Crucial Curation

Those who have followed this blog for a while, know of my love-hate relationship with social media. I have been on and off social networks — as if I was punishing the networks — when I got upset with the nature of conversation and interaction that people on the network were having.

The network is inert.

Lately, without wanting to do so, I have been away from the networks. [To be clear, I do not consider WordPress as one of them]. It’s almost impossible to be on a network without taking sides. And if you do not take a side, variants of history’s accusations are hurled at you from all sides. Taking sides is worse; the enslavement is unbearable.

While this phenomenon is obvious and in-your-face on digital social networks, it is not limited to them. Shoot first and ask questions later is becoming the norm. Everyone wants to be the quickest draw in the West. And the East. And the North and the South. Amit referred to it as a left-right mud-slinging contest in a recent Twitter thread. It’s not. It’s fact-slinging. Apparently different types of facts. Alternative facts. Your facts. My facts. True facts. Baseless facts. Useless facts. (Yes, I have read people use these pairs).

We are fast losing the ability to discern between opinions, suggestions, ideas, rhetoric, humour even. All these, and more are being abstracted as statements, open for the rest of us to vilify, mock, abuse, and in general – demean. We do not have the time to pause and refer to context. And even if we had the time, where is the context? In less than three minutes we send eight tweets on seven different themes. How does a reader get the context? When does the reader get context?

There is also the question of the platform. Take Twitter, because I have mentioned it a couple of times now. Most of us readily blame the platform for this phenomenon.

The platform is inert.

It has no means or the capacity or the intelligence to expose us any more than what we publish to the platform. The one thing that it has enabled — is give voice to everyone. In these times when voice is free, there’s a dash to be heard. Me, me, me! But no one listens, because everyone is busy talking. And one thing is clear: mostly, people are angry. And it seems like old anger, one which was voiceless so far. And it has become ugly and rotten.

Unlike the different types of facts, that we believe in, we don’t believe that there are multiple truths. We do not have the patience for any truth to reveal itself. Fleeting gratification appeals to our ever shortening attention spans.

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Jama Masjid, Kalburgai (Gulbarga)

Jama Masjid, Kalburgai (Gulbarga)

All is not lost however, as apocalyptic this post may sound: as long as you curate.

There are many people who are spreading joy (not by mis-attributed feel-good hackneyed cheesy-quotes on mushy-stock-images) but, by just being themselves, sharing life experiences. These are statements in the true sense. They carry with them, no attributes of opinions, suggestions, and such. There is no compulsion to engage. In this case, the consumption is the engagement.

That’s where curation becomes crucial.

This is not to say that we become unaware as citizens and humans. What’s wrong must be righted.

In the real-world. Not on Twitter.

The Man in the Plane

Location: 33K feet above sea level; somewhere over Rajasthan.

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Saw an oldish man taking notes in the flight today (Today is relative; this happened a year ago, 4 Feb, 2016, to be precise).

Two books for reference. And another small notebook, with thoughts perhaps. He had some interesting method of referencing, as he flipped back and forth between the pages of the notebook, he seemed to find exactly what he was looking for.

What is the origin of our questions? Is it how we see ourselves or is it how we see others? How do we know ourselves? As ourselves or as a reference to others? Are these the questions of identity? Of experience? 

There is some romance in the academic rigour, as I’ve experienced it, off late.

3445: Elphinstone College
Everything that we learned in school and college needs to come back.

Fast!

A Broken Narrative

Few of my friends know of a certain profile picture I use on Facebook, which indicates that I am away. Every once in a while I test if I can be away from Facebook (and therefore Twitter and other such networks). October was my away month — by my standards. I used Facebook sparsely. I’ll be back on the 1st of November. The last three or four times I did this away exercise, it was more of a test of my addiction, so to speak. While October started with the same purpose; the revelations were interesting to say the least.

The narrative of everything has changed.

There isn’t — according to the way I see it — anything that we can say, that will not be crushed out or hammered in by some ism that someone else follows. Opinions do not have spaces anymore. Jokes have no space. Most people I see, are angry and belligerent. Mostly, deep down, they are defensive – but outwardly they are angry and belligerent. Those that aren’t angry are on a trip, some trip, which offers them a false sense of happiness.

