Threatopology

“How many friends do you have on Facebook?”

“About two hundred-something”

“That’s it?”

“Yes.”

Recently, I’ve seen more than one post on social networks, where people in my timeline threatened to unfriend a few folks based on some criteria. There’s an inherent apology in that threat. Sorry, but you are quite un-followable. I have never felt the need to make this threatopology, if I may call it that. When I have seen a pattern that certain people adopt when using social networks, and if I do not subscribe to their method of sharing, I have just unfollowed them (Facebook) or just muted them (Twitter). The reason I don’t unfriend them (Facebook) or unfollow them (Twitter), is that it allows the possibility of direct messaging. I’ve noticed, more often than not, direct messages (or private messages) are made of worthwhile content. Having lesser people populate the timeline also helps me focus on what to see (and click-through) and what not to see (unfollow). We can achieve goals without extreme measures.

The platform is not the message.

Yes, I Said

There’s this joke.

Smith is in his club and he’s alone, except for one other person. Trying to be sociable, Smith asks the person, “Can I buy you a drink?” “No,” says the person. “I tried it once and didn’t like it.” “Oh,” says Smith. “Well, would you like to shoot some pool with me?” “No,” says the man. “I tried it once and didn’t like it. “Well, how about a game of bridge?” “No,” says the man, again. “I tried it once and didn’t like it. Besides, my son is coming soon.”

“Ah,” says Smith, “your only son, I presume?”

*

I’ve been blogging for eleven years now, and have never attended a bloggers’ meet. For the life of me, I cannot recall why. It’s not that I have not been invited. There’s enough email from various organisations to keep you busy for life, if you choose to attend these events. I think, I just didn’t bother. Finally, last week, I said yes. It was an event sponsored by Renault India for their new MPV – Lodgy, and was organised by Blogadda. God knows I had much to do last weekend, yet, I couldn’t get myself to say no. Here’s why.

Driving
Photography
Blogging

In Goa, in the rains.

All the things I love, in the place that I love.

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And planning for the event began. I noticed stalwart bloggers who were attending. Largely a young lot, writing for specific audiences, created niches for themselves, and successfully making careers by blogging. Famous people, award-winning folks (and not just peer-awarded awards; serious ones). Very unlike me. In spite of the obvious trepidation, I prepared to go. Flight leaves Friday afternoon.

*

It’s Thursday night. I am meeting a friend after many years. She is in town to attend a wedding, on Friday. We crunch time and find a late dinner slot to catch up. It’s raining heavily, traffic is disrupted. We catch up on lost times, further crunching five years in a little over five minutes. Done and dusted. Back to the present. I tell her about the event. She is all smiles. We talk of the yes philosophy. I’ve changed my default, I tell her, but I don’t tell her about the dread gnawing at my decision. We talk of inherent trust. We are talking about books, but it makes sense to me in a unique way. A great conversation. A wonderful evening. We stay as long as the restaurant allowed us.

*

Friday morning. The city is at a standstill. Mumbai has hit the monsoon jackpot. Traffic isn’t moving, flights are delayed. A few; cancelled. Instead of worrying, I am smiling to myself. My worst case is I’ll miss my flight. The gnawing dread is laughing out loud. Enjoy, I tell it. I leave early. Very early. Road’s empty. It’s an automatic holiday because everyone is off the roads. I reach the airport two hours before the flight. Everything goes well. Flight is delayed for a bit. Soon, I am in Goa. Memories gush, just like the rain.

First love. First bicycle. First camera.

Most of the other bloggers know each other. I am the only one, I discover, who is attending such an event for the first time. My conversations with them are insipidly introductory. It will change, I tell myself. We are here for a couple of days. If I had attended earlier events, I’d know some of them. It’s never too late. A good event is only as good as it is organised. As we register ourselves, I feel this one is going to be good.

48 hours have gone by. [This part needs more posts; cannot do justice in a single post] We are on our way back home.

I’ve made some very good friends. Interesting people. Lovely conversations. Far from insipid and bland, in fact, quite spicy. Do you know the origin of the word spice? [The culprit in all this is the Latin noun species. From it the English language derives a whole family of words — ‘special’, ‘specification’, ‘species’, ‘especially’ and so on — as well as ‘spice’. […] In Roman usage species quite often implied value and in time it acquired an even more ‘specific’ meaning. ~ The Spice Route: A History, by John Keay]

Wonderfully organised and executed event. I’ve enjoyed the weekend completely. Especially the drive. [But, that’s another post, for another day, elsewhere].

On our way back, I can’t but thank myself for saying yes. For more than one reasons. First, the experience. Second, because I know I don’t belong here. It’s like Edison, I think, said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.” Third, and perhaps the most important, it has refined my belief about blogging.

Not to say that I’ll never attend an event ever again — I will — but I’ll, perhaps, have a better sense of curation.

What was once an assumption, is now a fact. It’s better that way.

