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Musings of a Copywriter

Surviving to tell a Pony-tale

Devraj Singh Kalsi writes of a hilly (or hilarious?) ride

Photo Courtesy: Devraj Singh Kalsi

I began to think about insurance after riding a pony on my way to a hill station some years ago. Those scary minutes worked better than the life insurance commercials that generate fear of untimely death and disaster.

 As the pony gathered speed while moving along the edge, the danger of tripping and falling into the gorge became palpable. But the man holding its rein assured me that it was highly experienced in such climbs and never made any mistake if the person seated atop did not spoil its mood. I displayed no such intention and maintained dignified behaviour to deserve a safe transit. The pony owner assured me that his pony enjoyed every bit of the muddy ride after the early morning downpour. He advised me not to touch its shampooed mane or any other sensitive part of its body because a tickling sensation could make the poor chap misinterpret and take a wrong step that would spell the untimely end of the rider. When it came to a close shave, I closed my eyes and thought of hugging it like a nervous child embraces the mother. The words of the pony owner rang alarm bells. Throughout the steep climb to reach the snow-capped heights of Kufri, I was firmly in the saddle, but I felt like a coalition government that could be toppled anytime by the withdrawal of support.

All kinds of thoughts entered my mind. I thought the poor animal suffered from suicidal tendencies after demonetisation but, then, it became clear that freedom meant everything to the pony who was finding its path in the treacherous terrain. It was safe not to imagine myself as one of those pillaging dacoits shown in mainstream Hindi films or fancy myself as a gallant king on horseback, galloping forth to counter the cabal of invaders, marauders, and plunderers.

The panoramic scenes of the valley did not grab my attention to click a single photograph as the pony seized all my attention with its stroll conducted in the zigzag style of a drunkard. From the unfenced edges, the pine trees and dense forest cover looked intimidating. One slip and gone forever, making this my last journey on planet earth. I felt so close to death that I regretted leaving behind my incomplete novel, realising the colossal waste of time very late. I fervently prayed for the pony to stop flirting with danger.   

I sought from the pony owner an estimate of the time left to reach the destination. But he was clueless. All he said was the pony appeared to be faster than on other days. I wondered how the pony got to know I loved fast cars and speed. I had paid an exorbitant fee without the faintest idea of the terror-stricken expedition to rejuvenate my senses. It was now a test of nerves and faith in the Divine. To ensure I did not do anything stupid to disturb its gay abandon. I did not even swat a fly near my nose nor scratch my itching neck. The pony’s upward climb continued at an accelerated pace. When in a contemplative frame of mind, it slowed down to collect the string of thoughts. The pony owner smacked his long, slim stick on the shiny brown wobbly posterior when the pony came to a grinding halt without any compulsion of obeying the traffic rules.

The pony owner boasted of the clean track record of zero casualties and no injuries either. He said the pony performed twenty trips in a single day and had been doing this stressful job without any break for four years. After going through the impressive CV ( curriculum vitae) of the pony, I felt it was fit for corporate life. He explained that the pony was comfortable with snow rather than sludge. The sudden rainfall had made the entire path muddy. It was difficult for the pony to maintain a steady gait. We engaged in a freewheeling chat about animal behaviour, how they lose cool, get provoked, collide against tree trunks, or kick them in the frustration of leading a celibate life. This diversion calmed my frayed nerves. He claimed to have the best pony in town and, though it was impossible to corroborate that, it was a relief to be safe in trained hands or legs.

While peace was returning to life, a charged pony from the opposite direction with a portly lady came running down at top speed. The angry pony was ready to collide against anything that came in its way, and the lady on its back looked prepared to be tossed in the air, with her sari pallu flying high to reveal her hefty bosom. For a moment, I felt she was going to land up in my lap as a beautiful gift from the skies above, but then it was a narrow escape as her pony applied brakes when it gradually came to senses after facing a human chain of tourist guides blocking its way. The worst appeared to be behind us now, but my pony stood and watched the thrilling show. The pony owner pulled it ahead, but it refused to budge an inch. Maybe it was keen to have a word with the other pony. Their communication was beyond my comprehension, but the pony kept looking in that direction while making a strange sound that was Greek to its owner. Probably it had no meaning of the kind I was imagining, and the poor fellow stood there to breathe easy before resuming the long walk. 

 While I was forbidden not to touch any part of the animal, the pony owner petted it and set it in motion. God knows what was so sensuous or seductive in the constant rubbing of the belly that the pony began to accelerate, and this last stretch was anything but sober. I lowered myself and almost buried my head in its back, resigned to fate, waiting for this exercise to end.  

Respite came within a short while. Once at the peak, I did not revel in the natural vistas of beauty. Rather, celebrating the fact that I was up and alive was more fulfilling. I dismounted with the pony owner’s mild assistance and felt like thanking him for the safe journey that the railways do not provide. I felt the pony deserved a round of applause and a grand salute.

The pony, parked in a corner, was given a plate of grams to munch as a healthy snack. It was busy keeping a close watch on me when its owner was sipping tea at a food stall. I looked the other way, at the orchards with melting snow. I took pictures of the mountain range and shot a portfolio of the photogenic pony from a distance – to go back and share with the world the harrowing experience of the pony ride.

It appeared the pony was in an apologetic mood and, during the return journey, it would take parental care of the rider. But the descent contravened my expectations as the pony rushed along at great speed. This time the pony owner also lost control, and the reckless pony hurtled down the slippery path. My only fear was whether it would take me on a blind date somewhere in those verdant valleys and gorges. Finally, I must thank the pony for exercising restraint and giving up the fascination for the thrills of walking along the edge. The fact that I am alive to tell this pony tale is nothing less than a miraculous escape. When the pony owner finally caught up with us, he apologised and patted the pony for taking good care of me. Perhaps good care meant depositing me safely at the ground level from  the heights where I had started this journey.

