Coming Of Age

When does one come of age? What age, i.e. I believe that questions does not have a definitive answer.

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I consider myself fortunate that I grew up surrounded by books. But the books I grew up with were not mine. They belonged to my father. My sister and I were allowed spaces in that library to keep our books. I do not know if he intended it, but that was our education of books; not their content, but their upkeep. We were, if you are wondering, allowed access to his library. And there was a theme to the books he read.

Eventually, I grew up. I chose books that were very different from the books in his library. Our library, now. I was grown up enough to buy my books. I was never a rebel. It was the influence of a combination of the books I could afford and the influence I was under. My books were welcomed in his library. I was flirting with atheism, and a book by Dawkins found a place nearby his Upanishadic texts. On weekends we had good conversations of the books that I was stuffing in his thematic library. Lovely conversations.

It’s been 17 years, and now they are only ghosts of conversations. Now, my sister and I are the sole heirs of his library. That’s the best thing he bequeathed to us.

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In Bullet Time

I just finished reading a book called Nationalism by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. Gurudev was an articulate person. He had a power over words, which he used, not with dominance, but with love, care, and sense. Gurudev’s ideas about nationalism are incongruent with my own acquired beliefs. But, it matters less. It was, to say the lest, an enjoyable read. What he believed in, he has expressed so well, with so much conviction; as you read the book, you cannot feel anything but respect. I have an ideological difference from his POV.

This post is not about that.

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Having read that book, I discovered that there is a point of view that is discordant with mine. Then came the question. Do I accept it or reject it? This problem of binary will be the death of us all. David Weinberg, in his book “Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room” — I know a really long title, talks of the nature of debate, among other things:

“A conversation like this is possible when each of us has freedom of expression and no one is required to change.”

While I study Nationalism, Gurudev’s perspectives have informed me. I respect his views. I do not entirely agree with them. And, as I study more, I am willing that my perspective may change.

May I read more books!

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Bank That Time

Online Banking. #WarningRantPost #NotMyBest

That’s not the topic of this post (we’ll know in a bit, I hope, if I don’t spread all over), but I guess it has to start there. In some public forum, a while ago, our Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked institutions to trust the citizens of this country. I do not recall his exact words, but this is the residue of that message: trust the citizen of this country. Self-attestation of an identity document, was to be accepted without prejudice. Verification could follow in good time. If I say who I am, accept it. Innocent until proven guilty.

I don’t know how other institutions are taking and implementing the message. I know of a Bank that just does not believe it. Make it two Banks, at least.

Oh, let’s get it out. I am facing a few bank-related issues. One bank is where my father used to work the other, ah well, let’s just call it Shitty Bank. Actually, I do not want to talk about how bad these banks are. I want to talk about how these two banks have given me a new lease of life. In spite of them being the most inefficient.

Looking Through the Glass...

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I have struggled with my reading. There’s too much of distraction. Except Facebook. Facebook decided to show me the most useless posts on my timeline; it even completely hid all posts from my friends. So, no. Not blaming Facebook. But yes, other distractions, and I have not read a book for a while. Banks to the rescue. To submit two documents to prove that I was the real me (who had not changed anything in the last seventeen years) I got to sit in an air-conditioned lounge and finished two chapters ( 68 pages, on a Kindle) while I was waiting for my token number to be called out, so that I could submit my papers only to be told, not good enough — all account holders have to submit KYC. Needless to say they did not tell me this, when they asked me to go to the branch. I had two choices: I could go ballistic, shout and scream about how inefficient they were.

Then, it struck me!

I should do this more often. I should feign allegiance to the Bank’s inefficiency and comply. I should go to the branch and sit in the lounge. It works to my advantage. Of seven counters, manned by three people, it gives me the perfect opportunity to read! This is the story of Shitty Bank.

*

I do care about money. Do not get me wrong. But money is not everything. Even for banks. The reason I finished reading a couple of chapters, is because I wanted to give money to the bank. Branch. Visit. Read two chapters. New Mantra.

That’s where Online Banking comes in. It doesn’t work. It’s ok to do a couple of transactions, send money from here to there. Except if you are big player. Guy with 5K in his account has to finish two chapters, waiting for his turn. Guy with 50 million can do whatever.

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Banks were to be the custodians of our wealth. Help it grow and prosper. And therefore, our partners in our life. All their advertisement notwithstanding, they now control our wealth. And with a simple, “that guy is not available today” can deny us our right. I live with a trust deficit with banks. But, I have understood your game. And I will play along.

And as I play along, I’ll read, a lot. Beware.

The True Letter

“Bhai!” (Brother; no blood-relation, but what we feel about people is stronger than a blood-call)

I always love hearing his voice.

Hey, how are you, I asked.

“All good man. I am sorry.”

Huh? Why?

“I haven’t replied to your letter” [A physical letter, written on paper, paid for with postage, to be delivered by a postman]

That’s alright. I have received one from you.

“I know, but I never replied to your reply to that. I want to reply. I want you to know that.”