 

The Cool Breeze: #Anthem 13

It’s December. Many years ago. My best friend insists that when we play this song, cool breeze fills up our car. Over the years, I have learnt not to question her judgement. She is my navigator, co-pilot, and my DJ. And she fulfils these roles, impeccably. These were the days when Google Maps wasn’t as smart as it is now. We would get lost. And we didn’t care about being lost. Since we didn’t care where we wanted to be, we didn’t care where we were. We didn’t know it then, but perhaps, we liked being lost.

We cared much about the music that played as we drove around aimlessly. The village roads were potholed. And as we climbed and descended these unknown roads, cool breeze danced, for a while in our car. Red mud. She insisted, it was because of this song. Cashew trees. So we experimented, driving back, forth, around, and along those roads. Any other song and the breeze paused. This song, and breeze flowed.

It’s a love song, so it made sense that it played when just the two of us were alone with the trees and the hilly road. I could afford to look at her, because there was no traffic, nor a single soul. It’s not a song that I love for the song that it is. I loved the song because she loved it. I loved the song for the experience of driving while she sat along. She is looking at the valley to her side. I love watching her seeing away.

She isn’t humming along with the song. She is looking at the valley, as we climb the inclining road. But I know it’s playing in her head. That day. I am happy. Whatever her imagination, I know I am a part of it.

There isn’t a happy driver like me, when she is with me.

*

For my non-Hindi audience, here’s the translation of the song. And for whatever reason, if you cannot see this YouTube in your country, search for ‘Zara Zara, RHTDM’.

Different, But Same

This is not the first time I have felt it. I smile.

Just standing there, alone, out there, in that perfect afternoon makes me feel excited like a child. Again.

*

My earliest memory of having like that was in Singapore, some fifteen years ago. I was sitting on a bench on Orchard Road. It was a nice evening; my friend and I had walked a lot that day, taking in the scenes of the city, with some lovely conversations to go with it. He wanted to get in to one more shopping mall, to get something for his wife. I asked him to go ahead; I’d wait outside. As I sat on that bench and looked around, there was hardly anything like the environment I was used to, back in Mumbai. It was all different — the people, the vehicles, the buildings, the colours, the streets. It was fascinating. Yet it was the same me. I was the same person — thinking, feeling the same way I would, if I was back at home. I had travelled before, there was no reason for this sense gliding over me to be unique. It was the first time, however, I had paid attention. In a 3d-esque-Google Earth-Fly-mode, I imagined myself flying over the earth from Mumbai to Singapore, watching the terrain below me. I became acutely aware of how far I was away from home. I kept saying, everything around me is different, I am the same. I couldn’t for the life of me understood why that feeling is relevant or significant. But I was feeling excited about it, and I was smiling to myself.

Since that day in Singapore, I’ve travelled many places. Some, really far away. Whenever I have found a moment alone, this friendly feeling has always been at my side.

*

I am at break from work. I’ve come out of the building where we are working. Out there, looking at the beautiful afternoon sky, I have the same feeling. This time, in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Everything around me is different, I am the same. Fifteen years have gone by, I still do not know the relevance or the significance of that feeling. I spent just a few more minutes, out there. I ask myself to understand what it means. Why do I feel this way, when I am far away from home. Why does this feeling recur? I take a photograph. Perhaps, when I am back home, when I think of this moment when I was far away, thinking how everything around me is different, I am the same, I’ll know.

16.08.10: Blue Skies

Fifteen years later, (older and wiser, apparently), I have no answer. I don’t mind.

I like the feeling.

Being Afraid

Our fears are unfounded. They have no basis in reality. Some of our fears are real. And as real as they are, we are not talking of them today.

Face your fear!

That’s what they told us. They never, however, told us what we actually had to do. How was I, a person afraid, invite fear to have a cup of tea, face-to-face.

Good evening, fear, how are you, today? Care for a spot of milk? And, while we are at it, why is it that I am afraid of you?

1587: A Window in my Wall

No, we never knew how to face fear. And we will ever know. For fear is not outside of us. No one bothered to tell us that fear, as such, didn’t exist, apart from what our mind created. Borrowing from experiences of others, assuming it could be our own. The faceless, formless thing that fear is, as much as we waved our swords in the foggy field, is nothing that we conquered.

No one to conquer. No one to slash to a heap, no name as a conquest.

It’s in your head.

Master-swordsman, that you are, slice it if you will.

*

With you.

Without you.

Despite you.

*

There is no facing fear. Fear is within.

It’s a part of us. And we can choose: if it can be; if it cannot be.

The Interesting Index

Who we call an interesting person is directly related to what we find interesting. If we think of a person as interesting, and that person in turn finds someone else interesting, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will find that third person interesting. We may, but it isn’t always true.

Split-Tone portrait

I got some lovely responses to my earlier post, when I asked fellow bloggers to tell me what makes a person interesting. You should head over there and read some very interesting responses. If you haven’t already responded, and if you would like to, please let me know. That post, is of course about what makes a person interesting.

But how do we discover interesting people?

