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!

It’s Not About Photographs – VI

Don’t take a photo of what you see – take a photo of what you want to show!

I said that in a recent conversation to a friend. There were some composition rules she was missing, which she could have easily rectified; was just helping her take a better photo the next time around. What I said to her, however, has been haunting me for a few hours, now. I don’t altogether believe what I said to my friend. I think, I was asking her to be more careful with the camera. Or, in my head, I was asking her to be more careful with the frame. Our eyes see a lot, we send it all to the brain. Somewhere, somehow, all the chemical and electrical events that occur during this transmission from eye to brain, are not the sum total of the image that we present.

What our eye does see is vast, the frame is a crop. Having a camera in your hand, in front of your eyes is a responsibility. How will you crop?

153400: Light & Arches

I cannot relate to the urgency of taking a photo. I just do not understand the urgency. Photography is patience. Personified. Why do we seek to take a photo in this moment when, it is possible that the next moment is better? And if the next moment is not better, what have we lost? If we lived in that moment, which we did not capture, is the moment lost to us? What wasn’t captured is a memory that is our own. Do you remember stills that aren’t available on paper or as digital files? When we crossed rows in the classroom; when we stood in front of each other, that split moment, when nothing was said and yet, an entire life was lived?

I don’t remember it, but you do. There’s no documentation of the moment, but both of us live it. Photos aren’t false memories – they are only artificial. Artificial in the sense of the frame in which they are presented to you.

Not that they do not represent the truth. Photos are as real. Just that they are a slice of the reality. And we have to learn to see photos for what they are. My eyes, your eyes.

All the eyes that see the photo, that is what the photo is about.

Crowd of Strangers

Fill it up. Fill it up. Fill it up. Damn the blank page. Put words. Words. Words. Words. And drop it in Times Square, NY. None of the words will know each other, strangers from far off lands revolving on the axis of their feet, drowned in wonder. The crowd of strangers is what gives meaning to Times Square. Not meaning itself. The meaning is in the presence; not in anything else. NY winks and we miss it in the blink of an eye. It’s at its naughtiest best.

Bow to the city, it has seen the birth of your grandparents; it is witnessing your death. Never, ever, however, has a city wished for a birth or death. It is a witness. It allows all. It winks, often, (and you may miss it) but it never asks for either this or that.

Fill it up. Fill it up. Fill it up. Damn the blank page.

I’ll just put five words. I’ll call it abstract. Not for what it is, but for what I can hide behind.

Nay, nay, nay! This wasn’t to be. At the peak of the strange words, there was to be meaning. For me, for you. Running around the base of the pyramid I am lost; for no stone at the base is discrete. I have to climb! Something forms at the peak. And it is built by these abstract slabs at the bottom. I am a slave to how these huge slabs were dragged in place. Without ropes, without connections, I am dragged down. I stay here as if a mutual belonging exists; yet the apex.

May I flex my wrists and twist my ankles. Flex my muscles and twist my body. Shackles will be broken. I will be free. In a foreign land. In New York. In London. In Mumbai. My I see the cities winking at me. And jump on those abstract slabs. Thoughtful; unlike the agitated Prince of Persia.

Once again, watching the crowd of strangers.

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.

20180826_192919-01

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.

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.

LIFO: The Recusant Rule

Till recently, India did not have a no-fly list. A while ago, an Indian MP (Member of Parliament) misbehaved with the staff of an airline. What actually ensued, during that misbehaviour is a matter of discussion (and speculation), which, folks on Twitter have happily voiced, without their seat-belts on. The misbehaviour occurred when the doors of the flight were open. I am further assuming that when the aircraft is “open” there is ground/airport security available (and in charge). As far as I know, Captain of the flight gets authority only when the doors are closed and his or her word is final. Airline staff could have just handed him over to airport security; charged him for assault etc. We live in times when a 140-character tweet gives you all the information you need to be, not just the judge, jury, and executioner; you can even be sarcastic, nasty, abusive, and further. Without a need to investigate or reflect.

Private and public sector airlines came together and listed this MP on a “no-fly” list. Simple — he would not be allowed to fly on any airline. This, when India did not have a government-mandated “no-fly-list.” We have a body, in India, called the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) – a regulatory body for, well, you guessed it, civil aviation. The DGCA (or any other government body) was not a part of adding this MP on a no-fly-list (as far as I know, and I may be wrong). The “no-fly” list was issued by the association of airlines. A private body. This one name was declared persona-non-airline-grata. No thought, no plan, just no-fly-list. How will the airlines know if some other passenger with the same name is travelling? What if this MP has a medical emergency? (He has only misbehaved, he is not a terrorist, right?) Many such questions came to my mind.

It all got resolved in a few weeks, and this MP was back flying. A few days ago, I heard that India, now has an official no-fly list. Three degrees and all. It’s scary. I’ll leave it at that.

