A Social-Media Experiment Unravels

This post is premature. By a day. But, I’ll allow it. The advantage of having your own blog! Rules assume the garb of guidelines, when you want them to.

I have ranted often of what I am now writing about, today. The topic is not new, the emotion has been experienced often. The content, perhaps has a fresh flavour or a tantalising twist.

As of tomorrow, I have been away from three social networks that I used to indulge in, regularly — for a working month. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. I was mostly a consumer on all three, while creating some content on Facebook and Twitter. YT was pure consumption.

APEX-IMG_2359-v0001-2010-12-28

Little over a month ago, I finished reading Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport — I was amused by the directness of a Chapter Title — “Quit Social Media” — but I read it nevertheless. This post is not a review of the book, nor do I want it to be. After a while you pick and choose your battles — like writing a review of a book. A star rating is enough to describe where you stand.

Of the many reasons mentioned in “Quit Social Media” – the one that intrigued me the most was the question: how many people (of the few hundred friends you have) will miss you, if you do not post. YT didn’t fall in that category, because I never created any content on YT.

Twitter also did not matter much, because a decent percentage of my followers started following me, because of a random tweet in a timeline of years, which appealed to them. They stayed followed, but never ever interacted after that one tweet. Most Twitter connections (other than my actual friends) are connections of convenience.

Facebook was the one I really wanted to put to the test of: how many people (of the few hundred friends you have) will miss you.do actually know all (ah, ok, most!) of my connections on FB. In recent years, I was never a prolific poster – but I was irregularly regular. What would happen if I stop? Armed with a commandment from Cal Newport’s book, I took the step. Changed my profile picture — showing my back, looking away, to all my FB friends. Changed my cover photo to a metaphorical chain (smart, eh?). And just stopped posting.

For ten days since that day, I religiously did not open any of the three sites, web or mobile. But, what if Cal was wrong? What if in the ten days gone by, people were missing me? So, I did some soft cheating; I did not post anything still, but went and checked who was missing me.

Zilch on Twitter; Zilch on Facebook.

//INSET

The mobile phone innovation came to us in the late 90s. Even before that – basic telephony was costly and cumbersome. It was cheaper to meet-in-person according to convenience. 50p and 1Re coins jingled in our pockets. In 2021 coins have almost gone out of circulation, and 1Re coins cant get you anything worthwhile. We used to make 3-min calls, without any niceties, conforming time, place, and Plan B’s.

For me a phone has always been about name, place, and time. Most of friends and relatives do not understand; I have a low tolerance for conversation on a phone. The real engagement happened when I met the named person at a time in a place that we we had planned for. Face to Face.

//

So, some people had liked my profile picture, with my back turned to them. No comments, no questions. Cal Newport was winning. On Twitter there was one mention, purely circumstantial; work-related. I didn’t even bother about YT.

I developed a 10-day-itch, so I continued to soft-cheat every ten days.

Zilch on Twitter; Zilch on Facebook.

(One day, I liked a photo that a cousin had posted; sheer muscle memory. #FAIL) #Sigh! I totally OUCHed myself!

In just a month long social-media rehab, I feel cured; or at least on the way to a cure.

For sure, however, not a cure from friends. For Sure. It’s a cure from the network. It’s like mistaking the map for the territory; or forest for the trees. Something like that. Specifically, it is a cure from the compulsions of the network. A networked connection does not automatically mean friendship. Not every network enables conversations (if they would, they would have greater opportunities of data mining and targeted advertising!)

[Damn! I should not have given them that idea. But, chances are, they have already exploited it.]

I have not lost touch with my friends because of my absence on social networks. In fact, I am speaking with them more often. On a mobile phone that does not weigh as much as a construction brick. Pandemic and all, that is the best we can do today. I no longer feel the need to post my crappy humour, unoriginal ideas, ill-formed opinions, and angry rants on these social networks anymore. I have not lost the feeling; I just do not feel a need to post it. (WhatsApp/Other IMs are an exception, because they are more intimate; but I think I shall conquer that, in good time)

Finally, this post; about social networks and social media – is not a rant. It’s a happy experience of not experiencing everything that is fed to you.

#JOMO.

As an early-70s kid, it has brought back a happiness that I knew and related to.

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Life’s better when it is small and full; rather than being big and empty.

All’s Well: The Intersection

Something that I had once said, came true today. I am happy, because I was/am right. I am sad, because I did not want it to be right.

Not all intersections are indicators of long and shared journeys. Intersections are opportunities; but some are just that: intersections. We may believe that an intersection may make me change my direction and walk with you, or an intersection may make you change your direction and walk with me. It may happen even; but not always, and not at every intersection. Sometimes intersections are only intersections. Enjoy them, and move along your path. An intersection is only a milestone of what was lost or what we let go.

Your opportunity may be waiting at the next intersection. Or not.

BWSL Mumbai

And intersections are lively. They are fun, they are entertaining. But we have to be on and away on our journey. An intersection is a stop; the opposite of a journey. Every intersection prolongs your journey; so be wary of intersections.

As long as you keep walking, all’s well.

A Hashtag Retires

I single-handedly trended the hashtag — #ThisDayThatYear in 2020. Needless to say, I have no data to backup my claim, so I am going ahead and claiming it. In any case, I don’t see any others claiming it.

One of the recurring themes of 2020 was rehashing memories. Good times spent with friends and family, traveling, or the sheer fun that was consumed in the past years when life was normal. Because what was otherwise considered as normal, was not possible most of 2020, almost everyone became nostalgic with what was; a hark back and an intention, simultaneously.

