This blog has often touched upon the necessity of asking each other broader questions and getting rid of hollow words. As far as the quality of conversations go, we can do (much) better than where we are at currently. Instead of touching the surface, we must dig a bit deeper. At the risk of sounding concerned, can we connect for real? It’s OK. We’ve got friends around us who are surprised to know that their old friend doesn’t sleep well, let alone, understand why is this so. There might be many conditions at play here but my best guess is, we aren’t talking properly. Even though we speak and words emerge out of our mouths or fingertips, we remain hidden. Like a shy cat that is new to a house.
Fortunately, for what they are worth in today’s cryptocurrency age, I tend to ask meaningful questions to those I care about and, in return, am asked thoughtful questions. As a result, I’ve been learning stuff about myself, and the fast changing world I inhabit—both inside and outside my mind—is distinctly clear.
The beauty of a question is not predicated on the answers it attracts. That bit rests on the questions it gives rise to.
On that sombre note, let me share some splendid questions and some sincere answers with you –
What is something you think everyone should experience at least once in their life?
It would be a cliche to mention heartbreak here but let me explain why I feel it’s important. Heartbreak is a poetic word for disappointment. That something happened that shouldn’t have happened (ideally speaking) but it happened for different reasons: others have wronged you, you have wronged others, you have wronged yourself, pure coincidence, etc. But disappointments come in all shapes and forms and they are necessary—be it in personal space or professional—because they mould you into a compassionate being. Heartbreak is a humbling experience, yes, but what it does is it makes you think deeply. And I feel that’s an enriching place to be. We, human beings, are cursed to either disappoint others or be disappointed in ourselves. Every passing day, a heartbreak is just around the corner. Of course, the root cause here is (unfair) expectations but by the time we realize that completely, we are too old to care anymore. I think it's necessary.
In what ways are you stronger than you look?
I am very good at suffering. Quite an expert there. So, I will keep hitting myself despite knowing that I don’t need to do that. Ashwin (my former flatmate) used to say that the only reason I suffer is because I am used to suffering by now. In a way, suffering is a strength too, no? For example, I can just quit this roz ka rona but I don’t. This was on the professional side. On the personal side, I am strong enough to forgive and forget. I don’t hold grudges. I might not talk ever again but I don’t hold anything against that person. I just move on. A lot of people find it very hard whereas this ‘art of ignorance’ has been mastered by me.
What is an unforgivable action?
Abusing a child that would leave a permanent mark on his psyche is an unforgivable action. Anything wrong done to a child is unpardonable. Although I am opposed to the idea of becoming a father, I feel very protective of kids. Children are wonderful and they should stay so because childhood doesn’t last long enough in terms of time but lasts much longer in terms of impact. Before we know it, adulthood is already at the door asking to buy its many issues.
Misuse of power is unforgivable too. Just because one can mistreat others doesn’t make it normal. Whether a person is a boss or a manager or even a peer: basic decency should always be adhered to. Soft words should be employed because nobody is doing anybody a favour; it’s a job at the end of the day. Breaking trust is unforgivable too. Once is a red flag. Twice is black flag.
What is the most important lesson to teach a child?
A child must be taught, from the very beginning itself, the essence of compassion. How kindness is what makes this world go round and round. And there might be a lot of sad stories and evil people around but they are always less compared to the happy stories and good people. Maybe kids should be made aware of this stark contrast so that they know where they are supposed to stand later. Also, children learn by observing their parents—what the elders do and how they react to a situation. So, parents should make a conscious effort to be their very best as well. Bad parents (people) shouldn’t expect their children to be starkly different. That’s not going to happen. Kids mirror.
Children also need to be told why we exist in the first place: we are here to make the world better by a very small amount. Otherwise, we will be raising indifferent kids who will help perpetuate an indifferent society that doesn’t care for others. Good parenting can change this tide.
If you had a disease named after you, what would be the symptoms?
It would be called the Shakti Shetty Syndrome and there would be no symptoms as such. Being an exquisite disease, people will just turn ridiculously funny and make others laugh so hard that their kidneys will burst and they will die a sweet death with blood spillng out of their mouths and yet they are not in pain because the laughs are taking over the wails. People making each other laugh and laugh and laugh and then die. Quite a bloody pandemic this would be.
Your most common first thought when you wake up?
I wake up at least once or twice during my sleep. If it's because of a dream, then I will think about the dream (or the characters in it). Sometimes, I wake up because of my leg jerk (thanks to constant dreams of falling down) so I'd wake up scared and disturbed. If I wake up directly in the morning, my first thought is usually ‘what’s the time now?’ and my eyes quickly move to the clock which usually strikes between 6 and 6.30 AM. And then I'll drag myself up and sit on the edge of the bed thinking about everything for a bit and then get going.
What's your definition of a good human being?
A good human being is someone who is fully aware of his actions and mildly aware of his consequences. Being a good person on paper doesn’t work. Practically what happens is more important. By nature, humans are hypocrites, so the difference between a good person and a not-so-good person becomes clear by the kind of words used and the sort of work done later. Saying that I know something is plain knowledge.
For instance, as a kid, I thought my dad was a very good human being. But now, after three decades, I’ve acknowledged his failings as a person. Yet, on paper, he is a good person only. That’s how it is. The definition of goodness keeps shifting from person to person (and how they behave with each of the others). Some people want to be good but they fail but I think that thought counts too to some extent but never enough. What he does is what remains in the end. Also, the true merit of a good person is his ability to give, not take.
