Following the TimeTable

I went to school. I went to college. I received as good an education that the prevailing system could offer at the time. I owe my education to my parents, without doubt. I am 40-something and I continue to have calculus nightmares; integration flavoured are worse than the differentiation flavoured. They are nightmares, irrespective. Not all my dreams are nightmares. Some are sweet. Those are often about what I learnt from my father and my mother.

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I have an unfounded great love for the Indian Railway. It is another thing that I haven’t been on a train for over a decade. One reason is that a decade ago, I bought my first car. Another, is that smoking is now banned on trains. So, if it is drivable distance, I drive, else, I fly. Many years ago, my fascination for trains was inculcated and cultivated by my father.

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Every four years, the bank that he worked for, offered an LFC – Leave Fare Concession. It was a perk he received from the bank that compensated in full, for all travel to a destination and back, within certain limits. As far as I can recall, we never went to single destination and returned; we always took one route to the destination and returned by another. That way, we visited more places.

0299: Rail Track

My sister and I looked forward to this four-year event as soon as our summer holidays commenced. My father would go to the local ITDC office and get the brochures for various places. When I try and remember those brochures now, they were very pastel-coloured documents. However, that didn’t dull our excitement. We both used to read every brochure back to back. Not every brochure was a destination; but we read all of them, all the same. After the general direction of the destination was decided (which was his call) the brochures were sorted according to the routes. Then came the two critical books.

Trains At A Glance, and the All India Railway Timetable.

My father used to tell us of our destination and ask us to pick non-overlapping routes to get to the destination and return. He gave us vague guidelines about how to use the timetable, and asked us to plot the to-and-fro routes. The All India Railway Timetable was a thick book with coloured pages and came with a foldable in-book map of the railway map. We could query him about available “holiday homes” and ask him Qs of the codes used in the time-table. When I think of that drawing-room of ours, all four of us sprawled on the floor with brochures, maps, and timetable, I suspect that he had already planned out our LFC. (It may have been an acronym of a perk; for us, it was an event). When I think back, I suspect, he gave us the resources for planning so that both of us would know how to plan and use those resources. When either of us offered a plan he presented challenges to us. But we have only a day there. But we have no place to stay there. What if we took a bus instead? And we had to rework the plan. Eventually, my sister and I came up with the plan that he (already) knew would work (He obviously knew more about constraints, logistics and such). At the end of it, however, both of us were very proud that we had designed the plan.

Today things have become much easier. we can enter the name of a location and get trains, those days we had to scour through an alphabetic list of location to get a Station code. Then we had to find the appropriate train tables. Check what class of travel was available on that train and confirm it with our father, if we were eligible for that class. Then, we had to check arrival and departure timings. Ensure that we are not cutting things short. My father used to refer to this as “keeping a cushion.” Buffer is the common term for this now, among other words. I don’t know how many of you encountered the word “vestibule” or “pentograph” in your school. I never did. But I know these words because my father taught us these words in real-time. He never stopped at teaching us the use of railway time tables.

The ability to read a printed railway timetable may seem like a useless skill now. And I’d agree. It is. Yet, it is not a defunct skill. Planning, with available data, is relevant even today. The form, format of the data may have changed. The basic skills remain the same.

For the life of me, I cannot solve a calculus problem, but if you want help designing an optimal route, I am your guy. Like most of you, my real education started at home, and what I could not learn in a structured education system, I learnt from my parents and my sister. Not sine theta and cos theta. Life skills. And I am ever grateful to them for that. By this, I don’t intend to diminish what I have learnt from my teachers. But, I will say this: I learnt more from them than the syllabus they covered. The impact that my teachers have had on me, has been beyond the curriculum. It has been tremendous; it has been significant.

What’s this post about?

My father? Indian Railways? Learning? Teachers? Family? My childhood?

I don’t know, dear reader. But I will tell you this. I recently read an article about railways and timetables. And that article provoked this post. All I can tell you, there is gratitude in my entire being, but…

If you can comprehend what this post is about, let me know.

 

 

(To Everything there’s a Season) Burn! Burn! Burn!

From the day he got burned, to the day he settled (I suspect it is in Ireland), I have been a big fan of Burn Notice. I’ll pause writing for a while, while ya’ll snigger and such.

Pause.

Pause.

Done.

You could have stopped reading this post at the first or the second Pause. But here you are. For all practical reasons it seems that there will be no Season 8. I don’t know if you have followed or are following the serial; if you haven’t this may be a spoiler. So if you did not stop reading at the first or the second pause, stop now.

The last couple of episodes have been very thought-provoking. They have teased and often prodded my ideas about belonging, loyalty, true-love, engulfing darkness, and a death-wish. The emphasis on escape is beyond physical escape. The prisons of our mind are far worse than the emotionless iron bars of a cell.

6172: Buddha

I don’t care to elaborate on each of these ideas linearly to describe what they meant to me. That would be very academic and boring at the same time. Not everything that is academic is boring. Not everything boring is academic.