When ideological camps never intersect, where is that common space for us to speak and hear? What is our meeting ground? Not to make a statement; just to speak, to listen to each other. In the race to be heard, no one is listening.

I am not lamenting social change. I have lived my adult life, with and without mobile phones, e.g., and I am aware of the boons and curses of how society responds to changes it did not expect. In these times of (mostly) nonsensical back-and-forth, I struggle to find a place of my own.

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Within that struggle, I have discovered a small place. It’s nice. Comfortable. Mine. It’s not mine, yet. But I’d like it to be mine. And it has the potential to be mine. In times of predictable spaces, determined by isms, I am fortunate to have found one that allows for isms, but is not dictated by an ism.

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I am participating in Movember, yet again, this year. (That’s the day I return to Facebook) It has been over half-a-decade of Movembering; I have yet to find an organisation that works for men’s health, in India. If you know of one – do let me know. Nevertheless, It seems, I will be a permanent Movember Member; inspired in no less measure thanks to The Bum.

2016-01-01 17.04.50: Orchha

It’s the festival of lights, here, in India. In my head, there is a philosophical connotation to the festival. To tell you the truth, it is a festival of light and sound. Traditionally, philosophically, and spiritually. Not anymore. Either by armchair activism or sheer usurpation. Those that purportedly attack and those that apparently protect — both have it wrong. Festivals are resilient enough that they can survive attacks. Festivals are strong enough that they do not need protection. I wish I do not live long enough to have to wish “Happy Holidays” for a festival that you celebrate, even if I do not celebrate it. When a festivity is reduced to a holiday – that is when we have lost everything. We should be worried about sameness, assuming we will live long enough to sense it.

My apologies for this line of thinking on such a wonderful festive day. I leave you not with thoughts to discover the light within but just be good. In your own way. Do something nice. I will.

Happy Diwali!

Little Injuries and Big Bandages

Thanks to #2016KabaddiWorldCup, a small conversation of injuries ensued, with a colleague. For the few years that I have played Kabaddi, I have never seen serious injuries; me, my team mates, or my opponents. (My parents, without doubt, disagreed.) Young as we were, we bandaged even the smallest injuries. While it sounds (and definitely is) stupid now, injuries were conversation starters. Young men wanting to be in love understand the value of big bandages.

There were two reasons we didn’t like tincture. One, it stung, as if hell itself had descended where we were sitting. Second, it exposed the extent of the cut. There was no way to make it seem bigger that it actually was. Which, as you can imagine was a conversation non-starter. Big bandages made sense when you were in your late teens. Bandages were medals that weren’t celebrated.

Cut to 25 years later. Well, to today.

20161013_003112I have yet to find a knife that can cut through tomatoes, especially the wrinkled, sad, mushy tomatoes. This happened (See photo).

Needless to say, my ethos of demonstrating a cut has not changed. The cut is less than 3mm, but as you can see, the bandage is almost an inch.

Also, needless to say, the most important women in my life were concerned, and it started a conversation. For this miniscule cut, I have been advised bedrest. How can I not be in love with these two girls?

But I want this post to be less about starting conversations.

There aren’t knives in the market that cannot defeat wrinkled, old tomatoes. We need knives that cut through shrivelled tomatoes; not firm thumbs.

May there be better knives. And may I find them.

Perhaps, I will manage with small and appropriate bandages.

Some New, Some Old; Some Plus, Some Minus

Been a while. Eighteen days. The while means different things to different people. Eighteen days could be split seconds or an age. It was neither, for me.

Me? I was just moving, from one place to another. Like I have done before. Many times before. And Richard Bach’s words echo in the clank and the shlank and the crank of the traffic:

“Flying with the wind, Richard, from town to town, has it occurred to you that’s not a way to find her, that’s a way to lose her?”

Her, now manifests. Perhaps, our lives are worthwhile only if we make new meanings. Not because they come to us; but because we make them.