Most social networks now have a “Memories” section, which remind of what you did on the same day the previous year or even years, and because we didn’t have anything new to post — old posts were regurgitated with consistent frequency. In terms of posting photographs, 2020 was the year of (a) recycled photographs, and (b) indoor photography.

Of the first category, I noticed that a majority of recycled memories were of people being with people, with callbacks that all sounded like “Oh, what a great time we had!” Even if the photos were of empty roads or lonesome mountains — they reminded of travels with people. Whether or not the photos had people in them, they were of people.

Of the second category, most photographs were of what we could see, standing at a boundary; looking out. Doors, windows, streets, garden flowers, and such. If you looked closely, these images described the border that a photographer did not cross, during this time. They were really selfies, taken with the back-camera. Whether or not the photos had people in them, they were of people.

Cameras, cars, trains, roads, places, and conversations were perhaps as despondent as we were, as our myriad intersections transformed to an isolation.

I am now looking to trend the hashtag — #ThisDayThisMoment

The Story of Seventeen Years

Seventeen years ago, when I wrote my first post, without any idea what I was getting into and how how far I wanted to take it – I gave a very short advisory about carrying cash, if you travel to Konkan. The next post came much much later. And then slowly, but surely I found my writing rhythm, which has continued to this day, with all the highs and lows one would expect in any seventeen-year relationship. In a high, there is not much to think of – you go with the adrenaline-fuelled flow. It’s the lows that get you thinking.

You tend to seek the past highs as they were – and try and replicate them. But no high is like the other. The construct, the motivation, the experience, the quantity and concentration of the adrenaline – is all different. It is impossible to make the same concoction again. The lows become lower.

Needless to say, a high, with a different cocktail soon comes over, and you are good to go, once again.

That has pretty much been the story of my seventeen years of blogging. Quite a bit of the writing has been about my thoughts and ideas, but a large part has been about my experiences – translated, protected, or reflected upon. And each experience was a result of an adventure. Those adventures are responsible for most content here, on the blog. And, those adventures happened because I said – YES!

As I look back at the lows of my blogging rhythm, I discover that almost all those times were when I said no to an adventure. For a few, I had good reason, but not for all. But I don’t think the reasons matter – irrespective of the reason (unless it’s about your safety) it’s usually a good idea to say yes. I recently went through such a time when I was called upon to do something that I wasn’t particularly interested in, but I did it anyway – in spite of an utter discomfort. I imagined it would be one off, so I thought, I’d just get it out of the way and be done with it. And I did. Without warning, however, it has set me on a path that I am now very curious about, and I believe I will enjoy it. It has a faded scent of a concoction I have had a long time ago; yet is absolutely fresh (and frightening) and exciting. Where it will lead me, I do not know – and that is the best part of it!

From the “Keep the Faith” Series, Atul Sabnis

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In the last few years, I have done a disservice to my readers, I feel. The frequency is down, the mood is depressing, and the tone is dark. Like the long-high of 2013-15, the time between 2017-20 has been a long low. Yet, many of you have always been here, often silently waiting, perhaps – for the high, that I have been waiting for.

Thank you all for all the love and generosity for all these years!

The Silent Shout

The Bum and I spoke recently. On phone. Neither of us feel the compulsion to use video, when we speak. Never felt it.

In these times, when almost everything seems to go sideways, most people are changing the mode and frequency of their communication. Not us. I’ll admit, the frequency is better – and we are both happy about it. But a call is good for us. I think our collective imaginations more than make up for bad streaming video. We speak for about 15 or 20 minutes, at best. Either he has something to say or I do. And we dispense with the topic. If we did a video call, we would end up spending 15 or 20 minutes about how we look. That’s such a waste of time!

He called me a few days ago to tell me he attended a travel writing workshop online. I half-cringed (Another reason, why not to use video.) The first word on the tagline of this blog is travel. And I hardly write about travel anymore. Actually, I hardly write, anyway.

In conversation, I discovered that the workshop was less about travel writing and more about online branding. At least, that is my take-away; if he did learn any tips on travel writing, he did not share any.

This conversation, like any other, had a mind of its own – and we steered to the topic of the serious lack of content on our respective blogs, in the recent past. We surgically analysed the deficit and were satisfied with the analysis. We put off the solution for some other day.

And today, The Bum put out a lovely post about The Loud Silence. The date of the content of his post is close to my heart – that was the day we met, before we all locked down.

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Writing has been difficult for a long time now. Forget travel writing; any writing has been difficult. Not for want of topics to write, mind you. There is a numbing sense out of sheer fatigue; an overload of thoughts, and a break down in belief.

It is not unconquerable, this fatigue. It requires you to reposition yourself at a point of your own strength, even if it seems weak and lonely. And this position is not necessarily the position where most are standing. Our side. Their side. There is only one side.

And stand strong, even if you stand alone.

Gone Too Soon; Too Soon

Time, and the human brain are co-conspirators.
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I want to close the windows, draw the curtains. I want to paint black, the walls of my room. Shut tight, all doors. I want to pump up the volume. I want to listen to Pink Floyd. I want to drink affordable rum, as it is available, without a care, sitting right where I can hear the blare of all the speakers. The perfect position. I don’t want to move. I want to Run Like Hell.

I know you are smiling at me from heaven. Don’t give them a tough time.

He would have recalled it, if i reminded him of it.

I have no doubt about that.

I would have reminded him of the “Pachu cha Bet” (Isles of Emeralds). And Ennui and Rebel. And so many more things; he would have remembered and restarted the conversation, just where we left it off, sometime in 1991.

I have no doubt about that.

Recite the Leon Uris poem in The Haj for me, he would have said. He is the only one who knows that I froze, the first time I was on stage for the recitation. I often suspect, he lived the poem more than me.

I have no doubt about that.

But, I’ll never get a chance to show that to you.

