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Nihal Sahu

Poem: There To Die


I wrote this over Whatsapp, which is the worst focused-writing app ever devised. Every line of the poem was sent as a standalone text message, unedited and unadorned. I am sure this is visible. You may feel the rough edges and fallacies on your palate, reader. You will feel them, when you walk around a ruined and infested fountain, weeping and cursing and thinking of the dead.

Her voice was the swirling sky,
and her eyes were starry nights.
Her story was a fantastic lie,
and she showed me love atop the Golan Heights.

She turned over and sighed,
and turned out the lights.

My voice was rocky ground, with shattered bone,
I found my mind with a bloodhound,
scavenging alone.
She picked me up unwound the knots,
in the back of my mind.

I may really have lied,
I betray my own kind.
None of this is mine.
None of this is owned.

And then I asked her, among the works of days and hands,
what sins and sorrows
had led her to find my outstretched hand.

She said, she had told a lie, sold exotic furs,
lied and cheated, hurled a curse
and land and land and land.

The sea is open, and I am free.
At the helm of my destiny.
Alone, and I ignore the shore.

A lone tree beckons, and I murmur
"Not today. I must tender to a festering sore.
I must take care of the herd. I must write down
the truths that I have heard"
"I must walk among the the crowds, and speak in a voice of thunder

I must walk with kings and gods,
and tear nations asunder.
I must be cold with hate,
and I must tender to my grudges
It must not get too late, I cannot wait for spring bloom or golden midges.

And then she called, and I followed.
I grew old, and my living room halls
were legend, hallowed.
I sold the sea, and blotted out the sun.
Set the price of tea, and shook gunpowder
out of gun.
I bought this happy isle, under a swirling sky.
Recanted all my lies, and lay there with her.
there to die.

The Foliage And The Roots


We weren’t this short sighted back then. India used to listen to those who saw ahead, who saw beyond the immediate foliage and the leaves to note the patterns in the roots. Those men and women are still here, pushing agendas, pulling at the weed that threatens to choke out our democracy. We don’t notice or care.

What we see and talk about is the foliage and nothing else. What is relevant is the meme, the moment. It is no wonder that a sexually deprived nation with a small-prick complex is desperate for satisfaction. That’s what Twitter, for example, gives us. Satisfaction. That lingering feeling of churning hate at the bottom of your belly can now be projectile vomited at someone. The dissent of the patriot: that weird love at the center of the Indian Experiment, can be excised with a witty comment.

This has been the curse, not just of our nation, but of every nation in this weird age. To badly paraphrase Chaplin in the The Great Dictator: "We say too much and feel too little."

We are content, on Indian Twitter, with expressing our discontent without doing anything about it. Satisfied with expressing our dissatisfaction. Befuddled and Stupefied by the intricacies of our politics, we stick to repeating our platitudes. One for the right. One for the left.

A Fragment For Obama


These are times which make you feel intensely sad.

Barack Hussein Obama was a leader nearly as great a Lincoln. He was greater than the people he served. He was bigger than his country. He was more than they deserved.

And now he is gone. Out of the shadows. In the sunny isles where fat men do not scheme in quiet rooms guarded by men with sidearms and earpieces. He is not in the shadows, where men can kill 60 million others in 20 minutes, and when the president laughs, the senators roar with laughter. And when he cries, the little children die in the streets.

So much for democracy.

These Are Your Worst Enemies


I had a terrible night, a few months ago. I learnt something important. Something that, if I knew earlier, I could have been saved a world of pain and indignity.

We strolled by Hussain Sagar Lake and ate warm, moist, delectable Kebabs on park benches and sat on the edge of the lake. The moon was out. The water rolled past as if paying us no heed. The largest Tricolour in India fluttered and waved in the distant spotlight. In the quiet night, I convinced myself of a lesson. I would forget it. I would forget what it meant to fight or win for a long time. But again, it takes time to learn serenity.

We've all heard the saying, 'Friends make the worst enemies,' or in a different form, 'With friends like these, who needs enemies?'

Sometimes, this does seem to be true. But it is true only because you let it become true. Your friends will no longer become enemies if you walk the straight path, listen to the better angels of your nature, and rein in your instincts.

It takes time and mistakes be critical of yourself. Arrogance, Ego, Hubris: It takes time to recognise that these, and not friends, make the worst enemies.

Friends are not your worst enemies because you know that you have greater enemies within yourself.

Battle them off. Cut off their supplies. Do not let them influence you. Do not let your instincts overtake your judgement.

Fight the immediate instinct.

Unless you learn to do that, you will be forever beholden to others and to their whims, which is the only thing worse than being beholden to your own.

Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.

-Marcus Aurelius

Diamonds Are a Scam. Books Are Forever.


I spend a ridiculous amount of money on books. The above photograph is probably the first of four purchases I'm going to make this month. I probably spend more on books every year than I've ever spent on clothes. That's the point. Not to blame my parents or fate, my appearance really is unimprovable. My mind, however, is not.

A book stays on the shelf. It stays there as long as you want it to. You will not outgrow it. It is an investment in your mind, an add-on that will not depreciate. And since you're investing, invest wisely. Do not buy something you would not reread later. Do not read books not worth keeping.

Here's Christopher Hitchens with some advice on alcohol.

Even if it makes you look like a brand snob, do specify a label when ordering spirits in particular. I once researched this for a solemn article and found that if you just ask for, say, vodka-and-tonic the bar­man is entitled to give you whatever he has on hand, which is often a two-handled jug labeled “Vodka” under the bar. It can be even worse with scotch, where imi­tation blends are rife. Pick a decent prod­uct and stay with it. Upgrade yourself, for Chrissake. Do you think you are going to live forever?

The same is true for books. Read whatever you want, but please try not to make reading just momentary titillation. if you're still stuck with your third-rate brew, then it might be time to take a sip of Mr. Walker to see what it tastes like.

So then, you may ask, what of my passbook? What if I have more pressing needs? What if I need to save up for an iPhone, or this Hand of the King brooch?

Well, in that case, you have two options.

  • Buy the fucking book and think about the brooch later. Considering how much you spend on Netflix and Targaryen Tie-Pins, you can afford a book.
  • If you really don't have the money, go to your public library and borrow books. If you can't afford a subscription, read there for an hour a day.

Diamonds are a scam. Book are forever. So, since I just berated two authors, what makes for a good book?

A good book, in my view, is like Michael Lewis's The New New Thing, like Walter Isaacson's Kissinger, like Albert Camus's The Plague, like J.M Coetzee's In the Heart of the Country.

A good book is thrilling, in the most literal sense of the word.

Not in the Ludlum way, where each book has a title like The Gemini Contenders or The Bancroft Strategy. (The London literary elite used to play an interesting game, which Salman Rushdie always won. Take a Shakespeare play, and imagine what title Robert Ludlum would give it. Othello, for example, became The Kerchief Implication, and Macbeth became The Dunsinane Reforestation. The Ludlum novel is literary laziness of the most base kind.)

No, a thrilling book gives you what the French call frisson. The tingle down the spine, the short feeling of excitement, the goosebumps that come with a Eureka. It might come during the middle of a movie, a book, a conversation... It might even arrive in the middle of a MUN, where you think of a new idea, a new solution. That's what makes for a good book, as well. The sense that you're reading a new story or a new idea.

For the reader, that's The New New Thing. That's what I live for. I live for the frisson. I live for the throb.

I have a couple of books still on my reading list this summer. Don't stare. Buy the fucking books.

  • David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • A Bend in the River by Naipaul
  • The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis
  • Thinking Fast, And Slow by Daniel Kahneman