As I write this, a friend is tweeting about Talat Mahmood. That soulful voice rendering such wonderful poetry distracts me from writing this post. Another friend is away trekking in a place I consider sacred and soulful. I’ll go on that pilgrimage, soon. One friend has come out of a self-imposed exile. Another is (finally) exercising a license he always had. I am teasing him, only because occasions to tease are rare now. Snotty cousins are doing well; I am proud of them. Not all is well, there are some concerns, but when so much is good all around you, all that is not good seems unworthy of my indulgence, though I am paying attention to it. Amongst all that is not well, an old wound has opened up. No, nothing mental; an old knee injury. An injury I have long cherished; because I saved a boundary (you’ll understand if you are from a cricket playing nation.)

20160705_211705

New city.

New everything. And the same old me. And that is how I will remain: same old me.

But this environment has to count for something. It affects me, this new environment, in minute ways, to begin with. All I have to do is not resist. The positive portfolio of my life is an aggregation of acceptance and the negative, has been of resistance.

No Bucket; No List

It’s a good thing I believe in rebirth.

Partly, because I have been brought up believing in these tenets. More-so, because I find there’s value in it. We spent all of yesterday visiting historical places; we, is a couple of friends and I. The original idea was to visit one fort, slightly binge on the wonderful seafood available at this town that hosts the coastal fort. We ended up visiting three forts in the vicinity.

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I saw The Bucket List, a while ago. Given the actors, I loved the movie. I could not relate to the movie, much. I didn’t quite get the bucket list. I know what it means, I didn’t get the why.

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Very few of us have the privilege of doing what we want, when we want to. Most of us have to work for a living (which is a conspiracy theory, in itself), and we are offered slices of time to do what we want to do (as against what we need to do). That slice occupies most of our attention. What we would otherwise take five week-days to do, we cram in a weekend. It’s like a game of tag. Or GTD. Needless to say, the weekend list is longer than the other five days. And we play a game of touch and go. It becomes a challenge of checkboxes that we can strike-out.

Smart people (and I am getting there) become curators. There’s an acknowledgement about how much can be achieved, given the constraints. It seems, the trick is not to speed up, but to slow down. Resignation is not necessarily a negative word. It is positive in your own personal sense of acceptance. The remainders, I leave for my next life. There are experiences that fill our hearts so much, that we would explode. But if we never gave them time to fill our hearts, we’d never know.

View of Revdanda Fort from Korlai Fort

View of Revdanda Fort from Korlai Fort

Lists also tend to deny us experiences that we would otherwise have. For we focus on the list and our blinders take us where the list takes us. We tend to see nothing else, when we focus on the list. Climbing up to a fort, climbing down a fort, we ignore our heart beat; we focus on completion; we never sense the lives that made that fort; which is why we climbed, in the first place. We are losing much as we strike off an item in a check-list; we are losing even when we seek an experience.

Some of us may have specific ambitions. For the rest of us, there are no rules.

We have to be just out there and allow life to do what it does best. Allow a life.

The Shady Bar; The Sidey Bar

In my opinion, a shady bar is not the same as a sidey bar.

There is something sinister about a shady bar. Illegal and unethical acts abound, in a shady bar.

A sidey bar, is where the other people drink. The glasses are lightly rinsed, your rum glass stinks of whiskey, the waiters wait, not on you, but, for when the bar will close. Their degree of dreariness is always requesting that you need to go home. Most patrons of the sidey bar sit alone. (And since they do, four lonely folks often share a table). There’s nothing sinister going there, in a sidey bar. Unless, you think of the frustration, anger, dreams, thoughts, questions, that hang precariously along the low-hanging roofs of such places. But all that *shit* eventually is gulped down by these limit drinkers. In such a place, no one is looking to meet someone, no one is looking for human accompaniment, no hitching, no hookup. The air is heavy with cigarette smoke, a rare phenomenon these days. [Statutory Warning: Cigarette Smoking is Injurious to health]. There’s a stench of alcoholic blends that competes with the dense humidity of this city of dreams. No conversation is private, given the arrangement of the tables. But, when everyone is engrossed in their own troubles, privacy is tossed on the street; for no one cares.