Minya died, yesterday.

This is the only surviving photo I have of him, before mobile cameras. And thank God, we didn’t have mobile cameras then. We treasured memories.

I was not close to him, we were not intimate, we didn’t see each other for decades, In fact, I met him only once, after college. And then we did not meet for over a decade. In that one meeting, nothing changed. We were as we were.

I have no doubt about that.

But there is this hole, deep, gaping, widening, questioning hole, that needs filling. And I could have asked Minya, but he is dead.

Only for you, Minya – I am having the Party of my Life. Because that is the only way, I know you.

The King is Dead; Long Live the King. Only, in my heart. Forever, forever, forever.

In My Corner

Recently a friend shared a quote on Facebook.

“Earn two friends in life, One like Krishna who will not fight but will make sure you win and another like Karna who will fight for you even when you are wrong”.

Now, you need some context of Mahabharat, to understand this quote more than it’s literal sense, but even otherwise, I cringed when I read this. Those who have read the Mahabharat, will know what I mean – there is a connect with all that the Krishna and Karna did in the epic.

In short, Krishna was on the “right” side and Karna on the “wrong“. I highlight right and wrong because the entire story is about the nuances of good and evil; right and wrong, and quite complicated to explain in a single sentence. There is, as an author has said, The Difficulty of Being Good.

Back to the quote, I take exception to “fight for you even when you are wrong.” It just does not sound right — either because it is misleading or incomplete. And, mostly because I know of Krishna and Karna. It would be good to have a friend who will defend you against the world when you are wrong, but if the friend validates or supports the wrong, then we have a serious problem. Defending a friend should not be about, or construed as, justifying a wrong act or supporting it.

Somewhere herein lies the concept of friendship.

Also, this is where the context comes into play. Not like Karna. I believe Karna had a misguided sense of loyalty, and is often referred to as a “flawed tragic hero of the Mahabharata” – who justifies and even participates in the evil intentions and actions of his friend.

I have always been better because of my friends. They challenge me to be a better version of myself. Either in the way they carry themselves or by helping me do, what takes me a step ahead, towards good. In public, they will defend me, but in private, they will fight with me and ask of me to be better.

I’d rather have a friend, who is ready to show me the side of me that I may not see, or may not want to see. To show a mirror to my shortcomings and weaknesses. Yet stand strong for me, in the face of adversity.

In my corner.


I recently experienced this, when someone moved in front of me as I was taking a volley of blows. I was at fault, and was cornered and defenceless, when this armour of a person stood in front of me. It was a learning moment, and I am grateful to have that person in my corner. It wasn’t to justify my fault; it was to stop the assault at the time. Then, there was time for us to get together and plan, so that I could be better.

Inland Schizophrenia

We have a WhatsApp group.

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Classmates. Living a peripatetic life. Non-linear overlaps across the length and breadth of India, in varying time slices. Born early seventies, all of us. Gen X. Gen X is a fancy name for a generation that didn’t have access to technology. Obvious. This Gen was supposed to build the technology. So, in our early days we were dependent on the technology that the Baby Boomers used.

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Letters. Post. Mail. (not email). In India specifically we had Inland letters and Postcards. 25p and 15p respectively. If you had to write a really long letter, you had to shell out 50p for a postal envelope. But, we had to be careful, there was a weight limit. That’s when we discovered onion sheets – extremely thin paper. We could now stuff more sheets in the 50p envelope than before. We weren’t quite smart then, we used to pay a fortune for the onion paper pad, to save on postage. Go figure.

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Times have changed. Classmates grew up, and are doing well in their lives. If we feel like meeting out friends, we just hop on to a flight in the morning, spend a day with them, and return in the evening. We have WhatsApp, we have video calls, and such (which our generation built, mind you). We now live in a world of hyper-connectivity. Just the other day, mates from Goa, Dubai, Mumbai, Pune, and Surat met one evening. Easy-peasy.

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Indian Inland Letter India Post Rs. 2.50

The 25p Inland letter is now Rs. 2.50. I have taken it up upon myself to write letters to my friends. Notwithstanding the WhatsApp group. It’s not easy. But writing letters is muscle memory. It’s all coming back, no thanks to the changed format of the new expensive inland letter. All my letters start by asking my friend – what do I write in this letter, given that we already know everything that is going on in our lives. What should be the purpose and content of the letter? And as my out-of-practice trembling hands ask this question, an answer emerges. Purpose and content in this context don’t matter much. It is the intent, and the sense of sending you something tangible – is what matters. WhatsApp messages get deleted every night – to save space. Their nature is transient. A paper and scrawled ink is forever. When we are no more (like the deleted WhatsApp messages) these letters are an ounce of us that will be with you forever.

I should know, I have letters from dead people. And they are a part of me. And a part of them is with me.

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I have an old briefcase full of letters from all of my friends, from the early 80s. It is one of my most prized possessions. May the briefcase become a suitcase. May there be many more letters. May there be many more fragments of our lives in each other’s lives.

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Some gratitude is due. To my teachers and friends. I may not be the best letter-writer, but I understand something of structure and format and choice of words. Here’s a big thank you to all my teachers for helping us learn how to write letters and follow know the rules. To break a rule, you first have to know the rule. Here’s a big thank you to all my friends for helping me to learn how to break those rules.

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PS: I really, really wanted to use “peripatetic” – Happy now.

Friends As Homing Devices

A peeking rose

 

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanc’d true friends, and beat down baffling foes;

That we must feign a bliss
Of doubtful future date,
And while we dream on this,
Lose all our present state,
And relegate to worlds yet distant our repose?

