and I don't like to have armed cops at
our door all the time.
Insert# 4#####

The great French thinker and writer Voltaire has said, "Madness is to
think of too many things too fast, or of one thing too exclusively."

This seems to be a definition of what clinical psychologists today

would call hypomania. Voltaire recognizes here the things that a victim
or patient himself or herself perceives. The two components of the
manic-depressive condition are thinking of one thing too exclusively, which
is one of the differential symptoms of bipolar disorder.

A person suffering from it may be constantly thinking of a trauma of

sudden deprivation of a loved or owned object and of ways of reclaiming or
repossessing it. To think of one thing too exclusively some hypomaniacs
may withdraw into themselves or use strategies to avoid other people
who disturb them in their contemplation of loss or

The second aspect of hypomania is to think of too many things too fast.

When I was taken to hospital in this state, one of the reasons was that
people around me observed in my speech a torrential outpouring of
apparently disconnected sentences that seemed to jump from one
context to another with awesome speed. More sympathetically
observant among them may have glimpsed in it my creative process
that makes my poetry, fiction, filmmaking, painting, and discursive
essays very original and unique to them.

This is what is known at a serious level as non-linear random access

thinking. Or condemning creative acts as feverish imagination articulating,
expressing, or connecting to form new patterns from a perceived coherence
among objects, memories, ideas, images, and contexts until then considered
disparate or incompatible with rigidly compartmentalized categories.
Charitably observed and sympathetically described, this is the work of
genius. Few would condemn or stigmatize as cognitive dissonance or
insanity--- a process that produces works of art and literature.

For many weeks before my condition was perceived as a crisis
needing medical intervention, I was indeed obsessed with my
personal agenda: transforming the chaos in Ashay's room emptied of
his bodily presence forever. A creative project would liberate its
author; create an object that others may share as a work of art--- not
necessarily as madness. I still feel they could have dealt with it
differently, not acting scared and become panicky, and taken care of
me at home as I vehemently insisted on. However, my behaviour was
testing their threshold of tolerance.

I am not blaming Viju, Yohul, Sameer, Ashwini, and Dr. Aiyyar, Ajit,
Rohit, Babu alias Sandeep, Sandesh, Bunty, and Zuber for thinking
that something was driving me towards mental collapse, something was
making my behaviour excessively obsessive and it was going out of my own
control and probably leading me towards a disaster of a far greater
magnitude than I would be able to admit in my increasingly vulnerable
state. I needed to be treated by experts, not at home but in a hospital.
I knew that I needed medical intervention. I needed to be treated by a
very cautious physician-psychiatrist who would not destroy or harm
my artistic projects or my own rational agenda. I work on many
things at many levels and have handled them more or less
successfully for about forty years.

However, I also realized the fallacy of this argument. By this token,

people with a record of good health should live long, if not achieve
immortality; and every trajectory of human behaviour would be
either more or less predictable just because it has not shown any
deviation for a long time. Concepts of illness and abnormality have
two aspects, not always easily separable: one is cultural or
civilizational; the other is clinical and scientific. Both have limitations.

Among contemporary psychologists and psychiatrists diagnosis and

treatment of BPD or Borderline Personality Disorder appears to be
extremely controversial.

I was wondering whether I have not periodically suffered from BSD

in major phases of my creative career all of which have certain
features in common. Nevertheless, I have not so far been a psychotic
with an impaired perception of reality.

At times of such crises, and foreshadowing them, I have noticed a

lower tolerance of anxiety and impulse, emotional vulnerability. This
has been such a characteristic of my personality since adolescence
that I wonder whether congenital inclination is a factor in what
happens to me.

As a sequence of poems, a story, a play, or a screenplay begins to

form in my mind, I become fiercely protective of my inner processes.
I become short tempered. I react angrily to real and perceived
interruptions. I avoid company. I feel threatened. My mind is
focussed on the shaping of ideas, images, phrases, motifs, and
sequential arrangements that belong to a not yet expressed or fully
realized work.

I also realize in retrospect that during such crises my personality and

my self-image itself is at stake, as though the next revelation---that is
how I would regard major creative work---is going to demolish and
replace my self-image with something hitherto unfamiliar.

Almost all the poems in my first Marathi collection were written in

three phases:
1954-56 and 1958-59. I did not contemplate suicide then but I did
contemplate dying and indulge in what now seems to me to be self-
destructive behaviour. I was emotionally intense and my world view
was distinctly melancholy as an analysis of my poems will show.

I had fallen in love with Viju but the prospects of our marrying each
other seemed threatened by uncertainties. We enjoyed sex whenever
we found the opportunity to be intimate. However, it was usually
fiercely passionate as though it was the last opportunity of being

She passed through a major health breakdown, suffering from an

unexplained excessive bleeding from a menstrual disorder known as
metropathica haemorrhagica that is just a Latin description of her
major symptom. In the event, she saw many gynaecologists and one
top surgeon in Mumbai even advised hysterectomy though the
patient was still a teenager.

She also had recurrent pyelonephritis, a urinary infection, that was

mistreated repeatedly with antibiotics to which the responsible
bacterium, escherica coli an inhabitant of the human intestinal flora
had become pathogenic and resistant to most available antibiotics.
One of her kidneys was atrophied as a result.

It was natural for the teenagers we were to develop a tragic view of

life. However, our libido came to our rescue then. It made us look
forward, regardless of the bleak experiences we went through. Our
family physician, Dr. Tendulkar, firmly stood by us. By
administering progesterone and estrogen judiciously, he was able to
restore Viju's menstrual cycles to a normal pattern, though this took
months. Then we were married, and Dr. Tendulkar was one of our
official witnesses at the civil solemnization. The other two were my
poet friend, Arun Kolatkar and my aunt Nalini Mehendale.

Ashay would not be born without this medical history. After his
birth, we decided to have no more children.
My second creative period began in Ethiopia after Ashay's birth.
During this period, for the first time in my creative career, my writing
took on a hopeful hue, a brighter tone, even though the Marathi short
novel I wrote then does not show it as it ends abruptly with the
protagonist's monologue on suicide. I started translating for Marathi
readers the European and American poets who seemed to announce
new poetic agendas with long essays on each. The seven poets I chose
were Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Rainer Maria
Rilke, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and Hart Crane.

It seems that even in my happier days and the more exuberantly

outgoing periods of my life, thoughts of death were never far away.
The fragility of human life gave even fleeting moments of bliss a
black aura, rainbow- like yet shading into a total absence of light. I
was serious about life, love, and death---all taken together to form a
tragic trinity.

What saved me through all these traumatic ups and downs were the
translations I worked on of Tukaram and Jnandev, the Marathi poets
now revered as saints, who made their deity their witness and
confessor, friend and guide through the experience of terrestrial life.
They were able to see life on earth as life in a notional paradise
despite its sorrows. They were unlike anything I encountered in the
West after the disappearance of God there in the 19th century.


Medical diagnosis of madness can sometimes only be a conformation

of socio-cultural paradigms of ordered behaviour and consensual
perception of reality.

Non-conformist behaviour is not always pathological, criminal, or
sinful. If you do anything unacceptable to conformists, puritans, and
moral fundamentalists that dominate a tradition-governed culture
and society such as ours, you are promptly stigmatized as a pervert, a
deviant, and an abnormal and dangerous human being.

Patriarchal tyranny does not stop at judging you too harshly and
condemning you without a second thought. It pressurizes you to fall
in line, or else. It oppresses you, exploits and threatens you with the
classic weapons of ostracism, excommunication, alienation, exile, or
even extermination.

It make fanatics want to lynch you physically or destroy your

identity or self-image and dignity--- morally and socially. If
charitable to a small degree, your oppressors may compromise and
settle the issue by institutionalising you, and sending to an asylum or
to a clinic.

It is 'moralists' who are extremely 'alert' in identifying, stigmatising

demonising, and victimising them by using extra-legal methods are a
menace to civil society. Tyrannical states are even worse. They would
discipline or punish them using extreme methods.

Hitler's Holocaust tortured and exterminated millions of Jews; Stalin

and Mao Ze-Dung did the same to their ideological dissenters or to
critics of their oppressive state apparatus.

Racists, heads of state , and leaders of religious or communal

hierarchies do the same to those who do not fall in line. Nevertheless,
they are able to form packs and masses of power-driven followers as
shown in Elias Canetti's Crowds and Power.

If Hitler was a psychopath, what about his followers?

No major religious 'faith' tolerates the non-conformist. They indulge
in the same kind of cleansing as ethnic cleansing, in fact genocide, and
for the same kind of political reasons. All major religions seem to be
more about power than about spirituality. The moment spirituality
propagates itself, it acquires a political force. The sword follows
every sermon on peace and non-violence. Otherwise, the last century,
the last millennium, would not be the bloodiest in human history.


I live in a society that is more evil than civil. It is a corrupt society if

you accept the great historian of European states---Lord Acton's
famous dictum, " Power corrupts; and absolute power corrupts

I have been an outspoken critic and active opponent of such forces in

India whether it is the Shiv Sena nearer home in Maharshtra, or the
militant Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajarang Dal, the Ranaveer
Sena, or even the Naxalites for whose agenda I have a sneaking
sympathy---all of them are a threat to democracy and civil society.
We have our own home-grown counterparts of the Ayatollahs
issuing fatwas to assassinate their chosen victims. We have our own
equivalents of the Taliban, though we do not export them.