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

When I almost became a Professor

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

It is scary to witness a cabal of professors locked up in the staff room by agitating students who want to harass, heckle, punish, manhandle, slap their chubby cheeks, dislodge the spectacles, and look menacingly and maniacally powerful jabbing a middle finger. Holed up in a stuffy room under a slowly whirring ceiling fan, professors keep praying for the quick intervention of the Vice-Chancellor and his meek acceptance of the charter of demands so that the irate students release them from captivity.

Getting roughed up by students with a political agenda or by those with personal grudges is a nightmarish experience for any professor. But it is a professional hazard that most professors are now aware of and prepared to face during their teaching days. Such bitter experiences are included in the annual package. As a precautionary move, they empty their bladders every two hours because ‘being gheraoed’ includes not getting permission from students to answer nature’s call. They keep instant energy drink tetra packs in their bags for emergency use in case of dehydration and some toffees in the handbags in case of sugar level dip. You never know when students decide to strike!      

Though we never had the opportunity to hold our professors hostage during our university days, there were reports of similar incidents happening elsewhere. Imagine the plight of professors who were castigated for no fault of theirs. The impact of such scenes was long-lasting on me. I realised this when I began to explore the option of becoming a professor. The fear of getting slapped and caught in crossfire made me rethink the pursuit of academics as a career after completing my journalism course – the horror of being dragged through the corridors, down the stairs, and punched by promising students.

My record was clean: did not rough up any academician in my life so the question of Karma catching up with me was not applicable. But if you are destined to get abused by students, it will happen even if you choose not to become an educator. During an early phase of my career, I did mentor some students to improve their language and test my communication skills. The horrendous experience made me realise teaching is indeed a dangerous territory. Some strong abusive words were hurled at me like crude bombs and it included vile threats of a bloody encounter in the local area. With guns and other weapons being so easily available in the market just like toys, it is better to take such threats seriously. My hyper-imaginative mind began to visualise getting lynched by vandals brandishing sticks and knives. I avoided venturing out after dark for almost a year.  

It would have been so shameful to return to the classroom and address the same crowd of students that dispatched the poor academician (me) to the hospital. While it is true that the entire student community was involved in the fracas, some nastier ones would vitiate the atmosphere. Earlier, films depicted how professors were ill-treated. But the real world surpasses the fictional world. The mauled professors are rushed to the hospital and their families are busy praying for their speedy recovery.

When most of the students began to prepare for eligibility tests to qualify as lecturers, I sensed I had no proper knowledge in any subject. It was important to have a proper grounding or specialisation in a particular subject before teaching that subject. My knowledge always seemed insufficient to teach a classroom. It was also like a case of stage fright, facing a crowd of students who could raise a question, compelling me to consult the book for an answer. Imagining myself in such a predicament made me feel jittery. I could not convince myself to face the crowd with my half-baked knowledge though many others were confident of doing the same with a poorer knowledge base.

All they wanted was a safe job, with zero passion for the subject and they went ahead to build a career in academics. Most of them did not have a scholarly mindset but they were hard-working to scale up and make the cut because it was a question of qualifying in an entrance test and they had to scrape through.    

The scope of remaining in the company of young babes and the possibility of appealing to them would be a bonus reward. After seeing films based on students falling in love with professors, it was going to be good. Imagine a besotted girl madly in love with the professor coming up with gifts, just to have a chat. If she happened to be beautiful, then males would be stabbed with jealousy. The tendency to imagine extremes egged me to think of attacks with weapons inside the campus. With newspaper headlines screaming the next morning: professor stabbed, jealous student lover accused. 

This rise to fame was notorious so I dropped the idea of becoming a professor with the motive of falling in love with a girl student. Possibly, the madly-in-love girl slapped charges or went to town pressing me-too charges against me. A risky proposition was cancelled but it was tough to resist this because the perks of being a professor include falling in love with a student. On the downside, I imagined an obsessed student jumping off the parapet unable to bear rejection in love. All sorts of possibilities and fatal outcomes of being a professor came to the forefront, a whirlpool that dissolved everything related to academics.   

Another incentive to explore this career was the prospect of holidays that would give them the freedom to write and find readers in the classroom. With a secured job and limited working hours, there was ample time to read and write and find publishers who went ahead because professors command a big circle of student readers who buy the books driven by the fear of scoring poor marks. Imagine a professor asking a student whether he has read his new novel, and he promises to read it as soon as possible. This makes it easier to sell more books even if there is a conflict of interest. Besides, other professors and writers also write kind stuff in their reviews – in the fond hope of a similarly favourable review when they publish their titles.   

Unfortunately, the desire to become a professor waned as creative work in the field of advertising became more exciting. When the pressure of corporate writing left me with less time to write for myself, then I realised I should have become a professor to get a whale of a time to write instead of working under the pressure of deadlines. Now well past the age of being a professor even in an unapproved college, it is better not to think of it.

The joy of being a writer who has not pursued a full-time job is boundless. The madness of writing under stress and anxiety creates better writing and this would not be possible when you wrote in a calm state of mind. This is one merit of not becoming a professor – of writing with a free mind, without the burden of erudition that damages the free, natural flow.

Whenever a professor reads or comments on a piece of mine, I become a devoted student ready to be mentored because writing without a literature background makes you susceptible to frequent attacks so it is better to surrender and admit your ignorance in front of literature professors who will grab the chance to correct you or bombard you with heavy literary quotes. Instead of becoming a silly fool with limited knowledge and nodding yes-yes after every sentence, it is better to stake no claims of scholarship and call it a hobby, to dabble in writing without knowing what writing is all about. The forever-learner tag is easier to wear when you remain a student for life.  

