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.

One of His Many Books

I want to read Demian, by Hermann Hesse, again. It has been a few years, since I read it. And as I was cleaning the shelves today, this book just called out. It will have to wait, as I finish the book I have on hand. But Demian is next.

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This is a book that I did not buy, borrow or steal. It is an inheritance.

I remember seeing this book on my father’s shelf. As a child — I must have been 10 or 12 at the time — this book scared me, because of its cover. That expressionless face, with those empty marble-eyes devoid of focus; celtic-like tentacles flowing out, where hair should have been. The stony under-eye-textured face, and those tentacles again, that slid dreadfully to the back cover creepily intertwining a screaming skull. In my immature mind, Demian was another word for a Demon.

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Years later, when I first left the country for a long-term assignment, fifteen years ago, I took this book with me. I remember the time, when, with much trepidation, I opened the book; my childhood fears still alive and begging me to close the book. In a foreign country, alone, afraid, adventurous, audacious, and animated at the same time, I added to the excitement and the fear, and opened the book. At the end of the two-page prologue, I discovered:

The life of every man is a way to himself, an attempt at a way, the suggestion of a path. No man has ever been utterly himself, yet every man strives to be so, the dull, the intelligent, each one as best as he can. Each man to the end of his days carries round with him vestiges of his birth — the slime and egg-shells of the primeval world. There are many who never become human; they remain frogs, lizards, ants. Many men are human beings above and fish below. Yet each one represents an attempt on the part of nature to create a human being. We enjoy a common origin in our mothers; we all come from the same pit. But each individual, who is himself an experimental throw from the depths, strives towards his own goal. We can understand each other; but each person is able to interpret himself to himself alone.

~ Demian, Hermann Hessse, translated by W. J. Strachan, Granada Publishing Limited, first published in 1960; last reprint in 1976

This concluding paragraph of the prologue was hopeful, and frightening at the same time. The original fear had manifested itself, and I felt the presence of new invisible fears. What lies ahead; in the hundred-and-fifty-odd pages that I am to read? I can never know. Leaving the safety of home, when I asked my father, if I could take this book with me, he seemed happy as he handed the book to me. I remember little now, but perhaps, he was smiling. I think he knew that this book terrified me, as a child. But, if he was smiling, it wasn’t because of the irony, it was, perhaps because he sensed that it was the right time for me to read the book.

This book is unique, for me, because he never signed it; it is bereft of his marginalia. There is a small pencil-scribble on the first page. Top-right. ₹9.50. That’s what he must have paid for the book. There is nothing to say that this book was his and he read it, other than the fact that I know he did. Only a few sticky-notes (mine; I dared not enter marginalia in a book that did not belong to me; even now, I do not) stay glued, neatly above paragraphs, where some questions terrorised me. And this fear was different. It had nothing to do with the cover. It became real. I hoped that I’d have a conversation about these questions with him someday, but we never found the time. And without a spoken or a written word, that sudden day, his books were bequeathed to me and my sister. And we had to find our own answers, since that day.

Time passes. Our questions change. And therefore, our answers.

It’s time for Demian.

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Shut up; Gently Speaking

I have nothing to say.

That’s easily the worst sentence to start a post.

I recently put the petulant twins — anger and outrage — to sleep. Outrage slept easier than Anger, but it did, eventually.

 I still have respect for those who disagree with me, but I know not, if they do, too.

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This blinking cursor is intimidating.

I have, perhaps, reached the border of wisdom-land, or of insanity-shire. I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been there.

But it is peaceful for sure — just like the chaotic extremes we now live.

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With a difference; one end is true; the other extreme is false.

Events don’t define our lives.

Nothing is permanent. Not even our beliefs. Yet, we hold on to them, for the “security of known misery to the misery of unfamiliar insecurity”.

Sheldon B. Kopp.

In, “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.” Paraphrased. Verbatim-ly.

We can speak.

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Paralysed beings with active fingers.