I know what it means to be a marginalized minority. The 'majority' is

a myth of a section among the Hindus who consider themselves the
caste elite. They perceive a threat from all other civilizations that they
externalise. They are religious fanatics, cultural and political
fundamentalists practising a paranoid schizophrenic politics.
At one end, they have delusions of civilizational grandeur; at the
other end, they feel persecuted by the Other civilization. They are
trapped in the middle as defendants of their faith. To defeat their
primary enemy, which they perceive as a fictional monolithic
civilization they think Islam is, they imitate their antagonist. They
have been trying to turn the Dharma Sutra of Manu and its
subsequent updates into a kind of Hindu Shari'aat and they want it to
be accepted by all other religious communities in India. They would
raise a caste bar to the pitch of a civil war, and a communal war to a
globalized civil war.


Our lives are intermeshed with the lives of people from every part of
our own life. In India--whatever our faith---we are born with a large
kinship network---that Western people find difficult to imagine.

Viju and I have changed locations more often than an average Indian
couple. After we got married in 1960, we spent nearly three years
each in Addis Ababa and Asella in Ethiopia and In Iowa City, Iowa,
USA. Ashay was with us then, as an unborn child, as a toddler, and
as an adolescent. He must have been a peripheral observer of the
strangers who became his parents' friends. When he came of age,
some of them had become, independently of us, his friends as well.

By a quirk of synchronicity, as I was working on this difficult book,

two of my English friends reached me via the Internet: Ian Duffield,
from Scotland and Meriel Bloor from Birmingham. Both of them
remembered Ashay as a child and wanted to know how and where
he was. What could I tell them? Their frozen memories of us were
over four decades old by now. It is more than half a lifetime.

I recalled our landing in Ethiopia in 1960. We were asked to take a

room at the Hotel Itege. (Itege is 'Empress' in the Amharic language)
until the Imperial Ethiopian Ministry of Education gave us our
posting orders. It was in the Itege Hotel's lobby that I ran into
Graham Tayar, Englishman of Jewish extraction, older than me but
not much. He introduced himself to us, and I got along fine with him
from the start. He was perhaps a typical Cambridge product,
intellectual, politically aware, and someone who has missed being in
British bureaucracy by a crucial inch or two.

I could imagine him in the Foreign Service or the

British Council; indeed, after Ethiopia, Graham joined the
educational service of the BBC that we know is an
autonomous corporation, but also a bureaucracy unto

In 1977-80, on our stopover in London to meet

Viju's elder sister Leela and her family at Luton, I was
able to locate Graham in the London Telephone Exchange
Directory and phoned him. He called me over to
Broadcasting House; the BBC's bastion so that he could
take me to lunch that would be a sandwich and a pint of
beer. Viju and I took Ashay along because he wanted to
study television and broadcasting as a career.

Graham when introduced to Ashay said, "Pity he

can't have beer with us here yet. But tell me Ashay, what
would you like to do with your life next?"

Ashay did not feel much at ease to discuss his

career plans. Graham's British upper class accent clashed
with Ashay's own acquired mid-American (or
Midwestern) accent. I told Graham about his aim of
getting into television journalism that seemed to have
great future potential in India.

In the end, Graham tipped him about the kind of

identity one should create for oneself and stick fast to it so
that our names get firmly stamped in the public mind
with what we professionally would like to be known for.
I was a bit taken aback because whatever I did, people
still thought of me as a poet first. That tag came with
negative baggage of its own. It meant I was not practical;
and that my money-handling skills were a cut below

#insert# Anne#

When Eleanor Zelliott brought Anne Feldhaus

along for their first visit to our home in Iowa City, the two
Indologists did not seem to have much in common with

Eleanor's doctoral dissertation was on Dr. B.R.

Ambedkar and she had been reading Dalit creative
writing mostly in the context of Dalit social history after
Ambedkar. Therefore, that was some common ground.

As for Anne, she was then teaching comparative

religion at Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City's Big
Brother a forty-minutes drive away. Anne had been then
working on her beautiful and accessible English
translation of Mahimbhat's memoir of Gundam Raul , the
medieval Mahanubhava sect's God-man who was a mad-
man if we went by his miraculous but somewhat slapstick

Eleanor was the aggressive, serious scholar visiting

the only contemporary Marathi poet temporarily residing
in Iowa City. She can be garrulous---and even more so
than me, the second best in that scene.

Tall, lanky, and a touch gawky then, Anne

punctuated Eleanor's 'dialogue' with us with guffaws of
rather unsettling laughter. She must have found my
remarks and observations extremely funny. However, her
presence was as vibrant as it still is after thirty years.

In the event, Anne connected with Viju and me

before we knew we were bonded for a lifetime. Some of
my most memorable moments in America were spent
with Anne in her borrowed flat in Chicago during a long,
hot, Indian summer when the temperatures hovered
around 100'C.

Anne is family. Her mother Huberta, whom only

Ashay from amongst us actually met, spoke on two or
three occasions with us ----long distance from Cincinnati,
Ohio to Pune, Maharashtra.

Always the considerate daughter, Anne kept her

mother abreast of every event in the Chitre household.
After the Bhopal disaster, Anne spontaneously invited
Ashay and Rohini to go to her flat in Pune for treatment
and convalescence. Yohul was born when my entire
family was camping in Anne's two bedrooms flat off
Bhandarkar Road in Pune. Ashay's doctor, who later
became our family physician, Dr. Prakash Ghatge lived in
the same building.

Anne showed us the city of Chicago and introduced

to us its many smaller delights as well as its major
attractions. Anne gave us fabulous lunches and dinners at
her favourite German, Greek, and Chinese restaurants.
She cooked for us serving a range of dishes from pure
Maharashtrian 'pohe' to American cheesecake, and
spaghetti with meat sauce.
Anne was in those days, a very good drinking
companion. too, and she drank as long and hard as Viju
and I did whether it was scotch or bourbon on the rocks.
She was only as old as my youngest sister, Rashmi. That
is how I remember the year of her birth.
Her birthday is even easier to remember because it
is within a close circle of my own birthday on September
17. The circle includes Lothar Lutze on the seventh, Anne
on the 14th, and Henning Stegmuller on the 19th. At least
on one occasion, and at least three out of four of us, have
celebrated a big birthday bash together.

It pained and angered Anne that an American

corporation was responsible for the Bhopal disaster. I
pointed out to her that the primary responsibility could
be pinned on the Union government of India and the state
government of Madhya Pradesh who allowed Union
Carbide to locate their factory near the main railway
station of Bhopal.

Nevertheless, both Anne I knew that the giant

corporation such as Union Carbide was had to have
shareholders all across the USA. Their chip was
considered very good investment by thousands of
Americans. Were they not guilty, too?

Today, in the context of American globalisation of
the entire economy of our planet, this is what the clash of
civilizations is about. It is not just a case of medieval
Islam clashing with a 21st century capitalist hegemony
represented by an un-Christian nation-state such as the
USA is with its techno-military super-muscle.

One can argue that the MIC released in Bhopal on

the night of December 3-4, 1984 was a weapon of mass-
destruction accidentally unleashed upon thousands of
unsuspecting human victims. One is not suggesting that
the accident was not an accident but a trial. However,
even as an accident, did it not provide a case study to
those engaged in developing toxic chemicals as weapons
of mass-destruction?

You may launder your billions of dollars easily;

you may legally change the corporate identity of the
accused and give it another benign mask; but can you
wash the blood of many thousands of human victims as
easily when you talk of a global community? Union
Carbide in the end 'covered its ass' successfully.

But there are implications of the Bhopal disaster

that ought not to be allowed to pass into oblivion---or
rather, into amnesia.
Who knows, tomorrow the authorities may try MIC
on the Taliban and their elusive leader Osama bin Laden
and give us the same rationale they gave us when
Dresden was destroyed, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a-
bombed, the North Vietnamese were napalmed, and the
Afghans carpet-bombed along with every other trace of
life within the weapon's deadly range.


Hemant Divate is a Marathi poet and a very gifted

one. We did not realize how smoothly we became
members of his family--- his wife Smruti, his son Dhruva,
and his daughter Hiranya. Hemant lives in Mumbai and
he became Ashay's close friend over the years and,
importantly, a collector of Ashay's paintings.

Today, he possesses more of Ashay's works than

Viju and I do; and Hemant has purchased some of them
at the price Ashay would find comfortable. He also asked
Ashay to design the covers of the poetry magazine
Abhidhanantar that he edits.

Hemant suffers from depression, too, and has

managed his condition through psycho-pharmacological
therapy. In his poems, I find the melancholy that has
seized his generation. Hemant is a media and advertising
company's Vice-President.

His lifestyle befits the stereotype of an executive

living in a suburb of an Indian metropolis. It is fraught
with the anxiety wreaked upon individuals who are
forced into a rat race. This is not the lifestyle of his ' other
backward class' parents who live in a large village near
Mumbai. It is not a lifestyle he grew up with.

Hemant is younger than Ashay. In Ashay's case,

though he could earn money only through acting,
modelling, researching, and writing for commercial
television and cinema, the professional environment he
reluctantly gave in to--- for mere subsistence--- became
increasingly loathsome to him.

In addition, after Rohini left him, and realizing that

Yohul and Viju would be the only people he would work
for and have to support as I went on my own way often
overlooking at those near and around me, Ashay was
resigned to fate in the last two years of his life. They were
probably the worst-ever phase of his life. He felt let down
by most of us, particularly by me, and ignored by the
world at large.
Hemant has seen the dark side of melancholy, not
its black end near which Ashay lived, refusing
counselling and treatment. He had seen in Bhopal ----
nothing short of the Apocalypse. Hemant, thank God,
had not.


Nirmal Verma, one of India's outstanding novelists

and short story writers of the 20th century was in Iowa
City at the International Writing Program. We had been
friends but Viju and Ashay met Nirmal for the first time
in the USA.