She had written a letter to me once. On an unruled Inland Letter. There was a lot of space in between the lines she wrote. Maybe she was helping me read in-between the lines. I wasn’t as smart then, also, I thought I was in love. I just saw the empty space between the actual lines, beautiful handwriting, and well, you know what. She also wrote of how she had good intentions to write to me, but, she reminded me that, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I thought I’d re-quote this to my brother. Thought better of it.

That’s fine. I know you will reply. Soon.

“I don’t understand why I don’t write. I have the stationery. I have the will.”

You are, perhaps too focused on writing a proper letter.

“Meaning?”

You don’t need to write a full letter, you know. Just write a big ‘HI’ on the letter and post it?

“Meaning?”

*

Rest of the conversation was of various other things. And while I did give him an answer for his last question, I wondered, what was the “Meaning?” What does a letter mean? To me?

Doing an about-turn and looking within yourself is a difficult thing to do. We rarely do it. It follows, that we have lost (or are losing) the art of looking within. That evening, I turned.

It’s just so nice to receive a personal letter. A small little envelope, with your name inscribed on it in, fat, thin, curvy, thick, elegant, scribbly handwriting. It’s your name. Then follows your address. Whoever sent you the letter knows exactly where you are. The letter comes home. We aren’t having a conversation while I am commuting or when I am down on the street for a late afternoon for a chai and a cigarette. [Statutory Warning: Smoking is injurious to health].

A letter comes to where you are. Home. And then you open the letter. It may be a single page, or pages and pages stuffed in that reluctant envelope, ready to burst at the seams. It’s never the same as having the letter-writer in front of you, but it is the closest. I know, many folks think voice is the closest, but I think otherwise. Written words are. See, letter writing (pen and paper) is not the same as typing on a keyboard. Our thoughts are racing, our pen-in-our-hand cannot keep up. So, we often slow down out thoughts. If you have ever received a multi-page letter, you will know what I am talking of.

The first paragraph is exquisite. Your friend has sat down to write the letter, slowed down the thought process, and the best of her handwriting shows up. One page down. Now the excitement of I-have-so-many-things-to-share-with-you, takes over. Scribbly text takes over. Spelling mistakes. Scratches. She sees her own handwriting. Slows down. It repeats. Somewhere, the weight of the paper comes into consideration. No more pages! But I have so much more to say. A-ha! Margins! Let’s flout that one rule we learnt in school.

There’s more character to a letter than any other form of communication. Except of course, when we are having coffee together, at the same table.

To write a good letter, we need to be in denial, however; in these times. We have to deny ourselves an instant response. We have to let go, of a response, if that is what it takes. There is sheer pleasure in writing a letter. We have to move away form the instant gratification of the double-blue-tick-mark of WhatsApp and learn to yearn for a postal delivery. For something tangible. For something that’s forever.

*

Take your time, Bhai. Send me that letter when you can. What matters not is that it’s a postcard or an overstuffed envelope for which I have to pay extra postage. What matters is that I get it. You know it, there’s a joy in receiving letters. You have experienced it.

Spread the joy.

The Persistent Witness

I refused to even look at him. Those piercing eyes. That gaze that could see through, and within me. I’ve known him for a long time. He has been a constant companion. An intimate companion, I may add. More than anyone else. As I say this, I feel, I may be misrepresenting. He is not “out” there. Not outside of me. He is within. I do not know when, but I stopped listening to him. Stopped talking to him.

Towards the Sky

He is my witness. But, I don’t want him to see. I have become so good at hiding it from others. How do I make him not see? I’ll drop thick drapes between us. I’ll hide in rooms, behind locked doors. Big locks. Magnetic. Electronic. Yet, he is here, right in front of me.

I see my reflection in the mirror and I wonder if it is mine. I am me, he is reflection. Then, there is no escaping. When I dine alone, when I drive alone, there’s that presence. His. Chatterbox. Talks of all that I do not care to listen, or even hear.

Yackity yackity yack. Yada yada yada. And for good measure; blah, blah, blah!

But, welcome back old friend, even if I have no use for you anymore. I will not turn you away.

Just stay out of my mind and away from my mirror.

Happy Teachers’ Day

Every year this day comes. On this day. And you find yourself wondering what will you say different from all the times before. Things are changing so slowly, they are hardly noticeable. The most important serviceperson of the nation is getting disillusioned and I have not much to offer that makes real sense to a teacher.

I hope things will change for the better. The teacher’s life will become better. I will do all that I can, along with like-minded people who share the same beliefs. For now, the people you work with, are the best motivation for you.

Young students, Akanksha, Teacher's Day

Courtesy: Akanksha Photo Shoot

Thank you, dear architects of the future of this country. Thank you for your relentless service to the nation against the most challenging odds. Thank you, especially, for standing tall and strong through the seemingly hopelessness of it all. That takes a different type of courage.

#RESPECT

There’s Hope #Movies

Potential spoiler. Not giving out the plot, but it may influence your thinking, if you haven’t and are going to watch the movie.