I read this poem a couple of days ago. Only because I stumbled upon it, while I was reading a book. A book, which I had no idea existed, and discovered it only because I saw a movie, which was recommended to me by a dear friend, which, I would have never watched, if it was left to me. How and why this poem found its way to me, intrigues me. In an amusing way, i.e., not in a way that makes me weave the wool of conspiracy with needles of reason. Ironically, this book had itself alerted me to this phenomenon that I was to soon experience. I had smiled, when I read it; it was cute, but to have experienced the exact phenomenon couple of score pages later, was a revelation, it said:

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.”

Importantly, the above line ended with, “How delightful if that were true.”

Ah, well, dear author, here is a perfect example of why I believe that books have homing instincts. My time to tell you the story.

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Time-travel is my favourite movie/series genre. It fascinates me, much. The actual time travel not so much, but the implications of it all. The scientific and the philosophical. Needless to say, all time-travel themed movies and series have been binge-consumed and there is nothing left. I move to the War genre.

Out of the blue, a friend asks, if I have watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018) – I tell her, it has been nagging me on Netflix, but it seems (because of the poster) too mushy for my taste. She urges me to watch it. A few days pass. I do watch it. I love it. I tweet about it. Amit thinks I am talking of the book. I say, no, I watched the film. As gently as he can, he curses my wretchedness, that I haven’t read the book, and Amit being Amit, he explains why. Point well taken. I buy the book. I flip through it. I know, what Amit meant. I start reading the book. It’s enjoyable. Then I stumble upon the homing device statement. I smile. Cute, I say to myself. Then I stumble upon the opening line of a poem, that the character in the book writes of; he doesn’t recall the author. Well, I have Google.

Is it so small a thing
To have enjoy’d the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done;
To have advanc’d true friends, and beat down baffling foes;

These are the opening lines of Malcolm Arnold’s “Hymn to Empedocles,” part of Empedocles on Etna. I’ve never heard of Malcolm Arnold the poet before. More Googling ensues. I am reminded of something else, in the book”

“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”

And suddenly, late as it is, I am reading “Dover Beach. for sheer enjoyment.”

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I feel blessed. I thank my friend who suggested the movie. I thank Amit for making me read the book.

I am grateful to the homing devices, that are my friends.

In Between Imagination and Reality

The last post was almost two months ago.

Interestingly, in these last two months, I have had the most to say. To write, I mean. But, as you have observed, [or have not] – I haven’t written here at all. We often imagine certain dreadful moments; I do, at least – and then, some times, those events actually occur. They are nothing like you imagine. And in between dealing with how those events occur and how you feel cheated, the event passes by. There’s a life lesson in there, somewhere.

But good things happen too. And we would have imagined them too. And just like the dreadful things, they are nothing that you imagined. Reality is the better cousin of imagination. There’s some healthy rivalry and teasing going on. Reality and imagination. Reality, mostly, winning. We are mere spectators to their act.

You find solace, where you wouldn’t expect to. Not what you imagined, BTW. Reality wins again. Not by a huge margin, though. What you had imagined about friends is true, too. We’ll call this a tie. Life’s surprises never cease. If only we would keep the door open. I am glad, I kept the door open.

These are things that no one can teach you. And while I have been hungry for a teacher, I have had to make do with makeshift teachers. Students are also teachers. Someone who is wading through the muck of life can hardly help you get across. But, they can do one thing: they can hold your hand, and help you move forward together – sharing the uncertainty; living the same fear.

SS, JR, PM, MD, GKMR, NP, and MB.

LearningMate Founders

Thank you for being with me in between the ever narrowing and broadening spaces of the gap of imagination and reality. While we lamented the lack of mentors, I think we did good for each other. We are better because of the shared scrapes on our knees and elbows; and sprained ankles. But our shoulders are strong – and that is what matters; that is what mattered. We sought mentors, but little did we know, we had each other – always – unqualified mentors. And we are better because of that. My reality is trumping my imagination, now. Only because of you all.

May we all shorten the space between imagination and reality!

Balancing Breaks

A friend is taking a break from social networks. So, off Facebook and WhatsApp, the two networks, I know, he uses. So, the phone is the only way I can get in touch with him — that’s what he has suggested. So, needless to say, he won’t see this post. So, sigh! I do not know if an email comes under “social network”. Technically speaking, if I mark a few people on an email, it should constitute as social network. Assuming people reply.

I had taken a break from Facebook once. A month. I had even changed my profile picture – one looking away; thought that was quite smart. Not many people responded with the same sentiment. My self-declared smartness imploded.

Another friend has quit Facebook altogether as well as WhatsApp (Here’s an inside story: He had to quit WhatsApp because he insists on using a phone that doesn’t support WhatsApp). He is on Twitter, so for smaller, quick, personal messages we use SMS (Text, for the rest of you). Because we receive so many transactional messages (Banks and government, mostly), I usually ignore them – or see them altogether once a week and delete them. Sometimes, Twitter DM.

Some friends insist on using Facebook Messenger for chats. Then, some are on Instagram, and for the life of me, I’ve never been able to figure it out. I’m Flickr. Old school. I’ve uninstalled Facebook Messenger on my phone. I now have enough space to download the entire Internet on my phone.

So, what do we have?

An extremely complicated Venn diagram of social networks that my friends use, and I somehow lie in that intersection of all these sets. And believe me, I know exactly the best way to reach out to each one of them.

Balancing Act - Glasses Stacked

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For a long time now, I have not taken a break from any social network. Not officially, i.e. Come to think of it, not unofficially, either. But, for reasons yet unknown, social networks have lost their grip on me. I’ve stopped caring how often I post, what I post. One method I used, was asking myself: Is this important, does anyone care, does it matter? Mostly, (again, for reasons unknown) the answer was: No, not really. And mostly, there’s so much of noise – no one will receive the signal anyway. So, when I felt that there was no need to post something, I didn’t. I stopped caring. For those of you follow me on various networks – you may have noticed this. I can now, unlike earlier, go with long gaps without feeling hassled. I used to feel that a few years ago.