                                                           

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

2147 without Borders

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

Almost five years ago, I wrote a short story about India-Pakistan ties. Since then, I wanted to expand it to a full-length novel set in the future – as far as 2147. With two hundred years being sufficient time to regret the misdeeds, to provide the required distance to view things dispassionately.   

Since future gives the freedom to create a destiny of one’s choice, without offending the sentiments of those living in the present times, I chose a different timeline away from the reach of divisive politics, hoping that the readers belonging to the unborn generations will be blessed with the maturity to realise the blunders of the past and support the amicable rectification of what went wrong, without resorting to any blame-game, without repeating the horrors of the Partition.

The strain of thought came from an oral narrative I heard from my mother years ago. My maternal grandfather, an employee with the railways, quit his job and sought refuge in music after the Partition, devoting his remaining years to the playing of musical instruments and singing of devotional songs, to calm his mind, to forget the scenes of bloodshed he had witnessed all around. It was easy to visualise its dreadful impact even on those who did not suffer physical injuries or lose their loved ones.  

Two lovers from ruling political dynasties on both sides of the border begin their campus romance at a foreign university located in a country that split their homeland centuries ago. Two leading characters who pledge to rewrite history and make their love win hearts of the nations at loggerheads. In the creative process, I drew strength from the fact that a hateful phase of five years led to the division of the two countries so it was possible to reverse that with a similar period of sublime love. A brief outline of their intense love story mapped their marital union and the reunification of the two countries happening on the same day. A grand climax heralding a new dawn – a new tryst with destiny.

Instead of divulging the plot, I let readers imagine the trajectory of events. The changes they undergo to bring about the change of heart, the hardships their love story has to face. After 200 years of separation, hatred and bitterness lose the game. The vicious cycle ends. Love triumphs. Honestly speaking, the imaginary world is no less difficult to construct.

Shaping the real world is a humongous task. The military establishment poses hurdles and the powerful nations with vested interests oppose the coming together. There are conspiracies, assassination bids, and foul attempts to stoke communal fires. But this time, the masses are wiser and the political classes cannot divide and rule. The young lovers persuade their belligerent families to make it a bilateral issue and seek public opinion through voting on this issue in their respective countries, with an overwhelming majority on both sides voting in favour of a borderless world, allowing free movement of people and the restoration of full democratic rights without any discrimination. Mutual love and respect bring lovers together and their grand union is celebrated across the borders with pomp and festivity. The spontaneous outburst of emotions sets a global example of how love can conquer hearts of millions, making it appear as if bitterness and enmity never existed. 

Sharing the rubric with some friends who also dream of a new world without borders elicited positive response, a go-ahead to spend years in isolation writing this magnum opus. The support from people indicates this should happen but they do not know how this is going to happen. The idea of love and lovers doing it sounds impossible and they find it pretty immature to expect so much from love. Well, they have seen the power of hatred and violence in wars but the power of love has not been tested on such a big scale. They think big changes happen through bloodshed and not because of love.

I cannot convincingly explain in detail that the people after another century will have to nothing worse to imagine, no solution to expect from war and bloodshed. With such a bloody past behind, they will be aware that it cannot get any worse. They will be fully prepared to reject all forms of hatred. The living folks still have reserves of bitterness and hatred lying in the core. The next hundred years will deplete it further, leaving faint traces. It will be learning through self-realisation that the present generation does not have. It is the reason why they cannot imagine a different world. The future generations – who record more suffering than us over the century – will be dead against enmity and war. They will be naturally inclined to give love and a peace a chance to restore sanity.  

If I write this today, the educated classes will love it. But the masses are perhaps going to find it funny. Writing a book with unborn readers in mind – a target audience that does not exist today – is a risky proposition. Agreed, it is a concept driven work that imagines an ideal world where the old order gets restored. If people do not like to read it, make an offbeat film on this subject. Viewers will find the sheer impossibility very exciting. Raising this issue and bringing it in the public domain is a good beginning. People will think of it from a fresh angle. Lovers from both sides of Punjab will be enamoured and they will crave for its realisation during their lifetime. The power blocks on both sides of the border will also think of lovers ending their hatred.  

Some friends have read the opening chapter and they all suggest I should advance the date. Make it 2047 instead of 2147. I said this is an embryonic idea and it is impossible even for a writer to imagine a drastic change so quickly. A distant era makes me more comfortable to visualise cycling all the way from Amritsar to Lahore.   

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

Managing Bookshelves

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

I have a habit of deep cleaning bookshelves. I mean I take all the books out of their cages and pile them up on the floor. I shuffle their pages pretty fast, to let them get a quick whiff of fresh air. The feather duster – used for the car – goes gently over the book covers.

I decided to alter their positions last time for more pleasure, but I did not have any memory of what had been positioned in the front. So, I picked up the ones with attractive covers and kept them behind, thinking that the attractive ones must have hogged the limelight.

Having finished the dusting, I threw in some naphthalene balls to keep silverfish and other bookworms away. Almost the entire packet was emptied, with the hope of zero damage to the precious books in my collection including the smutty reads. When the books were finally placed on the shelves, the new arrangement did not appeal aesthetically. The colour combination of the covers looked odd or the font did not go well.

The authors who do not gel in real life are certainly going to find it impossible to live harmoniously in that restricted space. I changed it again just like that, without any sense of discrimination. The random new look appeared better than the previous one, so I chose to let it prevail until I was faced with a negative feedback from an objective source. I decide to click pictures of the revamped bookshelf and post it on my social media handles as a display or profile photo. Agreed, this was not the ideal way to publicize the makeover for a bookshelf. With fake likes and comments pouring in, I concluded I was not going to be miserably bad in my choices.   

I was suddenly hit by the novel idea of keeping half the bookshelf empty. Did that make the space look better? A crammed bookshelf is scary, gives the feeling of excess of reading stuff, suffocating to the core. I thought I was getting it right. A neighbour who noticed every single minute change was sure to be quick to appreciate by commenting that my bookshelf looked spacious, unlike the messy clutter it had been in the past. Excess of everything is bad, right?