I was not acquainted with the kind of melancholy in

which artists such as Nirmal find their work rooted.
Nirmal's mood-swings are legendary among his close

He was in fact the worst enemy of optimism I have

ever come across. Melancholia can be romantic at times,
but it never ceases to wrench your guts or keep gnawing
at them. Nirmal's humour, too, was like his role model,
Franz Kafka's.

Only occasionally, could Nirmal burst into laughter

till the tears came to his eyes. All other times, he would be
found arguing like a fanatic, a habit he should have torn
out of himself like he tore out his membership card of the
Communist Party of India when Soviet tanks rolled into
Prague in 1968. Nirmal was witness to that historic

Nirmal paid Viju and me a visit after Ashay's death.

He was himself slowly inching toward death then. His
emphysema and asthmatic attacks were getting worse.
His cancer of the lungs had been detected and was being
treated though it was still kept concealed. He visited us
after Arun Kolatkar's death. The death fugue had begun
for me with Ashay's death though, and it made
everything look as bleak as the Paul Celan poem
Todesfugue---and as melancholic.

Otherwise, a master of verbal precision and poetic

minimalism in his unique prose style, Nirmal was at a
loss for words when he hugged Viju. He looked at
Ashay's photograph and hugged me too, perhaps as an
afterthought. It was as though to remind me that grief
belonged to mothers and that at best fathers could only be
mute witnesses to emotional expression in our gender-
divided world. Nirmal himself was a motherly person
warm and loving as well as fiercely possessive. This has
given a subtle tonality to his minimalist, softly brushed or
delicately etched writing that speaks less and tells more. "
Tum bolte zyada hi hon," he would admonish me, ' aur
kehna bhool jaate hon!" ('You speak too much; and forget
to tell!").


Ashay was a ten-year old schoolboy when Gunther

Sontheimer, my Indologist friend, came to visit us at our
flat in Chinchpokli (or literally 'Tamarind Hollows') in
Central Mumbai. With Gunther was his friend from
Toronto, Canada, Dr. Narendra Wagle, a historian and
expert on Maratha history.

Gunther brought a gift for Ashay, an Oxford World

Atlas. On the endpaper of the book was the inscription: "
For Ashay Chitre----to see the world." The word 'see' was
underscored. We still use that Atlas. In fact, it is with
Yohul now.
Gunther had located me much earlier, in the mid-
1960s. He had written me his first letter to ask me to
contribute a Marathi poem in the Devanagari script and
its English translation in the Roman script to a special
issue of Journal of South Asian Literature of the Sud-
Asien Institut of the University of Heidelberg. The issue
was going to be edited by his colleagues Professors
Lothar Lutze and Aloke Ranjan Dasgupta. I sent to him
(he was the Representative of the Sud-Asien Institut in
India in Delhi then) my poem 'Lord, let it rain in this
country, too-' that is among my most anthologised poems
for some reason since.

Gunther, again, was family to all of us. When he

died of a sudden, massive heart attack---alone in his
bachelor' home at Dossenheim near Heidelberg on June 1,
1992 Ashay, Viju, and I were equally shaken by our loss.
It was through Gunther that we met Lothar Lutze (one of
my many gurus in the craft of translating poetry), and
Marie van de Loo and her husband Henning Stegmuller,
our spiritual kin and secular friends.

It was the shared loss of Gunther that we silently

grieved together that consolidated my real friendship and
future collaboration with Henning; and Henning led us to
Albert Volkmann and his wife Elke, Inge and Gerd
Holzheimer, and other friends in Munich.

Ashay never visited Germany though when we

were on our last visit he came for a shoot in the Austrian
Tyrolean Alps and called us from there. This was during
the shooting of the last film in which he had a billing---
Kuch To Hai. He said he would love to pay a visit to
Bavaria, as he was just a hopping flight away. However,
that was not to be.

He died miserably alone in Pune, much as Gunther

died in distress in Dossenheim. Both of them were found
unconscious but had actually dead much earlier.


My clearest memories of somebody dying as well as somebody

having sex with a partner go back to the age of three or four. As
I grew up I developed a morbid fascination for watching
seriously ill people, dying people and funeral rites funeral rites.

I developed equal interest in the sexual act and its vivid real
life variations that one could only peep at, unnoticed by the
actual players.

Later, this role of a secret spectator turned into the writer, poet,
painter, and filmmaker I became. Nevertheless, that needed a
long leap, and mature reflection on love and death in terms of
science and art.

Seeing it up close, but from a safe distance, the act of

lovemaking arouses the person who watches it, creates
empathy enabling the watcher to 'participate' in it by projecting
oneself in the players' roles.

However, the secret watcher's curiosity and imagination are

stimulated, too. In one's own case, it made one reach for
forbidden bookshelves in one's father's library. It was
heartening and at the same time, somewhat disconcerting that
the father was curious about the same things as his offspring.

Voyeurism is an important part of our learning as children. If it

becomes a substitute for doing it oneself in adult life, then it is
considered 'pathological'.

Voyeurism then becomes 'perverse' or 'sinful'. In its sublimated

form, interest in erotic representation of the female/male
bodies and their behaviour from early foreplay to postcoital
disengagement provide images that absorb 'art lovers' and
literary readers.

The billion-dollar industry that pornography has by now

become underscores the need for it in our kind of civilization
and how it allows some disorder in order to preserve a larger
order in its ethos.

There is such a thing as pornography of death. Death/deaths

are depicted in detail by the media whenever a disaster strikes.
The arts, too, depict death in detail.

It is our curiosity about the nature of the sensuous, the

libidinous, the sexual and the erotic and the mordant, the
morbid, and the macabre connected with death that draws us to
sights and sites, books, magazines, pictures, blue videos and
films----a whole lot of 'obscene' imagery.

Both sex and death are among humanity's best-guarded secrets.

Every civilization attaches enormous fear or guilt to them and
shrouds them in tantalizing secrecy.

As a ten-year-old boy, I visited a Hindu crematorium with my

friends in Baroda. The oldest among us must have been 15 or
so. We went to a crematorium on the bank of the Vishwamitri
River. It was a quiet and beautiful spot with lush tropical trees
such the shami, the peepul, the tamarind, and so on. We talked
about spirits, ghosts, ghouls, and the like, and of magic spells
and chants to ward of evil. None of had any clear idea of what
happened to prople when they died. Some of our friends who
had died had been cremated here in this crematorium. It was
difficult to imagine them surviving burning to ashes. We also
visited a Shia Muslim cemetery and a Catholic Christian
graveyard to continue our research in death and its aftermath.

Death and Sex are polar opposites in the human psyche. Sex
represents the desire to possess another human body, unite
with it, and then separate. We had seen animals and birds
copulating. We knew about reproduction and how intercourse
served nature's purpose by making males and females attract
one another. However, we already knew about homosexuality
and lesbianism, as most of us were excellent spies and peeping
toms. We all knew masturbation and even held masturbation

Sigmund Freud, who was born 150 years ago, realized the
importance of the death-drive and the life-drive in their mutual
and respective roles as he wrote his last works. Though Freud's
ideas and methods have since been increasingly questioned,
differing with Freud and going back to Nietzsche was fruitful
for Michel Foucault in writing his Histoire de la Folie. Jacques
Lacan's psychoanalytical approach and psychiatric practice are
only slightly out of Freud's gigantic shadow. Foucault and
Lacan were both French; and the Viennese Freud was Jewish
and German, and happened to do his best work after the First
World War and Before the Second. Today, among the post-
Freudian therapist-theorists the names of Aaron Beck and
Albert Ellis stand out. Beck is associated with Cognitive
Therapy and with the definition of what he calls 'Borderline
Personality Disorder'. Ellis is credited with 'Rational-Emotive
Behaviour Therapy'. Both grudgingly acknowledge that Freud
was one of the giants who shaped 20th century thought with
his vision and insight.


Very little of one's childhood is known to even one's closest

friends; and of one's pubertal crisis as well. It is all the work of
congenital engineering; the pituitary gland makes the whole
orchestra of subsidiary glands perform. We move from the
cradle to the crèche in a designed sequence:

We turn on our sides; learn to crawl, then to toddle towards

various goals. Hunger, both physical and cerebral, takes us
through the motions. As a Sanskrit aphorism in verse tells us
human life is driven by, " eating, sleeping, fearing, and
fucking." Even in that flowery language, stark realities are
squarely confronted.

The noble savage in us moves from savagery to civilization

through the first magic we learn---the magic of language. Like
all magic, language can ensnare and bind us; alternatively, it
liberates us and teaches us to become and remain free by
connecting effectively with those we would relate to.

I remember my own learning of language only sketchily. My

memories of early childhood are at best translucent now.
However, when Ashay was born, Viju and I spoke with him a
lot from the very start.

We gestured a lot as we spoke. Pointing to objects and people

in his surroundings. I would carry him in my arms out of the
house and show him trees, flowers, butterflies, ants, moving
vehicles, horses, mules, donkeys, birds, and--- other people.

Although a premature baby delivered by caesarean section

surgery, Ashay grew up fast. In just over a year, he developed a
vocabulary of about 100 words and mastered the present tense
by using a few verbs and commands or requests.

Once he started walking, Ashay started running at great speed

and enjoyed it. We lived within six kilometres of the Imperial
residence in Addis Ababa in a square called Siddist Kilo (Six
Kilometres) and the roads had wide enough pavements for
about people to stroll comfortably without having to jostle with
The neighbourhood buildings were widely separated. Addis
Ababa is settled among hills and it is a rolling landscape. You
seldom walk there on a flat, straight sidewalk or street. You
either go up or down a slope. The city is between 2500 and 3000
metres above sea level and that gives it its hill resort climate. At
the age of one year and a half, Ashay could run down a sloping
pavement in screaming excitement and I would be out of breath
chasing him. When it came to going back uphill, he would
insist that I carried him in my arms. That is what fathers are for.