It’s akin to what a wise man once told me, when I was quite young and having my first drink. The drink’s for you; you are not for the drink. It was about choice. But there is no one way which works for all of us. If making a Gestalt-like “clean-cut” is what’s required, then that’s what is required. If going along without being hitched is what’s required, then that’s what is required. We balance or break, in a way that works best for us.

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My friends don’t make my life easy. I am on so many networks — only so that we have a way to reach out to each other. Thankfully, most of my friends are pre-Snapchat generation. So that’s one network I am not on. But I don’t mind. I don’t care about the platform; I care about my friends. The best network of them all is F2F: an elusive, temperamental, but the perfect network. My favourite.

There’s a reason I have not taken a break from digital and online networks: they enable me to meet my friends F2F, someday. I cherish those events, I await them.

I am balancing the breaks.

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PS: I am 8 days behind on my challenge. Help! 🙂

Medium & the Message

This happened: A friend wrote a post, a very personal one. In a notepad. Pen and paper. I was privy to it. It was as personal as it could be. Photos of that very personal encounter were shared with me. It was later edited, to remove all personal references and posted in a WhatsApp group of friends. People commented on it, appreciated, loved it, responded to it. Good fun. In July. Last year. Six months later, the same post was reposted as a forward. Exactly the same text. Author changed. Apparently the same text was written by the Big B. I was upset, and I let people know that I was upset, because they just accepted the post as a Big B post. It was wrongly attributed to say the least. But none, in that group even wondered or asked, hey! Haven’t I seen this before?

Needless to say, that post went out of our group, and came back in our group in a shiny new bottle with celebrity status.

Gemstone Necklace

My blood started boiling and my FitBit had a fit.

I asked my friend, the author — did you see it? My friend sent me a smile. Just a smile.

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It would have been very easy for me to tell everyone in the WA group that this was wrongly attributed. This was an original piece from our friend, which exited our group, and re-entered our group, now falsely attributed to a famous person. I sent a few messages describing why the famous person could not have said it. Let it be known that I am a big fan of the famous person. Some of my close friends asked me to disclose the source and get it over with.

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Every once in a while, life asks you to look at problems, not from where you stand, but to take a position where a problem exists. Walk to where the problem is. Stand where the problem is. Sometime you have to see afar, sometimes you have to look inward. Giving answers is easy. Most people will take answers. Very few will take questions and go and to find answers. Often, what we call a problem, is just a question of our vantage point; or lack thereof.

Sometimes, we are just careless.

Of Delays And Such

I wonder, if we didn’t have the concept of structured time – would words like delay exist? If a good answer is found for this question, it would work in my favour. I have missed my daily posts of July, for a few days. And I have to catch-up.

Tree Rings

I wonder, at the same time, if age would exist. Would we know how old we are? I am not talking of the absence of time itself, but an absence of measuring and counting it. Whether as notches or as the rising and setting of the sun and keeping a count. Mostly, I am saying what if there wasn’t a clock or a calendar, ever. There would be no deadlines, no schedules. You couldn’t say to me – I wanted that yesterday! Yesterday is dependent on today, and if we didn’t mark today, what would yesterday even mean? An entire set of words from our vocabulary would vanish. We would not celebrate birthdays and anniversaries; we would not be able to plan anything.

We’d never be able to tell our friends when are meeting them next. Scary thought.

It’s a good thing we measure and calculate time. I am grateful for the clock and the calendars. I want to keep meeting my friends and plan for days together!

I’ll catch-up on my posts.

Better, For You

Four years ago around this time, I wrote a post about an apology from a Leograph. I had to follow up, the next day with another apology for saying Leograph instead of Leogryph, which is the correct word, which I intended. The apology was due, because a post blitzkrieg was upon my readers. And the quality of the writing was in doubt. It would be prudent to apologise in advance. So, I did.

More, later.

*

Since that day, I haven’t picked up a challenge that would require me to work hard. Life’s been good, so to speak. Life is usually shovelling challenges our way — why create new challenges? Nice, peaceful mantra. June 2014 was the last time I created a challenge for myself. This month is an anniversary of sorts. It just so happens that in June last year, we had a school re-union, and most of us met after over three decades. Details here.

We decided to meet again to celebrate the anniversary of our first re-union after 30-odd years. Go figure. It just so happened that the exact dates were a weekend. So it would be perfect. Weekend of 9th June. God is gracious with the calendar. But God’s grace stopped, at giving us a weekend on the same date. In school, we attended classes together, spent time together. We had a time-table. To be clear, we all had the same time-table. Now, no more. We all, now, have our own time-tables. Ah! The scheduling conflicts we go through. A nightmare.

Then, Magic!

Last-minute confirmations, and we swelled twice the size that we imagined. Forty-somethings being teenage-somethings. Husbands, wives, kids in tow; I can say that there was utter confusion. Mostly, the actual kids were confused, seeing their parents being teenagers. In a way, I am happy that kids saw their parents in a different light. I won’t bore you with the details. [Wink-wink]

Us @ Uttorda, Goa

The conversations are unlimited. Tea is flowing like beer; same as beer which flows as water. The beverage doesn’t matter – and the conversations invade the deep night. No more names, no more roles. Friends, husbands, wives, kids – – it becomes one big family.