By removing half the load, the bookshelf looked clean and attractive. But it added to my woes. I had to find a place for the other half lying scattered in the open. I had to separate the ones that I had read and did not want to keep, isolate them, sell them or donate them to any local library. It made me think of getting another bookshelf for another room. I began to look for a suitable corner for a new piece of furniture. Would the new bookshelf clutter the room?  

I chose to get a small one, to control my impulsive book-buying habit. Before placing an order, I would have to think about where to keep them. I tried to change my mindset but whenever those attractive book deals would appear, it was impossible to stay away from ordering the new stuff. I thought of using a kindle to read books I do not feel like collecting. This was certain to reduce the incoming load. But when the paperback was almost priced the same as the kindle version, I couldnot resist the temptation of having the physical book in my possession.

I decided to start ordering slim books and stick to genres I like to read. But this was not an effective solution to my persistent problem. My favourite books were mostly thick and genre-bending. I decided none of this was going to work so I finally chose to distribute books I had finished reading.

Being the kind of a reader who never returns to the same book again for solace, I thought this would be fairly good solution. But the problem is that the unread books looked menacing unlike the comforting, friendly presence of the titles I already read. Just a look and I could say I had read this with pride. It gave a big boost to my confidence and encouraged me to read more.

I decided I would keep the read ones there instead of discarding them. Honestly speaking, an entire bookshelf of unread books is very insulting and depressing. Restore an ideal balance between the two. For two unread books, there should be one read book. It is a personal way of looking at it and calculating, to find a proper solution.  

The idea of hiding books in the attic or the loft instead of displaying them made no sense. I found no merit in doing so. Besides, I had to place a ladder and put my life and limbs at risk to reach them for the occasional clean-up and access. The possibility of suffering a spinal injury after a bad fall scares me so I dropped the idea of making the bookshelf almost ceiling high.  

Then how do I maintain a cordial relationship with my books and ensure their health and fitness? Yes, the pages are turning yellow, and I am desperately looking for an age-miracle cream to hide their autumnal years. Perhaps I should take out the ones with delicate pages from the bookshelf and send them to a library. They would find more and more readers in the shortest possible time because their life spans look limited. Well, this made sense to me, and I finally decide to take the seniors off from the bookshelves, to make it a youthful collection again. Instead of keeping the aged ones trapped on the shelves, I should get them more readers. But their appearances were likely not attractive enough to entice young readers. Maybe, the elderly readers or the mature, who believe in the healing power of words and not on the quality of the printed page, would get the chance to go through these treasures before tears set in and the pages simply go missing from the damaged spine, which would have lost its ability to keep the flock together. Sounded like a good idea and I was eager to share the big pile with the world. The best possible use of the books would be made before their end was near. The task of enlightening more minds should be carried out without delay. The act of cleaning the bookshelves brought in a rush of thoughts I that brought me happiness.  It was like saying live your life so long as you have the time to live. The books from my collection still had time to live and spread happiness so I put them in front of more eyes.

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

Creative on Campus

By Devraj Singh Kalsi  

Picking up a second-hand classic from a College Street bookshop before entering the Coffee House made you feel like a literary icon in the making even if your secret mission was to clear the national or state level entrance test and join any college as a lecturer. Having a girlfriend who saw in you the potential to become the next big novelist or a poet par excellence with utmost sensitivity – just because you took unusually long to gently push back a curl of hair from her face – was fine to stay motivated but you knew full well that she was creating a romantic rebel for a torrid fling before marrying a businessman or a secure job holder. So when she insisted you should write and write and write, she was pushing you into a dark pit from where you would never emerge again to give her a chase and disrupt her marital harmony by sending across your self-published volumes of poetry in India or in obscure journals abroad to prove her right.

If you are a professor who wanted to be a writer or a poet, you have probably saved yourself from imagining the peak of literary success too early. If you have become a writer or poet because of a girlfriend who wanted to love a literary guy, you have done the worst by following her advice. You stand ruined because of love, love, and love alone – love that not only made you lose her but also your career. 

It is not a tough task to find tutors and trainers who were once upon a time literary dreamers. Once they lost the plot and the pressure of survival took a toll, they had to take up odd jobs. In their possession, you found a trove of poems written as an ode to the lost love, the burden of amateurish stories that are amusing to read today but were once considered classic material by a bevy of garrulous girls in the canteen. You read out those to her sitting in the park and she fiddled with her locks and admired your stuff with an orgasmic wow. You were inspired to write love poems and you wrote dozens and read them all to her. She was thrilled she was creating a poet for the world to applaud – a poet who made her the muse. If you were a campus poet or a lyrical bloke of such intensity for years, console yourself for the inevitable self-destruction you have brought home. If you have been able to salvage your life from the ruins she left you in, consider yourself a lucky fellow. Because most of such types seldom recover later: some go mad trying to prove the correctness of their muse and spend their life in an asylum, some end their lives by committing suicide and some die in abject poverty.  

Those young guys who became poets and writers in their college and university days to win the love of the girlfriend or to woo the most beautiful girl around and impress her were the ones who belonged to a sad club of jilted lovers. These guys eulogised their lovers to the skies and they were rewarded with hugs and kisses. They continued to prove an artist was throbbing, lurking, or blooming somewhere inside while the beauties mapped out their future well. One fine day they would come to inform about their marriage that was part-arranged part-love, to deliver a formal invitation to come and shower red roses and marigolds for their happy married life or play on the grand piano a mushy song topped with best wishes for the future.       