Suffice it to say, even an otherwise-non-award-winning-(popular-awards-i.e.) can make you think about things. It can ask you questions that you have never asked before. It can make your jaw drop; when it shows something that is happening with you. Or something that you have imagined for yourself in your lonely corners.

<digression>

Paul often asks questions of bloggers: the popular ones, the ones who promote, the one’s who give advice. Who? Why? What? And such. There’s no such thing as popular bloggers. There are a few who market the content, there are a few who don’t. There may be some shades in between, but these are the only two types of bloggers who are there.

</digression>

What we feel is the ultimate reality. What we want to feel is the ultimate fallacy. Fantasy is great therapy, but like anything else, it is hazardous in high doses. (Notice the H-D-H-D alliteration) Smart, eh? A death-wish is not about death. It is about an exit. Many have it, but will never exercise it. Because they think of it as a mortal conclusion. Their what-if calculation is convoluted. And some folks spend an entire lifetime staring at an MS-Excel sheet doing what-if. Spend your time calculating or spend your time livin’. There is no other way. Call.

Our sense of belonging only to our selves.

Our loyalty is due only to our selves.

Our true love is only to our selves.

Our engulfing darkness belongs only our selves.

Our death-wish is about our exit from that which we do not care about. Death-wishes are not about dying; they are about killing: killing all that we can do without.

What’s you death-wish?

Slow Down

0466: Blur Walk

Open your Facebook timeline.

The Homepage, i.e. Scroll down. Hard. Fast. Scroll down so fast that your index finger may burn. Do watch everything as it scrolls and the top of your browser screen eats it up. Your bandwidth may limit the loading of the content and there may be jerks. When the scrolling is interrupted; see that particular update. Do you remember it?

But keep scrolling. Fast. Hard. As if your life depends on it.

Notice that blur? Perhaps that is what our lives have become.

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Slow down.

Faith’s Question

A post has brewed for more than a week now. When it took birth, the sense, it seemed, was of righteous anger. There was a festival in play which signifies happiness and joy, so I did not post. That sense of anger, over the seven days that I celebrated the festival quickly turned into disgust, then into orphaned sadness, and eventually got diluted over the days to placid resignation. The festival is still on; some celebrate it for ten days.

Somewhere between this journey of morphing feelings, I heard, in my head, the chorus of Paul Simon’s Proof looped in my head incessantly:

Faith
Faith is an island in the setting sun
But proof, yes
Proof is the bottom line for everyone. Proof

I was chanting the litany relevant to the occasion, yet this chorus enveloped my mind. Two voices were vying for attention at the same time. One that was coming out of my mouth wanting my mind and heart to feel it; and the other was playing in my head, hoping my mouth would recite it. Words are placeholders for meaning. When two very clear meanings fight, the mind-space becomes a mess.

Festivals are about being merry; I do not deny that. The lack of reverence that I was exposed to however,  caused that sequence of diluting of emotions within me. My faith and my beliefs are an inheritance and I am proud and grateful for that. Mostly, because they were never imposed on me, they were offered to me, for my consideration. I emphasise that phrase because I have borrowed it from a friend, Sagar Kolte, who has helped me understand what being grounded means; that italicised phrase is not mine; it’s his. But that is what I inherited: A context for consideration.

1010189: Ganapati Bappa Moraya!

My initial anger, which was dunked in a bucket to let go, came from the lack of reverence that I saw on the street on the eve of this festival. The Ganesh Chaturthi Festival has two contexts. One is personal; the original context of it — a practice to experience attachment, detachment, and selflessness. The other is social, which is rooted in the Indian Freedom Struggle. Both the contexts however have one thing in common: reverence. On the eve of the festival, I saw that there was utter ignorance of either of these contexts, coupled with utter lack of reverence.

I sheathed my anger at that instant and came home. I thought about Faith, that’s when the song by Paul looped infinitely in my head. At that instant, another song by him briefly asked a question of me:

There may come a time
When I will lose you
Lose you as I lose my sight
Days falling backward into velvet night
The open palm of desire
Wants everything

It wants everything. Further to Fly (Emphasis, mine)

There’s so much that churned in my head these seven days. As I rake in all that transpired in the week, I discover that there’s little that I collect; it escapes me like sand through fingers. Who am I to question how someone expresses their beliefs? Like me, others would have also considered what they believe, and act so.

What I originally meant to post has been immersed into oblivion. These are the vapours that remain of the original brewing. Perhaps indirectly, I have questioned the belief of others, which I intended to question directly. After the festival and the immersion, I have let go. I am blessed by what I have been allowed to consider.

I do know the meaning of what I do. I know the meaning, context, and the philosophy of every chant that I utter. And I have reason on my side even when I talk of something (irrational, though it may seem). Those reasons are mine, and mine only. It seems, I have made peace with them. It has taken me 42 years to know this: the nature of beliefs and my reasons of faith are non-negotiable and non-transactional. They are personal. Very personal.