*

But this post is not about that at all. But the irony is stark. I’d assume, bad behaviour is bad behaviour, right? Not so, apparently.

*

Airlines in India tend to promote recusant behaviour. As a person who generally respects authority, I find the baggage handling of all airlines to be very peculiar. Now, here are all airlines, asking us to check-in anywhere from two-three hours before, right? So a person like me, does that. I check-in early. That’s good behaviour, right? The new commercial airports in India are happy too, because of passengers like me I end up paying three times for some eatable just to hold something in my hand and chew on. Win, win. For the airline and the airport. But it is actually win-win-lose. And I am the loser. When I land, my bag is the last to come. The recusants are the first to get their bags. LIFO. Last In First Out.

They are the ones who are brought to the front of the security line by the airline staff. Almost every time I have seen this, and I have wondered, why do I follow the rules? I am denied my five minutes in the smoking lounge and the time to buy the overpriced sandwich. Needless to say, these irreverent people are the ones who will carry mobile phones in their pockets, and will be sent back by the security to send their devices through the X-ray machines. Delaying me further, six minutes. I am amused by how they are blinded by the 12 signs asking them to send their devices and wallets through the machine. Why don’t private airports get this? That’s one overpriced sandwich I do not have time to buy! That idiot who you just allowed to cross the line, is not going to buy anything at your illegally overpriced shop. He is going to run to the bus. (If you are certain blue airline. If you are the other blue airline, you get an aerobridge.)

Airlines and airports promote bad behaviour. Commerce eats rules for breakfast. That’s about it. Given my upbringing, my ethics, and my respect for authority, I will continue to behave the way I do. But, if you have no qualms, be a bad boy or a bad girl. You will be rewarded. I actually recommend it.

Little did I know when learning data structures in college, LIFO/FIFO it would have meaning in just more than code.

How, will you use what you learnt in school and college?

Destination: Journey – II

It is a good evening. It isn’t raining but the clouds are full of tease. There is no planned destination, and we aren’t really thinking about the lack of one. Perhaps there is a vague sense, where we would reach; it is the journey which has preoccupied our senses, all the while.

Curving through the folds of the hills, we drive through the beauty that is on offer, without condition, without agenda. Here a beautiful flower, there a wise tree. A naughty stream and some sweet chirping. Over the sagely hill, looking at the inscrutable sea below. Beckoning. Hearts full of joy, minds free from everyday shackles, we move. This is the life we had always imagined.

1195: Rails along a Lake

And, then without warning, it comes upon us. There is no destination.

When we don’t know if there was destination or not, the journey is wondrous; the vague, cloudy, unknown sense of the destination is enough to power the journey, directionless, though it may seem. The realisation that there is no destination, however, takes the life out of the journey.

*

I often wonder if a journey is an orphan without a destination. I have written about this often, and I have yet to discover.

Can a journey be a destination?

Bengaluru-versary

Been a fine twelve months, these.

 

Made new friends, connected with old ones. Laughed a lot. Cried a little. Discovered new places. Went on city walks. Did some great work. Took in the lovely weather. Enjoyed the food. Read a lot. Lost a little bit of myself. Found much more of myself. Very easily started feeling at home. Connected. Often happy, seldom sad.

Thank you, Bengaluru!

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.

A Permanent Image

I was on vacation, last week.

It has been a while that I have been on a vacation. Those of you know me, will probably be rolling your eyes. Yes, I have been on a holiday recently, but it has been a while that I have been on a vacation. Somewhere, in my mind a break, a holiday, and a vacation are different. I mean obviously they are different, they are three different words. But how they differ, actually, is a mystery to me. It’s probably got to do with the length, of how long you are away. This one was a full week, so, vacation.

A vacation after five years, almost. And much has changed, since my last vacation.

I saw all that I thought I would see. The faraway trailing mountain lines, the thready waterfalls of summer, the centenarian eucalypti seeking the sky, wild flowers sidelining the roads, brightly coloured happy homes that are the stuff of dreams, and sunsets that Turner would want to capture on a canvas. I saw all of that. Yes, I did.

I also saw, however, that no one else was seeing all this. Almost everyone had their backs to these wondrous sights. Seeing the sight doesn’t matter much. Being seen with the sight is now important. At all places, yes, all places, all the tourists had their back to what they came to see. This is not to say that they weren’t seeing the mountains, the trees, the waterfalls, or the flowers. They were seeing it. They were seeing it on their phones, bounded in an unnatural 16:9 ratio on a five-inch screen, while they took a photo of themselves being there.

I do not deride these selfie-seekers. For, when you are on a vacation, you must seek that, that makes you happy. I am, however, unable to relate to it.

How I look to the mountains; how the mountains look at me, is an image. It will never be shared. But it is forever.