You did not realise she had no dream of struggling with an artist and dumped you at the earliest, expecting that this heartbreak would just be the right blow to make you write a masterpiece. Unable to bear the rejection you went to a bar, gulped down several pegs to drain out the last dregs of sorrow, and spent the dark, treacherous night comforted by a matronly courtesan who understood your heartbreak and shared her saga of betrayals in love that continued till the wee hours of the morning.

The vivid memories of lost love remained and you channelised the passion to write an ambitious novel that consumed three critical years and you spent another three to get it published. By this time you were well past the age to be eligible for competitive exams. If there is a survey done to gauge the extent of damage done to spurned lovers in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, you will find many middle-aged and senior citizens now regretting fulsome praise from lissome campus beauties who spotted talent where editors found nothing literary.   .

If you meet any such writer or poet who destroyed his life for the sake of unrequited love, please show him some sympathy. If there is any romantic fool in the family or the neighbourhood who still adores lost love and feels her true love will make things turnaround soon, there is nothing more illusory for the eternal optimist who refuses to see the reality around and still thinks she was right not to waste her life for him. Although this misfortune was a creation of his choice, it is sad he was made to overestimate himself, like an overvalued stock in the market that would crash anytime. Was it right for the guy to think he was a literary sensation just because a girl or her cabal of friends told him so? For a sound reality check, he should have approached the head of the department and got his creative writing skills assessed with objectivity or tried sending his output to magazines and newspapers – to experience rejection in love and rejection by editors simultaneously.  

And yes, had the girl wanted to choose him, she would have certainly taken him away from creativity or urged him to try these things later. How could she commit such a crime? It would have led to a sacrifice of another kind – separation from art for love’s sake.  

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

Nations Without the Nobel

Devraj Singh Kalsi takes a fresh look at national pride with a soupçon of sarcasm and humour

Many nations have not produced a single Nobel Laureate. Many have not produced a Nobel Winner in all the categories. Many have a solitary winner in over a century. Many keep winning the prize year after year in some category or the other. Such countries appear blessed with prodigious people who are rare to find like platinum and gold.  

The sorrow of not winning a single medal goes deep for a country as it cannot do anything about it – only a citizen can make the nation proud with his powerhouse talent. A nation can only encourage talented citizens to keep their intellectual pursuits alive. Two categories – literature and peace – hold promise and raise big hopes as these are related to creativity and noble deeds to make the world a better place.  

Imagine what happens to a country or a community if there is no Nobel Winner in literature from its soil. The sentiments of a nation that won a Nobel once in a century deserve to be felt. Such nations and communities end up deifying the solitary winners. This poses a formidable challenge to other people who feel threatened under their aura and remain insecure about the potential to repeat such a feat.  

Where winning becomes a habit, the nations feel proud to have the best minds. The common people surge with collective pride in their genetic superiority and celebrate the presence of the Nobel winners as a divine gift. When great talent is ignored, there is a groundswell of suspicion that these global honours are discriminatory. It opens debates and people start scrutinising their work in great detail. Perhaps there is merit in the contention that the winner did not deserve it, but the choice is a reality to be accepted with a heavy heart. The intellectual fraternity finds the time to run a complete scan and critical write-ups appear in the newspapers for some days after the big announcement is made. 

Just one Nobel Laureate for Literature in more than a century is not an impressive score for a nation that boasts of a rich cultural heritage much before the Nobel came into existence. Once there is a winner, there should be a crop of successive winners to keep alive the tradition of winning. Otherwise, the collective respect for the single winner becomes so overwhelming that the community and the nation edify the achiever and criticism becomes unacceptable. If the stream of Nobel winners keeps flowing, with at least half a dozen winners in a century, there are more claimants for veneration. The respect accumulated for the winners gets divided and the process of deification of a solitary winner gets derailed. 

You become aware that with so many Nobel laureates, you have to respect them all, read them all, and assess them all. The judgment of the Nobel panel has placed them at par, but the judgment of readers is supreme. The people from the North join in to celebrate the winner from their region while the people from the South start worshipping the winner from their region. Since the winner hails from the same region, they feel closer to his identity than his work. There is a sense of appropriation as they want to have a winner from their community to be lauded more.  

With multiple winners, there are more claimants to excellence and devoted readers with their strong biases critique them or compare them the way they like. If there is a single winner, the status of the sole winner gets further uplifted. If there are no repeat winners with time, it makes the people of the country feel what they are currently producing is not worth any award. They revisit the past and try to emulate the winner. If a nature poet who won, they try to become clones and find success in the same category to prove they are not bad nature poets. 

Nations erupt in joy to feel elated. But the intellectual talent is global. Art created in a country is a global asset. Perhaps we are still immature as we are less enthusiastic about the work and more focused on the Nobel winner and his race, nationality, and identity.  

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

Tribute and attributes

Devraj Singh Kalsi pays a poignant tribute to his late mother

There was no glint of pride, but a sparkle of joy lit up her eyes whenever she uttered the sentence: ‘My son stays with me’. Although many of her friends poked her to know why an overgrown kid was still living with his widowed mother instead of venturing out in the big, bad world in search of a lucrative future like their ambitious sons did, it gives me deep satisfaction that in the last thirty years we stayed away from each other for not more than thirty days. She surely deserved this privilege for nurturing a son with creative tendencies – even if the scale of his personal achievements was small.

Some of her friends wondered why I chose to remain a frog in the well. Some of her friends concluded it was my lack of potential to make it big in life. They expressed concern that the hopeless son should wake up and join the mainstream. Some of her close friends tried to find out whether the son was earning his bread and butter or not. The job profile as a copywriter working from home was something they could not understand a decade ago. Sometimes my mother mentioned advertising and writing but their clever minds read this as a mother’s cover-up attempt in defence of her incompetent son as all loving mothers try their best to hide the flaws of their children.