I usually talk too much. But there are times, when I watch from the sidelines. While I rarely go to the sidelines, it’s a moment of epiphany. Their love, their respect. Leaning on the railing watching them, I say to myself: I have to be better. I am not bad, mind you. But I want to be better. Not because I have something to prove or I seek acceptance. Just that being with you all wants me to be better, for you. I have nothing to prove to you all – because you have accepted me the way I am. Yet, a part of me, is asking questions: how can I be better for you? Not in relative terms, but in absolute.

One year ago – I was happy that I found you all. One year later, the emotions are different. Yes, today the floodgates have opened. Late-lateef. All my friends from school are as crazy, or more, than I am. But without ever declaring it, we have genuine interest in each other’s life.

We push each other to be better. No, we never said it in that much detail.

There’s value in the unsaid; which we derive from the said

*

After four years, I am taking up the challenge of publishing at least one post everyday, this July. I cannot guarantee the quality of the July posts. But I will write. One, everyday, next month.

I will be better, for you.

Conversations with Ghosts of Past

“You aren’t online as much these days,” he said. I detected a note of regret in his voice. Wishful thinking on my part, I thought — there’s so much online these days, no one’s going to regret my absence. He’s just making an observation.

I nodded my head in agreement; smiled just enough so that it could qualify as a smile.

“It’s a bit boring, you know, to keep reading your old stuff.”

“I know the feeling, I have done a lot of reading — all my old posts. There’s not a lot, but there’s enough.”

“You are not just re-reading the posts. What are you searching for?”

“Who,” I said, looking away from him to street. There were so many people on that street. I wondered what they were doing, moving about, talking, walking. Some standing. All of them going about their lives. It seemed so strange, suddenly. Strange strangers. I’ll use that in one of my post.

“And did you find him,” he asked, stirring his coffee. He did that a lot; stirred his coffee, before every sip; I was almost sure of that. It could be irritating, if not distracting.

“I recognise shades of that person. He seems somewhat alien. It’s like … I was perhaps infected with that alien DNA a while ago, and as I read the posts, some sort of recognition causes green and blue neon-like pulses to emit through the screen and connect with a part of me. Just a part of me. It’s there, but it does not bind.”

“Why”

“I don’t know. Maybe I am a million galaxies away from that DNA. Or some million light-years away or something like that, there’s a connection, but it’s weak.”

“Too much of Netflix-binging?”

“Yes, mostly time-travel,” I said. A real smile, that would have almost qualified as a laugh.

“I know you don’t travel as much. I mean in this time/space construct; needless to say. Not time travel. You aren’t even capturing time, so to speak; you have stopped taking photos. Right? And you have stopped writing. In short, there is no movement, there is no new experience. Is that why there is no new documentation? Are you falling short experiences to describe? It’s perhaps not as simple as that, but I have to ask you – is it as simple as that?”

“Not having “experiences”; is that also an experience?”

“Doesn’t the mind hold a million times more possibilities than the real world,” he asked, not really meaning what he asked. He was perhaps interested in my mind. The possibilities in my head. I heard him but I wasn’t there.

Voices, with amazing clarity whooshed in that empty coffee shop.

You deserve more than this.
I’d rather be talking with you.
I like being with you, but…
I love you.
This is a great evening, I’ll cherish it forever.
I wish it were different.
Why didn’t you say something then.
If only…
I hope we can meet again

“My mind is full of regrets,” I said, “not necessarily mine. Not my regrets. And I may have a few. But my regrets are overwhelmed by the regrets I hear from them. Every regret was a possibility, come to think of it – it does not matter whether it was mine or theirs.”

*

“Write about them, then, those possibilities,” she pleaded.

She was grace. Unlike him who constantly stirred his coffee. She was a possibility. Looking in her eyes, then, I was reminded. Everything is possible. I don’t recall the new-age music that was playing in the cafe; but I heard:

Like a tunnel that you follow
To a tunnel of it’s own
Down a hollow to a cavern
Where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving
In a half-forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble
Someone tosses in a stream

Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind.

~ Sting – Windmills Of Your Mind

I looked deep in her eyes. I did not blink. I was afraid, if I looked away, she would be gone, just like him. And I wasn’t prepared for who would be sitting with me next. I continued to stare in her eyes. I did not look away, but I knew that the strange strangers were looking at me. There’s something about a gaze.

“What a lovely pattern on your coffee,” she said, with so much of love and affection.

Patterns. Repetitive. Predictable. I am living those patterns. I look up, she isn’t around. I want to say something.

*

There is no Barista in the cafè.

*

No people on the street.

*

I walk out.

*

This world is empty of humans.

***

PS: Above post is all imaginary. It never happened. It’s a ghost story. None of my friends were involved in this story.

Sunday Schizophrenia

Ah, the Pink City, I said. It’s peach actually, she replied. We all know that girls see more shades than boys. I wanted to say, “it’s sandstone-ish brick red, that looks pink in the summer sky,” but I did not. An argument on colours with a girl is a foregone defeat for a boy. I agreed with her, and let it lie. It’s sandstone red, that looks pink in the summer sky, I confirmed with myself, and lived in a blissful state. It just so happens, that she is so sweet, it is difficult to argue with her. She can hold her own, mind you, it was just that we were in the pink city having fun; a shady argument was just not worth it.

*

Facebook has an option, when you choose a relationship. One of the option is: “It’s Complicated.” I think Facebook should do away with that option. Relationships are never complicated. The number of ways we look at a relationship, are. People take so much of effort to enter a relationship. When it comes to exiting, it becomes complicated. Not because it is complicated.  There are words and methods to say I love you. No greeting card in this world has the right way to say, I need out. I learnt this, listening to someone for three hours. I am reminded of Abhimanyu. I know how to get in, no idea how to get out.

