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Nightlife and Daydreams

In art, Holidays, Motivation, Retirement, Wage Slaves, work life balance, work stress on October 5, 2019 at 17:26

How many more traffic jams before we realize that fast city life is the worst way to die slowly? Days, weeks, months and ultimately decades spent in a state of mild to moderate agitation. On constant alert from noise, crowds and smells. A compounding cluster-fuck of short-shortsightedness and macroeconomics. Every day, thousands of people alight at Mumbai Central station in search of a better livelihood even as existing city dwellers dream of a quiet life.


I have always been a Mumbai boy. Since my family migrated from Karachi during partition we were left with no real hometown. A fact I was reminded of every summer vacation when the entire class came back with farm stories and I had only seen wrestling and played cricket with myself for two months. I am thankful though that my family landed in Mumbai in ’47. Had they gone to say…Raipur, I would have been working in a call center right now and been grateful for the opportunity. On weekends I would probably be making TikTok videos or attending RSS rallies.


In our country, if you are already in Mumbai, the only bigger thing to aspire to is moving abroad. One could also aspire to move to town from the suburbs within Mumbai. But getting into Harvard is easier than moving to Colaba. I wonder if the real estate prices will remain as high after the city is permanently submerged 10 years from now. Yet we power on.

Most of us know we can’t do this all our lives. And if every TCS employee’s retirement plan came through, Goa would become an extended suburb of Mumbai. Thankfully, after the second baby and third mortgage, most people give up any hope for salvation.You keep postponing your prison break: after another promotion, after I buy a bigger house, after my kid goes to college…until mortality catches up with you. If you dwell on your regrets long enough you can convince yourself that they were sacrifices. It is tragic but at least it helps you live with yourself.

Romanticization of country life is also not without its pitfalls.  If you think the uncle selling Maggie by himself over a view of the Himalayas is the happiest person in the world then you have read one self-help book too many. If you have never left the country side you probably cannot appreciate the clean air and solitude. Which is why city dwellers are at a vantage point. Having seen the breadth of what modern civilization has to offer you can now seek depth. You would miss creature comforts for a while but eventually you realize that you do not need 54 varieties of waffles for life to be meaningful.

I spent years daydreaming of being a published author who would send his profoundly sexy books out into the world and the world would send enough dollars back to my dream home in Goa. I also spent some years trying to make this happen. But ultimately a profession has to be close to where the action is. So I have entered a new kind of rat race, a higher level of the Matrix. The cost is always too high though. Cities are oppressive at all levels. The ugliness of its structures, the ridiculous lack of space and the constant fight or flight. Very often, I have to remind myself to look up at the sky. Not much is visible now but it helps put your life’s struggle to scale. At one level we all know that neither our deepest sorrows nor our greatest joys are unique. But the competition does not let you dwell on it. It is like we are living under a dome of haze that cuts us off from the humbling experience of space and our place in it. Even within the dome we increasingly move from one air conditioned bubble to another not able to stand ambient temperature or ambient thoughts for more than a few minutes.

I have spent more than 90 days outside home this year across 20 different towns and cities for stand-up and personal work. And while the experiences have been varying and enriching, none was as unique as the few days I spent in Himachal, alone and without a plan. It reminded me that there is the quiet life to be lived too with nothing to fight for and nothing to prove. Away from clocks, deadlines and anxieties. When I came back down to 2019, I couldn’t perform with full gusto for the first couple of shows. I just didn’t have the aggression in me to impose my jokes and my thoughts on the audience. A lot of what we accomplish is only possible in the pressure cooker of the cities. But there are millions of people living the quiet life, without leaving a carbon footprint. They may not consider themselves successful but they are content. We just don’t hear about them because they are not on Instagram. On a geological timescale, they are the real heroes. We in our vain attempts at leaving a mark only end up hurting others and the environment. 

One can still practice art for art’s sake but any produced entertainment is essentially slave to the same economics and corruption that make perpetual growth a religion. Saying ‘no’ and ‘enough’ is therefore the most important thing to learn. Happiness is for uneducated people, contentment is a more wholesome goal.   


 – Punit Pania

Is Everything Kayfabe?

In Love on June 4, 2019 at 18:28

If I were to ever have something as foolish as a favorite word, it would be Kayfabe, a concept I didn’t know existed till less than a year back.

A word invented by professional wrestling (which is itself an invented term), Kayfabe is the portrayal of staged events as true or real, even when both portrayer and audience know better.

It not only addressed my guilt of still enjoying wrestling, it also explained a lot of other behavior and social phenomenon otherwise described as ‘performative’.

So much that I even used it in a sound-byte during the Me-Too movement on the whose-who of the stand-up industry falling to the most serious of crimes; proven hypocrisy:’Much of what passes as woke is Kayfabe that doesn’t cost much to commit to and happens to sell. Comics are to activism what pro-wrestlers are to martial arts – great on camera but heartbreakingly far from the real deal. We may continue to enjoy their content but never mistake it for real-life intentions, let alone actions.’
To which one Netizen tweeted: ‘Is Love also Kayfabe?’ A question immediately valid and rhetorical in its simplicity.