Dadar, Sion, Dadar

#####The Mahim Hindu crematorium is actually located not

in Mahim but in Dadar, the middle-class Maharashtrian-
dominated suburb of Mumbai where the militant chauvinist
movement Shiv Sena was born.

The western part of Dadar faces the Arabian Sea that separates
India from Arabia and East Africa.

Fifty years ago, when I was an adolescent, the beachside

Crematorium was my haunt, my seat. I would carry my satchel
there with a book to read, my sketchpad, my notebooks,
pencils, charcoal sticks, and crayons.

Crematoria resemble graveyards but are starker.

When you bury a body in a coffin, you preserve it like a vessel

or a capsule, or a message in the bottle for the maker. However,
burning a body is to watch it turning into bone ash.

There is a cruel finality about it.

You may recite the Hindu Song of the Lord and say," this One
is not to be pierced by weapons, this one is not to be burnt by
live coals;' or " the Self moves from one body to another much
as we change our clothes."

The Hindu concept of Atman is one of a Cosmic Spirit that

pervades and transcends the universe without ever dying. It is
the immortal essence of being.

Atman cannot be translated into a Western idiom. It is the

indestructible residue of our bodily presence---- God enclosed
in our physical bodies--a concept that is the cornerstone of most
classical Hindu Darshans/Worldviews.

The embodiment is fragile and mortal. It is time-bound and

space-bound. However, the spirit of the universe, the
ontological foundation of all things created, is the Creator---
impeccable and immutable. He is forever.


Asella and Addis Ababa#####

During the first seven months of her pregnancy,

when we were posted in the provincial capital of
Arussi---a town named Assella---I cruelly neglected Viju
and the growing child inside her. I was too excited to be
in that exotic landscape and the strange people who were
native to it. My two single colleagues, Acchhar Singh
Thakur and Mangalore Dayanand Mallya and I spent
most of our free time after school in a local pub guzzling
beer and gossiping. We would later migrate to a larger
speakeasy where the local fermented honey wine, Tedj,
was served; alternatively, one could drink the gin or
vodka-like Quattiquala---a distilled grain liquor, about
180' proof pure ethanol.

I would return home late, with a swinging

'petromax' lantern in that town without electricity to be
greeted by a worried and lonely Viju. If she complained
or protested, I would push her aside vehemently, and
even the child inside her must have felt a shock as I did

The thick cloud of alcohol that was my usual

vehicle then separated her world from mine. She would
sense that when he became her selfish husband her
considerate and sensitive lover had assumed the role of a
Hindu husband and sole proprietor, owner of a domain
called the family. She was painfully disillusioned by my

Preceding Thakur, Mallya, and myself there were

two Malayalam-speaking Syrian Christian families of
teachers living in Asella. They were both named John,
and Thakur mischievously gave them the tags of 'Big
John' and 'Little John. 'Big John' was the Director or the
Principal of the government high school where we all

Soon, a third Indian from Pune, Maharashtra joined

us. He was the mathematics teacher Kulkarni, Thakur's
bete noire. Viju had no company other than these Indian
teachers and their families, and the Malayalis, though
very warm and hospitable, probably viewed all Northern
Indians as educated savages. Thakur, Mallya, and I were
pagans or heathens for mixing with the 'natives' or 'the
locals' by the logic 'like attracts like.' There was also a
reverse colonialism and reciprocal racism in our mutual
perception of the other.


After abruptly returning from Aden to Mumbai due

to Ashay's health getting worse on the flight, I knew I
would need a job---any job---in Mumbai. My brother-in-
law Arvind worked as a stenographer in a multinational
corporation. Arvind and I were both aficionados of North
Indian classical music. Arvind is a performing artist
trained with Ustad Amir Hussain Khan, the Khalifa of the
Farrukhabad School of tabla. For him a day job was only
meant to support his main interest in life, mastering the
art and the craft of playing tabla.
Arvind knew that for me too, my self-expression
was more important than a career or a rat race. He
suggested to me that I take up a job in the company he
worked for. They needed someone who could translate
technical information about their new products for
veterinarians, farmers, and agricultural scientists.

Arvind's proposal was sensible. It fitted my earlier

job experience. During my college years, I had worked as
a newspaper sub-editor, had written advertising copy,
but most importantly I had worked as a 'junior examiner
of objectionable advertisements' in the office of the Drugs
Controller for the State of Bombay (this was before 1960
when the linguistic states of Maharashtra and Gujarat
were yet to be carved out from the Bombay Presidency
the British had ruled and independent India had
inherited from them in 1947). I was familiar with
pharmacology and medicine. It was not totally unknown
territory. My fluency in the English language and my flair
for writing were one formidable combination that just
might swing the job in my favour. I took the chance.

I met Arvind's American boss and he was

impressed by my confidence. He challenged me, though,
by giving me all the technical information on the products
they were about to launch and write a strategy for
promoting those products with concrete examples of fully
visualized and copy-written presentation.

I was made to sit for two days in the company's

conference room for this test. On the third day I made a
presentation to the American head of the Animal Health
and Agricultural Division, the Indian Technical
Consultant, and the General Manager of the new division.
I was grilled for nearly three hours before they asked me
to go out and wait.

Half an hour later, I was hired.

I had a short but remarkable career with my

American employers. I worked there for just twenty
months. But during that short period I rose rapidly to be
absorbed in the management category from the service
category. I was the only arts graduate in a company
where all others were technically trained medical doctors,
veterinary doctors, chemists, and pharmacists. A Bachelor
of Arts with Honours in English literature was an odd
man there.

I was very well paid. However, the company did

have its pound of flesh from me. With the pay, my
responsibilities increased. I had to stay till late in the
office. I had to travel. The time I needed for Viju and
Ashay, and for reading, writing, and painting shrank
rapidly. By the time I came home, I was drunk and tired.
Yet, I could not sleep or rest much. I suffered from
insomnia and hyperacidity. I smoke about 100 cigarettes a
day rather than light my favourite pipe three of four
times and puff at it in a relaxed way.

Soon, I developed ulcers. I had to go on leave for

five weeks. During that period of five weeks I feverishly
wrote in Marathi a memoir of my three years in
Ethiopia---Sheba Raneechya Shodhat or A Search for
Queen Sheba; and the short story 'Orpheus'. Then, on my
twenty-seventh birthday, I quit the job in favour of
freelancing for my bread and butter and be the master of
my own time. I vowed not to sell all my time to even the
most generous employer ever again.


Parel, Kurla East, Bandra





Madness is a thought-storm, a behavioural hurricane, and an

emotional tornado: you think fast and you think furiously; your brain
is abuzz, and you can't hush it.
You act as though there were an extreme emergency. You are
possessed and obsessed. You become very suggestible but are unable
to weight options or analyse situation. You follow your own script
and listen to no other voice except you own.

You talk and try to communicate with those who surround you, but
they all seem to be too slow---dumb. The increasing distance
exasperates you, as though there were light years lapsing between
your speech and their responses.

You are obsessed with the one thing you exclusively focus on. They
don't see that thing except peripherally.

You think they are marginalizing you. You think they will sedate
you, drug you, and bundle you up. You think they'll do even worse.
They may give you electric shock therapy or anaesthetise you and
then perform a lobotomy on your brain to take your very selfhood
away. This would be done in order to manage you because you
created chaos in their world.

They want to tell you it is no longer your world. Your world was
contained only in that lobe of yours. Theirs is in their connectedness
to their consensually imaged world. You couldn't accept it. You
violently attacked it. You broke its rules. You are mad. Your place is
among the mad. Alternatively, your place is in your own monadic,
disparate, and discrete self.

Your uniqueness is your punishment. You have been indelibly

stigmatized. This kind of thought-storm raged inside my head. I
protested. Nevertheless, even my protest was regarded as a symptom
and a proof of my insanity.

But what was I doing that frightened Viju, Yohul, Bunty, and Zuber
who had till then seen my bizarre shopping sprees costing thousands
of rupees, my staying shut behind the door of Ashay's room, driving
nails into walls and panels, placing adhesive hooks in the bedroom
and the attached bathroom, classifying Ashay's personal things into
objects for my intended museum and gallery in his memory? I did
strange things such as putting an assorted lot of soiled clothes and
other things into the washing machine and actually running it to
launder them? I was making notes, preparing lists, creating a mental
model of Ashay's room, as any visitor entering it would see it in a

There would be an English translation by John Solt of Kazuko

Shiraishi's long Japanese poem 'Yellow Night in Bhopal' that focuses
on Ashay's plight on the night of December 3-4, 1984. There would be
Namdeo Dhasal's poem on Ashay's death; and Arunchandra
Gawali's poem. There was a piece written by Mehboob Shaikh, and
another by Sandesh Bhandare that would belong here.

Ashay's room needed to be reorganized with whatever he prized and

possessed. What people would have thought of as useless junk or
garbage would be illuminated by me, Ashay's father, and turned into
art, a unique installation that viewers could actually enter and come
out of.

The number of calls we received from people he knew surprised us

and we did not know most of them. The mosaic that emerged from
these bits and pieces was like a mural size portrait of Ashay as a
friend, as a mentor, as a disciple, as a colleague, as an actor, as a
popular television ad model, as a poet, as an artist, and as a human

Bhau Padhye, the Marathi short story writer and novelist, was one of
my role models as a writer. He was about eight years older than me
and I had known him since I was sixteen. Marathi fiction developed
through magazines aimed at the Marathi bourgeoisie and from the
start it was led by writers who played to the gallery. Bhau was a
serious writer of fiction and Dostoyevsky and Camus, no reader-
friendly or popular writers, set his own standards. Bhau's world---or
universe as I would prefer to call it ---was the life of the middle-class
and the working class of Mumbai.