It’s etched on my soul.

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,

*

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.

*

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.

The Man in the Plane

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

Fast!

Play

This tweet made my day!

The play in question was “The Square Root of a Sonnet.” I have been in Achyutha’s town for a while, and while we promised to catch up, we hadn’t. Going to the play seemed like a good excuse to meet Achyutha. It’s not that I was not interested in the play; I was. It was directed by Prakash Belawadi — an actor I have come to admire after I have seen a few of his performances in Hindi movies. Airlift, especially.

I dread going to the theatre. As an audience.

20160916_015919I have always maintained that my place in a theatre was on the stage. I haven’t been to a theatre in a very long time. (Except for one, half a dozen years ago, where I was, technically dragged to it). As much as enjoy to no end, watching a play, the sense that I am always sitting in the wrong side of a theatre bothers me when I enter the theatre and depresses me when I leave it. I am at peace, when I am in it.

I am learning to drown the dread.

It was my first play in Bengaluru. At Ranga Shankara, a compact theatre, which is probably modelled on Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai. Needless to say, it has a sweet and swanky coffee shop. (Yup, those are mandatory in places like these.)

It was a wonderful evening, an evening that I haven’t had for a long time.

It did not end there. That’s what made the evening special.

It was the star-struck me, for the rest of the evening that made it special. And I am not talking only of Prakash Belawadi.

~

PS: If you read this in good time, The Square Root of Sonnet is staging tomorrow (Fri, 16 Sep) again, at Ranga Shankara, in Bengaluru. If you cannot make it to this show, lookout for when it shows somewhere near you. DO. NOT. MISS. IT.

 

Some New, Some Old; Some Plus, Some Minus

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

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

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

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

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

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New city.

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

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

No Bucket; No List

It’s a good thing I believe in rebirth.

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

*

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

*

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

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

View of Revdanda Fort from Korlai Fort

View of Revdanda Fort from Korlai Fort

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

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

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

Light & Darkness: Remainders

It’s been a long time. I’ve been blogging for over a decade. And I have forgotten all that I have planned for this blog. Mostly, I’ve confused the summary posts. Those that have been called many things. Summary posts, pot-pourri, schizophrenic, remainders, and other such names. The Schizophrenia label was my doing. I used it in the sense of disconnectedness. Most of these posts have found refuge in abstraction. A person, who once was a friend, might find some closure in this statement.

If there were a machine that could extract every emotion of me – and classify it; my being would fill every compartment that was defined, and then, some would be dropped in a big basket called “Miscellaneous.” I know not this for a fact, but it might be the same for you too.

Light Leaks - As Nature Imagined It

Light Leaks – As Nature Imagined It

There’s pride and there’s humility. There’s fear and anger. There’s desperation and there’s conviction. And more of these opposites. A friend today referred a popular theme; I thought of darkness. We never tend to darkness; there’s no pull: it is within; We fight it, if at all, towards our way to light. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail. Or, that’s what we think. For how are we to know if we have succeeded or failed? What’s light, and what’s darkness? Is it the same as brightness and shadow?

Abstraction is good for expression; not for experience.

What do we ask for, when we ask the power-that-be to lead us from darkness to light? If we have never experienced light and never recognised darkness, how will we ever know, even if we are led? We know light only by the way we have been informed about it – it has never been an experience. We know darkness only by the way we have been informed about it – it has never been an experience. Our meanings cannot be slave to inherited meanings. We have to discover them all over again. And in that, if we fall to the so-called depths or have to rise to the so-called peaks, so be it. Our inherited meanings are shared – so we bond and become social. There’s comfort in those shared meanings, even if they do not mean anything.

Our experience is our only guide. The experience of others is, but, a perspective. It can never be ours.

One day, we will walk out in the sun.

In Defence of Abstraction

Once upon a time, I used to write well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you still are in doubt, think poetry.

3635: Stone Backed

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

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

*

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

The Writer’s Paradigm

Any other day, I would have used the title above, and ranted about the compelling need I feel, to write. And then perhaps dissect and analyse this emotion, or gloriously abstract it away. I know of many other who feel this compulsion. But the knowledge is only a feeling, really. What does it really mean, to want to write? While I never gave it a thought, somewhere, I always believed that the need to write could be expressed only through words; spoken or written.

I was recently proved wrong. I saw the compelling need to write. I experienced it with someone.

*

2016-01-01 10.29.03

Click to enlarge

I met him on a sunny morning, the first of 2016.

We were at the cenotaphs of Orchha, and had stopped right outside, at a makeshift tea stall, slowly waking up to the new year. While the lady, perhaps my age, but seeming far elder, was brewing the tea, I sat at the platform, and opened my diary. It was, after all, the first day of the new year, I had to write something. Needless to say, I had no idea what to write. Half-clear memories were still reeling from the party last night. I had some important things churning in my head, but they were too metaphysical, for me to deal with, right now. Some words, reluctantly, made an appearance. I started writing.