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I watched Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017), yesterday. (IMDB has got it wrong; its spelled with two a’s, unless of course, you use the ā, in place of the single a). It was everything that I didn’t expect it to be. Primarily, it was dragged to death and beyond. I am a big fan of the fantasy genre, and I enjoyed Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), a lot. In spite of some really over-the-top stuff in the movie. And given the suspense created in the first movie, I was really looking forward to the second. I’ll stop just short of saying that it fell flat. I’ll concede, however, that watching it dubbed (very badly) in Hindi was a mistake. I should have gone for the original Telugu version. I understand a few words and phrases in Telugu; but that’s not reason: there’s something very disturbing when sound and lip-movements are out of sync. It’s the effect, methinks, that’s diluted in dubbing. Subtitles are a better alternative. And when you are creating an artwork on such a large canvas, that one small thing can ruin the painting. Most of the CGI was impeccable, except for fire. They haven’t mastered that. That was very childish. This isn’t review, just thoughts. Five of my co-cinema-goers were equally (or more) disappointed, so we decided to wash down our dismay with a few beers.

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I have practiced suspension of disbelief much before I learnt what it meant. It has always helped me with imagination. Considering possibilities is exciting. And when you start considering, you can go various places. Including some not-so-nice places. Yet, it is worth the trade-off.

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After mocking the movie over a couple of beers, we asked ourselves if this is the fare that we are doomed for? I didn’t completely agree, but I didn’t say so.

Holding on

A week ago, I watched Poorna (2017). [PS: It’s available on Amazon Prime]

I am a very involved movie-watcher, and I experience the emotions that a director of a movie would like me to. If she is a good director. I laugh and cry wholeheartedly; get angry and afraid as the story asks of me. I do not watch horror movies because I do not like to be terrified. It’s not an emotion I prefer, if I can avoid it. The real-world is terrifying enough.

Poorna is the (real) story of the youngest girl to have scaled Mt. Everest. I’ll just say that. There are other adjectives to the tag line, in my opinion — they aren’t important.

The movie was a multi-layered emotional roller-coaster. The first layer is obvious: it’s her story, and in that sense, a dramatised documentary. But there’s something deeper. And without warning the layers reveal themselves. And it’s less about her and her motivations; it starts becoming about you. It touches your heart. Straight, direct, instant.

There’s hope. There’s proof. Of good movies.

A Matter of Faith

In almost every Indian temple, you aren’t allowed to take a photo of the main deity of the temple. Some temples allow it, but without a flash. If you have been to an Indian temple, you will have noticed that the space where the main deity resides, is dimly lit, usually by oil lamps. Taking a photograph of a the deity, in such light conditions, is usually difficult, without a flash. In my experience, this rule applies only to Indian temples. I have not sensed this, severely enforced in mosques or churches.

Why this is so, is not something I can explain. There are a couple of scientific theories about why the deities should not be photographed, but they are based on faith and belief, not hard science, as we know it. Three of my best friends are atheists. My best friend believes in Jesus, though she is not a Christian. Given my engagement with these four people, my personal (inherited; would be more proper) sense of faith is often questioned. I welcome the questions, even, if at times I have no answers. But the questions do not shake my faith. They make me seek a deeper understanding of my faith. And the faith, and its understanding, is personal.

In a recent visit to a temple I saw a couple of my friends, who were faithful take pictures of a the main deity in a temple. One of my atheist friend was accompanying us. I did not see him take photos of the main deity, but if he had, I would not be surprised. Needless to say, I offered my worship in the way I do, and moved on, to take photos of some of the wonderful sculpture that adorned that temple.

I was, I confess, slightly disturbed by the act of my believer friends taking photos of the deity. After a while we left the temple and made our way home.

Stones, layer,

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It was one of the most beautiful drives I have had in my life. We were circumferencing a large lake, in a valley surrounded by my favourite mountain range — the Sahyadri. Small village roads, meandering along the folds of one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, a mountain road, cut across the Deccan Traps. My three companions in the car, juggling the role of the DJ; good music played. We sang along, we laughed: at each other and with each other. I was a bit preoccupied; my passengers thought it was because I had a flight later that evening; and was looking to back as soon as possible.

I was thinking of the meaning of faith. I was thinking of how I was disturbed because someone else did not follow the general belief and custom. Somewhere, in that question, I was asking myself why I was disturbed. It was not a good feeling, and I wanted to understand why I felt that.

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All of this happened a week ago. And I cannot say that I now have a proper answer; the answer will evolve. I know this much, though: my faith, my sense of my faith is mine. It is personal. I need not seek justification for what I believe. I do not need others to practice what I believe. (For even if I could make them follow, it would be coerced; devoid of belonging) There is no science to it. In the same way that I seek answers, I have to understand that other people do too. They make their own meaning. And how we sense our answers varies from friend to friend. And it changes with time.

Faith matters. But there is no matter in faith.