What's your best one liner?
This is difficult because I tend to think in one-liners and I write in one-liners too.
In Hindi, it could be - ‘Baghawat ki aag mein sab apni apni roti sek rahe hai.’
In English, it could be - ‘Giving up on the window seat is a sign of ageing.’
About a decade ago, I was a pun master and spent a lot of my brain cells on wicked wordplay. This is my fave pun from recent memory: ‘Mangalore ke beach-o-beach reh kar bhi hum sea se door hain.’
Speaking of ‘door’, there was a chubby HR lady in our old office whom I used to bump into often at the entrance (glass door). So I once remarked to her: ‘Hum dono ka door ka rishta hai.’
What could you give a 30 minute impromptu lecture on?
Many subjects actually. In cinema, I can talk on how cinema doesn’t reflect but we reflect cinema. Similarly, I can talk about how as an art form, cinema is extremely destructive; the amount of waste it produces (movie set, explosions, action scenes, etc.) is unmatched in the field of art. I can also talk about my experience as an entertainment journalist.
In the field of literature, I can talk about different styles of writing and reading – with key focus on the changing ideology of publishing houses (it’s much easier today to get published than 30 years ago), etc. I can also lecture on creative process: why most writers fizzle sooner than expected and how writers like Murakami continue to stay relevant in today’s market.
I can also talk about cultures and languages and societies and how humankind is basically the same whether you stay in Amazonian jungle or Thar desert.
If it’s a 30-min lecture, I will add an extra 10-15 mins for quick questions.
What's the best bad decision you have made?
This is easy. Quitting engineering college when I was barely three semesters away from my degree. I could have completed and become an engineer and most certainly would have earned a lot of money too (the way my engineering friends did) but I chose to take a slightly different path. It was horrible in the beginning because I genuinely had no idea what I was doing. But when I look back, I think whatever happened happened for the good. I would have had a house and a car today as an engineer but most probably, I would have been unhappier than I am today. I feel this is what I was destined to do: just float around like a heavy feather.
The best advice you have ever given to others?
I usually ask (young) people to move the fuck on. That said, life is quite meaningless, hence it’s best to spend your time on what makes you better than you were yesterday.
If you had to choose one cause to dedicate your life to, what would that cause be?
I am fond of animals and I would definitely like to do something for them. Particularly the abandoned ones, be them dogs, cats, cattle, horse and so on. I wish I could set up an animal farm that would tend to these creatures with a large swathe of land for them to roam on. Apart from animal welfare, I am interested in girl education and having spent a few years teaching kids, I am sure I can dedicate myself to that cause as well. I am a patient teacher (not an educator yet) and can certainly work my way around there.
I am also interested in fighting plastic. It’d be great to help clean up places with social drives where young folks are engaged and clean-up is conducted (Afroze Shah has been an inspiration in this field) as the idea is to start something and get similar-minded people to get it done. Otherwise, on your own, very little can be achieved.
The idea of saving languages entices me. Every 14 days, one language dies. So that could be a good place to do some work. I feel personally involved here because Tulu used to be a dying language but now it’s showing renewed life thanks to efforts by Tuluvas. So, if people show interest, languages can be saved. Hebrew was a dead language in the 1940s but Israel brought it back to life and today, it’s the fourth most spoken Semitic language.
What's the one rule that defines your life?
When I was younger, my rule was I want to be a good person like my parents; the sort who would never swindle others, etc. As of now, my rule is I want to be happy in whatever I (try to) do. My pursuit is to stop being a beacon of cynicism and turn into a ray of light of sorts. Of course, this is not a rule: just a possibility. Some days, I am the epitome of positivity and some days, I am the worst person in the room with my negative words.
Would you rather love or be loved?
This is twofold. I have two presence: online and offline. In the online world, I am fairly loved by readers. Sometimes, I smile at their feedback and sometimes, I smirk. But it’s never enough. I’ve been actively online for close to 15 years and I can tell you it’s never enough. Here, validation is invalid to a large extent.
In the offline world, I can’t stand most people (quietly) but of the few that I select for myself, I genuinely love them and want the best for them. With age, I’ve acknowledged that I am abundantly self-centered and want to be loved.
According to you, what is love?
Love is the closest we will ever get to touching freedom.
What's something you find attractive other people don't?
I find failure attractive. I mean, the admission of failure. Most people are damn scared of admitting that they flopped. So, in a gathering, if somebody openly admits that they have failed at something or that they are a loser in something or the other, it endears them to me. Because I feel most of us tend to be pretentious in a social setting, trying to showcase a side of us that is so not real. I am VERY comfortable with my failures as a person (personally and professionally) so if I stumble into people who are a bit like me, I find them attractive.
Most awkward conversation you ever had with someone?
I can’t think of awkward conversation as such as I rarely interact in person. But I can tell you about the most awkward interview I conducted during my journalism days. I was asked to talk to philosopher-writer Pankaj Mishra about his latest book. It was a last-minute arrangement and I ended up asking dumb basic questions about geopolitics, etc. It was remarkably terrible. It went on and on for about 40 mins, trying to hide the fact that I hadn't read his book. For a person of his calibre, he deserved a better interview. It was my only interview at mid-day that I didn’t want to see with my byline.
Shakti always has been person, I wish to meet in physical form, his writing soothes me.