One of the remarkable features of Bhau's work is that it creates in his

reader's mind a respect for the small human being trapped by larger
social forces. You do not find any heroes or heroes in his world. Most
of the people you find in it are failures in life. All they want in life is a
modest piece of glory, a personal achievement stolen when nobody is

Bhau has compassion for them all. Their author loathes none of them.
Their tragedies are understated. The absurd humour in their
mundane manipulations is brought out in warm colours and with
gentle irony. They are real. The history of Mumbai becomes real
through their small trespasses and violent destinies.

I had a complete set of Bhau Padhye's Marathi short story collections

and four of his major novels in Iowa City. I had carried with me a
selection of my contemporaries' works, just as I had carried---as
usually I do when I go out of India for a length of time---the complete
works of Tukaram and Jnanadev.

Before coming to Iowa City, Ashay read more English books than
Marathi. Though what he read in English were often translations of
Russian, French, Spanish, or Hispanic American books. Ashay had
the habit of reading all the books by an author he liked. In Iowa City,
Ashay read all the available works of my older contemporaries and
friends, Bhau Padhye and Hamid Dalwai.
He rated them as high as some non- Indian writers---particularly
Julio Cortazar, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and
Carlos Fuentes. Being surrounded by the writers at the International
Writing Program, he could check on the writers whom my Hispanic
American colleagues knew a lot more about than our hosts. Bhau
Padhye's fiction reads like a racy screenplay written in slang. Ashay
dreamt of making films on some of them.

In 1980, when I decided to give up everything else and just sit down
to adapt Bhau Padhye's Marathi short story Gudam and write a
detailed film script based on it, Ashay was very happy. At that time,
he was working with Govind Nihalani as an apprentice
cinematographer. I was writing a screenplay to take part in an annual
competition instituted by the Union Government sponsored National
Film Development Corporation. The prize for the winner of the
competition was a gold souvenir, Rs 10,000 cash, and 100% finance to
make a film on the winning script. The 100% finance attracted me to
the competition.

I read my script, as it progressed scene by scene, to Viju, Ashay, and

Rohini. Satyadev Dubey the theatre director and actor who lived in
the same building also took a peep into my screenplay project. Dubey
had just produced my play 'Mithu Mithu Popat' (1967) that was a
surprising success in the theatre.

### IOWA CITY####

Frankly speaking, the wild dimensions of my personality were

unleashed by the IWP experience. Before Viju and Ashay arrived in
Iowa City, I was alone in my double-size apartment and it soon
became the venue of impromptu parties. Grass-smokers, beer and
wine drinkers, hard-spirits-imbuers---all thronged when there was a
party at Apartment 330, The Mayflower Apartments, North Dubuque
Street---my address.
A Chinese young woman studying comparative literature and
translation at the School of Letters started seeing me quite frequently
and soon I took her to bed.

This should have shattered my marital life and that it did not is due
to Viju's cool. Ashay was upset to see this aspect of my behaviour;
and he rightly worried about the impact of this on Viju, his mother.
My Chinese girl friend attempted to commit suicide during a party
we attended at my friend, Burt Blume's house. She went to the
bathroom and slashed her wrists, but failed to cut an artery,
Nevertheless, this added to the various rumours about the sick turn
Sino-Indian relations were taking in the Garden of Eden of World
Writing that the IWP reputedly was.

After Ethiopia, Iowa was the place where a very flamboyant sower of
wild oats hidden in me came out of my skin. The trio of Chitres
made a study in contrasts:
Viju's poise and grace, the classic features of her face, her calm and
gentle verbal responses contrasted sharply with my heavy drinking,
drunken attempts to tango and insistence in dancing with the agilest
Brazilian female dancers around, my black and mulatto friends, my
rapport with wizened East Europeans and phlegmatic Englishmen
(Daniel Weissbort and Peter Jay, for instance) made many people
wonder if I was a writer at all, and if so, when did I find the time to
write poetry.

I painted many large oils on canvas in Iowa City and sold some, too.
Therefore, I seemed more of a practicing painter than a writer even to
most of my colleagues. It would be obvious to say that paintings are
more visible than poems. However, in this context, such a
supercilious observation may be pardonable.

However, Ashay, Viju, and I remained a tightly knit, securely bonded

family through this tempestuous period of my dissipation. I was then
37, Viju 36, and Ashay 15.
A year and a half later, in the summer of 1977, I developed ischemea
and erratic hypertension. I was admitted to St. Lukes Hospital in
Cedar Rapids thanks to my friend Robert Yaw, Paul Engel's school
buddy. A cardiologist called Dr. Quetsch was consulted. Listening to
the murmur of my heart again and again he found that I had an extra
heartbeat, they call it a hyper-systolic or ectopic beat. He also
averred that eventually, unless I modified my lifestyle, I would start
suffering from unstable angina. My close friend and poet, Adil
Jussawala came out with a memorable witticism: " Dear Dilip, when
the ego shouts, the heart murmurs."

Soon, I was out of hospital but none the wiser.

One of my close friends in Iowa City was Wm. Brown, then
considered a major young American poet and bracketed with
contemporaries such as Charles Simic, now very distinguished.
William or Bill Brown was quite a character. Conspicuously
corpulent and tall but rotund, and with a receding hairline, Bill's
chubby face had a lost-child quality.

He was an alcoholic whom most people avoided. He was doing his

MFA at the department of comparative literature and translation, or
perhaps at the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa. He was
very fluent in French and that was a result of spending three years in
France as a member of American Military Intelligence.

Bill once told me nonchalantly that a KGB agent he was chasing

seduced his wife and I noted this as a one-line screenplay proposal.
This shattered him and the army paid for his psychiatric
rehabilitation. Bill saw one of New York City's best known shrinks---
the kind who then charged $500 an hour. His shrink told Bill that he
would be fine if he gave up writing poetry. Since Bill failed that test,
he came back to Iowa City where he had been a student before he
was drafted.
I could not comprehend and digest the idea of a shrink telling a poet
to stop writing poetry in order to be cured of incipient paranoid
schizophrenia. Perhaps it was all a figment of Bill's imagination.
People considered him weird and they had obvious reasons.

One of them could be that Bill, who had a rich baritone voice, spoke
with prolonged and ponderous pauses that would be considered
Anti-American for his refusal to speed up when speaking. For, there
is such a thing as the minimum American speed for speaking as there
is a minimum legal speed for driving on an American highway.

Bill was a chef grade cook, his slovenly appearance notwithstanding,

and a gourmand when it came to besieging and seizing a buffet table,
attacking its spread with lip-smacking intensity, and making remarks
in pure Parisian French in appreciation.

I have lost track of Bill since 1985 or so. My mental illness brought
back his memories. He was a mentally ill person when we first met.
He did not hide his illness from me. I liked his poems. I enjoyed
talking to him. Viju found him rather clumsy, chaotic, and boring.

Bill did not look as though he had showered since he returned from
Paris. He shaved only every third day. He smelt of alcohol any time
of the day or night and drank straight from the bottle of bourbon he
carried in his jacket.

Viju thought he was a heavy visitor in every sense of the term. He

was so fond of Viju's cooking, ethnic Indian food in particular, that he
made Viju and I partners in a proposal for a small cookbook that he
sent to a California publisher and got a contract signed for a $100
advance, a big sum for Bill then.

Viju's cooking did not take long, but Bill's note taking often stretched
Viju's patience. In the event, Viju gave Bill several recipes. We got
them professionally typed as well by a graduate student we knew.
However, nothing came out of it. Bill went to California and he did
not come back until we left for India,
He wrote letters to me in India though, and one of them was about
his getting a translation fellowship to go to Yugoslavia to translate
the poet Vasko Popa. It was I who had him fill up the forms for that
fellowship and got him two referees as well. I had faith in his ability
as a poet and a translator of poetry.

Was the propsed cookbook only a ruse on Bill's part to get two Indian
meals every week, watch the preparations and see the dishes emerge
through those special processes that make Indian food so difficult to

Bill loved Viju's plain dal and its varieties changing from one legume
to another, the 'tadka' dressings with their aromatic magic, the crucial
difference a pinch or two of asafoetida or a spoonful of garam masala

I played a few harmless tricks on Bill during this period. Bill was
dating a single woman whom he invited for a meal to his apartment.
This was a serious and a crucial date for him. His confidence in his
manhood, though, was at a low tide. He had not slept with a woman
for months. When Bill conveyed his trepidation to me I allayed his
anxiety by waxing eloquent on the aphrodisiac properties of

It seemed to have worked.

Bill told me later that the young woman was so thrilled to eat the dal
he cooked as a first serving instead of a soup, she asked for a second
helping. Moreover, Bill gave the 'tadka'---poured the still-smoking
hot oil dressing with asaphoetida and black mustard seeds---with
flourish into her soup bowl. The result, he said, was magical. She
washed the dal down with pink California Chablis and glowed with
pleasure. Therefore, to bed they went for pleasure of another kind,
with asafoetida---or 'hing' as we call it in India---playing the role of
Ananga or Cupid, take your lexical pick.
Viju had some reservations about Bill because of his alcoholism. He
steadily and constantly drank all through the day. He was never
aggressive as many alcoholics are; neither was he a self-pitying slob
as some others become. He was lugubrious in his looks, like
someone's forgotten dog and with the same kind of forlorn appeal in
his large but myopic eyes. He will not improve, Viju would insist,
until he drank more moderately.