So are yours.

The Dark Room of Light

There’s this place. You are alone there. And that’s the feature of that place. That when you are in that place, you are alone. I’ve been there. A few times.

There’s this site. It provides advice to young people about life and such. They wrote to me and asked me if I’d write for them and advice youngsters. I asked them, a few questions about the terms of writing for them. I asked them who they are; I asked them if they would pay me. They never replied. I smiled to myself, after three days. After they never replied.

There’s a place where you are alone and together at the same time.

There’s a hostel. It’s U-shaped. Not curved, but digital in a sense. I stayed in that hostel for two years. I do not know the word for a U-shaped hostel with sharp corners, which is like a square with one side cut-off.

“I’ll tell you what you should do,” he said, towel around his neck, clothed in nothing else than his underwear. “But, it doesn’t matter. You will do your own thing. For what it’s worth. I’ll tell you,” and he advised how I should navigate learning computer science, in the context of who taught us and what made them tick. But it doesn’t matter, he said, after he had said it all, soap rolled in the middle of the towel, on his neck, and walked off to his room.

It’s been 20-odd years since that day when a senior advised me about college. The only thing I remember, is, “But, it doesn’t matter. You will do your own thing.”

And that advice is what works for you. When you are alone. In that place. It is usually not dramatic. But, we could colour it dark. Put in a few shadows for dramatic effect. Allow the light to play a drama worthy of a Western Cinematographic Award. But, the place remains the same, and no director can call a “cut” and bring us back to reality. There’s this place. You are alone there. And that’s the feature of that place. That when you are in that place, you are alone.

You may imagine yourself in a corner, in such a scenario. But you are not. It’s a big space. Devoid of features and textures. It is all available to you, but you are alone. It is an empty space, where you can walk, and there are no threats.

That space could be full of light. Or it could be dark.

You can choose.

But, you are alone. Cry. Scream. Jump. Sit. Sleep. Fight. Relax.

And, there. you will end up doing your own thing.

Sunday Stuff: The Home Team

One of things I discovered for myself during the ProKabaddi League, is, that when I own a sports team — any sports team — it will never be because I can afford the team or because it is the best team in the league. It will always be my home team, irrespective that it is affordable or the worst team. For the life of me, I cannot imagine cheering for an “outside” team when my home team is playing, even if I owned the “outside” team. Many will explain to me that league matches have nothing to do with where you belong; for me it means a lot. A few years ago, I was told what a home team means, and that is why, while I am not a huge football (soccer, for Americans) fan, I am a huge Arsenal supporter. For ProKabaddi, I was surprised by many who “switched” sides for pink T-shirt trivial reasons.

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I’ve tried very hard to understand how “irrespective of who wins, the game is the winner” and I have failed. If you talk of Kabaddi, specifically, yes, it was important that people understood and loved the game and took active interest in it. It is after all, the first season. But we had eight teams participating in the league. I’ve never heard this thing said about IPL (OK, except for one commentator) or the EPL. Here’s how it works in my head: teams play the game to win; so at the end of the league, one team wins the game. The game doesn’t participate, so it cannot be a winner.

IMG_20140831_234851 - Version 2

My team lost the finals. The other one won. So, now, who won? The other team or the game? Can we go to the winning team and say, “Hey, you know what, actually you didn’t, the game won.” There can be only one winner, right?

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My team lost the finals. While it is a very good team, they lost the plot today. They just did not play to their potential. That is why they lost. The opposite team was formidable, but not undefeatable. My team had beat them in the first match of the league and tied the second match. To say that the “game won” is to take something away from the winning team and give something back to the losing team. Unacceptable.

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It’s amusing to see how some folks will sneak in barge in to the spotlight meant for real heroes and appropriate them. When larger stages aren’t available, folks seek a smaller stage. But a stage it will have to be.

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I am not a sore loser. My team was beaten fair and square. On this day, the other team was a better team.

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My peeves, however, are rational.

 

 

God’s Greatest Gift

The greatest gift from God to a human-being is the ability to forget.

Many years ago, these words, in the most beautiful handwriting, with true emotion and the sense of belonging were delivered to us. In an inland letter, written in ink, with controlled emotion and a steady hand. It was a condolence letter, but it could have been an average letter from a brother to his sister or to his brother-in-law.

But, he was wrong, my uncle, who wrote that letter. The worst quality that God has given us is memory. We never actually forget. We just cast veils on a memory and try very hard to ignore it. We drape it with events of the present and a potential future. And we drape it again and again with what trivial events we can find – but I am unable to forget. We have found ways to relive ourselves of the most difficult of situations. Our ability to forget is not one of them.

I cannot forget.

I remember you. Not in every waking moment, but when I am alone — I am with you. And you are with me. And, while everything is still fine in this world, the only thing I miss is hugging you.

God’s greatest gift is, perhaps, not the ability to forget — it is the ability to remember.