The pursuit of creative work to earn livelihood secured my mother’s approval and appreciation. She was glad I did not have to enter into compromises or indulge in unethical practices for career development. She was happy I did not need to degenerate into an opportunist or flatter people to realise my goals. She believed every single sentence or idea was a divine blessing meant to take care of the material needs. She loved the purity of this earning and always encouraged me to write with purity – never lower the quality of the output to earn more. My homage to her would remain insincere if the charming world of advertising blinds me with greed and I deviate from the path I have followed as long as she was alive. Was it my choice or her blessing? Something within makes me feel nervous.

Writing does not require relocation to a distant city. The dream of a writer is realised inside a room located anywhere – even if the writing space is found in a jungle. Driven by this conviction, I began to write and deliver good work so that there is no dearth of clients. Yes, the writing job made it possible to spend more time with mother. Besides, I did not have to undergo the hassles of commuting to work every day.

My mother was happy with this working model and quite surprised to find it real. She called it a royal business. Yes, with royalty indeed! However, when my first attempt at full-fledged creative writing did not fetch commercial success, my mother was disappointed. Perhaps she felt I was less qualified to aim so big. In hindsight, I wish I had written something better. This failure haunts me after her death. That she left this world with the feeling of failure. No success is going to reverse this reality. Even if I manage to write better now, my mother is not going to see it. When you realise the most important person in your life is not around, your urge to prove your worth dies young. But it does not mean I should quit creative writing. Whatever I write now will be a tribute to her – so keep writing with honesty and purity.

Her separation led to another separation. My mother wanted me to strengthen my attachment with God and religion and she often reminded me of the shortcoming. Since she was a very pious lady, I thought her prayers would take care of me for life. Moreover, since God had taken away one parent in my childhood, I always thought God was not going to deprive me of her presence. I always felt there was time for learning the Gurmukhi script from her. I regret not finding time to learn reading the Punjabi language. The Holy Granth Sahib had to be donated to the Gurudwara (Sikh temple) as I could not read the Gurmukhi script and daily readings are a must. The holy book could have remained at home had I been fluent. I hope to be fluent someday, and get it back home and conduct daily readings. My tribute to her includes this exercise in self-improvement.   

Her humorous streak is something I have loved — her ability to laugh breathes into my work. I wish to acquire the strength to laugh during tough times, during health challenges. Few years ago, when a senior doctor referred her to a specific medical college, she made him break into a hearty laugh with her straight-faced query: ‘But why do you want college students to operate me? They will do experiments.’  

Just before the pandemic began last year, she consulted an ophthalmologist who suggested cataract surgery would yield negligible improvement in her low vision (high myopia all her life). When he asked her to read the board, she said she could not read it. Then the doctor made some signs and she read those correctly. The doctor was confused and she could not suppress her laughter. The doctor admired her joviality despite her low vision.

After returning home, I asked her if she could read something on the board. She said she could read with some strain. Since her mood was bad after the doctor said the surgery would not lead to proper restoration of her vision, she was not interested in getting herself examined again. So, she preferred to end the exercise by saying she could not read at all.    

A couple of years ago, she had hearing problems. When I took her to the ENT, she was asked to undergo audiometry tests. The result suggested she should get a hearing aid.  When I told her to get one for the right ear, she said she does not need the device.  It would obstruct the beauty of her earrings. She was always unwilling to wear the signs of old age. She disliked using a walking stick. She asked me to talk softly and she would hear distinctly. She lowered the volume of the TV and repeated the dialogues in the serial — to suggest her hearing was fairly good. One day she claimed to have overheard the gossip of the housemaids in the kitchen — she gave hints of revision in wages. A week later, they demanded a raise. She was surely hearing things right.    

Over the years, gulab jamun was her favourite sweet but her diabetic status prevented her from having it. Everytime her sugar level was normal in a medical test report, she celebrated it by having one gulab jamun. It was her inimitable style.

When she fell down and hurt her head, she refused to call it a fall. Relatives called up to find out her condition. She called it a jump and broke into a laugh, making the other person feel lighter and less worried. This choice of words indicated her spirits were always high. When I am sick and dying, I hope I am able to keep my suffering to myself, to remain cheerful and positive and say that I am going to be fine with the change of seasons even if there is no spring in my life.  

My mother always said Nanak Dukhiya Subh Sansar — other people should not be made sad — do not offload your grief on others. She urged me to bear it all alone. She had tremendous strength to bear her sorrows all her life. I am not sure whether I was also a source of adding sadness to her life. Maybe, I was also a big contributor because I chose a difficult life and deprived her of what her friends and relatives got so easily in life. People say she deserved a better life, a better home to live, a better son, a better future, a better old age. My tribute includes this regret and confession that she truly deserved a successful son.   

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Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

Creativity and Madness

By Devraj Singh Kalsi

So many times this question has been lobbed at me: Have you gone mad? I have not been able to confidently say — yes. I have not been able to vehemently deny it either. But I have taken serious note of it, asking myself this question again and again. At times I feel I do have it in me and sometimes I feel I am exaggerating my qualities to put myself in the league of big achievers who had a streak of madness igniting their flashes of brilliance. I express gratitude to the people who doubt my sanity. They are truly visionaries and genuine well-wishers, who managed to spot my innate potential before anybody else in the family did.

When a middle-aged man falls in love with a girl half his age, he has to answer the same question: Have you gone mad? When an old fogey leaves everything behind and packs his travel bags to go on a road trip, he is labelled mad. When a rich man relinquishes all his wealth, he is dubbed mad. When a professional quits a cushy job to pursue his passion, he is written off as a nutty nerd. Similarly, when an urbanite decides to relocate to a village and lead a farmer’s life, he is categorised mad.  

Attempt anything unusual or unconventional and you stand accused of being mad. A person with the potential to shock the world is said to be in dire need of shock treatment. Thankfully, there are hundreds of people who cross the borders of sanity every day to come home saner. The act of flirting with madness is a rewarding experience to feel sane within – even if the world refuses to acknowledge the benefits of this exercise. 