A lot of our lives is merely performance: the interviews we give, the movies we watch, the parties we attend and the politicians we vote for. All of it an open secret of bad acting and a criminal lack of creativity. Anything to get away from the really important questions in life. 

Most of us have a false sense of immortality. It is the only thing that keeps us going. Once food, clothing, shelter and sex are bought and paid for, nothing else short of a higher purpose is motivation enough to get you out of bed in the morning. And in a Godless world we end up finding this meaning in everything from stamps to Golf to a corner office. Many of us try to find it in a another person. Someone we believe is the perfect compensation for all our insecurities. A match more perfect than a solved Rubik’s cube. The chances of the other person being at the same stage in his/her life and feeling the same way are slim to say the least. But it does enable chocolates, Romcoms and divorce lawyers to continuously be in business.

Love feels good. It feels great. It feels like heaven, even if you are an atheist. So you invest more and more into this one person against all good faith, market sentiment and your own better judgement until he/she can’t take it anymore. The chance to frame your life-long anxiety into this perfect picture of harmony and happy endings is so tempting that is defies mounting statistical evidence to the contrary. Even the most strong-willed among us fall for it, on multiple and successive occasions.

Watching a young couple talking about love is almost as scary as watching an old couple trying to cross the road. You know they won’t make it but they still have to try. You have to love one person unreasonably to be reasonable with the rest of the world. Everything is fair in Love, War and the race for TRPs. But the only thing we underestimate is our ability to hurt others.

The other extreme is also not pleasant, being rational to a fault. Parking all faith and sensibilities in science and logic. Picking consistency over warmth, certainty over adventure and detachment over failure. Science coupled with atheism is a righteous mix. To the point where you start taking an academic interest in your own ruin. A third-person view of your own life. A waking, unblinking Nirvana.

But being a rational person in an emotional world only makes you feel more alone when it’s finally time to switch the Wifi off at night. And you can’t fight loneliness with more loneliness. All that is left then is a familiar blank page in front of you. You could give up on it or make another futile attempt to soar above the toil of fears and longings. And to reduce in whatever small way; hate, if not hurt in the world. If you can’t buy into someone’s Kayfabe, you make up your own.

  • Punt Pania

Comics are not People

In Uncategorized on May 11, 2019 at 17:13

Comics are not people. They are outsiders. We meet people in a pre-ordained way for half an hour a day, sometimes less. And those minutes on stage are really the only time we are truly alive. The rest of the day is an anti-climax.

Comics are not people. We like talking about death, people like to forget about it. Strange things keep us up at night. Like why cows on milk cartons look so happy? Why are broilers on chicken packets are wearing chef hats? If all the CCDs are empty, why are they opening new ones? People don’t think about these things, the horrors right in front of our eyes. They can’t afford to. They have to reach work the next day. It’s a strange barter. They do all the work, we do all the obsessing.

Walk into a restaurant and you see how full the tables are and if the coffee is smelling nice. But he comic sees the guy trying very hard to impress his date, the parents conveniently ignoring their rampaging progeny, the staff fighting in the corner and the general incidence of obesity. In a crowded mall, you make a beeline for your favourite brand while ducking the credit card salesmen. The comic notices how sweaty the guy in the takeaway kitchen is, the rats nibbling on a cake that has fallen down, the kid wiping his hands on his father’s shorts, how the store staff are trying not to listen to Kenny G for the 500th time and how everyone looks generally dead inside.

Not all comics are crazy though. Many are reasonably sane, have a mainstream family life, manage to sleep by midnight and file their tax returns in proportion to the forgettability of their material. They are more businessmen than artists. But it takes all kinds to form a stable market. The other extreme is so much obsession with the truth or your version of it that you have zero empathy left for the audience. And this also works, if your father is rich and you don’t have to pay the bills. The real skill is in yanking the audience out of their comfort zone but not so far that they make a run for it.

We criticize people, we dissect them, we detest them but we need them. Everyone needs an audience. Suffering is everywhere but silent suffering is the worst kind. Even a hanging achieves more meaning in the presence of an audience. If you have suffered without a witness, it makes it that much more unbearable…the fact that no one even knows your story, however good or bad it is. We all want our stories to have some message, if not an outright meaning. And there is no meaning if you don’t share it. The simple the act of sharing it with a group however small liberates the thought both for the performer and the audience. It could be long-drawn suffering, an obsession or just a small annoyance, just putting it out there for other people to consider takes the sting away.

Of course, the audience forgets most of it because as we have established, they need to reach work again tomorrow morning. And the entire market runs on empty calories. But some ideas stick, some linger and some may even change a person’s outlook. In a reality where everything eventually crumbles, only ideas survive and even grow. Like the classic guitar solo that gets covered in all shapes and forms decades after the artist has turned to dust. Energy can neither be created nor be destroyed but only good art can defy the law of entropy. And that in many ways is the only thing worth striving for.

  • Punit Pania