In such a bar, I stepped in. Honestly, I do not remember the name of that bar. That’s the nature of these places. We remember them by location (so that we may find them again, if we are in the vicinity); not by their identity. They have none, really — an identity  — they have service, and that is all that matters. I had my own crossroads to think of. In such a haven, I stepped, where no one would care.

I shared a table with a man who was engrossed, for most part in the cricket match. My back was to the TV screen; I cared less. I pinged my friend in Africa. I pinged my fried in Florida. I pinged my friend in Jaipur. I was looking for answers that I would reject. Some conversations began, but at their birth, I sensed, they were unsustainable. I started a conversation with my own life. It’s not fair, I thought, that every step is a crossroad. I thought of my friend in Delhi. He wishes that design should be decision. Design should be such. Not having to take decisions. Design should dictate all. I thought of my design guru. I have learnt a lot from him. Of how things are, how they should be, and how they shouldn’t be.

The cricket match is over.

MS, The Entrepreneur

MS, The Entrepreneur

My table-mate gives me an acknowledging smile. It’s good to know I exist. I return it exactly as I received it. He says hello, I return the hello. And a long conversation ensues. He never drinks more than a quarter (~three large pegs), but today because of this conversation withe me, he decides to have, an additional, one small peg. He is an entrepreneur. No, not the one we celebrate; the one we ignore. For 25 years he has run a garment factory. Employs 50 people. For 25 years, without fail, he has paid salaries on the 1st of every month, for all his employees. I am sceptical. I say, it can’t have been easy in the early years? He confirms. I have had cash-flow problems, in the first few years. I sold my gold. But I have never delayed salaries. It took me 5 more years, but I have recovered my gold. Education? I failed 12th class, he says. No one would celebrate you, I say, almost. Shirts? Skirts? PPHH! You are not changing the world.

He keeps referring to me as as Sir, I tell him my name, please address me as Atul, I ask. He refuses; I know you are well-educated than me. I wonder, is there a relation between education and success? I wonder where this sense of respect comes from. If earnings are a metric, he is more successful than I am. I met, in a shady bar, an entrepreneur who wasn’t buttressed by venture capitalists and who has never been the focus of an Internet article. I know the brand of clothing he manufactures (he told me), but I will tell you not. [It might hurt your sentiments and assumptions.] I know the cost of his assembly line, and how he looks at reams of cloth as Rs/metre.

His additional peg, in my respect is over; he leaves.

I am alone at the table. I return to think of the crossroads of my own life, when three men descend on this table. Needless to say, conversation ensues. They are visitors to this city of dreams. Very soon, we are talking of caste constructs. All three of them are Dalits, and without prologue, we are discussing the philosophy of Dr. BR Ambedkar. The conversation carries on, I ask of the Grammar of Anarchy, and Dr. Ambedkar’s constitutional beliefs. We talk of how every political party has appropriated him. Without understanding the essence of his beliefs and philosophy. My caste, as you may already wondered, comes into play. I proudly declare it. One of the three is surprised in the manner with which I declare it. We speak of politics. How caste, is no more (which once was) a system of social segregation, but (is now) a system of political segregation. In the end we all agree. We eat Tandoori Chicken together. We exchanged phone numbers. I have been invited to my favourite place – Konkan (Dapoli) – as a guest of honour. Just then, a friend called me and said we could meet, so, with prolific excuses, I made my way out.

Shady bars are different. Sidey bars are different. In shady bars, alcohol is cheap. The patronage is ugly and uncouth (that depends on your perspective, BTW). Engagement is optional. Learning, even more so. For all the entrepreneurial stories of digital tech, there are ten entrepreneurial case studies of people who failed 12th and have provided sustainable income to 50 employees without “cash burn”, who come to such sidey bars for exactly one quarter. For the thousands of stories of caste strife that you see in in India, there are tens of thousands of stories of humans, devoid of caste identities enjoying, enriching each others company. Mass media, by it’s compulsions may pick and choose, and even distort the truth, but they can never alter the truth.

When, we sit in a sidey bar, we experience it.