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 the rules. 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.

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Thriving in the Traffic

Traffic jams are frustrating, to say the least. That place, with all the rear red lights, as if lasering with personal malice, directed at your eyes only. The incessant honking, and you honking back just to relive a bit of frustration, just in case that works. Perhaps, the evening traffic jams are the worst ones – when you just want to reach your destination — usually home. Relax, and be with your family. Traffic jams just add to the fatigue of the day gone by.

There cannot be anyone, obviously, who can say that they enjoy traffic jams. In any sense of the word.

Except for these guys.

They’re selling roasted peanuts in tightly packed spires, inverted white cones, ready to temporarily satisfy the hunger of the traffic-jammed, or perhaps the traffic-damned! Rolled up for Rs. 10 or for Rs. 20, dodging the adventurous drivers who are busy changing lanes, for no discernible advantage, but perhaps, for a sense of gratification. Their business model has been fine tuned now, it has been over a year since the Metro construction began.

They know which day of the week, which hour of the evening, at which point, the traffic is at a standstill. They have been smart enough to price these welcome cones of delight that requires minimum exchange. They have the exact change available and are able to dish out the cones and the currency, before you shift from neutral to first. They even have their inventory stocked along the divider, for Mondays and Fridays, when the snail-pace is especially pronounced.

There are, as you may have now realised, people who like traffic jams. Come to think of it, they must be praying for the jams and the continued slow pace of the Metro construction. Four hours of navigating dead slow cars on this damned and cursed highway, is a boon for them. The unfinished Metro pillars are their altars, now.

That’s the industrious face of grit, determination, and opportunity.

Salaam Bombay!

All’s Well: Places and Spaces

In this instant; right now; as you are reading this – could you tell me who you are?

Don’t fret, I cannot either. I’d imagine no one can. For if we were put in a spot with question like this – we’d only select a convenient label that is handy, shove it in your face, and say: this! Go away, don’t ask me any more questions. And then, many months later comes that Tuesday. It’s late in the morning, you are home. No one around you; you are cooking eggs in a way that you would never Instagram. It’s almost like it is in the movies, but it is definitely not. The eggs? Oh, they are as un-Instagramable as ever; that is perfect. But you aren’t in a wood cabin overlooking a lake or a river and by yourself, while birds are chirping and the movie-like artificial ambience is of peace.

Mostly, you are on the 12th floor of a road-facing noisy flat or in room No. 7 of chawl that intentionally denies private space.

In a city.

That happy, lonesome Tuesday late morning.

There is incessant honking by those who want to use a feature of their vehicle or the never-ending cackle of gossip and argument. The city offers no respite. Therefore we seek, the mountains of Ladakh or the beaches of Goa. Or an equivalent place.

I wonder, then, if it is places that offer the answers that we seek, or spaces?

Arches

The effort that we make to know ourselves on a beach in Goa is fungible. It is equivalent of an evening in local train in Mumbai going back home. The evening is the same. Are we mistaking places for spaces?

A wood cabin overlooking a lake in the middle of the forest is the same as a dilapidated concrete building overlooking a traffic jam.

If you take a moment to think about it, it is just material.

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!

Teachers’ Day is for Teachers

Happy Teachers’ Day to all Teachers.

In these days, when a meaning of a word can be stretched far from its actual and intended meaning, even the meaning of “teacher” has fallen victim to Unspeak. It has now come to mean any and every person who is responsible for anything that we learn.

That’s not a teacher. A teacher makes a conscious commitment to nurture and develop young people to do better. The act isn’t incidental nor accidental. It’s a deliberate choice that requires a dedication to continue “teaching” for a lifetime. I don’t disagree that we learn from people who aren’t “teachers”, yet, if we were to ask these people to do what they do, day in and day out, we’d probably not get the answer we think we will. The attitude, the patience, the rigour of a teacher is different from a person from whom we learn.

It is not that these non-teachers are seeking to be acknowledged on this day. It’s us. We are expanding the meaning of the word and the purpose of the day to make it inclusive. Very inclusive. Perhaps it is our laziness. To take time to think of our teachers and be grateful to them, specifically. Open the gates wide enough, and we could pretty much include every person we met, for we have learnt something from every person we met.

Irrespective of whether that person intended to teach us.

We could thank the others on all of the 364 days of the year, but that would take effort, to think of who it is we are grateful to, and for what purpose. It’s a lot of work!Teachers’ Day is a good blanket that covers it all. And one message, which includes, “… to all the people who have taught me along the way…” covers it all. While we may learn things from people, I am not sure if everyone intended to teach us.