*

How old were you when… is a good question as far as perspective is concerned. Never judge a person’s knowledge based on the year that person was born. I was stupefied tonight with a young man’s conversation. Reality was hovering around me, and towards the end of the evening it kicked me you-know-where.

*

I am not modest. In some way, I am vain, in fact. I know how far I can reach. I do not compare my work with the work of others. I think, however, I know enough to say, if my work is good. Others may like my work and they will say as much. I have to be my critic. Because only I know what I have set to achieve, and if I have achieved it. When you compliment me, and I shrug that compliment off; it’s not a statement about you. It is a statement about me. When I shrug off your compliment, I do not intend to demean your sense of appreciation. I just mean to say, I could have done better.

*

Love is timeless. It knows no boundaries or limits. I am happy, I am in love.

A Warm Embrace

When Richard Bach said,

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof.

He wasn’t joking.

8632: Keep the Faith

It’s been a couple of months since I had been to a school reunion. And after three decades of being apart, we are rediscovering what we meant to each other. It is amusing that we aren’t on this road to rediscovery from the age that we are now, but from the age when we separated. Amusing, because we tend to behave like teenagers in our conversations. Memories have faded, too much water under and over the bridge. But we haven’t lost the sense of who we were, how we were. Theories abound about why some people feel connected with others, each with some merit, or at least some factor of interestingness.

To me, it’s the snug, cosiness that I experience in our conversations. Tied up, close and tight from all sides, never to fall apart, never to leave.

A warm clasped embrace, that defies time and space, which I always carry around with me.

Reuniting With Myself

Thirty-two years is a long time.

They say that every seven years the human body is essentially new (all cells being replaced, in that span; not entirely accurate, but it’s a good thought). By this theory, I have been renewed a little over four times, since I left my school in Goa, for another one in Bombay. It wasn’t only me, all my friends from then, have changed exactly that many times. Some dread lingered after I confirmed that I’d attend the school reunion.

Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 1 INS Hansa, Vasco-da-Gama, Goa, India

Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 1 INS Hansa, Vasco-da-Gama, Goa, India

In 1985 we didn’t have many tools to save memories. We either remembered them or wrote it down on paper. Of the cells in our body, brain cells are the one’s that last a lifetime, and if they do die, they don’t regenerate (Don’t worry, there’s always new research around the corner that says otherwise).

For a month before the reunion, all of us 40-somethings, were connected online, seeking lost fragments of half-broken memories to make them whole. We only had one physical reference — the annual class photo — to help us. The rest of it, we had to seek from our randomly connected neurons; from disused and discarded pathways. Slowly, it started coming back together; some memories we recalled; for the rest we trusted our friends’ authority. But this wasn’t true about all our memories. A select few were sharp, very sharp: those of adventures, discoveries, punishments, and of course – first crushes.

*

It was an agonising wait for 9th June. The suspense hung suspended like smog in New Delhi. Who would I meet? The vaguely familiar 13-year-olds or the vaguely unfamiliar 40-somethings? What would I say? What would they say? What would they remember? There was a motley crowd of questions commuting in my head, but none of them, strong enough to trample on my resolve to attend.

The bag was packed two days before. Finally, the airport. Flight’s on time. So far. For some events, you leave nothing to chance. Plan well. I reach the airport two hours earlier than I should have. Nothing; nothing should be left to chance. Am waiting at the gate. Not much to do. Update Facebook status:

Reached airport two hours early. I know it doesn’t affect when the aircraft will take off. Don’t remember the last time I was so excited. Meeting friends from thirty-two years ago, does that to you, I guess. Friendships forged in classrooms and playgrounds. Helping each other in study and games. Those long conversations that were dense with imagination. That very awkward age of being thirteen. That display of solidarity during class punishments. The giggly responses to the newly discovered double-entrende.

The love declaration in the last page of the notebook and the vigorous scratching of it.

The white-haired, pot-bellied, balding boys; and the beautiful girls of that class are going to relive it all. Entry is by invitation only, else you would also get to see 13yr old 45-somethings.

It starts raining. Flight’s delayed. Thankfully, only 15 minutes. The seasoned air-traveller who pays for the aisle seat has chosen the window. There’s a promise of something wonderful on the other side of this one hour and fifteen minutes. The clouds told me.

Taking off from Bengaluru Airport

Taking off from Bengaluru Airport

finally am there. Five minutes in, I see that everything and everyone has changed. Except the love. That’s as intact as it was three decades ago. There is, however, one surreal dissonance: all of my friends look very different from how I remember them; but they are the same 13-year old kids I had parted from. The smiles, the words, the jokes, everything – was how it was, then. One by one, we all trickle in. It’s the same with everyone. It takes each of us less than five minutes to establish identities (often by recalling something absolutely stupid that we had done).

The reunion of Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 1, INS Hansa, Vasco-da-Gama, Goa, was ON.

Without any delay, the collective memories were laid out as Exhibit No. 1, 2, 3, … You get the picture. Sheepish and naughty references began floating around. Ah, well, boys will be boys, though, technically, they were all men. I was a compliant and participating member, but the dissonance didn’t leave me. Late at night, we finally settled down for a conversation so that the one with most of his neurons intact, would remind us how much of our memories were real; how many were imagined.

Then, the girls joined.

Long-forgotten pubescent awkward silence enveloped the boys in the room. There was some conversation, yes. I think the girls were somewhat disappointed with our inability to gossip in their presence.