I found Bill even less menacing than a huge teddy bear looking out a
Christmas decorations window. He was in distress. A top New York
shrink challenged his self-image as a poet. In such a situation, whose
side do you think should I be, I asked her. Poets are so rare, they
need to be protected. In December 2005, if myself had not controlled
me, wouldn't I become Bill Brown, or worse?

I remember in this context one of my Marathi poems addressed to

Bill Brown---
"Bill Brown-la Shevatcha Ashirwad'' that would loosely translate as, "
The Final Blessing for Bill Brown." My youngest brother Ashutosh,
who was an alcoholic himself, loved that poem. He knew it by heart.

I wonder why.


Albert Camus once remarked that every healthy human being

entertains the idea of suicide some time or the other. That makes me
healthy or at least as healthy as Camus.

It could be a truism to observe that death is an indispensable part of

every human scenario from childhood to old age or senility. Many
parents, however, conceal the presence of death in the human world
from their children just as much as they hide facts about sexuality
from their children. Death is considered obscene and talking about it
is considered morbid and inauspicious. Children are kept away from
details of dying and facts about death. It is a part of the cultural
mystique about 'the body', which is considered obscene.

In my early poems, sex and death were interlinked themes and after
experiencing an authentic orgasm in the year 1956 at the age of 18, I
was convinced that the exquisite rapture of an erotic climax was
something that led to the deepest relaxation one has ever known.
Even before I read the works of Wilhelm Reich---The Function of the
Orgasm in particular---I was convinced of the therapeutic value of
orgasm. I thought that a natural death would produce the same
profound calm as coital climax does.

Sex can be just as violent as death---a gang rape to its victim would
be just that kind of living death, destroying the fine line between
pleasure and pain forever; and frigidity or the inability to experience
pleasure or pain is a numbness foregrounded by childhood
experiences stamping upon us categories that we cannot be easily
made to reconsider.

I have referred to genitals in my later poems as organs of love and

death : the unity of Eros and Thanatos---to my mind influenced by
Kashmir Shaivism or the doctrine of the 'coherence of Shiva and
Shakti' or the double-gendered divinity known as Shivadvayaya.

The drive to live and the desire to die are both transcendental; and
they are rooted in the same self. As long as they resonate, our
awareness is in a state of grace, as it were, liberated in life and its
affirmative experience that includes death rather than vainly
attempting to exclude or distance it from ourselves.

When there is a dissonance between them, they become violent and

frightening. When the coherence of our fundamentally bi-polar
nature is maintained in all our affairs, our awareness works at the
higher levels of creativity. However, we have to recognize, at the
outset, that bipolarity is an order that is turned into a disorder by one
part of ourselves attacking the other.
It is like the right half of our brain trying to oppress, marginalize, or
nullify the left half---or vice versa. The balance between the Alfa
waves and the Theta waves in our brain has to be calibrated as a
coherent order, cognitive as well as subliminal. At this point, I am
just wondering why physicians would use electrical shock therapy
that is grossly invasive rather than first try micro electrical
stimulation to balance the waves, attune them as it were, to induce
relaxation and response in a regulated rhythm.

It is now 150 years after Sigmund Freud was born. I was born in
1938---just a year ahead of the Second World War that enveloped the
whole planet in the bad odour of charred human flesh and signalling
the advent of nuclear warfare that could take humanity to levels that
are more abysmal and forms of self-destruction.

Murder and suicide are also self-destruction when the killer and the
killed are of the same family, the same species. The 20th century's
leitmotif was self-destruction and it has carried over into the 21st. We
are all now potential suicide-bombers in a global game of terrorism.
We all suffer from an anxiety about human nature. We have ceased to
trust it. When my doctor prescribes a latest anti-depressant to me---a
new psycho-pharmacological substance to restore my serotonin-
dopamine balance---I wonder whether a quick profit motive on part
of the pharmacy industry is experimenting with whatever quality of
mind I was born with.

But then, to be fair, I must record how in the 1950s and 1960s I took
every psychedelic drug I could lay my hand on to find out what my
mind was like.
From plain alcohol, my psychedelic voyages took me to bhang,
charas, ganja, mescaline, the magic mushroom, opium, the
amphetamines---none of which were prescribed to me by a doctor or
sold to me by a pharmaceutical company. The Food and Drugs
Administration banned them and like many others of that generation,
I enjoyed defying that ban.
It is a minor miracle that I survived the onslaught on myself by me. I
did not become an addict. I did not become a social dropout. I did not
commit any heinous crimes that addicts turn to in order that they get
their next fix. Nevertheless, I lost my innocence and that is a fact to be
noted if I were to put myself on trial.

Chemical or electrical manipulation of one's own brain is not

anathema to me. We have a congenital curiosity about ourselves and
we are not going to be told who we are by any present or absent
authority outside of ourselves. That is my view. My experience of life
is---largely---determined by experiment and empiricism. (Even
Mahatma Gandhi could not have faulted it. Gandhiji's truth and
mine, however, could be poles apart. ).

The drugs that I took then taught me a lot about my mind and its
creative process. True, I trod where Angels fear to tread. I took very
dangerous risks.

However, seldom did I become violent or trespassed the privacy of

others. Even when I hallucinated for hours, a part of me witnessed
and observed myself, just as a clinical researcher would. I was like a
primitive botanist looking for palatable and agreeable food amongst
thousands of plants and their flowers, fruit, leaves, roots and stems. I
was a naturalist unto myself.

After we married, I not only took Viju into complete confidence

about my self-experimental research into myself but also made her a
partner in some of them. I remember one special drug-induced
voyage here. An ex-hippie owner of a boutique in Iowa City who
traded in semi-precious stones and tribal trinkets from Central
America became a friend because I came from that mystic land, India,
the origin of the divine soma. He offered me, free, some fresh
Psilocybe Mexicana---the Magic Mushroom----, which he brought in
an ice pack all the way from Honduras. I thanked him for the gift and
Viju and I took it home.
The mushroom itself was ugly to look at---mud brown and with
black spores. Viju thought it was poisonous and that we should
politely flush this Indian sacred fungus down the toilet bowl.

However, I prevailed on her to have it put into a blender and puree

it. The puree was a muddy mess---repulsive to look at. Therefore, I
asked her to pour some fresh orange juice into it and make a shake.
The shake looked orange grey and brown. Still not attractive-looking
refreshment. Viju took one sip and puked. She said she would never
swallow it again with absolute finality. I, bravely enough, gulped
down an entire glassful in minutes---and waited for my moment of
sacred revelation beyond all thought of vomiting what I had ingested
in good faith.

I knew that anything ingested orally would reach the gastrointestinal

tract in about half and hour, then start getting absorbed over the next
twenty minutes or so to reach the bloodstream, and through blood
circulation reach the major organs including their Lord, the Brain.

My 'trip' lasted 72 hours in ebb and flow pattern, with highs followed
by lows. I was on a swing. I felt liberated. Tears of bliss streamed
from my eyes. I smiled happily. I felt I was the centre of the universe
and it was my body, pulsating and luminous. I was shorn of all
animosity and ill will, I hated nothing, I loved all that I was and I was
all things. Nothing was the Other.

Viju was astonished by the change that overcame me within a couple

of hours. She had not taken that ugly-looking juice. She had thrown it
out. Therefore, she, as my witness, was 'normal'.

A couple of hours later Nirmal Verma walked into our apartment.

Neither Viju nor I told him about the Magic Mushroom. All Nirmal
saw was me standing at the centre of our living room with a beatific
smile on my face and tears flowing out of my eyes over my cheeks
like raindrops over windowpanes. He noticed the glow on my face
that made him say to Viju, " Arre! Yeh to Sant lagta hain. Lagta hain
jaisa kisi shikhar par khada reh kar hamen aashirvaad de raha ho!"
(Hey! He looks like a saint! As though he is blessing us from a high

He was amazed.

I was not exactly hallucinating. A deeper emotion, perhaps the

deepest emotion I was capable of, had risen like a deluge from within
me, and it was pure love---not attached to any object in particular,
not sexual or physical or material, but free, totally free, and
boundless. It made me weep with a sense of divine bliss. It was the
most extraordinary experience of my life then. It cleansed me. It gave
my being a lightness and sensitivity that I had never known.

So why should have any qualms about psycho-pharmacological

'intervention' with lithium to stabilize my mood and anti-depressants
to finely balance serotonin and dopamine?

Grieving is connected with blessing and bliss. When Tai, my

grandmother, died of a stroke, I was not with her. She was in
Dombivali in the Thane district and Viju, Ashay, and I were in Sion, a
suburb in Mumbai.

The news of Tai's death engulfed me in something beyond sorrow.

She was 81. She had raised my siblings and me as our only accessible
parent. She had been a widow since her twenties and my father was
the only male among her three children. She raised my father since he
was eight. As a Hindu widow in a patriarchal set-up of a family, she
was not a decision-maker. Her eldest brother-in-law had that
authority. Tai was just a housekeeper even after my mother
appeared. Tai slogged from four in the morning until midnight all
365 days of a year. She had Spartan habits and a stoic attitude to life
after being marginalized and reduced to widowhood.

On the train to Dombivali, I was pensive. Viju and I did not exchange
words. She was a favourite of Tai, and Viju loved Tai very much. In
Dombivali, Tai's body was laid on a steel bed as preparations for her
funeral started. I sat by the bed carrressing her forehead. I was
silently weeping. Years later, I cried the same way in Iowa City after
ingesting the Sacred Mushroom. It was a blissful grieving, a
liberation from the polarity of pleasure and pain, Eros and Thanatos,
Shakti and Shiva, Pravrutti and Nivrutti.