A snotty little kid came and sat quietly beside me, looking at my writing. We looked at each other, smiled. He had one of the broadest smiles I had ever seen. His face was marked with vitamin deficiency, but that did nothing to diminish the warmth of his smile.

“I can write ABCD,” he said, just like that.

“Very good,” I replied with a smile, and returned to writing what lessons in life I have learnt and the ones I have ignored.

2016-01-01 10.29.10

Click to enlarge

“Here, let me show you,” came the reply and without warning, my passionately guarded Moleskin, was snatched from my hands. “Give me the pen.”

I couldn’t think very clearly, at the time. The surprise element was strong. My compulsion to write, was weak. I handed over the pen.

“A for Apple,” he told me and wrote it down, and the alphabet continued it’s journey, double-spaced, no less. We reach G. He doesn’t recall what G is for. Funnily enough, neither do I, i.e. what the nursery G is for. Groggy came to mind, but I was projecting. Glock came to mind, because of a conversation, yesterday. Yet, the word gun, didn’t cross my mind. I kept my mouth shut.

“It’s ok, let’s go ahead,” I said, and we continue. At O for Orange, I wanted to tell him, how the “r” should be written. I think better of it. Tea was served around Q for Queen, and as you see, I wasn’t paying attention, so that slipped through. (Yes, the Monkey also escaped). I take time to check if knows the meanings of the for words. He does. The pressure he uses on the paper is much. At least four pages down, the alphabet will be embossed, I imagine.

I remembered my English teacher from Class III; No, Atul, there is no need to dig into the notebook with your pencil. Hold it lightly. We will need the other pages in the notebook for the rest of the year.

It was a lesson for me in letting go. I did, though mildly upset. At Z for Zebra, he was all done, but wasn’t letting go of the notebook. I politely snatched it back from him, praised him for the wonderful work, wished him all the best, and joined my friends in touristing. He smiled back.

2016-01-12 22.16.32

It was the broadest, happiest, toothy smile I had seen, in years.

*

The cenotaphs are a photographer’s paradise. Come sunset, we returned, after visiting a couple of grand palaces. The same lady was there at her open-to-air tea stall. We had finished our photography (of the cenotaphs) and it did seem like a very good idea to have some more chai-biskoot (Tea & Biscuits).

Tap on the shoulder. “I know ten colours,” same sweet mumbly voice. Without a word, I took out my notebook and pen, and handed it over. No snatching business this time. He listed a few, in his own inimitable style. Saying out loud everything that he wrote, letter-for-letter. I was more interested, and more curious, now. We were now having a sort of conversation. Mostly, I was being a spelling Nazi, but gently.

2016-01-12 22.17.15

“I also know ten animals.” The list continued, after a line that separated the colours and the animals, so that they don’t get mixed up. He finished the animal list. It’s a bit of a quandary for him, I imagine. I will want my notebook back. But he, very clearly, wants to write more. He doesn’t look up from the notebook. Starts re-writing some of the things he has already written. The left page is full.

I congratulated him. His mother, the lady making the tea, is quite proud at our conversation. I ask him some questions about his life; the conversation goes on in Hindi. Then, I ask him to sign his name. Boom. He didn’t not know how to write his name in English. He wrote it in Hindi. I spent some more time with him, and taught him to write his name in English.

2016-01-01 17.33.47

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That’s when, I met Ram Ravat, who can now write his name in English. If I wasn’t paying attention, I would have missed that quick breeze of pride, that passed me by.

But Ram Ravat was not done. He now wanted to write questions and answers. Sentences. The right page is his resume. I could see he was desperately thinking of more things to write. He was at a loss. I did get my notebook back, with much, much, much reluctance.

I spoke with his mother later, apparently he is not to write in his school notebooks anything other than classwork. So, if Ram Ravat wants to write more, and more and more, he has no way. I imagined, the happiest time of his day, is when he is in class, and gets to write. Amongst managing other things, Ram Ravat’s mother cannot afford another notebook. I give her some money. I ask her to buy a notebook and a pen for Ram Ravat. I tell her to let him write as much as he wants.

Because I have known writers who have the best notebooks, papers, pens, and gadgets, at their disposal, but cannot write. And they go through their own fire in hell before they can write again.

But never, never should a writer not be able to write, for lack of paper and pen.

An Evening Thought

What if a sword had a mind of its own?
What if the minds of the warrior and a sword were married?

(Originally created, 2nd Jan 2016, Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh, India)

Where thoughts may strike us. Tourist Village, Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh. 2nd January 2016

Where thoughts may strike us. Tourist Village, Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh. 2nd January 2016