My Classroom - Right of Centre

My Classroom – Right of Centre

Hangovers and emotions are never good, when they arrive together. It’s Saturday morning now. We are in our school. Needless to say much has changed. Then, we just had a barbed-wire fence. Now there are 10-feet walls. Dissonance. Then we had just two parallel building. Now it’s a square of four buildings. But my classrooms are there. It’s vacation, so the rooms are closed. But I peep in through the high windows. I recall where I sat, where my BFF sat, where my crush sat. A movie plays. The abstract kind. Part memory, part imagination, part dream. Hangovers and emotions are good when the arrive together. You can use one to hide the other. Most of my reunion-mates assume I am hungover. Works for me. I see across from my classroom to the building opposite. My sister’s class. Every time I was in trouble, she was summoned to ensure that the complaint reached home.

We walked the corridors of yore. Then, as if drawn by an old magnet, we were drawn and stood in the middle of the assembly ground. Aligned ourselves perfectly. Without a warning, without a signal, without a plan, without a prompt, strict in attention, we sang the National Anthem. If I ever had to explain hive mind, this would be it. Not one of us was surprised or taken aback. It felt as natural as breathing. Any hesitation or apprehension I had felt in the month before this day was quelled, without a fight.

National Anthem - At School - KV INS Hansa

National Anthem – At School – KV INS Hansa

And the rest of the day passed in much fun and frolic. The evening was one of the best since I can long remember. No, I am not telling any more. (Some of my juvenile friends may read this!) I retired happy. Especially for someone who could manage only four awkward and useless phrases for those two years, a long time ago. I forget, even, what the words were. But it matters not, anymore. I may have forgotten the words, but not the sense, not what I felt. What I alone, felt.

Three decades is a lifetime, if you think of it. There’s so much water under the bridge, the landscape has changed. So have the cells of our eyes. Everything is different now. We’ve been renewed four times over. Life is different. And it is still beautiful as ever.

*

Sunday was shocking. The sun behind the rainy clouds was teasing us, chuckling almost, telling us it was all over. We wasted no time, though. We jumped right back on to the fun-wagon. Much fun was had. Even though it was a dry-day (elections). With all who were there, we made the best of the little remaining time. Then, one-by-one came the goodbyes. Tearful, but I shed not one, then. I am a late-bloomer, I guess.

Today is my day, when the floodgates open.

It was a good reunion. With friends from long ago. It was also a reunion with my self. A discovery, an acknowledgement, a sense of being. A sense, beyond words. The best way to discover ourselves, is when we are with others.

This is a public post, so I won’t take your names, but you know who you are. All of you in Goa who arranged everything to perfection. The rest of you who came from far and wide, and all of you for so much of love, that I find hard to contain.

Good positive vibes, as you said.

Wish I Were Here! And There Too!

Cloning would seem the most obvious solution. But it’s definitely not.

A situation arose today. I wanted to be at a place. But I also had to be elsewhere. Not that I didn’t want to be (that) elsewhere. I wanted to be there too. If I had over-thought – I could have chosen one of the places. They are 1007 kms apart. I had good reason to be at both places. I wanted to be at both places. Needless to say, I had to choose. A few months ago, this wasn’t so difficult. I would have just left. It is becoming difficult by the day.

The Matrix

Cloning would seem the most obvious solution. But it’s definitely not.

Because I would not be the receiver of both the experiences. Clones do not have a common sense of experience, do they? No, cloning would not solve it. Nothing will, in fact. That’s perhaps, what makes up life and life experiences. I don’t know it yet, but I am better for it. Not that I made a “right” choice — in this case, it wasn’t about right and wrong. It was simple: I wanted both. And the other thing was simpler: I couldn’t have both. It was only a life lesson.

If you were here, with me, my smile would have confounded you.

Writing Rigour

I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing. – Agatha Christie

That’s the headline of a blog that I have followed for a while. For a few years now, the blog has been defunct; not the blogger. I met the blogger today; very much alive. Said blogger stopped blogging a few years ago. What’s the point, she said. When she stopped blogging, she did not explicitly ask this question. I know another blogger who did the same. She perhaps was asking different questions. I actually know of a third blogger. He stopped blogging too. His question — I have no idea. He went to the extent of deleting his blog. It must have been serious.

I have, I will confess, considered not blogging. But for the life of me, I could never consider deleting my blog. Good or bad, I cannot deny that this has been an integral part of my life. That, some of the followers of my blog bring up posts from several years ago in a conversation, is reason enough. (I tried doing an April Fool gag; fell flat on my face). There was a time when I wrote words that everyone most people liked. That’s not the case, now.

Not that words are foreign. They are still mine. I recognise them just like before. Just that the way they want to be together is unlike how they’d gather like obedient children; earlier. Perhaps, I am not a shepherd of words. Perhaps words shepherd me. Perhaps, that is why some of my recent posts are shite. Or, I have lost the ability to shepherd. The shepherding, notwithstanding — the words are mine and I am of words.

We have just lost the rhythm.

All I need, is to go to the dance floor that isn’t patronized by any one any more and do my silly dance. Where no one will see me. Where neither my words, nor I will care.  Salsa with adjectives and Samba with verbs. The apocalyptic dance. One writer in the world; no reader left. Is a writer made of readers or is a writer made of writing? Will a writer write if there is no one left to read? What defines a writer? The writing, or the readers?

*

I told her today, my writing, in recent times, has achieved heights of mediocrity, not knowing, if that is a sense of achievement. But I have to write. Not because you will read. Not because you will like it. I have to write, because I have to write. Scribble.

125659: Wall Grunge

*

No writer, if she can, should give up writing. Because every writer knows one thing (even if she cannot sense it) – she and the words are one. She may walk away from words. (Words are kinda stupid; they have no emotion – they will sit where they were last sat; where words should be – is a writer’s prerogative.) But there is no leaving. Even if she never writes them – she cannot escape them.

If you can help it – do not become a writer. There is no escape. If you become a writer; welcome to the club!