Higher than any recognition in the world is the honour of being called mad if you are engaged in the business of creativity. It is a source of ultimate bliss to be bestowed with this prestigious title. There are many creative people who have won covetous prizes and metal pieces but the world does not call them mad. Madness remains a streak of genius that remains elusive to most. It is like having all the riches of the world and still remaining unhappy. It is painful and melancholic for a creative soul who fails to get recognised and remembered as mad. There is no lobby, no committee to understand madness and celebrate its diversity and goodness. There is no national or global award or citation that recognises or honours the scale and magnitude of madness.

You must be really mad to spend seven years of life locked in a room, busy writing a big, fat novel and doing nothing else. You are chasing something when you do not have any estimate of success in it. Madness fuels the passion to keep going and without madness there cannot be anything magical. Not just once, you spend an entire lifetime doing crazy stuff without any assurance of success in the venture. With nothing going in your favour, with nothing glorifying your mission, you are on your own journey despite all hardships. Madness alone makes it possible to undergo the impossible. The act of creating involves madness at various levels – in choice, in pursuit, in suffering, in determination, in persistence, in creation.

There are phenomenal people in every field who are never content with the shower of praises simply because they do not have the crown of madness to wear. The search for the mad title remains an unfulfilled dream. We are not advanced enough to think of eccentricity as an achievement worth celebrating in life. Whenever this question about being mad has been hurled at me, I have felt happy from within. I have wondered how close I am to winning this label in my lifetime. Sometimes I feel, it is within reach and sometimes it seems beyond reach during the entire lifetime. Before a pervasive sense of dissatisfaction creeps in to create a void, I urge you to seek the company of friends and colleagues who, when persuaded, will flatter and provide temporary relief by calling you mad. Absorb the repetition to get a high.  

Zero in on the glory of madness as it reveals a clear focus on the work and the possessed state that makes you refine the craft. It is not easy to say to what extent you are driven by the mad urge but the richness of the work shows you are deeply under its influence. Sometimes one piece of work brings you credit and sometimes the whole body of work makes people consider you raving mad. Keep the target high and celebrate your creative madness as a source of elixir that keeps you alive and fully charged to produce more specimens that demonstrate to a higher degree your long walk into the dark recesses of the mind, to make it suffer over a period of time and produce something timeless and unique.

You find creative people in the film or literary world who have not paid attention to anything apart from their work. They have not won any awards, big or small, not even made it to any shortlist, but their works live forever in the heart. Their readiness to immerse their lives in the work is a key indicator of creative madness. When lives do not matter, when commercial gains do not matter, when nothing else matters except the work and that is what their wide world is limited to. A plunge into such depths of madness is what makes them scale the heights of creative success.  

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

Private Lessons

Devraj Singh Kalsi takes us through a hilarious episode of elopement with a surprising conclusion

It took me quite a long time to conclude whether it was a noble act or a mischief. Those historical legends who rode away on horseback with brides and wives of their choice did not inspire me as much as my tutor with his daring act of elopement. Trains and motorbikes replaced horses and my English tutor, an aspiring novelist with a magnum opus in progress, managed to gallop ahead with élan in the hostile terrain.

He returned and churned a gripping tale – a real tour de farce – of his nocturnal conquest featuring burly cops who swooped down heavily at his door and the nail-biting chase that followed. The rush of adrenalin ejaculated a tall promise to repeat his heroic feat and make him feel proud of me as a worthy disciple who followed in his footsteps. With such an ambitious dream I entered the age of reckless youth, but ended up wrecked after a spate of rejections, with no girl ready to partner me and pillion ride on this challenging expedition.      

The English tutor suddenly disappeared when I was supposed to appear for my board exams. I was not aware he was going on a mission or else I would have rallied behind him with full moral support and offered prayers for his victory. While I was deprived of last-minute suggestions and struggled to revise my lessons, my English tutor was chalking out his strategy for the operation. He was a brave young man with dollops of chutzpah to elope in those days, invite the wrath of his family and community for displaying sapiosexual tendencies. He resurfaced with an invite almost a fortnight later, back with a taut narrative of how he and his childhood lover bribed a young priest to formalise their marital bond in a small temple after dusk and boarded the midnight train for the chills and thrills of a honeymoon in the hills.

After successful consummation, the excited couple took the earliest train to return home and seek the blessings of those who had opposed something sacred like marriage. A reception was organised at a marriage hall. I was his only student who was invited to attend the function where vegetarian food and liquor were served.

He introduced me to his erudite wife who looked pretty tired of meeting strangers with a faux smile. She was teaching English in a private school while he was looking after his family business to disguise his joblessness. The courage to marry without a job made him a role model in my eyes. His audacity to run away from the city with the daughter of a retired cop was a dramatic coup of sorts that would kindle interest for its potential as a frothy Bollywood caper. Visualise night sky and temple, gunshots in the air, and the married couple in sherwani and lehenga racing ahead on a wobbly motorbike and a police van chasing them on a highway. Get the drift. 

My English tutor revealed that he was working on a literary novel — slightly autobiographical as it was inspired by the childhood events. He could wait for another couple of years to get suitably employed and within this period he had to climax his literary worth as his wife had married him because of his literary prowess. A child arrived the next year, and his literary dream was aborted. He began teaching part-time, perhaps feeling insecure of his ability to produce something magical in words, feeling a surge of chauvinistic umbrage as his spouse worked hard to run the home like a householder while he sat brooding at his teakwood desk, looking at the window and the world outside, waiting for inspiration to strike.  

Even though our meetings became scarce after my school days, he remained my first idol. He was an exemplary teacher who taught practical lessons and encouraged me to outperform him — though outperform had several connotations and I was not quite sure of the context and what he implied.   