My friend Ramchandra Gandhi recently wrote to me, " Ashay is

carrying both of you. Be born to him. Love and prayers." Ramu being
philosopher, one tends to treat anything that he says as puzzling.
Philosophers are puzzlers. I should know. I am one of that tribe.

I wrote a letter to many friends about Ashay's 46th birth anniversary.

I attached parts of this narrative and some pictures and poems to my
mail. Ramu's response to that mail was the three sentences I have

Who does he mean by 'both'? Does he mean 'Viju and Dilip' or 'Dilip
and Ashay' both? And what does he mean by that strange sentence,"
Be born to him." It is not a puzzle but a riddle, an enigma, a


In my hypomanic phase of sheer roller-coasting frenzy, two persons (

probably planted by Viju not to spy on me but to take care of my
erratic movements) were almost constantly---by turns---with me. My
mood was expansive. I went from store to store to look for things I
would use in Ashay's room for which I had worked out the smallest
details and the bathroom attached to it as well. However, once I
entered a store, I forgot my main mission and purchased anything
that made some sense to me. Viju and I like to buy gifts for
everybody on certain occasions and the New Year----2006----was not
far away. I bought glass corner shelves, adhesive hooks, thermos
flasks, several varieties of deodorant spray, after shave colognes,
fancy soaps, leather wallets, pocket diaries, key chains, cheap wrist
watches, cell phone chargers, backpacks, teddy bears and other soft
toys, coloured markers, ball pens, pencils, female lingerie in all
possible sizes, toilet paper rolls, condoms, aromatherapy oils, plants
and lamps. The assortment was crazy, but an old fashioned Freudian
analyst would have had a field day figuring out my fetishes from that
lot. Our bank balance was rapidly depleting.

I love to smoke cigars and cigarillos. Thankfully, I did not visit any
shop that had Cuban or Caribbean island cigars in the higher range. I
would not have batted an eyelid to pay a few thousand rupees for
just one or two of the best. Sometimes Bunty or Zuber would try to
stop me. However, to them I was a patriarch with undiminished
authority even if I was nuts. They would talk to the sales talk behind
my back and Viju personally returned a pile of unusable items to the
stores whose owners or managers knew us.

My six hours of madness began when I started painting the inner

surface of Ashay's bathroom with acrylic paint. I was stark naked
then and allowed nobody in. The large picture window of Ashay's
bedroom faces at right angles the windows of the building next to
hours. Like everyone else's our windows are curtained. I opened the

A stark naked man with a paintbrush in hand rushing all over the
place between the bathroom and the bedroom would be easily
noticed by my highly sophisticated neighbours and they would be
outraged by the sight. Besides, I am a well-known poet and author, a
Chair Professor at the University of Pune, and so forth.

That brush would not only paint Ashay's bathroom door but also my
reputation. The implications were terrifying. Think of a translator of
spiritual poetry, wet paintbrush in hand, dishevelled and stark
naked, facing ten neighbouring windows and scandalizing
neighbours. Viju thought on those lines. Yohul was upset. Bunty was
upset. Zuber was upset.

Then I did a crazier thing. I put many clothes, leather belts, shoes,
and even metal objects in the washing machine and ran it. The
machine withstood it and survived. However, many of the clothes
and the articles did not.
My idea was to gift the old washing machine (we still use it) to our
house cleaner Saira whose family was adopted by Ashay. Saira's
husband Salim has a drinking problem. He beats up his wife every
now and then though she supports him and their four children. My
idea was to give the washing machine and a clothes iron to Saira so
that Salim and her older son could offer laundry services to the upper
class inhabitants of our housing complex.

This was not the only grand plan I had. I offered free furniture to be
designed by me to our young neighbours Kayyummi and Anshu.
Both are young women in their late twenties or early thirties. I had
decided to work as an interior designer starting with my theme
restaurant project---mostly in my head but brilliantly thought out.

Dr Ashwini Kulkarni----Dr Sameer Kulkarni's wife and Chief

Radiologist at the Deenanath Mangeshkar where they found a room
for me----was promised an even greater gift. I promised to find her Rs
20 million to start a Diagnostic Centre. I promised mural painting
assignments to Bunty and offered to be Zuber's partner in a designer
clothing company.

All of them may have become aware of something caged inside me

that was raging to come out and perform miracles. In those six hours,
I seemed to have gone off centre; or perhaps the centre had gone out
of me. I was stark raving mad.

How I came back from there is still a bit mysterious to me.


I thought of suicide as one of my options when the doctors at the

Princess Tsehai Hospital took Viju in for a caesarean section surgery
to bring Ashay out into this world. Dr Nicholson, the gynecologist,
Mr. Hamlyn, her obstetric surgeon husband, Dr Ghosh, the
anaesthetist, and Sister Vera Clement conferred with me before going
in to the operation theatre.

I had to sign a paper to permit them to operate upon Viju whose

chances of staying alive were as slim as the baby's chances of
survival. It was certain according to them that if the operation were
delayed both of them would die. They said they would try to save
both their lives but they also said that I should pray. This made me
tremble though I did sign the form and gave them a green signal to
do their best.

I was alone in the well-lit lobby of the hospital. All the alternative
scenarios of the situation flashed through my mind. One: If Viju died
and the baby was saved? Two: If the baby was lost and Viju was
saved. Three: If both of them died? Four: If both of them were saved?

Though Viju and I had been married for just over one year, we had
been sleeping with each other---whenever and wherever we found a
chance---since 1956 or for five years up until then. Though we did not
use any contraceptives, Viju did not conceive until we were married.
She conceived just before we left for Ethiopia and my mother was
reluctant to let her travel with me.

She wanted Viju to stay back in Mumbai for childbirth, nine months
away then, and wait for my return in 1963. I had to quarrel with her
for my marital rights and responsibilities. My relationship with my
mother was always strained and this was one of our many bitter

I would not return to India if Viju died while giving birth to our
child. If she died and the child was saved, how was I going to take
care of the orphaned infant? That was the most challenging and
unsettling question. How would I manage teaching at a school and
caring for an infant?

I was barely 23. I had no experience of handing young babies. Would

I hire an Ethiopian nursemaid? Would I import a nursemaid or a
female relative from India to look after the baby? Would I send the
infant to its grandparents in Mumbai? Would I get remarried, and to
what sort of a woman? These questions were frightening because
they were practical. If the baby alone survived, I had to stay alive
because I had produced it.

I concluded that either both of them should survive or both of them

should die because if Viju alone survived, the loss of the baby would
aggrieve her so much that I would fail to console her. She had been
looking forward to the birth of the baby much more than I because it
was growing physically inside her and they were part of a system to
which, however near I was, I was an outsider.

I found it difficult to identify myself with my successful sperm and I

couldn't think of my sperm as a hero that had fluttered a flag on
Viju's ovum while all its compatriot sperms, millions of them, had
died on their way to that Spartan victory. I realized then that
fatherhood is not natural; it is very, very hard work indeed. That
thought chastened me. I was humbled.

One of my best poems---in my view---is In Ethiopia written in

English and in 1964. I wrote and published a Marathi translation of it
as well. It recounts the drama of Ashay's birth from his father's
perspective; and it contains a lot more.

####(June 30_18:10_IST_13779words####

If one remembers one's childhood as a happy phase of one's life, one

can identify with one's own growing child positively and enjoy one's
vantage position as a more knowledgeable child. I enjoyed Ashay's
childhood because I knew what a child enjoys most: companionship
with a more capable parent.

I remember my childhood as the Renaissance period of my life. What

made me move then was my insatiable curiosity about my
surroundings and the belief that it offered secrets that could be
unlocked and treasures that could be appropriated.
Nature and society were equally attractive to my curiosity as a child;
and if our educational system had not been so far removed from
children's curiosity, I would have combined my artistic career with
some serious pursuit of the natural sciences as well. I regarded
Leonardo da Vinci and Johan Wolfgang Goethe as my role models in
my adolescence.

I lavished on Ashay, and later on Yohul, gifts that they could learn
from: building blocks, colours and paper, sets of tools and primitive
machines, magnifying glasses, binoculars and telescopes. I taught
them to look at the night sky and identify constellations, stars, and
planets. I took them to zoos and aquaria. I bought them books and
records, letting them choose what they liked or found intriguing. I re-
lived my childhood through them.

In some ways, therefore, I was responsible for their developing self-

image as independent human beings. Ashay's post-Bhopal life as a
mentally and physically weakened person was the destruction of my
own self-image. I had failed to revive the curious child and the
confident adolescent he had once been; and it was not his fault.

During the last seven of his eighteen post-Bhopal years, Ashay was
slowly and painfully estranged from Rohini who found a career she
liked and whatever values it embodied. Yohul was as much
influenced by us as by his peer group and they were of that new
generation of Indian kids who are ensnared by Western consumer
culture and weaned away from some of the old world ideas of
quality of life that Ashay--and before him I--cherished.

Four of us lived together in our two bedrooms apartment: Yohul,

Ashay, Viju and I. Ashay occupied the master bedroom. The second
bedroom was Yohul's room. A covered balcony with a king size bed
and a shelf was for Viju and me.

As Ashay's melancholy deepened, his visits to the outside world,

including our common living room became short and rare. He spent
most of his time painting and reading. He would, when he was
drinking and starved of company, make calls to friends and relatives
on his cell phone. He would sometimes go out for a haircut, or to buy
medicines, or to visit his favourite bookshop---The Word.

The only world Ashay had now was the family. As his interest in
cooking grew, he would cook his own recipes---variations on classic
dishes from a worldwide repertoire---for them. He had collected
cookbooks and collected recipes from friends and relatives. He cook
make about 40 different kinds of biryanis, for instance, and even if
the basics were the same the accents on spices and herbs changed, the
dressings varied, and the garnish altered.