Empowered fingers of shallow, rotting minds, to that one side.

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I take irony and smother her, and strangle her, with four hands.

She laughs back at me.

140.

She is still laughing.

Dead.

Because both of us are alive, we know not, who is dead.

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The power of the medium is not our strength.

We mistook our ability to use the power of the medium for our ability to use our intellect, imagination, and insight.

Like riding a wave.

It’s the nature of the wave that allows us to ride; all we do, is maintain our balance.

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I have nothing to say.

And you should know by now,

I have nothing to say.

PS: This post is right-aligned.

Game of Hearts

I’ve never looked at sports in the way that most people do. The technique, the logic, the strategy. I do understand it, have no doubt. But, that’s one of the reasons, I can never hold a conversation about sport with most people. Like, I have never been able to hold a conversation with photographers who talk of cameras, not photographs.

If you are a #ProKabaddi follower, you may have seen the match between Patna Pirates and the Bengaluru Bulls, tonight (17FEB2016). Way after half time, most of us could predict that Bangalore would take the match.

I held on.

The Patna Pirates won it.

Image Courtesy: All Sports League

Image Courtesy: All Sports League. Link

Did they have better players than Bangalore? Not necessarily. The teams were evenly placed, if you ask me. Bangalore definitely had a strategy. Their captain was in form. It was obvious from the first raid. And in the first half. They were attacking. And how. And Patna had no idea what was going on. All their efforts seemed to be in vain. They were losing points like a two-inch hole in a petrol tank.

But Patna Pirates won it.

Heart. I’ve always maintained that the Patna team is a stout-hearted team. In this season, they have been unbeaten, so far. In the earlier seasons they have suffered huge losses. But never, never, because they gave up. The way I see it, sport has become a complex analysis of numbers and statistics and such. We have, somewhat, lost the ability to enjoy sport for what it is.

Most sports today are about class. Class combines heart, head, practice, and experience. Very few remain, where it is more heart. Patna is a team that has always played with a heart. They have strategies, of course they do. It’s not that they shed thinking and slave to feeling. But in every step, every raid, every tackle, every jump and escape, they show heart.

Those who play with heart, may some times lose a game, but they will always win hearts.

Thank you, #PatnaPirates for a winning streak that demonstrates, well:

Heart

In Defence of Abstraction

Once upon a time, I used to write well.

During that time, I wrote about A Discrete Process of Abstraction. A couple of months later, I wrote About Coach 78519. But the Coach post isn’t relevant to this post. Or maybe, it is. We’ll know at the end of this post.

Yesterday, someone I know on Twitter, wrote about writing honestly. That someone was writing about the struggles that are the afflictions of a writer. One, there is comfort in style, but then, it leads to sameness. To make it interesting, a writer, perhaps, may take refuge in abstraction. And then, that someone on Twitter, wondered if it’s an exercise in creating an image. While not directly saying so, that someone, wondered, if abstraction was honest?

(I keep saying “that someone” because I do not have permission to name “that someone.”)

Abstract artists, perhaps have the answer. They have been at it for so many years. Someone, has an answer. To be deceitful, we hardly need abstraction. I think you would agree. If we have lived a long enough life, we have experienced deceit. Without any abstraction. People make mistakes, for sure. That’s different. People are confused. That’s different too. People are lost. That’s very different. Being willingly deceitful is a separate art. We may mistake someone’s mistake, confusion, or loss as deceit. That’s different too. That’s misunderstanding. And can be easily resolved.

Is abstract writing honest? It depends on the intention of the writer. In the same way that discrete writing is. But it doesn’t matter, I think. For we as recipients, of abstraction can make our own meaning. Now that’s a risk that the creator takes. And even if the creator is honest, the abstraction may be misinterpreted.

What attracts us to explicitness? Is it infinitely more relatable? Or is it because there is less effort, or laziness, on our part to think, to imagine, to experience?