He legitimised running away to marry and became a hero of sorts even though there were other members in the family who married outside the community. Here was my teacher inspiring me with his love story, to elope if required and achieve success in the mission. I had grave doubts about my ability to convince a girl to do the same but he became a love guru I consulted later in my career. His wife discouraged his interactions with the former students and so we grew apart. His novel did not appear in print — not even as a self-published masterpiece. It is more than twenty years now. His social media profile updates mention Headmaster of a primary school.

When I sent him my writing samples online, he wished me good luck in my writing journey. The despatched links have not been seen even after three months — perhaps he has lost interest in reading and writing. The closed chapter of life he does not wish to revisit. I resisted the urge to ask him about the fate of his literary novel — and let it remain unclear, inconclusive and open-ended like his favourite Night Train At Deoli.    

*sherwani: A long formal coat worn often by grooms in India

*lehenga: A long skirt worn often at weddings by the bride in India

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  


PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Musings of a Copywriter

Pray to Win

Devraj Singh Kalsi gives an entertaining account of ‘Tumpji pujas’ across India during the US elections

The strength he mustered to defy the writing on the Mexican wall and challenge the mandate had come from a country he had called dirty just a few days ago. We do not mind his saying so because our own writers and filmmakers have sold this image to the West for several decades.  

Faith can move mountains. Orisons can deliver miracles even in Arizona and the man in office – By Georgia! – knew something incredibly magical was on his way from the East. Kudos to the cabal of jingoist well-wishers who were engaged in performing yajnas* and havans* with pure desi* ghee to propitiate the powers of heaven to spread dollops of glee on his face, to ensure another term for him in Safed Ghar* and keep the world supposedly safe though I ran away from this false belief amid fears of a lurking strike in his second innings. Every nuke and corner of the world under his glaring watch would upset and reset the ticking clock of global peace. 

The feisty flames inflamed the mercurial man who was determined to trump his foes with his planetary virility. He spewed balls of fire to hang on and refused to cow down, setting a new precedent as a president in the history of the nation. Only if the organisers could spell his name correctly instead of Tump, the omnipotent gods would have transferred the votes he required to win, by influencing the counting officials to detect more inaccuracies with the postal votes that went against him.     

The inner voice guided and goaded him to prove winners never quit and quitters never win. He felt re-elected in his mind despite the mismanaged pandemic and wished to make a bonfire of all anti-incumbency votes in the havankund* – only if he could get those picked out by an invisible force in the closely contested polls conducted in the few crucial states that slowed down his juggernaut. Most of the leaders who swept to power around the time he had won were given another term and they would now feel lonely without his bombastic company and pack of white lies. 

Praying to win is a common – and effective – practice among contestants the world over. Cadres of all parties do so for their beloved leaders during election time. Sometimes the native people pour unadulterated love for global leaders perceived as friendly and helpful for the home country – those who can be a pillar of support against hostile neighbours. Tump Ji is one such beneficiary of generous and spontaneous love showered by legions of admirers here. 

Havankund and yajnas are also performed for friendly countries and their leaders. We want these friends to occupy the office for a long period. Though we cannot elect or re-elect them through the voting process, we can surely seek divine deliverance for them. Even if we have few friends around the world, a powerful ally is what we need to keep our neighbours under control. If Tump Ji remains in favour, we do not fear our neighbours. With Tump Ji as the ring master, the Chinese cannot drag on further with their LAC plans. He has been a pillar of support for us in the past few years – the one guy we can ring up any time to share our woes and he jumps to our defence by scolding our mischievous neighbours with veiled threats and dire warnings. 

When the news finally reached Tump Ji that the land of seers has the divine power to flip electoral outcomes and influence voters without any fraud, he was elated and wondered why his Indian buddies did not part with the secret mantras of success earlier. He suspected a conspiracy of sorts hatched in the native village of a democrat. He was now told there were many pundits with manic and talismanic powers who could swing the verdict right in his favour before the voting was over, but it was a tough call to reverse what was already cast. He was told of the potency of keeping red hibiscus and marigold underneath his pillow for nine consecutive nights to avoid getting pilloried. He was advised to chant Jo(e) Boley So Nahin Hovey555 times every daySuch tweets and messages were sent to him and he read and followed them all. 

Tump Ji was also advised to avoid kissing during this critical phase as it would suck out the chances of victory and spell the proverbial kiss of death for him. He was told to eat a vegetarian diet as this sacrifice would prove rewarding. Simple lifestyle modifications: Drink tall glasses of buttermilk instead of wine to show power without intoxication. He was assured of a divine shower of blessings if he stayed away from sausages and beef. As the election results began to pour in and his drubbing became imminent, he overheard his better half talking of a possible split though he could not be very sure whether she talked of a split in votes or their marriage.  

Coming to the aspect of divine intervention, the chanting of mantras gifted him with nerves of steel. He pinned high hopes on the judiciary to act as his saviour – the supreme power would reside in the unanimous verdict of judges. This would allow him the opportunity to ride back to power and occupy the same house instead of indulging in frivolous thinking of constructing another one on the opposite side because he still believed he was wanted by half of his countrymen. It was impossible to accept defeat with grace as he felt he was still very much in the presidential race. 

*yavanas, havan: prayers around the fire

*Desi ghee: Ghee made from cow’s milk

*Safed Ghar: White House

*Havankund: The container in which a fire is built for prayers

*Joe boley so nahin hovey: A take off that means whatever Joe utters shall not be fulfilled. The take off is from the shout of victory and exaltation among Sikhs, Bole so nihal.

Devraj Singh Kalsi works as a senior copywriter in Kolkata. His short stories and essays have been published in Deccan Herald, Tehelka, Kitaab, Earthen Lamp Journal, Assam Tribune, and The Statesman. Pal Motors is his first novel.  

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.