Ashay was particular good at handling seafood and river fish recipes,
and beef and pork preparations, which he personally preferred. Even
regular dressings such as mayonnaise were transformed by Ashay's
magic touch into something outstanding.

Anne Feldhaus and Henning Stegmuller----who visit us regularly

from the US and Germany---brought Ashay his supply of olive oil,
flavoured vinegars, herbs, and spices.

Viju is an outstanding cook, but Ashay managed our kitchen and she
was relieved of her cooking chores. Yohul loves Italian food and
pasta is his staple. Ashay gave him a variety of treats. Ashay trained
Saira, our household help, and into cooking routine food with his
special accents and so, she takes care of any special kitchen
assignment when the need arises.

This shows that Ashay was doing something for the rest of us even
during his spells of acute depression and private agony. It was his
way of belonging to us and all our visiting friends and relatives.
When an appreciative visitor, such as Lothar Lutze from Berlin, was
in Pune Ashay designed each meal with special regard to his dietary
When our German friends Gert and Gisela Heidenreich visited Pune,
Ashay took wonderful pictures of them. He was a very insightful
image-maker. In Pune, Gert and Gisela were together for a
rapprochement after a marital rift. Only I knew about this. Ashay had
no clue about their personal crises. However, the picture he shot of
Gert offering a new ring to Gisela had a poignant reunion quality
about it. Ashay was then hoping for a similar new bridge built
between him and Rohini. However, that never happened.

As a photographer, Ashay was an acutely perceptive face reader.

This helped him as an actor and as a model when he was on the other
side of a camera. He captured both significant body language and
facial expression in an evocative light, the ambience of the image
with highlights and shadow details impeccably balanced. His photo
portraits show their own class.




Melancholy is strange terrain. Each of its victims finds her or him in a

solitary confinement. There are no coordinates such as lattitude and
longitude to tell the victim where she or he is; there is no direction for
there is so source of light. The self has to fall back upon itself. This
could be the darkness of avidya/cognitive dissonance.

Nevertheless, in itself, melancholy does have topographic features.

One man's melancholy and another's are never the same. Ghalib and
Kafka were both melancholy creatures. However, the Czech-German
novelist and the Delhi Urdu poet had very little in common
culturally. Kafka's terrain is nearer to his civilizational compatriots
Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Camus---a world from
which the Christian God is receding.
Ghalib stands alone in the twilight of the feudal and medieval
Mughal Empire, crumbling under the shadow of British colonialism.
He is the first Indian modern poet at a point of cultural rupture from
rich and refined traditions that have become meaningless filigree or
fragmented design.

Melancholy reflects the human condition of a civilization in crisis.

Therefore, Freud was right and his critics were right, too.

There are no prophets at a dead end of civilization where ruptures

from the past are imminent or already evident; there can only be

The very acceptance of an idea or ideas of human mind, or its

opposite, the idea or ideas of behaviour of the brain replacing the
mind, took a long time to form. The mind, as long as it was believed
in, was either well or ill, just as the body that was its Siamese twin. A
proper healer---a physician aware of the profound relationship
between psyche and soma, could heal it. If it was an extreme and
irreversible illness then the victim or patient belonged not to human
society but to an asylum, a clinic, or an institution that used psycho-
pharmacological medicine, often at an experimental stage; or
electrical shocks or brain surgery as the last effort to make the patient

In the Indian tradition, tolerance and management of madness

defines thresholds differently.

Among the hundreds of thousands of sadhus, sannyasis, fakirs, pirs,

darveshes, malangs and other 'holy' dropouts from society, they are
many who would qualify to be called lunatics by Western criteria.

In villages and in the predominantly rural towns of India, there are

necromancers, possessed people, thaumaturgists, tantrics, and so on
that are said to possess access to the other world and the
supernatural. They are supposed by their clients to possess powers to
cure or to contain victims of madness. Both the healers and their
clients can be seen as mad from the point of modern Western
psychiatry. However, within the traditions of India, both are
acceptable as special and tolerable minorities.

When I was losing my mind, to those around me I seemed to be

losing my sense of propriety and civility. The first thing they noticed
was that I did not care whether I was properly dressed or not. In fact,
I was aware of their discomfiture and with wicked deliberateness I
threatened to run out of the house stark naked announcing that I did
not give a damn what people seeing me in the nude would think of
me. Who knows, some of them might even find a guru in me, seek
my blessings, and even bring me tributes. It was only a matter of
perspective and perception.

However, even in that state of destabilized awareness and decentred

self-perception, I knew I would scandalize the whole neighbourhood
and make Viju and Yohul the target of unwanted pity or uncalled for
curiosity as my sane and sober family members. I was, indeed, trying
everybody's patient. When I realized that there was a consensus on
taking me to the trauma centre of the Jehangir Hospital, I dressed up
in a baggy pair of trousers without a belt and a loose tunic, wore my
casual shoes on the wrong feet and without socks, and did not wear
my familiar beret. If I were to play the role of a maniac, I would play
it to perfection. After all, wasn't I a filmmaker? I would script, direct,
and act the lunatic's role. That was my clowning privilege. I was
going to make my close ones and well-wishers witness my acts of
unforgettable derring-do.

Though my memory of what followed is a little hazy and

chronologically non-linear, I remember my encounters with Dr. Shiva
Aiyyar, a cardiologist and on that day in charge of the trauma centre
at the Jehangir Hospital, from there to the Deenanath Mangeshkar
where a Dr. Parkhe saw me, the reassuring presence of our friend,
Dr. Ashwini Kulkarni and her husband Dr. Sameer who had
arranged everything but preferred to stay away from my sight lest it
should create a problem.
My brothers Rohit and Ajit rallied around Viju and Yohul and so did
my friends in Pune. Bunty alias Utkarsh for whom Viju and I are like
local parents in Pune, and my loyal rickshaw driver Zuber were in
and around the hospital throughout my short stay there.

After being discharged from the hospital, and having reached home,
I found no more wind in my sails. My project remained unfinished.
The storm was over; and I was in the doldrums of depression once
again. The tempest of hypomania was over. I was sad and sober
except that a vacuum gnawed at me from inside. I was back in the
throes of unspeakable mental agony.


Once we accept that there is a nexus between our brain and feedback
to it from external sources our idea of the aetiology of various mental
illness changes completely.

Stressful experiences can make the brain produce certain hormones

in excess along with their side effects. Even loss of sleep over a
continuous stretch of more than forty-eight hours causes dramatic
changes in our body's behaviour. Serotonin, dopamine, nor-
epinephrine or nor-adrenaline are all neuro-transmitters involved in
the intricate signalling system within our body. Neurotransmitters
are synthesized in neurons and act locally.

What are neuro-transmitters? How are they synthesised in our body?

What natural substances influence their production? I was intrigued
by such questions and had looked up references to get at least a
vague idea of my own condition.

Neurotransmitters are molecules. The list I came across

alphabetically was: acetylcholine, serotonin, GABA, glutamate,
aspartate, glycine, histamine, epinephrine synthesis pathway, nor-
epinephrine pathway, dopamine synthesis pathway, adenosine, ATP,
Nitric Acid or NO.
This was just the beginning. There was further information to be
looked into: there are many more neurotransmitters that are derived
from what are known as 'precursor proteins' and they are called
'peptidic neurotransmitters'. These influence cell function. There is
one larger protein molecule with the name pre-opiomelanocortin
( POMC for short) from which many neurotransmitters are derived.
They are known as peptide neurotransmitters.

Our sex drive, hunger, thirst, pleasure and pain---so basic to our
behaviour and performance---are influenced and controlled by these

Nerve impulses from one cell to another are propagated by what is

known as synaptic transmission. The synapse is a junction of cells
that has a specialized cellular structure. Here it is that a presynaptic
neuron terminates upon the postsynaptic neuron. Here it is enlarged
and forms what is known as the terminal button. The axon makes
contact along the second neuron on the dendrites, the body of the
cell, or the axons and thus gets the names axodendritic synapse,
axosomatic synapse, or axo-axonal synapse depending on where the
contact is made.

From neurotransmittors and neuroreceptors I moved on to the more

complex areas of information regarding acetylcholine, cholenergic
agonists and antagonists, natural cholenergic agonists and
antagonists ( such as nicotine to which I am addicted), the
catecholamines, catecholamine catabolism, and to serotonin---the last
caught my attention because it was one of the key factors in the
control of my mood swings from depression to hypomania.

At a younger age, I could have grasped and coped with all the
information about these submicroprocesses and microprocesses that
govern my mind-and-body's macroprocesses that give me my
biological identity as an individual being. Neurology is as complex,
weird, and fascinating as subparticle and particle physics where none
of the laws of macrophysics seem to apply.
All this is just preliminary. However, it is humbling knowledge to a
victim or a patient of a bodily condition that adversely affects the
'mental well-being' of one.

What self? What mind? What individual identity?

May the 'Lord' give me the humility to regard myself as a patient, a

sufferer, and a victim, and may He give my physician some insight
into my ideopathy so that in his therapy he achieves precision of the
same level that I strive to achieve in poetry, painting, and cinema.



The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein has remarked that a question

is like an illness; it needs to be cured.

However, in my case, as I perceived it, my illness was like a question

that offered many treatments without the guarantee of a cure.

If it was true that it was Ashay's death that had made me ill then all
my suffering was located within me and not in Ashay's being or non-
being. I was my own disease and disorder.

However, if I was going out of control, with no prognosis in sight,

who was I ?

The answer given by the sages of yore stare one in the face:
Tattvamasi---- That Thou Art.

The ontological inscrutability itself.