When a writer takes refuge in characters and personas to tell a story, is the writer being dishonest? There is really no difference between a reader and a writer. Both humans. Both strong. Both weak. In different areas. But both humans, nonetheless. We are bound by emotions. And that is what we should be feeling. Not second-guessing intentions. If you feel a writer is using abstraction (or any other device) as a cover, so be it.

If you still are in doubt, think poetry.

3635: Stone Backed

A friend once told me (not in these exact words) that, ‘being vulnerable is not about standing naked in the middle of the road during peak hours and shouting out loud the deepest of your emotions, regrets, and fears.’

Honesty, is in the expression. Not in the form of expression.

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PS: Now, I think the Coach post is relevant. If, you have read the first post I have linked. I did not, in the Coach post, give you any details. But it happened. That’s how I felt. It was honest, as honest can be. Is that enough, or do you want the details?

Regretfully, Yours…

What’s so bad about a regret? Why has, “I have no regrets,” become an anthem of sorts?

I have no idea. Perhaps it’s a power statement. The demonstration of how we move forward. Or, a show of strength. If we do regret things, we don’t have to find the tallest building and announce it with a megaphone. But we don’t have to be squeamish about it, either.

After a life, a bit over four decades, I have no qualms to say that I have regrets. When you have lived a life this long, without exception, you have done at least one thing that you wish you hadn’t; or, you had. I’ve done many of those kinds.

It does not change who I am, unless of course, who I am is a factor of what you think of me. See, that, I cannot control or manage. Regrets are good. In the least, they inform us of what could have been, Sometimes, we don’t get a second chance. But, if we do, regrets are a practical guidance device. If we want them to be.

This is a directed post. But most of those, who are the intended recipients, will not get it. Mostly, because this blog is under-read.

I have regrets.

Red Prawn in Space

I am not ashamed of them.

I will announce them, when the situation presents.

Regret is therapy. How? That you have to discover for yourself.

Being Sceptic

There are moments, when I feel I should be a sceptic.

A while ago, I was at the Therekol fort. It is at the border of the states of Maharashtra and Goa. At the place where the political separates us as Maharshtrian and Goanese, is defined, they had put up a board. This is Goa, this is Maharashtra, the board said. I was there with a few friends. And we were jumping across the border – once in Goa, once in Maharashtra. In one moment, we could be here, or there. It was fun.

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Does denying (or convincing) require more effort? Or does accepting? I have no idea. My default has been to accept, and then discover, if there’s truth in that which is said. If our natural tendency is to deny, then, perhaps, there’s not much motivation to discover.

This king, said the tourist guide, with what seemed like pride, had a sword made of 80 kgs. “80 kgs?” I almost shouted back. Maybe I yelped. Or shrieked. Either ways, a friend smiled at me, recognised my pain, patted my back, asked me to let it go. That would have been a wonderful time to be a sceptic. But I wasn’t. I took my friend’s advice, I let it go, and researched armoury of that period.

Hyperbole, for example, is a device used in poetry. It is a legitimate form of expression, like a simile or an alliteration. The degree of exaggeration will vary from poet to poet. When poets don’t use it, the connotation; = lies. Therein, we have to be careful. In poetry and other literary writing, it has a specific purpose. Every device has a purpose. Every device has a name. When you take the name, out of the situation, use it as a transferred epithet, to suit your needs, that artifice.

Most sceptics are cynics. They do not know the difference. Being sceptical is respectable. So they call themselves that. There are sceptics who are real sceptics. But, few. The others are just being fashionable and trendy. 

I’d like to be a sceptic. For the sheer convenience that it offers. To be able to transfer the burden of proof. You say this? I don’t agree, prove it. And then I can go back to saying the something to someone else. It’s not too difficult to harbour doubts if you are a believer (and I use this word, only as an opposite to a sceptic; no other connotation). Being a sceptic closes some doors and templates the narrative.

No, I don’t feel I should be a sceptic.