This day is in celebration of those who have made it their life’s work to teach – who have held their patience for years together, while we fumbled and fell. They picked us up time and again, without judgement and urged us on towards success. They loved us without discrimination, and we went on ahead in life while they stood in the same place, awaiting the next generation, and did the same with them. In return they get a paltry sum, but their biggest payment is in our happiness and success.

For all the others who helped us learn, we’ll celebrate it all through the year.

There is a sanctity to this day. Let it remain Teachers’ Day.

A Broken Letter

Everyone knows everything about everyone else. As it happens. Information age and all. Instant ka zamaana hai. Almost everything. From the important to the trivial. Fact that my friend bought a new house and the fact that another friend over-ate last Saturday.  You don’t miss a thing.

Most of us, moved a lot, during our childhood. Given our fathers lived a peripatetic life. Armed forces, Government, Banks, and such. A couple and three decades ago, nothing was instant. Except for coffee, perhaps. We had to resort to old-school (those days it was the best tech available to us) and used to stay in touch through letters. I was recently surprised to know that they still teach letter-writing in school. I wonder if the kids write letters other than scribbling make-believe content to imaginary friends. Even recently, a friend was lamenting the loss of all these sweet old-world charms; ironically on an instant messenger. Being a sucker for sentiment, I shared a letter (not the contents; just the back of the inland-letter he had sent me, way back). Emotions gushed, much emojical sentiment was shared and received.

Another friend caught on to it. Hey, do you have any letters that I wrote to you? I’d like to share them with my kids, show, how we communicated when we were young. Of course, I said, I have a few. I wondered, however, if he’d actually share the content of the letter. We laughed-out-loud emojically.  Share them with me, I’ll see what I can share. I started shuffling through the semi-organised pile of withering envelopes, inland covers, and pages torn from notebooks. I find three of his letters.

One letter, not in any particular pile, sits in the box, with not a care for the world. It’s in a decorative envelope, addressed, but no postage stamp on it. My handwriting. Stuffed, with neatly folded pages. Yellowed by twenty-nine years. I recognise it. I am not sure I want to open it. I know it is about fifteen pages long, back-to-back; that’s thirty pages worth of a letter. It was meant to go where it was supposed to go, but I never let go of it. Letters that don’t get sent, don’t live a life. They don’t die, for they never have lived. They just don’t live. It’s not an unfinished letter. It has been completed, signed. I gingerly open it. It starts to break in my hands. Folds that have not been opened for almost three decades are now sharp cuts where once there were folds. It’s broken. Yet, it does not fall to pieces. Something held the letter together. And I started reading it.

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It slowly comes back to me. I knew where I was sitting. I remember the time of that night. I sense all that I sensed then. It’s painful. It’s raw. Ironically, it is satisfying. In retrospect, it is always easy to justify something. And even if it wasn’t so intentioned, I was writing this letter to myself. To be discovered thirty years later.

Who knew, a broken letter had the power to mend so much.

Running Behind

It isn’t working out. Present continuous.

My July commitment, of a post a day has failed as of the middle of this month, and I am lagging behind. Seven days. Six, if this post ever gets published. The saving grace is that I have not been lazy. I have been busy on Twitter, Facebook, and oh-so-busy on WhatsApp.

Amba Ghat, MH, India

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I even started reading a book. Then, I saw the comments of the folks who reviewed, wrote blurbs, and praised the book. Almost all of them were people I disagree with from an ideological point of view. 20 pages into the book. I am reading it, but I am not. A question lingers: If those that I essentially disagree with have endorsed the book, isn’t it obvious that I will disagree with what’s in the book? I linger on a paragraph. I am not reading it, I am seeing it. My eyes don’t dart the way they should, when I read a book. They hold a focus. It’s a form of slavery, I say to myself. To trust in reviews and endorsements. Reviews and endorsements by people who hold a common view, somehow, tell me of what to expect. 20 pages done. I wonder if I should just shelve it. I continue lingering on that paragraph.

Best case, I will learn something new. Worst case I would have gone through a few hundred pages of propaganda that I am already aware of. Should I pick another one from my unread shelf?

I have decided to read the book.

With an open mind. Books are ideas. They may be good ideas or bad ideas. Yet, they always inform us. Books are not good or bad for the ideas they present. They may be good or bad in the way they are written. There’s no such thing as a bad idea. Come to think of it. Ideas have a purpose and a content. Those may be at cross-purposes with each other. Not all ideas work. But ideas are to be celebrated. Even if they have no standing or a life. They have to be celebrated for what they offer and the story that they tell of the human progress.

Always chase an idea.