Watchman

One way, is what I call the Positive Default. All people we meet are interesting, by default. We engage with people with this positive thought and embark on a journey together. There are no preconceived notions nor, expectations. When engaging in this way, it’s necessary that we keep an open mind as we discover each other. In time, both of us try to direct the nature of our engagement towards what we find interesting. When these directions are same, or similar, the interestingness index increases. We are able to give positively and we respect each other. We also discover some interests that are divergent or, often opposing. That’s when we both make decisions about each other. We may continue to engage and become friends for life. We may meet just where our interests intersect. Or we may slowly move away.

Then, there is a way of identifying interestingness and then engaging. The Confirmation Default. I am not sure how this happened before social media existed. Perhaps, it wasn’t possible then. Or, if it was, it was quite tedious. The confirmation default is a wait, watch, confirm, and then engage approach. We get to know who people are, through their social interactions (usually online) and we decide how interesting they are. If they are, then we engage, and life goes on.

Finally there is the Decided Default. Few people do this, but it happens. The decided default of interesting people is an -ist list. It is category-based. And it could be as specific or as generic as can be. People who wear red shoes; single and unemployed; double-chined 40-somethings; DINKs, or for that matter SINKs; senior citizens; unshaven South Indians; Metrosexuals; Maharastrians with an accent; Guppies, and the list goes on. The decided default is almost the opposite of the positive default. It’s a closed system of looking at things. The earlier post, and this post was triggered by someone who said that to me: applied a category and told me (straight to my face: I found that interesting) that I wasn’t interesting, by default. It didn’t matter to me that the person was a complete stranger, and had slotted me in a category within three minutes of meeting me, it however provoked me to explore my own default.

Rama

We can always find the slightest reason not to like people (and it is easy), yet we have to look for big reasons why we can like them (and that’s not easy). I don’t say this because I seek to make this world a better place. I say this with a very selfish purpose. I have found so many interesting people in my life, and life is better because of them.

In the process, if that helps making this world a better place, I don’t mind.

Museum Musings

She runs her finger through a printout of a list of books and their prices. I am exasperated. The prices of the books are printed on the books! One is ₹45 and the other is ₹226. Let’s just do simple addition, I’ll pay, and be on my way. She slowly scans through the list and starts making the invoice.

*

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It has been a while since I saw these two books locked up in a glass display, sitting like hopeless prisoners, who will never see the open sky. The lady who was sleeping on duty was perhaps angry with me because I woke her up. She had no idea how I could go about buying the books. It didn’t help that we didn’t have a common language to speak in, so we made do with hand signals and pointing at books, and such. It was clear that no one had bought books from here for a long time. She shouts out to a man, who is not much help either, but at least he understands I want to buy the books. He finds a scrap of paper and asks me to write the names of the books. He indicates that I should wait right where I stood. I pick up other English keywords in his dialogue and assume that he is going to the office to ask about the books. It’s a long wait. I start walking towards the office. He shows up from nowhere and beckons me to follow him. He plonks the two books on the table and a conversation ensues between him and another lady, who is probably a manager of sorts. I couldn’t say why, but they seemed excited that someone was buying books at the museum.

The lady now goes towards a cupboard and removes a receipt book. She inserts a carbon paper under a fresh receipt. I haven’t seen a carbon paper in ages. But then, I think to myself, where else would you find carbon paper, than a museum? She is near another cupboard now, finding something in a heap of mangled papers.

*

In very beautiful and articulated handwriting, the sweet old lady starts making out the receipt. She charges ₹36 for the first book and ₹113 for the second. I feel bad about being irritated, when I realized what was going on. Such instances are good learning — of not succumbing to stereotypically thinking, every time we think we have met one. She was doing her job and she gave me the benefit. I would have never know that there was a discount. The list that she was going through, was a list of discounts on the books. 20% and 50% respectively.

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She smiles, I hand over the money and thank her. In my head, I also apologize. I turn to the man who helped make all of this happen. I thank him; he thanks me in return. In the end, we are all happy. I leave the museum content, but something is bugging me.

* * *

File Jun 06, 19 43 30The Government State Museum in Bangalore, charges ₹4 as entry fee. Half a cup of tea, or cutting chai, as we call it in dear old Mumbai, costs ₹6. It’s fair to say then, that the cost of seeing priceless and timeless pieces of art, history, and culture is less than half a cup of tea.

It’s not a very large museum, but the artefacts are very valuable, even if most of them are in a state of neglect and disrepair. As I walked along the exhibits, I wondered if it was for the lack of funds or the lack of enthusiasm and concern. It wasn’t very obvious to me what could be done if it was the latter. But if it was because of the lack of funds, there was an instant answer — increase the entry fee and don’t offer discounts on books! World over, many museums charge (often) exorbitant entry fees and then charge separately for certain exhibits. This, and other sales like books and souvenirs help them fund the upkeep, I’d imagine.

Instant answers, however are not always complete. This is a state museum running on public funds. Increasing fees or withdrawing discounts denies access to those who cannot afford it. And the inability to pay an entry fee can not be the reason you cannot view your heritage. It falls to us, then to buy books, and support our museums in whichever way we can.

Hereafter, I will stop taking discounts on books. And even if I am offered any, I’ll donate the difference to the museum.

And yet, this thought is incomplete. There’s more to this.